What does the word ADHYATMA mean

The word adhyatma  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 adhyatma  is spirituality, 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 adhyatma is a compound of the prefix adhi and the word atma. The word atma is a shortened form of the word atman, which is derived variously from an, to breathe; at, to move; and va, to blow. The word atman means the soul, principle of life and sensation, the individual soul, indwelling entity, self, abstract individual, the body, the person or whole body considered as one and opposed to the separate parts of the body, intellect, mind, the highest personal principle of life, Brahman, effort, the sun, fire, and a son. The prefix adhi is added to verbs and nouns and means above, over and above, and besides. It could also be a separate adverb or preposition and could also mean over, from above, from, from the presence of, after, for, instead of, over, on, at, in comparison with, over, upon, and concerning. The word adhyatma means concerning the atma or Atman, the supreme Spirit, own, belonging to self, concerning self or individual personality. It could also mean the discerning faculty that distinguishes the Real from the unreal. It also means spirituality or the discipline that leads to the realisation of one’s true nature.


Adhyatma means the nature of the individual self or self-hood, which is the presence of the supreme reality Brahman in every body as the indwelling Self. It means the entity which as the indwelling Self, exists in the body, atma, by making the body its place of dwelling, adhikarana, and which in the ultimate analysis is the supreme Brahman. Adhyatma is also the discipline of knowledge that leads to spiritual wisdom and eventually to moksha or liberation. It is considered to be the best kind of knowledge. This knowledge is adhyatma, pertains to the Self, and deals with the discernment between the Self and the non-Self. Adhyatma is the knowledge concerning Atman and the path to be adopted in order to attain the knowledge of Atman. This knowledge is considered to be eternal. Adhyatma also refers to the exposition or explanation about the nature of the supreme reality, Brahman. One’s leanings towards the study of scriptures and one’s effort to understand one’s true nature, Atman, is also called adhyatma. It also means complete surrender to God with total abnegation of the ego.


Anything that is related to one’s self, that is one’s body, mind, vital energy, is also called adhyatma. It also denotes suffering created in oneself that arises in one’s body and mind, and is one of the three kinds of suffering a living being can get, the other two being adhibhautika, that created by other living beings; and adhidaivika, that created by natural or cosmic forces.


Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata

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This article was first published in 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 http://advaitaashrama.org/pbSubscription

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