What is this Atman आत्मन्, which is neither the body nor the mind?

swamijiWhat is the force which manifests itself through the body? It is obvious to all of us, whatever that force be, that it is something which takes particles up as it were, and creates forms out of them-human bodies. None else comes here to manipulate bodies for you and me. I never saw anybody eat food for me. I have to assimilate it, manufacture blood and bones and everything out of that food. What is this mysterious force? Ideas about the future and about the past seem to be terrifying to many. To many they seem to be mere speculation. We will take the present as our theme. What is this force which is now working through us?

We know how in olden times, in all the ancient scriptures, this power, this manifestation of power, was thought to be a bright substance having the form of this body, which remained even after the body fell. Later on, however, we find a higher idea coming: that this bright body did not represent the force, whatsoever has form, it was discovered, must be the result of combinations of particles and requires something else behind it to move it. If this body requires something which is not the body to manipulate it, the bright body, by the same necessity, will also require something other than itself to manipulate it. That something was called the Soul – the Atman आत्मन् – in Sanskrit. It was the Atman which through the bright body, as it were, worked on the gross body outside. The bright body is considered as the receptacle of the mind, and the Atman is beyond that. It is not even the mind; it works the mind, and through the mind, the body. You have an Atman, I have another; each one of us has a separate Atman and a separate tine body, and through that we work on the gross external body. Questions were then asked about this Atman, about its nature. What is this Atman, this Soul of man, which is neither the body nor the mind? Great discussions followed. Speculations were made, various shades of philosophic inquiry came into existence. I shall try to place before you some of the conclusions that have been reached about this Atman.

The different philosophies seem to agree that this Atman, whatever it may be, has neither form nor shape; and that which has neither form nor shape must be omnipresent. Time begins with mind; space also is in the mind. Causation cannot stand without time-without the idea of succession there cannot be any idea of causation. Time, space, and causation, therefore, are in the mind; and as this Atman is beyond the mind and formless, it must be beyond time, beyond space, and beyond causation. Now, if it is beyond time, space, and causation, it must be infinite. Then comes the highest speculation in our philosophy. The infinite cannot be two. If the Soul be infinite, there can be only one Soul, and all ideas of various souls-of your having one soul, and I having another, and so forth-are not real. The Real Man therefore is one and infinite, the omnipresent Spirit. And the apparent man is only a limitation of that Real Man. In that sense the mythologies are true in saying that the apparent man, however great he may be, is only a dim reflection of the Real Man, who is beyond. The Real Man, the Spirit, being beyond cause and effect, not bound by time and space, must therefore be free. He was never bound and could not be bound. The apparent man, the reflection, is limited by time, space, and causation, and is therefore bound. Or in the language of some of our philosophers, he appears to be bound but really is not. This is the reality behind our souls, this omnipresence, this spiritual nature, this infinity. Every soul is infinite. Therefore, there no question of birth and death.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from The Real Nature of Man, Jnana-Yoga


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