Introduction to Atman
The atman, (Sanskrit: “self,” “breath”) one of the most basic concepts in Hinduism. It is the universal self, identical with the eternal core of the personality. Which after death either transmigrates to a new life or attains release (moksha) from the bonds of existence. Atman is the immortal aspect of our mortal existence. It is the individual Self, which is hidden in every object of creation including humans. It is the microcosm which represents the macrocosm in each of us. It imparts to us divine qualities and possibilities. Moreover providing us with consciousness and let us experience the pains and pleasures of earthly life.
Atman explained in brief and its identity
Atman is Brahman Itself. It is the very Self which descends into the elements of Nature through self-projection or manifestation. It participates personally in the game of self-induced illusion and pure delight. However, bound by the senses and limited by the ego, we, the jivas, do not perceive the truth. We go out, become involved and in the process forget who we are. It is like a person traveling to a distant land under a spell and forgets his roots, identity, and homeland.
When you look around, you rarely look in. When you are deeply involved with the world, you lose self-awareness and become immersed in the task at hand. It is how nature created your mind and body to keep you bound. “The self-existent Lord pierced the senses to make them turn outward. Thus, we look to the external world and see not the Self with in us.”
The Self is the silent partner in all our deeds and experiences. The experience of the Self arises “When the mind and the five senses are stilled. The moment when the intellect is stilled it enters a state of Yoga. Which is complete stillness in which one enters that state of Oneness.”
Atman has no physical or mental aspect
Atman is described as a flame, of the size of the thumb, which is said to exist physically between the eye brows. Or psychically in the heart, its exact location is uncertain. It has no physical or mental aspect as such. It is a mere reflection or an idea in the intelligence of the mind. However, unquestionably it exists, and is real. All else is false, or an illusion, which withers away. It is crushed by the weight of sins, decay of the world, and pressures of time.
The ego is Atman’s poor cousin, the false center. This assumes the lordship and ownership of the mind and body. Whereas in actual reality it is a mere reflection, a product of illusion and a mental projection. It is born out of sensory experiences and the accumulation of memories and thoughts. While the basis of Atman is reality, permanence and Bliss, the nature of ego is illusion, impermanence and suffering. There are two selves, the separate ego and the indivisible Atman. When one raises above I, me and mine, the Atman reveals Itself as the real Self.”
How does one realize Atman? What is the solution, by which Atman becomes self-evident?
The Upanishads are clear. “The self cannot be known by a person who does not restrain himself from unrighteous ways. It also says that one who does not control his senses and still his mind. Also one who does not practice meditation or austerity,”. This is explained by Yama to Nachiketa in the Katha Upanishad.
Establishing the connection between the outer and the inner worlds is neither easy nor direct and straightforward. One has to pass through many intermediate states. One has to overcome many obstacles, remove many impurities, silence many noises of the mind and body. Besides that one has to suppress undesirable qualities and negative tendencies to reach the final goal. In the mortal world, the Self is subject to the illusion of states.
What can be said about the ultimate experience of knowing the Self? What happens when a seeker reaches there?
No one seems to know clearly, or describe adequately what happens when a seeker achieves union with the Self or Brahman. From the experience of others, we understand that the state of self-realization is beyond the faculties of the human mind and cannot adequately be translated into any human language, since words, which belong to the domain of the conditioned mind, do not carry the intensity or the luminosity of transcendental truths. Mysticism itself is a vague field and mystic experiences are even vaguer.
At the same time, we know that there is a palpable secret somewhere in the recesses of our own consciousness. We know it is there because in profound moment we can feel its presence. We know we are different when we are silent and deeply contemplative. Even with all the distractions which the world offers, the delight of the Self cannot be contained forever in the secret caves of the heart.
Self Liberation and its moments
In the expansive states of the mind, in sumblime states and profound moments it is existent. It is when you feel connected to the world or Nature, and in moments of great vulnerability. At other times when you feel lost or helpless, the joy and the love of the soul gushes forth into your wakeful mind. An atlast with the thundering sounds of a wild river and wake you up to the truth of the Self.
Thus, the Self who is the eternal witness does not entirely forsake you. If you manage to express the best of human nature, if you have compassion, love, tolerance and equanimity, and if you overcome the demons of your own mind, you will increasingly feel connected to him and see the world with his eyes.
In the journey of knowing the Self, you may also need the grace of God. The Self is the ultimate mystery of human life. To know it is the ultimate goal. A person may be destined to achieve it after numerous births by earning great merit. In him the cycle of creation reaches its full circle. It happens when he discovers the Truth that remains hidden behind the golden lid. People always struggle and strive in the mortal world with vague yearnings and unfulfilled desires. Only a handful of them manage to achieve the almost impossible dream of knowing who they are. And the world worships them.