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The Mahāvākyas (sing.: mahāvākyam, महावाक्यम्; plural: mahāvākyāni, महावाक्यानि) are "The Great Sayings" of the Upanishads, as characterized by the Advaita school of Vedanta with mahā meaning great and vākya, a sentence. Most commonly, Mahāvākyas are considered four in number,
- Tat Tvam Asi (तत् त्वम् असि) - traditionally rendered as "That Thou Art" (that you are), (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda, with tat in Ch.U.6.8.7 referring to sat, "the Existent"); alternatively translated as "That's how [thus] you are," with tat in Ch.U.6.12.3 referring to "the very nature of all existence as permeated by [the finest essence]"
- Aham Brahmāsmi (अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि) - "I am Brahman", or "I am Divine" (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda)
- Prajnanam Brahma (प्रज्ञानम् ब्रह्म) - "Prajñāna[note 1] is Brahman"[note 2], or "Brahman is Prajñāna"[web 2] (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rig Veda)
- Ayam Atma Brahma (अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म) - "This Self (Atman) is Brahman" (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2 of the Atharva Veda)
Those statements are interpreted as supporting the insight that the individual self (jiva) which appears as a separate existence, is in essence (atman) part and manifestation of the whole (Brahman).
The four principal Mahavakyas
- ekam evadvitiyam brahma - Brahman is one, without a second (Chāndogya Upaniṣad)
- so 'ham - I am that (Isha Upanishad)
- sarvam khalvidam brahma - All of this is brahman (Chāndogya Upaniṣad 3.14.1)
- etad vai tat - This, verily, is That (Katha Upanishad)
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". According to the Advaita Vedanta tradition, the four Upanishadic statements indicate the real identity of the individual (jivatman) as sat (the Existent), Brahman, consciousness. According to the Vedanta-tradition, the subject matter and the essence of all Upanishads are 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 3]
Tat Tvam Asi
[6.2.1] In the beginning, son, this world was simply what is existent - one only, without a second. [6.2.3] And it thought to itself: "let me become many. Let me propagate myself." [6.8.3] It cannot be without a root [6.8.4] [l]ook to the existent as the root. The existent, my son, is the root of all these creatures - the existent is their resting place, the existent is their foundation The finest essence here - that constitutes the self of this whole world; that is the truth; that is the self (ātman). And that's how you are, Śvetaketu.
In ChU.6.8.12 it appears as follows:
'Bring a banyan fruit.'
'Here it is, sir.'
'Cut it up.'
'I've cut it up, sir.'
'What do you see here?'
'These quite tiny seeds, sir.'
'Now, take one of them and cut it up.'
'I've cut it up, sir.'
'What do you see there?'
Then he told him: 'This finest essence here, son, that you can't even see-look how on account of that finest essence this huge banyan tree stands here.
'Believe, my son: the finest essence here - that constitutes the self of this whole world; that is the truth; that is the self (ātman). And that's how you are, Śvetaketu.'
Etymology and translation
Tat Tvam Asi (Devanagari: तत्त्वमसि, Vedic: tát tvam ási) is traditionally translated as "Thou art that," "That thou art," "That art thou," "You are that," "That you are," or "You're it," though according to Brereton and others the proper translation would be "In that way [=thus] are you, Svetaketu," or "that's how you are":
- tat - "it," "that"; or alternatively "thus," "in that way," "that's how."
- tvam - you, thou
- asi - are, 'art'
In Ch.U.6.8.7 tat refer to Sat, "the Existent," Existence, Being. Sat, "the Existent," then is the true essence or root or origin of everything that exists, and the essence, Atman, which the individual at the core is. As Shankara states in the Upadesasahasri:
Up.I.174: "Through such sentences as "Thou art That" one knows one's own Atman, the Witness of all the internal organs." Up.I.18.190: "Through such sentences as "[Thou art] the Existent" [...] right knowledge concerning the inner Atman will become clearer." Up.I.18.193-194: "In the sentence "Thou art That" [...] [t]he word "That" means inner Atman."
According to Brereton, followed by Patrick Olivelle and Wendy Doniger, [note 4] the traditional translation as "you are that" is incorrect, and should be translated as "In that way [=thus] are you, Svetaketu."[note 5] That, then, in ChU.6.8.12 refers to "the very nature of all existence as permeated by [the finest essence]," and which is also the nature of Svetaketu.[note 6] Lipner expresses reservations on Brereton's interpretation, stating that it is technically plausible, but noting that "Brereton concedes that the philosophical import of the passage may be represented by the translation "That you are," were tat as "that" would refer to the supreme Being (sat/satya)."
Major Vedantic schools offer different interpretations of the phrase:
- Advaita - absolute equality of 'tat', the Ultimate Reality, Brahman, and 'tvam', the Self, Atman.
- Shuddhadvaita - oneness in "essence" between 'tat' and individual self; but 'tat' is the whole and self is a part.
- Vishishtadvaita - tvam denotes the Jiva-antaryami Brahman while Tat refers to Jagat-Karana Brahman.
- Dvaitadvaita - equal non-difference and difference between the individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat'.
- Dvaita of Madhvacharya - “Sa atmaa-tat tvam asi” in Sanskrit is actually “Sa atma-atat tvam asi” or “Atma (Self), thou art, thou art not God”. In refutation of Mayavada (Mayavada sata dushani), text 6, 'tat tvam asi" is translated as "you are a servant of the Supreme (Vishnu)"
- Acintya Bheda Abheda - inconceivable oneness and difference between individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat'.
Aham Brahma Asmi
[1.4.1] In the beginning this world was just a single body (ātman) shaped like a man. He looked around and saw nothing but himself. The first thing he said was, 'Here I am!' and from that the name 'I' came into being. [1.4.9] Now, the question is raised; 'Since people think that they will become the Whole by knowing brahman, what did brahman know that enabled it to become the Whole? [1.4.10] In the beginning this world was only brahman, and it knew only itself (ātman), thinking: 'I am brahman.' As a result, it became the Whole [...] If a man knows 'I am brahman in this way, he becomes the whole world. Not even the gods are able to prevent it, for he becomes their very self (ātman).[note 7]
- Aham (अहम्) - literally "I"
- Brahma (ब्रह्म) - ever-full or whole (ब्रह्म is the first case ending singular of Brahman)
- Asmi (अस्मि) - "am," the first-person singular present tense of the verb as (अस्), "to be."
Ahaṁ Brahmāsmi then means "I am the Absolute" or "My identity is cosmic," but can also be translated as "you are part of god just like any other element."
In his comment on this passage Sankara explains that here Brahman is not the conditioned Brahman (saguna); that a transitory entity cannot be eternal; that knowledge about Brahman, the infinite all-pervading entity, has been enjoined; that knowledge of non-duality alone dispels ignorance; and that the meditation based on resemblance is only an idea. He also tells us that the expression Aham Brahmaasmi is the explanation of the mantra
That ('Brahman') is infinite, and this ('universe') is infinite; the infinite proceeds from the infinite. (Then) taking the infinitude of the infinite ('universe'), it remains as the infinite ('Brahman') alone. - (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad V.i.1)[note 8]
He explains that non-duality and plurality are contradictory only when applied to the Self, which is eternal and without parts, but not to the effects, which have parts. The aham in this memorable expression is not closed in itself as a pure mental abstraction but it is radical openness. Between Brahman and aham-brahma lies the entire temporal universe experienced by the ignorant as a separate entity (duality).
Infinite by nature, the Supreme Self is described here by the word Brahman (lit. ever expanding; the ultimate reality); the word asmi denotes the identity of aham and Brahman. Therefore, (the meaning of the expression is) "I am Brahman."[note 9] Vaishnavas, when they talk about Brahman, usually refer to impersonal Brahman, brahmajyoti (rays of Brahman). Brahman according to them means God - Narayana, Rama or Krishna. Thus, the meaning of "aham brahma asmi" according to their philosophy is that "I am a drop of Ocean of Consciousness.", or "I am Self, part of cosmic spirit, Parabrahma". Here, the term Parabrahma is introduced to avoid confusion. If Brahman can mean Self (though, Parabrahma is also the Self, but Supreme one - Paramatma), then Parabrahma should refer to God, Lord Vishnu.
Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rigveda:
 Who is this self (ātman)? - that is how we venerate.  Which of these is the self? Is it that by which one sees? Or hears? Smells [etc...] But these are various designations of cognition.  It is brahman; it is Indra; it is all the gods. It is [...] earth, wind, space, the waters, and the lights [...] It is everything that has life [...] Knowledge is the eye of all that, and on knowledge it is founded. Knowledge is the eye of the world, and knowledge, the foundation. Brahman is knowing.
Etymology and translation
Several translations, and word-orders of these translations, are possible:
- jñāna means "understanding", "knowledge", and sometimes "consciousness"
- pra- is a prefix meaning "forth"; it may refer to a spontaneous type of knowing.[note 10]
Prajñāna as a whole means:
- Adjective: well-known; wise
- Noun: knowledge, "consciousness",[web 1] "intelligence", "wisdom"[web 2]
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] Sahu explains:
Prajnanam iti Brahman - wisdom is the Self. 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/Existent in the Sat-Chit-Ananda or truth/existent-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.
Ayam Ātmā Brahma
Mandukya Upanisha 1-2 of the Atharva Veda:
 OM - this whole world is that syllable! Here is a further explanation of it. The past, the present and the future - all that is simply OM; and whatever else that is beyond the three times, that also is simply OM -  for this brahman is the Whole. Brahman is this self (ātman); that [brahman] is this self (ātman) consisting of four quarters.
सर्वं ह्येतद् ब्रह्मायमात्मा ब्रह्म सोऽयमात्मा चतुष्पात् ॥ २ ॥
sarvaṁ hy etad brahmāyam ātmā brahma so'yam ātmā catuṣpāt
Etymology and translation
- sarvam etad - everything here, the Whole, all this
- hi - certainly
- brahma - Brahman
- ayam - this[web 7]
- ātmā - Atman, self
- brahma - Brahman
- so 'yam ātmā - "this very atman"
- catuṣpāt - "has four aspects"
While translations tend to separate the sentence in separate parts, Olivelle's translation uses various words in adjunct sets of meaning:
- सर्वं ह्येतद् ब्रह्म sarvam hyetad brahma - "this brahman is the Whole"
- ब्रह्मायमात्मा brahma ayam atma - "brahman is ātman"
- ब्रह्म सोऽयमात्मा brahman sah ayam atman - "brahman is this (very) self"
- "Consciousness",[web 1] "intelligence", "wisdom"[web 2]
- "The Absolute",[web 1] "infinite",[web 1] "the Highest truth"[web 1]
- Deutsch & Dalvi (2004, p. 8): "Although the text does not use the term brahman, the Vedanta tradition is that the Existent (sat) referred to is no other than Brahman."
- Doniger (2010, p. 711): "Joel Brereton and Patrick Olivelle have argued, fairly convincingly, that it should rather be translated, “And that's how you are.”"
- As Brian Black explains: "the pronoun tat (that) is neuter, and therefor cannot correspond with the masculine tvam (you). Thus [...] if "you are that" was the intended meaning, then the passage should read sa tvam asi." Brereton concludes that tat tvam asi is better rendered as "in that way you are." According to Brereton, the "That you are"-refrain originally belonged to Ch.U.6.12, from where it was duplicated to other verses.
- Brereton (1986, p. 109) "First, the passage establishes that the tree grows and lives because of an invisible essence. The, in the refrain, it says that everything, the whole world, exists by means of such an essence. This essence is the truth, for it is lasting and real. It is the self, for everything exists by reference to it. Then and finally, Uddalaka personalizes the teaching. Svetaketu should look upon himself in the same way. He, like the tree and the whole world, is pervaded by this essence, which is his final reality and his true self.
- : "ब्रह्म वा इदमग्र आसीत्, तदात्मनामेवावेत्, अहम् ब्रह्मास्मीति
- : पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते
- : स्वतः पूर्णः परात्माऽत्र ब्रह्मशब्देन वर्णितः
- Compare Radhakrishnan's notion of "intuition". See [web 4][web 5][web 6]
- "Meditation on Mahavakyas". www.sivanandaonline.org. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
- "Mahavakyas: Great Contemplations of Advaita Vedanta". www.swamij.com. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
- Brereton 1986.
- Olivelle 2008, p. 349 note 8.7-16.3.
- Black 2012, p. 36.
- Lipner 2000, p. 55 note 9; 57.
- Deutsch & Dalvi 2004, p. 8.
- Olivelle 2008, p. 151-152; p.349 note 8.7-16.3.
- Olivelle 2008, p. 152.
- Doniger 2010, p. 711.
- Bhatawadekar 2013, p. 203, note 14.
- Brereton 1986, p. 107.
- Baue 1984, p. 80. sfn error: no target: CITEREFBaue1984 (help)
- Grimes 1996, p. 234.
- Sivaraman 1973, p. 146.
- Braue 1984, p. 80.
- Saraswati 1995, p. 4.
- kamakoti.org, The Upanisads
- Raphael 1992, back cover.
- Lipner 2000, p. 55 note 9.
- Sanskrit Dictionary, tvam
- Shankara, Chandogya Upanishad Bhasya - Chapter 6 (Tat Tvam Asi)
- Olivelle 2008, p. 151-152.
- Max Muller, Chandogya Upanishad 6.1-6.16, The Upanishads, Part I, Oxford University Press, pages 92-109 with footnotes
- Dominic Goodall (1996), Hindu Scriptures, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0520207783, pages 136-137
- Mayeda 1992, p. 190-192. sfn error: no target: CITEREFMayeda1992 (help)
- Brereton 1986, p. 109.
- Brereton 1986, p. 104-107.
- Olivelle 2008, p. 15.
- "Meaning of Aham Brahamasmi". Archived from the original on 27 June 2018. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- The Brhadaranayaka Upanishad. Advaita Ashrama. 1950. pp. 98-105, 557, 559.
- Raimundo Panikkar (1994). Mantramañjari. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 742–743. ISBN 978-81-208-1280-2.
- Olivelle 2008, p. 198-199.
- 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).
- Loy 1997, p. 136.
- Sahu 2004, p. 41.
- Loy 1997, p. 62.
- Olivelle 2008, p. 289.
- Waite 2015, Absolute everything is Brahman.
- Olivelle 2008, p. 289-290.
- Bhatawadekar, Sai (2013), "The Tvat Tam Asi Formula and Schopenhauer's "Deductive Leap"", in Fuechtner, Veronika; Rhiel, Mary (eds.), Imagining Germany Imagining Asia: Essays in Asian-German Studies, Boydell & Brewer
- Black, Brian (2012), The Character of the Self in Ancient India: Priests, Kings, and Women in the Early Upanisads, SUNY, ISBN 9780791480526
- Braue, Donald A. (1984), Māyā in Radhakrishnanʾs Thought: Six Meanings Other Than Illusion, Motilall Banarsidass
- Brereton, Joel P. (1986), ""Tat Tvam Ast" in Context", Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 136 (1): 98–109
- Deutsch, Eliot; Dalvi, Rohit, eds. (2004), The Essebtial Vedanta. A New Source Book of Advaita vedamta, World Wisdom
- Doniger, Wendy (2010), The Hindus: An Alternative History, Viking Penguin
- Grimes, John A. (1996), A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English, SUNY Press
- Lipner, Julius J. (2000), "The Self of being and the Being of Self: Samkara on "That you Are" (tat tvam asi)", in De Smet, Richard V.; Malkovsky, Bradley J. (eds.), New Perspectives on Advaita Vedānta: Essays in Commemoration of Professor Richard De Smet, S.J., BRILL
- Loy, David (1997), Nonduality. A Study in Comparative Philosophy, Humanity Books
- Olivelle, Patrick (2008) , Upanisads. A new translation by Patrick Olivelle, Oxford University Press
- Raṅganāthānanda, Swami; Nelson, Elva Linnéa (1991), Human Being in Depth: A Scientific Approach to Religion, SUNY Press
- Raphael, Edwin (1992), The pathway of non-duality, Advaitavada: an approach to some key-points of Gaudapada's Asparśavāda and Śaṁkara's Advaita Vedanta by means of a series of questions answered by an Asparśin, Motilall Banarsidas, ISBN 81-208-0929-7
- 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
- Waite, Dennis (2015), A-U-M: Awakening to Reality, John Hunt Publishing
- Jiddu Krishnamurti, Saanen 2nd Conversation with Swami Venkatesananda 26th July 1969
- Encyclopedy of Hinduism, Mahavakyas
- Sanskrit Structure
- 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]
- Sanskrit Dictionary, ayam
- S. Radhakrishnan: The Principal Upanishads
- Shankara, [http://shankarabhashya.com/index.php?PHPSESSID=343e9e12ffd6b71c499e1722e8813e90&board=9.0 Chandogya Upanishad Bhasya