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Ātman (IAST: Ātman, sanskrit: आत्मन्) is a term used in Hindu philosophy, especially in the Vedanta school of Hinduism to identify the "universal spirit" whether in the macrocosm or the microcosm. It is one's true self (hence generally translated into English as 'Self') beyond identification with the phenomenEuropean]] root *ēt-men (breath) and is cognate with Old English "æþm", Greek "asthma", German "Atem": "atmen" (to breathe)[1][2]

Schools of thought


Philosophical schools such as Advaita (non-dualism) see the "spirit" within each living entity as being fully identical with Brahman - the Principle, whereas other schools such as Dvaita (dualism) differentiate between the individual atma in living beings, and the Supreme atma (Paramatma) as being at least partially separate beings.[3] Thus atman refers to the individual spirit or the observer being.[4]

Within Advaita Vedanta philosophy the Atman is the universal life-principle, the animator of all organisms. This view is of a sort of panentheism (not pantheism) and thus is sometimes not equated with the single creator God of monotheism. Identification of individual living beings/souls, or jiva-atmas, with the 'One Atman' is the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta position, which is critiqued by dualistic/theistic Dvaita Vedanta. Dvaita Vedanta calls the all-pervading aspect of Brahman Paramatman different from individual Atman and claims reality for both a God functioning as the ultimate metaphorical "spirit" of the universe, and for actual individual "spirits" as such. The Dvaita, dualist schools, therefore, in contrast to Advaita, advocate an exclusive monotheistic position wherein Brahman is made synonymous with Vishnu. Aspects of both philosophies are found within the schools of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta and Achintya Bheda Abheda.

In some instances both Advaita and Dvaita schools may accommodate the others's belief as a lower form of worship or practice towards the same ultimate goal.[5]


In the view of the Yoga school, the highest attainment does not reveal the experienced diversity of the world to be illusion. The everyday world is real. Furthermore, the highest attainment is the event of one of many individual selves discovering itself; there is no single universal self shared by all persons.[6]


The pre-Buddhist Upanishads link the Self to the feeling "I am."[7] Among the religious thinkers of the time, and in common usage, the concept "self" entails the notion of "I am". However, following the Buddha, later Upanishads like the Maitri Upanishad write instead that only the defiled individual self, rather than the universal self, thinks "this is I" or "this is mine",[7] and the even later Mandukya Upanishad, which was written with heavy Buddhist influence, defines the highest state to be absolute emptiness.[8]


Adherents to Jainism also use the phrase the atman to refer to 'the self'. Often atman is mistaken as being interchangeable with the word jiva with the difference being somewhat subtle. Whereas atman refers to the self, jiva refers to the living being, the exact comprehension of which varies throughout the philosophical schools.

See also

  • Atman (Buddhism)
  • Bhagavan
  • Heart
  • Karma
  • Jnana
  • Tree of Jiva and Atman


  1. atman - definition of atman at YourDictionary
  2. The Spanish word "alma" (soul) is not related to "ātman". It is derived from Latin "anima" (breath,soul), which is cognate to Sanskrit "ánilaḥ" (wind). Although "ánilaḥ" and "ātman" it bbbbb it means to DO IThave similar meaning, they are not etymologically related.
  3. Bhagavata Purana 3.28.41
  4. Bhagavata Purana 7.7.19-20 ""Atma" also refers to the Supreme Lord or the living entities. Both of them are spiritual."
  5. Bhagavad Gita 12.3-4 "But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, unchanging, fixed and immovable -- the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth -- by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me."
  6. Stephen H. Phillips, Classical Indian Metaphysics: Refutations of Realism and the Emergence of "new Logic". Open Court Publishing, 1995, pages 12-13.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press, 1995, page 34.
  8. Hajime Nakamura, Trevor Leggett, A history of early Vedānta philosophy, Part 2. Reprint by Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2004 page 285.