Ātman (Hinduism)

For other uses, see Atman (disambiguation).

Ātman (/ˈɑːtmən/) is a Sanskrit word that means inner self or soul.[1][2][3] In Hindu philosophy, especially in the Vedanta school of Hinduism, Ātman is the first principle,[4] the true self of an individual beyond identification with phenomena, the essence of an individual. In order to attain liberation, a human being must acquire self-knowledge (atma jnana), which is to realize that one's true self (Ātman) is identical with the transcendent self Brahman.[2][5]

The six orthodox schools of Hinduism believe that there is Ātman (Soul, Self) in every being, a major point of difference with Buddhism, which does not believe that there is either soul or self.[6]

Etymology and meaning

"Ātman" (Atma, आत्मा, आत्मन्) is a Sanskrit word which means "essence, breath, soul."[7][8] It is related to the PIE *etmen (a root meaning "breath"; cognates: Dutch adem, Old High German atum "breath," Modern German atmen "to breathe" and Atem "respiration, breath", Old English eþian).[7]

Ātman, sometimes spelled without a diacritic as atman in scholarly literature,[9] means "real self" of the individual,[10][11] "innermost essence",[12] and soul.[10][13] Atman, in Hinduism, is considered as eternal, imperishable, beyond time, states Roshen Dalal, "not the same as body or mind or consciousness, but is something beyond which permeates all these".[14][15][16] Atman is a metaphysical and spiritual concept for the Hindus, often discussed in their scriptures with the concept of Brahman.[17][18][19]

Development of the concept


The earliest use of word "Ātman" in Indian texts is found in the Rig Veda (RV X.97.11).[20] Yāska, the ancient Indian grammarian, commenting on this Rigvedic verse, accepts the following meanings of Ātman: the pervading principle, the organism in which other elements are united and the ultimate sentient principle.[21]

Other hymns of Rig Veda where the word Ātman appears include I.115.1, VII.87.2, VII.101.6, VIII.3.24, IX.2.10, IX.6.8, and X.168.4.[22]


Ātman is a central idea in all the Upanishads, and "Know your Ātman" their thematic focus.[23] These texts state that the core of every person's self is not the body, nor the mind, nor the ego, but Ātman - "Soul" or "Self".[24] Atman is the spiritual essence in all creatures, their real innermost essential being.[25][26] It is eternal, it is the essence, it is ageless. Atman is that which one is at the deepest level of one's existence.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad describes Atman as that in which everything exists, which is of the highest value, which permeates everything, which is the essence of all, bliss and beyond description.[27] In hymn 4.4.5, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad describes Atman as Brahman (Universal Absolute, Supreme Soul), and associates it with everything one is, everything one can be, one's free will, one's desire, what one does, what one doesn't do, the good in oneself, the bad in oneself.

That Atman (self, soul) is indeed Brahman. It [Ātman] is also identified with the intellect, the Manas (mind), and the vital breath, with the eyes and ears, with earth, water, air, and ākāśa (sky), with fire and with what is other than fire, with desire and the absence of desire, with anger and the absence of anger, with righteousness and unrighteousness, with everything — it is identified, as is well known, with this (what is perceived) and with that (what is inferred).

As it [Ātman, self, soul] does and acts, so it becomes: by doing good it becomes good, and by doing evil it becomes evil. It becomes virtuous through good acts, and vicious through evil acts. Others, however, say, "The self is identified with desire alone. What it desires, so it resolves; what it resolves, so is its deed; and what deed it does, so it reaps.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5, 9th century BCE[28]

This theme of Ātman, that is Soul and Self of one self, every person, every being is same as Brahman, is extensively repeated in Brihadāranyaka Upanishad. The Upanishad asserts that this knowledge of "I am Brahman", and that there is no difference between "I" and "you", or "I" and "him" is a source of liberation, and not even gods can prevail over such a liberated man. For example, in hymn 1.4.10,[29]

Brahman was this before; therefore it knew even the Ātma (soul, himself). I am Brahman, therefore it became all. And whoever among the gods had this enlightenment, also became That. It is the same with the sages, the same with men. Whoever knows the self as “I am Brahman,” becomes all this universe. Even the gods cannot prevail against him, for he becomes their Ātma. Now, if a man worships another god, thinking: “He is one and I am another,” he does not know. He is like an animal to the gods. As many animals serve a man, so does each man serve the gods. Even if one animal is taken away, it causes anguish; how much more so when many are taken away? Therefore it is not pleasing to the gods that men should know this.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10[29]

Katha Upanishad

Along with the Brihadāranyaka, all the earliest and middle Upanishads discuss Ātman as they build their theories to answer how man can achieve liberation, freedom and bliss. The Katha Upanishad, for example, explains Atman as immanent and transcendent innermost essence of each human being and living creature, that this is one, even though the external forms of living creatures manifest in different forms, for example, in hymns 2.2.9 and others, its states

As the one fire, after it has entered the world, though one, takes different forms according to whatever it burns,

so does the internal Ātman of all living beings, though one, takes a form according to whatever He enters and is outside all forms.

Katha Upanishad, 2.2.9[30]

Katha Upanishad, in Book 1, hymns 3.3 to 3.4, describes the widely cited analogy of chariot for the relation of "Soul, Self" to body, mind and senses.[31] Stephen Kaplan[32] translates these hymns as, "Know the Self as the rider in a chariot, and the body as simply the chariot. Know the intellect as the charioteer, and the mind as the reins. The senses, they say are the horses, and sense objects are the paths around them". The Katha Upanishad then declares that "when the Self [Ātman] understands this and is unified, integrated with body, senses and mind, is virtuous, mindful and pure, he reaches bliss, freedom and liberation".[31]

Chandogya Upanishad

The Chandogya Upanishad explains Ātman as that which appears to be separate between two living beings but isn't, that essence and innermost, true, radiant self of all individuals which connects and unifies all. In hymn 4.10.1 through 4.10.3, for example, it explains it with example of rivers, some of which flow to the east and some to the west, but ultimately all merge into the ocean and become one. In the same way, the individual souls are pure Being, states the Chandogya Upanishad, individual soul is pure Truth, and individual soul is a manifestation of the ocean of One Universal Soul.[33]

Other Upanishads

Ātman is a key topic of the Upanishads, but they express two distinct, somewhat divergent themes. Some teach that Brahman (Highest Reality, Universal Principle, Being-Consciousness-Bliss) is identical with Ātman, while others teach Ātman is part of Brahman but not identical.[34][35] This ancient debate flowered into various dual, non-dual theories in Hinduism. The Brahmasutra by Badarayana (~ 100 BCE) synthesized and unified these somewhat conflicting theories, stating that Atman and Brahman are different in some respects particularly during the state of ignorance, but at the deepest level and in the state of Self-realization, Atman and Brahman are identical, non-different (Advaita).[34] This synthesis overcame the dualistic tradition of Samkhya-Yoga schools and realism-driven traditions of Nyaya-Vaiseshika schools, enabling it to become the foundation of Vedanta as Hinduism's enduring spiritual tradition.[34]

Schools of thought

All major orthodox schools of Hinduism – Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta – accept the foundational premise of Vedas and Upanishads that "Ātman exists". Jainism too accepts this premise, though it has its own perspective on what that means. In contrast, both Buddhism and the Charvakas deny that there is anything called as "Ātman, Soul, Self".[36]

Knowing Ātman, also referred to as Self-knowledge, is one of the defining themes of all major orthodox schools of Hinduism, but they diverge on how. Self-knowledge, in Hinduism, is the knowledge and understanding of Atman, what it is, and what it is not. Hinduism considers Atman as distinct from the ever-evolving individual personality characterized with Ahamkara (ego, non-spiritual psychological I-ness Me-ness), habits, prejudices, desires, impulsiveness, delusions, fads, behaviors, pleasures, sufferings and fears. Human personality and Ahamkara shift, evolve or change with time, state the schools of Hinduism; while, Atman doesn't.[36] Atman, state these schools, is the unchanging, eternal, innermost radiant self that is unaffected by personality, unaffected by ego of oneself, unaffected by ego of others; Atman is that which is ever-free, never-bound, one that seeks, realizes and is the realized purpose, meaning, liberation in life.[37][38] Puchalski states, "the ultimate goal of Hindu religious life is to transcend individually, to realize one's own true nature", the inner essence of oneself, which is divine and pure.[39]

Vedanta school

Philosophical schools such as Advaita (non-dualism) see the "spirit, soul, self" within each living entity as being fully identical with Brahman – the Universal Soul.[40] Advaita school holds that there is One Soul that connects and exists in all living beings, regardless of their shapes or forms, there is no distinction, no superior, no inferior, no separate devotee soul (Atman), no separate God soul (Brahman).[40] The Oneness unifies all beings, there is divine in every being, and that all existence is a single Reality, state the Advaita Vedanta Hindus. In contrast, devotional sub-schools of Vedanta such as Dvaita (dualism) differentiate between the individual Atma in living beings, and the Supreme Atma (Paramatma) as being separate.[41][42]

Advaita Vedanta philosophy considers Atman as self-existent awareness, limitless and non-dual.[43] To Advaitins, the Atman is the Brahman, the Brahman is the Atman, each Self is non-different from the infinite.[40][44] Atman is the Universal Principle, one eternal undifferentiated self-luminous consciousness, the Truth asserts Advaita Hinduism.[45][46] Human beings, in a state of unawareness and ignorance of this Universal Self, see their "I-ness" as different than the being in others, then act out of impulse, fears, cravings, malice, division, confusion, anxiety, passions, and a sense of distinctiveness.[47][48] Atman-knowledge, to Advaitins, is that state of full awareness, liberation and freedom which overcomes dualities at all levels, realizing the divine within oneself, the divine in others and all living beings, the non-dual Oneness, that God is in everything, and everything is God.[40][43] This identification of individual living beings/souls, or jiva-atmas, with the 'One Atman' is the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta position.

The monist, non-dual view of existence in Advaita Vedanta is not accepted by the dualistic/theistic Dvaita Vedanta. Dvaita Vedanta calls the Atman of a Supreme Being as "Paramatman", and holds it to be different from individual Atman. Dvaita scholars assert that God is the ultimate, complete, perfect but distinct Soul, one that is separate from incomplete, imperfect Jivas (individual souls).[49] Advaita sub-school believes that Self-knowledge leads to liberation in this life, while Dvaita sub-school believes that liberation is only possible in after-life as communion with God, and only through the grace of God (if not, then one's Atman is reborn).[50] God created individual souls, state Dvaita Vedantins, but the individual soul never was and never will become one with God; the best it can do is to experience bliss by getting infinitely close to God.[51] The Dvaita school, therefore, in contrast to monistic position of Advaita, advocates a version of monotheism wherein Brahman is made synonymous with Vishnu (or Narayana), distinct from numerous individual Atmans. Dvaita school, states Graham Oppy, is not strict monotheism, as it does not deny existence of other Gods and their respective Atman.[52]

The Vedanta sub-schools of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta and Achintya Bheda Abheda combine ideas about Ātman from dual and non-dual schools.

Mimamsa school

Ātman, in the ritualism-based Mīmāṃsā school of Hinduism, is an eternal, omnipresent, inherently active essence that is identified as I-Consciousness.[53][54] Unlike all other schools of Hinduism, Mimamsaka scholars considered ego and Atman as same. Within Mimamsa school, there were divergence of views. Kumārila, for example, held that Atman is the object of I-Consciousness, while Prabhakara held Atman is the subject of I-Consciousness.[53] Mimamsaka Hindus believed that what matters is virtuous actions and rituals completed with perfection, and it is this that creates merit and imprints knowledge on Atman, whether one is aware or not aware of Atman. Their foremost emphasis was formulation and understanding of laws/duties/virtuous life (dharma) and consequent perfect execution of kriyas (actions). The Upanishadic discussion of Atman, to them, was of secondary importance.[54][55] While other schools disagreed and discarded the Atma theory of Mimamsa, they incorporated Mimamsa theories on ethics, self-discipline, action and dharma as necessary in one's journey towards "Know your Atman".[56][57]

Vaiśeṣika school

The Vaisheshika school of Hinduism, using its non-theistic theories of atomistic naturalism, posits that Ātman is one of the four eternal non-physical[58] substances without attributes, the other three being kala (time), dik (space) and manas (mind).[59] Time and space, stated Vaiśeṣika scholars, are eka (one), nitya (eternal) and vibhu (all pervading). Time and space are indivisible reality, but human mind prefers to divide them to comprehend past, present, future, relative place of other substances and beings, direction and its own coordinates in the universe. In contrast to these characteristics of time and space, Vaiśeṣika scholars considered Ātman to be many, eternal, independent and spiritual substances that cannot be reduced or inferred from other three non-physical and five physical dravya (substances).[59] Mind and sensory organs are instruments, while consciousness is the domain of "atman, soul, self".[59]

The knowledge of Ātman, to Vaiśeṣika Hindus, is another knowledge without any "bliss" or "consciousness" moksha state that Vedanta and Yoga school describe.[36]

Nyaya school

Early atheistic and later theistic Nyaya scholars, both, made substantial contributions to the systematic study of Ātman.[60] They posited that even though "self, soul" is intimately related to the knower, it can still be the subject of knowledge. John Plott[60] states that the Nyaya scholars developed a theory of negation that far exceeds Hegel's theory of negation, while their epistemological theories refined to "know the knower" at least equals Aristotle's sophistication. Nyaya methodology influenced all major schools of Hinduism.

The Nyaya scholars defined Ātman as an imperceptible substance that is the substrate of human consciousness, manifesting itself with or without qualities such as desires, feelings, perception, knowledge, understanding, errors, insights, sufferings, bliss and others.[61][62] Nyaya school not only developed its theory of Atman, it contributed to Hindu philosophy in a number of ways. To the Hindu theory of Ātman, the contributions of Nyaya scholars were twofold. One, they went beyond holding it as "self evident" and offered rational proofs, consistent with their epistemology, in their debates with Buddhists, that "Atman exists".[63] Second, they developed theories on what "Atman is and is not".[64] As proofs for the proposition "Self, Soul exists", for example, Nyaya scholars argued that personal recollections and memories of the form "I did this so many years ago" implicitly presume that "there is a Self that is substantial, continuing, unchanged and existent".[63][64]

Nyayasutra, a 2nd-century CE foundational text of Nyaya school of Hinduism, states that the Soul is a proper object of human knowledge. It also states that Soul is a real substance that can be inferred from certain signs, objectively perceivable attributes. For example, in Book 1, Chapter 1, verses 9 and 10, Nyayasutra states[61]

Ātman, body, senses, objects of senses, intellect, mind, activity, error, pretyabhava (after life), fruit, suffering and bliss are the objects of right knowledge.
Desire, aversion, effort, happiness, suffering and cognition are the Linga (लिङ्ग, mark, sign) of the Ātman.

Nyaya Sutra, I.1.9-10[61]

In Book 2, Chapter 1, verses 1 to 23, Nyayasutras text posits that sensory act of looking is different than perception and cognition, that perception and knowledge arise from the seekings and actions of Ātman (Soul).[65] Naiyayikas emphasize that Ātman has qualities, but is different than its qualities. For example, desire is one of many quality of Ātman in Nyaya school, but they state that Ātman need not always have desire, and in the state of liberation, for instance, Atman is without desire.[61] Atman is the object, and the conventional "I, me" is one of its subjects, to Nyaya school.[61]

Samkhya school

The concept of Ātman in Samkhya, the oldest school of Hinduism, is quite similar to one in Advaita Vedanta school. Both Samkhya and Advaita consider the ego (asmita, ahamkara) rather than the Ātman to be the cause of pleasure and pain.[66] They both consider Ātman as self, soul that is innermost essence of any individual being. Further, they both consider self-knowledge as the means of liberation, freedom and bliss. The difference between Samkhya and Advaita is that Samkhya holds there are as many Atmans as there are beings, each distinct reality unto itself, and self-knowledge a state of Ipseity. In contrast, the monism theme of Advaita holds that there is One Soul, the Self of each and all beings are connected and unified with Brahman.[36] The essence and spirit of everything is related to each Self, asserts Advaita Vedanta, and each Atman is related to the essence and spirit of everything, all is One, Self is Brahman and Brahman is Self. Samkhya asserts that each being's Atman is unique, different.[36]

Yoga school

The Yogasutra of Patanjali, the foundational text of Yoga school of Hinduism, mentions Atma in multiple verses, and particularly in its last Book where Samadhi is described as the path to Self-knowledge and kaivalya. Some earlier mentions of Atman in Yogasutra include verse 2.5, where evidence of Ignorance includes "confusing what is not Atman as Atman".

अनित्याशुचिदुःखानात्मसु नित्यशुचिसुखात्मख्यातिरविद्या

Avidya (अविद्या, Ignorance) is regarding the transient as eternal, the impure as pure, the pain-giving as joy-giving, and the non-Atman as Atman.

Yogasutra 2.5[67]

In verses 2.19-2.20, Yogasutra declares that pure ideas is the domain of the Soul, the perceivable Universe exists to enlighten the Soul, but while the Soul is pure, it may be deceived by complexities of perception or his intellect. These verses also set the purpose of all experience as a means to Self-knowledge.

द्रष्टा दृशिमात्रः शुद्धोऽपि प्रत्ययानुपश्यः
तदर्थ एव दृश्यस्यात्मा

The Seer (Soul) Is the absolute knower. Though pure, modifications are witnessed by Him by coloring of intellect.
The spectacle exists only to serve the purpose of the Atman.

Yogasutra 2.19 - 2.20[67]

In Book 4, Yogasutra states spiritual liberation as the stage where the yogin achieves distinguishing self-knowledge, he no longer confuses his mind as his soul, the mind is no longer affected by afflictions or worries of any kind, ignorance vanishes, and "pure consciousness settles in its own pure nature".[67][68]

The Yoga school is similar to the Samkhya school in its conceptual foundations of Ātman. It is the Self that is discovered and realized in the Kaivalya state, in both schools. Like Samkhya, this is not a single universal Ātman. It is one of the many individual selves where each "pure consciousness settles in its own pure nature", as a unique distinct Soul, Self.[69] However, Yoga school's methodology was widely influential on other schools of Hindu philosophy. Vedanta monism, for example, adopted Yoga as a means to reach Jivanmukti – self-realization in this life – as conceptualized in Advaita Vedanta.

Influence of Atman theory on Hindu Ethics

Ahimsa, non-violence, is considered the highest ethical value and virtue in Hinduism.[70] The virtue of Ahimsa follows from the Atman theories of Hindu traditions.[71][72]

The Atman theory in Upanishads had a profound impact on ancient ethical theories and dharma traditions now known as Hinduism.[71] The earliest Dharmasutras of Hindus recite Atman theory from the Vedic texts and Upanishads,[73] and on its foundation build precepts of dharma, laws and ethics. Atman theory, particularly the Advaita Vedanta and Yoga versions, influenced the emergence of the theory of Ahimsa (non-violence against all creatures), culture of vegetarianism, and other theories of ethical, dharmic life.[74][75]


The Dharmasutras and Dharmasastras integrate the teachings of Atman theory. Apastamba Dharmasutra, the oldest known Indian text on dharma, for example, titles Chapters 1.8.22 and 1.8.23 as "Knowledge of the Atman" and then recites,[76]

There is no higher object than the attainment of the knowledge of Atman. We shall quote the verses from the Veda which refer to the attainment of the knowledge of the Atman. All living creatures are the dwelling of him who lies enveloped in matter, who is immortal, who is spotless. A wise man shall strive after the knowledge of the Atman. It is he [Self] who is the eternal part in all creatures, whose essence is wisdom, who is immortal, unchangeable, pure; he is the universe, he is the highest goal. –

Freedom from anger, from excitement, from rage, from greed, from perplexity, from hypocrisy, from hurtfulness (from injury to others); Speaking the truth, moderate eating, refraining from calumny and envy, sharing with others, avoiding accepting gifts, uprightness, forgiveness, gentleness, tranquility, temperance, amity with all living creatures, yoga, honorable conduct, benevolence and contentedness – These virtues have been agreed upon for all the ashramas; he who, according to the precepts of the sacred law, practices these, becomes united with the Universal Self. –

Knowledge of the Atman, Apastamba Dharma Sūtra, ~ 400 BCE[76]


The ethical prohibition on violence against all human beings and living creatures (Ahimsa, अहिंसा), in Hindu traditions, can be traced to the Atman theory.[71] This precept against injuring any living being appears together with Atman theory in hymn 8.15.1 of Chandogya Upanishad (ca. 8th century BCE),[77] then becomes central in the texts of Hindu philosophy, entering the dharma codes of ancient Dharmasutras and later era Manu-Smriti. Ahimsa theory is a natural corollary and consequence of "Atman is Universal Oneness, present in all living beings, Atman connects and prevades in everyone, hurting or injurying another being is hurting the Atman, and thus One Self that exists in another body". This conceptual connection between one's Atman, the Universal and Ahimsa starts in Isha Upanishad,[71] develops in the theories of the ancient scholar Yajnavalkya, and one which inspired Gandhi as he led non-violent movement against colonialism in early 20th century.[78][79]

यस्तु सर्वाणि भूतान्यात्मन्येवानुपश्यति । सर्वभूतेषु चात्मानं ततो न विजुगुप्सते ॥६॥
यस्मिन्सर्वाणि भूतान्यात्मैवाभूद्विजानतः । तत्र को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वमनुपश्यतः ॥७॥
स पर्यगाच्छुक्रमकायमव्रणम् अस्नाविरँ शुद्धमपापविद्धम् । कविर्मनीषी परिभूः स्वयम्भूःयाथातथ्यतोऽर्थान् व्यदधाच्छाश्वतीभ्यः समाभ्यः ॥८॥

And he who sees everything in his Atman, and his Atman in everything, does not seek to hide himself from That.
In whom all beings have become one with his own Atman, what perplexity, what sorrow, is there when he sees this Oneness?
He [the Self] prevades all, resplendent, bodiless, woundless, without muscles, pure, untouched by evil; far-seeing, transcendent, self-being, disposing ends through perpetual ages.

Isha Upanishad, Hymns 6-8,[78]

Atman – the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism

All orthodox schools of Hinduism hold the premise, "Atman exists, as self evident truth". Buddhism, in contrast, holds the premise, "Atman does not exist (or, An-atman) as self evident".[80][81]

Buddhists do not believe that at the core of all human beings and living creatures, there is any "eternal, essential and absolute something called a soul, self or atman".[6] Buddhists reject the concept and all doctrines associated with atman, call atman as illusion (maya), asserting instead the theory of "no-self" and "no-soul".[81][82] Buddhism, from its earliest days, has denied the existence of the "self, soul" in its core philosophical and ontological texts. In its soteriological themes, Buddhism has defined nirvana as that blissful state when a person realizes that he or she has "no self, no soul".[6][83][84]

Hindus believe in Atman. They hold that at the core of all human beings and living creatures, there is "eternal, innermost essential and absolute something called a soul, self that is atman."[6] Within the diverse schools of Hinduism, there are differences of perspective on whether souls are distinct, whether Supreme Soul or God exists, whether the nature of Atman is dual or non-dual, how to reach moksha – the knowledge of Self that liberates one to blissful content state of existence, and whether moksha is achievable in this life (Advaita Vedanta, Yoga) or is achievable only in after-life (Dvaita Vedanta, Nyaya). However, despite these diversity of ideas and paths in different schools of Hinduism, unlike Buddhism, the foundation premise of Hinduism is that "soul, self exists", and there is bliss in seeking self, knowing self, and self-realization.[6][85]

While the Upanishads recognized many things as being not-Self, they felt that a real, true Self could be found. They held that when it was found, and known to be identical to Brahman, the basis of everything, this would bring liberation. In the Buddhist Suttas, though, literally everything is seen is non-Self, even Nirvana. When this is known, then liberation – Nirvana – is attained by total non-attachment. Thus both the Upanishads and the Buddhist Suttas see many things as not-Self, but the Suttas apply it, indeed non-Self, to everything.

Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices[86]

Atman jnana and know thyself

The Atman concept and its discussions in Hindu philosophy, parallel with Psuchê (Soul) and its discussion in ancient Greek philosophy.[87] Eliade notes that there is a capital difference, with schools of Hinduism asserting that liberation of Atman implies "self knowledge" and "bliss".[87] Similarly, Self-knowledge conceptual theme of Hinduism (Atman jnana)[88] parallels the "Know thyself" conceptual theme of Greek philosophy.[23][89] Max Müller summarized it thus,

There is not what could be called a philosophical system in these Upanishads. They are, in the true sense of the word, guesses at truth, frequently contradicting each other, yet all tending in one direction. The key-note of the old Upanishads is "know thyself," but with a much deeper meaning than that of the γνῶθι σεαυτόν of the Delphic Oracle. The "know thyself" of the Upanishads means, know thy true self, that which underlines thine Ego, and find it and know it in the highest, the eternal Self, the One without a second, which underlies the whole world.

See also


  1. [a] Atman, Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press (2012), Quote: "1. real self of the individual; 2. a person's soul";
    [b] John Bowker (2000), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0192800947, See entry for Atman;
    [c] WJ Johnson (2009), A Dictionary of Hinduism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0198610250, See entry for Atman (self).
  2. 1 2 David Lorenzen (2004), The Hindu World (Editors: Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby), Routledge, ISBN 0-415215277, pages 208-209, Quote: "Advaita and nirguni movements, on the other hand, stress an interior mysticism in which the devotee seeks to discover the identity of individual soul (atman) with the universal ground of being (brahman) or to find god within himself".
  3. Chad Meister (2010), The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195340136, page 63; Quote: "Even though Buddhism explicitly rejected the Hindu ideas of Atman (“soul”) and Brahman, Hinduism treats Sakyamuni Buddha as one of the ten avatars of Vishnu."
  4. Deussen, Paul and Geden, A. S. The Philosophy of the Upanishads. Cosimo Classics (June 1, 2010). P. 86. ISBN 1616402407.
  5. Richard King (1995), Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791425138, page 64, Quote: "Atman as the innermost essence or soul of man, and Brahman as the innermost essence and support of the universe. (...) Thus we can see in the Upanishads, a tendency towards a convergence of microcosm and macrocosm, culminating in the equating of atman with Brahman".
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 KN Jayatilleke (2010), Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, ISBN 978-8120806191, pages 246-249, from note 385 onwards; Steven Collins (1994), Religion and Practical Reason (Editors: Frank Reynolds, David Tracy), State Univ of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791422175, page 64; "Central to Buddhist soteriology is the doctrine of not-self (Pali: anattā, Sanskrit: anātman, the opposed doctrine of ātman is central to Brahmanical thought). Put very briefly, this is the [Buddhist] doctrine that human beings have no soul, no self, no unchanging essence."; Edward Roer (Translator), Shankara's Introduction, p. 2, at Google Books to Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad, pages 2-4; Katie Javanaud (2013), Is The Buddhist ‘No-Self’ Doctrine Compatible With Pursuing Nirvana?, Philosophy Now
  7. 1 2 Atman Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper (2012)
  8. R Dalal (2011), The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths, Penguin, ISBN 978-0143415176, page 38
  9. Norman C. McClelland (2010). Encyclopedia of Reincarnation and Karma. McFarland. pp. 16, 34. ISBN 978-0-7864-5675-8.
  10. 1 2 [a] Atman, Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press (2012), Quote: "1. real self of the individual; 2. a person's soul";
    [b] John Bowker (2000), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0192800947, See entry for Atman;
    [c] WJ Johnson (2009), A Dictionary of Hinduism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0198610250, See entry for Atman (self).
  11. R Dalal (2011), The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths, Penguin, ISBN 978-0143415176, page 38
  12. Karel Werner (1998). Yoga and Indian Philosophy. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 57–58. ISBN 978-81-208-1609-1.
  13. [a] David Lorenzen (2004), The Hindu World (Editors: Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby), Routledge, ISBN 0-415215277, pages 208-209, Quote: "Advaita and nirguni movements, on the other hand, stress an interior mysticism in which the devotee seeks to discover the identity of individual soul (atman) with the universal ground of being (brahman) or to find god within himself".;
    [b] Richard King (1995), Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791425138, page 64, Quote: "Atman as the innermost essence or soul of man, and Brahman as the innermost essence and support of the universe. (...) Thus we can see in the Upanishads, a tendency towards a convergence of microcosm and macrocosm, culminating in the equating of atman with Brahman".
    [c] Chad Meister (2010), The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195340136, page 63; Quote: "Even though Buddhism explicitly rejected the Hindu ideas of Atman (soul) and Brahman, Hinduism treats Sakyamuni Buddha as one of the ten avatars of Vishnu."
  14. Roshen Dalal (2010). The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths. Penguin Books. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-14-341517-6.
  15. Norman C. McClelland (2010). Encyclopedia of Reincarnation and Karma. McFarland. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-0-7864-5675-8.
  16. [a] Julius Lipner (2012). Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Routledge. pp. 53–56, 81, 160–161, 269–270. ISBN 978-1-135-24060-8.;
    [b] P. T. Raju (1985). Structural Depths of Indian Thought. State University of New York Press. pp. 26–37. ISBN 978-0-88706-139-4.;
    [c] Gavin D. Flood (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 15, 84–85. ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0.
  17. A. L. Herman (1976). An Introduction to Indian Thought. Prentice-Hall. pp. 110–115. ISBN 978-0-13-484477-0.
  18. Jeaneane D. Fowler (1997). Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 109–121. ISBN 978-1-898723-60-8.
  19. Arvind Sharma (2004). Advaita Vedānta: An Introduction. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 24–43. ISBN 978-81-208-2027-2.
  20. ऋग्वेद: सूक्तं १०.९७, Wikisource; Quote: "यदिमा वाजयन्नहमोषधीर्हस्त आदधे । आत्मा यक्ष्मस्य नश्यति पुरा जीवगृभो यथा ॥११॥
  21. Baumer, Bettina and Vatsyayan, Kapila. Kalatattvakosa Vol. 1: Pervasive Terms Vyapti (Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts). Motilal Banarsidass; Revised edition (March 1, 2001). P. 42. ISBN 8120805844.
  22. Source 1: Rig veda Sanskrit;
    Source 2: ऋग्वेदः/संहिता Wikisource
  23. 1 2 PT Raju (1985), Structural Depths of Indian Thought, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0887061394, pages 35-36
  24. Soul is synonymous with Self in translations of ancient texts of Hindu philosophy
  25. Alice Bailey (1973), The Soul and Its Mechanism, ISBN 978-0853301158, pages 82-83
  26. Eknath Easwaran (2007), The Upanishads, Nilgiri Press, ISBN 978-1586380212, pages 38-39, 318-320
  27. Raju, Poolla Tirupati. Structural Depths of Indian Thought. SUNY Series in Philosophy. P. 26. ISBN 0-88706-139-7.
  28. Sanskrit Original: बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद् मन्त्र ५ [IV.iv.5], Sanskrit Documents;
    Translation 1: Brihadāranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5 Madhavananda (Translator), page 712;
    Translation 2: Brihadāranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5 Eduard Roer (Translator), page 235
  29. 1 2 Sanskrit Original: बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद्, Sanskrit Documents;
    Translation 1: Brihadāranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 Eduard Roer (Translator), pages 101-120, Quote: "For he becomes the soul of them." (page 114);
    Translation 2: Brihadāranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 Madhavananda (Translator), page 146;
  30. Original Sanskrit: अग्निर्यथैको भुवनं प्रविष्टो, रूपं रूपं प्रतिरूपो बभूव । एकस्तथा सर्वभूतान्तरात्मा, रूपं रूपं प्रतिरूपो बहिश्च ॥ ९ ॥;
    English Translation 1: Stephen Knapp (2005), The Heart of Hinduism, ISBN 978-0595350759, page 202-203;
    English Translation 2:Katha Upanishad Max Müller (Translator), Fifth Valli, 9th verse
  31. 1 2 Sanskrit Original: आत्मानँ रथितं विद्धि शरीरँ रथमेव तु । बुद्धिं तु सारथिं विद्धि मनः प्रग्रहमेव च ॥ ३ ॥ इन्द्रियाणि हयानाहुर्विषयाँ स्तेषु गोचरान् । आत्मेन्द्रियमनोयुक्तं भोक्तेत्याहुर्मनीषिणः ॥ ४ ॥, Katha Upanishad Wikisource;
    English Translation: Max Müller, Katha Upanishad Third Valli, Verse 3 & 4 and through 15, pages 12-14
  32. Stephen Kaplan (2011), The Routledge Companion to Religion and Science, (Editors: James W. Haag, Gregory R. Peterson, Michael L. Speziopage), Routledge, ISBN 978-0415492447, page 323
  33. Max Müller, Upanishads, Wordsworth, ISBN 978-1840221022, pages XXIII-XXIV
  34. 1 2 3 John Koller (2012), Shankara, in Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion, (Editors: Chad Meister, Paul Copan), Routledge, ISBN 978-0415782944, pages 99-102
  35. Paul Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads at Google Books, Dover Publications, pages 86-111, 182-212
  36. 1 2 3 4 5 John C. Plott et al (2000), Global History of Philosophy: The Axial Age, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120801585, pages 60-62
  37. James Hart (2009), Who One Is: Book 2: Existenz and Transcendental Phenomenology, Springer, ISBN 978-1402091773, pages 2-3, 46-47
  38. Richard White (2012), The Heart of Wisdom: A Philosophy of Spiritual Life, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, ISBN 978-1442221161, pages 125-131
  39. Christina Puchalski (2006), A Time for Listening and Caring, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195146820 , page 172
  40. 1 2 3 4 Arvind Sharma(2007), Advaita Vedānta: An Introduction, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120820272, pages 19-40, 53-58, 79-86
  41. Bhagavata Purana 3.28.41
  42. Bhagavata Purana 7.7.19–20 ""Atma" also refers to the Supreme Lord or the living entities. Both of them are spiritual."
  43. 1 2 A Rambachan (2006), The Advaita Worldview: God, World, and Humanity, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791468524, pages 47, 99-103
  44. Karl Potter (2008), Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies: Advaita Vedānta, Volume 3, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120803107, pages 510-512
  45. S Timalsina (2014), Consciousness in Indian Philosophy: The Advaita Doctrine of ‘Awareness Only’, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415762236, pages 3-23
  46. Eliot Deutsch (1980), Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0824802714, pages 48-53
  47. A Rambachan (2006), The Advaita Worldview: God, World, and Humanity, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791468524, pages 114-122
  48. Adi Sankara, A Bouquet of Nondual Texts: Advaita Prakarana Manjari, Translators: Ramamoorthy & Nome, ISBN 978-0970366726, pages 173-214
  49. R Prasad (2009), A Historical-developmental Study of Classical Indian Philosophy of Morals, Concept Publishing, ISBN 978-8180695957, pages 345-347
  50. James Lewis and William Travis (1999), Religious Traditions of the World, ISBN 978-1579102302, pages 279-280
  51. Thomas Padiyath (2014), The Metaphysics of Becoming, De Gruyter, ISBN 978-3110342550, pages 155-157
  52. Graham Oppy (2014), Describing Gods, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1107087040, page 3
  53. 1 2 PT Raju (2008), The Philosophical Traditions of India, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415461214, pages 79-80
  54. 1 2 Chris Bartley (2013), Purva Mimamsa, in Encyclopaedia of Asian Philosophy (Editor: Oliver Leaman), Routledge, 978-0415862530, page 443-445
  55. Oliver Leaman (2006), Shruti, in Encyclopaedia of Asian Philosophy, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415862530, page 503
  56. PT Raju (2008), The Philosophical Traditions of India, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415461214, pages 82-85
  57. PT Raju (1985), Structural Depths of Indian Thought, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0887061394, pages 54-63; Michael C. Brannigan (2009), Striking a Balance: A Primer in Traditional Asian Values, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 978-0739138465, page 15
  58. The school posits that there are five physical substances: earth, water, air, water and akasa (ether/sky/space beyond air)
  59. 1 2 3 Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore (Eds., 1973), A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, Princeton University Press, Reprinted in 1973, ISBN 978-0691019581, pages 386-423
  60. 1 2 John C. Plott et al (2000), Global History of Philosophy: The Axial Age, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120801585, page 62
  61. 1 2 3 4 5 Original Sanskrit: Nyayasutra Anand Ashram Sanskrit Granthvali, pages 26-28;
    English translation 1: Nyayasutra see verses 1.1.9 and 1.1.10 on pages 4-5;
    English translation 2: Elisa Freschi (2014), Puspika: Tracing Ancient India Through Texts and Traditions, (Editors: Giovanni Ciotti, Alastair Gornall, Paolo Visigalli), Oxbow, ISBN 978-1782974154, pages 56-73
  62. KK Chakrabarti (1999), Classical Indian Philosophy of Mind: The Nyaya Dualist Tradition, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791441718, pages 2, 187-188, 220
  63. 1 2 See example discussed in this section; For additional examples of Nyaya reasoning to prove "Soul exists", using propositions and its theories of negation, see: Nyayasutra verses 1.2.1 on pages 14-15, 1.2.59 on page 20, 3.1.1-3.1.27 on pages 63-69, and later chapters
  64. 1 2 Roy W. Perrett (Editor, 2000), Indian Philosophy: Metaphysics, Volume 3, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 978-0815336082, page xvii; also see Chakrabarti pages 279-292
  65. Nyayasutra see pages 22-29
  66. Paranjpe, A. C. Self and Identity in Modern Psychology and Indian Thought. Springer; 1 edition (September 30, 1998). P. 263-264. ISBN 978-0-306-45844-6.
  67. 1 2 3
  68. Verses 4.24-4.34, Patanjali's Yogasutras; Quote: "विशेषदर्शिन आत्मभावभावनाविनिवृत्तिः"
  69. Stephen H. Phillips, Classical Indian Metaphysics: Refutations of Realism and the Emergence of "new Logic". Open Court Publishing, 1995, pages 12–13.
  70. Stephen H. Phillips & other authors (2008), in Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, & Conflict (Second Edition), ISBN 978-0123739858, Elsevier Science, Pages 1347–1356, 701-849, 1867
  71. 1 2 3 4 Ludwig Alsdorf (2010), The History of Vegetarianism and Cow-Veneration in India, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415548243, pages 111-114
  72. NF Gier (1995), Ahimsa, the Self, and Postmodernism, International Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 35, Issue 1, pages 71-86, doi:10.5840/ipq199535160;
    Jean Varenne (1977), Yoga and the Hindu Tradition, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226851167, page 200-202
  73. These ancient texts of India refer to Upanishads and Vedic era texts some of which have been traced to preserved documents, but some are lost or yet to be found.
  74. Stephen H. Phillips (2009), Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231144858, pages 122-125
  75. Knut Jacobsen (1994), The institutionalization of the ethics of “non-injury” toward all “beings” in Ancient India, Environmental Ethics, Volume 16, Issue 3, pages 287-301, doi:10.5840/enviroethics199416318
  76. 1 2 Sanskrit Original: Apastamba Dharma Sutra page 14;
    English Translation 1: Knowledge of the Atman Apastamba Dharmasutra, The Sacred Laws of the Aryas, Georg Bühler (Translator), pages 75-79;
    English Translation 2: Ludwig Alsdorf (2010), The History of Vegetarianism and Cow-Veneration in India, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415548243, pages 111-112;
    English Translation 3: Patrick Olivelle (1999), Dharmasutras, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0192838827, page 34
  77. Sanskrit original: तधैतद्ब्रह्मा प्रजापतये उवाच प्रजापतिर्मनवे मनुः प्रजाभ्यः आचार्यकुलाद्वेदमधीत्य यथाविधानं गुरोः कर्मातिशेषेणाभिसमावृत्य कुटुम्बे शुचौ देशे स्वाध्यायमधीयानो धर्मिकान्विदधदात्मनि सर्वैन्द्रियाणि संप्रतिष्ठाप्याहिँसन्सर्व भूतान्यन्यत्र तीर्थेभ्यः स खल्वेवं वर्तयन्यावदायुषं ब्रह्मलोकमभिसंपद्यते न च पुनरावर्तते न च पुनरावर्तते ॥१॥; छान्दोग्योपनिषद् ४ Wikisource;
    English Translation: Paul Deussen, Sixty Upanishads of the Veda, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120814684, page 205
  78. 1 2 Sanskrit original: ईशावास्य उपनिषद् Wikisource;
    English Translation 1: Isha Upanishad Max Müller (Translator), Oxford University Press, page 312, hymns 6 to 8;
    English Translation 2: Isha Upanishad See translation by Charles Johnston, Universal Theosophy;
    English Translation 3: Isavasyopanishad SS Sastri (Translator), hymns 6-8, pages 12-14
  79. Deen K. Chatterjee (2011), Encyclopedia of Global Justice: A - I, Volume 1, Springer, ISBN 978-1402091599, page 376
  80. Dae-Sook Suh (1994), Korean Studies: New Pacific Currents, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0824815981, page 171
  81. 1 2 John C. Plott et al (2000), Global History of Philosophy: The Axial Age, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120801585, page 63, Quote: "The Buddhist schools reject any Ātman concept. As we have already observed, this is the basic and ineradicable distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism".
  82. Helen J Baroni (2002), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism, Rosen Publishing, ISBN 978-0823922406, page 14
  83. David Loy (1982), Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?, International Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 23, Issue 1, pages 65-74
  84. Steven Collins (1990). Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-521-39726-1.; Quote: "It is at this point that the differences [between Upanishads and Abhidharma] start to become marked. There is no central self which animates the impersonal elements. The concept of nirvana (Pali nibbana), although similarly the criterion according to which ethical judgements are made and religious life assessed, is not the liberated state of a self. Like all other things and concepts (dhamma) it is anatta, not-self [in Buddhism].";
    Norman C. McClelland (2010). Encyclopedia of Reincarnation and Karma. McFarland. pp. 16–18. ISBN 978-0-7864-5675-8. Quote: "Anatman/Anatta. Literally meaning no (an-) self or soul (-atman), this Buddhist term applies to the denial of a metaphysically changeless, eternal and autonomous soul or self. (...) The early canonical Buddhist view of nirvana sometimes suggests a kind of extinction-like (kataleptic) state that automatically encourages a metaphysical no-soul (self)."
  85. Sengaku Mayeda (2000), Sankara and Buddhism, in New Perspectives on Advaita Vedānta (Editors: Richard V. De Smet, Bradley J. Malkovsky), Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004116665, pages 18-29
  86. Peter Harvey (2012). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-0-521-85942-4.
  87. 1 2 Marcea Eliade (1985), History of Religious Ideas, Volume 2, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226204031, pages 493-494
  88. Sometimes called Atmanam Viddhi, Frédérique Apffel-Marglin and Stephen A. Marglin (1996), Decolonizing Knowledge : From Development to Dialogue, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0198288848, page 372
  89. Andrew Fort (1998), Jivanmukti in Transformation: Embodied Liberation in Advaita and Neo-Vedanta, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791439036, pages 31-46
  90. WD Strappini, The Upanishads, p. 258, at Google Books, The Month and Catholic Review, Vol. 23, Issue 42

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