Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  

Question on "atmatattvam asi"

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

Hare Krishna,


I just have a question on this verse.


I do not have the complete sanskrit verse with me now.


After Svetaketu is taught this by his father in Chandogya Upanishad(Chapter 7), his father continues and says the verse "atmatattvam asi".


I do not have knowledge of sanskrit grammar. But various explanations are given by Adi Sankara, Acarya Ramanuja and Acharya Madhva.


Advaita interpretation is widely known.


Acharya Ramanuja says the words "Tat" and "Tvam" refers to same entity ie Brahman.


Acharya Madhva splits the compund word as "atma atat tvam asi".


But none of it seems very convincing to me. Since Svetaketu's father was teaching him the "concept of Brahman", it seems more logical to end like "atma tattvam asi"= "this is concept of atma or Brahman". Perhaps somebody could explain this part of verse with grammar.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites



I found three major references to tat tvam asi, the last of which deals with it split as tattvam. Judging from the way Sri Caitanya interpreted the atmarama verse sixty-one ways using various combinations of the various meanings of the words and syllables, I would guess that such verses have great import by combining elements in a variety of ways. These are some ways (for speed, see highlighted and blue portions):


From the Sri Caitanya Caritamrita Adi-lila 7.128-132 with commentary by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, we find Sri Caitanya discussing tat tvam asi:<blockquote><center><font color="red">‘praNava' se mahAvAkya----vedera nidAna

Izvara-svarUpa praNava sarva-vizva-dhAma


praNava--the oMkAra; se--that; mahA-vAkya--transcendental sound vibration; vedera--of the Vedas; nidAna--basic principle; Izvara-svarUpa--direct representation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; praNava--oMkAra; sarva-vizva--of all universes; dhAma--is the reservoir.


"The Vedic sound vibration oMkAra, the principal word in the Vedic literatures, is the basis of all Vedic vibrations. Therefore one should accept oMkAra as the sound representation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the reservoir of the cosmic manifestation.



In the Bhagavad-gItA (8.13) the glories of oMkAra are described as follows:

<center><font color="red">

oM ity ekAkSaraM brahma vyAharan mAm anusmaran

yaH prayAti tyajan dehaM sa yAti paramAM gatim


This verse indicates that oMkAra, or praNava, is a direct representation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore if at the time of death one simply remembers oMkAra, he remembers the Supreme Personality of Godhead and is therefore immediately transferred to the spiritual world. OMkAra is the basic principle of all Vedic mantras, for it is a representation of Lord KRSNa, understanding of whom is the ultimate goal of the Vedas, as stated in the Bhagavad-gItA (vedaiz ca sarvair aham eva vedyaH [bg. 15.15]). MAyAvAdI philosophers cannot understand these simple facts explained in the Bhagavad-gItA, and yet they are very proud of being VedAntIs. Sometimes, therefore, we refer to the VedAntI philosophers as VidantIs, those who have no teeth (vi means "without," and dantI means "possessing teeth"). The statements of the SaGkara philosophy, which are the teeth of the MAyAvAdI philosopher, are always broken by the strong arguments of VaiSNava philosophers such as the great AcAryas, especially RAmAnujAcArya. SrIpAda RAmAnujAcArya and MadhvAcArya break the teeth of the MAyAvAdI philosophers, who can therefore be called VidantIs, "toothless."

As mentioned above, the transcendental vibration oMkAra is explained in the Bhagavad-gItA, Chapter Eight, verse thirteen:

<center><font color="red">

oM ity ekAkSaraM brahma vyAharan mAm anusmaran

yaH prayAti tyajan dehaM sa yAti paramAM gatim


"After being situated in this yoga practice and vibrating the sacred syllable oM, the supreme combination of letters, if one thinks of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and quits his body, he will certainly reach the spiritual planets." If one actually understands that oMkAra is the sound representation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whether he chants oMkAra or the Hare KRSNa mantra, the result is certainly the same.


The transcendental vibration of oMkAra is further explained in the Bhagavad-gItA, Chapter Nine, verse seventeen:

<center><font color="red">

pitAham asya jagato mAtA dhAtA pitAmahaH

vedyaM pavitram oMkAra Rk sAma yajur eva ca


"I am the father of this universe, the mother, the support and the grandsire. I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable oM. I am also the Rg, the SAma and the Yajur Vedas."


Similarly, the transcendental sound oM is further explained in the Bhagavad-gItA, Chapter Seventeen, verse twenty-three:

<center><font color="red">

oM tat sad iti nirdezo brahmaNas tri-vidhaH smRtaH

brAhmaNAs tena vedAz ca yajJAz ca vihitAH purA


"From the beginning of creation, the three syllables oM tat sat have been used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth [brahman]. They were uttered by brAhmaNas while chanting Vedic hymns and during sacrifices for the satisfaction of the Supreme."


Throughout all the Vedic literatures the glories of oMkAra are specifically mentioned. SrIla JIva GosvAmI, in his thesis Bhagavat-sandarbha, says that in the Vedic literature oMkAra is considered to be the sound vibration of the holy name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Only this vibration of transcendental sound can deliver a conditioned soul from the clutches of mAyA. Sometimes oMkAra is also called the deliverer (tAra). SrImad-BhAgavatam begins with the oMkAra vibration: oM namo bhagavate vAsudevAya. Therefore oMkAra has been described by the great commentator SrIdhara SvAmI as tArAGkura, the seed of deliverance from the material world. Since the Supreme Godhead is absolute, His holy name and His sound vibration oMkAra are as good as He Himself. Caitanya MahAprabhu says that the holy name, or oMkAra, the transcendental representation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has all the potencies of the Personality of Godhead.

<center><font color="red">

nAmnAm akAri bahudhA nija-sarva-zaktis

tatrArpitA niyamitaH smaraNe na kAlaH


All potencies are invested in the holy vibration of the holy name of the Lord. There is no doubt that the holy name of the Lord, or oMkAra, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. In other words, anyone who chants oMkAra and the holy name of the Lord, Hare KRSNa, immediately meets the Supreme Lord directly in His sound form. In the NArada-paJcarAtra it is clearly said that the Supreme Personality of Godhead NArAyaNa personally appears before the chanter who engages in chanting the aSTAkSara, or eight-syllable mantra, oM namo nArAyaNAya. A similar statement in the MANDUkya UpaniSad declares that whatever one sees in the spiritual world is all an expansion of the spiritual potency of oMkAra.


On the basis of all the UpaniSads, SrIla JIva GosvAmI says that oMkAra is the Supreme Absolute Truth and is accepted as such by all the AcAryas and authorities. OMkAra is beginningless, changeless, supreme and free from deterioration and external contamination. OMkAra is the origin, middle and end of everything, and any living entity who thus understands oMkAra attains the perfection of spiritual identity in oMkAra. OMkAra, being situated in everyone's heart, is Izvara, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as confirmed in the Bhagavad-gItA (18.61): IzvaraH sarva-bhUtAnAM hRd-deze 'rjuna tiSThati. OMkAra is as good as ViSNu because oMkAra is as all-pervasive as ViSNu. One who knows oMkAra and Lord ViSNu to be identical no longer has to lament or hanker. One who chants oMkAra no longer remains a zUdra but immediately comes to the position of a brAhmaNa. Simply by chanting oMkAra one can understand the whole creation to be one unit, or an expansion of the energy of the Supreme Lord: idaM hi vizvaM bhagavAn ivetaro yato jagat-sthAna-nirodha-sambhavAH. "The Supreme Lord Personality of Godhead is Himself this cosmos, and still He is aloof from it. From Him only this cosmic manifestation has emanated, in Him it rests, and unto Him it enters after annihilation." (BhAg. 1.5.20) Although one who does not understand concludes otherwise, SrImad-BhAgavatam states that the entire cosmic manifestation is but an expansion of the energy of the Supreme Lord. Realization of this is possible simply by chanting the holy name of the Lord, oMkAra.


One should not, however, foolishly conclude that because the Supreme Personality of Godhead is omnipotent, we have manufactured a combination of letters--a, u and m--to represent Him. Factually the transcendental sound oMkAra, although a combination of the three letters a, u and m, has transcendental potency, and one who chants oMkAra will very soon realize oMkAra and Lord ViSNu to be nondifferent. KRSNa declares, praNavaH sarva-vedeSu: "I am the syllable oM in the Vedic mantras." (Bg. 7.8) One should therefore conclude that among the many incarnations of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, oMkAra is the sound incarnation. All the Vedas accept this thesis. One should always remember that the holy name of the Lord and the Lord Himself are always identical (abhinnatvAn nAma-nAminoH). Since oMkAra is the basic principle of all Vedic knowledge, it is uttered before one begins to chant any Vedic hymn. Without oMkAra, no Vedic mantra is successful. The GosvAmIs therefore declare that praNava (oMkAra) is the complete representation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they have analyzed oMkAra in terms of its alphabetical constituents as follows:

<center><font color="red">

a-kAreNocyate kRSNaH sarva-lokaika-nAyakaH

u-kAreNocyate rAdhA ma-kAro jIva-vAcakaH


OMkAra is a combination of the letters a, u and m. A-kAreNocyate kRSNaH: the letter a (a-kAra) refers to KRSNa, who is sarva-lokaika-nAyakaH, the master of all living entities and planets, material and spiritual. NAyaka means "leader." He is the supreme leader (nityo nityAnAM cetanaz cetanAnAm). The letter u (u-kAra) indicates SrImatI RAdhArANI, the pleasure potency of KRSNa, and m (ma-kAra) indicates the living entities (jIvas). Thus oM is the complete combination of KRSNa, His potency and His eternal servitors. In other words, oMkAra represents KRSNa, His name, fame, pastimes, entourage, expansions, devotees, potencies and everything else pertaining to Him. As Caitanya MahAprabhu states in the present verse of SrI Caitanya-caritAmRta, sarva-vizva-dhAma: oMkAra is the resting place of everything, just as KRSNa is the resting place of everything (brahmaNo hi pratiSThAham).


The MAyAvAdI philosophers consider many Vedic mantras to be the mahA-vAkya, or principal Vedic mantra, such as tat tvam asi (ChAndogya UpaniSad 6.8.7), idaM sarvaM yad ayam AtmA and brahmedaM sarvam (BRhad-AraNyaka UpaniSad 2.5.1), AtmaivedaM sarvam (ChAndogya UpaniSad 7.25.2) and neha nAnAsti kiJcana (KaTha UpaniSad 2.1.11). That is a great mistake. Only oMkAra is the mahA-vAkya. All these other mantras that the MAyAvAdIs accept as the mahA-vAkya are only incidental. They cannot be taken as the mahA-vAkya, or mahA-mantra. The mantra tat tvam asi indicates only a partial understanding of the Vedas, unlike oMkAra, which represents the full understanding of the Vedas. Therefore the transcendental sound that includes all Vedic knowledge is oMkAra (praNava).


Aside from oMkAra, none of the words uttered by the followers of SaGkarAcArya can be considered the mahA-vAkya. They are merely passing remarks. SaGkarAcArya, however, has never stressed chanting of the mahA-vAkya oMkAra; he has accepted only tat tvam asi as the mahA-vAkya. Imagining the living entity to be God, he has misrepresented all the mantras of the VedAnta-sUtra with the motive of proving that there is no separate existence of the living entities and the Supreme Absolute Truth. This is similar to the politician's attempt to prove nonviolence from the Bhagavad-gItA. KRSNa is violent to demons, and to attempt to prove that KRSNa is not violent is ultimately to deny KRSNa. As such explanations of the Bhagavad-gItA are absurd, so also is SaGkarAcArya's explanation of the VedAnta-sUtra, and no sane and reasonable man will accept it. At present, however, the VedAnta-sUtra is misrepresented not only by the so-called VedAntIs but also by other unscrupulous persons who are so degraded that they even recommend that sannyAsIs eat meat, fish and eggs. In this way, the so-called followers of SaGkara, the impersonalist MAyAvAdIs, are sinking lower and lower. How can these degraded men explain the VedAnta-sUtra, which is the essence of all Vedic literature?


Lord SrI Caitanya MahAprabhu has declared, mAyAvAdi-bhASya zunile haya sarva-nAza: "Anyone who hears commentary on the VedAnta-sUtra from the MAyAvAda school is completely doomed." As explained in the Bhagavad-gItA (15.15), vedaiz ca sarvair aham eva vedyaH: all Vedic literature aims at understanding KRSNa. MAyAvAda philosophy, however, has deviated everyone from KRSNa. Therefore there is a great need for the KRSNa consciousness movement all over the world to save the world from degradation. Every intelligent and sane man must abandon the philosophical explanation of the MAyAvAdIs and accept the explanation of VaiSNava AcAryas. One should read Bhagavad-gItA As It Is to try to understand the real purpose of the Vedas.


<center><font color="red">

sarvAzraya Izvarera praNava uddeza

‘tat tvam asi'----vAkya haya vedera ekadeza


sarva-Azraya--the reservoir of everything; Izvarera--of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; praNava--oMkAra; uddeza--purpose; tat tvam asi--the Vedic mantra tat tvam asi ("you are the same"); vAkya--statement; haya--becomes; vedera--of the Vedic literature; eka-deza--partial understanding.


"It is the purpose of the Supreme Personality of Godhead to present praNava [oMkAra] as the reservoir of all Vedic knowledge. The words ‘tat tvam asi' are only a partial explanation of the Vedic knowledge.



<h3><font color="blue">Tat tvam asi means "you are the same spiritual identity."</H3></font>


<center><font color="red">

‘praNava, mahA-vAkya----tAhA kari' AcchAdana

mahAvAkye kari ‘tat tvam asi'ra sthApana


praNava--oMkAra; mahA-vAkya--principal mantra; tAhA--that; kari'--making; AcchAdana--covered; mahA-vAkye--in place of the principal mantra; kari--I do; ‘tat tvam asi'ra sthApana--establishment of the statement tat tvam asi.


"PraNava [oMkAra] is the mahA-vAkya [mahA-mantra] in the Vedas. SaGkarAcArya's followers cover this to stress without authority the mantra tat tvam asi.



The MAyAvAdI philosophers stress the statements tat tvam asi, so 'ham, etc., but they do not stress the real mahA-mantra, praNava (oMkAra). Therefore, because they misrepresent Vedic knowledge, they are the greatest offenders to the lotus feet of the Lord. Caitanya MahAprabhu says clearly, mAyAvAdI kRSNe aparAdhI: "MAyAvAdI philosophers are the greatest offenders to Lord KRSNa." Lord KRSNa declares:

<center><font color="red">

tAn ahaM dviSataH krUrAn saMsAreSu narAdhamAn

kSipAmy ajasram azubhAn AsurISv eva yoniSu


"Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among mankind, I perpetually cast into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life." (Bg. 16.19) Life in demoniac species awaits the MAyAvAdI philosophers after death because they are envious of KRSNa. When KRSNa says in the Bhagavad-gItA (9.34) man-manA bhava mad-bhakto mad-yAjI mAM namaskuru ("Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me"), one demoniac scholar says that it is not KRSNa to whom one must surrender. This scholar is already suffering in this life, and he will have to suffer again in the next if in this life he does not complete his prescribed suffering. One should be very careful not to be envious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the next verse, therefore, SrI Caitanya MahAprabhu clearly states the purpose of the Vedas.


<center><font color="red">

sarva-veda-sUtre kare kRSNera abhidhAna

mukhya-vRtti chADi' kaila lakSaNA-vyAkhyAna


sarva-veda-sUtre--in all the aphorisms of the VedAnta-sUtra; kare--establishes; kRSNera--of Lord KRSNa; abhidhAna--explanation; mukhya-vRtti--direct interpretation; chADi'--giving up; kaila--made; lakSaNA--indirect; vyAkhyAna--explanation.


"In all the Vedic sUtras and literatures, it is Lord KRSNa who is to be understood, but the followers of SaGkarAcArya have covered the real meaning of the Vedas with indirect explanations.



It is said:

<center><font color="red">vede rAmAyaNe caiva purANe bhArate tathA

AdAv ante ca madhye ca hariH sarvatra gIyate


"In the Vedic literature, including the RAmAyaNa, PurANas and MahAbhArata, from the very beginning (Adau) to the end (ante ca), as well as within the middle (madhye ca), only Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is explained."


<center><font color="red">

svataH-pramANa veda----pramANa-ziromaNi

lakSaNA karile svataH-pramANatA-hAni


svataH-pramANa--self-evident; veda--the Vedic literatures; pramANa--evidence; ziromaNi--topmost; lakSaNA--interpretation; karile--doing; svataH-pramANatA--self-evidence; hAni--lost.


"The self-evident Vedic literatures are the highest evidence of all, but if these literatures are interpreted, their self-evident nature is lost.



We quote Vedic evidence to support our statements, but if we interpret it according to our own judgment, the authority of the Vedic literature is rendered imperfect or useless. In other words, by interpreting the Vedic version one minimizes the value of Vedic evidence. When one quotes from Vedic literature, it is understood that the quotations are authoritative. How can one bring the authority under his own control? That is a case of principiis obsta.



I am not certain who wrote this commentary for the Sri Srimad-Bhagavatam verse 10.85.23, but it seems to sum up the difference between the strictly advaita and various dvaita understandings of verses like tat tvam asi:<blockquote>We should not misunderstand the "oneness" Lord KRSNa speaks of here. The subtle words of the UpaniSads often mislead impersonalists into believing that all existence is ineffably one, without any variety in the ultimate issue. Some UpaniSadic mantras emphasize the sameness of God and His creation, while others speak about their difference. Tat tvam asi zvetaketo ("You are that, O Svetaketu"), for example, is an abheda-vAkya, a mantra affirming that all things are one with God, being His dependent expansions. But the UpaniSads also contain many bheda-vAkyas, statements that affirm the unique, distinguishing qualities of the Supreme, such as this statement: ka evAnyAt kaH prANyAd yady eSa AkAza Anando na syAt, eSa evAnandayati. "Who would there be to activate the creation and give life to all beings if this infinite Supreme were not the original enjoyer? Indeed, He alone is the source of all pleasure." (TaittirIya UpaniSad. 2.7.1) By the influence of the Supreme Lord's bewildering MAyA, envious impersonalists read the abheda-vAkyas literally and accept the bheda-vAkyas only in a figurative way. Authoritative VaiSNava commentators, on the other hand, carefully reconcile the apparent contradictions in accordance with the interpretive principles of Vedic MImAMsA and the logically established conclusions of VedAnta.



Here in a lecture on the Srimad-Bhagavatam verse 3.25, Swami Prabhupada refers to tat tvam as also taken as tattvam (or tattva):<blockquote>So this is not advancement of civilization. Because such kind of civilization is increasing, therefore in the paper we find that "Faith in personal God is decreasing." But God is person. Here it is said. What is that? Ya AdyaH bhagavAn. Originally BhagavAn. AdyaH means originally. There are three conceptions of Absolute Truth. What is that? That is stated in the BhAgavata:

<center><font color="red">

vadanti tat tattva-vidas

tattvaM yaj jJAnam advayam

brahmeti paramAtmeti

bhagavAn iti zabdyate

[sB 1.2.11]


The Absolute Truth, tattva... Tattva means the truth, original. Tat tvam asi. That tattva is BhagavAn. In the... The Absolute Truth is understood in three features, three angles of vision. The first is Brahman, impersonal Brahman. The second is localized ParamAtmA. And the ultimate is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So Brahman realization is not complete realization of the Absolute Truth. Neither ParamAtmA realization is absolute, or the complete understanding of the Absolute Truth. When you realize BhagavAn, then you understand what is ParamAtmA, what is Brahman, and what is Absolute Truth. Yaj jJAtvA... No. Kasmin tu bhagavo vijJAte sarvam idaM vijJAtaM bhavati. That is the Vedic instruction. If you understand BhagavAn, then you understand ParamAtmA, you can understand Brahman also. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gItA:

<center><font color="red">

IzvaraH sarva-bhUtAnAM

hRd-deze 'rjuna tiSThati

bhrAmayan sarva-bhUtAni

yantrArUDhAni mAyayA

[bg. 18.61]


This is ParamAtmA. EkAMzena sthito jagat. That is one portion, partial understanding of the Absolute Truth. So far Brahman is concerned, that is stated in the Bhagavad-gItA. BrahmaNo 'haM pratiSThA: "I am the origin of Brahman effulgence." AmRtasya zAzvatasya ca. This is described. And so far He is concerned, KRSNa, mattaH parataraM nAnyat kiJcid asti dhanaJjaya [bg. 7.7]. This is the understanding of Bhagavad-gItA. So far He is concerned, He says, "There is no more superior truth than Me." MattaH parataraM nAnyat kiJcid asti dhanaJjaya [bg. 7.7].


So everything is resting on KRSNa. That is to be understood. That is the VedAnta understanding. JanmAdy asya yataH [sB 1.1.1]. Everything includes ParamAtmA and Brahma, and what to speak of other demigods. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gItA: ahaM sarvasya prabhavaH. This is the statement. Everyone reads Bhagavad-gItA, takes Bhagavad-gItA and takes photograph: "I am very good scholar of Bhagavad-gItA." But he does not know what is KRSNa. Just see. "I know everything--except KRSNa. This is my knowledge." No. If you understand KRSNa--kasmin tu bhagavo vijJAte sarvam idaM vijJAtaM bhavati--then you understand everything. Just like if you understand what is one hundred thousands of rupees, then you can understand automatically what is ten rupees and what is fifty rupees. So everything is within that, the Absolute Truth.


Now, DevahUti has understood. Therefore she says, ya AdyaH bhagavAn, "My dear son, Kapiladeva, I know that You are the, the same Supreme Person, BhagavAn." And the BhagavAn is Adyam. OM namo bhagavate vAsudevAya. VAsudeva is Adya. Arjuna, when he understood Bhagavad-gItA, he accepted KRSNa as all in... ParaM brahma paraM dhAma pavitraM paramaM bhavAn, puruSam Adyam: [bg. 10.12] "You are the Supreme Person, original person." Now, BrahmA says, govindam Adi-puruSaM tam ahaM bhajAmi **. He says that "I worship the original person, Govinda." Govindam Adi-puruSam. Everywhere you'll find. And the Supreme Personality of Godhead KRSNa says also, mattaH parataraM nAnyat... [bg. 7.7]. "I..." Govindam Adi-puruSam. IzvaraH paramaH kRSNaH sac-cid-Ananda-vigrahaH, anAdir AdiH [bs. 5.1]. He has no Adi. Somebody will say, "Why not? KRSNa is born of Vasudeva. Vasudeva is His father." That is His acceptance, a devotee as father. There are dealings of the devotee and the BhagavAn in different ways: zAnta, dAsya, sAkhya, vAtsalya, mAdhurya. We can have relation... We have that relation. Now it is covered. We can revive it again. Simply appreciation of the Supreme, that is called zAnta-rasa. When one appreciates fully, then he wants to give some service. That is called dAsya. And giving service, when he becomes more intimate, then he becomes friend. That is called sAkhya. And then, more advanced, the devotee wants to give service to KRSNa as father. Father-mother means to give service to the son. From the very beginning, even as a sweeper, all taking care.</blockquote>

Apparently the Sanskrit forum has been moved to the Hindu forums. There you may find someone with grammar skills.



Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest guest

Dear Raghuraman,


Interpretation of upaniSadic vAkyas must be according to the context in which they are found. In this particular case, the statement is intended to explain that we are not the same as Brahman. The following will explain this more clearly:



Unlike what has been claimed, the explanation Madhva gives for for


Uddhaalaka's statements to Shwetaketu in the sixth chapter of the


Chaandogya Upanishad: "Sa AtmA'tatvamasi Shwetaketo" is consonant with


the rules for Sanskrit vyaakarana, and also rings true. I do not have


the time at present to tackle all the other issues that have been


raised, but I will try to briefly explain why this specific claim is






"Sa AtmA'tatvamasi Shwetaketo"




To understand the meaning of the statement correctly, it is necessary


to know the exact circumstances under which it was spoken. Indeed,


this is completely true of any statement, not just one from scripture.


Otherwise, there is a risk that something may have been misquoted or


quoted out-of-context.




The statement was spoken nine times to Shwetaketu (who is, it may


interest you to know, the person who is credited with standardizing


the institution of marraige -- before him, people were not required to


marry, and could conduct their lives as they chose; he ended that when


he realized that depravity and irresponsibility on the part of mankind


made it necessary that a strict regime be enforced, but that was later


than the events described in the Upanishad). The speaker


was his father Uddhaalaka, and this is reported in the sixth chapter


of the Chaandogya Upanishad. The background to the event where the


statement was made is as follows --




Shwetaketu spent twelve years studying the Vedas from a Guru, in


accord with the rules prescribed for Brahmachaaris. Upon returning


from his teacher on completing his studies, he boasted to his father


that he had mastered the Vedas and was now an authority. The


concerned parent Uddhaalaka realized the arrogance that was part of


Shwetakeu's thinking had to be gotten rid of, and therefore instructed


Shwetaketu to fast for fifteen days, with only water to drink -- if


the Apa-abhimaani mukhya-praana had left his body, Shwetaketu would


have died, so it was essential that he be allowed water. At the end of


this time, he called Shwetaketu and asked him to show his prowess in


the Vedas, again. Weak with starvation, Shwetaketu pleaded inability


to remember what he had learned. After this, Uddhaalaka asked him to


have a meal, upon which his strength and memory were restored. After


this, knowing that Shwetaketu's humility had been satisfactorily


restored, Uddhaalaka proceeded to instruct him, saying: "Sa AtmA


'tatvamasi Shwetaketo," no fewer than nine times, each time


with a different example to illustrate a point.




The sentence "Sa AtmA'tatvamasi Shwetaketo" can be split perfectly


correctly under the rules of grammar, as either:


Sa AtmA atat tvam asi Shwetaketo, or as:


Sa AtmA tat tvam asi Shwetaketo.




It is to be noted that the word "tat," the same in either


interpretation, cannot be a pronoun that refers to a nirguna Brahman,


because Uddhaalaka does not refer anywhere in the text to such a


Brahman. If it is taken to be the saguna Brahman or Paramaatman, then


the tat interpretation runs counter to experience, because it is clear


that we do not possess qualities the Paramaatman does (infinite power,


joy, knowledge etc.) -- it also runs counter to scriptural evidence


such as Krishna saying "Dvaa vimou purushou loke' ..." in the 'Gita






In the shaastras, it is said that whenever there is confusion among


possible interpretations of a verse, we should use the drshtaanta


vaakya (statements of example) given along with it, to decide the


correct one(s). Since as has been pointed out, Uddhaalaka's statement


to Shwetaketu can be interpreted in two ways both sanctioned by


grammar, it is necessary to consider the examples and decide if the


tat or the atat interpretation is the right one.




The first example given by Uddhaalaka to Shwetaketu is that of a


shakuni (bird) that is bound by a suutra (thread) to a support. The


bird tries to fly all around the territory that it is allowed by the


limitation of the thread, but eventually gets back to the support when


tired. So also are all creatures tied to the Lord who acts as their


invisible support, and even though the jiva tries to break free of


bondage and to act independently, it eventually comes back to the Lord


Himself for solace, finding no other source. In the waking state, the


soul tries to go around and tries to ignore the Lord, but during


sleep, and eventually, during mukti, it comes back to seek solace at


the feet of the Lord. Now, this example is clearly against the tat


interpretation, as it is impossible to conceive that the bird and the


support are the same, or that the restriction placed on the bird is


meant to signify illusion.




In the second example, Uddhaalaka tells Shwetaketu, just as bees


gather the juices of various flowers and fruits, and collect them to


form honey, after which the individual juices are not identifiable in


the context of the total honey, the jiva are brought together by the


Lord, and do not realize their origins. So long as they do not


understand their origins and persist in ignoring the Lord's grace, or


in thinking of themselves as one with the Lord, they continue to


suffer the cycle of births and deaths, and undergo births under low


species such as tiger, lion, wolf, wild boar, insect, butterfly, tiny


biting animals, etc. How does a jiva falsely perceive identity between


him/her-self and the Lord? By attempting to act independently of the


Lord, with lack of due devotion and gratitude, and by ignoring the


dharma that He has laid down for the jiva to follow. It can be said


that whenever anyone thinks too highly of himself and tries to act


independantly, (s)he has assumed the Lord's qualities of Independence,


infinite ability, etc., and will suffer the consequences once the


illusion lapses, as it must.




Uddhaalaka says that just as the juices in the honey are not aware of


their separate existence, but merely identify with the honey, so are


all creatures unaware of their separate existence from the body, and


do identify with the body. Whereas the body is in-dwelt by a number of


abhimaani devas who run various functions of the body, the jiva


perceives only itself in the body, and thinks falsely that it is the


lord of its body. Until the soul realizes that it is completely


distinct from the body and is brought into Creation by the Lord, it is


bound to suffer the painful misery of ever-repeated births and deaths.


This second example also does not support the tat interpretation that


seeks to espouse unity ofjiva and Paramaatman -- note that Uddhaalaka


is saying that a soul _fails_to_realize_ its distinctiveness, just as


the juices in the honey fail to realize theirs, and that it must learn


to realize it. So, this means that the juices in the honey _are_


distinct, even if we cannot tell them apart; it is not the case that


this is being used to justify abheda -- indeed, Uddhaalaka goes so far


as to give a stern warning to Shwetaketu, and by inference also to us,


that falsely perceiving unity with the Lord is going to keep us in the


cycle of births and deaths, and is going to cause us to suffer the


ignominy of births under low species.




At this point, Shwetaketu asks his father how it can be that he,


Shwetaketu, does not perceive that there is anyone residing in his


body but himself, and how can it be he comes to rest in the Lord? The


example given by Uddhaalaka is difficult, because he, Shwetaketu, is


living person, while the juices in the honey are not, and so how can


he understand that just as the juices come to together in the honey,


so also the jiva comes to rest in the Lord, during sleep and mukti?




The third example given is that of rivers, which flow either eastward


or westward, and reach the sea. Though they are born out of the sea


and reach it finally, they have their separate identity while flowing


on land. Before they are brought out by Suurya and the clouds, they


are unable to distinguish themselves when in the sea. Here,


Uddhaalaka gives an example where the abhimaani devas of the rivers


are not aware which of the water in the sea is theirs and which not,


but the Lord, acting through Suurya as Suurya-Naaraayana is aware, and


chooses the right river water out of the sea, and puts it back into


the river source. The jiva are not aware of the Lord's grace and


mercy, and do not realize the part His actions play, but they are


dependent on Him, and have to realize this fact. In this example also,


it is not possible to see abheda, as it is being pointed out that the


soul's not realizing that the Lord is present in his body is actually


an indicator of ignorance -- Uddhaalaka does not say that the river


water in the sea is not distinct; he implies it is, even tho the Lord


realizes it but the abhimaanis of the rivers themselves do not. The


example therefore does nothing to support the identity of soul and


Lord, and rules out the tat interpretation.




In the next example, we hear of a living tree, one that is inhabited


by a jiva. If any branch, leaf or other part of the tree is abandoned


by AtmA, it dries up. If the tree is injured at the root or at a


branch, causing sap or other juice to flow through the cut, it still


continues to live, getting water and nutrients from the ground, and


enjoying life. If the tree as a whole is abandoned by the AtmA, it


dies. Here, the words 'jiva' and 'AtmA' are used, which are taken to


mean the same thing, soul, in common literature and thinking. However,


in the scriptures 'AtmA' is a word that is used primarily to describe


the Lord (For example, the Kathopanishad's "Naivam AtmA pravachanena


labhyo... -- meaning "The Lord is not obtainable thru discourse ..."),


who is called so because he is responsible for life wherever it is


found. In this example, we see that it is the Lord's grace whose


importance is being stated: the tree, or the jiva who mistakenly


believes that it is the only entity that inhabits the body of the


tree, and tries to enjoy life in ignorance of the Lord, is powerless


to act against Him. Should the Lord choose to abandon any portion of


the tree body, that part dies, and the whole of the tree dies when the


Lord abandons it. Here also, it is impossible to even conceive of


identity between soul and Lord, who are described as having such


vastly different properties. This example illustrates that the


continued life of the soul in the body it inhabits is subject to the


will of the Lord, who is different from it. The tree continues to


live and enjoy even when subjected to injury that causes loss of body


fluids, but dies immediately when the resident AtmA departs.




The fifth example given is that of the huge Nyagrodha (Hindi: Vata)


tree. Shwetaketu was asked by his father to bring the fruit of the


tree, and to break it into parts. He was then asked what he saw. He


replied that he could see small bits. He was asked by Uddhaalaka to


divide the bits further, and again asked what he saw. He replied that


he saw even smaller particles. His father asked him to divide the


small particles, again, and asked him again what he saw. This time,


he replied that he saw nothing at all. Uddhaalaka then said that the


mighty Nyagrodha tree arises out of that seemingly invisible particle.


So also, the Lord who is the source and cause of life is extremely


difficult to perceive because of His suukshmatva (fineness, roughly


translated). Krishna says something very similar in the thirteenth


chapter of the 'Gita, when he says: "Suukshmatvaat tat avigneyam..."


This further answers Shwetaketu's old query why he could not observe


the Lord who was residing in his body, and further debunks the notion


of unity between the soul and Lord. In this example, the whole


universe is represented by the tree, the body by its fruit, the small


but invisible particles are the souls, and the entity that indwells


even the souls and is responsible for the universe and all its


entities, is the Lord.




For the next example, Uddhaalaka gives some salt to his son, and asks


him to put it in water overnight. The next morning, he asks Shwetaketu


to bring the salt that was put in the water the previous evening.


Shwetaketu says he is unable to see any of the salt that he had


deposited in the water, upon which Uddhaalaka asks him to sample the


water from various parts of the vessel (top, middle, bottom, etc.) and


confirm that it is uniformly salty, throughout. In the previous


example of the tree and its invisible seed, the capacity of the Lord


is seen in one place, but He himself is not. In this next example, the


Lord's power, as represented by the saltiness of the water, is seen


uniformly throughout, even though the salt itself, representing the


Lord, is not.




The next example given is that of a traveler from Gandhaara (now in


Afghanistan), who is waylaid by robbers, tied and blindfolded, and


left in a lonely forest far away from his own land. The man tries to


free himself, but in vain, and remains sightless and under bondage


until a kindly Samaritan releases opens his blindfold and binds, and


directs him to Gandhaara. As he proceeds home, he has occasion to ask


various other Samaritans for directions, as even though he may know


the general direction to be taken, he still has need, from time to


time, for specific instructions, do's and don'ts. In this example,


the bondage resulting from the soul's agnaana is depicted as the


traveler's blindfold and binds. The soul, as represented by the


traveler, is unable to free itself, until a teacher, represented by


the kindly Samaritan, frees it from bondage and opens its vision. The


teacher also points out the correct path to the soul's destiny, and


the soul follows it, aided from time to time by other teachers who


instruct him from time to time. At the end of the journey, the


traveler reaches his home, and the soul reaches the Lord from whom it


is separated. In this example also, the unity of the soul and the Lord


is not intended -- the traveler is not the same as the region of


Gandhaara nor the same as any of the Samaritans.




In the penultimate example, the dependence of the soul in a human body


on the Lord is illustrated, just as it was with the tree body.


Uddhaalaka pictures the scene as follows -- a man is lying on his


death-bed, surrounded by relatives. In the dying man, the vaak


(speech) merges with the manas (mind), the manas with the praana


(life-force) and the praana with the tejas (energy). This reference to


the merging is to the abhimaani devas of each entity named, rather


than to the entities themselves. The dying man is asked by the


relatives who surround him: "Do you know me?" And he answers them as


long as his speech is still with him. After the speech merges with the


mind, he is unable to answer, but still has a functional mind, and is


aware of his surroundings. When the mind merges with the life-force,


he loses consciousness, but is still alive. When the final dissolution


takes place with the life-force returning to energy, the man dies. In


this example, the soul's absolute and irreversible dependence on the


Lord is illustrated. This very dependence assures us that the soul and


the Lord are distinct and will ever be so, and that the tat


interpretation is not correct.




In the last example, a man suspected of theft is arrested by a king's


men, who present him before the king for justice. The king orders that


the suspect be made to grasp a red-hot axe with his bare hands; if he


is innocent, the heat will not affect him at all, and he can be


released, while if he is guilty, the fact of his guilt will be proved


and he will be suitably punished for his crime. In this illustration,


the suspect, the objects stolen, and the king, are all completely


different, and unity is not illustrated. Just as the suspect will


suffer severe punishment if he is guilty of theft, the soul will


suffer great misery if it attempts to take on the unique and


irreproducible characteristics of the Lord.




The Moksha-Dharma parva of the Mahaabhaarata states that those who


talk of identity with the Lord are "Anaipunaha shaastratatvavignaaya"


(unskilled in interpreting the Vedas), Brahmastena (thieves who try to


steal the Brahman's unique attributes by trying to claim identity with


him), Apakvamanasaaha (with "unripe" minds -- minds not fully


functional in appreciation of truth). Therefore, Uddhaalaka is


cautioning Shwetaketu against such tendencies of "theft," and is _not_


saying that Shwetaketu is identical to the Lord. In fact, as has been


pointed out before, he warns of dire consequences, if Shwetaketu fails


to correctly apprehend the significance and distinctiveness of the



Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hare Krishna,


I have still some doubt in this. I understand and am geatly impressed by Acharya Madhva's explanation. Indeed after reading glasenopp's book, visnutattvavinirnaya etc. I take his explanation of vedic philosophy correct.


But advaitic interpretation is a new phenomenon. So what seems to be more correct interpretation in this context is perhaps Shwetaketo did not know the existence of concept of Brahman.


What about "atma tattvam asi". Is it grammatically correct ?

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest guest


What about "atma tattvam asi". Is it grammatically correct ?



Original statement is "Sa AtmA'tatvamasi Shwetaketo"


This can be parsed in either of two ways:


Sa AtmA atatvamasi...

Sa AtmA tattvamasi...


Both are grammatically correct. Thus, the actual correct meaning must be determined by use of supporting examples provided in the text. MAyAvAdis take the latter of the two to be the correct meaning, but this is weakened by the context of the statement. Thus, the former must be accepted, indicating that the very proud Shwetaketu is not Brahman, and thus should not have been puffed up with his erudition.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You are posting as a guest. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Create New...