What is Ātmā?
Ātmā is not Soul or Individual or an Atomic entity: we need to dissociate these words and unlearn this. Let’s start afresh. Follow me here, slowly, sentence by sentence. Do not rush. After every paragraph, pause and reflect and then move forward.
All objective experience is known. We are aware of our experience. It would not be possible to have an experience without
knowing or being aware of it.
Whatever we are thinking, feeling, perceiving or doing, we are aware.
Thus, knowing or being aware is the continuous element in all changing knowledge and experience. It remains
consistently present throughout the three states of waking, dreaming and sleeping.
It remains present throughout all changing experiences, just as a screen remains consistently present throughout all movies.
Knowing or being aware intimately pervades all experience but is never changed by any particular experience.
Thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions have changed innumerable times throughout our lives, but the knowledge with which they are known – the simple experience of being aware – has remained the same throughout.
However, just as the screen tends to be overlooked during a movie due to our fascination with the drama, so knowing,
being aware or awareness itself usually remains unnoticed due to the exclusive focus of our attention on the objects of
Knowing or being aware is the medium upon which or within which all experience appears. It is that with which all experience is known and, ultimately, it is the substance or reality out of which all experience is made.
It is the knowing element in all knowledge. It is the experiencing in all experience.
Just as the screen never appears as an
object in a movie, although it is fully evident throughout it, so knowing or being aware never appears as an object of
knowledge or experience and yet shines clearly within all knowledge or experience.
However, in order to distinguish knowing or being aware from all objective knowledge and experience, it is referred to as the non-objective experience of knowing or being aware. This non-objective awareness is what is referred to as Ātmā or Self.
Before awareness knows anything other than itself, such as a thought, feeling, sensation or perception, awareness is aware of itself. Awareness’s nature is to be aware of itself, and thus its primary experience is to be aware of itself.
To know itself awareness does not have to undertake any particular activity or direct the light of its knowing in any particular direction. No effort is required for awareness to know itself. In fact, any effort would take it away from itself.
Awareness knows itself simply by being itself.
What is the nature of Ātmā?
Just as a screen is never agitated by the drama in a movie, so being aware or awareness itself is never disturbed by the
content of experience. Thoughts may be agitated, feelings distressed, the body in pain and the world troubled, but pure knowing, being aware or awareness itself is never perturbed by anything that occurs in experience. Thus, its nature is peace itself.
Being aware is never aggrandised or demeaned by the acquisition of knowledge or the occurrence of any particular
experience. It needs nothing from and fears nothing in experience. It stands neither to gain nor lose anything from any
particular experience. Awareness is inherently whole, complete and fulfilled in itself.
Thus, its nature is happiness itself- not happiness that depends upon the condition of the mind, body or world, but a causeless joy that is prior to and independent of all states, circumstances and conditions.
Just as the screen does not share the qualities, characteristics or limitations of any of the objects or characters in a movie,
although it is their sole reality, so the knowing with which all knowledge and experience are known does not share the
qualities, characteristics or limitations of whatever is known or experienced. Thus, it is unlimited or infinite.
Knowing, being aware or awareness itself is the essential, irreducible essence of the mind prior to its conditioning in the form of objective experience. It is, as such, unconditioned.