Atman

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Atman (devanāgarī: आत्मन् ātman) or Ātmā, is a Sanskrit word that means "self". In Hindu philosophy, especially in the Vedānta school, it refers to one's true self beyond phenomena.

In the Theosophical literature, it refers to the seventh principle in man and the cosmos. Atman is said to be a ray of the Absolute and, therefore, not individual. Each person participates of this universal principle, which manifests in him or her as the "Higher Self". However, per se, atman is beyond consciousness or any other relative attribute. Its vehicle of expression in the differentiated universe is the sixth principle, or Buddhi.

Universal principle

Ātman, the seventh principle, is frequently described by H. P. Blavatsky as being a ray of the Absolute:

The seventh [principle is] the synthesis of the six, and not a principle but a ray of the Absolute ALL—in strict truth.[1]

This being the case, atman is essentially beyond any description:

Ātma is nothing; it is all absolute, and it cannot be said that it is this, that or the other. . . It is simply that in which we are.[2]

Since atman is omnipresent, it cannot be regarded as a human principle, but rather as a universal one:

Spirit (in the sense of the Absolute, and therefore, indivisible ALL), or Atma. As this can neither be located nor limited in philosophy, being simply that which IS in Eternity, and which cannot be absent from even the tiniest geometrical or mathematical point of the universe of matter or substance, it ought not to be called, in truth, a “human” principle at all.[3]
The seventh [Principle] is not a human, but a universal principle in which Man participates; but so does equally every physical and subjective atom, and also every blade of grass and everything that lives or is in Space, whether it is sensible of it or not.[4]
We say that the Spirit (the "Father in secret" of Jesus), or Atman, is no individual property of any man, but is the Divine essence which has no body, no form, which is imponderable, invisible and indivisible, that which does not exist and yet is, as the Buddhists say of Nirvana. It only overshadows the mortal; that which enters into him and pervades the whole body being only its omnipresent rays, or light, radiated through Buddhi, its vehicle and direct emanation.[5]

The Higher Self

When referring to the presence of atman in human beings, it is said to constitute the "higher self":

The Higher Self is Atma the inseparable ray of the Universal and ONE SELF. It is the God above, more than within, us.[6]

However, this does not mean that each person has his or her own higher self. In reality, there is only One self expressing through every person:

Atma, the "Higher Self," is neither your Spirit nor mine, but like sunlight shines on all. It is the universally diffused "divine principle," and is inseparable from its one and absolute Meta-Spirit, as the sunbeam is inseparable from sunlight.[7]
You must never say: “my Âtma”; you have no Âtma. This idea is the curse of the world. It has produced this tremendous selfishness, this egotism we say, “we are”, “my Âtma”, “my Buddhi”.[8]

Conscious non-consciousness

Being a universal and absolute principle, ātman cannot be said to have consciousness as we know it, which is a relative attribute:

Consciousness implies limitations and qualifications; something [the object] to be conscious of, and someone [the subject] to be conscious of it. But Absolute Consciousness contains the cognizer, the thing cognized and the cognition, all three in itself and all three one.[9]
Understand me, Ātman cannot be called infinite consciousness. It is the one Absolute, which is conscious non-consciousness. It contains everything, the potentiality of all; therefore, it is nothing at all. . . . It is “No Thing,” you understand?[10]
He [man] starts downward as a simply spiritual entity—an unconscious seventh principle . . . with the germs of the other six principles lying latent and dormant in him.[11]

However, it should not be thought that atman is just a lack of consciousness. Its state is not what we know as consciousness and, to indicate this fact, it is said to be unconscious or non-conscious:

It must not be forgotten, also, that we give names to things according to the appearances they assume for ourselves. We call absolute consciousness “unconsciousness,” because it seems to us that it must necessarily be so.[12]

Online resources

Articles

Notes

  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 232, fn.
  2. Michael Gomes (transcriber), The Secret Doctrine Commentaries (The Hague: I.S.I.S. foundation, 2010), 609.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 119.
  4. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 630.
  5. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, [1987]), ???.
  6. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, [1987]), 175.
  7. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 135.
  8. Michael Gomes (transcriber), The Secret Doctrine Commentaries (The Hague: I.S.I.S. foundation, 2010), 646.
  9. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 56.
  10. Michael Gomes (transcriber), The Secret Doctrine Commentaries (The Hague: I.S.I.S. foundation, 2010), 609-10.
  11. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 44 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 118.
  12. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 56.