Atman in Pre-Upanisadic Vedic Literature

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Hindu Dharma recognizes that everyone is different and has a unique intellectual and spiritual outlook. It allows various schools of thought under its broad principles. It also allows for freedom of worship so that individuals may be guided by their own spiritual experiences. Within Hinduism there are various schools of thought, which Hindu scholars have systematized in different ways. Various schools have contributed to Hindu thought, each school with a different emphasis. Brahman cannot exist, as it is the existence Itself. Brahman is all knowing and it is knowledge Itself.

One can say that Brahman Itself constitutes the essential building material of all reality, being the antecedent primeval ontological substance from whence all things proceed. Brahman does not create from nothing, but from the reality of Its own being. All reality has its grounding sustenance in Brahman. These personified forms of Brahman correspond to three stages in the cycle of the universe.

Ishvara transcends gender, yet can be looked upon as father, mother, friend, child, or even as sweetheart. Some schools of Hindu philosophy do not believe in Ishvara, while others interpret Ishvara in different ways. Some schools do not distinguish between Ishvara and Brahman. Krshna holds his famous murali flute, by which he makes such enchanting music as to awaken the atman Innermost Self from worldliness to Godliness. We as individuals are also a part of this changing universe.

Our bodies are constantly undergoing change, while our minds, formed of thoughts and feelings, are also in a state of flux. But we lose sight of it because of our passionate involvement with our material self and its search for happiness in this universe. The universe can never provide perfect and permanent happiness, however, because it, like our material self, is in a state of constant flux.

But liberation from what?


We normally think of ourselves as coming into being when we are born of our parents and as perishing when we die. According to Hinduism, however, this current life is merely one link in a chain of lives that extends far into the past and projects far into the future. The point of origin of this chain cannot be determined. We continue to embody ourselves, or be reborn, in this infinite and eternal universe as a result of these unfulfilled desires. The chain of births lets us resume the pursuit. An understanding of this interconnection, according to Hindu teachings, can lead an individual toward right choices, deeds, thoughts, and desires, without the need for an external set of commandments.

Under the doctrine of karma, the ability to make choices remains with the individual. But just as the law of gravitation does not take away our freedom to move about, the doctrine of karma does not leave us unfree to act. It merely describes the moral law under which we function, just as the law of gravitation is a physical law governing our being.

When we cause pain or injury, we add to the karmic debt we carry into our future lives. When we give to others in a genuine way, we lighten our karmic load. However, some enter this stage immediately from whichever stage they may be in. Purity, self-control, truthfulness, non-violence, and compassion toward all forms of life are the necessary pre-requisites for any spiritual path in Hindu dharma.

As Hinduism developed, it did not reject its parent traditions, but modified and assimilated them into newer schools of thought. Despite a relatively inclusive approach, Hinduism has rejected those doctrines that do not accept its scriptural authority. For example, Sankhya forms the doctrinal basis for the discipline of yoga. Each pair is further explored in this section. Some groups consider these schools to be hierarchical, with Vedanta the culmination of Vedic philosophy. The Hindu tradition maintains that the ultimate reality lies beyond all scriptures, however, it is equally convinced that the scriptures help people orient their minds and lives towards Brahman.

This attitude has given rise to a body of sacred literature so vast that by one calculation it would take 70 lifetimes of devoted study to read all of it. The earliest source of knowledge of Hinduism are Vedas and the Upanishads. These are the ancient most monuments of Hindu culture and tradition.

They form the rock foundations of the magnificent edifice of Hinduism, and also of its offshoots and extensions like Buddhism and Jainism. The Vedas are a whole body of literature and their parts represent successive stages in the evolution of Hinduism. Because in Hinduism the universe is without beginning or end, the Vedas appear along with creation at the beginning of each cycle of time. German Philosophy in European Philosophy.

Phenomenology in Continental Philosophy. I provide critical discussion of conception of and talk of psychic integration which I take to be both excessive and deficient; these viciously extreme positions are championed by the Apostle Paul and St. I suggest that we must negotiate a Buddhist-inspired understanding located between these extremes in endorsing any acceptable conception of the self, generally speaking—a conception which, contra the strong antirealist about selves, allows for the continued use of selfhood in Direct download.

Cognitive Sciences. This adhyatma gyana is also a part of Ayurveda because it is related to human health especially with mental health; A group of diseases is described independently in Sushruta as adhyatmika dukha. Contemporary books also mention adhyatmika dukha and adhyatma has been described in details. The subject matter of adhyatma has been mentioned from different point of view, but in fact the adhyatma is related to atman , as it is knowledge of atman and its related subjects are the Here in thispaper is a brief review of adhyatma ,terminology and its different prospects in ayurveda.

Epistemology, Misc in Epistemology. Philosophy of Language, Misc in Philosophy of Language. The debates between various Buddhist and Hindu philosophical systems about the existence, definition and nature of self, occupy a central place in the history of Indian philosophy and religion. I welcome the invitation of Eugene Freeman to contribute a paper on the subject of self, giving my own views.

I have been devoted to comparative philosophy all my life, and I am naturally greatly influenced by Indian and Western thought. But I should warn both the Indian and Western readers against equating my views in their entirety with any of the past philosophies. It is also not possible to given an exhaustive theory of the self in a paper of What is not given here may place my view in a wrong light and the reader may draw wrong conclusions.

This paper aims to show that the problem of personal identity is a fundamental question of the classical Indian thought. Usually we tend to think that personal identity is a Western philosophical subject, and so we tend to forget the significance of the Self in Hinduism and even in Buddhism. The author shows how the Indian thought approached the question of personal identity and which was the singular solution outlined in the work consensually attributed to Gotama, the Buddha.

Theories of Personal Identity in Metaphysics. Upanisadic Philosophy in Asian Philosophy. Reincarnation in Philosophy of Religion. Theistic Indian Philosophy in Asian Philosophy. Off-campus access. Using PhilPapers from home? Create an account to enable off-campus access through your institution's proxy server.

Brahmanism, Buddhism and Hinduism

Source: Monier-Williams, , f and , and , pp. The term can also stand for the caste itself, as "the class of men who are the repositories and communicators of sacred knowledge" , p. Further, the noun brahma except as part of compounds should be distinguished from brahman. In the neuter gender it stands for a personification of brahman that is conceived in a rather abstract way, as a universal consciousness or "universal spirit" that manifests itself in the world and in the human individual. There are also a number of derivative meanings partly used in composite terms such as bramavidya or bramacarya, the study and practice of brahmanic knowledge in which the term often takes the masculine or rarely the feminine gender and designates either the "sacred knowledge" of the Vedas or the person who possesses it.

In contemporary, post-Vedic and thus also post-Vedantic Hindu religion, finally, brahma is now often also understood as referring to a personal creator-God and as such is worshipped as the main god in the divine trinity or trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva , an understanding that is not, however, characteristic of Upanishadic thought. Navlakha nicely summarizes this non-religious, philosophical understanding :. Brahman as the absolute reality is purely impersonal, and is not to be confused with a personal God. The significance of brahman is metaphysical, not theological.

Brahman is the featureless absolute, which unless a contextual necessity otherwise demands, is most appropriately referred to as 'It'. There is no creation as such in Vedanta. The universe is evolved out of brahman. Brahman is whole and unfolds itself out in the form of the universe, out of its own substance, and as a means of knowing itself.

Within and without, it is all brahman. Navlakha, , p. For our present purpose, I take it indeed that "the significance of brahman is metaphysical, not theological," and that its essential characteristic is that of an all-encompassing and "featureless absolute," a "universe" "within and without" our awareness of the world. It "unfolds itself … out of its own substance," that is, it is self-contained i. Ulrich, , pp. Such appreciation on the part of a Kantian thinker for a metaphysical reading may appear surprising at first glance; but the point is of course that I share Navlakha's plea for a metaphysical rather than just religious understanding.

As we said earlier, what matters is not that we avoid metaphysics an impossible feat but how we handle it. Well-understood metaphysics invites critique, whether of a transcendental or of a more contemporary analytical e. Seen in this way, the Upanishadic metaphysics of "this" and "that" reality compare the earlier characterization in the introductory essay, see Ulrich, c, pp. It certainly encourages methodological reflection.

For example, it reminds us of the second-order knowledge that is implicit in all first-order knowledge, and thus of the need for questioning the ways in which our knowledge — or what we take for it — depends on such second-order assumptions. The Upanishadic difference between "this" and "that" creates distance, and thus a basis for such reflection.

It makes it clear that we don't really sic understand this world of ours, or what we believe to know about it, unless we reflect on that larger universe of which our real-world is only a part — that fuller reality which consists in the confluence of "this" and "that. As a second, more specific example, we may think of Kant's notion of general ideas of reason: it seems to me that there are striking parallels between their methodological significance and that of a non-religious concept of "brahman. As we found in our earlier discussion of Kant's understanding of general ideas see Ulrich, a, "Third intermediate reflection" , we cannot think of a series of conditions that would explain any specific phenomenon of interest, without also thinking of an ultimate, unconditioned condition.

As Kant , B puts it, "for a given conditioned, the whole series of conditions subordinated to each other is likewise given"; but that "whole series" i. Explanations that really explain anything will always reach beyond the experiential world of conditioned phenomena; of necessity they include general ideas that refer us to some unconditioned whole of conditions, which is what Kant means by pure concepts of reason.

As an illustration from the Upanishads, there is this famous prayer in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in which the devotee seeks guidance on the search for reality and self-realization :. Lead me from the unreal to the real! Lead me from darkness to light! Lead me from death to immortality! Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1. That is to say, truth is not of this world; an enlightened notion of reality is not to be found in the phenomenal world alone. Our human "real world" is deceptive, a source of darkness rather than light. It obscures rather than illuminates that basic source of insight that is called brahman and which is the only reliable source of orientation for proper thought and action.

This Upanishadic explanation of the real world's deceptiveness is metaphysical, but not therefore methodologically irrelevant. In fact, its methodological implications are largely equivalent to those of Kant's similar conception of a noumenal i. Both pairs of concepts are about our notion of reality; both involve metaphysical assumptions that obviously remain open to challenge. Both frameworks also handle their assumptions in a critically self-reflective fashion; they do not claim that the metaphysical is knowable.

Nor do they fall into the trap of metaphysical dualism, which would mean to treat "this" and "that" or the phenomenal and the noumenal as substantially separate entities. Rather, the metaphysical assumptions in question function as calls to a discipline of critical self-reflection on the part of the knowing subject. They represent critical reminders, not presumptions of knowledge. Interestingly, the two frameworks share this critical orientation although they differ in the ways they understand and handle their metaphysical underpinnings : while for the Upanishadic thinkers, brahman is a symbol of the objective world that is ineffable but real, as opposed to the phenomenal world's deceptiveness, Kant's Critique does not of course permit any reification of the noumenal world; he understands it as a transcendental i.

Kant thus puts the relationship of the noumenal metaphysical and the phenomenal experiential — of "that" and "this" world — on its head : it is not the absolute and universal and for some, the esoteric but the empirical and particular the exoteric which for Kant constitutes "reality. Both frameworks, then, live up to the demand of reason that we formulated above : "well-understood metaphysics invites critique. As an illustration from the secondary literature, let us consider one of those many descriptions of brahman that are reminiscent of Kant's recognition of the unavoidability of the idea of a totality of conditions that is itself unconditioned the basic principle of reason.

In his Fundamentals of Indian Philosophy, Puligandla , p. The "amidst" is apt to remind us that whenever we try to describe the real world, we are engaged in an effort of picturing the unpicturable. Whether such an unconditional, unifying force or principle indeed exists and how it is to be defined and proven, we ultimately have no way to tell; but neither in Upanishadic nor in Kantian thought we depend on such an ontological proof to recognize that without the notion of an unconditioned condition, we cannot think and talk clearly about our knowledge of the world and its limitations.

It is quite sufficient for methodological purposes to recognize that what we can know empirically the phenomenal world is not identical with reality and conversely, that the real lies at least partly beyond the phenomenal and therefore also beyond knowledge. Recognizing a lack of knowledge can be a basis for compelling methodological reflections and conclusions. To be sure, it is to be expected in view of brahman's ineffable nature that the Upanishads and their commentators suggest many different descriptions of it.

Along with their ancient, religious and metaphysical and moreover often mystic language, this circumstance does not make the task easier. Still, if we are to believe the Encyclopaedia Britannica, "they concur in the definition of brahman as eternal, conscious, irreducible, infinite, omnipresent, spiritual source of the universe of finiteness and change. To do justice to the Encyclopaedia, it mirrors the language of the Upanishads and of most commentators.

No faithful account of the Upanishads can entirely avoid explaining them in their own terms, so readers will also find some metaphysical language in my continuing account. However, as my reference to Kant should make clear, even such traditional language lends itself to methodological analysis and can then yield considerations that are relevant to our time.

Methodological discussion as I understand it is about the proper use of reason i. So, instead of complaining about the metaphysical character of the Upanishads, we can make a difference by analyzing what they have to tell us about the proper use of reason. Why not try to do this from a critical, contemporary perspective, while still trying to remain faithful to the language, spirit and wisdom of these ancient texts?

Their essential, practical concern is to guide us in developing right thought and conduct on the path to individual self-realization. Similar observations could be made about the implications of such concepts for professional self-realization, for example, by cultivating high standards of excellence in one's practices of inquiry, consultancy, and other uses of professional expertise.

The quest for practical excellence requires no less an effort of self-reflection and self-limitation, along with clear and consistent reasoning, than does the search for theoretical understanding. As always, such demands are more easily formulated than put into practice. In practice, they face us with considerable difficulties. Whether for practical or theoretical ends — a distinction that the Upanishads do not draw as sharply as we tend to do it nowadays — the need for maintaining the integrity of reason entails a need for comprehensiveness with respect to the conditions or circumstances we take into account.

Any other kind of account of situations and what might be done about them is not only potentially deceptive but also arbitrary, in that it relies on selections of relevant circumstances that remain unconsidered, if not undeclared and unsubstantiated. On the other hand, complete rationality is obviously beyond our capabilities, both in thought and in action. We are well advised to strive for it, but not to claim it. This is the basic philosophical dilemma with which the Upanishadic demand of "seeking to know brahman" confronts us : the simultaneous need for, and unavailability of, an objective and comprehensive grasp of reality beyond the ways it manifests itself to us or interests us privately, whether in everyday life or in situations of professional intervention.

In Upanishadic terms, to understand this world of ours we must also strive to comprehend that other world which lies beyond it but is part of the total reality. The better one understands this dilemma, the more one will also appreciate the often mystic and poetic rather than strictly philosophical approach of the Upanishads. What at first glance might look like an escape — a mere way of avoiding a philosophical difficulty — becomes understandable as a methodically pertinent response: its point is practicing detachment.

To understand our daily world of experience and action, we need a discipline of seeking distance. Distance, that is, from our usual ways of being situated in the world, which raise in us egocentric and short-sighted concerns and thus prevent us from seeing "situations" as clearly and objectively as proper thought and action would require.

Thus understood, the mystic and metaphysical language of the Upanishads carries a deeply philosophical message indeed. In essence, though perhaps not in formulation and elaboration, this message is akin to that of Kant : knowledge, unless it is subject to the proper use of reason, is as much a source of error as it is a source of certainty. Whatever we know, think, and say about the world, it is insufficient as measured by the latter's holistic nature.

This methodological implication comes to the fore in the invocation or incantation that introduces several of the Upanishads belonging to the Yajur Veda, among them in particular the Brihadaranyaka, Isha, and Shvetashvatara Upanishads. I cite their identical invocation first in Sanskrit in Devanagari script above and in Roman transliteration below and then in three slightly different translations, all of which are customary in the literature.

The key word purna is the perfect participle of the verb pur, which appears to be related to the English verb "to pour. In the following translations of the invocation, the initial and final magical words 'om' and 'shanti' are not repeated; note again the previously discussed, careful use of the terms "this" and "that" in all three versions. All this is full. All that is full. From fullness, fullness comes. When fullness is taken from fullness, fullness still remains.

Invocations to the Isha, Brihadaranyaka and Shvetashvatara Upanishads, as transl. That is whole, this is whole. This whole proceeds from that whole. On taking away this whole from that whole, it remains whole. Invocation to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, as transl. That is infinite, this is infinite; From that infinite this infinite comes.

From that infinite, this infinite removed or added, infinite remains infinite. Invocation to the Isha Upanishad, as cited, along with a selection of other customary translations, in the Yoga site of Swami J [n. Indeed, in view of the infinite and transcendent nature of "that" world of brahman, which nevertheless inheres and conditions "this" finite but infinitely variable world of ours, need we not wonder how we may claim to understand anything without understanding the ways in which it relates to that larger, full reality of which it is a part?

As both the Upanishads and Kant's ideas of reason make us understand, human reason needs this holistic notion of an all-inclusive whole as a reference point in relation to which it can situate its own perennially conditioned nature, its amounting to so much less than a comprehensive and objective grasp of things. At the same time, any such notion is bound to remain a problematic idea of reason. Holistic knowledge and understanding is a claim that cannot be redeemed argumentatively, whether based on logic or empirical inquiry or both. Logic tells us that we need it, but not what it is; and inquiry fails as the whole reaches beyond the empirical.

The Upanishadic thinkers understood this dilemma very clearly, some two and a half thousand years ago, before the disciplines of logic and epistemology were available to them. Their way of putting it was metaphysical and metaphorical, by means of the two great Upanishadic symbols or metaphors of human striving, atman, as the embodiment of individual self-knowledge and self-realization a concept to which we will turn a little later , and brahman as the embodiment of proper universal knowledge, that is, understanding of the unity and perfection of the universe.

Expressed in these terms, the problem of holism consists in the difficulty that atman cannot find brahman empirically in "this" world, through the means of inquiry, nor logically, through the means of inference. For the whole is not only beyond the empirical, it is also, as the Upanishads teach us, "one without a second," that is, unique Chandogya, 6.

There is no logic of uniqueness, no stringent inference from what we know empirically i. Both epistemologically and analytically, the universal lies beyond human knowledge. Still, reason cannot do without the notion of universal qualities and principles. It cannot renounce the quest for a full understanding of reality in such terms. Human striving for knowledge of brahman is therefore a meaningful and indispensable quest, although we should never assume that we have actually achieved it.

This, then, is the Upanishadic way of describing the methodological dilemma with which the problem of holism confronts us. To this day it has remained a classical dilemma in many fields of philosophy such as language analysis and semiotics, hermeneutics, epistemology, and practical philosophy, and also in my work on critical systems heuristics CSH.

In the terms of the Upanishads : atman needs to seek knowledge of brahman and yet must avoid any presumption of knowledge. Or, as I like to put it in the terms of CSH : "Holistic thinking — the quest for comprehensiveness — is a meaningful effort but not a meaningful claim. The essential aim then becomes ensuring sufficient critique rather than sufficient justification of theoretical or practical claims. This is feasible because, as we said above, recognizing a lack of knowledge can be a basis for compelling methodological provisions.

The problem and richness of subjectivity A second methodological implication of the metaphysical concept of brahman concerns the importance of subjectivity. Once we have understood that human thought cannot do without assuming some ultimate, unconditional ground of all that exits — the notion of a totality of conditions that exists in an unconditional, absolute, perhaps objective way — we also begin to understand how limited and subjective all our perceptions of this world of ours are bound to be, amounting at best to glimpses of that underlying larger, infinite reality.

It follows that whatever knowledge of things we can aspire to possess, it will be so much less than objective, as it can just grasp aspects of that which is "really" the case. The objective is elusive, for it would be all-inclusive. Ganeri , p.

Teachings of upanishads

As I would put it, the Upanishads can inspire in us the humility of accepting that there are limits to what we can hope to know and understand, due to our being situated in this world. Such awareness can encourage mutual tolerance, as well as reflective practice in the sense of paying attention to the ways in which people's individual situatedness differs and may shape their views and values.

Multiple, subjective views embody a richness of views that would not be attainable otherwise. They thus have intrinsic value in the quest for comprehensiveness seeking to better know brahman as well as in the quest for practical excellence seeking to better understand the options for good practice. Methodologically speaking, then, the situation is not quite as bad as it looks metaphysically. Although there are always limits to what any of us can claim to know and understand, no specific limits are beyond questioning and expansion; and to this end, we can always listen and talk to others.

In the Upanishadic conception of inquiry, brahman furnishes the standard for such questioning. As the Upanishads admonish us time and again, we can "really" know and understand things only inasmuch as we know and understand them in their relation to brahman.

Brahman, in the metaphysical terms of the Upanishads, is the conception of a reality that, because it is "self-existent" Monier-Williams, , p. It thus mirrors, in our own discourse-theoretical terms, the ideal of a self-contained account of reality that could do without any reference to conditions outside its own universe of discourse and thus would be entirely true and reliable.

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As an ideal, it does not lend itself to realization; but it certainly provides impetus for critical thought — about the ways our accounts of reality fail to be self-contained and, worse, about our usual failure to limit our claims accordingly. This is a conception of knowledge that is important indeed for our understanding of general ideas of reason.

The parallels we encountered earlier between the Upanishadic concept of brahman as an absolute, all-inclusive, and infinite reality on the one hand, and Kant's concept of a totality of conditions or an infinite series of conditions that reason cannot help but presuppose on the other hand, are relevant here. Both concepts confront us with unavoidable limitations of human knowledge.

Both therefore also imply the need for a discipline of self-reflection and self-limitation. But of course, there is also an important difference, in that the two traditions of thought have developed this discipline in entirely different directions — meditative spirituality and ascetism in the one tradition, critique of reason in the other. The deeper, underlying difference is that Kant makes us understand the totality of conditions as a methodological rather than metaphysical concept or, in his terms, as a transcendental rather than transcendent idea.

Although a conventional, metaphysical and spiritual reading may well remain of primary importance to most people in studying the Upanishads, the mentioned parallels nevertheless suggest to me that a metaphysical reading can and should lead on to a critical study of what these ancient texts have to tell us about present-day notions of knowledge, science, and rationality, as well as about the roles we give these notions in modern societies.

For example, such a reading might encourage a critique of science that reaches deeper than current notions of reflective practice in science and professional practice. Such critique in turn might provide new impetus for the necessary discourse on how contemporary conceptions of science-theory, research philosophy, theory of knowledge, and practical philosophy could be developed so as to overcome the crisis of rationality to which I briefly referred at the outset Ulrich, c, p.

With a view to such a methodological reading and study of the Upanishads, I would argue — drawing on our previous examinations of the nature and use of ideas of reason in Parts 2 and 3 — that brahman is properly understood as a limiting concept, that is, as a projected endpoint towards which we can direct reflection on what we take to represent valid knowledge and rational practice.

They thus pose a double challenge to reason. Reason needs to employ them for critical ends while at the same time learning to handle them critically, that is, to keep a critical stance towards any claims based on their use. Again, as with the striking parallels we observed before, I see no essential methodological difference in this regard between the Upanishads' brahman and Kant's ideas of reason.

Consequently, a further conjecture offers itself : we might try to embed Upanishadic reflection on knowledge as inspired by the notion of brahman — "brahmanic reflection" as it were — in the same kind of double or cyclical movement of critical thought with which we earlier associated the pragmatic use or "approximation" of Kant's ideas of reason, equally understood as limiting concepts. The idea is that in this way we might gain a deeper understanding of both, the movement of critical thought in question as well as the methodological implications of the "brahmanic reflection" just suggested.

So much for a brief outlook; we will take up this idea in a later essay of this series. At present we are not yet prepared for such a discussion, as we first need to familiarize ourselves with the two other Upanishadid ideas that we selected for examination, atman and jagat. Atman stands for the subjective side of the quest for knowing brahman. If brahman is the Upanishadic symbol for objectivity, atman is the symbol for subjectivity.

In the terms we used in the introductory essay, atman embodies the emerging knowing subject of the Upanishads, whose search for understanding what is real and reliable in this ever-changing world — where to find that basic, unchanging reality called brahman — leads it to discover its own consciousness and self-reflection. As the Upanishadic thinkers understood centuries before the early thinkers of the Occident e. Early on the ancient Indian sages understood that both brahman and atman — the objective and the subjective principle — are indispensable notions for reflecting on the sources and nature of human knowledge or error, even if both notions are ultimately beyond human grasp.

Likewise, they recognized that neither notion is independent of the other; each manifests itself in the other but cannot be reduced to it. Monier-Williams, , p. These two root meanings come together in the act of breathing in and out. Note that for phonological or declensional reasons, the initial "a" in atman is suppressed in some uses, yielding 'tman. This happens frequently when the term appears in compound words following a vowel.

Employing the phonetically reduced form along with the complete form may help in consulting the Sanskrit dictionaries, but otherwise it need not concern us here. Table 2 lists the entries of Monier-Williams for both forms , drawing on all editions listed in the bibliography and particularly also on the facsimile editions. Table 2: Selected meanings of [ a]tman. Source: Monier-Williams, , pp. Atman is thus also the source of our becoming what we have the potential to be spiritually and intellectually, if only we undertake the required effort of learning, by seeking to know brahman and thereby also to better know ourselves, that is, the individual self of which both our soul and our intellect are constitutive.

Beyond the aham or ego, with all its accidents and limitations, such as sex, sense, language, country, and religion, the Indian sages perceived, from a very early time, the atman or the self, independent of all such accidents. Atman, the individual self, thus distinguishes itself from both the empirical ego aham on the one hand and the universal or highest self brahman on the other hand.

Atman is neither aham nor brahman; rather, it is on the way from aham to brahman, developing its contingent, empirical self towards its essential, divine self. Atman's fundamental task is to realize itself — its individual self — in the double sense of achieving awareness recognizing it and growth developing it , so that this individual self can become a fuller reflex of that higher, universal Self of which it is only an imperfect reflection. Atman's self-realization, in the double sense just explained, is gained through the effort to get to know brahman. When this happens in the ideal, that is , atman has found "its very self," "that [self] which should be perceived" or realized Olivelle's apt translation of "atman" in the Mandukya Upanishad, see , p.

The distinction, and ideal convergence, of atman and brahman is also related to the fundamental notion in Hindu thought of a perpetual cycle of rebirth and transmigration of souls samsara : atman can only free itself from samsara by moving closer to brahman, that is, by realizing its own highest self. In connection with the notion of samsara, a tman's self is "the eternal core of the personality that after death either transmigrates to a new life or attains release moksha from the bonds of existence" Encyclopaedia Britannica, a.

Which one of the two options will come true depends on the degree to which atman realizes its individual self in terms of both awareness and growth. Atman or the search for personal growt h We are, then, talking about the individual self as-it-has-the-potential-to-be rather than as-it-actually-is; about a person's vital self; about the ultimate source of its being spiritually, emotionally and intellectually alive and growing.

Hamilton , p. Partly similar notions of personal growth are quite familiar to the Western tradition of thought. I am thinking of Carl Rogers' process of becoming and particularly of C. The difference is that in the Hindu tradition, this process reaches beyond all the limitations and contingencies of a person's life and takes on a truly cosmic dimension : the individual soul or consciousness is expected to become one with the whole universe as if individual awareness could ever include the whole of reality or, in Vedanta terms, as if atman could ever be one with brahman so as indeed to become atman-brahman.

Remarkably, in this Upanishadic image the tension can be resolved in favor of a meaningful convergence — of the human condition as it is and human development as it might be. Such convergence is conceivable in the Upanishadic framework as it sees the ultimate ground of the person one's self-concept in close interaction with the cosmic principles brahman that pervade the universe and thus also shape our awareness of the world and of ourselves.

The tension between the real and the ideal is thus reconciled in the notion of a fundamental union of individual or subjective and universal or objective principles. The principles governing the world must be the same as those governing the human mind! For purely methodological reasons, Kant is thus compelled to postulate an ultimate unity of the cognitive conditions that account for the intelligibility of the world with the ontological conditions that account for its reality, a postulate he calls the "highest principle of all synthetic judgments" , B :. Kant, , B If as humans we can grasp reality at all, infinite as it is and reaching beyond our experience, it is because it is already in us, as an intrinsic part of our cognitive apparatus.

In the language of the Vedanta : atman can hope at least partly to grasp the universal reality that is called "brahman" because brahman is already in atman's soul, is part of its essential nature. Atmavidya the search for understanding oneself and brahmavidya the search for understanding universal reality go hand in hand.

Just as Kant's "enlarged thought," the rational effort of taking into account the implications of one's subjective maxim of action for all others and thus to cultivate a sensus communis see the earlier discussion in Ulrich, b, p. In Vedanta terms as well as in Buddhist terms, which in this regard do not differ, "philosophical inquiry and the practices of truth are also arts of the soul, ways of cultivating impartiality, self-control, steadiness of mind, toleration, and non-violence.

But of course, effort and achievement are not the same thing. We are talking here about an ongoing process of cultivating one's knowledge, character, and practice, rather than about an accomplishment. Despite the promise of brahman's residing in the individual, atman is only and for ever on the way to self-knowledge and self-realization.

Once we realize that self-knowledge atmavidya is quite impossible without knowledge of that highest expression of Self called brahman brahmavidya , and vice-versa, the challenge is unavoidable :. The highest aim of all thought and study with the Brahman of the Upanishads was to recognize his own self as a mere limited reflection of the Highest Self, to know his self in the Highest Self, and through that knowledge to return to it, and regain his identity with it. Here to know was to be, to know the Atman was to be the Atman, and the reward of that highest knowledge after death was freedom from new births, or immortality.

That Highest Self which had become to the ancient Brahmans the goal of all their mental efforts, was looked upon at the same time as the starting-point of all phenomenal existence, the root of the world, the only thing that could truly be said to be, to be real and true. As the root of all that exists, the Atman was identified with the Brahman. The question is, whether there is or whether there is not, hidden in every one of the sacred books, something that could lift up the human heart from this earth to a higher world, something that could make man feel the omnipresence of a higher Power, something that could make him shrink from evil and incline to good, something to sustain him in the short journey through life, with its bright moments of happiness, and its long hours of terrible distress.

The human being's striving beyond the fragmentary universe within which it moves in everyday thought and practice, towards something deeper or higher, towards something that could "lift the heart up"; that's what well-understood self-knowledge atmavidya is all about from a Vedantic perspective. It leads us directly to the third selected idea that I find so interesting in the Upanishads' account of the general or universal in all human cognition and practice, the concept o f jagat. On closer inspection though, it is perhaps the most complex and interesting of the three concepts, at least from a methodological rather than spiritual point of view.

It provides a major example of how Upanishadic thought is able to deal constructively and critically with the eternal tension or dialectic in human thought and practice mentioned above, between the real empirical, particular and the ideal conceptual, universal — the idealist and the realist sides of our grasp of reality.

It obliges us, as it were, to pay attention to the way we construct our universes of thought and action as varying combinations of realist and idealist elements, and thus prepares the ground for what I suggest to call critically contextual thinking. But let us see. The prefix ja in the first syllable means as much as "born or descended from, produced or caused by, born or produced in or at or upon, growing in, living at"; hence also "son of" or "father of," or "belonging to, connected with, peculiar to" Monier-Williams, , p.

So jagat is everything that is moving or movable, undergoing variation, in flux, "especially in the sense that no fixed description of it will ever be correct" D. Dash, a. Table 3: Selected meanings of jagat. Against the background of the discussion thus far, it is interesting to note that jagat refers not only to the "world," "earth" or "universe" in general but can also take the specific meaning of " this world [of ours]" Monier-Williams, , p.

Jagat is the world as it manifests itself to the individual atman as a perceived or imagined reality, a perception that is in constant flux and does not usually capture the full, objective reality brahman.

An Essay on their Origins and Interactions

Jagat can thus refer to different realms of the universe, such as heaven and earth. As a last hint, Apte also lists jagat as a grammatical object of the verbal noun nisam lit. It continues to be used in several Asian languages, including Modern Standard Hindi, in meanings related to land, earth, world, or universe, with a number of different derived connotations. They often go back to the Old-Germanic root jag, which apparently contains the Sanskrit root terms ja and gam as explained above and means as much as "moving fast, chasing.

This etymological connection makes the combination of the two above-listed, at first glance unrelated, root meanings of the prefix ja understandable, of "speedy, swift" along with "victorious, eaten. Similar forms exist in other North-European languages e. Although the link is not definitively proven, both the form and the meaning of these and other words with the root term hag are strikingly close to jag[at]; they all connote some aspects of fast movement or hunting e.

Figuratively used it means, for example, to nurture a hope eine Hoffnung hegen , to entertain an expectation or a doubt eine Erwartung hegen, einen Zweifel hegen , or to pursue an intention or plan eine Absicht hegen, einen Plan hegen. Another derivation appears to be Hain, an old-fashioned German noun that is now chiefly used in poetic language for a grove but which originally just meant a piece of land surrounded by trees or bushes, yielding a natural delimitation for an orchard or garden, a resting place, or a small farm or other kind of dwelling.

This explains why the root hag is also still frequently found today as a component in the names of plants that are characteristic of such places e. To judge from the numerous etymological sources that I have consulted, ranging from the Oxford English Dictionary to Wiktionary for English and from the Duden to the Kluge and the Wahrig dictionaries for German, it appears that the link between jagat and the first-mentioned word family around Jagd is firmly established, whereas the precise history of the modern words mentioned under points 2 and 3 lies partly in the dark.

Even so, the extent to which the root meanings of these terms agree with those of the ancient Sanskrit word jagat is striking. We may sum up these root meanings as follows :.