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The Five Characteristics of Atman

by Swami Sivananda

Mind operates in a mysterious manner in dream. It creates, fabricates many fantastic, romantic pictures, scenery, events, etc. Sometimes you dream that you are dead and that your dear relatives and parents are weeping by your side. The most wonderful thing is that, even when you are dead, you see and hear them weeping. Does this not clearly prove that life really persists even after seeming death? Does this not clearly indicate that the soul is immortal? Think well and cogitate. You will clearly understand that immortality is an inherent attribute of the soul or Atman. The dream phenomenon establishes the Sat aspect of the Atman.

If you tell a man that he will die within a year, he becomes indignant at once, because he somehow feels that he will live for ever though he knows that this physical sheath will be thrown away like a cast off slough. Your very desire for continued living clearly proves that your real nature is immortality. This is the Sat aspect of Atman. People build bungalows and mansions with the hope that they can live for ever in this physical plane or phenomenal universe. Though the intellect is clouded by the influence of Avidya or Maya, yet the idea of immortality of the soul, however hazy it may be, is ingrained in the mind of everybody. During calm moments this feeling gets intensified, when the intellect becomes clear and pure.

A growing child asks the mother daily: Mamma, what is this? What is that? There is a great curiosity in the child to know things. This is a clear proof that knowledge but not ignorance is the real nature or inherent attribute of the soul or Atman. If you say to any man: You are a fool he gets enraged at once. Why? Because, he feels somehow or other that essentially he is a mass of intelligence. Even a fool thinks that he is a very wise, because in essence he is an embodiment of wisdom, he is identical with the Supreme Self. So the inherent, innate feeling: I am a wise man arises in his heart. This is the Chit aspect of the Atman.

Faces are different. Faculties and capacities are different, in different persons. Colours are different. Sounds are different. Gait and mode of thinking are different. Opinions and views are different. But one thing is common in all persons. That common thing is that everybody wants eternal happiness (Nitya Sukha). This is the Ananda aspect of the soul or Atman. This is a clear proof that bliss (not pain) is the real nature or inherent attribute of the soul.

A remarkable incident occurred a few years ago. A French girl suffered from a dangerous disease. She was in an unconscious state for weeks. Doctors declared the case to be absolutely hopeless. Somehow or other she was pulled round miraculously through the grace of the Lord. She knew only French. A strange thing occurred now. She entirely forgot her mother-tongue, but she suddenly developed wonderful proficiency in a dozen languages which she never knew before. This was reported in the leading newspapers. This caused a good deal of sensation and curiosity in the readers. At once some leading psychologists, philosophers, doctors and scientists began to investigate into the matter thoroughly. They were fully convinced that the whole report was true, accurate and correct. They said that the only explanation of the phenomenon was that perfect knowledge of all things is stored up in a mysterious manner within our brain but locked in special doors which can be opened only by particular keys. They further remarked that we could open some of the doors by using the right key the key of discipline and training and that we are not able to open the other doors on account of ignorance or lack of training and discipline or non-using the right key. They further added that in the case of the French girl the door French got mechanically shut and the doors for dozen other strange languages got simultaneously opened. Here there is an occult proof of the doctrine of Vedanta that the Soul or Atman is a storehouse of all knowledge or an embodiment of wisdom.

Everybody wants independence. He has a burning desire for freedom. The very thought of dependence is painful and irksome. He wants to have suzerainty. He wants to rule over others. He does not like to be guided by the wishes of others. On the contrary, he wishes that others should follow his wishes. This clearly proves that independence and suzerainty also are the inherent attributes of the immortal Atman.

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