Notes on Tat Tvam Asi

On Tat Tvam Asi (That Thou Art):


Tat Tvam Asi is repeated in the sixth chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad, in which the teacher Uddalaka Aruni instructs his son in the nature of Brahman. The text served as a foundation for the Advaita Vedanta branch of Hindu philosophy, providing detail on the concepts of Atman and Brahman.

Representing a central theme of Advaita philosophy, Tat Tvam Asi unites the macrocosmic ideas of God and universal consciousness with the microcosmic individual expression of the Self. This mantra highlights the notion that all beings are intimately connected to universal energy and cannot be separated from it.

Tat Tvam Asi is one of the four principle Mahavakyas, short statements from The Upanishads. The essence of each of these Mahavakyas is the same, since all are intended to guide practitioners toward the realization that all beings are one with Brahman. Understanding this is believed to be the ultimate form of compassion, in which individuals recognize one another as part of the same whole.

The great insight of Advaita Vedanta is, the reality you reach through the God-centred approach or the ‘that’ based approach, and the reality you reach through the Self-inquiry approach or the ‘thou’ based approach, is exactly the same reality. By bringing them together – Atman is Brahman, ‘That thou art’, the stunning insight is – that indubitable personal existence is also the infinitude of God. The unproblematic, infinite nature of God and the indubitable certain existence of the self are brought together. You have an infinite existence which is also beyond doubt.

– Swami Sarvapriyananda, What is Vedanta

From the Bhagavad Gita:

The 18 chapters of the Gita can be viewed as three shadgams of six chapters each. In each of these sections, three broad topics are dealt with.

In the first set of six chapters, the three topics discussed are:

  • Jiva vichara
  • Sadana of karma yoga to attain moksha
  • Human effort, purusha prayatna, to gain self knowledge.

The second shadgam discusses:

  • Ishwara swaroopa
  • Sadana of upasana yoga or meditation on Saguna Brahman
  • Ishwara Kripa.

The focus in the third shadgam is on:

  • The oneness of Paramatma and jivatma
  • The sadana of jnana yoga through practices – sravana, manana, nidhidyasa, etc.
  • The importance of character building by cultivating worthy qualities and virtues.

It is shown that the first topic in each of the three shadgams, namely jiva vichara, Ishwara vichara and Jiva-Brahma Aikya Jnana, respectively unfolds the explanation of the three terms Tvam, Tat and Asi in the Mahavakya. The ‘Tvam’ pada refers to the essential nature of the individual soul, the ‘Tat’ pada is about the nature of the Supreme Brahman and the ‘Asi’ pada affirms the oneness of Paramatma and the jivatma. The second and the third topics in each of three sections comprehensively deal with the yoga sadanas, karma, bhakti and jnana and of the importance of human effort, God’s grace and the cultivation of Daivi sampath or virtues.

Speaking Tree Article by Nitin 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.

Notes on consciousness

  1. If there are three observers at 0 c, 0.5 c and 0.9999 c, their observations of the universe would be different. This is relativity. If observers see the same universe differently, then how can the universe be said to have a single nature?
  2. If a universe cannot have a single nature that it can present consistently to all observers, then there can be no unified theory of everything. If there is nothing fixed to refer to, then there is no standing ground for a theory. To arrive at the theory of everything, experience of constant existence at all frame of reference would be necessary. Interpretation of an observer at 0 c of the experience at 0.5 c, may not necessarily be true for the observer at 0.5 c.
  3. Thought experiment: Can relativity be applied on to quantum fields? If the large hadron collider is moving is at 0.9999 c with respect to the observer, would the experimental results still be valid?
  4. There are two different states of unconsciousness:
    • Death state of unconsciousness: Atman/Soul has left the body and reengagement with mind/body is not expected. Person is truly dead and appears so.
    • Pre-death state of unconsciousness: Atma/Soul has not left the body and reengagement with mind/body is possible. Person appears dead or in a coma to the world but is not truly dead.
  5. In between the two states of unconsciousness, pre-death and death, exists the clue to understand the bare essential functioning of the soul/atman. In this free state, the soul remains closer to its pure form, without having the need to engage the constructs of mind or the sense organs or the world outside or the need to look for a different body to live-in next.
  6. Like a person is standing at the door step of the house from where he can go inwards or outwards, the soul is free to engage the mind in the subtle body and go inwards into a given body and its experience or abandon the current body and seek another body more suited to the current evolved needs of the subtle body. If the current needs are zero, there should be no need for another body.
  7. When the soul decides to “go inside the house” by engaging the mind and the current body, the rules for extent of such engagement must be set. The sages (gyani) who study the soul (not so much the world) say that this engagement must be limited for it doesn’t matter how big the house and how deep one goes into it, the exit must happen. The scientists (vigyani) who study the world (not so much the soul) say this engagement must be maximum, for this one freak opportunity to learn the world should not be wasted. The sage says do not engage, for engagement creates karma and births. The scientist says engage with all your might or else your only go at life would be wasted.
  8. The scientists says, the universe is eternal but consciousness comes and goes. The sage says, consciousness is eternal and the universe comes and goes.

So, what are you? Are you a blip of consciousness that will be forever extinguished at death? Or are you eternal consciousness that will repeatedly come and go into the playground of universe till you learn to destroy your ego and burn your karma?

What is your world view? A fixed universe with random meaningless blips of consciousness and life forms? Or an eternal consciousness soul that craves for varying experiences in a semi-real universe?