The Atman

BEN_5148As Brahman cannot be defined, neither can the Atman. It exists, but it cannot be captured; life proceeds from it, yet it has no tangible quality. This idea is expressed in a famous parable:

“Fetch me a fruit from the Banyan tree,” said Svetaketu’s father to his son.

“Here is a fruit, sir.”

“Break it.”

“I have broken it, sir.”

“What do you see?”

“Very tiny seeds, sir.”

“Break one.”

“I have broken it, sir”

“Now, what do you see?”

“Why? nothing, sir.”

“Dear son, what you do not see is the essence of the banyan tree. In that essence the mighty banyan tree exists. The essence, my dear, is the unseen spirit which pervades everywhere. It is the Self of all things. And you are that Self, Svetaketu.”

“You are that Self” —–you are one with the spirit that pervades the universe—is the meaning of monism and the predominant theme of Indian religions. Elsewhere in Upanishads the connection between individuality and Brahman is expressed in another image. “As flowing rivers disappear in the sea, losing their name and form, thus as wise man, freed from name and form, goes to the divine person who is beyond all.”


Historic India by Luccile Schulberg.

Drawing by abbysoekarno, 2008





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