Foundations of Identity

The Taitteriya Upanishad offers the Hindu insight on what constitutes a personality. Each individual has physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual sheaths. The thread that links all these sheaths is the ‘ego.’ The physical traits plus the impressions stored in the mind (mostly in the subconscious mind) become visible as the individual. The ego that helps coordinate these sheaths inadvertently shields from us our true nature which is spiritual.

Translating religious ideals into practice begins in the home. Householders are not only expected to look after their children, but also parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. They are expected to contribute towards the society in general. This is how they are expected to put religion into practice.

Hinduism states that our essential nature is not the body nor the mind, although we often mistake them as such. The religion teaches that our essential nature is the spirit that percolates through the body-mind complex. The Sanskrit term for the essential Self is Atman. Despite the appearance that we are acting in the world, we are essentially the witness and not part of what is being witnessed. There are certain famous Sanskrit aphorisms that capture the essence of this spiritual teaching like ‘Tattvamasi’ or ‘Thou art That’ (‘That’ referring to the Ultimate Reality or God).

The essential Self is called Atman. When Atman is embodied or linked with a body and mind it is called Jiv-atman which is equivalent to the concept of Soul in Abrahamic religions. The Jiv-atman experiences the cycle of rebirth. The soul transmigrates during reincarnation. The process is repeated again and again until the individual gains moksha, literally meaning giving up the delusion of being the body and the mind complex and recognising its nature as the spirit. Hinduism does not have an eschatology as it insists that the resolution of the human condition has to happen here and not in the hereafter.

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