Vedic Sanskrit word Aatmana or Atman is often translated as Spirit by a great many people. And hence the science, or knowledge, of Atman – Adhyatma – is translated as Spirituality. But is that an accurate translation?
Many people are ignorant of the fact that: Rig Veda has no concept of Atman. The most of the verses in Rig Veda are dedicated to Pancha Mahabhootas, Pancha Karmendriyas, Panchan Gyanendriyas, Indra, and the Mana.
Pancha Mahabhootas are principally the five gross elements in the nature, namely:
- Agni or Fire
- Prithvi or Earth
- Vayu or Air
- Akasha or Ether
- Jalam or Water
If you observe closely the human body, to survive, needs to have a temperature which is a manifestation of Agni or Fire, it has great many elements of the Prithvi or Earth present in it. It also needs Vayu or air to breathe, and, also, it needs Jalam or Water. Now, as a mark of respect to each of these five elements, or Pancha Mahabhootas; they are referred with reverence as Devas or Devi. The Agni and Vayu are often referred to as Devas. The Prithvi is referred to as Devi. While Devas are masculine adjectives; Devis, are feminine.
In other important Vedic texts like Valmiki’s Ramayana or Vyasa’s Mahabharata the Devi and Deva are often used as an adjective of reverence, like Madam and Sir in modern English. At no given point in time were these words used in a way as to symbolize, gods, demigods, supreme personality of godhead etc.
Also, the Indriya of Vedic texts is the central nervous system in the body – it is referred to as Indradev. It is owing to the Indriyas or nervous system that this body can hold these Panchamahabhootas and achieve specific tasks. Therefore, Indradeva is also referred to as Devadhidheva or Deva of Devas.
It was not until Yajur Veda and Upanishads that the idea of Mana is deeply explored. Until Upanishads arrived Vedic people believed themselves to be Mana or the Mind. But then they observed that when a person is deep asleep, i.e. when the mind is absent there is still Prana or life in the body. So how can we be the Mana or mind, when we can exist in the body when the mind is absent? They realized that breath or Prana was a sign of life in the body. Presence of life implied that we are still there.
This is when they realized that we are not the Mana or mind; but that which is beyond the mind. Aatmana literally translates to that which transcends the mind. The Vedic Sanskrit word Adhyatma is made of two different words, namely: Adhyayana or Learning and Aatmana or Our true self.
The concept of Spirituality involves the recognition of a feeling or sense or belief that there is something “greater than myself, something more to being human than sensory experience, and that the greater whole of which we are part, is cosmic or divine in nature.”
The concept of Adhyatma, propounded by the Rishis, suggests that we are neither the body nor the mind; that we are the absolute consciousness energy. The entire universe is a manifestation of this consciousness.
While Spirituality often comprises of challenging the precepts of rationale and logic – Adhyatma is about using the very rationale and logic to realize our own true self to achieve bliss.
Spirituality is about the Spirit. The word Spirit is a semantic concept which is a part of the body which goes to heaven or hell, depending on the actions in the material world. Atman or Atma on the other hand is not a part of us – but our real us. It is who we are!
Once you understand these concepts it would not be hard for people, to agree that the Vedic concept of Adhyatma is not the same as Spirituality, although Spirituality as a concept, may have the concept of Adhyatma and other concepts as well.