By Adi Sankaracharya, Translated by Swami Chinmayananda
Published by Chinmaya Mission, Mumbai
An Exhaustive Explanation of the Upanishadic Mahaavaakya
“That Thou Art”
[Tat Twam Asi]
1. I bow down to that Pure Consciousness Divine – a shoreless ocean of happiness, which is All-pervading (Vishnu), the Beloved of Shri, the all-knowing Lord of the Universe, assuming endless forms and yet ever-free, having an inscrutable power to become (apparently) the Cause of creation, maintenance, and dissolution of the universe.
2. Again and again I Prostrate at the feet of my Guru, by whose grace I have come to realise, “I alone am the All-pervading Essence (Vishnu)”, and that “the world of multiplicity is all a super-imposition upon myself.”
3. Scorched by the blazing sun of the three miseries, a student – dejected with the world and restless for release, having cultivated all the means of liberation especially such virtues as self-control etc. – enquires of a noble teacher:
4. “Merely out of your grace and mercy, holy Teacher, please explain to me briefly the means by which I may easily get liberated from the sorrows of this bondage-to-change”.
5. The teacher said: “Your question is valid, and so very clearly expressed, I shall answer it exhaustively to make it as vivid to you as though you are seeing it near”.
6. Direct knowledge of that total identity between the individual-Self and the Universal-Self, stemming forth from the Vedic statements such as “Thou art that”, etc., is the immediate means to liberation.
7. The disciple said: “What is the individualised Self ? What, then, is the Universal Self ? How can they both be identical ? And, how can statements like “That thou art” discuss and prove this identity ?”
8. The teacher said: “I shall answer your question. Who else can be the individual Self (Jiva) other than yourself, that asks me this question, “Who am I ?”. There is no doubt about it. You alone are the Brahman.
9. The disciple said: Not even the word meaning do I fully grasp clearly; how can I then comprehend the significance of the sentence, “I am Brahman” ?
10. The teacher said: “You have said the truth when you complained that the knowledge and understanding of the meaning of the words employed in a sentence are indeed the cause of the understanding of the full significance of the sentence. And there are no two opinions about it.”
11. “Why do you not recognise your own Self, which is an embodiment of Eternal Bliss-Essence, the Witnessing Light that illumines the inner equipments and their functions ?”
12. “Give up the intellectual misconception that the Self is the body, etc., and always meditate upon and think yourself to be the eternal Knowledge-Bliss – the Witness of the intellect – a sheer mass of Pure Knowledge”.
13. “The body is not the Self, as like the pot, etc., the body also has form, etc., and again, the body is a modification of the great elements such as Akash, just like the pot”.
14. The disciple said: “If, by the strength of these arguments, the gross-body is considered as “not-Self”, then please exhaustively explain and directly indicate the Self – as clearly as a fruit in hand”.
15. The teacher said: “Just as the perceiver of a pot is ever distinctly different from the pot and can never be the pot – so too, you, the perceiver of your body, are distinct from your body and can never be the body – this you firmly ascertain in yourself.”
16. “Similarly be sure in yourself that you, the seer of the senses, are not the senses themselves, and ascertain that you are neither the mind, not the intellect, not the vital air (Prana).”
17. “Similarly be sure that you are not the complex of the gross and the subtle-bodies, and intelligently determine, by inference, that you, the ‘seer’, are entirely distinct from the ‘seen’.”
18. “’I am He’, the One because of whose presence alone the inert entities like the body and the senses, are able to function through acceptance and rejection”.
19. “’I am He’, the One changeless, Innermost Self that moves the intellect, etc., as a magnet does the iron filings.”
20. “’I am He’, the One Entity in whose vital presence the body, senses, mind, and Pranas, though inert in themselves, appear to be conscious and dynamic, as though they are the Self.”
21. “‘He am I’, the One Consciousness, which is the Self that illumines the modifications in my mind such as ‘my mind went elsewhere, however, it has been brought to rest now’, – ‘He am I’ (So’ham).”
22. “’He am I’, the One Consciousness which is the Changeless Self that is directly cognised, that illumines the three states of waking, dream, and deep-sleep, and that which illumines appearance and disappearance of the intellect and its functions – ‘He am I’ (So’ham).”
23. “Know yourself to be the One Self, a homogenous mass of Consciousness, which is the illuminator of the body and therefore quite distinct from it – just as a lamp that illumines a pot is always different from the pot illumined. ‘I am a mass of Consciousness’ (Aham bodhavigraha).”
24. “Know yourself to be the One for whose sake beings and things such as children and wealth – are dear, who is the sole seer and dearest of all. ‘He am I’ – ascertain thus and realise, So’ham.”
25. “Know yourself to be the One regarding whom there is always the anxiety, ‘May I ever be; never cease to be’, as this Seer is the dearest of all. ‘He am I’ – thus assert and realise.”
26. “The Consciousness, the Self, which appears as the Witness, is that which is meant by the word ‘thou’. Being free from all changes even the witnessing is nothing but the illumining-power of the Self.”
27. “Totally distinct from body, senses, mind, Prana and Ego is that which is the Self; therefore, It is absolutely free from the six-modifications, which all material things must necessarily undergo. This Self is the indicative meaning of the term “thou”.
28. “Having thus ascertained the meaning of the term “thou” one should reflect upon what is meant by the word “that” – employing both the method of negation and also the direct method of scriptural assertion.”
29. “’That’, which is free from all the impurities of the Samsara, ‘that’ which is defined by the Upanishads as: ‘Not large etc., having the qualities of imperceptible etc., that is beyond all darkness created by ignorance”.
30. “Having no greater Bliss than Itself, a pure embodiment of External Consciousness, and having ‘existence’ for its specific definition, is the All-Pervading Being – is the meaning indicated by the term ‘that’; so, the scriptures declare in their songs.”
31. “That which is proved in the Vedas as All-knowing, All-powerful and Supreme Lord, is Itself the Infinite Brahman… make sure of that Brahman in your own understanding.”
32. “That which the scriptures have discussed through examples of mud etc., as that by knowing which all else will become known … make sure of that Brahman in your understanding.”
33. “That which the scriptures propose to prove as a limitless, and in order to support that proposition, called the World of Plurality as Its effects .. make sure of that Brahman in your understanding.”
34. “That which the Upanishads clearly establish as the sole object of deep contemplation for those who are sincere seekers of liberation – make sure of that Brahman in your understanding.”
35. “That which is heard of in the Vedas ‘as having entered each creature as its individualised self’, and which is known, from the same sources, to be their controller – make sure of that Brahman in your understanding.”
36. “That which the Upanishads declare as the sole paymaster for all action, and as the very agent (prompter) in all actions, performed by each individualised ego – make sure of that Brahman in your understanding.”
37. “The meaning of the terms ‘that’ and ‘thou’ have been discussed and finally determined. Now we shall discuss the meaning of the commandment (Mahavakya) ‘That thou art’. In this, the total identity of the meanings of ‘that’ and ‘thou’ alone is shown.”
38. “What is meant by the sentence (commandment ‘That thou art’) is not arrived at, either through its ‘sequence-of meaning’ or as ‘qualified-by-something’. An indivisible Being, consisting of Bliss only – this alone is the meaning of the sentence, according to the wise.”
39. “What appears (anjati) as the Witnessing-Consciousness within, (the individual-Self), is of the nature of Bliss, One-without-a-second; and the one that is the Bliss within is none other than the individualised-Self the Witnessing Consciousness within.”
40. “When, as explained above, the mutual identity between the two words ‘thou’ and ‘that’ is comprehended, then the idea ‘I am not Brahman’, entertained by ‘thou’, shall immediately end.”
41. “If as said, the depth-meaning of the term ‘that’ is ‘Mass-of Bliss, without-second’, and ‘thou’ is the ‘Witnessing-Consciousness’, then what ? Listen: the Inner-self, the Consciousness, that illumines all thoughts, remains as the All-full, One-Mass-of Bliss, without-a-second.”
42. “The great statements, like ‘That thou art’, established the identity of what is meant by the two terms ‘thou’ and ‘That’ in their deeper indicative-meaning.”
43. “How great statement discards the two qualified-meanings, and reveals what it really means – this we have carefully commented upon already.”
44. ‘That which shines, as the object of the idea and the word ‘I’, is Consciousness expressing in the inner equipments. This is the direct word-meaning of ‘thou’ (twam).”
45. “The Consciousness that is expressed through Maya, which then becomes the ‘cause of the Universe’, which is described as omnipresent, etc.; that which is known only indirectly (meditate); and which is having the nature of existence, etc., -- that Eswara is the word-meaning of the term ‘That’.”
46. “In case we insist upon the identity of ‘that’ and ‘thou’ based upon the word-meaning of these terms, then for one and the same factor we will have to attribute contrary nature; the quality of being mediately and immediately known – and also insist qualities of ‘existence of duality’ and also of ‘absolute oneness’, for one and the same factor. Identity between such contrariness is impossible hence suggestive-meaning, ‘explanation by implication’ has to be accepted.”
47. “If the direct word-meaning throws up an inconsistency with what is pointed out by other proofs and evidences, the sense consistent with its word-meaning that is intelligently suggested by the term, is to be accepted – and this is its suggestive-meaning (lakshana).”
48. “In the statements like ‘that thou art’ etc., the reject-accept method is to be employed as in the sentence ‘He is this man’. No other method can be applied.”
49. “Until the direct personal experience of ‘I am Brahman’ is gained, we must live values of self-control, etc., and practice listening to teachers, or reading scriptures, and doing daily reflection and meditation upon those ideas.”
50. “Through the grace of a spiritual teacher when a seeker gains a clear and direct experience of the Supreme Self as expounded in the scriptures, he, the realised, becomes free from all ‘ignorance’, which is the foundation for the entire experience of this world of plurality.”
51. “No more conditioned by his gross and subtle bodies, free from the embrace of the gross and subtle elements, released from the charm of actions, such a man gets immediately liberated.”
52. “The liberated-in-life, due to the compelling force of those actions that have begun to produce their results (Prarabdha), remains for some time to exhaust them”.
53. “The liberated-in-life comes to gain the State of Absolute Oneness, the never-ending immeasurable Bliss, called the Supreme Abode-of-Vishnu, from wherein there is no return.”