- The atman is the self or soul. The word is derived either from the root at (to move) or the root an (to breathe). It is used both for the individual self or soul and for the transcendent “Self” or “All-soul,” which is all reality. Often the individual self is referred to as the jivatman, “the life self,” and the transcendent Self is referred to as the paramatman, or “Ultimate Self.”The Upanishads and Vedanta philosophy focus on realizing the unity between the individual self and the ultimate Self, by means of various prac-tices. When one realizes (not just intellectually knows) the unity of individual self and Ultimate Self, one breaks the bonds of KARMA and escapes from further rebirth.Some sort of meditation or contemplation is always necessary to realize the unity of Ulti-mate Self and individual self. Some Indian paths emphasize “knowledge,” or transcendental real-ization; some paths emphasize devotion; some look to combine devotion and action, or knowl-edge, action, and devotion, to reach this final goal. Though ADVAITA (non-dual) Vedanta emphasizes a total identity between the individual atman and the large atman, other Indian traditions under-stand that there are an infinite number of totally distinct individual selves or atmans that never merge into each other at the highest level. VAISH-NAVISM generally holds this view, as does SHAIVA SIDDHANTA.Further readings: J. A. B. van Buitenen, “The Large Atman,” History of Religions 4 (1964): 103–114, reprinted in L. Rocher, ed., Studies in Indian Literature and Philosophy: Collected Articles of J. A. B. van Buitenen (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988); Jan Feys, A=B: An Inquiry into the Upanishads’ Basic Insight (Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1976); Swami Muktananda, Reflections of the Self (South Fallsburg, N.Y.: SYDA Foundation, 1980); H. G. Narahari, Atman in Pre-Upanisadic Vedic Literature (Madras: Adyar Library, 1944); A. S. Ramana-than, Vedic Concept of Atman (Jaipur: Rajasthan Patrika, 1997); Baldev Raj Sharma, The Concept of Atman in the Principal Upanishads, in the Perspective of the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Indian Philosophi-cal Systems (New Delhi: Dinesh, 1972).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.