The seminal teaching of the Upanishads, also known as Vedanta, is directed at empowering those who are caught in the trammels of transmigratory existence, samsara, with the true knowledge of themselves. This empowerment instantly releases them from the samsara and launches them in the eternal state of liberation, moksha. In the run-up to this empowerment the Vedanta gives out the teaching in a systematic manner consisting of the knowledge of the goal and the means to attain it. It also provides the seeker with the means to attain the means as well. The central teaching, however, is Tat tvam asi, ‘You are That’. Here, the ‘you’ is the spirit that is separated from the unreal superimpositions of the body-mind complex. The ‘That’ is the All-pervading Existence – Consciousness that incidentally is shown as the Cause of the Universe. The Consciousness, spirit, freed from its incidental attribute of creatorhood is what the seeker really is.
This Vedantic teaching of Tat tvam asi occurs in the Chandogya Upanishad Chapter VI in the famous UddAlaka-Shvetaketu dialogue. In this discourse the teaching is given out nine times to the disciple, culminating in the disciple becoming enlightened.
In the process of sadhana, a stage comes where the seeker has just one primary engagement: contemplate upon the sense underlying this central teaching: Tat tvam asi. The VivekachUDAmaNi (A crest jewel of Discrimination) is a famous work of Sri Shankaracharya that gives out the entire teaching of the Vedanta in some 550 verses.
Herein contains a decad of verses giving out the manner of contemplating on Tat tvam asi. The eminently elucidatory commentary of the Jivanmukta Acharya His Holiness Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati Swamiji of Sringeri is an invaluable aid in understanding these verses and deriving their best use. First the ten verses in their original are presented so as to enable one to read, recite, memorize and joyfully contemplate. Subsequently, each verse is taken up for a short elucidation.
जातिनीतिकुल-गोत्र-दूरगं नामरूपगुणदोषवर्जितम् ।
देशकालविषयातिवर्ति यद्ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि ॥ (VC २५५)
यत्परं सकलवागगोचरं गोचरं विमलबोधचक्षुष: ।
शुद्धचिद्घनमनादि वस्तु यद्ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि ॥ (VC २५६)
षड्भिरूर्मिभिरयोगि योगिहृद्भावितं न करणैर्विभावितम् ।
बुध्यवेद्यमनवद्य-भूति यद्ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि ।। (VC २५७)
भ्रान्तिकल्पित-जगत्कलाश्रयं स्वाश्रयं च सदसद्विलक्षणम् ।
निष्कलं निरुपमानमृद्धिमत्-ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि ॥ (VC २५८)
विश्वसृष्ट्यवनघातकारणं ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि ॥ (VC २५९)
अस्तभेदमनपास्तलक्षणं निस्तरङ्गजलराशि-निश्चलम् ।
नित्यमुक्तविभक्तमूर्ति यद्ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि ॥ (VC २६०)
एकमेव सदनेककारणं कारणान्तरनिरासकारणम् ।
कार्यकारणविलक्षणं स्वयं ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि ॥ (VC २६१)
निर्विकल्पकमनल्पमक्षरं यत्क्षराक्षर-विलक्षणं परम् ।
नित्यमव्ययसुखं निरञ्जनं ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि ( VC २६२)
यद्विभाति सदनेकधा भ्रमान्नामरूपगुणविक्रियात्मना ।
हेमवत्स्वयमविक्रियं सदा ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि (VC २६३)
यच्चकास्त्यनपरं परात्परं प्रत्यगेकरसं आत्मलक्षणम् ।
सत्यचित्सुखं अनन्तमव्ययं ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भावयात्मनि (VC २६४)
उक्तमर्थमिमं आत्मनि स्वयं भावय प्रथितयुक्तिभिर्धिया ।
संशयादिरहितं करांबुवत् तेन तत्त्वनिगमो भविष्यति ॥ (VC २६५)
In the sequel these ten verses are taken up for a somewhat detailed study. The translation for each verse is taken from the site: www. shankaracharya.org
- jAti-nIti-kula-gotra-dUragam nAma-rUpa-guNa-doSha-varjitam
desha-kAla-viShayAtivarti yat brahma tat tvam asi bhAvayAtmani 255
That which is beyond caste and creed, family and lineage; devoid of name and form, merit and demerit; transcending space, time and sense-object – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
Caste, creed, family, lineage, name and form are all attributes of the body. The body is inert, made of the five elements. It has a date of arrival and departure. It undergoes several modifications and is exposed to disease. Merit and demerit could be ascribed to the body as well as the mind-apparatus. This apparatus, too, is inert and is made of subtle elements. The body-mind is subject to spatial and temporal constraints. The body and mind are themselves objects to the Consciousness that Sees them. This See-er consciousness that itself is not an object of anything else is Brahman. Again, Brahman is free of all the attributes that are listed above. ‘The seeker I am Brahman in Truth and not the body-mind complex.’ Such ought to be one’s method of contemplation.
2. Yat param sakala-vAgagocharam gocharam vimala-bodha-chakShuShaH
Shuddha-chid-ghanam anAdi vastu yad brahma tat tvam asi bhAvayAtmani 256
That Supreme Brahman which is beyond the range of all speech, but accessible to the eye of pure illumination; which is pure, the Embodiment of Knowledge, the beginningless entity – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
Everything that comes under the categories of species, attributes, action and relationship can be denoted by a word, coming as it is within the range of speech. For example the animal cow belongs to the bovine species and can be thus designated. A black cow is attributed thus and so is designatable as such. A car driver is designatable with reference to his action. A land-lord is referred as such owing to his relationship with the estate that he owns. Thus all that comes within the range of words is limited, of the world and only a product and is perishable. Brahman, on the other hand, being One Only and therefore not being a species, unattributed, actionless and relationless cannot be designated by means of words. It is thus beyond speech. Then how is It to be known at all? The suitably cultivated and trained mind alone can grasp Brahman and that too not as an object by a subject but as the very knower-subject itself. While everything that is objectifiable is perishable, Brahman is Beginningless and therefore Eternal. ‘Such a Brahman am I.’ Thus has one to contemplate.
3. ShaDbhirUrmibhirayogi yogi-hRd-bhAvitam na karaNair-vibhAvitam
Buddhyavedyam anavadya-bhUti yad brahma tat tvam asi bhAvayAtmani 257
That which is untouched by the six-fold wave; meditated upon by the Yogi’s heart, but not grasped by the sense-organs; which the Buddhi cannot know; and which is unimpeachable – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
The six-fold waves that continuously afflict a born entity is: A. birth and death. This pair pertains to the gross body, the anna-maya kosha. B. hunger and thirst. This pair affects the life-sheath or prANamaya kosha. C. misery and delusion. This pair affects the mental personality, the mano-maya kosha. Any being endowed with these personalities is not free from these afflictions. Brahman being without these is definitely the Goal, free of all misery born of all these afflictions. While anything other than Brahman is full of defects, Brahman alone is beyond all defects and therefore the Goal Adorable. ‘I am That Pure Brahman.’ This is the method of contemplation.
4. bhrAnti-kalpita-jagat-kalAshrayam svAshrayam cha sadasad-vilakShaNam
niShkalam nirupamAnam-Rddhimat brahma tat tvam asi bhAvayAtmani 258
That which is the substratum of the universe with its various subdivisions which are all creations of delusion; which Itself has no other support; which is distinct from the gross and subtle; which has no parts, and has verily no exemplar – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
In the earlier verses the emphasis was on the ‘thou’ (Self) part of the mahAvAkya. In this verse the ‘That’ (Brahman) part of the sentence is taken up. Brahman is the support of the entire universe that is superimposed on It out of delusion. There is no entity that supports Brahman. All distinctions based on duality like gross and subtle obtain only in the world; Brahman being neither gross nor subtle. In the world, the earth element is gross and the space element is subtle. Again, the waking world is gross, the dream world is subtle and the causal sleep (potential) world is the subtlemost. Brahman that transcends all the three states does not come under the category of gross and subtle. ‘I am That Brahman’ is the mode of contemplation.
vishvasRShTy-anavaghAta-kAraNam brahma tat tvam asi bhAvayAtmani 259
That which is free from birth, growth, development, waste, disease and death; which is indestructible; which is the cause of the projection, maintenance and dissolution of the universe – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
While anything that comes into being, sentient or insentient, is subject to transformations beginning from birth and ending in death/destruction, Brahman that does not come into being is free from these transformations. That which is the Cause of the creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe remains outside the realm of creation, etc. ‘Such a Brahman am I’ is the way one should engage in contemplation.
6. astabhEdam anapAsta-lakShaNam nistaranga-jala-rAshi-nishchalam
nityamuktam avibhakta-mUrti yad brahma tat tvam asi bhAvayAtmani 260
That which is free from differentiation; whose essence is never non-existent; which is unmoved like the ocean without waves; the ever-free; of indivisible Form – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
Every object in the universe, being created, is not free from the three types of differentiation: 1. sajAtIya – an object similar to itself like a fig tree differentiated from another fig tree, 2. vijAtIya – an object different from itself like a tree that is different from a stone, and 3. Svagata: internal parts that are different like branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, trunk, etc. in a tree. Such differences are inevitable in anything that is created and subject to destruction. Brahman alone is that un-created, imperishable, totally difference-free Entity. While every object created will go out of existence, Brahman will never become extinct. ‘I am Brahman that is thus described’ is the way an aspirant contemplates.
7. EkamEva sadanEka-kAraNam kAraNAntara-nirAsa-kAraNam
kArya-kAraNa-vilakShaNam svayam brahma tat tvam asi bhAvayAtmani 261
That which, though One only, is the cause of the many; which refutes all other causes, but is Itself without cause; distinct from Maya and its effect, the universe; and independent – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
Everything produced can be seen to be caused by some other thing, which itself is a product of yet another produced object. This makes all created things come under the category of products. Brahman alone is the unproduced Cause of everything else that manifests, as a vivarta of Brahman, and appears as this universe of cause and effect. This vivarta takes place through the agency of mAyA, the cause. Thus, in the created phase, we have mAyA as the cause and the entire world of variety as products of mAya. In dissolution all effects resolve in mAyA and emerge from it in the next cycle of creation. Brahman is beyond even this creative-cause mAyA. ‘I am That Brahman that transcends even mAyA and its effects’ – such is the mode of contemplation of a sincere aspirant.
8. Nirvikalpakam analpam aksharam yat kSharAkShara-vilakShaNam param
Nityam avyaya-sukham niranjanam brahma tat tvam asi bhAvayAtmani 262
That which is free from duality; which is infinite and indestructible; distinct from the universe and Maya, supreme, eternal; which is undying Bliss; taintless – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
Everything created has divisions in it in the form of seer, seeing and seen. This is a kind of vikalpam. Brahman alone being uncreated is not subject to this kind of a division. All worldly joy is finite, being produced in time due to contact. The innate bliss of Brahman is uncaused, being secondless, advaitam. While everything in creation is tainted by defects such as perishability, disintegration, etc., Brahman is untainted by any defect. ‘I am Brahman of this description’- such is the kind of contemplation that a seeker engages in diligently.
9. yadvibhAti sat anEkadhA bhramAn-nAmarUpa-guNa-vikriyAtmanA
hEmavat svayam avikriyam sadA brahma tat tvam asi bhAvayAtmani 263
That Reality which (though One) appears variously owing to delusion, taking on names and forms, attributes and changes, Itself always unchanged, like gold in its modifications – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
A ring, chain, bangle etc. are all modifications of gold; they are gold alone appearing in their shapes. Even though we use these ornaments differently, at the back of our mind we do not cease to be aware that they are all gold alone in truth. Even so, all things seen in the world are appearances of the Cause, Brahman alone. It is owing to ignorance of the underlying reality that we think that objects of the world are real things themselves. It is with the help of the teaching of the Scripture and the Acharya that the truth is known. The contemplation that leads to the direct realization of the truth is: ‘I am Brahman appearing as this variegated world.’
10. Yat chakAsti anaparam parAt-param pratyagEka-rasam AtmalakShaNam
Satya-chit-sukham anantam avyayam brahma tat tvam asi bhAvayAtmani 264
That beyond which there is nothing; which shines even above Maya, which again is superior to its effect, the universe; the inmost Self of all, free from differentiation; the Real Self, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute; infinite and immutable – that Brahman art thou, meditate on this in thy mind.
In this concluding verse on the contemplation of ‘Tat tvam asi’, Sri Shankaracharya points out that the all-pervading Universal Cause, Brahman, is none other than the inmost Self of all, the Atman. The ‘Tat’ is shown to be the very ‘tvam’ that the aspirant thus far identified himself with. This ‘tvam’, now cleansed of all the ignorance-based adjuncts (upAdhi) is verily the Brahman, the Consciousness. The realization ‘I am Brahman, the Supreme Cause of the entire universe’ dawns as a result of constant deliberation and meditation.
The fruit of the above manner of contemplation:
uktamartham imam Atmani svayam bhAvaya prathita-yuktibhir-dhiyaa
samshayAdi-rahitam karAmbuvat tena tattva nigamo bhaviShyati 265
On the Truth, inculcated above, one must oneself meditate in one’s mind, through the intellect, by means of the recognised arguments. By that means one will realise the truth free from doubt etc., like water in the palm of one’s hand.
The exercise of hearing, cogitating and contemplating culminates in the direct realization of the Truth. It is this realization that puts an end to bondage and confers liberation to the aspirant. For the exercise to really work and result in liberating knowledge, the mind-apparatus where the exercise takes place has to be rendered pure, sharp and subtle. When an aspirant strives with these prerequisites in place, the resultant liberated state will be distinctly discernible just as water put on one’s palm is clearly discernible. The idea is that such an aspirant will be left without any doubt, miscomprehension and non-comprehension regarding his state of liberation. It is the Guru’s constant care, blessing and guidance that enable this attainment.
Glory to the Guru! Glory to Acharya Shankara!!
Read here an article: A Spiritual Journey Through the Vivekachudamani:
‘Tat tvam asi’ Resources:
- An article titled ‘Tat tvam asi Nine Times’ – a detailed study of the Chandogya Upanishad Chapter VI can be read here: https://adbhutam.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/tat-tvam-asi-nine-times/
2. Another article: ‘The Flawless Advaitic teaching of Tat tvam asi’ is available here:
3. Another Article: The Pre-eminently Advaitic ‘Atat tvam asi’:
Om Tat Sat