The Sanskrit word atman, meaning God within, is usually translated as soul, self, or spirit. An individual being, according to Hindu view, is the atman living in a human body. According to the Scriptures atman is immortal and divine. The physical body perishes following death, atman cannot. This doctrine is based upon the spiritual experiences of rishis (sages and seers
). From the perfect human being to the lowest worm resides the same omnipresent and omniscient atman. The difference is not in the atman, but in the degree of its manifestation. Just as electricity accomplishes various functions in different electrical appliances, depending upon the design of the appliance, atman manifests itself in different ways in physical bodies, depending upon the type and construction of the body.
The degree of manifestation of atman is highest in the human body. In its liberated state of bliss and original purity, the atman is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. However, when it is associated with a particular human body, it gives rise to mind, intellect, and ego. Owing to the existence of maya, the original ignorance, the atman mistakenly identifies itself with the body, mind, and intellect. This false identity is the cause of the soul’s bondage to material existence and the consequent pain and suffering in the world. According to Indian Culture freedom (moksha or salvation)
from this earthly bondage is the ultimate aim of human life.
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