Exploring the Profound Link Between Self and Universe in Hindu Philosophy

April 15th, 2024

By Ethan Indigo Smith

Contributing writer for Wake Up World

“The Atman is Brahman.”

This little quote and longstanding idea are as powerful and profound as they are simple. For millennia, it has inspired and pondered the individuals of Asia, the proverbial Atman, the world over. The phrase is a derivative of The Four Great Sayings, the Mahavakyas, from The Upanishads. Four ways exist to express and interpret the idea that the spark is the fire, the wave is the ocean, and Atman is Brahman.

Atman is Brahman, which can literally and most basically be translated to ‘you are that.’ More esoterically, it uses the lesson of Correspondence, the rule that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, to specifically note that the individual initiate is made up of the same elements and reflects the same light as God and the universe in general, or The All, The Tao, The Universe, and the Universal Principles—the ultimate reality.

The Atman is Brahman idea aligns with the exoteric science that the atomic is the cosmic and esoteric lessons. You are the universe, and more specifically, you, the initiate, are becoming the God Brahman. Brahman embodies the idea that atomic is the cosmic.

Brahman is the ancient Hindu creator god of the Hindu trinity. The word also relates to the verb to grow, solidify, and infers becoming. The noun brahmana describes a priest. More profoundly and esoterically, the idea of Brahman suggests the idea that the devotee is solidifying and developing a connection and similarity to God or The All.

Priests might be devoted to their own development/solidification, comprehension of the universe, and universal principles to advance individuals as teachers. A priest might also be predominantly devoted to being an institutional representative. There have always been exoteric priests and esoteric priests. The difference, of course, is detectable in their attitude, not their dress. No priest is required as an intermediary between you, the atman, and the universal energies, the Brahman.

The God Brahman is depicted with four heads and four arms. He is the creator god of the trinity which includes Vishnu and Shiva. Brahman is partnered with Hamsa as his vehicle, the bar-headed Goose. This goose is one of the highest-flying birds. Twice a year, it migrates over the Himalayas. Only the common crane and a type of vulture venture higher. The soaring bird symbolically relates to Brahman’s ascended quality and the capability to travel to the entirety, from the highest mountain peak to the lowest valley pond.

Brahman is one of the few gods not to have numerous temples associated with his direct worship. He is the self-venerated, self-actualized creator. He is the creator of physical mass and, more importantly, the creator of the intangible spiritual dimension, for inspiration for individual ascension.

Brahman’s four heads are said to depict the four Vedas, foundational texts of Hinduism, and knowledge. His four arms symbolise being of the totality of the four directions of physical reality, and his four heads complement the idea pertaining to knowledge. The four-direction relationship is referenced across space and time among the symbology of many if not all, peoples. The four directions can esoterically refer to the four dimensions of mind. Brahman’s four arms and heads symbolise physicality and spirituality’s four directions and dimensions.

With his four heads and arms, Brahman represents the conscious creator of both the physical and the spiritual, the exoteric and the esoteric, and the conscious comprehension of totality. This idea represented by Brahman the Hindu creator god of four heads and four arms for the higher world and the lower world, or exoteric and esoteric, corresponds with the Ancient Egyptian practice of mirroring messages twice, one for the physical and one for the metaphysical, one for the exoteric and one for the esoteric. In most Egyptian sacred sites, the sacred texts are shared on two opposing walls representing this foundational idea.

Brahman is the creator between Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer, in the Hindu trinity. He creates and comprehends the entire upper and lower worlds, the spiritual and the material. His four heads represent this complete understanding of the higher world, and his four arms and hands represent this complete understanding of the lower material world.

“The All is mind.” ~The Kybalion

“One of the old hermetic masters wrote, long ages ago, ‘He who grasps the truth of the mental universe is well advanced on the path to mastery.’” ~The Kybalion

The three-word phrase from The Kybalion is essentially a direct comparison and contrast to a similar sentiment: ‘Atman is Brahman.’ Within this contrast is the idea that to compare examines and reveals for just as the Atman is Brahman, Brahman is Atman, or The All is mind. To simplify the main lesson of each of these ideas as sides of a coin, the individual is capable of becoming the result of the universal, and the universal is a result of the individual’s perspective.

“To the pure all things are pure, to the base all things are base.” ~The Kybalion

The infinite brahman is within the finite atman. The layers of interpretation to this simple and profound idea are innumerable. One layer implies development in correspondence with higher ideas and greater energies as your essence, just as the individuation character behind Brahman in his self-actualized tone and the symbolism of the four heads and four arms equating to the completion of the totality of spiritual and physical worlds. A simple meditation tool is to embody higher ideas in such symbolism.

A profound and related idea to the four dimensions Brahman depicts is the set of four called the Purashartha, the purpose of human beings. This set of four provides an outline, so to speak, for the completion of aspiration and provides a balanced containment of what would otherwise be ill-minded pursuits beyond such. The idea represents the essence of human endeavours, and it is the essence of Hinduism. Such ideas are outlines for individuals toward enhanced individuation and the initiation of life and are not dogmatic, authoritarian rules for the collective towards some restraining predicament.

There is Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. The most important, of course, is Dharma. This ancient word has many meanings, but Dharma pertains to learning valuable universal lessons. There are innumerable aspects to learning, but comprehension of Universal Law is primarily among the most important Dharma lessons. Of the four aspects of human beings, Purashartha, The Dharma is the most important.

This set of four is its own initiatory practice, its own yoga, of individual unity with the flow of the universal energy, its own ‘Atman is Brahman’ ideation and initiation. The Purashartha corresponds with the four Ashramas, a simpler, more exoteric set of four stages of life – that of a student, householder, retirement, and renunciation.

Operating at your highest level for your true purpose is paradoxically dependent on balancing oneself in relation to universal flowing energies and principles. When we can operate in balance with the flow of energy, the greater cosmic occurrences unfolding with or without us, the better opportunity we have to meditate like the priestly Brahman, and the more opportunity and drive we have to be creative like Brahman.

Recommended Reading

The Language of Four: The Meaning of Tetragrammaton

The Fourth Initiation

The Fourth Initiation is a universalist story of self-development. The Thoth archetype is explored and utilized to illustrate and inspire individuation and individual pursuit of wisdom.

Four aspects of consciousness are explored, as are the four dimensions of sacred geometry, to form a paradigm book on the ascension process.


The Fourth Initiation is available on Amazon here.

About the author:

Activist, author and Tai Chi teacher Ethan Indigo Smith was born on a farm in Maine and lived in Manhattan for a number of years before migrating west to Mendocino, California. Ethan’s work is deeply connected and extremely insightful, blending philosophy, politics, activism, spirituality, meditation and a unique sense of humor.

You can connect with Ethan on Facebook, check out his author page on Amazon, or visit his new websites, Geometry Of Energy and Meditation 108, where Ethan offers lessons on individuation, meditation, the conceptualization of energy, and the metaphysical significance of 108.

Ethan’s books include:

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