In Sanskrit, the Cosmic Self is known as Atma. In contrast to the individual soul, the Atma is Universal. It is the “Light of Life” in all beings. The relationship between the Atma, the individual consciousness and spirit, can be illustrated by the following example.
The Atma is the light, the light bulb is the individual and the beam of light that radiates from the lamp is the spirit. In English the expression “spirit of the soul” is used and in this expression it is clear that the spirit emanates from the Atma. This “spirit” possesses qualities such as clear or unclear, strong or weak, confused, lively, creative, lethargic, etc. But the Atma is completely without attribute, comparable to a cloudless sky or water without waves. Clouds in the heavens, waves in the sea, a film projected onto a screen, all allude to movement. Mostly, our individual consciousness identifies with this movement and remains unaware of the background, the “Atma”.
In the symbolic image of a lamp, we can compare individual consciousness to the lampshade. How much light radiates from a lamp depends on how much energy the light bulb is able to receive. It is the same with the nature of the lampshade. The amount of light able to penetrate the lampshade depends on whether the shade is clear and transparent, or dusty and dirty.
Spirit and consciousness are not the Self, but merely an emanation of the Self, from which they manifest. The light of the Atma always remains unchanged, vibrant and pure. The extent to which the light of our Atma may penetrate externally, is dependent on the quality of our consciousness. Our thoughts, feelings, qualities and actions shape this. Negative qualities and ignorance darken our Phanomen . Divine qualities such as knowledge, wisdom and love, brighten it. The higher our consciousness is developed the more clear, pure and transparent is the radiating light of our Atma. If our consciousness is completely pure and spotless, so that the light of the Atma radiates in full beauty and splendour, then we speak of Enlightenment or Realisation. Holy people are completely pure and clear and have become true channels of God. They radiate light, love, kindness, wisdom and clarity - consider for a moment the halo of Saints. However, when there are many layers of karma and ignorance veiling the Atma, this Divine light cannot shine through.
The Atma, our inner Self, is the essence of the Cosmic Self, whose nature is Maha Ananda, supreme bliss. Therefore, the inner-most essence of each and every individual, as part of the Cosmic Self, is Ananda, Bliss.
The human body, sense organs, intellect and mind, are all tools of the Atma. In one Bhajan, Paramhans Swami Madhavanandaji says:
My brother, I saw a wonderful coach (the body) pulled by ten horses (the senses). Manas (mind) was the reins that controlled the horses and Buddhi (intellect) was the coachman who directed the reins. Inside sat the Atma, the King, accompanied by his trusted Minister, Viveka (discrimination). Within the coach resounded the music of different instruments (sense organs, thoughts). If the light of knowledge arises within this coach, it is forever illuminated.
Viveka is the most refined form of the intellect. It carefully considers all thoughts, feelings and experience. Decisions are made according to what is reality, and not based on egoistic desire, which is what the mind usually does. Light is the symbol for knowledge, darkness means ignorance. Where light appears, darkness disappears. It is the same with knowledge. When knowledge is awakened within us, ignorance is immediately banished.
Who are we? Are we the body? To believe that we are the body is ignorance.
In reality we are pure Consciousness!
We are not skin, bones, blood, flesh, nerves or glands. We say, “This is my blood, these are my limbs, my feelings, thoughts, ideas and experiences”. But who is it that speaks about these things in such a way? Who is it that, consciously or unconsciously, uses the word “I” and “mine”?
Take an onion as an example. We hold it in our hand and identify it without further consideration as an “onion”. Now we remove the outer layers of skin, one by one. This we call the individual parts of the onion, the “onion skins”. It is not an onion any more. But what remains of the “onion” now? Is “onion” only a name for the sum of these skins? This cannot possibly be so. An onion, out of which an entire plant comes into being when planted, is something much more comprehensive, more highly organised than the mere fitting together of individual skins!
The Atma is also infinitely much more than the mere sum of its parts. The Atma lives within us. Nobody can see how it enters into the womb or how it leaves the body of a dead person. It comes and goes. The physical body changes, just like we change our clothes. The Atma, the Self, is never born. It is Immortal, Eternal, Divine and unchanging.
The Atma itself does not need to develop, it is complete. Only the consciousness must be purified and developed so that it is able to recognise its real nature. The Atma is life itself, pure energy. For example, contained within the seed of a tree is already the whole tree. The energy that brings forth all things, from which everything comes into being, is the Atma. The Atma is the essence of God. It is not Divine, but God Himself. Not Holy, but Holiness itself. The Atma is like a light, an inextinguishable flame. This light within us is only veiled and hidden by our Karmas. Just like fire is covered by smoke, or a diamond remains unrecognised because of the layers of dust and dirt.
Any flame, be it a candle, torch or a burning pile of wood, is in essence the same. Fire doesn’t need to develop, it is, and always will be, fire. The quality in each flame is the same - contained within the tiniest spark is an infinite potential of energy. When many flames unite an immense power is formed - the Sun. The light emanating from this is immensely strong. Using the same analogy in terms of the full potential of Light becoming manifest in a human, it is then that we speak of a Mahatma, a great soul, a Saint or a Divine incarnation.
In Vedanta philosophy, the fundamental philosophy of Yoga, the Atma is described as Sat-Chit-Ananda. Sat means truth, Chit means consciousness, Ananda means bliss. The Atma, or the Self, is therefore truth. It is conscious and blissful. And this Self is the Self of all beings.
Many people ask what they should think about during meditation and what to concentrate on. Initially one concentrates on the breath, on the body, or on the relaxed state of the muscles. Later one may visualise the full moon, sunrise or sunset. But real meditation is Atma Chintana, concentration on the Atma. At this stage our concentration moves beyond concern of the physical body and is no longer occupied with thoughts of the meditation posture. All imagination is surrendered, along with all earthly desires and thoughts. In Atma Chintana there is no visualisation of light, or the moon or sun. There is no thought of the rising Kundalini, the opening Chakras or the attainment of Supernatural powers. All these are really only Beginner level meditations. Do not cling to such methods, meditate only with Atma Chintana. Always be conscious of this - feel and experience it. In order to bring the mind to stillness and to strengthen the power of concentration, Mantra is used as an aid. The use of Mantra purifies and frees the mind so that the Atma can emerge.
At the stage of Realisation, a Yogi has only one thought: “Who am I?” This is the contemplation of the Yogi not only during meditation but also in each moment and in every life situation. This is the call of his Self, the song of his heart, his Atma. A Yogi doesn’t think, “I strive to come closer to you, my Lord”. But asks, “Come closer to me, my Lord”. We humans often feel ourselves weak and helpless. We think God is far away and difficult to reach. But God is Omnipresent. God will certainly find a way to us. In meditation always aim to develop uplifting and confident thoughts, because thoughts have great power and can achieve anything.
As we progress in meditation the ability of spiritual perception develops. Mind and consciousness become the eyes of the Self as our spirit roams throughout the whole Universe (astral travelling). Just like the headlights of a car illuminate the street in front of us, so the spirit perceives all things and transmits this experience and knowledge to our consciousness. However, first we must recognise our Self in each living being, in every atom and in all planets and stars. This means that we must progress to such a degree that we can identify ourselves with all beings and all things. We should not identify with a philosophy, religion, nationality, gender or race, but discover the unity that transcends all external appearances.
Duality is prevalent in today’s world, but a wise person can recognise unity appearing in many different forms. When the wise one looks at two jugs in front of him, he is conscious that the clay from which they are made is the same. In this way the Self-Realised, the God-Realised, does not view the external form, but rather its inherent reality, the Atma, the Self.
It is not enough however to understand this intellectually, one must feel and experience this more deeply within. Once we have heard the call of our Atma, then we no longer desire any Siddhi or miracle. We no longer need anything else in order to be happy. We don’t seek someone to extend a hand to us, rather we hold out a helping hand to others, because we know, “I am the Atma and this Self lives in others also. We are not two, but one. We may dwell in different bodies, but the body is transitory. Our reality exists in the unity that is immortal.”
As long as we entertain thoughts of duality, thoughts of separateness, we make a grave mistake. We help ourselves the moment we overcome dualistic thoughts. Then we recognise that this world is simply a manifestation of our mind, that in reality our mind has created the world as we see it before us. We realise that all of creation is changeable and transient like waves on the ocean. In due time, all waves sink back into the ocean and unite with it. One day too, the world as we know it will vanish and all that we will see everywhere is God the Supreme, our Atma.
Therefore in meditation, practice Atma Chintana. Know that you are strong, pure, happy and immortal. You are the Self! In the Self exists no fear, no sadness and no guilt. Worldly life is not to be condemned. After all, we live in this world and it offers us wonderful experiences. Therefore we should not make life difficult for ourselves, but rather enjoy life and free ourselves from self-reproach as we sincerely endeavour to remain on the right path.
Live now, in the present. Do not brood about the past. Yesterday is gone and will never again come back. Also, do not dream about a “better” future. The future is still not here and we will never reach it, for the future is only ever the present. Tomorrow remains tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow always remains the day after tomorrow. Always live only in the now. When we are conscious of this we will have overcome time and live in its midst as the observer and witness of all change.
Our Atma is the Divine Self.
May all recognise this and offer their love to It.