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Hinduism - Brahman/Atman

Hinduism - Brahman/Atman


This lesson provides an introduction to the Hindu concept of the divine explaining Brahman, Atman and both monotheistic and polytheistic schools of thought within the tradition.

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Video Transcription

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Welcome to this tutorial on the Atman Brahman relationship. There are several different schools of thought in Hinduism. First we're going to take a look at Advaita. Advaita means one, philosophy of unity. Advaita teaches that God, soul, and world are all one. Which is to say that in the deepest part of each person's self, there is something called the Atman, which is described in the Upanishads as being smaller than the thumb.

There's a little spark, a little something of divinity in each one of us. And that this Atman, which we could think of as the soul, is already one with God. So Advaita is the belief that we are all already one with God. And if we can just realize this, it will produce liberation. That is, Moksha, freedom from the cycle of rebirth, freedom from sin and this life and previous lifetimes and a complete merger with God.

There are other schools of thought in Hinduism that are Dvaita schools of thought where you can have two layers, two separate entities, God and the soul. And these two remain separate. So not every school of thought in Hinduism believes that God and the soul are simply one. Some schools of thought teach that the soul does not fully merge with God.

And then there are even Dvaita-Advaita schools of thought where the soul is one and yet not one with God. Perhaps we can hold both of these two ideas at the same time. Or perhaps there's a moment of union and other moments of separation.

A major school of thought in Advaita is Kashmir Shaivism in the Kashmir region that is currently disputed between India and Pakistan, this very beautiful part of the world, and heavily contested part of the world. At any rate, in this part of the world it's taught a monistic school of thought, that God and the world are just part of one reality. And it's called Shaivism because Shiva was worshipped as the supreme divinity.

A phrase in this school of thought is, "Jiva is Shiva." That is, the soul is Shiva, is God. Shiva is the destroyer God. He's often seen in a meditating posture with the Ganges River flowing out of his head. He can also be seen dancing in a ring of flames. So his dance produces the entire universe and destroys it again.

There's also the pantheistic school of thought stemming from the sage Adi Shankara. And this school of thought is more similar to Western pantheism. It's the difference between monism and pantheism is very subtle. But you can think of God as pervading the universe and being one with that.

So all of these schools of thought agree that the goal of Hinduism is to realize God. They just differ about how that is done and what takes place on a metaphysical level. Does the soul actually merge and become one with God? Or does the separation remain even in the moment of liberation?

We said that in Hinduism the concept of God varies depending on the school of thought. We said that in a school of thought known as Advaita Dvaita, the no-dual end of the Vedas which extends from the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita the soul is thought to be already one with God and liberation happens through realizing the unity of Atman and Brahman. Advaita Dvaita extends from the Upanishads and from the Bhagavad Gita, the Song of God, which is a portion of a larger poem called the Mahabharata, the Great Bharata War. Especially chapter eight, at the beginning of which Krishna says that "My highest nature, the imperishable Brahman, gives every creature its existence and lives in every creature."

We also talked about dualistic schools of thought and dual and non dual schools of thought within Hinduism. We said that within the non dual schools there can be monistic and pantheistic ways of describing divinity. So Brahman is the unitary spirit that binds together the universe and Atman is the primitive or fundamental true self that exists independent of experience or phenomenon. So this is the self that as residing below consciousness, below the personality, the true itself or sometimes regarded as the soul.

Terms to Know

The primitive or fundamental experience of phenomena.


In Hinduism, the unitary spirit that binds together the universe.