Most of us who are born and brought up in India would have heard the term Atma in some context or the other, right from our childhood days. We generally grow up hearing about this mystical term, loosely translated as 'soul', 'unseen part of living being which leaves the body at death' and many other explanations.
For serious spiritual seekers, it will be wiser to disregard all their pre-conceived notions of the term atma, at the outset. Because what is meant by 'Atma' in vedanta is grossly different.
Then, what is it?
We understand the world around us using our five senses-like- by seeing, hearing or touching. We deduce facts about some phenomena around us by inference. For example, if we see wet streets in front of our house in the morning, we infer that probably it rained in the night, when we were asleep. With technology, we can have a CCTV- camera to record and replay rains at night. We can have satellites to even predict rains. But is there a way to logically and scientifically explore the possibility of something which is not accessible to our senses, our capacity to deduce and our technological prowess?
What will be the logical and scientific approach to find something unknown and incomprehensible to our senses? Does some'thing' incomprehensible exist at all?
Vedanta declares that it is true that such incomprehensible exists. Vedanta is not just emphatic in asserting its presence, but says it is the essential nature of everything we experience. It goes on to further reveal the secret that it is not just the essence of the world we live in, but ourselves too. The culmination of vedanta is in the audacious thought that the incomprehensible atma or brahman is the absolute reality and all the constituents of the world around and inside of us can be considered unreal.
Sri Krishna has distilled this vedantic wisdom in the form of teaching to his disciple Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita. The essential prerequisite to understand this teaching is a state like that of deluded Arjuna in the battlefield- in complete surrender. One has to undergo the wear and tear of life, to the point of break-down and getting wounded, as the miserable moments are the ones which leads to a state of helplessness, when trying and failing in finding a lasting solution using the worldly paradigm. Only then one will be in a ripe position to do self-inquiry and surrender to a teacher who would lead with the light of atma jnana.
We have to note that, as a corollary, the knowledge of atma will be elusive to a casual seeker or even a curious seeker. The intense urge required for inquiry is of a higher degree. As Rumi says, 'wound is the place where light enters you'.