Module on “Understanding of Atma (Soul) in Ayurveda with special reference to Human Physiology” by Dr. Vandana Verma


Understanding of Atma (Soul) in Ayurveda with special reference to Human Physiology

Dr. Vandana Verma , Assistant Professor, Department of Kriya Sharir, Faculty of Ayurveda, IMS, BHU, Varanasi 

According to Ayurveda the living human body is formed by Panchamahabhut vikara i.e. Dosha, Dhatu, Mala, Indriya, Mana and Atma. The Atma is an important constituent of the body and play great role in physiological homeostasis. What is Atma in human body and how we can understand its physiological role, where does it resides in the body and what are its functions. Is it possible to locate Atma in the body and study it in relation to some organ or body as a whole in light of present scientific knowledge about the body? All these things are still a big query for the whole scientific community, but some Scholars have tried to explain Atma in spiritual aspect only and some believe that it is energy, a part of cosmic energy the Supreme power ie. Parmatma. In Ayurveda also it is conceived that Atma is a fraction of Parmatma in the body. Although, it is very difficult to define Atma, but we can understand its physiological importance by analyzing all those descriptions made by scholars of Ayurveda. We will be able to understand the concept of Atma in a better way when the concept of quantum physics and metaphysics will develop more.

Atma (Soul) as causal factor for creation of living things

In Ayurveda Atma has been discussed as the causal factor for creation of living things. It is believed that whole creation of living beings is because of Atma in association with other Karana Dravya i.e. Panchmahabhoot, Atma(conciousness), Mana(Mind), Kala(Time factor), Disha(directions). The whole creation has been categorized into Chetan and Achetan on the basis of the presence of Atma and Indriya. The living things having Indriya(sense organ) are called as Chetan Dravya since they have capacity to response to different kind of stimulus, whereas the things which do not have Indriya are categorized as Achetan Dravya means all those things which do not have capacity to response to a stimulus or to show the sign of vitality. Acharya Chakrapani explains that the plants are also having Chetna but they are not able to express to the different responses. However if we observe the plants like the sunflower it has the capacity to response to the sun but there is no specific Indriya, so all plants are categorized as the Antahachetana.  Thus the soul is the primordial causal factor along with the entire factor in creation of living thing.

खादीन्यात्मा मनः कालो दिशश्च द्रव्यसङ्ग्रहः| सेन्द्रियं चेतनं द्रव्यं, निरिन्द्रियमचेतनम्|| (C.Su.1/48 )

Atma (Soul) as causal factor for Ayu (life)

Ayu (Life) is state of union of as Atma(conciousness), Sharir (physical body), Indriya ( sensory and motor organs) Satva(Mana). When all these factors are in conjugation then only there is life. Life is the extension of consciousness, means the life span is the time period upto which there is presence of Atma.

Panchmahabhoot and Chetna combinely called as Shada dhaatu Purush. Atma is also called as Chetana dhaatu as it is responsible for consciousness. The word Purush and Chetna have been used as synonym of Atma.  Acharya Chakrapani has further explained word Chetna, he mentioned that Mana along Atma with is also called as Chetna. Since Atma is inactive and Mana is active, so the expression of consciousness or the expression of different signs of living things by the Mana happens only in the presence of Atma. Thus the Atma provides consciousness to the body and the signs of living being are exhibited through Manas.

शरीरेन्द्रियसत्त्वात्मसंयोगो धारि जीवितम्| नित्यगश्चानुबन्धश्च पर्यायैरायुरुच्यते|| (C.Su.1/42)

तत्रायुश्चेतनानुवृत्ति (C.Su.30/22)

खादयश्चेतनाषष्ठा धातवः पुरुषः स्मृतः|  चेतनाधातुरप्येकः स्मृतः पुरुषसञ्ज्ञकः|| (C.Sha.1/16) चेतनाशब्देन चेतनाधारः समनस्क आत्मा गृह्यते  (Chakrapani)

Atma (Soul) as an important constituent for formation Human body, growth and sustenance of life.

The importance of Atma has been mentioned by the Sushrut in formation of Garbha (embryo) and its development into complete human body.  When the the shukra and ova gets conjugated into the uterus along with Atma, Astha Prakriti and Shodas Vikar i.e. Panch mahabhoot and indriya, then there is formation of Garbha in the uterus. It is mentioned that all the five Panchmahabhoot perform their actions in the presence of Chetna only, like Vayu is responsible for cell division, Agni is responsible for metabolism, Jal provides moisture, Prithvi provides solidity,  Aakash provides space.  Satva(mind), Atma(conciousness) and Sharir(physical body) are said as the three pillars of the body. Thus Chetna is essential factor in formation of embryo and its development into complete human body and sustenance of life.

शुक्रशोणितं गर्भाशयस्थमात्मप्रकृतिविकारसम्मूर्च्छितं ‘गर्भ’ इत्युच्यते |  तं चेतनावस्थितं वायुर्विभजति, तेज एनं पचति, आपः क्लेदयन्ति, पृथिवी संहन्ति, आकाशं विवर्धयति; एवं विवर्धितः स यदा हस्तपादजिह्वाघ्राणकर्ण नितम्बादिभिरङ्गैरुपेतस्तदा ‘शरीरं’ इति सञ्ज्ञां लभते | (S.Sha.5/3)

तत्र शरीरं नाम चेतनाधिष्ठानभूतं पञ्चमहाभूतविकारसमुदायात्मकं समयोगवाहि |(C.Sha.6/4)

सत्त्वमात्मा शरीरं च त्रयमेतत्त्रिदण्डवत्|I (C.Su1/46)

Seat of Atma (soul)

All the Scholars of Ayurveda has considered Hridya as seat of Atma. Heart is seat of other things like Shadang (6 division of the body head, trunk and the four limbs), Vigyanam( knowledge),  all the Indriya and their Artha. This description could be understood in view of contemporary science if we consider Hridaya as brain. If we observe the central nervous system, the whole body is represented as motor and sensory homunculus in brain, it could be understood the presence of Shadang  in the brain.  Similarly brain is seat for knowledge, intelligence, Mana(mind)and all the Indriya and their Artha could be understood as areas of special senses and general senses in the brain. However if consider heart as seat of Atma the presence of these thing could not be explained or understood.

Dalhan has mentioned that Hridaya is the main seat for Chetna (consciousness) but in general it is present all over the body. The whole nervous system is able to respond some stimulus but the analysis of stimulus and conscious generation of knowledge is at the level of brain only. So brain is main site of consciousness. Although each and every cell of the body has consciousness, but Atma performs its actions with the help of Mana only and seat of Mana is also the Hridaya. Although few scholars have considered Hridaya as heart and heart itself is regulated by brain. Thus it seems more scientific to consider brain as a site of Atma in the body.

षडङ्गमङ्गं विज्ञानमिन्द्रियाण्यर्थपञ्चकम्| आत्मा च सगुणश्चेतश्चिन्त्यं च हृदि संश्रितम्|| (C.Su.30/4)

हृदयं चेतनास्थानमुक्तं सुश्रुत ! देहिनाम् | (S.Sha.4/34 )

तद् हृदयं विशेषेण चेतनास्थानं चैतन्यास्पदं, सामान्येन तु सकलशरीरमेव चेतनास्थानम्| (Dalhana commentary on S.Sha.4/32)

Synonyms of word Atma

Sarvaga:  it is present in all living beings in the universe

Sarvasharirbhricch:  it is the regulator of whole-body function.

Vishvakarma: it is the doer all kind of function.

Vishvaroopa: ability to present in various forms of life that is either in human life or different kind of living creature on the earth.

Chetna Dhaatu: It is the cause for consciousness.

Atiindriya : Atma cannot be perceived  sensory organ.

Nityayuka: Atma is in continuous connection with the Buddhi, Ahankaar and Manas, so it is called as Nityayuka

Anushaya: it is related with Raag, Dvesha i.e. worldly pleasures, although Atma is nirvikara but it is related with the reception of all these kinds of emotions and attachment because of its connection with the Mana, Buddhi and Ahankara.

Nishkriya: Atma does not have capacity to perform any action independently, although it is said that Atma is doer and regulator of all the functions, but is it is inactive whereas Mana is active and Manas perform all kind of functions only in the presence of Atma. Thus both the Mana and Atma are interdependent on each other.

Swatantra: independent.

Vashinam: regulator of all kind of indriya.

Sarvagama: Ability to enter from one body to another body and is present in all kind of living things.

Vibhu: omnipresent.

Kshetragya:  human body is known as Kshetra and Atma resides in it, so called as Kshetragya.

Sakshini: the witness of all kind of activities or perceiver of all kind of knowledge.

Shariri and Purush are also the synonyma of Atma.

स सर्वगः सर्वशरीरभृच्च स विश्वकर्मा स च विश्वरूपः| स चेतनाधातुरतीन्द्रियश्च स नित्ययुक् सानुशयः स एव|| (C.Sha 2/32)           निष्क्रियं च स्वतन्त्रं च वशिनं सर्वगं विभुम्| वदन्त्यात्मानमात्मज्ञाः क्षेत्रज्ञं साक्षिणं तथा||(C.Sha.1/5)

Characteristics of living being exhibited due to presence of Atma (Soul)

Acharya Charak has described various bodily and mental functions which are regulated by Atma in connectedness of Manas. It regulates the breathing process, function of Manas and Indriya and induces them to perform their function, movement from one place to another in dream or seeing death in dream, seeing the object by right eye in the same way by the left eye also i.e. perception of same object by both eyes, happiness and happiness, hatred, effort to perform some function, regulator of Manas(Mind) and Buddhi (intelligence), Smiriti (recalling capacity), awareness about oneself i.e. Ahankara. Thus all these characteristics are exhibited in human body only due to the presence of Atma.

Few of them are related with vitality of the body or exhibit the living sign of the body like breathing process, blinking of the eye, response to some stimulus, etc. these characters are not present in dead body.

When the Atma escapes from the body, the body becomes Achetan and dead, a simile of an empty house where nobody resides has been given to such state of body. As the Atma escape from the body, body gets decomposed into its five basic elements and gets mixed with the universal panchmahabhoot and that state is called as panchatatva grahanam.

प्राणापानौ निमेषाद्या जीवनं मनसो गतिः| इन्द्रियान्तरसञ्चारः प्रेरणं धारणं यत्||    ( C.Sha.1/70 ) देशान्तरगतिः स्वप्ने पञ्चत्वग्रहणं तथा| दृष्टस्य दक्षिणेनाक्ष्णा सव्येनावगमस्तथा||  ( C.Sha.1/71 )  इच्छा द्वेषः सुखं दुःखं प्रयत्नश्चेतना धृतिः| बुद्धिः स्मृतिरहङ्कारो लिङ्गानि परमात्मनः||( C.Sha.1/72 )
प्राणापानौ उच्छ्वासनिःश्वासौ| निमेषाद्या इति आद्यशब्दग्रहणेन उन्मेषाद्याः प्रेक्षणविशेषा गृह्यन्ते| मनसो गतिरिति मनसा पाटलिपुत्रगमनादिरूपा| इन्द्रियान्तरसञ्चारोऽपि मनस एव, यथा चक्षुः परित्यज्य मनः स्पर्शनमधितिष्ठतीत्यादि| प्रेरणं च तथा धारणं च मनस एवेति ज्ञेयम्| देशान्तरगतिः स्वप्ने इति छेदः| पञ्चत्वग्रहणं मरणज्ञानम्| सव्येनावगम इति सव्येनाक्ष्णा स एवायं दक्षिणाक्षिदृष्टो घट इत्यवगम इत्यर्थः| चेतना ज्ञानमात्रम्| बुद्धिस्तु ऊहापोहज्ञानम्|—धृतिस्तु नियमात्मिका नियन्तारमात्मानं गमयति, बुद्धिस्तु ऊहापोहयोरेकं कारणं गमयत्यात्मानं, स्मृतिस्तु पूर्वानुभूतार्थस्मर्तारं (Chakrapani commentary)

यस्मात् समुपलभ्यन्ते लिङ्गान्येतानि जीवतः| न मृतस्यात्मलिङ्गानि तस्मादाहुर्महर्षयः|| (C.Su.1/73) शरीरं हि गते तस्मिञ् शून्यागारमचेतनम्| पञ्चभूतावशेषत्वात् पञ्चत्वं गतमुच्यते|| (C.Su.1/74)

Sixteen traits produced in Human being due to combination of Atma with Manas

Acharya Dalhana has described sixteen traits that developed in the human body, when the Atma gets combined with the Manas. These are as follows:

  1. Sukha: when the thing happens as per the desire of the person, they produced the sense of feeling of happiness called Sukha.
  2. Dukha: when the things are not as per the desire of person then they produce negative feelings or negative attitude and cause the feeling of unhappiness and pain.
  3. Iksha: Desire
  4. Dvesha: hatred
  5. Prayatna: enthusiasm to start some work
  6. Pana: air inhaled in the mouth
  7. Apana: air released from the anus is Apana and present in the Pakvashya and its movement is a downward direction.
  8. Nimesha:   Closing of the eye, Unmesha- opening of eye
  9. Buddhi: decision making power known as buddhi.
  10. Sankalp: is the vishay (subject) of Mana. To get the determination or knowledge on perceived stimulus after the analysis.
  11. Vicharana: analysis of perceived knowledge by the Indriya.
  12. Smriti: retrieval of past experiences.
  13. Vigyanam: means knowledge (acquire knowledge or skill in particular subject).
  14. Adhyavayaso: the process of analysis and decision making.
  15. Vishayouplabdhi:  perception of Shabd, Sparsh, Roop, Rasa, Gandha.

तस्य सुखदुःखे इच्छाद्वेषौ प्रयत्नः प्राणापानावुन्मेषनिमेषौ बुद्धिर्मनः सङ्कल्पो विचारणा स्मृतिर्विज्ञानमध्यवसायो विषयोपलब्धिश्च गुणाः || S.Sha 1/17

इदानीं तस्यैव कर्मपुरुषस्य शरीरात्मनोः संयोगकारकेण मनसा संयोगे ये गुणा उत्पद्यन्ते तानाह- तस्येत्यादि|   तत्र सुखं स्वभावतोऽनुकूलवेदनीयं; दुःखं स्वभावतः प्रतिकूलवेदनीयम्; इच्छा अभिलाषः; द्वेषोऽप्रीतिलक्षणः; प्रयत्नः कार्यारम्भे उत्साहः; प्रयत्नो मनः प्रवृत्तिकर उत्साहः, प्राणो वायुर्वक्त्रसञ्चारी, अपानः पक्वाशयस्थितिरधोगमनशीलः; उन्मेषनिमेषौ चक्षुषोरुन्मीलननिमीलने; बुद्धिर्निश्चयात्मिका; मनः संशयात्मकं, तस्य सङ्कल्पो मनसः कर्म;  विचारणा पुनरूहापोहाभ्यां वस्तुविमर्शः; स्मृतिः पूर्वानुभूतस्यार्थस्य स्मरणं; विज्ञानं शिल्पशास्त्रादिबोधः; अध्यवसायो बुद्धेर्व्यापारः; विषयाणांशब्दादीनामुपलब्धिरवगतिर्विषयोपलब्धिः| मनः सङ्कलपात्मकलक्षणं, तस्य सङ्कल्पो विषयेषु दोषगुणकल्पनं; शेषं समम्| एते कर्मपुरुषस्य षोडश गुणाः| अत  एवकलाइत्युच्यन्ते|| ( Dalhana commentary on S. Sha1/17)

Characteristics of Atma (Soul)

Atma is Nirvikar means it is devoid of any kind of feelings and emotions. Although the Atama is constituent of human body but it is not described as the seat for disease or pain. Only the body and Mana is the seat for pain because of its Nirvikar property. When this Atma relates to Satva (Mana), Bhoot guna and Indriya then it is the cause for Chaitanya (Consciousness).

Thus it is cause for consciousness and perceiver of all kinds of knowledge, it is also called as Drista, means it is considered as a factor responsible for regulator of all kind of body functions with the help of Mana.

निर्विकारः परस्त्वात्मा सत्त्वभूतगुणेन्द्रियैः| चैतन्ये कारणं नित्यो द्रष्टा पश्यति हि क्रियाः|| (C.Su.1/56)

Role of Atma in perception of Knowledge

When Atma, Indriya, Mana and Artha get connected with each other then there is generation of knowledge and the immediate knowledge (Buddhi) that is produced is called as Pratyaksha. आत्मेन्द्रियमनोर्थानां सन्निकर्षात् प्रवर्तते|  व्यक्ता तदात्वे या बुद्धिः प्रत्यक्षं स निरुच्यते|| (C.Su11/20)

Soul an important dimension of Health – Spiritual Health

Ayurveda has defined health as a dynamic state in which the body constituents i.e. Dosha, Agni, Mal, Dhaatu, sensory and motor organs are in their balanced  function state, excretory functions are normal,  Mana and Atma are in  pleasant state. Here spiritual dimension is considered as a determinant of state of health. Recently WHO has also considered the spiritual and mental dimensions of health. Recent concept of health adopted by WHO, “Health is not merely the absence of disease rather it is the state of physical, physiological, social and spiritual wellbeing of an individual. Thus Atma also plays a great role in attainment of complete health.

 समदोषः समाग्निश्च समधातुमलक्रियः | प्रसन्नात्मेन्द्रियमनाः स्वस्थ इत्यभिधीयते ||  (S. Su. 15/41)

Summary: Atma is a Karana Dravya (primordial causal factor)  that is responsible for creation of all living being.  It is important constituent of body along with Panch mahabhoot and resides in Hridya(heart/brain). Although it is inactive but regulates the activity of Manas. It is  an essential component for persistence of life, provides consciousness to the body and responsible for the exhibition of all signs of living being.

Assessment: Multiple choice Questions

Q1. According to Charaka, karana dravya are…… in number.

  1. 6
  2. 9
  3. 5
  4. 3

Q2. Chetnaya and Akriyawana is said for:

  1. Manas
  2. Atma
  3. Buddhi
  4. Sharir

Q3. Astha Prakriti consists of:

  1. Avyakta
  2. Vayu
  3. Jala
  4. Prithvi

Q4. Acc. to Charak, Seat of Atma is:

  1. Shir
  2. Hridya
  3. Nabhi
  4. Basti

Q5. Synonym of Atma:

  1. Vishvaroop
  2. Vibhu
  3. Sakski
  4. All of the above

Q6. प्राणापानौ निमेषाद्या जीवनं मनसो गतिः|
इन्द्रियान्तरसञ्चारः प्रेरणं धारणं च यत् is the characteristics of:

  1. Atma
  2. Manas
  3. Both
  4. None

Q7. Vicharna (analysis) is function of which of the following:

  1. Atma
  2. Indriya
  3. Hastha
  4. All of the above

Q8. चैतन्ये कारणं नित्यो द्रष्टा पश्यति हि क्रियाः is said for:

  1. Indriya
  2. Manas
  3. Atma
  4. Disha

Q9. Which of the following is Karan Dravya:

  1. Disha
  2. Kaal
  3. Atma
  4. All of the above

Q10.Which of the following is NOT a synonym of Ayu:

  1. Shariri
  2. Nityaga
  3. Dhari
  4. Sharir

Answer Sheet

Question no. Answer
1 2
2 2
3 1
4 2
5 4
6 1
7 1
8 3
9 4
10 1




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