`Who am I?` is a question that comes up constantly in yoga and similar disciplines. Worried by the complexities of life we yearn to find a deeper inner being of peace and calm. Who we are, and who we allow ourselves to be can be widely separate.
It is important to be aware of the concepts of pluralism, dualism and non-dualism as found in Indian schools of philososphy.
Pluralism sees God, in Indian Vedantic tradition known as `Brahman`, the world and the soul as each being, and always remaining separate.
In the doctrine of dualism, `dvaita`, God and the soul are seen as being separate. The individual soul, known as the `atman` seeks to be at one with God, but can never be regarded as God, or a part of God.
In the non-dualist philosophy the atman is regarded as identical with the universal god, and without division. Brahman, the Creator-God is all pervasive. God is within and beyond everything. This is known as the concept of `advaita`. In this philosophy the aim is to recognise that element of Brahman within ourself, and to bring about the realisation of this union, and of the nature of our true Self.
In traditional Indian teaching the `atman` is defined as being the individual soul. The physical body, emotional body, even the mind are but aspects of our self. Of course to complicate matters the term `atman` can be used in different ways in Hinduism, thus the `bahyatman` is regarded as the outer, physical body, `antaratman` is the inner non-physical body or persona, and `paramatman` is the transcendant Self – the Soul of the individual.
Another term, `purusha` is synonymous with atman, again meaning `spirit`. In some teachings the two terms,`atman` and `purusha` can appear to be interchangeable. In the teachings of Yoga and the Samkhya school of Indian philosophy, each term describes the transcendental Self, Spirit, Soul or pure Awareness. This is the Inner Self which we aim to realise in our yoga practise. The physical, finite human personality which sees itself as a separate being, and without an awareness of that soul is known as the `jiva`.
See the separate writing on the meaning of the terms `sat`, `chit` and `ananda`.