Atman : The Eternal Soul - An Interesting Discussion in the Upanishads
The atman, the eternal soul/self, spirit, yoga atman, essence, or breath, many names when translated into English. As compared to the ego, it is the true self; that part of the self with which we have direct contact or when it becomes part of Brahman after death (the force underlying all things). The last stage of Moksha i.e. liberation is the understanding that one’s Atman is Brahman, maybe that is true, maybe not – we will see that in the latter part.
Atman, which never alters, refers to the ‘non-material self’. It is different from the external body as well as the mind. In terms of race, ethnicity, nature, and nationality, this true self is beyond the temporary classifications we typically attach to ourselves.
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Differentiating Between Atman and Brahman
In the Upanishads, Atman is a major topic of discussion. The Upanishads were written between the eighth and sixth centuries BC, in which teachers and students have dialogues based on philosophical questions about the essence of the world and the nature of the universe.
Over 200 different Upanishads exist and the majority among the many mention the atman, stating that the meaning of all things is atman; it can not be intellectually grasped but can be interpreted through meditation.
According to the Upanishads, Atman and Brahman are composed of the same element; atman returns to Brahman when the atman is fully delivered and is no longer reincarnated. This return to Brahman is called moksha.
In the Upanishads, the concepts of Atman and Brahman are traditionally described metaphorically. The atman is the essence of an individual (human soul), while Brahman is an immutable, universal spirit or consciousness underlying all things. Atman and Brahman are discussed and called as distinct from each other, but they are not always considered to be distinct; atman = Brahman in some schools of Hindu thought.
Atman is similar to the definition of the ‘soul’ in the West, but it’s not identical. One major difference is that on the subject of the atman, Hindu schools are divided. Dualistic Hindus feel that individual Atmans are associated with Brahman, but are not identical. By comparison, non-dual Hindus think that individual atmans are Brahman; as a consequence, all atmans are basically similar and equivalent to them.
The Western idea of the soul anticipates a spirit that is particularly bound to an individual human being, with all its detail, (sex, race, personality). When an individual human being is born, the soul is assumed to come into existence, and it is not resurrected by reincarnation.
What Hindu schools think about the Atman:
‘Part of every form of matter (not special to human beings)
Eternal (does not start with the birth of a particular person)
Part of or the same as Brahman (God)
In certain aspects, Brahman is identical to the Western concept of God: timeless, everlasting, eternal, unchanging, and inaccessible to human minds. However, there are many Brahman definitions, but ultimately it all means that it is an abstract force in interpretations that underlies all things. Brahman is manifested by gods and goddesses such as Vishnu and Shiva in other interpretations.
The atman, according to Hindu mythology, is reincarnated again and again. The cycle ends only with the atman is one with Brahman and is thus one with all creation. This understanding can be accomplished by living ethically and practicing dharma and karma.
Location of the Atman in the Body
Atman means ‘self’ or ‘breath’ in Sanskrit which is one of the most basic concepts in Hinduism. The eternal soul or the universal self is identical with the eternal core of the human personality which either reincarnates to a new life or attains moksha from the bonds of existence after death.
While it mostly occurred in the early Vedas as a behavioural meaning “self,” it comes more and more to the surface in the later Upanishads as a philosophical topic.
Atman acts and actually functions for the other organs; it also constitutes all the actions of a person, as brahman (the Absolute) underlies the universe’s workings. Atman is largely a reflection of Brahman that can be communicated or even merged with. The Atman was perceived to be so important that it was identified with brahman by some groups. Of the different services of Hindu darshans, Vedanta is the one that is highly concerned with the atman.
Some people believe that there is no particular location for the atman. It is only the all-pervading prana that leaves the Sahasrara body. While some say that Atman must be in the brain or the head, but then that would mean that Lord Ganesha’s Atman was in the elephant. It is an interesting thought, if the Atman is any body part that can be transplanted, replaced, or lost, then it would mean losing the Atman by losing that part.
Atman which is the eternal self is not really physical, it cannot be placed in Time and Space.
Atman(Self) is not physical, it can not be placed in Time & Space. It’s as much inside the body as it is outside the body. It is said that the Almighty resides in our heart and Lord Krishna said in Gita too, ‘I’m situated in the hearts of all beings’. So just for the sake of stressing the nearness of Atman, it is said to be in the heart of all beings.
Etheric Body (Sookshma Shareera) & Causal Body (Karana Shareera) are said to be connected with what is said to be Jeevatman (Individualized concept of self). This is what is believed to be detached after death from the human body.
How Do You Realize Atman?
The Eternal Soul is referred to by many names depending on the tradition or religion naming it. The Buddhist’s call it Buddha Nature or Big Mind, Atman is what the Hindus call it, the Christians describe it as Christ Consciousness, while other religions just call it the Soul, Jiddu Krishnamurti calls it the aspect of your being beyond time and limitation, philosopher’s call it Higher Consciousness, and some just call it Love. True Divine Nature, Self, Sat Nam, I, One Mind, Universal Consciousness, and many more. It is human nature that has some dumb part, where we start fighting just because we might have a different name for the same thing.
The Eternal Soul is found when its attributes are discovered within. That is the secret to encountering and recognizing the aspect of your being, and with time you will realize the remaining aspects as well. Now for instance you are feeling happy, blissful, silent, love, or lucky enough to experience the Actuality of Divinity, it means you are coming across your True Divine Nature – Eternal Soul – Your Buddha Nature – Your Atman – Your Christ Consciousness.
The wonderful thing about Atman is that it’s not a fixed destination or point. The variety is quite huge and you may experience it as no one has before. The mentioned process is just a guideline and certainly not a law. This journey can be adventurous because you may experience your Eternal Soul in ways that perhaps only wants you to. It is about infinity, the deeper you go, the more you discover.