India Glossary
Atmansiddhi

India Glossary
Atman

Moksha

Samsara
   All human cultures and subcultures postulate some goal or some end for human life which gives meaning and value to human life in its infinitely variable manifestations. For the Indians, this goal is atmansiddhi, the "perfection of the soul," although, the "perfecting of the soul" is a better translation. What exactly this perfection or perfecting means to the Indian, however, varies from period to period and subculture to subculture. It may mean moksha, or release from the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara); it may mean non-violence; it may mean the conquest of one's emotions and will as it is in Jainism; it may mean discovering one's true, unchanging self (atman ) as equivalent to the Universal Self (Atman). Nevertheless, the Hindu sees the universe as the theater in which this self-perfection takes place.


India Glossary
Dharma
   Despite the innumerable ways in which atmansiddhi can be defined, it is consistently based on the idea that self-perfection is an individual endeavour and that it involves fulfillment in the social world, that is, atmansiddhi in all its forms, from intellectual Hinduism to Buddhism, has a strong ethical content. Human beings do not find themselves by removing themselves from the rest of the world; rather, humans have been placed in a society of others and it is in that society that the perfecting of the self occurs. Concepts such as dharma are not really comprehensible unless put into this general context of atmansiddhi .


   Atmansiddhi takes on a different meaning when one understands that time is experienced differently in Indian society. European-derived cultures tend to think of time as essentially finite; the shortest estimate for the age of the universe is around four thousand years (if the Old Testament is believed as the literal truth) and the longest estimate is around fifteen billion years. One's place in the universe is even more absurdly finite; Europeans imagine their lives along a span of decades. Time for the Hindu and Hindu-derived cultures is neither finite nor experienced as finite, rather it extends to infinity both into the past and into the future. Rather than be lost in such an overwhelmingly huge expanse of time, the individual rather is intrinsically part of it. Each human being has an undying soul (atman ) , which is repeatedly born into a series of lives (jiva ). These lives extend backwards into infinity and forwards into infinity. Therefore, the perfecting of the self is, you might say, a long-term project; it is the process, not the goal, which one aims at. Atmansiddhi is really "perfecting" of the self.

   This constant perfecting is what sets humans apart from every other living thing, including gods (devas ); the gods cannot change themselves, they are eternally set in their character and their duties. Humans, on the other hand, are above the gods in that they can pursue this perfection

   Fundamental to Hinduism is the idea that there are many techniques to attain this perfecting, as is apparent from reading the first half of the Baghavadgita . To attain atmansiddhi , all that matters is that one devote oneself to these techniques; none is intrinsically better than the other.

Richard Hooker



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1994, Richard HookerRichard Hooker
Updated 10-01-97