[Advaita-l] upanishad mahAvAkya-s

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Fri Jan 11 18:10:22 CST 2008

I have been rather silent on the list of late, but have been meaning to respond to a few recent threads.

prajnAnam brahma occurs in aitareya upanishat. A related vAkya, vijnAnam Anandam brahma, is in bRhadAraNyaka upanishat.

The content and number of mahAvAkyas have to be understood appropriately with respect to the context. In the mANDUkya, na prajnAnaghana is not meant to deny the AtmasvarUpa as pure consciousness. It is this meaning that is conveyed by the word prajnAna in aitareya upanishat.

As for number, no one claims that there are ONLY four mahAvAkya-s from the perspective of philosophical import. Rather, four mahAvAkya-s come into play in the context of traditional initiation into saMnyAsa. The texts that serve as manuals (like viSveSvara sarasvatI's and vAsudevASrama's texts) describe how at the time of initiation into saMnyAsa, a mahAvAkya each from the four veda-s is imparted by the guru. Optionally, only the vAkya from one veda may be imparted, according to the SAkhA of the disciple. vAsudevASrama actually lists four sets of four mahAvAkya-s, the first set of which is the standard list - ayamAtmA brahma, tat tvam asi, ahaM brahmAsmi and prajnAnam brahma.

There is a great neatness in this arrangement, which is perfect in terms of upadeSa - one sentence each in the first person, second person and third person, covering ahaM (I), tvaM (you) and ayaM (he), which convey that the jIva is in reality brahman and a fourth sentence that points to the sense in which this equation is made. It is not a question of traditional belief. It is an issue of traditional practice.


> Sorry for digressing the main topic here...when upanishad itself saying
> Atma svarUpa is not that of prajnAna ghana (reference vide mAndUkya) how
> can we say prajnAnam brahma is the mahAvAkya in advaita vEdAnta?? Is there
> any difference in saying prajnAnaM and prajnAna ghana ?? While commenting
> on the 12th maNtra of mAndUkya shankara points out that Atman's essential
> nature is *pure OmkAra* which is devoid of the distinction of the name and
> the named and concludes that the OmkAra has become the nondual reality
> which is free from all distinctive details and auspicious.
> Just a curious question, while commenting on tattvamasi, ahaM brahmAsmi,
> prajnAnaM brahma, ayamAtma brahma etc. whether shankara declare that these
> are the ONLY four mahAvAkya-s that can be found in shruti?? I dont think
> so... When each and every word of shruti is sacred & worth for
> contemplation, how can we restrict mahAvAkya-s to only 4 Nos.??
> Kindly pardon me if I asked anything against the traditional belief....
> Hari Hari Hari Bol!!!
> bhaskar
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