conversation with His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Amogha: He was telling me that the paper he's writing for his master's degree is comparing a German philosopher with Buddhist philosophy.
Kim: Which, as far as I can gather, the self/no-self thing, Buddhism was denying that you're the ātman, I think. Could you perhaps say something about that?
Amogha: He's asking about the conception of denial of the self.
Kim: Of the ātman, yes.
Amogha: Ātman. The finishing of ātman.
Prabhupāda: Hmm. So how can you deny ātman?
Kim: In Hindu philosophy, what is the nature of the ātman?
Prabhupāda: Nature of ātman is eternal. Eternity, knowledge and blissfulness. Ānandamayo 'bhyāsāt: (Vedānta-sūtra 1.1.12) ātmā is joy, ānanda, blissful.
Kim: I've read some of the Upaniñads where they say that ātman is Brahman?
Prabhupāda: Why have I placed this flower here? Why do I like this flower? What is the reason?
Kim: Because it's beautiful, perhaps?
Prabhupāda: Yes, therefore you want to enjoy. This is the nature of ātmā. I want to enjoy. This is blissfulness. Then, why are you trying to become a philosopher?
Kim: For understanding.
Prabhupāda: Yes, therefore knowledge. Why do you not like to die? Because you are eternal. Therefore ātmā's nature is eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss. This is knowledge. Sat cit ānanda. Do you know Sanskrit?
Kim: No, but some words.
Prabhupāda: That is ātmā's nature. Sat cit ānanda. Eternal, full of knowledge, and blissful.
Kim: A question. Is there, is it the ātman...
Prabhupāda: Just hear.
Kim: Ātman is attached to each person?
Prabhupāda: Just hear.
Amogha: He says hear for a moment.
Kim: I'm listening, of course.
Prabhupāda: Ātmā's nature. One question should be understood, thoroughly. You have asked what is the nature of ātmā. The ātmā's nature is that he is eternal. He never dies. Never takes birth. He is already existing. Just like, you were a child, you were a baby. The body is no longer existing. Your childhood body is no longer existing, but you know that you were a child. You remember your childhood days. Therefore, you are different from the body. The body is passed away, but you remember that you had a body like that. Therefore you exist. You know that you'll become an old man. So this body will not exist. Another body you will get, old age body. Therefore you will exist; the body will change. Now try to understand this fact first of all, and if you cannot understand, ask questions.
Kim: The ātman, there is one to a person, or there is only one ātman?
Prabhupāda: You are ātmā, I am ātmā, we are not one. You are individual, I am individual. I don't agree with you, you don't agree with me. So how one?
Kim: I beg your pardon?
Prabhupāda: How it is one?
Amogha: He says that you are individual and he is individual, so how can they be one?
Kim: How can they be one? I see. Yes. I was wondering how the ātman is associated with each individual. Is it the... Isn't it right to say the person is the ātman?
Kim: The person is the ātman. And to each person there is one ātman associated.
Prabhupāda: You are a person and I am a person. You are changing bodies and I am changing bodies.
Kim: And through all the changes there is the ātman that continues.
Prabhupāda: Who is here first of all? You are a person. I am a person. You are hearing, I am speaking. We are two persons. So why you say one?
Kim: Two bodies.
Prabhupāda: Yes, two bodies, just like two dresses. You are differently dressed, I am differently dressed, but that does not mean that we are one. We are one as ātmā. Just like you are Australian, I am Indian, but as human being we are one. But as Australian, as Indian, we are different. Therefore we are one and different at the same time.
Kim: Is the ātman...
Prabhupāda: Ātmā as spirit soul is one.
Kim: Is one.
Prabhupāda: But as individual soul they are different.
Kim: And the ātman is just with respect to consciousness, or can we talk about...
Kim: ...an ātman without consciousness.
Prabhupāda: Consciousness is the symptom of ātmā. Because the ātmā is within your body, therefore your consciousness is there. Now, because the ātmā is within the body, if I pinch or if you pinch my body, I feel pains and pleasures. As soon as the ātmā is not there, it will be cut with a chopper, there is no protest. So, that ātmā is present within this body, that is understood by the presence of consciousness. Just like we are here in this room, but this light is the reflection of the sunshine. We understand there is sun in the sky. The light and heat we are feeling, that means the sun is in the sky. Similarly, our consciousness and knowledge, etc., are there, that means that the ātmā is there. The same ātmā, when it will go out of this body, there will be no more consciousness, no more knowledge, no more feelings of pains and pleasures.
Kim: Can one say what qualities the ātman has?
Prabhupāda: That I have already explained. Eternity, knowledge and blissfulness.
Kim: And does Hindu philosophy say anything about...
Prabhupāda: Don't talk Hindu philosophy, talk of philosophy.
Kim: Philosophy. How the ātman came into being?
Kim: How did the ātman come into being?
Prabhupāda: Ātmā is not coming into being, it is already there. But at the present moment it is accepting different types of bodies. Just like your this dress is available in the market. And you are also there, so you purchase the dress and put on. Similarly, the different types of bodies are already there. You according to your desire accept one type of body, and you appear in that body. There are 8,400,000 different forms of body, and you have to accept one of them. According to desire. According to your work. You are working. Everyone is working. Now, according to the work and association, he is creating his body. Just like if you infect some type of disease, then you'll have to accept that disease. So we are working ways—we are individuals—and according to that work we are creating our next body. If you are working in a godly way, then you'll get your body next as god, and if you are working in a dogly way, then you'll get your body as dog. So, by nature's way, evolution, we come through 800 millions of forms of life, then nature gives us a chance to accept this human form of body. In this body, our consciousness being advanced, if we try we can understand what is the problem of life, why we have accepted birth, death, old age and disease, how to get out of these, how to revive our original nature of body and again become eternal, full of knowledge and bliss. This is the chance of the human body. Therefore you are a philosopher because you are in the human body, but a dog cannot be a philosopher. He may be a very big dog, can bark very loudly, he has got very good strength, can create big disturbance, but he cannot understand philosophy. That is not possible. But a human being can understand. Therefore he should be given chance to understand the philosophy of life. And that is Vedas.
Kim: That is?
Kim: Oh, Vedas, yes.
Prabhupāda: The Vedas are there for understanding by the human society. And if he lives like a cat and dog, then he spoils his life. We should take advantage of the Vedic knowledge and make our life successful. This is real philosophy.