Atman is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘self’. But there is a certain further(ing) sense to it, to me at least, that goes beyond ‘self’ in English. It is a spiritual word that points more to the ideal of some one particular ‘self’ than to that particular ‘self’ itself. Now, I understand the capitalized Self as often serving the same role, but even then, there’s something more to atman. For me it smells the same as Nietzsche’s overman (Übermensch). They probably all mean something like ‘best-future-man-looking-back’. Other then when atman looks back, it is always around one or two corners ahead.
In fact, I consider ‘at’ and ‘over’ (and ‘uber’) to be cultural mutations of as universal an attitude as the root word ‘man’ itself. Our coming to recognize our selfs always involves a relation of the actual to a potential. Before we recognize our self a certain way at all, we have raw memories of experience and we have an emerging contextualizing of those memory. That ‘contextualizing’ is in fact a cognitive process of bringing disparate memories into relation (the stickyness of these brought-into-relation relations is something like atomic meaning). This bringing into relationship builds a new union (the relationship, or state of relation is itself something), a (nominalized) contextualization.
There’s only one word ‘atman’, but there’s as many particular understandings of the meaning of that word as there are those who have formed understandings about the word (most words are this way, actually). Whether it is scholastically accurate or not, I have related the word ‘atman’ to my archetypal experiences of what ‘the perfect human’ is like. When I picture this highest good I don’t tend to do so in terms of abstract ethical descriptions, or even accounts of ethical works. I actually ‘picture’ feeling states, senses of life, emotional currents. Is this a form of prayer? It’s rather uplifting.
Perhaps these ‘atman’s come into being to the degree to which they are nourished thus? We are all fledgling atmans. We’re like birds who’ve broken through shell and have yet to learn what our next form of movement involves.
But, I sense something else, too. I sense the inevitability of a meeting, a parousia. This might be a little scary. Something very like a ‘god’ is coming. Perhaps to scold us? I find it difficult to imagine that we would receive stellar accolades. As I’ve said (it’s near the end, if you’re in a rush), humanity’s a mess. We really are! Denying it isn’t going to change anything. We have maybe a thousand trillion dollars (Euros, whatever) of assets (+-10%). And with all that, it is still a fact that we don’t have anything like a plan whatsoever for solving the inequalities of circumstance in our human world. Some people are working on it as a whole, and lots of people are working on parts of it, but as yet, there is no ‘self’, no ‘atman’, no ‘unified solution’.
Of course, one must always wonder fiercely about who’s going to come up with the solution and who’re they going to force it on?
But actually, my view’s much simpler. There’s a coming ‘atman’ and she‘s going to come up with it. I imagine she’s going to involve all of us. And I imagine we’re not going to be the same when she‘s run hiser course.