Jīvātmā, Ātmā and Paramātmā
Soul, Self and God
In Yoga we differentiate between
- JĪVĀTMĀ – Soul
- ĀTMĀ – Self
- PARAMĀTMĀ - God
Jīvātmā is the individual, and Ātmā and Paramātmā are Universal.
- PARAMĀTMĀ is the Supreme Principle, whatever we call it: God, Supreme Self, Divine Self, Love, Truth or Reality.
- ĀTMĀ may be described as God’s ray of light, which exists as the “light of life” in every living being. It is part of PARAMĀTMĀ and is therefore identical in nature with it. Just as the seed of a tree contains all the qualities of the tree, the Ātmā also carries the qualities of the Supreme Self.
- JĪVĀTMĀ, the individual soul, is the reflection of the Ātmā within an individual; a “wave” that emerges from the ocean of existence and wanders from embodiment to embodiment, and after a long process of development and experience again returns to the unity of the Ātmā. The soul that has manifested itself in a form, however, does not identify with its divine essence but rather with its attributes, the physical body, the mind, the thoughts, etc. The aim of the path of Yoga is to dispel this illusion.
What is the reason that the individual soul separates from God? The cause lies in the principle of Ahamkāra, the ego. Here ego means ‘the will to exist’; it is the aspiration for manifestation and self-expression in the sense of “I want to exist”. Ahamkāra is the seed from which the variety within nature comes into existence. The difference in form is relevant only to the external manifestation and to the expression of consciousness and intellect – the essence, however, is the same within all, Ātmā.
Just as the water in clouds only appears to be different to the water in the ocean, in the same way the individual only ‘appears’ to be different to God. In reality there is no division – it only exists externally, in the form and in the qualities. The individual follows the path set down by cosmic law, which has the same validity for all life forms. The aim and purpose of life is in the ongoing development and enlightenment of the consciousness, which achieves its ultimate expression in the conscious union of the individual soul (Jīvātmā) with the divine Self (Ātmā). The opening of the individual consciousness of the Jīvātma to the all-conscious-existence of the Ātma is called enlightenment or realisation.
Enlightenment means that there is no longer any corner of the consciousness remaining in darkness.
One cannot explain or describe the Ātmā. The closest comparison is with light or space. Space cannot be cut, burnt or otherwise destroyed. Space always remains space. One can divide space by fences or walls to create “individual” spheres that can be shaped or decorated differently, but as soon as the demarcations are removed the undivided, unified space again emerges.
Just as walls divide space, the body, mind, intellect, disposition, qualities and experiences assembled as the “person”, mark the boundaries of the Self for a while. The body dies, the person changes, but not the Ātmā. Our true Self is unborn, unchanging and immortal; it is the “king” around whom the cosmic forces gather in the royal household, and again disperse after he has left his palace (the body).
The philosophical schools of India, particularly Yoga philosophy, have examined the essential question regarding our existence - “Who am I?” - and given us an answer to this.
Examine yourself: Are you the body? The mind? Your qualities, thoughts or feelings? Or are you something else? As you continue to search more deeply you realise the more subtle aspects of your being, right up to the level of the elements. Then finally you recognise that you are not the Tattvas or Gunas either, and experience yourself as:
- SAT – truth
- CHIT – consciousness
- ĀNANDA – bliss
Sat-Chit-Ānanda is the essence of the divine Self that lives within you, the eternal, infinite and immutable Ātmā.
The only true reality within us is the Ātmā. Everything else is unreality. Ātmā is TRIKĀLADARSHI , the knower of past, present and future, and also CHAITANYA, the conscious witness of everything that happens.