The Mahavakya – Updated

The Mahavakya – Updated

When I previously wrote an article on the Mahavakya (great sayings), I used an old understanding, informed by a 70’s talk by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (before he was differentiating the Brahman stage) and common English translations. It’s time for an update.

The common translations are “I am That, Thou art That, All this is That, and That alone is.” These are lovely and sound both like realizations of Unity Consciousness and of the stages to it – if we take That to be equivalent to Atman. Or as Brahman where Atman = Brahman.

But while Atman does eventually come to be recognized as Brahman, they are not at all the same thing. Atman is the dynamics of self-aware consciousness that lead to the appearance of ourselves and the world. Brahman is beyond that but inclusive of Atman.

When we look at the actual Sanskrit mahavakya, we discover they are usually listed in roughly the opposite order and describe realizations of Brahman rather than Unity. Brahman is a bigger shift, and it makes sense the great sayings would be for the “great awakening.” (Brahman means The Great)

For example, #2 below does not mean Atman = Brahman. It means we realize what we had thought to be the ultimate reality of consciousness turns out to be Brahman. (although that’s not ultimate either)

[Update: Brahman is not a realization of the intellect that the Mahavakya point to. Seems they are realizations of late Unity that may be used during the transition where the Brahman shift follows.]
It also makes sense to me that these would be most beneficial with the Brahman shift as it often begins with a loss of Unity. Without background, the loss may confuse or mislead. But if we’ve been given the right understanding, the mahavakya can serve us.

1. Prajnanam Brahma – “Consciousness is Brahman” or “Knowledge or Intelligence is Brahman”
(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)

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 they come from each of the 4 primary Vedas.

Other mahavakya you may see include:
Ekam Evadvitiyam Brahma – “Brahman is one, without a second”
(Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1 of the Sama Veda)

Sarvam Kaluhidam Brahma – “All of this is Brahman” or “All this is That”
(Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1 of the Sama Veda)

There are several related realizations related to advanced Unity. This is the usual sequence of discovery:

Aham Vishvam: I am the Universe
(Taittiriya Upanishad 3.10)
Devo Hum: I am the Devata (body)
Aham Shrivir: I am the Cosmic Body
Vedo’Ham: I am the Veda  (VedaHam: I know the Veda (itself))

Note that Aham is the I-sense, as in Ahamkara or ego.

One sage describes the first above as coming after the last, but if we relate to the universe as hiranya garbha (the golden egg), that would typically come first.

There is rich understanding to support our journey in the Vedas but much of it has been poorly framed. Gradually that is getting addressed.

Last Updated on March 29, 2021 by Davidya

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  1. Share

    It’s been my experience that we can create our own mahavakya. I had an experience of profound beauty in July of 2016. I’m finding that the phrase “I am that eternal beauty” or simply “that beauty” re enlivens that profound experience. And to such an extent that that energy can be used for healing. My guess is that a “perfect storm” occurred which allowed me to imbibe Being/Source/God to an extraordinary degree. Especially if the traditional phrases don’t work for someone, I encourage people to find words for their own most profound living of Being and use that to remind themselves. Or even to remind their body.

    1. Hi Share
      Beautiful. Key it seems to me is using the memory to access the energy rather than the memory of the experience. The second is the past and can led us to be attached to it. That can be a barrier to growth.

      I’ve talked in the past about using a small rock to remind us to culture gratitude, for example.

      However, the term “mahavakya” has a very specific meaning associated with the BC shift. This article was updating that. What you describe is something different so I’d use a different term. Like a ‘pointer’ or ‘aphorism’.

      While some may use phrases like “I am That” the way you describe, this is not using them as a mahavakya. It’s worth being clear on that point. They’re not affirmations but rather realizations. And those don’t happen until we reach that stage.

      Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Sabrina
      Yes, however the vibration of the sound “beauty” doesn’t create the value directly. It requires a meaning association or connection. True name and form is direct. The sound of the vibration of the form is the same as the name.

      This relates to the science of mantra too.

      That said, a human voice isn’t capable of making such sounds directly as forms are produced by complex simultaneous vibrations. So we use “shorthand” or we uses sentences that “list” the sounds. Some of the Vedas are of that nature.

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