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The four principal Mahavakyas
Though there are many Mahavakyas, four of them, one from each of the four Vedas, are often mentioned as "the Mahavakyas". According to the Vedanta-tradition, the subject matter and the essence of all Upanishads is the same, and all the Upanishadic Mahavakyas express this one universal message in the form of terse and concise statements. In later Sanskrit usage, the term mahāvākya came to mean "discourse", and specifically, discourse on a philosophically lofty topic.[web 1]
The Mahavakyas are:
- prajñānam brahma - "Prajña[note 1] is Brahman"[note 2], or "Brahman is Prajña"[web 2] (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rig Veda)
- ayam ātmā brahma - "This Self (Atman) is Brahman" (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2 of the Atharva Veda)
- tat tvam asi - "Thou art That" (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda)
- aham brahmāsmi - "I am Brahman", or "I am Divine" (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda)
People who are initiated into sannyasa in Advaita Vedanta are being taught the four [principal] mahavakyas as four mantras, "to attain this highest of states in which the individual self dissolves inseparably in Brahman".
- Brahma satyam jagan mithya - Brahman is real; the world is unreal - Vivekachudamani
- Ekam evadvitiyam brahma - Brahman is one, without a second - Chāndogya Upaniṣad
- So 'ham - He am I - Isha Upanishad
- Sarvam khalvidam brahma - All of this is brahman - Brahman
Several translations, and word-orders of these translations, are possible:
- jñā can be translated as "consciousness", "knowledge", or "understanding."
- Pra is an intensifier which could be translated as "higher", "greater", "supreme" or "premium", or "being born or springing up", referring to a spontaneous type of knowing.[note 3]
Prajñānam as a whole means:
- प्रज्ञान, "prajJAna",[web 3]
- "Consciousness"[web 4]
- "Wisdom"[web 2]
Related terms are jnana, prajna and prajnam, "pure consciousness". Although the common translation of jnanam is "consciousness", the term has a broader meaning of "knowing"; "becoming acquainted with",[web 5] "knowledge about anything",[web 5] "awareness",[web 5] "higher knowledge".[web 5]
Most interpretations state: "Prajñānam (noun) is Brahman (adjective)". Some translations give a reverse order, stating "Brahman is Prajñānam",[web 2] specifically "Brahman (noun) is Prajñānam (adjective)": "The Ultimate Reality is wisdom (or consciousness)".[web 2]
Prajnanam iti Brahman - wisdom is the soul/spirit. Prajnanam refers to the intuitive truth which can be verified/tested by reason. It is a higher function of the intellect that ascertains the Sat or Truth in the Sat-Chit-Ananda or truth-consciousness-bliss, i.e. the Brahman/Atman/Self/person [...] A truly wise person [...] is known as Prajna - who has attained Brahmanhood itself; thus, testifying to the Vedic Maha Vakya (great saying or words of wisdom): Prajnanam iti Brahman.
And according to David Loy,
The knowledge of Brahman [...] is not intuition of Brahman but itself is Brahman.
- Saraswati 1995, p. 4.
- Baue 1984, p. 80.
- kamakoti.org, The Upanisads
- See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "jña," p. 425 (retrieved 14 Aug. 2012 from "Cologne U." at http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0425-jehila.pdf).
- See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "prā," p. 652 (retrieved 14 Aug. 2012 from "Cologne U." at http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/cgi-bin/monier/serveimg.pl?file=/scans/MWScan/MWScanjpg/mw0659-prajalpana.jpg)
- Loy 1997, p. 136.
- Grimes 1996, p. 234.
- Sivaraman 1973, p. 146.
- Braue 1984, p. 80.
- Raṅganāthānanda 1991, p. 109.
- Sahu 2004, p. 41.
- Loy 1997, p. 62.
- Braue, Donald A. (1984), Māyā in Radhakrishnanʾs Thought: Six Meanings Other Than Illusion, Motilall Banarsidass
- Grimes, John A. (1996), A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English, SUNY Press
- Loy, David (1997), Nonduality. A Study in Comparative Philosophy, Humanity Books
- Raṅganāthānanda, Swami; Nelson, Elva Linnéa (1991), Human Being in Depth: A Scientific Approach to Religion, SUNY Press
- Sahu, Bhagirathi (2004), The New Educational Philosophy, Sarup & Sons
- Saraswati, Chandrasekharendra (1995), Hindu Dharma: The Universal Way of Life, Bhavan's Book University, ISBN 81-7276-055-8
- Sivaraman, K. (1973), Śaivism in Philosophical Perspective: A Study of the Formative Concepts, Problems, and Methods of Śaiva Siddhānta, Motilall Banarsidass
- Sanskrit Structure
- Encyclopedy of Hinduism, Mahavakyas
- Sanskrit Dictionary, prajnanam
- Jiddu Krishnamurti, Saanen 2nd Conversation with Swami Venkatesananda 26th July 1969
- Sanskrit Dictionary, jnanam
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888—1975)
- Ashok Vora, Radhakrishna's notion of intuitive knowledge: a critique
- [DR. SIR S. RADHAKRISHNAN, Intellect and Intuition in Sankara's Philosophy]