ken knight hilken_98 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Aug 7 02:36:07 CDT 2002

--- "Subrahmanian, Sundararaman V [IT]"
<sundararaman.v.subrahmanian at CITIGROUP.COM> wrote:
> Any knowledge you can pass on to us on this subject
> matter will be
> appreciated.
Namaste all,

Here is the first part. Firstly let me say again that
I am really only the typist in this exercise which is
a response to the request for knowledge on
This work is from a monograph entitled Mahavakyas by
Dr. T.N Ganapathy and if he comes by this way I hope
that he will welcome his work receiving a wider
He was at the Department of Philosophy, Ramakrishna
Mission, Vivekananda College in Madras and the work
was printed in 1982.
I had picked up the title from a bibliography and with
the help of a Swami at the Mission in Chennai was able
to track down a copy. I do not know if any others are
My copy is falling apart and the print is faded at
times. The Sanskrit is transliterated but the marking
font would not transfer to Word so I have attempted to
put it into ITRANS.  There will be mistakes because of
my error and printer's errors which I have not picked
up so please forgive and correct these.
You will find a comment on the way through (see
table).This table of all the types of
is defeating my limited knowledge of sending tables
with lines to a site such as this.  If anyone knows
what to do please let me know.  I also do not know how
footnotes will transfer; hope they do not end up
garbled. (It seems that the footnotes have disappeared
copying to this page, I will post something later so
that you can add these in as they are useful.)
I am have completed 11 of the 29 pages but may take a
few days to complete the task.

Although I had got the monograph because of interest
in the Mahavakyas I have found it very useful for some
insights into grammar.
Happy reading

ken Knight


At the outset it may be stated that the main aim of
this monograph is to show that the mahAvAkyas are the
declarations of the identity of individual self with
the Supreme Self.

Before we enter into a detailed discussion on the
subject proper, let us see what a vAkya or sentence
is. A sentence is a unit of words. It is a single and
complete expression of thought.

The collocation of words in a sentence is such that it
does not leave the hearer in the eager expectation of
hearing more to get an information complete in itself.

A sentence is defined as follows:

That sentence is a means of valid knowledge in which
the relation (among the meanings of words) that is the
object of its intention is not contradicted by any
other means of valid knowledge.

This means that a sentence is not a mere combination
of words. Every sentence should have at least two
words, a subject and a predicate. A sentence with an
intransitive verb (akarmaka) requires a minimum of two
words. A sentence with a transitive verb (sakarmaka)
requires a minimum of three words. Both these types
are called simple sentences (1aghu-vAkyas). A sentence
may also contain more words. It may run to several
pages with a large number of words in it. Only such
sentences because of their size and the number of
words they contain should be called mahAvAkyas in the
strict sense of the term. A mahAvAkya, on this
classification, is one which contains limitless number
of words. If this be the case how can we call the
following vAkyas which contain not more than three
words as mahAvAkyas.

        The     four major texts are:
        (1)     praj~nAnam brahma       (Consciousness is Brahman)
        (2)     aham brahmAsmi  (I am Brahman)
        (3)     tat tvam asi    (Thou art That)
        (4)     ayam AtmA brahma        (This Atman is Brahman)

Strictly speaking, the above texts cannot be called
mahAvAkyas. Yet they are. What is the criterion by
which we decide that they are mahAvAkyas? The
criterion is the message they contain viz., the truth,
that is, the declaration of the identity of the
individual self with the supreme Self.  Since these
vAkyas are said to be akhaNDartha-bodhaka (conveying
unitary impartite sense free from all distinctions),
they are called mahAvAkyas . These sentences contain
the kernel of the Vedas conveying the supersensuous
truth. mahAvAkyas  are VedAnta aphorisms which inform
the seeker about things unknown by other means. All
other sentences are called avAntaravAkyas (subsidiary

Let us see what type of vAkyas these four mahAvAkyas
come under, in order to facilitate our discussion on

A sentence, though it consists of words, signifies
more than what its constituent words convey. “More is
meant than what meets the ear.”  To grasp its import
one has to know not only the meanings of the
individual words, but also their relation. The
significance of a sentence is brought out by the
apprehension of the mutual relation of the meanings of
the constituent words.  The apprehension of this
relation is the verbal cognition.

Sentences are classified on the basis of their use
into two:
vyadhikaraNa and samAnAdhikaraNa. In vyadhikaraNa each
word in the sentence conveys a meaning that is
different from others. “The application, to one thing,
of several words having the same case of which there
is a different reason” is defined as sAmAnAdhikaraNya
or grammatical coordinate relation. Literally the word
sAmAnAdhikaraNya means ‘the relation of abiding in a
common substratum.’ In sAmAnAdhikaraNya  the words are
shown to stand in that relation by their being in the
same case and in the same number. In vyadhikaraNa
vAkya the words have different case and number. The
four mahAvAkyas fall under the category of coordinate
relation or sAmAnAdhikaraNya.

Coordinate relation may be broadly classified into
four main types. They are: bAdhAyAM sAmAnAdhikaraNy
(coordinate relation in terms of contradiction),
adhyAsa sAmAnAdhikaraNya  (coordinate relation in
terms of error), viSheshaNa-viSheshya sAmAnAdhikaraNya
 (coordinate relation in terms of substance-attribute)
and aikya sAmAnAdhikaraNya  (coordinate relation in
terms of identity).

AdhyAsa and viSheshaNa-viSheshya  types have special
varieties under each head. In addition to the above
four main types and their subdivisions, five other
types of coordinate relation are also recognised. All
told, there are sixteen varieties of coordinate
relation. (see table)

The aim of this monograph is to show that the
mahAvAkyas  can be meaningfully interpreted to come
under aikya or abheda sAmAnAdhikaraNya. This is shown
first by demonstrating that no other type of
coordinate relation can satisfactorily explain the
true meaning of the mahAvAkyas ; secondly, it is shown
that only abheda sAmAnAdhikaraNya  can give the
correct interpretation; and thirdly it is shown that
the mahAvAkyas  are to be interpreted through
jahadajahallakshaNa (exclusive signification).

Before we proceed further let us make clear the
meanings of the words ‘Tat’ and ‘Tvam’ in ‘Tat tvam
asi.’ Caitanya is either associated with antaHkaraNa
or not. Caitanya associated with antaHkaraNa  is jIva.
Caitanya not associated with antaHkaraNa  is pure
Brahman. The jIva (associated with antaHkaraNa) is the
primary meaning (vAcyArtha) of the word ‘tvam’ and
Brahman is the secondary meaning (lakshyArtha) of
tvam. Similarly, the words denoting jIva   in the
other mahAvAkyas  have both vAcyArtha  and
lakshyArtha. Caitanya is either associated with mAyA
(nescience) or free from mAyA. The caitanya associated
with mAyA  is iShvara; and the caitanya not associated
mAyA is pure caitanya. The pure caitanya is called
Brahman. The vAcyArtha of ‘Tat’ is iShvara; the
lakshyArtha of ‘Tat’ is Brahman. Similarly the words
denoting ‘iShvara’ (Brahman) in the other mahAvAkyas
have both primary and secondary meanings. iShvara is
the primary meaning, and Brahman the secondary
meaning. When associated with the limiting adjunct
(antaHkaraNa or mAyA), jIiva as well as iShvara is
different from Brahman. Without the limiting adjuncts,
jIva and iShvara are identical with Brahman.

Let us now explain the different types of
sAmAnAdhikaraNya (other than aikya) and show how they
are inadequate to bring out the true meaning of the

1.      bAdhAyAM sAmAnAdhikaraNya (coordinate relation in
terms of contradiction): Someone mistakes a post for a
thief. Another man corrects him saying that the ‘Thief
is a post’ (coraH sthANuH). The statement is intended
to show that the object is only a post. The terms
‘thief’ and ‘post’ are contradictorily related. Yet on
hearing the statement, the man, who has misunderstood
the post to be a thief, corrects himself by abandoning
the object ‘thief’. The coordinate relation, that
exists between the terms ‘thief’ and ‘post’ in the
above statement is in terms of contradiction.

If we accept this type of coordinate relation in
interpreting the mahAvAkyas (which express the truth
that jIva is Brahman), we have to abandon either the
jIva or Brahman. If jIva or Brahman is to be abandoned
by this process, the purpose of the mahAvAkyas is

Let us assume that either Brahman or jIva is to be
abandoned. If Brahman is to be abandoned by this
process, the purport of the mahAvAkya that ‘the jIva
is nothing but Brahman’ is lost. That is, Brahmanhood
which is to be attained by the jIva (by annihilating
ignorance), is itself negated or abandoned. This
cannot be the meaning of the mahAvAkyas which seek to
show the identity between the two. On the other hand,
if jIva is to be abandoned by this process of
bAdhAyAM sAmAnAdhikaraNya, the object with which the
Brahmanhood is to be identified is lost. And if jIva
is abandoned, to whom are the mahAvAkyas addressed?
Further, bAdhAyAM sAmAnAdhikaraNya cannot be applied
to the mahAvAkya ‘Tat tvam asi,’ as the word ‘Tat’ (in
the primary sense) denotes only iShvara and not
Brahman. Similarly the word ‘Brahman’ in the other
three mahAvAkyas denotes (in the primary sense) only
iShvara and not Brahman. The word ‘Brahman’ here
stands for saviShesha Brahman (Brahman with qualities)
and not nirveShesha Brahman (Brahman without
qualities). Since the aim of the mahAvAkyas is to show
the identity of the individual self with the ultimate
Self, they cannot be interpreted through        bAdhAyAM

In this connection it may be pointed out that some
Advaitins use this type of sAmAnAdhikaraNya in
interpreting the mahAvAkyas. But a careful examination
of such an interpretation will show that such thinkers
use aikya sAmAnAdhikaraNya and not      bAdhAyAM
sAmAnAdhikaraNya. Even if bAdhAyAM sAmAnAdhikaraNya is
adopted in interpreting the mahAvAkyas, what is
abandoned is not the jIva in its essential nature,
since by brahmabhAva (brahmanhood) only the jIvabhAva
(jivahood) which is adventitious is lost. The
knowledge of the object as post abandons only the idea
that it is a ‘thief’ and does not abandon the
substratum, ‘object,’ itself. The Advaitins who use
bAdhAyAM sAmAnAdhikaraNya in interpreting the
mahAvAkyas do not accept the abandonment of Brahman.
As the question of sublating Brahman does not arise,
the abandonment can only be that of  jIva and not of
Brahman. In the case of the abandonment of jIva what
is abandoned is the jIvabhAva and not the jIva.
Further, the word tat denotes, according to this
section of Advaitins, nirupAdhika Brahman
(unconditioned Brahman) which is mentioned before in
the sentence “svam apito bhavati.”  (He attains his
own nature) which occurs in the course of the
description of deep sleep. Yet the difference between
the Advaitins who accept        bAdhAyAM sAmAnAdhikaraNya
and those who do not accept this type of coordinate
relation in interpreting mahAvAkyas is a difference in
upeya (end) for, both accept that the mahAvAkyas teach
the non-difference of the Atman from Brahman. Hence
both sections of advaitins accept, in essence, that
the aim of the mahAvAkyas is not to abandon the jIva
but to show the identity of the jIva with Brahman.

(2)     DoshakR^ita-sAmAnAdhikaraNya (coordinate relation
due to error): This is one of the main varieties of
adhyAsa- sAmAnAdhikaraNya. AdhyAsa is the apprehension
of something as something else.  AdhyAsa-
sAmAnAdhikaraNya is broadly classified into
doshakR^itam and adoshakR^itam or AhAryajam. Mistaking
a rope for a snake is doshakR^itam. When we see a rope
as a snake we express our cognition in the form “This
is a snake”. This statement is due to erroneous
cognition (or bhrAntij~nAna). The difference in the
resulting statements distinguishes bAdhAyAM
sAmAnAdhikaraNya from doshakR^ita sAmAnAdhikaraNya
In doshakR^ita sAmAnAdhikaraNya, the difference
between the rope and the snake is not known. Though
the term ‘this’ stands for the rope, it is not known
because snake is superimposed on the ‘this’. As the
main aim of the mahAvAkyas is to remove false
knowledge, they cannot be interpreted through
doshakR^ita sAmAnAdhikaraNya. If it is argued that
this type of coordinate relation can be applied to the
mahAvAkyas, then the mahAvAkyas should have been in
the form “This is IShvara” or “This is jIva”. But the
mahAvAkyas are in the form ‘jIva is IShvara’. Hence
they cannot be interpreted through doshakR^ita
sAmAnAdhikaraNya, as the identity between Brahman and
jIva is not doshakR^itam  which is nothing but
adoshakR^itam (coordinate relation not due to error)
is classified into three types. They are:
        (i)     ShAstrakR^itam (coordinate relation due to
        (ii)    Sa~NketakR^itam (coordinate relation due to
and (iii)   GuNakR^itam (coordinate relation due to

(3)     & (4) Sampad-upAsti sAmAnAdhikaraNya, and
pratIkaupAsti sAmAnAdhikaraNya: The first type of
adoshakR^itam, viz., ShAstrakR^itam may be sub-divided
into two:

(i)     Sampad-upAsti (coordinate relation in terms of
meditation on the excellence of something), and

(ii)    Pratika-upAsti (coordinate relation in terms of
meditation on a symbol).

The statement “ManaH viShvedevAH” can be cited as an
example for sampad-upAsti. Here the numerical
many-ness (anantam) is mentioned as similarity between
the individual mind and viShvedevAH

Meditation upon the mind as Brahman and worshipping a
stone as VishNu are examples of pratika upcAsti. In
the first example we are asked to superimpose the idea
of Brahman on mind and in the second we are asked to
superimpose the idea of VishNu on the stone, even
though no point of similarity is mentioned between the
mind and Brahman or between VishNu and the stone. We
may distinguish sampad-upAsti from pratika-upAsti. In
sampad-upAsti the points of similarity are mentioned
whereas in pratika-upAsti it is not so.

Further, if the superimposed thing or idea is more
important than the substratum, it is sampad-upAsti,
e.g., “The preceptor is the God” (GururdevaH). If the
idea of substratum is more important than the
superimposed, it is pratika-upAsti e.g., “Om Brahma”.
In both the cases the idea of the substratum is not

Both sampad-upAsti- sAmAnAdhikaraNya and
pratika-uAisti- sAmAnAdhikaraNya are not applicable to
the mahAvAkyas for the following reasons:

(a) If the mahAvAkyas are to be interpreted as
statements for meditation, they should have contained
the word ‘upAsti’ directly in them. This is not the
case with the mahAvAkyas.

(b) It may be argued that even though terms indicative
of meditation are not included in the mahAvAkyas, they
are meant only as statements of meditation. This point
may be met by showing that, since moksha is given as
the fruit of these mahAvAkyas and as eternal
liberation cannot be produced by our meditation, the
mahAvAkyas cannot come under this category of

(c) That which is worshipped cannot be Brahman.’  The
mahAvAkyas are not for the sake of including upAsana
on Brahman because when the non-dual nature of Brahman
is experienced, the knowledge of duality disappears
and one who has realised one’s identity with Brahman,
cannot meditate on Brahman.

(d) Statements of meditation should contain the word
‘iti’ (thus). The mahAvAkyas do not have the word

(e) In the mahAvAkyas  we are not asked to reflect on
the individual soul as if it is Brahman. It is
categorically stated in all the mahAvAkyas that the
jIva is Brahman itself.

(f) If we assume that the mahAvAkyas are upAsana
vAkyas (statements enjoining meditation) several
difficulties arise. Are we to meditate (i) on Brahman
as jIva or (ii) on jIva as Brahman? We cannot meditate
on Brahman as jIva for, in that case we will be
meditating on the highest or superior principle in
terms of the lower one. If we are asked to meditate on
jIva as Brahman, repetition of the mahAvAkya   is not

In upAtsana there is no place for argument or
dialectic. Only where there is the employment of
argument or dialectic repetition is necessary. Since
the mahAvAkyas has been repeated nine times to clarify
the doubts raised by Shvetaketu it cannot be a upAsana
vAkya, but it must be a tattva-vAkya.

An objection may be raised to this line of argument by
pointing out that the other mahAvAkyas have not been
repeated at all and that therefore they, at least,
must be upAsana vAkyas. But it must be remembered that
the other mahAvAkyas are not meant to clarify any
doubts on the part of the student; they are uttered in
the course of teaching and not in the course of a
Further the moment these mahAvAkyas are uttered one is
able to grasp the identity between Brahman and Atman.
Three types of adhikArins (qualified aspirants) are
recognised in the Upanishads viz. uttama (best),
madhyama (average) and manda (below average).
Uttama-adhikArin is one who can understand the inner
truth even through the silence of the teacher. This is
the way DakshiNAmUrti teaches his disciples. The
madhyama-adhiAirin catches the inner meaning as soon
as he hears the statement. Only for the last category
of persons manda who have a bundle of doubts to be
dispelled by the process of dialectic, repetition of
truth is necessary.
Only the mahAvAkyas ‘tat tvam asi’ is uttered nine
times in the ChAndogya Upanishad during a dialogue
between the teacher and the student. In the case of
the other mahAvAkyas they are uttered not in the
course of a dialogue between the teacher and the
taught, but in the form of direct teaching by the
Upanishads themselves. Hence where direct teaching has
been resorted to, repetition is not necessary. The
difference among mahAvAkyas is a difference in the
methodology, of stating the truth. Further it can be
shown that the method of dialogue can also be
successfully applied to the other three mahAvAkyas.
Hence the objection does not stand scrutiny.

(g)     If the mahAvAkyas are meant to be upAsana-vAkyas,
they should have come under the karmakANDa and not in
the j~nAnakAnda. So even with reference to the context
(or section) in which they occur, we cannot call them

Because of these reasons we cannot establish the
coordinate relation between Brahman and Atman in terms
of ~strakrta~sjim~n?t~ dhikara~iya.

(5)     ShAstrakR^ita- sAmAnAdhikaraNya (coordinate
relation based on convention): The best example of
this type of sAmAnAdhikaraNya is found in
superimposing the sound ‘a’ on the syllable ‘a’.        The
coordinate relation that exists between the syllable
representing the sound ‘a’ (not the meaning of the
letter) and the akshara (syllable) ‘a’ is referred to
as sa~NketakR^ita. In spite of the coordinate relation
between the syllable and the sound of ‘a’, the
syllable cannot be identical with the sound ‘a’. It is
only a symbol for akAra-akshara. This type of
sAmAnAdhikaraNya cannot be resorted to in interpreting
‘identity statements’ like the mahAvAkyas, for we can
neither say that the ‘I’ is the symbol for jIva nor
say that jIva is the symbol for IShvara.

(6)     In guNakR^ita-sAmAnAdhikaraNya, the coordinate
relation is a metaphorical one. When we say that
“Devadatta is a lion”, the coordinate relation is
between the common qualities (like valour and courage)
found in Devadatta and the lion. This type of
coordinate relation cannot be employed in interpreting
the mahAvAkyas for the following reasons:

(a)     Brahman has been described as nirguNa, nishkriya,
ShAnta, etc. jIva is described as not bound
(aaMsAirin), etc. Hence this type of
guNakR^ita-sAmAnAdhikaraNya  cannot be applied to the
qualityless Brahman or Atman.

(b) When we compare two things, the things compared
should be really different from each other; at the
same time they should possess certain common
characteristics which enable us to make the points of
comparison. We cannot apply this type of coordinate
relation to Brahman and jIva, for they are not really
different from each other, but they only appear to be

(c) It may be argued that there are statements in the
Upanishads which describe Brahman as possessing
qualities; hence guNakR^ita-sAmAnAdhikaraNya may be
applied to the understanding of the mahAvAkyas. But a
little reflection will show that these mahAvAkyas are
statements which have been specifically stated in
order to negate such attributes in Brahman. Hence pure
Brahman is nirviShesha and nirguNa.

(d) Further, it may be argued that this type of
coordinate relation can hold good in the
interpretation of the mahAvAkyas since we view IShvara
as different from jIva, and jIva as different from
IShvara considering the primary meaning of these terms
(vAcycArtha). Both are sopAdhika (with a limiting
adjunct) and hence they can be compared on the basis
of their common qualities. If we can institute a
comparison between jIva and IShvara (because they are
different and yet have common qualities) a question
‘arises whether we compare jIva with IShvara or
IShvara with jIva.

We cannot compare IShvara with jIva, for according to
the definition of comparison, the higher cannot be
compared with the lower. On the other hand can we
compare jIva and IShvara on the basis of their common
qualities? Even this cannot be done, because there
cannot be any common qualities between jIva and
IShvara in the primary senses of these terms. Some may
argue that sentient quality is the common
characteristic between IShvara with jIva, and hence a
comparison is possible. If we accept this point of
view of comparison, then we can also compare a pebble
with IShvara by saying that they have ‘existence’ as a
common quality. This will defeat the very purpose of

Thus we have shown that any variety of the adhyasa-
sAmAnAdhikaraNya cannot be resorted to in interpreting
the mahAvAkyas.

(7)     JAti-vyakti-sAmAnAdhikaraNya (coordinate relation
in terms of the universal and the particular): This is
one of the four varieties of viSheshanNa-viSheshya-
sAmAnAdhikaraNya  (substantive-attribute relation).
The other three varieties are kriya-kriyAvat, guNa
guNin and upakaraNa-upakaraNin.

Words which are placed in the coordinate relation as
in the expression ‘this cow’ refer to one and the same
object. Though the connotations of the words are
different — the word ‘this’ refers to the particular
(vyakti), and the word ‘cow’ refers to the universal
(jAti), they nevertheless refer to one and the same
object. This type of coordinate relation between jAti
and vyakti is known as JAti-vyakti-sAmAnAdhikaraNya.

to be continued

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