By Jayaram V
Hindus believe in the existence of soul, which is eternal,
imperishable, unchanging and exists beyond the grasp of the
mind and the senses. Hindus call it Atma or
Atman, that which is deep inside. It is derived from the
root word "an" which means to breath. Atman is that which
breathes. Atman is ajobhaga , the unborn part of man (Rigveda),
which is different from and not to be confused with neither the
body nor the mind.
According to Hinduism, a person is evolved to the extent he
is aware of the true nature of his self. It is this awareness
which distinguishes an ignorant person from the self realized
one. In the Chandogya Upanishad we come across an interesting
story. Virochana, the demon from the world of demons and
Indra, the lord of the heavens, went to Prajapati and
sought clarification on the nature of self.
Prajapati first explained to them that the body was the
self. Virochana satisfied with this explanation went away, with
the belief that the body was indeed the soul which became the
doctrine of the demons.
But Indra not satisfied with this explanation stayed back
and pursued his enquiry. Through stages and after many sessions
with Prajapathi, he came to the realization that the soul was
neither the body, nor the dream self, nor the self in sleep,
but the spirit that always existed in pure state beyond all
The self is realized only when one withdraws the senses from
the sense objects like a tortoise and looks inward.
The Mandukya Upanishad describes the four states of
consciousness, which one experiences as he passes through the
waking consciousness into deep sleep.
These are Vaishwanara, the wakeful state., followed by
Taijasa, the dream state, then pragna, the deep sleep state and
finally ,Turiya, the transcendental state in which one
experiences the real self. "It is the state which has no
elements, which cannot be spoken of , into which the world is
resolved, benign, non-individual." What exists beyond the self
is the unmanifest, avyaktam. (Katha Upanishad 7).
Self-realization should be the object of human endeavor. Every
thing else leads to pain, suffering, birth and rebirth. He who
realizes his self goes beyond this world into the world of
Brahman never to return again.
Hindus believe that the individual soul and the universal
soul are the two sides of the same reality. Atman is Purusha
who enters the body as a part of His creative process. Since
the body is made up of the gunas, he comes under the influence
of illusion and develops a false identity called the sense of
self or the sense of individuality, also known as ego or
A devout Hindu's primary concern is how to overcome his ego
sense and discover his true self. For that he would resort to
different means, starting with simple idol worship, performing
household rituals, observing samskaras (sacraments), and ending
up as a seeker of truth either through the path of knowledge
(Gnana), or the path of action (karma) or the path of
renunciation (sanyas) or the path of devotion (bhakti).
The scriptures suggest three simple methods to realize the
self, namely sravanam (listening), mananam (thinking or
remembering) and nidhidhyasana (concentration and meditation on
Atman cannot be realized by reading books or indulging in
rituals, but only through self-control, discipline of the mind
and body, withdrawal of the senses and elimination of all forms
of desires. Or he may also experience it through intense
devotion obtaining the grace of God.
It is not known to many that when a Hindu worships an idol,
he simultaneously, and in many cases unknowingly, worships his
inner self, which he symbolically installs in the object of his
worship before performing the ritual of worship. The process is
generally referred as prana-prathishta, or "establishing life
It is also interesting to note that among the many reasons
why Hindus bear the names of gods and goddesses as their
personal names, one is that it is a way of acknowledging the
presence of god in man.
Man is a god in the making. Inside his body resides the
eternal soul whose ultimate destiny is the Supreme Self. "The
breath that exists in him is also the same life breath that
sustains this universe. His body is verily a living temple, a
city of nine gates, in which resides the divine soul."
Hindu Scriptures urges us not to identify ourselves with our
bodies and minds which are sense dependent, perishable, and
unreal. The body has to be subjected to control and discipline,
which is generally accomplished by way of fasting, observing
austerities and in some extreme cases through pain and
self-torture. (But these are not an end in themselves. In many
cases we are advised to desist from going to the extremes in
our eagerness to gain control over our bodies.)
On the positive side, the body has to be treated as a
vehicle of truth and should be kept in a state of good health,
free from both internal and external impurities. The practice
of yoga is to make the body supple and effective so that it
would be a helpful instrument in the self- realization.
At the time of death, the soul discards the body the way we
discard a new garment. At the time of rebirth it assumes a new
one. Between death and rebirth it may either go to a heaven or
a hell depending upon its previous deeds, but once the fruit of
its previous karma is exhausted, it would definitely come back
According to Hinduism, the soul exists in all beings,
including plants and animals. Even the mineral world is not
devoid of the Supreme Spirit. "He exists in all and all exist
in Him." The whole universe is thus very sacred, pervaded by
the Universal Self.
The beings as well as the elements are in a continuous state
of evolution and the souls that reside in them move through the
cycle of births and deaths till they attain union with the
Supreme Soul. This is in short the concept of soul according to