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The Mahavakyas (sing.: mahāvākyam, महावाक्यम्; plural: mahāvākyāni, महावाक्यानि) are "The Great Sayings" of the Upanishads, as characterized by the Advaita school of Vedanta.

The four principal Mahavakyas[edit]

Though there are many Mahavakyas, four of them, one from each of the four Vedas, are often mentioned as "the Mahavakyas".[1] 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.[citation needed] In later Sanskrit usage, the term mahāvākya came to mean "discourse", and specifically, discourse on a philosophically lofty topic.[web 1]

According to the Advaita Vedanta tradition the four Upanishadic statements indicate the ultimate unity of the individual (Atman) with Supreme (Brahman).[citation needed]

The Mahavakyas are:

  1. prajñānam brahma - "Prajñāna[note 1] is Brahman"[note 2], or "Brahman is Prajñāna"[web 3] (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rig Veda)
  2. ayam ātmā brahma - "This Self (Atman) is Brahman" (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2 of the Atharva Veda)
  3. tat tvam asi - "Thou art That" (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda)
  4. aham brahmāsmi - "I am Brahman", or "I am Divine"[5] (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".[6]

Other Mahavakyas[edit]

Prajñānam Brahma[edit]

See also: Prajna

Several translations, and word-orders of these translations, are possible:


  • jñā can be translated as "consciousness", "knowledge", or "understanding."[7]
  • Pra is an intensifier which could be translated as "higher", "greater", "supreme" or "premium",[8] or "being born or springing up",[9] referring to a spontaneous type of knowing.[9][note 3]

Prajñānam as a whole means:

  • प्रज्ञान, "prajñāna",[web 7]
    • Adjective: prudent, easily known, wise[web 7]
    • Noun: discrimination, knowledge, wisdom, intelligence. Also: distinctive mark, monument, token of recognition, any mark or sign or characteristic, memorial[web 7]
  • "Consciousness"[2][web 2]
  • "Intelligence"[3][4]
  • "Wisdom"[web 3]

Related terms are jñāna, prajñā and prajñam, "pure consciousness".[10] Although the common translation of jñānam[10] is "consciousness", the term has a broader meaning of "knowing"; "becoming acquainted with",[web 8] "knowledge about anything",[web 8] "awareness",[web 8] "higher knowledge".[web 8]


Most interpretations state: "Prajñānam (noun) is Brahman (adjective)". Some translations give a reverse order, stating "Brahman is Prajñānam",[web 3] specifically "Brahman (noun) is Prajñānam (adjective)": "The Ultimate Reality is wisdom (or consciousness)".[web 3]

Sahu explains:

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.[11]

And according to David Loy,

The knowledge of Brahman [...] is not intuition of Brahman but itself is Brahman.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Consciousness",[2][web 2] "intelligence",[3][4] "wisdom"[web 3]
  2. ^ "The Absolute",[2][web 2] "infinite",[web 2] "the Highest truth"[web 2]
  3. ^ Compare Radhakrishnan's notion of "intuition". See [web 4][web 5][web 6]


  1. ^ Saraswati 1995, p. 4.
  2. ^ a b c d Grimes 1996, p. 234.
  3. ^ a b Sivaraman 1973, p. 146.
  4. ^ a b Braue 1984, p. 80.
  5. ^ Baue 1984, p. 80.
  6. ^, The Upanisads
  7. ^ See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "jña," p. 425 (retrieved 14 Aug. 2012 from "Cologne U." at
  8. ^ See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "prā," p. 652 (retrieved 14 Aug. 2012 from "Cologne U." at
  9. ^ a b Loy 1997, p. 136.
  10. ^ a b Raṅganāthānanda 1991, p. 109.
  11. ^ Sahu 2004, p. 41.
  12. ^ Loy 1997, p. 62.


Published sources[edit]

  • 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 


External links[edit]