Atman – The Higher Self

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The Sanskrit word “Atma” or “Atman” is one of the most important terms in the teachings of Theosophy, not to mention in Hinduism too. The word literally means “Self.” It does not refer to our personal or individual self but to our Higher Self, our Divine Self, which is why it’s always written with a capital ‘S’. Atma, Higher Self, and Spirit are all synonymous terms in the teachings of Theosophy.

It is also often referred to simply as “The Self,” which is also what it is often called in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the teachings of the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism in general, which is where this ancient teaching of the Higher Self is first and most prominently found.

H. P. Blavatsky, William Quan Judge, the Master M., the Master K.H., and all the original and genuine teachings of Theosophy echo the Hindu scriptures in asserting that our true Self, the Atman – our essential nature and the highermost part of our being – is in fact not anything personal, individual, or separate in any way but is literally one and the same in essence and identity as the Supreme Self, the Absolute, the One Eternal Infinite Divine Principle, the ONE LIFE, called in both Hinduism and Theosophy by the term Brahman, Parabrahm, or Parabrahman.

Thus, although there are many souls, there is only one Spirit, one Self (i.e. one Atman), one Supreme Ultimate Reality. As Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “Just as one and the same sun shines over everybody on this earth, so one and the same spirit shines over and illumines every soul.”

One of the famous “Mahavakyas” or “Great Sayings” of Hinduism is “Ayam Atman Brahman” – “This Atman is Brahman.” Long ages of Christian conditioning in the West has resulted in many people, even when they turn away from organised religion and embrace the idea of the Higher Self, struggling to comprehend or accept the notion that our Higher Self is not a “part” or a “portion” or a “separated offshoot” of the Divine but rather that It IS the Divine Itself. Yes, “Tat tvam asi” – “You are That” – to quote another of the Upanishadic Mahavakyas.

Since that is the case, the Higher Self never does anything. Nor is anything ever done to the Self. There is nothing for It to do, except to be, and It “be,” for IT ALONE IS.

One of the most celebrated symbolic illustrations in Indian history is that of “two golden birds perched on the selfsame tree,” found in a number of the Upanishads and perhaps expressed most clearly in the great Mundaka Upanishad, a scripture of real esoteric brilliance. One of the birds is the jiva (the incarnated Ego, the embodied human soul) and the other is the Atman (pure eternal Spirit, our Real Self, the One Universal Self of all).

“The former eats the sweet and sour fruits of the tree of life while the latter looks on in detachment, without eating.” It is explained that when we fall into the illusion and delusion of identifying ourselves with the personal and individual nature, “we feel attached and fall into sorrow. But realise that you are the Self, the Lord of life, and you will be freed from sorrow. When you realise that you are the Self, supreme source of light, supreme source of love, you transcend the duality of life and enter into the unitive state.”

Unfortunately, as distorted ideas gained increasing prominence under the name of “Theosophy” after the passing of Madame Blavatsky, the true understanding and teaching of what Atma or Atman is became replaced by various misleading and unphilosophical ideas. Some began to teach that It is in fact simply “the force of spiritual will” and that we each have our own Atma in our individual inner constitution and that there is something above, and higher than, Atma, called the Monad. This depreciative idea has spread and gained acceptance far and wide due to ignorance of both ancient philosophy and genuine Theosophy.

The Masters and HPB teach that Atma and its “vehicle” Principle of Buddhi are the Monad. “Monad” literally means primary unit or ultimate unit. Thus, as the teachings emphasise, there can never be anything higher than the Atma, for It is the One True Self, “the Divine Principle of Existence,” as the Katha Upanishad puts it.

HPB once responded to a Theosophist in London who was using the phrases “my Atma” and “your Atma” by saying, “You are a heretic, because you speak entirely against not only the occult philosophy, but against the Vedantin philosophy.”

Some have even taught that Atma is a type of subtle or higher “body,” using phrases such as “the Atmic Body.” They say that there is an “Atmic Plane” in which we can function and operate in our “Atmic Body.” Hopefully our readers can see by now just how false and ridiculous this is. We will now leave it to H. P. Blavatsky to tell us more about what Atma, the Higher Self, actually is, in these passages quoted from “The Key to Theosophy,” “Theosophical Glossary” and “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues”. It is most certainly not a “body” nor is it confined or restricted to a certain “plane”! Such a materialistic and carnalised interpretation of this sacred Eastern doctrine is sure to eventually result in the idea of ultimate individual selfhood amongst its adherents and this is precisely what the Buddhists call “the great heresy of separateness.”

But although the Atman is who and what we really are, we are also comprised of six other components or “Principles” when in physical incarnation. We do indeed have an individual self, which is the Manas Principle (more specifically the Higher Manas, the reincarnating Ego) but this is obviously not our true and highest Self, which is not any type of Ego-Self but is utterly impartite, universal, undifferentiated, infinite, and absolute . . . the Divine Allness itself.

My spirit and your spirit are truly and literally one. In reality there is no such thing as “my” spirit and “your” spirit or “my” Atman and “your” Atman. The most ancient book known to man is the Rig Veda scripture of Hinduism, the world’s oldest religion. It states that before this Universe came into being – “The ONLY One breathed breathless by Itself; other than IT there nothing since has been.”


“Pure universal Spirit.”

“One with the Absolute, as its radiation.”

“In reality it is no “human” but the universal absolute principle of which Buddhi, the Soul-Spirit, is the carrier.”

“We say that the Spirit, or Atman, is no individual property of any man, but is the Divine essence which has no body, no form, which is imponderable, invisible and indivisible, that which does not exist and yet is . . . It only overshadows the mortal; that which enters into him and pervades the whole body being only its omnipresent rays, or light, radiated through Buddhi, its vehicle and direct emanation.”

“We apply the term Spirit, when standing alone and without any qualification, to Atma alone.”

“First of all, Spirit (in the sense of the Absolute, and therefore, indivisible ALL), or Atma. As this can neither be located nor limited in philosophy, being simply that which IS in Eternity, and which cannot be absent from even the tiniest geometrical or mathematical point of the universe of matter or substance, it ought not to be called, in truth, a “human” principle at all.”

“Atma in reality is not a unit, but the one universal principle.”

“Atman is the Universal ALL, and becomes the HIGHER-SELF of man only in conjunction with Buddhi, its vehicle, which links IT to the individuality (or divine man).”

Buddhi, receiving its light of Wisdom from Atma, gets its rational qualities from Manas. Per se, as something homogeneous, it is devoid of attributes.”

Atma, the “Higher Self,” is neither your Spirit nor mine, but like sunlight shines on all. It is the universally diffused “divine principle,” and is inseparable from its one and absolute Meta-Spirit, as the sunbeam is inseparable from the sunlight.”

“Neither Atma nor Buddhi are ever reached by Karma.”

“The Buddhi, per se, has nothing to do with any qualification of anything; it is simply the vehicle of Atman, of spirit; and spirit is nothing. It cannot be said that it is something. It is that which has neither beginning nor end. It is the one thing.”

“This “Higher Self” is ATMA, and of course it is “non-materializable” . . . Even more, it can never be “objective” under any circumstances, even to the highest spiritual perception. For Atman or the “Higher Self” is really Brahman, the ABSOLUTE, and indistinguishable from it.”

“Atma, the inseparable ray of the Universal and ONE SELF. It is the God above, more than within, us. Happy the man who succeeds in saturating his inner Ego with it!”

“Atma and Buddhi cannot be predicated as having anything to do with a man, except that man is immersed in them. So long as he lives he is overshadowed by these two; but it is no more the property of that than of anything else.”

“Atma, the impersonal divine principle or the immortal element in Man, undistinguished from the Universal Spirit.”

“In hours of Samadhi, the higher spiritual consciousness of the Initiate is entirely absorbed in the ONE essence, which is Atman, and therefore, being one with the whole, there can be nothing objective for it. Now some of our Theosophists have got into the habit of using the words “Self” and “Ego” as synonymous, of associating the term “Self” with only man’s higher individual or even personal “Self” or Ego, whereas this term ought never to be applied except to the One universal Self.”

“You have got no Atma, distinct from others. It is not yours; it is common property.”

“The Universal Spirit, the divine monad, “the seventh Principle,” so called, in the exoteric “septenary” classification of man.”

“The student must not confuse this Spiritual Ego with the “HIGHER SELF” which is Atma, the God within us, and inseparable from the Universal Spirit. . . . the Spiritual Ego (the compound of Buddhi-Manas) is not the Higher SELF.”

“Atma is nothing; it is all absolute, and it cannot be said that it is this, that, or the other. It is simply that in which we are – not only that we live and breathe and have our being, but in the whole universe, and during the whole Manvantaric period. Therefore, Atma is said to have Buddhi for a vehicle, because Buddhi is already the first differentiation after the evolution of the universe. It is the first differentiation, and it is the Upadhi, so to say, of Atma. Then Buddhi is nothing, per se, but simply the first differentiation.”

“Understand me, Atman cannot be called infinite consciousness. It is the one Absolute, which is conscious non-consciousness. It contains everything, the potentiality of all; therefore, it is nothing and all. It is Ain-Soph, and it is the Parabrahman and so on; many names you can give it. It is “No Thing,” you understand?”

“Atma, the Symbol for the infinite, impersonal Principle.”

“How can you give experience to that which is absolute? How is it possible to fall into such a philosophical error as that? The Atma no more belongs to you than to this lamp. It is common property.”

“You must never say: “my Atma”; you have no Atma. This idea is the curse of the world. It has produced this tremendous selfishness, this egotism. . . . we say “we are,” “my Atma,” “my Buddhi.” Who are you? You are nobodies; you are something today, and tomorrow you are not. Even that disappears at the end of the Manvantara in the ONE.”

H.P. Blavatsky

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