The role of the ātman in experience and thought

Sri Jiva Goswami lists several properties of the ātman in the Paramātma Sandarbha. Pertinent to this article are its qualities of knowership and experiential capacity.

The ātman has the capacity to know. The mind and intelligence, being inert, cannot know. At the same time, the ātman cannot understand or process information. It has to rely on the mind to do so.

Cognition can only occur when the ātman is combined with the mind.

Similarly, the ātman has the capacity to experience, but it cannot experience anything without the mind.

Only when combined with the mind can the ātman experience anything.

The ātman by itself consists only of potentialities- potentialities of knowing, experiencing and acting. It cannot store any knowledge. Some modern sects of Caitanya Vaisnavism mistakenly think that knowledge, i.e. content or information, is intrinsic to the ātman. They posit that Vedic knowledge inheres in the ātman. This notion fundamentally contradicts Sri Jiva Goswami’s explanation of the properties of the ātman. Information is stored in the citta, not in the ātman.  In fact, every experience and every cognition requires, and occurs in the mind.

The ātman is the name given to an eternal being that possesses the śakti of consciousness. The ātman sets the mind into motion by infusing it with consciousness. This can be understood by analogy with the battery of a car. The battery energizes the car, but all the movements happen in the parts of car and have no bearing on the battery.  The battery has the potential to cause movements etc., but that potential manifests only when it is linked to a car. The ātman is something like the battery in relation to the manas, buddhi and citta.

10 replies »

  1. Radhe Shyam !!

    I would like to ask below question for clarification.

    We have an effect of past life Samskaras on thus because Atman is carrying it life after life from anadi.
    How technically it is possible for Atman to carry any of these impressions ?. as it is just a conscious being.

    If it is not carrying, how come we have past life samskaras with us?

    If it carries anything like that kind of experiences, cant it be contaminated? (Not pure entity). Because experience may be good or bad.

    • The atman doesnt carry the impressions. The impressions are in the citta, which goes with the atman from one life to another. the citta is external to the atman. The atman does not change in any way

  2. Namaste!
    Does the atman really travel from one place to another? Since the atman is beyond space and time.

    • Namaste. Where the body goes, atman must go. The atman is beyond space but it is not infinite like paramatma, pervading all space. Otherwise it cannot stay identified with one body alone.

      • Thank you. Following up on your response. I understand that atma will follow body and is not infinite like Paramatma. But would “atma travelling or goes” make any sense if atma is beyond space and time?

      • If the body goes, and if the atma identifies with it, then sure the atma also goes. When we say it is beyond space, we mean it does not have a material shape or form or size as is the case with all material objects that occupy space.

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