Nature of the World Jiva and Atman According to Upanishads

Read this article to learn about the nature of world Jiva and atman according to Upanishads!

The world, according to the Upanishads, is the manifestation of Brahman. Just as the spider creates the web and then takes it back inside it, similarly the Brahman creates the world and then takes it back inside Him.

He does not create it out of some matter, already present, as there was no matter before creation.

Before creation there was only one soul. He determined that I will create the world and He created the universe. He created the subtle and the gross, the formless and with forms. Ether was born out of self, the air originated in ether, fire came out of air, the water was born in fire, the earth originated in water and finally from the earth came out the plants, etc.


Thus the world was in Brahman in the un-manifested form. He manifested it. He created the names and forms and the objects. He created the distinctions. The world originates in Brahman, is sustained through Him, and culminates in Him. Brahman is the cause of the names and forms of the physical world.

Space, time, nature, etc., are the coverings of Brahman. Brahman is everywhere. Just as the plants are born in the earth, hairs come out of body or the web comes out of the body of the spider, similarly, the world comes out of the perfection of the Brahman and returns into it Water, earth, air, fire and ether, etc., the pranas, the organs and mind, all originate from Brahman. The rivers, oceans, mountains, plants, human beings, gods, animals, birds, the four Vedas and Karmas, etc., all have their origin in Brahman.

In the Svetasvatara Upanishad, Brahman has been called “Isa”. He is also called Siva, Rudra, Hara and Maheswar. God is the master of Nature and the individual self is ignorant and subordinate. God, individual self and Nature are absolutely separate from one another. As a matter of fact, Brahman manifests Himself through three forms, the experiencing individual, and the phenomenal world and also God who guides both and creates worldly experiences in the individual self.

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God creates the world through his power of Maya or Prakriti He has multiple powers. These powers are the Prakriti or Maya. Prakriti is one, eternal mode of Satva, Rajas and Tamas. It is dynamic and creates things through these Gunas. The Mahamaya God creates universe by His power and rules over it. He is the controller of Gunas. The Prakriti is the creative self-power of the multiple and varied universe.

According to Subala Upanishad, in the beginning there was neither existence nor non-existence, nor both. Out of this Tamas was born., From Tamas originated Bhutadi, from Bhutadi the ether, the air, the fire, the water, the earth and finally from the earth all beings were born.

Then in the stage of destruction all living beings culminated in the earth, the earth disappeared into water, water was absorbed into fire, fire went back to air, air was absorbed into ether, ether culminated in sense organs, sense organs went back to subtle essences which culminated into Bhutadli, the Bhutadi went back to Mahat, the Mahat disappeared in Avyakta, the Avyakta went to Akshar and the Akshar was absorbed into Tamas and finally the Tamas disappeared in Paradeva.

Beyond this, there is neither existence (Sat) nor non-ex­istence (ASAT) nor both (Satasat). All the objects of the world are the modification of this original reality. According to the Chandogya Upanishad, the modifications are mere names and forms. Samkara and Ramanuja have supported their theories of Vivarta and Parinama respectively by different interpretations of this view.

Nature of Jiva and Atman:

According to the Upanishads, the individual self and the supreme self reside in the same heart of the same body like darkness and light. The first has been called the Jiva while the second has been entitled the self. The Jiva suffers the consequen­ces of his actions and feels pleasure and pain, but the self is beyond all these. Both are without beginning and end.


The Jiva is ignorant and its pain and bondage are due to ignorance. By the knowledge of self, this ignorance is destroyed along with its pain and bondage. The self is one. Its knowledge destroys all dualism. Some Upanishads have not distinguished between Jiva and self, while in others the distinction is very clear. Self has been identified with God or Brahman, while Jiva has been taken as distinct from them.

Jiva is different from body, mind, intellect and senses. It is beyond these. It is the knower, the enjoyer and the doer. It is eternal, conscious and many. It is without beginning and without end. But it does not possess infinite knowledge. It is beyond birth and death and does not possess infinite knowledge.

It has the freedom of will. It is caught in bondage due to its actions. It gets merits and demerits, pleasure and pain according to its good and bad deeds. It has desire, will, activity and character. It is subject to re-birth. Its re-birth is according to its Karmas, Jiva has four stages.

The four stages of Consciousness:

1. Waking:

In the waking stage, Jiva is called ‘Vaiswaner’ who enjoys worldly objects through external senses.

2. Dreaming:

In the dreaming stage, Jiva is known as ‘Taijasa’, who knows the subtle internal objects and enjoys them through the mind.

3. Sleeping:

In the sleeping stage, Jiva is called “Prajna” which is one, uniform, conscious and bliss and does not perceive internal objects.

4. Turiya:

In the Turiya stage Jiva is known as “Atman” which is neither conscious nor unconscious, but one, non-dual, universal consciousness. This Atman is Brahman.

The five sheaths:

Sheaths are subtle bodies. These five sheaths are as follows:

1. Physical Sheath (Annamaya Kosa):

This sheath is form-wise, the sense organs and the body are maintained through this sheath.

2. Vital Sheath (Pranmaya Kosa):

The vital sheath is within the physical sheath. It is full of the vital energies which create motion in the body, and it is sustained through them.

3. Mental Sheath (Manomaya Kosa):

The mental sheath is within the vital sheath, it depends upon the mind in which there is selfish volition.

4. Consciousness Sheath (Vijnanamaya Kosa):

This consciousness sheath is within the mental sheath. It depends upon the intellect and its activities. In it, there is the dualistic knowledge of subject and object.

5. Bliss Sheath (Anandmaya Kosa):

The bliss sheath is within the conscious­ness sheath. It is full of bliss and without distinction of subject. It is infinite, transcendent and perfect. It is not a sheath of the self, but its essence. This self is the real essence of the Jiva, i.e., Brahman. By its knowledge the bondage of the Jiva is loosened.

This knowledge is attained through direct experience. In the Kathopanisad this self has been called the Ultimate Reality, immortal, self evident and self-enlightened. In the parables of Yama-Nachiketa and Indra-Virochana. This self has been explained as the ultimate reality. In the words of Yajnavalkya, “The self is the ultimate knower, it is knower of all things, hence it cannot be known in the form of the object.” And yet it is not a mere nihil.

Even after the setting of the sun and the moon and the extinction of fire, the soul shines in its own effulgence. According to the Kathopanisad, “It is by the shining of the self that everything else shines, it is by its light that all this is lighted.” In the words of the Mundaka Upanisad, “The fire is its head, the moon and sun are its eyes, the four directions of the space are its ears, the Vedas are its speech, the air is its self of all Jivas.”

Samkara has referred to a verse in which the self has been taken in various meanings. According to this verse, the self means that which is present in all, which is subject and knower, which experiences and enlightens all objects, which is immortal and always the same.

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