Atma or Atman, the Individual Self in Hinduism

Atman, the Soul

by Jayaram V

A fundamental difference between Hinduism and Buddhism is that Hinduism believes in an eternal soul whereas Buddhism does not believe in it.

According to Hinduism, which is also suggested in various schools of Hinduism, such as Yoga, each being possess an eternal Self, who is the lord of the body and who lives inside a city of nine or eleven gates or openings.

The body exists for the enjoyment of the Self. The individual Self is a replica of the Cosmic Self or Purusha. Hence it also goes by the name Purusha (the Universal Male).

According to Saivism in the phenomenal world called Samsara, the individual Self is subject to the impurities of egoism (anava), delusion (moha) and attachments (pasas).

The Upanishads abound in the descriptions of Self. A closer study reveals that the concept of Self  in the Upanishads emerged overtime through different phases of understanding from that of a breathing self to an eternal Self.

The Hindu concet of Self is different from the Judea Christian concept of soul. The Self is pure, without qualities, beingness or sense of individuality. In its pure state it is indistinguishable from other Selves.

There is no equivalent word for Atman in English. In English the word Self conveys a different meaning, but for lack of proper expression we are accustomed to use it.

The following are few quotations on Atma.


"Or individual soul is the immortal and spiritual body of light that animates life and reincarnates again and again until all necessary karmas are created and resolved and its essential unity with God is fully realized." Subramuniyaswami.

"Our soul body was created in the image and likeness of the Primal Soul, but it differs from the Primal Soul in that it is immature. While [God] is unevolutionary perfection, we are in the process of evolving." - Subramuniyaswami.

In the mortal world, the individual Self is subject to three forces, namely egoism (anava), attachment (pasas) and delusion (maya). When the Self is held by them as a hostage, it is also subject to the law of karma and the cycle of births and deaths. Neither of these pertains to the Self, because He is above all these. They pertain to the domain of the elemental consciousness or the mind. The Self becomes free when the mind and the body are freed from these impurities through the practice of yoga. - From Brahman by Jayaram V

That which is the subtle essence (the root of all) this whole world has for itself. That is true. This is the self. That art thou, Svetaketu - Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7

Like a flame without smoke, the size of a thumb, is the soul; the Lord of the past and the future, the same both today and tomorrow - Katha Upanishad.

The intrinsic and real nature of all beings is their soul, which is goodness. All is in perfect balance. There are changes, and they may appear evil, but there is no intrinsic evil. Aum. The soul radiates love, is a child of God going through its evolutionary process of growing up into the image and likeness of the Lord. Goodness and mercy, compassion and caring are the intrinsic, inherent or indwelling nature of the soul. Wisdom and pure knowledge, happiness and joy are the intrinsic nature of the soul. Can we believe the soul is anything but goodness, purity and all the refined qualities found within super-consciousness? When God is everywhere, how can there be a place for evil?" Satguru S'ivaya Subramuniyaswami, Dancing with S'iva.

"Each one of us is God (Atman). Nobody is deprived of this. When we realize our Infinite Self, we are replete. There is nothing more to desire. But as long as we do not recognize our own Divinity, we have a yearning. It is yearning for our Divine Self but, blinded by the maya ("illusion") of the world, we mistake this yearning as desire for material pleasures."  Kerry Brown, ed. The Essential Teachings of Hinduism.

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