Vedantic Wednesday: The story in the Mahavakyas

Vedic texts, wisdom and teachings are all born out of the four aphorisms or mahavakyas. ‘Prjnanam brahma’, ‘Tat vam asi’ , guru‘Aham Brahmasmi’  and ‘Ayam Atma Brahma’ . For quite sometime now I was trying to deliberate on understanding the import of these independently – obviously with little results!

Recently I came across the underlying connect in these Mahavakyas, which explains how within these and in these is the eternal truth firmly ensconced.  Though understanding the connect is far from understanding and experiencing the aphorisms themselves, this I thought could be a worthy starting point. Let us understand this connect through the journey of a student.

A disciple approaches the Guru seeking to understand the ultimate reality. The master then defines the truth as ‘Prjnanam brahma’ or ‘Consciousness is Brahman’. Since this is the mahavakya that defines Brahman, it is called ‘laksana-vakya’ or statement of definition. The student reflects on this definition and gets an inkling that Consciouness, the subject, is ever experienced as the I, is what is being pointed out by the teacher as the Truth.

This leads to the student being filled with doubts, as he has always thought that the ultimate truth was something other than himself. He thus, comes back to the teacher for clarification. The teacher then propounds on the second mahavakya, saying that the you the seeker is the sought. This ‘Tat vam asi’ or ‘That Thou Art’ is the mahavakya that provides ‘upadesa’ or ‘teaching’ and is called ‘updesa vakya’ or statement of instruction.

Endowed with the knowledge that Self is the non-dual Brahman the student sits in meditation and overcomes the habitual notion that the body, mind, intellect and other conditionings are the Self. He then comes to directly experience the Self as Brahman – ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ or ‘I am Brahman’. This mahavakya is called ‘anubhava-vakya’ or ‘statement of experience’.

Once he has experienced his real nature, the Guru asks him to ever revel and abide in that knowledge. The nature of this abidance is ‘Ayam Atma Brahma’ or ‘This Self is Brahman’. The student never loses sight of this Truth even while engaging in the world. This mahavakya is called ‘anusandhana-vakya’ or ‘statement of constant practice’

The progression of understanding, assimilation and imbibing of each of the mahavakyas will lead us to the ultimate goal. But as these mahavakyas are just three words, we have a whole lot of texts trying to explode their essence for the grasp of the common man.


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