Who am I? This existential question has probably teased, even troubled, many an individual through the ages. Nothing seems to satisfy our innate curiosity and our eternal quest to understand ourselves and our origins. Literature, art, evolutionary science, and astrology, among other fields have attempted to find answers, each in their own way.
Philosophy too has strived to answer fundamental questions: What is reality? Is there a best way to live? Do we truly have free will? Most schools of philosophy address this need of ours to find deeper meaning in life. The Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism is no different. To answer the esoteric ‘Who am I?’ the philosophy delves deep into the concept of ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Only, there is no ‘other’. The belief in Advaita is one of non-duality.
The very name ‘advaita‘ means the soul (self/atman) is no different from the ultimate universal reality (other/brahman). According to this school of philosophy, one can attain spiritual liberation by gaining knowledge of the true nature of the atman and brahman. This ‘true self’ is nothing but the non-dual nature of the soul, whereby it’s one with everything around it.
According to Vedic scholar and Advaita practitioner Dr C V Giridhara Shastry, “The soul or chaitanya is liberating, while upadhi, the body/physical reality, is limiting and often discriminating. The soul has no form, so we can’t really tell one soul apart from another. The body or physicality on the other hand, has a form, so we easily separate ourselves from others.”