What does the word ATMAN mean

The word ‘Atman’ is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word ‘Atman’ is soul, albeit in a special meaning specific to Sanatana Dharma, but it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this word. This is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.  


The word ‘Atman’ is derived from the root word ata by adding the suffix manin. The word ata means extraordinary, to go constantly, to obtain, walk, to blow, and to run. The word ‘Atman’ means breath; soul; life; self; nature; character; a person as a whole as opposed to one’s parts; body; mind; understanding; the world-soul; effort; firmness; sun; fire; son; reflexive pronoun for a person in the predicate who is also the subject of the sentence; knower of the field; the primal prakriti, Brahman, a person having the gunas of sattva, rajas, and tamas; the supreme soul; the indwelling soul; a substance; the four-faced god Brahma; self-existent; Indra; grandfather; great grand-guru; Hiranyagarbha; the lord of all; self-revealing; the sustainer; the primal womb; daughter; creator; Prajapati; Shiva; Sarasvati; the sustainer; death; previous; Ishvara; intellect; conviction; consciousness; spiritual intelligence; wisdom; knowledge; reflection; consideration; perception; observation; wisdom; purpose; intent; resolve; sentience; Sanatkumara; desire; argument; decision; technical knowledge; moksha; doubt; discerning faculty; guna; debate; mental state; body; the sense organs; the organs of action; embryo; flesh; skin; blood; heart; nerve; bone; ribcage; knee; action; one’s true nature; effort; the sun; fire; wind; living being; the natural temperament or disposition; the supreme deity and soul of the universe; spirit; the vivifying soul in opposition to the sentient; pain; care; firmness; the mind; a son; the abstract individual; the individual soul, the principle of life and sensation; essence; character;  peculiarity; thinking faculty; the faculty of reason; form; image; assuming one’s own form; mental quality; independent; dependent on oneself; existing; a wife’s brother; a jester; and worthy of oneself.


Atman is considered to be identical with Brahman, the supreme reality, and is beyond names and forms, beyond words and speech, beyond the mind and the sense organs. It is beyond the limitations of space, time, and causation. It is immutable, undifferentiated, imperceptible, imperishable, and is different from the senses. It does not indulge in any activity and everything derives its existence because of it. It is absolute existence, absolute consciousness, and absolute bliss. By knowing one’s true nature, the Atman, one transcends suffering. Since, the Atman cannot be known through the senses and the mind, through mediate perception, one has to annihilate all desires and kill the mind, so that the self-revealing Atman reveals itself. It is the only reality, there is no other reality, it is the non-dual reality. By performing spiritual practices such as truthfulness, discernment, dispassion, controlling of the senses and the mind, one has to understand one’s true nature, the Atman, that is beyond the body, mind, and the senses.

Author is Editor of Prabuddha Bharata. 

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This article was first published in the December 2018 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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