Selections from the Bhagavad-Gita: The Atman


The Atman

translated by
Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Some say this Atman
Is slain, and others
Call It the slayer:
They know nothing.
How can it slay
Or who shall slay it?

Know this Atman
Unborn, undying,
Never ceasing,
Never beginning,
Deathless, birthless,
Unchanging for ever.
How can It die
The death of the body?

Knowing it birthless
Knowing it deathless,
Knowing it endless,
For ever unchanging,
Dream not you do
The deed of the killer,
Dream not the power
Is yours to command it.

Worn-out garments
Are shed by the body:
Worn-out bodies
Are shed by the dweller
Wihin the body.
New bodies are donned
By the dweller, like garments.

Not wounded by weapons,
Not burned by fire,
Not dried by the wind,
Not wetted by water:
Such is the Atman.

Not dried, not wetted,
Not burned, not wounded,
Innermost element,
Everywhere, always,
Being of beings,
Changeless, eternal
For ever and ever.

—  From Book 2, The Yoga of Knowledge


LD:  Note on the Atman (Sanskrit): The true soul or imperishable self as distinct from the phenomenal ego known as the jiva. The central theme of Vedanta, as expounded by the great 8th century sage Adi Shankara, was an examination of the relation between the atman, the individual human self, and Brahman, the cosmic Mind or Logos.

Shankara held that reality is ultimately one and that the apparent plurality of individual selves and different entitities was illusory. Just as the space within one jug or pitcher is no different from the space in another jug or pitcher, so the atman or individual soul in a particular human being is essentially the same as the atman or individual soul in another human being.

Similarly, Shankara argued, how could the space in a jug be different from the space outside the jug, i.e., from Space itself? How could the sea water in a bucket be any different from the water in the sea? From all this it followed, according to Shankara, that there was essentially no difference between Brahman and Atman. As sea water in the bucket is to the Sea itself, as space in a jug is to Space itself, so the atman or individual soul is to Brahman, the Cosmic Mind.

The individual Self, Shankara maintained, was identical with Brahman; and the aim of human life is to obtain release (moksha) from the crippling delusion that one possesses a differentiated self distinct from Brahman. In short, all is One; I am You; and We are Brahman. The waterdrop, when it returns to the ocean, becomes one with the Ocean again. The object of human existence is union with the divine.

This system of thought, which sees everything as One, is known as Advaita or non-dualism (also, monism). Other Vedantic sages, particularly Ramanuja and Madhva, were to add refinements and significant modifications to these basic teachings of Shankara.  (LD)

21 thoughts to “Selections from the Bhagavad-Gita: The Atman”

  1. Here is a famous Western poem which echoes some of the sentiments expressed above and clearly shows the influence of Indian thought:


    by Ralph Waldo Emerson

    If the red slayer think he slays,
    Or if the slain think he is slain,
    They know not well the subtle ways
    I keep, and pass, and turn again.

    Far or forgot to me is near;
    Shadow and sunlight are the same;
    The vanished gods to me appear;
    And one to me are shame and fame.

    They reckon ill who leave me out;
    When me they fly, I am the wings;
    I am the doubter and the doubt,
    I am the hymn the Brahmin sings.

    The strong gods pine for my abode,
    And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
    But thou, meek lover of the good!
    Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

    1. When I first read Emerson, years ago, this particular poem (of his) did not resonate as it does, now. Know what? NOW, it seems to me to have been composed by a man who would like to have been “all things to all people”. Another (East) Indian (by venue of nativity) – Rudyard Kipling – styled it for we mortals thus:

      “Four things greater than all things are –
      Women and horses and power and war.”
      (from the Ballad of The King’s Jest)

  2. Beautiful rendering. Question……stanza 3 “the deed of (t)he killer?”

    I remember reading a wonderful summary for the concept of the ‘atman’.
    “You are not You”.

    1. Thanks. Correction made.

      Yes, this particular translation rises to great heights by its versification of key passages.

      Most of the translation is in prose, but the sublimest bits — maybe one-tenth of the book — have been put into free verse that is exceptionally beautiful. I doubt if there is any other translation of the Gita that comes anywhere near this.

  3. there is more to life than 80 years
    there is more to life than 80 years
    there is more to life than 80 years
    there is more to life than 80 years
    when you stand before the person you cheated, raped, or murdered … what will they do to you
    when you stand before the person you helped … what will they do to you

    time is but a test
    to see what you want with the rest
    you will be
    where you want to be
    the better places
    are a longer journey

  4. Thursday the Day of the Guru /Thursday the day of Donar/The day of Thunder.

    Thursday the day of Thunderstanding.

    (…) Atma encompasses the whole range of reality from infinity to point – MMY

    1. John Hagelin: In last week’s press conference, Maharishi explained Atma-the Self-as togetherness of infinite silence and infinite dynamism. But although these two are unified, there are still two factors present. Is there something before Atma where there is one alone undivided?

    2. Atma is undivided and in this eternal unity, there is the potential infinite diversity.

    3. The total knowledge of eternal unity is available in the Vedic literature in one word, in two words, and like that, it expands in a sequentially expanding language.

    4. ‘A’ is the expression of silence and dynamism both together. A comes to a point in MA. So Atma is the whole range of reality from infinity to point.

    5. The great sutras of the Darshanas are a rich treasure to make human awareness a field of all possibilities (…)

    The Bhagavad Gita of Krishna is the Kernel of the Darshanas, the Vedic Literarature. In MMY’S introduction to his commentary on the first six chapters of the Bhagavad Gita he places the Adi (first) Shankaracharya chronologically in a different time. Somewhere between Buddha and Christ. Since all his succesors are called Shankaracharya this misconception crept in.

    Atma is no concept. Since it is prior to the conception of a body caught in Maya’s web of space/time.

    In MMY’s own words in ’67 at the University of California- Leuren Moret rightfully sees this university as the seat of destruction) during a speech to a few thousand educators:
    ‘I have heard these days of the word transcendentalism. Transcendentalism is a word from the mouth of the ignorant. It is the Transcendental Field of Life That Is Free from all -isms (mmm and chukcles)

    CIA O

  5. Sounds like an apologetic Hindutva hasbara.

    Indian author, peace activist and former Tamil film actress, Arundhati Roy (born 1959), was interviewed on March 24, 2010 at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico by Avram (Ari) David Lewis for Al-Jazeera (English). She talks about Islamophobia, Hindu extremists (Hindutva), vast economic disparity between rich minority and the majority of Indian population living in acute poverty and various resistance wars in India and Afghanistan (watch the video below).

      1. For a cutting-edge “alternative” website, Darkmoon can be really boring at times. “COMMENT DELETED”. How boring does it get.

        1. I am not judging or condemning you, nor do I feel particularly hostile to you. I am merely at a loss to understand your animosity toward hp. It is so unlike you. Indeed, it is unworthy of you, given that you must have learned many good things from your long acquaintance with TM.

          What is the basis of this hostility?

        2. @LD/JMC

          In his intro/preface to the commentary of the first 6 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita MMY writes about Ramanuja and Madhva something like: in the absence of the Sun the light of the Moon and the stars take over.

          MMY was recognised by many contemperary giants in India like Tattwala Baba, Ananda Moyi Ma, Swami Laksmanjoo, the 250 year old Devraha Baba of Vrindavan and many others as outstanding among them. Devraha Baba emphasized: MMY will bring about Sat Yuga in the midst of Kali Yuga (despite the present Fukushima disaster, the US should assemble a 7.000 group asap like dec 1983-jan 84 in Fairfield)

          The iskcon man bhaktivedanta, his story must be clear by now for poster hp: he apparently is still caught in idolising this bhaktivedanta… these vids of this psychotherapist Jolieceour from Canada who knew bv and his inner circle personally. He fully exposes bv and his cult! Need he say more?

          CIA O

        3. @sardonicus

          hp still is the victim of the pedophile cult of the iskcon fake swami bv still idolising this completely exposed fake.

          Donar is no idolatry to me. It is more poetic nature religion of the indigenous pre-Christian population of Europe. I use it as a metaphor.

          There is more, but need to go.

          CIA O

        4. There will be some, maybe even many, who will think the following article I link to is “boring”. Still, keep in mind, it’s not anywhere as near as boring as “COMMENT DELETED” :

          At least one can debate my article. Pro, con, or not sure. And in debating, actually learn something. One can’t debate “COMMENT DELETED”. One can’t learn anything from “COMMENT DELETED”. Lame.

  6. (…) The Issue: Isn’t transcendental consciousness (Atma. gj) just a metaphysical concept?

    …..Many scholars have noted that experiences of transcendental consciousness are universal, found in all cultures, in both religious and secular settings….

    “wholly abstract universality’, “…transcendent, self-consciousness, which is identical with itself and infinite in itself…”, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), the German philosopher

    “…individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state, but the clearest of clearest, the surest of the surest…utterly beyond words, where death was an almost laughable impossibility…I am ashamed of my feeble description. Have I not said the state is utterly beyond words?” Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), British poet….

    A personal views By David Orme Johnson (…)

    Read more here:

    CIA O

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