The immutability of the ātmā

The laws of nature are immutable and apply to everything in nature. As an example, the first law of thermodynamics states that the total energy of any isolated system is constant. (By definition, an isolated system cannot exchange matter and energy with the surroundings)

There are laws that apply to the ātmā also. These laws apply always in all conditions that the ātmā may find itself. One such law is

The ātmā is immutable (avikāri)

It is one of the more profound laws in my opinion, because we do not find such a law in nature. I can think of no substance in nature that cannot be altered or destroyed. But the ātmā cannot be altered in any way. The law has several profound consequences listed below.

Some corollaries derived from the law of immutability of the ātmā

1. The pure ātmā cannot know anything. Because if it knows something, its state has changed from ‘not knowing’ to ‘knowing’. This change of state, a vikāra, is not allowed because the ātmā is immutable. All knowing is external to it.

2. Some argue that the pure ātmā can think. But a thought is a vikāra – a change. When we think, we are changed, in the sense that the state before the thought, and the state during the thought, is different. Such a change cannot be allowed in the ātmā. The pure ātmā cannot think by itself. All thought is external to it.

3. Likewise an experience is also a change in state – from the prior state of no experience to the state of experience. Again, this cannot be allowed. All experience is external to the ātmā. The pure ātmā cannot experience anything.

4. An action is also a change in state. Therefore the pure ātmā cannot act. All action is external to it.

5. The pure ātmā cannot love. Because love is an emotion, which involves thought. It follows that there is no love (prema) or bhakti in the pure ātmā. Bhakti and love are all external to it.

6. It follows that knowing, acting, experiencing, thinking, loving, serving, etc. all without exception occur in the mind or body which are external to the ātmā.


The law of immutability requires that the ātmā be unchanged as it migrates from one material body to another, or when it attains liberation into Brahman, or even when it gets awarded a siddha deha to serve Bhagavān. This law is very useful in recognizing apasiddhāntas of all types, keeping our concepts straight when things get confusing, and in firmly grasping how the ātmā is utterly, utterly dependent on Bhagavān for literally everything. It has no independence whatsoever.

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17 replies »

  1. The modern pseudo Gauḍīya apasampradayas who believe in a mutable atma should consider embracing Jainism instead because they too believe in a mutable atma. No authentic school of Vedic philosophy does however.

  2. We were discussing the immutability of the atma in relation to death. Does the atma travel from one embodiment to another? Doesn’t seem likely. In which case, when the atma is no longer delimited by the physical body, is it all-pervasive? Of course, it is still limited by the subtle body. How does the atma get from one physical body to the next?

  3. Another question. I submitted this question but it doesn’t display here. Babaji said that the physical body lasts this one lifetime but the subtle body lasts until the end of the universe. Then, subtle and gross elements are then reabsorbed into prakrti. The atma rests in the body of Paramatma during the dissolution? When the universe again manifests, one’s karma again manifests the subtle body? Is this a new subtle body or a continuation of the previous one? I’m hoping we get a reboot during the change of universe but perhaps that’s wishful thinking. This subtle body has been with us anadi?

  4. Thanks for sharing 🙏
    I have a few queries:
    1) If atma is immutable then how the information/dna of karma gets carried from one birth to another?
    2) based on the article, it should not be possible to differentiate to atmas? If they are same then what is the meaning of Punyatma?
    3) Atma is immutable, so it is always pure. Why do we need Bhakti then?

    • 1. Karma-Information is not stored in the atma. The mind (citta) contains the karmic record. The mind goes with the atma to a new body.
      2. There is no difference between atmas. The term punyatma means pious person, not pious atma. The term atma can mean many things depending on context.
      3. If we like to continue in this uncertain world of suffering, Bhakti is not needed. It is needed only if we want something beyond this world.

      • Thank you so much for taking time to respond 🙏

        Where can I read and know more about this?
        1) what goes from one body to another – Atma, citta, and?
        2) What is citta?
        3) What is consciousness and how is it different from citta?
        4) Atma, param-atma and Brahman
        Thanks in advance 🙏

  5. Kṛṣṇa Dāsjī!

    If Ātmā “desire” or “think” about something, then that would be called as a Change in the Ātmā!

    According to this, even Paramātmā also cannot “think” & “act”! Because Paramātmā is also Changeless! Then it would make Paramātmā also a Limited Entity! How could this be solved??

    • Paramatma/Bhagavān’s mind and organs of action are not different from his svarupa. Paramatma experiences Svarupashakti/Antarangashakti through His mind which is also a manifestation of the same. Hence it’s the same as the Yogi who has realised his atma and experiences the bliss inherent in the atma but with infinitely more variety.

    • Instead of Paramatma I will answer this question from Bhagavan’s point of view. Bhagavan steals and eats yogurt everyday. When He eats, He has changed. Or has He? When He cries, He has changed. Yes and no. No because He will repeat it again in countless prakasas. Sri Jiva Goswami resolved this in the Sandarbhas and I have written an article on this. Similarly His thoughts are also eternal.
      Unlike the Jiva, Bhagavan is made of hladini, sandhini and samvit saktis. So He is unchanging and yet dynamic. Hladini or bliss is ever increasing, not static.

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