The word “Atman” is translated into English as “soul” or “self.” Yet Atman in Hinduism has a much richer meaning than our standard western concept of soul. For example, Atman is understood as divine and equivalent to Brahman, the ultimate reality. Each person’s Atman is the same, and each is identical with Brahman. Therefore Atman could also be translated, “Universal Soul,” “Eternal Soul,” or “All-Soul.” The Katha Upanishad speaks at length about the nature of Atman, how one might attain to it and thereby attain to Brahman. Attainment to Atman is dependent on the control of those aspects of the person that are transitory and not eternal like Atman; these include the body, the mind, the intellect and the senses. The parable of the chariot in the Katha Upanishad illustrates the nature of Atman by means of an allegory. According to this parable, the way to Brahman is through Atman; the way to Atman is through control of the body, the senses, the mind, and the intellect. Each of these aspects of the person, including Atman itself, is likened to some part of the chariot. It is thus shown that Atman or the soul is what gives the body purpose and life, and that control of the mind and the senses results in a knowledge of the universal soul and, likewise, ultimate reality.
The parable of the chariot begins simply with a basic comparison between two opposite aspects of a person, body and soul (Katha Upanishad, 3.3):
Know thou the soul (atman, self) as riding in a chariot,
The body as the chariot.
In this passage the soul is not only shown in control of the body but also protected by it and dependent on it for its interaction with the world...
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That Soul (Atman, Self) shines not forth,
But He is seen by subtle seers
With superior, subtle intellect.
The parable of the chariot shows that Atman is the supreme entity among the many parts that make up the person, yet it also shows that the various parts have relationships with and dependencies on one another. Through the subordination of the many parts to Atman, we may come to know Atman, the royal passenger in the chariot. All the aspects of the person which are not Atman (body, mind, etc.) give us the impression that we are unique individuals. Only by subordinating these things to Atman do we see otherwise. We all suffer from the illusion that we are distinct, yet when we begin to see that we all are in fact the same, then we begin to know Atman and therefore Brahman as well.
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