Sunday, April 08, 2007


In the English language, the word 'self' can mean 'ego', 'soul', or even 'the soul of the universe' (God). Similarly, 'spirit' can mean 'the individual soul', or it can mean 'God'. Sometimes the words 'self' and 'spirit' are given a capital 's' to suggest a transcendent Self, differentiated from the limited ego.

In contrast, the Sanskrit language contains a range of terms to clarify different states of consciousness/personhood:

'ahamkara' (ego)
'jivatma' (individual soul)
'paramatma'or 'Brahman' (universal Self)

When European missionaries went to India and encountered the Advaita philosophy of Sri Shankaracharya for the first time, they confused it with solipsism - the idea that everything is an illusion and only "I" (the ego) exist. This was a complete misinterpretation due to a lack of terminology with which to translate the Sanskrit. Advaita (literally: 'non-dual') - is the idea that only the universal Self exists, both as the world and as the unmanifest; while the ego, and the false world it creates, is a delusion.

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