Mahavakyas are the essence of the Veda. Mahavakyas are the cream of Vedanta. The four famous mahavakyas from the four Vedas are ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ from Brihadaranyaka Upanisad, ‘Tat tvam asi’ from Chandogya Upanisad, ‘prajnanam Brahma’ from Aitereya Upanisad, and ‘Ayam atma Brahma’ from Mandukya Upanisad. Mahavakyas are short sentences with deep meanings and they give direct knowledge. Direct knowledge is otherwise known as aparoksha jnana. Mahavakyas are mainly used for nididhyasana. It is also used for Vedanta vichara (analysis). Mahavakyas are proclamation from the great sages about the real nature of life.
A common text or a formula in science or books based on yoga will only give indirect knowledge (paroksha jnana). We have to do some practice or read some more books to realize the statements. In the case of yoga, we have to do yogic practices to realize the statements given in the books. However, mahavakyas are different. When the mind is pure of impurities and when analyzed in the right way it gives instant direct knowledge.
Analysing the mahavakyas
Many words make a sentence. Each word is analyzed by understanding its right meaning. When I pronounce a word the meaning connected with that word comes to the mind. For example, when I say book, the meaning associated with the word book, its form etc comes to the mind. Now let us consider the mahavakya, ‘Tat tvam asi’. It is the mahavakya given by a teacher to a student in the Chandogya Upanisad. The literal meaning of this mahavakya is ‘You are That’. The meaning of every word must be deeply analyzed.
Many of us enter Brahma jnana after passing the phase of Saguna Brahma upasana, devotion towards Brahman with form and attributes. Therefore, a devote always considers ‘Tat’ as ‘Ishwar’. ‘Ishwar’ is denoted by ‘Tat’. The literal meaning of ‘Tat’ is ‘That’. The word ‘tvam’ indicates ‘You’. Tvam means the sukshma sarira (ignorance) + chitabasa + chaitanya. This combination is called jiva. The word ‘asi ‘ in the mahavakya indicates a connection between ‘Tat’, and ‘Tvam’. ‘Tat’ is ishwar and ‘tvam’ is jiva. The proper meaning for this mahavakya is ‘you are ishwar’, God. A devotee considers the meaning of ‘Tat’ as Ishwar. A vedanta student considers ‘Tat’ as Brahman and for him this mahavakya means ‘You are Brahman’
A layman will find this statement very absurd and ridiculous. It is not easy to equate our self with God because we are always trained in a fearful and in an ignorant way. We find difficult to think our self as infinite. When Chandogya Upanisad says ‘You are ishwar, at a glance we find it difficult to accept. A little more analysis is needed to grasp its profound meaning.
There are two types of meaning in Vedanta. They are vachiyartha (meaning of every word) and lakshiyartha (overall meaning of the sentence or meaning according to the context). Vachiyartha is the exact meaning of a word. For example the statement, ‘that flower is red’. Every word in this sentence gives a meaning. It gives a very direct meaning. However, if lakshiyartha is considered, one has to take the essence of a sentence. Sometimes, we have to leave the meaning of some words to get an overall meaning. The common example as given in the scriptures is ‘This is that somadatta (a name)’. In this statement if you consider the meaning of each word separately, then it will not give a meaning for the sentence. In this short sentence a whole story is compiled. This sentence implies, ‘this is that same boy by name ‘Somadatta’, whom I know in my village. I have seen him in my village some years back and now he has grown up, he is working in the city as an engineer. This is that same person by name Somadatta’. A small story is complied in that short sentence. This is lakshiyartha (an overall meaning). When lakshiyartha is considered for the mahavakya, then jiva and ishwar are not different. Because, ishwara and jiva are the product of maya and they have Chit as the common factor.
Ishwara = maya + chit + reflection of chit on maya. Chit is intelligence.
Jiva = ignorance + chit + reflection of chit on sukshma sarira (chitabasa).
Here the common attribute between ishwara and jiva is chit (intelligence). In the lakshiyartha, the common factors are taken and the rest are ignored. Common factor chit is considered and uncommon factors like maya, ignorance, reflection of chit on maya, chitabasa, are all ignored. Maya and reflection of chit on maya are the adjuncts of Ishwara . Likewise, ignorance and reflection of chit on sukshma sarira (chitabasa) are the adjuncts of jiva. The adjuncts have to be left out. When chit alone is considered then jiva and ishvara are not different. The adjuncts are the limiting factors, they give different meaning for chit in both jiva and Ishwara, and so the adjuncts are to be ignored. In the mahavakya ‘asi’ is the connecting word for Ishwara and jiva. Due of the main limiting adjuncts maya of Ishwara and ignorance of jiva, one fails to see the underlying strong connection between Ishwara and jiva. That strong connection is CHIT, Intelligence. Chit means chaitanya, meaning Consciousness or Intelligence or Brahman. If you remove the limiting adjuncts, then Ishwara and jiva are nothing but Brahman and Brahman alone. Due to the limiting adjuncts they are seen as different. By this the underlying unity is ignored. The job of the limiting adjunct (upadhi) is to create difference. We need and we use the limiting adjuncts like mind and sense organs to realize Brahman. Till we realize Brahman (or attain vidheha mukti), we need these adjuncts for analysis. Once we realize ‘I am Brahman’, we do not need these adjuncts to remain in Brahma nishta.
If a Vedanta student analysis this statement, ‘Tat’ means ‘Brahman”, and ‘Tvam’ means ‘jiva’. The limiting adjuncts ignorance and chitabasa of the jiva are to be ignored and the underlying connection Brahman is considered. The mahavakya implies ‘you are Brahman’
The short sentences, Mahavakyas, explain all these details. Mahavakyas are like mathematical theorems, from which we prove the fact by reasoning. When we understand the depth of the mahavakyas, by vichara (analysis), it brings a change in the mind. After analysis, when we hear the mahavakya ‘Tat Tvam Asi’, the word ‘Tat’ and ‘Tvam’ gives a different meaning. Before analysis the word ‘Tvam’ means ‘You’. But, now ‘You’ has a profound meaning. It gives ‘poornatvam’, a complete deep feeling.
Among the four mahavakyas only ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ is taken for analysis because only this mahavakya is given by the guru to a sishya (student). It has a lot of scope for teaching. All the other three are taken for contemplation. The peculiarity of this mahavakya is after the teacher explaining the meaning of this mahavakya, we feel ‘Aham Brahma Asmi’, (I am Brahman). As a student even that realization is only like seeing sparks, now and then. The feeling of realization is not continuous in the beginning. It is because we are transacting with the world, immersed in worldly life, we are forced to identify with our ignorance. Even others will transact with us in the same sense. If I feel ‘I am Brahman’, and transact with others in that manner, and if others transact with me with my worldly identification like my name, form, qualification, my habits etc, then the transaction will be at two levels. It will not work. However, deep inside I must feel ‘I am Brahman’, I get a feeling of poornatva (contentment), and then I approach the world, the transaction will be smooth and perfect.
One needs perfect determination to take both the spiritual and worldly life in parallel path. This is how the jnani’s live in the material world. For eg, king Janaka lead a perfect life by balancing the worldly life and spiritual life. He knows he is Brahman, but lived among common man and made his life as well as the life of other people peaceful. It is very rare to see such people.
We all have the knowledge of Brahman in the deep sense, but it is covered by ignorance in the form of desire, vengeance, failure, success etc. When the mind becomes pure of such impurities a powerful statement like the mahavakyas will give direct knowledge. Knowledge is like a pointer. It points the real self. When the mind is free from impurities, knowledge gives immediate result.