People of Advaita sect believe that Atman never remains locked or trapped IN the body. The same thing has been said by many hindoos in quora as well. (They are followers of advaita).

If what the advaitins believe is true, then what exactly is dehi? In the Bhagavad-gita it has been said that dehi dwells within the body and keeps changing bodies like old clothes. If dehi is not Atman, then what is it? Need an answer from both dualistic (vaishnava) and monistic (advaita) point of view.

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    You already said it, for vaishnavite schools it is atma which is dwelling in the body.
    – user16618
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 10:00
  • 1
    @iammilind, I checked your answer but i can't reply under it since i don't have enough reps. Anyway, i completely agree with you that the English word 'soul' is not present in any hindu scriptures. Yet many have translated the word Atman as soul, which i believe is an incorrect translation, because according to Upanishads or Advaita school, Atman is sarva vyapi (omnipresent/ present everywhere) and doesn't need to change bodies. But soul is an entity that actually transmigrates (as per Egyptian myth atleast) ... So a travelling entity (soul) can never be the Omnipresent Atman. Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 7:53
  • @iammilind, Even after knowing this fact, many Indians (mostly the dualists and common people) use the word soul to refer to Atman ... Anyway, when i checked ur answer there, you have mentioned that its the dehi that changes bodies, but you haven't mentioned who this dehi actually is ... Can you please explain to me, who is this dehi, that changes bodies? ... I mean its surely not the omnipresent Atman :) Thanks. Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 7:54

4 Answers 4


Bhagavad Gita is regarded high from Advaita &/or Vaishnava school of thoughts. This answer is from that perspective.

According to it, Dehi (embodied one) transgresses from one body to another, upon death:

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय, नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि। तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णा, न्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।।
BG 2.22 - As after rejecting worn out clothes a man takes up other new ones, likewise after rejecting worn out bodies the 'embodied one' unites with other new ones.

Almost same description is given for Ishvara as well:

शरीरं यदवाप्नोति यच्चाप्युत्क्रामतीश्वरः। गृहीत्वैतानि संयाति वायुर्गन्धानिवाशयात्।।
BG 15.8 -- When the Body is received and also when given up, the "Master" (ishvara) carries all these [6 senses]; Same as wind transporting smell.

From these 2 verse, we can infer that the Dehi is the consciousness/intellect(Buddhi) or Purusha, which controls the senses + mind like a master.
It's higher in order than the mind, but lower than the Atman (or ParamAtma):

इन्द्रियाणि पराण्याहुरिन्द्रियेभ्यः परं मनः। मनसस्तु परा बुद्धिर्यो बुद्धेः परतस्तु सः ।।
BG 3.42 — Senses are said to be beyond [physical body]; mind (mann) is beyond senses; intellect (buddhi) is even beyond Mind; "That" (Atma) is even beyond intellect.

  • When you say dehi is consciousness, do you mean its the paramatma, also known as atman or brahman? Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 10:57
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    @GregLevenski, no dehi cannot be Atman (also known as ParamAtman), because it's specific to an entity. While Atma pervades everywhere, dehi resides in a body. Though dehi is also born out of Atma, for the understanding purpose, we can differentiate them. I have added 1 more source to make their relation clearer.
    – iammilind
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 11:00
  • Thanks. So atma and atman are different? What could be higher than buddhi but lower than Atman/Parmatma? Could it be the ego? If so then is it fair to say that dehi = subtle body(also known as antahkarana)?? ... coz its the subtle body or antahkarana that houses the ego. Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 11:16
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    @GregLevenski, no both are same. Just diff words. Even there is no difference between Atma & ParamAtma either IMO. As per the scripture, there is nothing between Buddhi & Atman. Ego will be equivalent to the mind. Yes, it's fair to say dehi equal to subtle body, as it's surely not physical body.
    – iammilind
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 11:23
  • Allright. And the quoted verses of Gita in your post, are they Gambhirananda's translations? Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 11:49

I don't know from vaishnavite perspective but I can answer advaitic perspective on this.

From Advaitic perspective too it's Atman that keeps changing body. Atman here is Ego self or 'I' ness.

In Advaita Atman is not the ultimate reality. Yes it is subtler than body and mind and the senses but the argument of Advaita is if you are aware of some thing existing (here Atman) then the one being aware of its existence should be even subtler.

Here is where Bhraman comes in to picture. Brahman is a viewer or perciever of this and all the other world. There ofcourse is atman and the mind and the body and all the struggles and the ascends and descends of it in life and after it but the one who is real the Brahman is always untouched by it because he just sits there and observes everything talking place.

Then to step it up we can say that this world is made of Brahman taking different forms. The body is Brahman, the mind is Brahman, the soul is Brahman the vital forces is Brahman, the Virat Swaroop is Brahman and yet the One is detached and watching all this is also Brahman.

Atman or ego or the Iness is one of the attachments we drop towards the path of self realization, if we are dropping something with Neti Neti, then it can not be the ultimate truth.

I would highly recommend reading Panchadasi if you want a comprehensive understanding of Advaita.

  • @GregLevenski Does Advaita believe in Paramatma(Supersoul)?
    – user16618
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 7:20
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    @RaRa, No. Advaita doesn't believe in two spirits in one body as the dualists like to think. The dualists say there is one super spirit and there's one inferior spirit which are different from each other ... But advaita says there's only ONE spirit that has interpenetrated millions of gross bodies. That ONE spirit is Brahman also known as Atman or Paramatman, that is present everywhere like air. And when this ONE spirit recognizes itself with the mind,ego of subtle body it is known as jivatman. But after self realization it again recognizes its true original Paramatman/Atman/Brahman nature. Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 7:36
  • Just like a millionaire forgets his identity during amnesia and starts thinking himself as a common/poor man. The same way the ONE spirit, after manifesting in bodies of subtle & gross nature starts thinking itself as those bodies (this stage is called jiva or jivatman stage) but in reality its actually spirit. When it remembers its spirit nature, that person can be called paramatma or jivan mukta. This is why advatins call themselves Brahman/parmatma. Words like Atman, Paramatma, Brahman can be used interchangebly as they mean the same thing (the one spirit)... and are not 3 separate spirits. Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 7:45
  • @yashC, When you say Atman is ego, you're possibly referring to the jiva/jivatma right? Since we all know ego is part of the jiva aka subtle body aka antahkarana. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 7:25
  • @GregLevenski Yes. Or may be not I not well read enough to say it for sure. But I would like to say that I dont prefer the Jivatma - paramatma terminology because for someone like me brought up in dualastic environment it creates a subconscious divide that I as Jeevatma is different from Paramatma. So i usually go with the terms as body is collection of food, mind collection of thoughts-likes-dislikes and ego giving an identity (the limiter of infinite because when i say i am this, i imply, i am not that) and then there is the knower of all these playing around.
    – yashC
    Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 7:55

Atman(solo soul) is also ignorance, Only Param atma(Super soul) is real and called Kshetragya or Dehi or Purush.

Kshetrajna (Devnagari: क्षेत्रज्ञ/Purush/conciousness) means the One who knows of the body, soul, spirituality, conscious principle in the corporeal frame while everything else is Kshetra(or Prakriti)


The Kshetra or the field refers to the body which is material, mutable, transitory and perishable, the Kshetrajna refers to the conscious knower of the body who is of the same essence as Knowledge, immutable, eternal and imperishable, the knower of the body is the soul residing in the body. Kshetra is Prakrti or matter which is insentient, and the knower of the Kshetra is the Purusha who is sentient. True knowledge is knowing and understanding both these two factors, the insentient and sentient. The knowledge of Prakrti only, is called the Apara Vidya or Lower knowledge, and that pertaining to the Purusha is called the Para Vidya or Higher knowledge. in the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is told that the distinctive nature of God is eight-fold constituted by the five primordial elements, mind, intellect and the ego-sense, but that is the lower nature which is inferior, impure, troublesome, whose essence is bondage; the higher nature, which is the pure essential nature of God, is the higher living being, the Kshetrajna, the field-knower, the cause leading to the assumption of vital force by which the world is penetrated and upheld

God is 8 fold:-

5) elements(earth+water+fire+air+space)

6) Sun(intellect)

7) Moon(mind)

8) Consciousness(or Purush or Dehi)

or the 8 grahas in Hindu astrology(where 9th planet ketu(or dragon tail) is not a planet but a shadow)

Ahamkaar of body(ego) or Atman is ignorance born out of Aham(I) when Dehi/Kshetragya identifies himself with body or some limited self is the one that changes body after death


Vedanta affirms that those who gain the knowledge of the Self attain kaivalya, they become liberated, they become Brahman. Kaivalya is highest state of moksha

I-i-15-17. Hanuman: Rama, sages speak differently: some say there is only one kind of liberation. Others say it can be got by worshipping your name and by the Taraka mantra at Kashi. Others speak of Sankhya-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga, the enquiry into Vedanta-Vakyas etc.

I-i-18-23. Rama: Liberation is of four kinds: Salokya, Sameepya, Sayuja, Sarupya etc. But the only real type is Kaivalya and permanent, rest all are temporary

Hence Vedanta focuses on self enquiry and self realization and not worshipping as worshipping means daulity but reality is non-dual as per Kaivalya Moksha

Saunaka, having asked – कस्मिन्नु भगवो विज्ञाते सर्वमिदं विज्ञातं भवतीति (" Revered Sir, what is that by the knowing of which all this becomes known? "), - was told by Angiras that –

द्वे विद्ये वेदितव्ये इति ह् स्म यद्ब्रह्मविदो वदन्ति परा चैवापरा च | तत्रापरा ऋग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेदोऽथर्ववेदः शिक्षा कल्पो व्याकरणं निरुक्तं छन्दो ज्योतिषमिति | अथ परा यया तदक्षरमधिग्म्यते || - (Mundaka Upanishad I.i.3-5) there were two different kinds of knowledge to be acquired – 'the higher knowledge' or Para Vidya (Sanskrit: परा विद्या )and 'the lower knowledge' or Apara Vidya. The lower knowledge consists of all textual knowledge - the four Vedas, the science of pronunciation etc., the code of rituals, grammar, etymology, metre and astrology. The higher knowledge is by which the immutable and the imperishable Atman is realized, which knowledge brings about the direct realization of the Supreme Reality, the source of All. The knowledge of the Atman is very subtle; it cannot be obtained out of one’s own effort; the Atman cannot be intuitively apprehended by mere intellectual equipments. Thus, Angiras draws the distinction between the way of knowledge and the way of realization, as between opinion and truth. For understanding this for realizing the Reality the aspirant must seek a teacher. The teacher who has already realized his identity with the Atman alone can impart this much sought-after wisdom on the strength of his own experiences

A human being is blessed with the faculty of self-knowledge which is Apara Vidya or logical reasoning and also with the faculty of understanding and self-awareness which is Para Vidya or quantum logic. Para Vidya is defined as the intuitive vision of non-duality;[5] it is the transcendental knowledge which is beyond all limits of knowledge, experience and reason, which is, beyond intellect, mind and sense. The Absolute, which is Truth, which is Reality, is neither an expression nor a reflection of itself; it is non-dual being devoid of otherness, and it cannot be an object of knowledge in the ordinary sense as it surpasses the intellect in subtleness. Knowledge is truth and truth is correspondence of an apprehension with its object. It is the intellect which moves within the sphere of duality resulting in delusion, wrong identification etc. Para Vidya is the intuitive level of vidya that stems from a unity, and manifests as a vision, manifests as an experience.

The vision of the Nirguna Brahman is gained through Para Vidya, it is the highest of all knowledge

> The method of self-realization involves sravana , manana and nididhyasana , and not rituals.

Note: Study about https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramana_Maharshi for understanding Kaivalya Vedanta further

  • Are you sure that paramatma is the dehi? ... Krishna said in Gita 2.22 that dehi dwells within a body and during death travels from one body to another ... In Ishavasya, Mandukya, Svetasvatara upanishads Atman AKA Parmatma AKA Brahman (3 names of the same One spirit) has been described as sarva vyapi. It is present all through out the universe and beyond. If it is everywhere why would it change bodies. The dehi CANNOT be the sarva vyapi Parmatma/Atman/Brahman. Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 10:50
  • Dehi = Purusha = Atman = Param atma = Turiya = Nirguna Brahman = Kshtragya = Sat Chida Ananda = CONSCIOUSNESS hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/29542/…
    – user16755
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 15:17
  • hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/29518/16755 The sound Om! is the syllabus of the supreme Brahman. Smaller than the smallest and larger than the largest, the Soul is formless and all-pervading.After death, it is the Atma that remains; the Atman is immortal. Mere reading of the scriptures or intellectual learning cannot realize. Atma. One must discriminate the Atma from the body, which is the seat of desire. Inability to realize Brahman results in one being enmeshed in the cycle of rebirths. Understanding the Self leads to moksha. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nachiketa (read Katha Upanisha
    – user16755
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 15:32
  • @GregLevenski are you Blue Crimson??? Atman= Paramatma thats crux of Vedanta
    – user16755
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 15:39
  • You don't get the point. We all know Atman remains before and after death. Since it is immortal. But it doesn't fly or travel to another body, like most common hindoos believe. That belief comes from the dualistic school of vedanta, like vaishnavism. They say atma travels after death. But advaita says it doesn't. Why advaita says such a thing? Its bcoz its mentioned in the upanishads that atman is all pervading (present everywhere). And so doesnt need to change locations. So who travels? The dehi does. Who's the dehi? It's the sookshma sharira. Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 11:38

Advaita school identifies the dehi with the linga sarira or subtle body.

MARWARI DEVOTEE: "Who is this 'I' that says, 'O Lord, I am Thy servant'?"

MASTER: "This is the lingasarira, or embodied soul. It consists of manas, buddhi, chitta, and ahamkara."

DEVOTEE: "Who is the embodied soul?"

MASTER: "It is the Atman bound by the eight fetters. And what is the chitta? It is the 'I consciousness' that says, 'Aha!'"

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, The Master in Various Moods, October 2, 1884

This is what Ramanuja says in his commentary of the Gita verse posted below.

There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you nor any of these kings of men. Nor will there be any time in future when all of us shall cease to be.

Gita 2.12

Indeed, I, the Lord of all, who is eternal, was never non-existent, but existed always. It is not that these selves like you, who are subject to My Lordship, did not exist; you have always existed. It is not that 'all of us', I and you, shall cease to be in future, i.e., beyond the present time; we shall always exist. Even as no doubt can be entertained that I, the Supreme Self and Lord of all, am eternal, likewise, you (Arjuna and all others) who are embodied selves, also should be considered eternal.

Sri Ramanuja Gita Bhasya translated by Swami Adidevananda

The above post suggests that Vaishanvas also think of Jivas as embodied selves. The difference between the Advaita idea and the Vaishnava idea is that the former thinks that the perception of difference between the jivas and Supreme Spirit is due to ignorance while Vaishnavas think that the perception of difference is real.

  • And what are these 8 fetters of linga sharira? Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 13:57
  • Shame, disgust, caste etc Asta Pashas @GregLevenski
    – Rickross
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 14:09
  • Shame, hatred, fear, pride of caste, hesitation, the desires to conceal are some of the fetters. Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 14:12
  • Allright. Why do you think some hindoos here says that dehi is the atman? Is that a dualistic or vaishnava belief that dehi is atman or is it due to ignorance that most people don't know that dehi is linga sharira? Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 11:36

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