Posted by: adbhutam | November 7, 2009

The Preeminently Advaitic ‘Atat tvam asi’

Shrigurubhyo namaH

The Chandogya Upanishad Chapter VI contains a dialogue between Uddalaka, the father-teacher and Shvetaketu, the son-disciple on Sadvidya or Atmavidya.  The Upanishad presents Sat, the Existence Principle, Brahman, as the material cause of the entire universe.  It teaches that the universe, the effect, of the Cause Sat, is non-different from the cause in the absolute sense.  It gives out the teaching ‘Tat tvam asi’ nine times to impress upon the disciple that he, in essence, is non-different from the Sat.  This realization of the Advaitic identity, the Upanishad teaches, constitutes the liberating knowledge.

However, being founded on theistic considerations, the Dvaita school opted to make a forced reading: ‘atat tvam asi’ (You are not That) and concluded that the teaching is aimed at confirming the difference between the soul and the Supreme.

Be that as it may, the Advaitin is undaunted by such a reading.  He takes up this reading ‘atat tvam asi’ for analysis and concludes that even this reading results in the Advaitic teaching that is got from the correct reading ‘Tat tvam asi’.  In the sequel the method of such an analysis and conclusion is presented.

The word ‘atat’ is a compound consisting of ‘a’ and ‘tat’.  The sound/syllable/word ‘a’ refers to Atman, the innermost self.  Shri Paramashivendra Saraswati (16-17th Century AD), the Preceptor of the great jivan-mukta Yogi Shri Sadashivendra Saraswati of Nerur, had compiled a work titled: ‘VedAnta-nAma-ratna-sahasram’ (A collection of a thousand name-gems from the Vedanta on Atman/Brahman).  This work is published by Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Sankara Mandir, Secunderabad, India, in 1969 under the editorial guidance of Brahmasri S.R.Krishnamurti Sastrigal.  In this work the name ‘akAraH’ is shown as a Vedic name for pratyagAtma, the innermost Self.  Thus it says:

अकार:  – प्रत्यगात्मा । ननु अकारस्य प्रत्यगात्मपरत्वं कथं, अप्रसिद्धत्वात् इति चेन्न । श्रुत्यैव प्रतिपादनात् । तथाहि – ‘अथैषो एवाकार आप्ततमार्थ:’ इति ।  अत्र एवकारो भिन्नक्रम: । अकार आप्ततमार्थ: एव, व्याप्ततमार्थ एवेत्यर्थ: । स च व्याप्ततमार्थ:  क: यस्मिन् अकारस्य वृत्तिर्भवति इत्यत आह श्रुति: – आत्मन्येवेति – प्रत्यगात्मन्येवेत्यर्थ: ।

[’akaaraH’ – is the Innermost self.  Question:  How is ‘akaaraH’ conducive to denote the innermost Self as it is not a popular usage? Reply:  Since it is established by the Shruti itself, there is no defect.  Thus says the Shruti: ‘ thus, this alone/itself is ‘akaaraH’ in the sense of being the innermost.’  Here, the ‘itself’ is to be read as ‘ akaaraH is in the sense of being the innermost alone.’  It means: akaaraH is also supremely all-pervading.  Where does this akaaraH apply itself? Replies the Shruti: in the Self itself; Innermost Self itself. ]

The Author concludes that this Atman is ‘All-pervading’ because the word ‘aaptatamaarthaH’ of the Shruti means: 1. The most intimate, loveable, innermost. 2. aapnoti/vyaapnoti means ‘all-pervading’.

By taking the meaning of ‘a’ to be the innermost self  on the authority of  the above, we arrive at the purport of the compound word ‘atat’ as ‘that ‘tat’ which is ‘none other than the innermost self’.  The entire sentence: ‘atat tvam asi’ would mean: You (tvam) are verily (asi) That Sat which is none other than the Innermost self (atat)’

Objection:  In the whole sentence of the teaching: ‘tat satyam sa aatmaa atat tvam asi shvetaketo’ there is already the word ‘aatmaa’ appearing just before the ‘atat’.  You have taken the ‘a’ of ‘atat’ to mean ‘aatmaa’.  Is there not the defect of repetition, punarukti?

Reply: There is no such defect.  This reading quite eminently brings out the advaitic purport of the teaching.  The first occurrence of ‘aatmaa’ refers to the ‘Tat’, the Sat, of this Upanishad which is the Cause of the universe.  This is the Supreme, the ‘tat-pada’ of the mahavakya ‘tat tvam asi’.  The second occurrence of the word ‘aatmaa’ is in the compound word ‘atat’ in the form of the ‘a’.  This signifies the non-difference of the Supreme ‘aatmaa’ and the tvam, the soul.  How?  The purport is this: You are That ‘tat’ which is none other than your innermost self (‘a-tat’).  To explain further: The ‘tat’, Supreme, which is none other than your innermost self, pratyagaatmaa, ‘a-tat’ is you.  प्रत्यगात्माभिन्नतत् त्वं असि.  The Taittiriya Upanishad says: ’यो वेद निहितं गुहायां परमे व्योमन्’ [‘He who realizes It, Brahman, available in the cave of the intellect…’] This consciousness that is experienced by all is the Tat which is non-different from the innermost Self.

The method of arriving at the identity is explained thus:

The Sat which is the material cause of the whole universe is really the Pure Consciousness.  The material universe, formed of the matter fire, water and earth, which themselves are evolutes of Sat, is in effect non-different from the Sat itself as per the ‘VAchaarambhaNa shruti’ of this very Upanishad.  According to this teaching, all the effects are merely words and their substance is only their causal principle.  Therefore, when the entire gamut of the effect, the whole universe, which includes the body-mind apparatus of the soul, is negated as anAtmaa, insubstantial, what remains is the One Pure Sat, Consciousness, The Cause.  Since the Consciousness present in Shvetaketu is non-negatable, it alone remains.  This is identical with the Non-negatable Cause, the Sat.

To conclude, the reading ‘atat tvam asi’ too culminates, flawlessly, in the eminent Advaitic teaching exactly the same way the reading ‘tat tvam asi’ conveys.  Thus, this reading is yet another jewel in the resplendent Crown of Advaita.

Om Tat Sat


  1. The Aitareya Aranyakam has a mantra: ‘अ इति ब्रह्म…’ ‘a’ is Brahma’
  2. The Lord says in the Gita 10.33: ’अक्षराणां अकारोऽस्मि’ (‘I am the syallable ‘a’ among the alphabets’)
  3. Sri Madhwacharya is reliably learnt to have given the meaning ‘विष्णु:’ for the syllable ‘अ’ in his commentary for the word ‘अक्रतु:’ occurring in I.ii.20 of the Kathopanishat.  Thus ‘अ’ = ’विष्णु:’ according to him. [By applying this meaning, the ‘atat tvam asi’ will be comprehended as: ‘विष्णुतत् त्वं असि’ – You are that Tat which is non-different from Vishnu]
  4. The derivation of the Advaitic purport from ‘atat tvam asi’ can be worked out by taking the above instances also in many ways.

Om Tat Sat


  1. here is the link

    with warm regards

    • I had seen that ‘refutation’ when it was written over ten years ago. There is no need to respond to that.

      • thank you sir
        i am immensely grateful

        with war regards

  2. नमश्शिवाय​। 🙏🏼 dear adbhutam

    Dear subrahmaṇiam avargal, you have mentioned salient points.

    And thank you so much for mentioning the beautiful interpretation of atat from the work of श्रीपरमशिवेन्द्रसरस्वति स्वामिनः

    Then you’ve beautifully extended it over here.

    PS: One must seriously abstain in making cheap statements on श्वेतकेतु (Śvetaketu) saying that he is with full of arrogance on his knowledge when he returned from his gurukula.

    And then on the other social media you’ve made a most noticeable statement: आत्मविद्या should not be given unsought and that too only to the duly qualified. Both these requirements are met here: 1. Shvetaketu asks for it and 2. His way of addressing ‘bhagavaḥ’ (कथं नु भगवः स आदेशो भवतीति) shows he is qualified to receive it, especially that he is devoid of pride, etc. that was in him when he returned from the Gurukula.


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