Random Musings- Part 15- Notes on “Tat Tvam Asi”

Nithin Sridhar

The Sruti makes statements like “Tat Tvam Asi”(Thou Art That) and “Aham Brahmasmi”(I am Brahman) which often may lead to confusion.

Every verse can have three kinds of meanings- sAmAnadhikaranam, visheshana-visheShya bhava and lakshya-lakshana sambhanda (Naishkarmya-Siddi 3.3). If we interpret the Mahavakya according to sAmAnadhikarana, the Thou and That, the Jiva and Brahman which are different are being equated. The Mahavakya will mean that the Jiva that is limited and temporary is equal to/same as Brahman, that is infinite and birth-less. This is called as “sAmAnAdhikaranam” or “Co-ordination”.

On the other hand, if we are to take that the Mahavakya is implying that “Thou” is being qualified by the term “That” and vice versa; then it would mean that to the Jiva (in its limiting aspect) is attributed the Brahman-hood (i.e. the qualities like Birth-less, Infinite) and to the Brahman (which is ever-free) is attributed the Jiva-hood (i.e. the qualities like temporary and bounded. This kind of interpretation is called as “visheshaNa-visheshya bhAva” or “Subject-Predicate Relation”.

But, it is visible that in the case of the Mahavakya- “Tat Tvam Asi”, both sAmAnAdhikaranam and visheshaNa-visheshya bhAva does not apply because, neither the limited and temporary Jiva that is subjected to Karma and bondage can be equated to Brahman/God who is eternal, birth-less and ever free, nor can the qualities of one be attributed to another. Gaudapada in his Mandukya Karika (3.21) says that-“the immortal cannot become mortal. Similarly, the mortal cannot become immortal. The mutation of one’s nature will take in no way whatsoever”. Hence, in the case of this Mahavakya, the “Co-ordination” and “Subject-Predicate Relationship” does not apply.

Hence, one must take into consideration only the “lakshya-lakshana sambandha” i.e. Indirect Indication. And accordingly, the “Thou” refers not to the Jiva who is limited by body and mind, but to the Atman, the Inner-most Self who is ever-free and the lone Witness of the body, senses and the mind. Hence, it is the Innermost Atman who is eternal and ever-free is being identified with Brahman, the substratum of the Universe who is also eternal and birth-less. In other words, the Mahavakya implies that, it is the Brahman who is infinite and eternal inhabits all the objects of the Universe as their Atman/Innermost Self.

And when, an individual through vichara/discrimination understands the Real-Self, the Atman as devoid of the Non-Self entities like body and mind and then through Niddhi-dhyasa/contemplation realizes the identity of Atman who is Immidiate (Aparoksha) and Self-established with Brahman who is birthless and ever-free, then he becomes “Jivan-Mukta” due to the destruction of all Ignorance.

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