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Self, Indian theories of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F065-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Hindu thought traces its different conceptions of the self to the earliest extant Vedic sources composed in the Sanskrit language. The words commonly used in Hindu thought and religion for the self are jīva (life), ātman (breath), jīvātman (life-breath), puruṣa (the essence that lies in the body), and kṣetrajña (one who knows the body). Each of these words was the culmination of a process of inquiry with the purpose of discovering the ultimate nature of the self. By the end of the ancient period, the personal self was regarded as something eternal which becomes connected to a body in order to exhaust the good and bad karma it has accumulated in its many lives. This self was supposed to be able to regain its purity by following different spiritual paths by means of which it can escape from the circle of births and deaths forever.

There is one more important development in the ancient and classical period. The conception of Brahman as both immanent and transcendent led to Brahman being identified with the personal self. The habit of thought that tried to relate every aspect of the individual with its counterpart in the universe (Ṛg Veda X. 16) had already prepared the background for this identification process. When the ultimate principle in the subjective and objective spheres had arrived at their respective ends in the discovery of the ātman and Brahman, it was easy to equate the two as being the same spiritual ‘energy’ that informs both the outer world and the inner self. This equation had important implications for later philosophical growth.

The above conceptions of the self-identity question find expression in the six systems of Hindu thought. These are known as āstikadarśanas or ways of seeing the self without rejecting the authority of the Vedas. Often, one system or the other may not explicitly state their allegiance to the Vedas, but unlike Buddhism or Jainism, they did not openly repudiate Vedic authority. Thus they were āstikadarśanas as opposed to the others who were nāstikadarśanas. The word darśana for philosophy is also significant if one realizes that philosophy does not end with only an intellectual knowing of one’s self-identity but also culminates in realizing it and truly becoming it.

Citing this article:
Rukmani, T.S.. Self, Indian theories of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F065-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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