What is “Self”?
It is neither a god nor a human, animal, insect, or plant.
नदेवो ननरो नतिर्यकस्स्थावरो न च
na devo, na naro, na tiryak, sthāvaro na ca
It is neither the body and senses, nor even the mind, vitality, or even intellect or memory.
नदेहो नेन्द्रियं नैव मनः प्राणो नापिधी
na deho, nendriyaṁ naiva manaḥ prāṇo na nāpi dhī
What makes a god different from a human, a human different from an animal, an animal different from a plant, etc. is simply the differences in their bodies, senses, minds, etc. – but the self is not a product of bodies, senses, minds, etc.
It is not insentient.
Is it a side-effect of insentient things?
It is not an evolute.
Is it sentience?
It is more than sentience.
The self is not merely consciousness. It is a conscious entity. Qualities 18-20 will really summarize the key difference between “consciousness” and “a conscious entity.”
What is it made of?
It is a thing unto itself.
Life is not a product of any other thing. Therefore there is no way to define it, expect as “itself.”
What does this imply?
It is self-luminous.
“Luminosity” means awareness. The body, senses, mind, intellect (etc) are not the source of the awareness in living organisms. The living thing itself is the source of awareness. It utilizes a body, senses, mind, intellect (etc) as tools to extend its inherent luminosity. Even without a body, senses (etc) it can still experience its own existence.
It is like a flame, but a flame illuminates itself to another observer. Life is a “sentient flame”, it illuminates itself to itself.
It is uniform.
An example of a luminous thing is a flame. A flame is essentially the same (hot and bright) on any candle; so to is life essentially the same (aware and willful) in any particular life-form. As the quantity of a flames heat and light may differ on different candles, so may the quality of awareness and vitality differ in different life-forms.
It is unique & self-sustaining.
Although all selves are uniform (eka-rūpa) in their essential qualities, still each self is unique, self-defining, and self-sustaining (svarūpa-bhāk). It is like a group of candles: the flame on each is fundamentally the same, yet the flame on one candle is definitely individual and distinct from the flame on another.
“Self-sustaining” also implies that it is not produced or maintained by any other entity. In this sense it is like a flame that burns without need of oil, wood, or wick.
How is it related to the body, etc.?
Fire makes metals sparkle and shine. Similarly, the living thing infuses life into the intellect, mind, vitality, senses and body.
How does it animate?
Fire makes metals red-hot, by permeating them with its own qualities of heat and light. Similarly the living thing makes the intellect, mind, and body “come to life” – by permeating them with its own qualities of awareness and volition.
What motivates it?
It is the ability to experience joy.
Life strives to experience happiness. Consciousness, the potential to experience, is the foundation of happiness, because happiness is an experience. Life seeks to explore this potential more and more fully.
How could we define it?
It is the meaning of “I”.
Is there one “I” in many beings?
It is distinct in each being.
Is it really individual,
or only apparently so?
It is the irreducible individuate.
If it is not composed of other things,
How is it created?
It always exists.
Self is the basis for creation. Existence is predicated upon it. Therefore it is the creator, not a created thing.
Can it be permeated, tarnished, adulterated?
It is un-stainable.
It may become aware of suffering in its body, senses, mind (etc) but it is not injured or damaged by any of these experiences. Only its tools (body, etc) can be injured.
What are its essential qualities?
It is the perceiver.
The first difference between “consciousness” and “the conscious entity” (viz. q/a #5) is that a conscious entity utilizes consciousness. Thus it is the motivator and directer of perception.
It is the actor.
The second difference between “consciousness” and “the conscious entity” (viz. q/a #5) is that a conscious entity can interact with the things it observes. It is the ultimate agent behind all actions and events.
It is the enjoyer.
Interaction with perception is the cause of enjoyment (“bhoga”). The third difference between “consciousness” and “the conscious entity” (viz. q/a #5) is that a conscious entity is the foundation for enjoyment.
Is it the ultimate being?
It is one eternal fragment of the ultimate self.
These 21 questions and answers about ātma, the self, are explained in Padma-Purāṇa, elaborated upon by the scholar Jāmātṛ, and thoroughly explored by Śrī Jīva Goswāmī, in his book, Śrī Paramātmā-Sandarbha, which is available with lucid English translation and commentary by Śrī Satyanārāyana Dās, here:
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