The atma or the ‘I’ is present everywhere. Yet it does not reveal itself to us. Sri Adi Sankaracharya says that you and I are prevalent everywhere. The word atma is commonly understood as soul and that which is not visible. However, when we understand it in its right meaning, we immediately know what we are talking about. It means the self, it means the supreme, it means life.
This self or life is present everywhere. Yet it does not manifest itself everywhere. It does not reveal itself everywhere. Life is present all through the body. If we examine our own body part by part, we can see that life is coursing through it all the time, every moment and through all its parts.
Yet, when we understand ourselves as a living being, we immediately place our hand on the heart and say, “Yes, I am alive.” “Yes, I know I am existing.” “Yes, I know myself very well.” The moment we refer to ‘I’, the hand immediately goes to the heart. It does not go to the head or hands or legs.
This is what the Acharya says in Atma Bodha that though the self is always present in all places, it does not express itself everywhere. It shines very brightly only in the buddhi or intellect. Intellect here refers to the heart, the seat of desire, a space where we all feel.
When you say, “I am feeling happy,” the hand or the thought immediately goes to the heart. In the same order, when you say, “I am feeling sad,” the hand goes to the heart. If the self manifested equally in every part of the body, then we could even be touching our knee to express our sadness, happiness, joy or excitement. Yet, it does not mean that in these other parts of the being, the life force, self or I is not there. I am there equally present in every part of my body, from the root of my hair to the tip of my toe. And so are you.
What the Acharya wishes to convey here is: “True, the life or the ‘self’ called the atma or ‘I’ is everywhere, yet it does not reveal itself everywhere. It shines only in the buddhi—ie, the heart centre illuminating one’s feelings, just as a clear mirror reflects everything that comes before it.”
When an object is simply placed in a room, and a light is passed behind it, it throws a long shadow. When a mud wall is kept before it, nothing happens. When a large basin of water is placed beneath it, it gently throws a hazy reflection. When a mirror is placed before it, lo and behold, the object is clearly reflected in the mirror. So is life, the mirror in our hearts, clearly reflecting all our feelings.