Upanishadic Concept of Atman and Brahman

Upanishads are one of the oldest scriptures of the world. The term Upanishad (‘upa’ near; ‘ni’ down; ‘sad’ to sit) means sitting down near; this implies the students sitting down near their Guru to learn the mysteries of life and its creation. Upanishads were written later than Vedas and are said to be derived from the different Vedas. Upanishads mainly focused on ‘spiritual enlightenment’.

The concept of Brahman and Atman is deeply explored in the Upanishads in the form of dialogues. The dialogues can be between husband and wife, student and teacher etc. The Upanishads are extensively divided into 13 book, each of which tackles different concepts.

In general, Upanishads attribute the quality of ‘Creator’ and ‘Supreme Being’ to Brahman. This Brahman is said to be unfathomable, thus it’s impossible for a mere human to come close to Brahman by using external measures.

Thus the Upanishads shifted their focus from Brahman to Atman. (Self). Atman is considered to be a part of Brahman and is present within every human being. All of us are born with a spark of Divinity (God) within us and therefore it is our ultimate goal to unite this Atman (self) with the Brahman (Supreme Being) from which it formerly came.

Thus, if we are a part of Brahman itself then there cannot lie a separation between God and human beings. Because God is dwelling within all of us and so we are inherently one with God. We do not need to look for God elsewhere. But we cannot achieve this oneness unless we realise this fact.

Therefore, Upanishads say that inorder to be one with Brahman ‘self-actualisation’ is required.

This concept is best expressed in the Chandogya Upanishad by the phrase Tat Tvam Asi – “Thou Art That” – one is already what one wants to become; one only has to realize it.

According to Upanishads (related to Karma, Dhama and Rebirth) :

Each individual was thought to have been placed on earth for a specific purpose which was their duty (dharma) which they needed to perform with the right action (karma) in order to achieve self-actualization. Evil was caused by ignorance of the good and the resulting failure to perform one’s dharma through the proper karma.

Karma, if not discharged correctly, resulted in suffering – whether in this life or one’s next – and so suffering was ultimately the individual’s own fault.

The transmigration of souls (reincarnation) was considered a given in that, if a person failed to perform their dharma in one life, their karma (past actions) would require them to return to try again.

The one thing which striked me when I read the above point was the optimistic view towards Rebirth. Instead of Rebirth being called a suffering or something that one needs to get rid of, it is looked upon as a second chance to fulfill the duties we failed to achieve in our past lives. 🙂

Therefore, it’s true that our old scriptures reveal a lot of truth that is needed in our daily life. From encouraging us to accept suffering as a natural part of life, to believing in giving ourselves second chances, Upanishads explore a lot of deep concepts that needs to be more generalised to be accessible to audience who are not Philosophy Students.

Categories: Education, Learning

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