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Translations of
English self, soul
Pali attā, atta
Sanskrit ātman, atman
Chinese 灵魂
(Pinyinlínghún (soul, spirit))
Japanese アートマン
Tibetan བདག་
(Wylie: bdag;
THL: dak;

Atman (Sanskrit; Pali: atta) refers to the concept of a permanently existing "self" or "soul" that was prevelant in the ancient Indian religious traditions at the time of the Buddha. The Buddha rejected the existence of a permanent self. The Buddha instead describes the self as a collection of continually changing components. This concept of "self" as something that is collection of constantly changing composite parts is called anatman.


Ātman and atta refer to a person's "true self", a person's permanent inner nature.[1] Occasionally the terms "soul" or "ego" are used.

The cognates (Sanskrit: आत्मन्) ātman, (Pāli) atta, Old English æthm, German Atem, and Greek atmo-[2] derive from the Indo-European root *ēt-men (breath).

Early Buddhism

"Atman" in early Buddhism may simply refer to the sense of "I am",[3][4] similar to the pre-Buddhist Upanishads, which link the feeling "I am" to a permanent "Self".[5] Contrary to this, the Buddha argued that no permanent, unchanging "self" can be found.[6][7] All conditioned phenomena are subject to change, and therefore can't be taken to be an unchanging "self".[7] Instead, the Buddha explains the perceived continuity of the human personality by describing it as composed of five skandhas, without a permanent entity.[8][9] This analysis makes it possible to avoid attachment, and is supportive for attaining liberation.[10][11]


Of the early indian Buddhist schools, only the Pudgalavada-school diverged from this basic teaching. The Pudgalavādins asserted that, while there is no ātman, there is a pudgala or "person", which is neither the same as nor different from the skandhas.[9]


Buddha-nature is a central notion of east-Asian (Chinese) Mahayana thought.[12] It refers to several related terms,[note 1] most notably Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu.[note 2] Tathāgatagarbha means "the womb of the thus-gone" (c.q. enlightened one), while Buddha-dhātu literally means "Buddha-realm" or "Buddha-substrate".[note 3] Several key texts refer to the tathāgatagarbha or Buddha-dhātu as "atman", self or essence, though those texts also contain warnings against a literal interpretation. Several scholars have noted similarities between tathāgatagarbha texts and the substantial monism found in the atman/Brahman tradition.[15]

See also


  1. Buddha-dhatu, mind, tathagatagarbha, Dharma-dhatu, suchness (tathata).[13]
  2. Sanskrit; Jp. Busshō, "Buddha-nature".
  3. Kevin Trainor: "a sacred nature that is the basis for [beings'] becoming buddhas."[14]


  1. Harvey 1995, p. 51.
  2. atman: definition, usage and pronunciation -
  3. Wayman 1997, p. 531.
  4. Harvey & 1995-b, p. 17.
  5. Harvey & 1995-b, p. 34.
  6. Kalupahana 1994, p. 68.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Harvey 1995, p. 52.
  8. Kalupahana 1994, p. 69-72.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Fischer-Schreiber, Ehrhard & Diener 2008, p. 27.
  10. Harvey 1995.
  11. Kalupahana 1994.
  12. Lusthaus 1998, p. 83.
  13. Lusthaus 1998, p. 84.
  14. Kevin Trainor, Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 207
  15. Jamie Hubbard, Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood,University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 2001, pp. 99-100


  • Fischer-Schreiber, Ingrid; Ehrhard, Franz-Karl; Diener, Michael S. (2008), Lexicon Boeddhisme. Wijsbegeerte, religie, psychologie, mystiek, cultuur an literatuur, Asoka 
  • Harvey, Peter (1995), An introduction to Buddhism. Teachings, history and practices, Cambridge University Press 
  • Harvey, Peter (1995-b), The Selfless Mind, Curzon Press  Check date values in: |year= (help)
  • Kalupahana, David J. (1994), A history of Buddhist philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited 
  • King, Sallie B. (1991), Buddha Nature, SUNY Press 
  • Lusthaus, Dan (1998), Buddhist Philosophy, Chinese. In: Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Index, Taylor & Francis 
  • Wayman, Alex (1997), The 'No-self' of Buddhism. In: Alex Wayman, "Untying the Knots in Buddhism: Selected Essays", Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 
  • Yamamoto; Page, Tony (2007 (1973)), The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra (PDF)  Check date values in: |year= (help)

Further reading

External links

This article includes content from the September 2014 revision of Ātman (Buddhism) on Wikipedia ( view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo