[Advaita-l] Aham Brahmasmi - the context

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Wed Jun 18 16:51:59 CDT 2003

On Tue, 10 Jun 2003, "Jay Nelamangala" <jay at r-c-i.com> wrote:

>Let us take the phrase "aham brahmAsmi"  for example.  We all know

Yes, let us. By the way, ahaM brahmAsmi is a sentence, not a phrase.

>that this is one of the mahAvAkyas,  which is said to provide 
>for jeeva-brahma-abhEda-vAda of advaita.
>It is part of a larger sentence in BrihadAraNyaka,
>"tadAtmAnamEva avEt aham brahmAsmIti",  and to get the context we

It is also part of another larger sentence in the same upanishat, and to get 
the context we need to look at that sentence in detail too. It would behove 
you to read the bRhadAraNyaka fully, and not quote it selectively as you do 

>also need to look at previous sentence which also happens to be
>the beginning of that paragraph.   So the whole thing goes like this:
>"brahma vA idamagra Aseet tadAtmAnamEva avEt aham brahmMsmIti"
>The ever-present Brahman, before creation, thought to Itself as
>"aham brahmAsmi".

Did you read the rest of the passage that comes immediately after this?

The second instance of "ahaM brahmAsmi" in the same passage in the 
bRhadAraNyaka is as follows,

taddhaitat paSyann Rshir vAmadevaH pratipede 'haM manur abhavaM sUryaS ceti 
tad idam apy etarhi ya evaM veda "ahaM brahmAsmi" iti sa idaM sarvaM 

Is a translation necessary?

>So,  if anyone says that upanishats talk of the identity of jeeva and 
>and quote "aham brahmAsmi" then it simply means
>that  this context has been thrown out of the window while saying so.

Actually, if anyone says that the upanishats do NOT talk of the identity of 
jIva and brahman, and tries to interpret away the ahaM brahmAsmi teaching of 
the upanishat, then it simply means that they have thrown away the above 
context out of the window. It is the dvaitins who are totally at fault for 
neglecting context here, not the advaitins.

How and when did vAmadeva become manu or sUrya? Never, according to your way 
of thinking, for the jIva called vAmadeva was never, is not and never will 
be brahman, whereas it was brahman who created manu and sUrya. But vAmadeva 
said, "I became manu, I became sUrya." Why? Because he saw that (paSyan) 
brahman is all this, including himself. That is why the upanishat says, "he 
who knows "ahaM brahmAsmi", he indeed becomes all this." Which is just 
another way of saying that he becomes brahman. A little later in the same 
passage, we have "AtmA hy eshAM sa bhavati" - he becomes their own Atman. 
Whose Atman? Even the devas.

And then, he who worships any other deity, thinking the deity is different 
(anyo 'sau) and the worshipper is different (anyo 'ham amsi iti), he does 
not know (na sa veda). He is like a sacrificial animal (paSu) for the devas. 
Pitiful indeed.

What more direct quote do you want, to directly give the lie to your 
contention that the upanishat-s do not teach advaita?

>In the context of that upanishat,  "aham brahmAsmi" is what Brahman
>thought to Himself before Creation.   It is part of a sentence.  It does 
>talk about jeeva at all !!  It does not talk about any identity of jeeva 
>and Brahman.

It is the dvaitin who ignores the direct teaching of the upanishat, while 
trying to find fault with the advaitin. In the context of the bRhadAraNyaka, 
"ahaM brahmAsmi" is not just what brahman said before the act of creation. 
"ahaM brahmAsmi" is also what the Rshi vAmadeva knew, which enabled him to 
say, "I became manu and sUrya". Moreover, if one worships any other deity 
thinking, "he is different, I am different" (anyo 'sAv anyo 'ham asmIti), 
one does not know (na sa veda). Immediately before this passage, the 
upanishat has already said, "Atmety evopAsIta".

As you can see, that is, if you are at all inclined to be a wee bit 
open-minded, you are completely mistaken. Please do not quote to us your 
school's specious interpretation of this passage, which seeks to deny the 
identity taught in the bRhadAraNyaka, by quickly brushing it all under the 
carpet, or throwing it all out of the window.

Talk of context!

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