Q. 472 Embodied Atman

Q: Advaitins believe that Atman is omnipresent / all pervasive and therefore doesn’t transmigrate after death. Only the subtle body does the travelling.

If such is the case, then why do some advaitins use the term ’embodied’? The term ’embody’ means, putting something inside a body. For example, once you put something inside an enclosed thing like water in a bottle, and then upon moving the bottle the trapped water also moves along with the bottle.

Is this what they really mean by embodied, that atman remains trapped/enclosed/embodied within the bottle called subtle body, and upon death, atman while being trapped moves along with the subtle body to a new physical vessel?

But then, if Atman moves along with the subtle body at death (i.e. if we take the word embody seriously), then it contradicts the teachings of advaita where they say that Atman is all-pervasive/omnipresent and has no need to change locations. That it is indivisible and cannot be enclosed by any bodies.

What exactly do they mean by embodied then?

A: Yes there is always a danger that, if you latch on to a particular way of phrasing things, you will be confused! The problem is that you cannot really talk about the reality at all so that teachers have to provide ‘explanations’ that are not actually true. You move forward in your understanding one bit at a time, discarding the earlier explanations as you go.

The ‘Atman’ is the word that Advaita gives to the reality as it ‘applies to’ the individual person. ‘Brahman’ is the word that Advaita gives to the reality as it ‘applies’ to the totality, universe and everything. And one of the key teachings is that Atman = Brahman. The word ’embodied’ is certainly used by some teachers but it is quite misleading. Atman is NEVER ‘in’ the body. A much better way of looking at it is that the reality (Brahman, perhaps better thought of as ‘Consciousness’) is ‘reflected’ in the mind of the person. This is why we seem to see separate individuals; the ‘quality’ of the reflection depends upon the quality of the particular mind. But body-minds are inert. They are conscious (small ‘c’) by virtue of Consciousness (large ‘C’) reflecting or animating the body-mind’.

I suggest you read my articles on this topic. https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and https://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/ and discussion at https://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/.

So the bottom-line answer to your question is that, no, Atman does not migrate – it doesn’t ‘do’ anything. Doing relates to the person. But this doing is only possible because of the power of Consciousness. Consciousness = Brahman = Atman and, in reality, there is ONLY Consciousness. (Bodies, minds, world are just names and forms of Consciousness.)

I suggest you might like to read the 2nd edition of ‘Book of One‘, which provides simple explanations of all of this.

Q: Then who is this ‘dehi’ mentioned in Gita? I know that Gita is mostly a dualistic scripture used by the Hare Krishnas of ISKCON, but it has also been translated by people of advaita sect, since Shankara wrote commentaries on it.

Anyway, the Hindu god Krishna says in Gita v2.22 that an entity called ‘dehi’ dwells within the body, and upon death, it flies from one body to another. Some Hindus think that dehi is the ego. 

Is it fair to say then, that dehi = subtle body, since we all know that it is the subtle body that houses the ego?

A: The word dehi refers to the ‘soul’ of the man, yes. The man consists of gross, subtle and causal bodies ‘animated’ by Atman. On death, the gross body returns to earth. The subtle-causal bodies move on to a new gross body according to accumulated saMskAra (unfructified fruit of actions performed in the life just gone and any previous ones). Atman continues to animate. Without Atman, everything is inert. But Atman is analogous to space. When you pull down the house, you are left with a pile of bricks, but the space that was ‘within’ the house is unaffected.

All this is ‘interim’ teaching of Advaita. In reality no one was ever born; there is only the non-dual reality taking on the form of the dual.

As I said, I suggest you read the 2nd edition of ‘Book of One’ if you want much fuller explanation of all of this.

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