The Mahavakyas

As happens with a few articles on this site, as the understanding evolves I end up editing an article a few times until it becomes a bit messy. This is one such article, now rewritten and updated here.

Earlier this year, I spoke of the Mahavakyas – phrases said to be used to assist an aspirant in the shift into Unity. [Updated] However, they largely describe the relationship of aspects of Unity with Brahman. Brahman does not unfold until late in Unity so it would seem these are more for the completion of Unity and the shift into Brahman.

I am That, Thou art That, All This is That, That alone Is. From a Unity perspective, That is consciousness or Atman. But from Brahman, That is itself. As English, the phrases can have meaning for both but as Sanskrit, the terms favour the second. The Great Sayings are for the Great Awakening of Brahman.

In the prior article, I listed the 4 from Shankara, as mentioned on Wikipedia. In a discussion with a friend, it became clear this list is actually backwards. As the “I am That” phrase above illustrates, “I” is where it should start.  [Update – reversed sequence correctly – see comments]

1. Prajnanam Brahma – “Consciousness is Brahman” or “That alone Is”
(Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rig Veda)

2. Ayam Atma Brahma – “This Self (Atman) is Brahman”
(Mandukya Upanishad 1.2 of the Atharva Veda)
(also as Sarvum Kalvidam Kaluhidam Bramha – “All This is That”)

3. Tat Tvam Asi – “Thou art That”
(Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda)

4. Aham Brahmasmi – “I am Brahman”
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda)

Note that they come from each of the 4 primary Vedas. They also map the components of full realization from the higher stages of consciousness.

The 4 related realizations were in the sequence of discovery:
Aham Vishvam: I am the Universe
(Taittiriya Upanishad 3.10)
Devo Hum: I am the Devata
Aham Shrivir:    I am the Cosmic Body
Veda Hum: I am the Veda


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28 Responses to The Mahavakyas

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  2. Davidya says:

    Further detail here

    VedaHam: I know the Veda (knowledge)
    Vedo’ham: I am the Veda

  3. Donald Park says:

    “The Unity shift is one of the intellect.” Yes, but I would add, even more profoundly, it a shift in perception. Unity is based on the senses, not just a mental thought arrangement.
    At least that is my admittedly mental thought at this time.

    Don Park

  4. Davidya says:

    Hi Don
    Thanks for your thoughts. I agree Unity is a shift in perception. This is the most prominent aspect of shifting any states of consciousness – how we see ourselves and the world. But what is the cause of that shift?

    We could say each shift is a shift in who we perceive ourselves to be. Those are the major signposts on the journey. We could also talk about experience then becoming.

    But each major shift is characterized by it’s own type of recognition. In the case of Unity, it’s an intellectual shift – a clarification in subtle discrimination that All this is That.

    This is not a contemplative thing or some analysis. It’s a deep recognition on the level of what is known as the resolute intellect, the finest discriminative aspect of mind that becomes resolute or steadfast after becoming associated with the unchanging.

    The point of the article is to outline the “standard” ways the recognition may be discovered. The standard “aha”s we could say.

    For that to take place though, there has to be a value of purification that clears the division between Self and Other, something well softened by the development of the heart. etc….

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  6. Davidya says:

    It should be noted here that the Mahavakyas are given to resolve a quandary. In the shift to Unity, the celestial value of perception and related cognitions are lost when perception shifts into the absolute. The flow of awareness within Itself. This unexpected change in seeing can be disconcerting at first. Hence the traditional practice of a master resolving the doubts with an appropriate phrase to say “this is it”.

    Some comments on this process are here:

  7. Davidya says:

    2 other points
    In the related list at the bottom, Aham refers to the ego or individualization principle (as in Ahamkara)

    Recently, I heard a sage describe Aham Vishvam: I am the Universe as coming after Veda Hum: I am the Veda

    It should be noted that Sanskrit is written as a flow of sound. The spacing is for westerners to more easily read it. For example, Veda Hum is Vedahum. The A of Veda and the A of Aham merge into a long A.

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  25. Davidya says:

    re: “This also maps the full realization of the higher states of consciousness – Self realization, God realization, Unity and Brahman consciousness.”

    This is a simple way to look at it but is a bit misleading. Brahman goes beyond any notion of “consciousness” or “Is”.

    More accurately, the 4 mahavakyas reflect the one way any given being may have their Unity realization.

  26. Davidya says:

    An interesting tidbit came to light.

    Shankara evidently assigned one of the mahavakyas to each of the 4 seats. #3 above is the one assigned to the North seat at Jyotir Math. I don’t know the others and have not found a source.

  27. Davidya says:

    The 4th, Prajnanam Brahma can also be translated to mean Intelligence is Brahman.

  28. Davidya says:

    A good source referred to Aham Brahmasmi as the “last” Mahavakya. It would seem I placed them in the reverse order due to an alignment with prior stages.

    This new sequence makes good sense describing how Brahman may be recognized – that consciousness/ intelligence is That, Atman is, Thou is, and then I am. It also places the Rig Veda first – the source of the other Vedas.

    It makes less sense as a map of the stages though. I’ve edited the article to align with Brahman more than Unity.

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