Advaita terminology

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Jan 21 16:12:26 CST 2002

On Fri, 18 Jan 2002, Srikrishna Ghadiyaram wrote:

> Hari Om !!
> I have been reading various vedanta  books for some time. This has been
> generating a lot of confusion with regard to the terminology used there in.
> I request your help to clarify my doubts.

Let me preface my comments by saying that what I should write should not
necessarily be seen as the final word on the meanings but a base for
further study and contemplation.

> 1. I read the following sentence in "Vedanta for Beginners" by Swami
> Sivananda:
> "The word  'Atman' is used with reference to the soul in the individual.
> The term 'Brahman' is used with reference to the same Soul as the Soul of
> all beings and objects in the universe."
> (--- In some other books of other authors I see that Brahman and Atman are
> used as substitutes to each other.)
> a) What is the correct usage ?

I think the quote above is fairly good.  It emphasises that the difference
between Brahman and Atman is not a difference of quality but perspective.

> b) What is the 'Soul in the individual' and 'Soul of all beings' ?

See above.  Per Advaita Vedanta they are the same thing viewed from
different angles.  Atma which is often translated as soul literally means
self.  It is ones personhood.

My daughter from her birth has a very strong gripping reflex and she also
has long hair.  Sometimes she will pull her own hair until she starts
crying.  She hasn't yet made the connection that it is her own hand which
is causing the pain by gripping the hair and she can stop it by letting
go.  In the same way because of avidya (ignorance) we see our
self-identity as being a distinct thing and say "I" and "myself" when
really it isn't.

> c) what are the equivalent english words for 'Jiva' and 'Isvara' ?

Jiva is a living thing.  An Atma embodied in a physical form.  Ishvara
comes from the root Ish -- to rule or control.  It is Brahman as viewed as
possessing qualities (saguna) as the (apparent) creator, maintainer and
destroyer of the universe.  God is an apt translation.

> d) I assume 'Self' is the english equivalent for 'Atman'. Then what do the
> words 'Individual Self' and 'Supreme Self' represent ?

See above.

> e) What are the equivalents of 'Jivatman' and 'Paramatman' ?

'Individual self' and 'supreme self' are the usual translations.

> f) Are 'Atman' and 'Jivatman' same ?

Yes.  Atman and Paramatman are also the same.

> g) Are 'Jiva' and 'Jivatman' same ?

Atman is not always embodied.  During reincarnation for instance the atman
may have feelings of distinctness but not yet be in a material form.

> h) What is the correct usage for 'Isvara' and 'Brahman' ?

Brahman is neuter gender in Sanskrit and is often used to mean God in a
more abstract sense.  While Ishwar is God in a more personal sense.
Brahman is ultimately without qualities (nirguna) as per Advaita Vedanta
but can be conceived of as saguna.

> 2. I understand that Antahkarana Chatusthaya means 'Manas, budhi, Ahamkara,
> Chitta'. These four are different functions of the same "MIND"
> (collectively called). So, we can say Manas is Antahkarana; similarly Budhi
> is Antahkarana; similarly Ahamkara is Antahkarana; similarly Chitta is
> Antahkarana (based on the explanation of Swami Chandrasekhara Bharathi's
> explanation in Vivekachudamani).
> I believe Ahamkara is translated as EGO, or I-Sense.

Yes.  Ahamkara is literally "I"-ness.

> Based on the above I infer that "EGO" is the nature of MIND which is a
> manifestation of Avidya.

Due to avidya, the mind develops false conclusions based on invalid
perceptions and premises.

> Now coming to my understanding of "Jiva", it is the same Atman with the
> adjunct of Mind, and because of Superimposition with the Mental sheeth, it
> acquires "EGO"

Yes but again bear in mind one does not have to be embodied to have ego.

> I see in most of the books of Swami Chinmayananda, the terms 'EGO'
> and 'JIVA' being used as one and the same.

While ultimately true, it is rather sloppy usage.

> a) Is 'Jiva' different from 'Ego' or not ?

Yes it is.
> b) I understand 'Apavada' meaning removal of superimposition is the process
> of realization. In that context where is "EGO" playing a role ?

Suppression of ahamkara is a necessary step to lift the veil of maya.

> c) What is the root cause of this 'EGO', and what is its nature ? Why is
> such a sense existing in the MIND/Maya ? What are the prescriptions of
> Bhagavan Sankara?

Ahamkar is caused by a false understanding of the facts of reality.  What
is unreal is viewed as real.  To break free, the unreal must be shunned
which is why Advaita Vedanta teaches Sannyasa as a necessary component of

> d) When I analyze of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi's 'Who Am I' enquiry, it does
> not seem to be concerned about 'Ego'; where as Swami Chinmayananda's books
> seem to hammer saying reduce/nullify 'Ego'. Can these two paths mean the
> same ? In the second situation as we see 'Jiva' and 'Ego' being used as
> equivalents, it poses an understanding problem to me: How can we
> eliminate 'Jiva' who is 'Atman' Himself ? based on "Jivo Brahmaiva
> naaparaha"

Suppression of ego by itself is not enough.  A sleeping person, or a baby
or a hypnotized person have all suppressed their egos but they cannot be
said to be liberated.  One must understand the true nature of ones self.
So there is no question of eliminating the jiva.  The wise man knows there
was never really a seperate "jiva" in the first place.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>
It's a girl! See the pictures -

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