The term atman is explained in the Upanishads, a collection of philosophical writings written in the period 800-600 BC which provide the underpinning of many Hindu beliefs. Kupperman explains the concept of atman as “our intuitive sense of an unchanging ‘me’ throughout life … a core of self that has no individual nature of elements that grow and change … a core that underlies (and is separate from) personality, thought patterns, bodily form and so forth” (11). This self is also part of something bigger: “The Upanishads teach that self and cosmos are one, repeatedly stating that one’s atman is inseparable from all that there is.”(Hamilton, 28). This is a complex theory which tries to understand the inner nature of all beings and things in the universe, and postulates that the universe is “a field of inner realities that are all at bottom the same… in somewhat the way that a drop of water is the ocean of which it is a part.” (Kupperman, 11). Another way of describing this is the concept of Brahman. This early Hindu way of thinking has implications for the way that people understand themselves and their goals in life: “Thus, the highest good is self-recognition, not as one’s individual self, but as the larger all-encompassing self that is atman. Atman is not distinctively individual. Atman is immortal and impersonal.” (Solomon, 87). Both human beings and the myriad of Hindu gods and goddesses share in this mixture of specifically personal qualities, which are changeable, and this core selfhood, which is divine and permanent.
The related concept of anatta is the Pali language version of the Sanskrit anatman, and it means not-self, or not-soul. It originates in the teachings of Buddha who lived in Northern regions of the Indian subcontinent in the region now known as Nepal. Anatta is one of the key concepts which distinguishes Buddhist thinking from the older Hindu tradition. In some ways it also ...
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