The Self (atman, jiva, jivatman) is an eternal indestructible “ expression” or “mode” of Brahman like a photon of light from the Sun, and shares with Brahman the essential attributes of Existence (sat), Consciousness (cit) and Bliss (anandam). Just as a glass of water from the ocean shares all the qualities of the ocean but is distinctly different from it in quantity and potentiality, so is the atman related to the Brahman. The Self is characterized by consciousness. The Self is naturally immortal, having no beginning and no end to its being. It is atomic in size and undergoes ‘embodiment’ which means that it takes birth in the bodies of plants, animals, humans, or gods. In the embodied state the atman is technically referred to as “jiva”. In embodiment, the natural attributive consciousness has become obscured and veiled by ignorance and delusion. The jiva mistakenly identifies itself with the physical body /mind complex and this is the basis of all sorrow and delusion. All sentient beings are essentially non‐different from each other in their Essence Nature. In the embodied state the difference between them is the degree of ignorance predominating. Animals are in a greater mode of ignorance then are human beings.
The body is merely a vehicle and an instrument whereby the Self (jiva) experiences the world and reaps the rewards of its past actions (Karma). The body is produced through sex and decays after death in accordance with the biophysical laws. The Self however transmigrates to another embryo to continue its spiritual evolution. The Self is the subjective “I” that is referred to, in relation to the objective universe of experience. It is the “subject” which experiences the body and mind as “objects”. The body is constantly changing, but that consciousness which does not change, but perceives the physical changes is the jiva. In both a corpse and a living body all the physical structures, organs and chemicals are present, in the case of a corpse the life force is absent. That conscious life force is the Self which has continued its transmigration. The number of jivas is infinite and innumerable — like grains of sand on a beach, all are in various stages of transmigration.
The Non‐dualists claim that there is absolute identity between the individual Self (jivatman) and the Supreme Self (paramatman) . In the embodied state there is an ‘apparent’ difference which is due to ignorance (avidya). When one realizes this identity through the practice of meditation the unification (yoga) is re‐established. All notions of individuality disappear and the individual consciousness becomes united with the cosmic consciousness. The other schools teach various degrees of difference between Isvara and the jivas.
It is important to note the difference in the Hindu concept of Self and Abrahamic coalition’s (Christians, Jews and Muslims) concept of soul. For the Abrahamic coalition, the soul is something “created” by God that is “given” to the individual. God and Satan both “contend” for the soul. One can “sell” one’s soul to the devil and one can “redeem” one’s soul. Animals although fully conscious and sharing many attributes with humans nevertheless do not “possess” souls. The three faiths even debated up until the middle ages whether women had souls! In Hinduism the atman or Self is eternal and all pervading and it is the very essence (the Brahmanature or the Buddhanature) of a sentient being. The thing possessed by, controlled by and manipulated by a sentient being is it’s physical mind/body complex. For the Abrahamic coalition one’s primary identification is with the physical body (which some theologians say will be resurrected at some time in the future). For Hindus the primary identification is the Self our true Essence Nature — the body being its vehicle.
The individual is composed of three bodies (tri‐kaya) which are interlaced and function as one:
1. The gross physical body
2. The mental body (astral body) .
3.The Causal body which is the subconscious reservoir of all mental impressions and Karma.
The Self (atman) uses these three as vehicles for its self‐expression. The gross physical body is changed each time the Self is born but the astral and the causal bodies remain with the Self until final liberation.
That which is the subtle Essence of this entire universe, That is the True. That is the Self. Thou art That! (Chandogya Upanishad 6:12:3)