In this extra-ordinary simile from Katha Upanishad ,explains the concept of Atman very well:

  1. Know the âtman as the lord of the chariot, the body as only the chariot, know also intelligence as the driver; know the minds as the reins.

Let us take an example to understand the above simile before I mention the questions. Dheeraj(Atma of Dheeraj) is the lord of the body or the chariot. Dheeraj employs intelligence as the driver. Dheeraj employs mind as the reins. Dheeraj may or may not be able to employ the intelligence in a good way. Dheeraj may or may not be able to use the reins properly.Therefore Dheeraj,the Atma, may or may not be the good lord of the chariot or the body.

So my questions are : can Atma turn out to be good or bad in its ability to control the chariot ?

Or is it that Atma doesn't have any influence over the chariot?

If Atma doesn't have any influence over the chariot then why is it called the Lord of the chariot?

  • you have used convoluted logic in your reasoning. Learn some logic analysis before trying to apply to scripture. How do you reason that "Dheeraj may or may not be able to employ the intelligence in a good way"??? Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 6:13
  • @SwamiVishwananda Aren't there people who are fools? Who lack intelligence? Aren't there are people who have bad character ? If Atma is the Lord then clearly it fails to employ intelligence and mind in proper way in some cases. It shows Atma can be good or bad at handling the chariot. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 6:24
  • Atma is neither good nor bad but simply a witness to all our karmas. Read through the answers to this question for a more detailed explanation. hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/20987/… Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 10:43

1 Answer 1


The chariot analogy is given in the Upanishada to show the supremacy of the Atma and dependency of the other aspects like Buddhi, Mann, senses and body. Now the supremacy doesn't necessarily mean the controller-ship. Hypothetically, if Atma had to control something, then why would it let anything come out of it in the first place.
The problem is that you perceive Atma as something, but in reality it is nothing.

All the aspects except Atma belongs to Prakruti, which in turn is born from Atma. Atma (the traveller) is not good/bad but Buddhi (the driver) is good/bad. This is already answered here.

Prakruti is made up of 3 modes: sattva, rajas, tamas. sattva means "illumination", rajas is "passion" & tamas is "ignorance".

Every'body' are result of various combinations of these 3 modes (like proton, electron, neutron).
Result of sattva is good & rajas is bad. Refer BG 18.37-38.

Atma (photon?) is beyond these 3 modes, i.e. good/bad/ugly.

BG 7.13 - All this world, deluded as it is by these three things made of the gunas (modes), does not know Me who am transcendental to these 3 and undecaying.
BG 14.20 - Having transcended these three modes which are the origin of the body, the embodied one, becoming free from birth, death, old age and sorrows, experiences Immortality.

Atma is Not different for different entities. It's in complete oneness & yet indescribable. It's beyond any dualities like right/wrong, dharma/adharma, manifested/unmanifested, love/hate.
Refer What is "soul"?

Hence Atma doesn't fit in the scope of good & bad either.

  • 1
    You are saying Atma is not Sattva,Rajas,Tamas or any combinations of three. That I agree. But Atma is the lord of the intelligence , mind and body. Lord can be good or bad in terms of intelligence, mind and body. Don't you agree with the simile from Katha Upanishad? Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 16:35
  • @DheerajVerma, everything known or unknown is part of these 3 modes of Prakruti. Good/bad are part of this Prakruti. According to Gita, Atma is beyond intelligence. Everything has come out of Atma, how can it relate to any qualities? E.g we cannot identify our selves with either hand or leg. We are completely in oneness. Also see edits.
    – iammilind
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 3:52
  • I am sorry but you haven't answered my question : whether you agree with the analogy of chariot as described in Katha Upanishad? It is critical for me to know that in order to make progress on the path of self knowledge. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 5:56
  • @DheerajVerma, in Katha Upanishada, it's presented as an analogy. Analogies are only for understanding, but they are not exactly identical. You may also refer BG 3.42. The general notion is body < senses < mind < intellect < Self. Here the relationship is not of superiority, but of beyondness. i.e. Atma is beyond buddhi. See How does the soul control the intellect (buddhi)?. I agree with what is mentioned in Upanishada, but that doesn't relate to Atma being good/bad. BTW I have upvoted your Qn to counter a downvote.
    – iammilind
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 6:12

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