Tat Tvam Asi

Tat Tvam Asi (Sanskrit: तत् त्वम् असि or तत्त्वमसि, "Thou art that," "That thou art," or "You are that") — is one of the Mahāvākyas (Grand Pronouncements).

It originally occurs in the Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7, in the dialogue between Uddālaka and his son Śvetaketu; it appears at the end of a section, and is repeated at the end of the subsequent sections as a refrain. The meaning of this saying is that the Self - in its original, pure, primordial state - is wholly or partially identifiable or identical with the Ultimate Reality that is the ground and origin of all phenomena. The knowledge that this is so characterises the experience of liberation or salvation that accompanies the Unio Mystica.

Major Vedantic schools offer different interpretations of the phrase Tat (That) Tvam (You jiva) Asi (Are):

  • Advaita - absolute equality of 'tat', the Ultimate Reality, Brahman, and 'tvam', the individual self, jiva.
  • Shuddhadvaita - oneness in "essence" between 'tat' and individual self; but 'tat' is the whole and self is a part.
  • Vishishtadvaita - identity of individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat', Brahman.
  • Dvaitadvaita - equal non-difference and difference between the individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat'.
  • Dvaita - “Sa atmaa-tat tvam asi” in Sanskrit is actually “Sa atma-atat tvam asi” or “Atman, thou art not that”.
  • Acintya Bheda Abheda - inconceivable oneness and difference between individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat'.

In Advaita

Tat tvam asi is the Mahāvākya (Grand Pronouncement) from Chandogya Upanishad. The Advaita school of Shankara assigns a fundamental importance to this Mahāvākya and three others of the same kind from three other Upanishads. This is actually a statement meted out by Sage Āruni to Shvetaketu, his son. It says literally 'That thou art'. In other words that Brahman which is the common Reality behind everything in the cosmos is the same as the essential Divinity, namely the Atman, within you. It is this identity which is the grand finale of Upanishadic teaching, according to Advaita. The realisation of this arises only by an intuitive experience and is totally different from any objective experience. It cannot be inferred from some other bit of knowledge. To comprehend the meaning an analysis of the three words in the pronouncement is needed.

Who is this 'Thou'?

'Thou' stands for the inherent substratum in each one of us without which our very existence is out of question. Certainly it is not the body, mind, the senses, or anything that we call ours. It is the innermost Self, stripped of all egoic tendencies. It is Ātman.

The entity indicated by the word 'That' according to the notation used in the Vedas, is Brahman, the transcendent Reality which is beyond everything that is finite, everything that is conceived or thought about. You cannot give a full analogy to it and that is why the Vedas say words cannot describe it. It cannot even be imagined because when there is nothing else other than Brahman it has to be beyond space and time. We can imagine space without earth,water, fire and air. But it is next to impossible to imagine something outside space. Space is the most subtle of the five elemental fundamentals. As we proceed from the grossest to the subtle, that is, from earth to water, to fire, to air, and to space the negation of each grosser matter is possible to be imagined within the framework of the more subtle one. But once we reach the fifth one, namely space or Ākāsha, the negation of that and the conception of something beyond, where even the space is merged into something more subtle, is not for the finite mind. The Vedas therefore declare the existence of this entity and call it 'sat' (existence), also known as Brahman.

That and This

The Ātman or the innermost core of our self seems to have an individuality of its own. So, in saying that it is the same as the unqualified Brahman in the Infinite Cosmos, we seem to be identifying two things: one that is unlimited and unconditioned, and one that is limited and conditioned. Whenever someone says, for instance, that the person B whom you are meeting just now is the same as the person A whom you saw twenty years ago at such and such a place, what is actually meant is not the identity of the dresses of the two personalities of A and B, nor of the features (those of B may be totally different from A), but of the essential person behind the names. So whenever such an identity is talked about we have to throw away certain aspects which are temporarily distinctive or indicative in both and cling on only to those essentials without which they are not what they are. B and A may have distinct professions, may have different names, may have different attitudes towards you or towards a certain issue, or may have an additional identity, exemplified by, say, having different passports — but still they are the same, is what is being asserted by the statement 'B is the same as A'.

Brahman minus its Māyā and Ātman minus its avidyā are identical

In the same way, when Brahman and Atman are identified by this Mahāvākya, we have to discard those inessential qualities that are only indicative and therefore extraneous and to explore what commonality or essentialness there is in them that is being identified. Brahman is the Cause of this Universe. But this is a predication of Brahman and so is extraneous to the identity we are talking about. The Self or the Ātman, appears to be limited by an individuality which keeps it under the spell of ignorance; this is extraneous to the essentiality of the Ātman. So what is being identified is Brahman, minus its feature of being the Cause of this Universe and Ātman minus its limitations of ignorance-cum-delusion. That these two are the same is the content of the statement 'Tat tvam asi'. The cosmic Māyā is what makes Brahman the cause of this Universe. The individual avidyā (ignorance) is what makes the Ātman circumscribed and delimited. So the Mahāvākya says that Brahman minus its Māyā and Atman minus its avidyā are identical.

In Vishishtadvaita

The Vedas form the fundamental source text for everything in Hinduism. Each of the four Vedas has metaphysical speculations, known as Upanishads, at the end. Among the various discussions in these Upanishads there are mahavakyas (Grand pronouncements), which are of foundational import and deep significance. Tat tvam asi (meaning, That Thou Art) is one such. This is from Chandogya Upanishad. Different schools of philosophy interpret such fundamental statements in significantly different ways, so as to be consistent with their own philosophical thought. Below is the interpretation of the Vishishtadvaita school.

Objections to the Advaita interpretation

The proclamation of Śankaracarya 'Tat Tvam Asi' is correct that both Ātmā and Paramātmā are sat-cit-ānanda, meaning qualitative unity of the Soul and God. However Ātmā, being localized Paramātmā consequently has localized consciousness. Paramātma, being the reservoir of Ātmā is situated within every heart is aware of all its localized undivided parts. Therefore 'Tat Tvam Asi' falls short to understand that the Soul is not equal to the Absolute Truth in all respects. For example, as a single drop of water has the same qualities as an ocean of water, so has our consciousness the qualities of God's consciousness but is proportionally subordinate. Furthermore, if Ātmā and Paramātmā were indeed one and the same, it would be possible for any ordinary person to claim omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence in equivalence to God. Scientifically we know this to be false. Shankara however does not claim the person is God, but that the person is unreal, so no contradictions with science.

According to Advaita, there are 3 orders of reality:

1. paramarthika satyam (absolute reality) 2. vyavaharika satyam (empirical reality) 3. pratibhasika satyam (subjective reality)

"I salute that Govinda who is the extreme limit of happiness, Who is pretty, cause of causes, primeval, without beginning and a form of time, Who danced again and again on the head of serpent Kaliya in the river Yamuna, Who is black in colour, ever present in time and destroys the evil effects of Kali, And who is the cause of the march of time from the past to the future." -Adi Sankara Bhagwat Pada

"My dear Devī, sometimes I preach Māyāvādī philosophy for those who are engrossed in the mode of ignorance. But if a person in the mode of goodness happens to hear this Māyāvādī philosophy, he falls down, for when I preach this Māyāvādī philosophy, I say that the living entity and the Supreme Lord are one and the same." -Lord Śiva, Padma-Purāna

Ramanuja on the Mahavakya

In the expression 'Blue Lotus' for example, the two attributes of 'blueness' and 'lotus nature' both inhere in a common substratum without losing their individuality. Such subsistence of many attributes in a common substratum is the correct apposition (samānādhikaranya), rather than the mere apposition as propounded by the advaita school. Direct meanings of the expressions should be taken, simultaneously fulfilling the conditions of Samānādhikaranya.

Meaning of the Mahavakya

The mighty Iswara, who is the indweller in the cosmic Body is also the indweller in every Jiva. Every Jiva individually is the body of Isvara, just as the Cosmos as a whole is. The 'Tat' of the statement refers to Iswara who resides in the Cosmic Body and the 'Tvam' refers to the same Iswara who indwells the Jiva and has got the Jiva as the body. All the bodies, the Cosmic and the individual, are held in adjectival relationship (aprthak-siddhi) in the one Isvara. Tat Tvam Asi declares that oneness of Isvara.



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