* THE SELF IN HINDUISM *
To avoid misunderstanding the teachings and concepts of Hinduism, it’s important to correctly understand what is meant by “the Self” in Hinduism, when “Self” is written with a capital S.
Hinduism differentiates between “self” (with a small ‘s’) and “Self” (with a capital ‘S’). The capitalised Self does not refer to our personal or individual self, nor even to our soul which incarnates and reincarnates…the Self is the Spirit and in Sanskrit it is called the Atman.
Our personal individual self is not the true eternal reality of Who and What we really are and thus this lower self is sometimes termed the “not-Self” because it is not the real Self, which is the Higher Self, the Divine Self.
The Self…the Spirit…the Atman…this is not the individual possession of anyone. There is no such thing as my Atman or your Atman; there is only THE Atman, which is the ONE Universal Self of all. It is pure eternal Spirit and is the One Reality.
The Self (Atman) is literally one and the same thing as the Supreme Self (Paramatman) which is called by the term Brahman. This is why Ramana Maharshi said, “Knowing the Self, God is known. In fact God is none other than the Self.” You do not know God until you know yourself – your Self – as God. And you also do not know yourself until you know your real Self to be God, to be Brahman.
Brahman is not the same as Brahma. Brahman is not a Being, not some sort of Divine Person, but IT is the ONE Absolute Infinite Omnipresent Divine PRINCIPLE. We can think of Brahman as being the Supreme Pure Divine Consciousness which is everything and in everything. The Hindu scriptures state over and over again that the Atman is Brahman, that our Spirit is the Supreme Spirit, that the Self is the Supreme Self.
The manifested universe and everything material and objective is ultimately illusion (“Maya” in Sanskrit) when viewed from the higher perspective and the Self is the one Reality. The universe and everything in it comes forth from the Self and returns to the Self at the end of each cycle of universal manifestation.
All is illusion (because it is impermanent, temporary, finite, and subject to change) apart from the Self, the Atman which is Brahman. Only that which is permanent, infinite, absolute, immutable, unconditioned, changeless and unchangeable, can be considered truly real and this is what is meant in Hinduism by the Self, which is the Divine Allness, the Infinite Abstract EXISTENCE.
Yoga is to re-become This in consciousness, for This is Who and What you really are. You are not the body, you are not the emotions, you are not even the mind! You are pure eternal Spirit…you are the Atman…you are Brahman…you are the Self. This is the message of non-duality and universal oneness (“Advaita” in Sanskrit) and it is this that is the great message of the Hindu religion.
The 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.
The Upanishads are the Hindu scriptures which focus and expound on this primary and foundational teaching and I highly recommend the translation by Eknath Easwaran, which is readily available from Amazon and many other places. One of the most famous statements in the Upanishads is “Tat tvam asi” which means “Thou art That”…you are the Self, you are the Atman, you are Brahman. Yes, you are God and this very concept – which would be considered the vilest heresy and blasphemy in the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – has been the foundation of Indian spiritual thought for well over 5,000 years. You are God and God is you and this is the truth of everyone, for God is ALL. This is the same as saying that Brahman is ALL, the Atman is ALL, the Self is ALL.
The ONLY One breathed breathless by Itself;
Other than It there nothing since has been.
— from the Hymn of Creation in the Rig Veda, the oldest scripture in the world
– – -