Atma means soul or self or consciousness. The term also denotes other meanings like spirit, breath, individuality, peculiarity, character, nature etc. [1] Atma is the connection to knowledge depository (dnyanapratisandhata). [Chakrapani on Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 1/42]. Atma is a fundamental element. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 1/48]. It is the element of consciousness in a holistic human being. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana1/46-47,Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 8/4, Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana 1/16]

Section/Chapter/topic Sharira / Atma
Authors Anagha S., Deole Y.S.
Reviewed by Basisht G.
Affiliations Charak Samhita Research, Training and Development Centre, I.P.G.T.& R.A., Jamnagar
Correspondence email:
Publisher Charak Samhita Research, Training and Development Centre, I.T.R.A., Jamnagar, India
Date of first publication: March 03, 2020
DOI 10.47468/CSNE.2020.e01.s09.004

Etymology and derivation

The word atma is derived from sanskrit word atman meaning “breath”. Various dictionaries translate the word atma as "real self" of the individual[2], [3], [4] innermost essence[5], and soul[6].


Paramatma, Jeeva, Indriyatma, Bhutatma, Antaratma, Jeevatma, Chetana dhatu, Dehi, Shariri, Prani, Puman, Purusha, Sattva, Kshetradnya, Beejadhatu, Beeja dharma, Garbhatma, Dnya, Nirvikar, Para, Nirguna, Avvaya, Akshara, Sarvadnya, Vibhu, Nirvishesha, Vashinam, Swatantra, Avyakta, Ishwar, Parameshavar, Vishvarupa, Vishvakarma, Nityayuka, Sanushaya, Pudgala, Ka, Ya, Sa, Asau. [7]

Contextual meanings

The term atma implies different meanings as per the usage in different contexts.

  1. The individual soul or life (the sign of life)
  2. The soul of the universe (brahma)
  3. The self, the abstract person or individual or being
  4. The nature or constitution
  5. The natural temperament or disposition
  6. The intellect or understanding
  7. Mind
  8. The fundamental cause (karana)

Qualities of atma

The soul has following qualities:

  1. Eternal (shashvata)
  2. Free from diseases (aruja)
  3. Does not have any age (ajara)
  4. Immortal (amara)
  5. Does not undergo decay (akshaya)
  6. Impenetrable (abhedya)
  7. Unbreakable (achhedya)
  8. Unperturbable (alodya)
  9. Omnipresent (vishvarupa)
  10. Omnipotent (vishvakarma).
  11. It is invisible (avyakta), neither has a beginning nor an end (anadi-nidhana) and is imperishable (akshara). [Cha.Sa Sharira Sthana 3/8]
  12. The soul is omnivagant / omnipresent (can move anywhere and everywhere), sustains all bodies, performs all actions, and takes all forms.
  13. It is the source of consciousness, transcending all senses, as it is always associated (with intellect etc.), it gets involved in feelings like attachment etc. [Cha.Sa. Sharira Sthana 2/32]

Location of atma

Atma or the soul is located in the heart with mind. This is the supreme site of consciousness. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 30/4, Cha.Sa Nidana Sthana 8/4]. The consciousness is spread all over the body through mind and senses. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 8/4, Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana 1/79-80]

Numerology of atma

Atma is only one and omnipresent. However, it follows personified patterns in individuals. [8]

Importance of knowledge of atma

Fundamental component of holistic human being and life

  1. Atma forms the fundamental structure of holistic human beings with mind (sattva) and body (sharira). [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 1/46].
  2. Atma is an essential component of life (ayu) with a combination of body (sharira), sense and locomotor organs (indriya), and mind(sattva). [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 1/42].

Role of atma in embryogenesis

  1. Life begins with the entry of consciousness during the process of conception or the union of sperm and ovum. The consciousness associated with embryo is also called as garbhatma or antaratma. [Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana 3/8]
  2. Consciousness (chetana) constitutes sixth structural component (dhatu) of a living being with five mahabhuta. [Cha.Sa. Sharira Sthana 4/6]

Atmaja bhava (factors originating from soul)

The following factors that originate from atma are called atmaja components.

  1. Taking birth in a species
  2. Life span(ayu)
  3. Self-realization(Atma jnana)
  4. Mind(Manas)
  5. Sensory faculty (Indriyani)
  6. Inspiration-expiration(Prana-apana)
  7. Motivation (Prerana) and sustenance (Dharana)
  8. Characteristic physique (Akruti), voice (Swara) and complexion (Varna) of the individual
  9. Happiness(Sukha) and sorrow(Dukha)
  10. Desire(Ichcha) and dislike(Dwesha)
  11. Consciousness(Chetana)
  12. Courage(Dhriti)
  13. Intellect(Buddhi)
  14. Memory(Smriti)
  15. Self-identity or ego(Ahamkara)
  16. Efforts(Prayatna).

All these aspects of the individual are derived from the soul. [Cha.Sa Sharira Sthana 3/10]. Atma controls all these functions.[Cha.Sa. Sharira Sthana 1/70-72]The absence of these functions is termed as ‘death’. [Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana 1/73]

Role of atma in the process of cognition

  1. Fundamental process of perception involves a combination of Atma, sense organs (indriya), mind and sense objects. This association results in action, sensation, and understanding. Manifestation of every effect can’t occur in the absence of any of these components. [Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana 1/57] The observational knowledge gained by this process is established as proof of direct observation or witness (pratyaksha pramana). [Cha.Sa Vimana Sthana 8/39]
  2. Mind is active, but devoid of consciousness. The soul is conscious, but not active. Soul is considered a doer, or an actor, or an agent of deeds. Hence all the actions are performed by a combination of mind and soul. [Cha.Sa. Sharira Sthana 1/75]

Role of atma in self-control

  1. Atma is the supreme which controls all faculties like mind, intellect, and sense organs. Hence the control over diet and lifestyle habits is directly related with atma.
  2. Atmavan word is used for a wise man who has self-control. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 5/35,49]. This word is used in the context of medicated smoking. It shows there are chances of losing self-control and it may result in excessive smoking. Hence medicated smoking shall always be done with total self-control.
  3. A person desiring to live the full span of life should remain in self-control and live with great caution assuming that he is constantly surrounded by the foes to his health. [Cha.Sam.Sutra Sthana 17/119]
  4. Atmavanta (having self-control) is a quality of good physician. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 10/4] The physician having self-control succeeds well in clinical practice.
  5. Atma is one of the components of adhyatma dravya samgraha (absolute elements). The other elements are mind, sense organs, their objects and intellect. These are responsible for all auspicious and inauspicious deeds. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 8/13] These deeds further derive destiny (daiva) of an individual. [Cha.Sa.Vimana Sthana 3/30] The virtuous acts determine the lifespan of an individual.[Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana 6/30]

Importance of self-realization

  1. Knowledge or realization of self (Atmavijnana) is considered as one of the preventive measures of exogenous and endogenous disease.[Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 7/53] One should know his/her own capacity before doing any work or adventure. In other words, one shall always work or perform duties as per own capacity. Otherwise, it may lead to tuberculosis(shosha).[Cha.Sa.Nidana Sthana 6/4] This will preserve health and prevent diseases.
  2. Self-realization is an important process in attaining salvation.

Inherent properties

  1. Atma rupa term is used to denote inherent properties. E.g. Vayoh atma rupa means inherent properties of vayu. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 20/11]
  2. Atmaja or atmaka term is used to denote origin. E.g. Nanatmaja [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 20/10], Vatatmaka [Chakrapani on Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 19/05].

Importance in clinical practice

  1. Blissful state of atma (soul), indriya (senses) and mana (mind) is an essential component of health. [Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 15/41]
  2. During clinical examination, the physician shall know inner self of the patient in order to have complete knowledge of disease. [Cha.Sa.Vimana Sthana 8] It is important to reveal the fundamental cause of disease and its progression. Without this knowledge, treatment is incomplete.
  3. Antaratmani or the inner self is related to the mind. The sensation of pain is diminished after langhana therapy. [Chakrapani on Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 22/35]
  4. Knowledge of self is important to decide satmya (suitability). [Cha.Sa.Vimana Sthana 1/20]
  5. Self-deeds are responsible for all diseases. [Cha.Sa.Nidana Sthana7/21]

Knowledge of absolute truth

  1. Adhyatma means tattva or absolute truth. [Chakrapani on Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 25/27]. In the conference on the origin of a holistic human being(Purusha), Lord Punarvasu instructed all sages not to involve in disputes and seek the absolute truth.

Current views and researches

The above points make it clear that the atma is connected with cognition and memory. The will, belief, and behavior depend upon atma. Atma always performs with the mind. Life begins with the entry of atma and ends with its exit. However, the exact psycho-neuro-biological connection is not known.

The following connections need to be studied more:

  • Role of atma in process of cognition and memory
  • Consciousness element and beginning of life
  • factors related to atma (Atmaja bhava) in embryogenesis

World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire

The world health organization has included the spiritual dimension of health in assessing the quality of life of an individual. The questions in the scale are related to personal beliefs, and meaningfulness in life. The two aspects are supposed to give strength to face difficult situations in life and a sense of satisfaction. [9]

Spiritual dimension of health

The spiritual dimension of health is important for the attainment of an overall sense of health, well-being and quality of life. The patient’s spiritual perspective needs to be taken care of during hospitalization. [10]

Consciousness element

In a research on consciousness, a model is presented by Kotchoubey B. It conceives of human consciousness as a product of a phylogenetic interaction of three particular forms of animal behavior: play, tool use, and communication. A positive loop is observed when the three components meet in humans, they strengthen and mutually reinforce each other. This structure permits to explain typical features of human conscious awareness: its recursive character, seriality, objectivity, a close relation to semantic and episodic memory, etc. Other specific features of human consciousness (e.g., the emotion of anxiety) remain and require further reading. Again, the complex relationships of this model of consciousness with the multiple draft theory, the re-entrance theory, and the classical dualistic approach require further reading. [11]

More information

  1. Indriyopakramaniya Adhyaya
  2. Katidhapurusha Sharira


Cha. = Charak

Su. = Sushruta

Sa. = Samhita

References from Charak Samhita

The list of references for Atma in Charak Samhita can be seen here.

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  1. Available from
  2. Atman, Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press (2012)
  3. John Bowker (2000), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0192800947
  4. WJ Johnson (2009), A Dictionary of Hinduism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0198610250
  5. Karel Werner (1998). Yoga and Indian Philosophy. Motilal Banarsidas. p. 57–58. ISBN 978-81-208-1609-1
  6. Chad Meister (2010), The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195340136, p.63
  7. Thakar V.J. Ayurvediya Maulika Siddhanta, Sanskrit book.1985. Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar Atmatattva vivechanam.p.364
  8. Thakar V.J. Ayurvediya Maulika Siddhanta, Sanskrit book.1985. Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar Atma Tattva vivechanam.p.367
  9. WHO Quality of life scale available from downloaded on February 28, 2020
  10. Ross L. The spiritual dimension: its importance to patients' health, well-being and quality of life and its implications for nursing practice. Int J Nurs Stud. 1995 Oct;32(5):457-68.
  11. Kotchoubey B (2018) Human Consciousness: Where Is It From and What Is It for. Front. Psychol. 9:567. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00567