tat tvam asi
Sankara presents the Advaitic vision of the Sruti in all his bhäshyam. He reiterates that Advaita-Brahman alone exists. By jiva, one has to understand the antahkarana-avacchinna-caitanya. He defines the jiva as the owner the body-mind-sense complex, and the experiencer of results of one’s past actions. Therefore, the jiva is indeed the complex of Ätmä and the physical body. However, the physical body is not real; it is mithyä ontologically. On Self-knowledge, this identification of Ätmä with the physical body drops off. Based on Sruti pramäna, Sankara presents the jiva and Brahman as one and inseparable. It means the Ätmä unseparated by the physical body is non-separate from Brahman. Therefore, in absolute sense, the jiva and Brahman is the same. This Ätmä appears as many jivas. Ätmä or Brahman is absolute real, but the jiva enjoys a vyävahärika reality. The jiva is the knower, enjoyer and doer. It has birth, death, reincarnation, and bondage. However, not all these are the essential features of the jiva. Actually, the jiva and Brahman is the same, but because of avidyä that is beginningless, the jiva is endowed with fear of death since the real nature of the jiva that is deathlessness and fearlessness is not exhibited. When avidyä is removed by Self-knowledge, the notion of difference between the jiva and Brahman goes away, and one gets to know the essential non-difference. It now becomes clear that, there is no absolute difference between the jiva and Brahman. Because of the upädhi of mind that is the result of avidyä, Ätmä appears as doer and enjoyer. Essentially Ätmä is non-different from Brahman.
The purport of the sästra can be arrived at by taking into account six factors, i) upakrama, ii) upasamhära iii) abhyäsa iv) apürvatä v) phalam vi) arthaväda. This is expressed in a sloka:
arthaväda-upapatti ca lingam tätparya-nirnaye ||
Meaning, ‘In ascertaining the intent (tätparya) of the Sruti, the characteristic signs are – i) the introduction and the conclusion (upakrama-upasamhärau), ii) repetition (äbhyäsa), iii) originality (apürvatä), iv) result (phalam), v) eulogy (arthaväda) and vi) demonstration (upapatti).
Now let us apply these characteristics in a text i.e. Chändogyopanishad.
i)Upakrama-upasamhärau: means presentation of the non-dual vastu at the beginning and end of the text. In Chändogya-VI.2.1 – sad eva soumya! idam agra äsit is the upakrama. And aitad ätmayam idam sarvam, tat satyam, sa ätmä, tat tvam asi – ‘All this (world) has That for its self. That is the Truth/Reality. That is Ätmä. That (Being) you are’ (Chä.Up.-VI.8.7, VI.9.4, VI.10.3, VI.11.3, VI.12.3, VI.13.3, VI.14.3, VI.15.3, VI.16.3) is the upasamhära that establishes the oneness.
ii) Abhyäsa: or repetition is the frequent presentation of the subject-matter i.e. the vastu in the text. In Chändogya, repetition of the upadesa – tat tvam asi – ‘That (Satyam) you are’ nine times (Chä.Up.-VI.8.7, VI.9.4, VI.10.3, VI.11.3, VI.12.3, VI.13.3, VI.14.3, VI.15.3, VI.16.3) is the abhyäsa.
iii) Apürvatä: means originality or exclusivity. The subject matter i.e. vastu of the text is not available through any other means of knowledge except Sruti. For instance, in Chändogya-VI.14.2 – äcäryavän purusho veda – meaning ‘One who has a preceptor/teacher, knows (the vastu)’ is the apürvatä .
iv) Phalam: or the result is the usefulness of the subject matter of a section, i.e. Self-knowledge. In Chändogya-VI.14.2 – tasya tävat eva ciram, yävat na vimokshye, atha sampatsye is the phalam.
v) Arthaväda: Euology is the praising of the subject matter i.e. vastu at different places. Arthaväda could as well be censuring the opposite i.e. duality or difference. In Chändogya-VI.13.3, ‘atra väva kila sat soumya! na nibhälayase, atra eva kila’ – ‘My Dear! As you do not see what is present in this water though indeed it exists in it, similarly (the Being exists) indeed in this body.
vi) Upapatti: The oneness between the jiva and the vastu is upapatti. Establishing this oneness with reasoning with examples adduced at different places. In Chändogya-VI.8.4 -‘annena sungena äpomülam anviccha’ – ‘With food as the shoot, look for water as the root’ is the upapatti.
It becomes clear from the four mahäväkyas of the four Vedas, i) prajnänaà brahma (Rgveda – Ai.Up.-5.3), ii) tattvamasi (Sämaveda – Chä.Up.-VI.8.7), iii) ayamätmä brahman (Atharvaveda – Män.Up.-I.2), iv) aham brahmäsmi (Sukla-Yajaurveda – Br.Up.-I.4.10) that essentially there is no difference between the jiva and Brahman. In the statement tat tvam asi or ‘You are That’ the word tvam or ‘you’ is to be understood as the jiva. The word tat or ‘that’ is to be understood as Brahman (Chandogya does not use the word Brahman, the word is ‘Sat’/’Satyam’), which is Consciousness. So it is to be understood that, the essential nature of the jiva is Consciousness. From this aspect, there is no difference between the jiva and Brahman. In the statement, so‘yam devadattah – ‘This is that Devadatta’ refers to one non-different person. The word ‘this’ means the Devadatta that is being seen now and here, and ‘that’ means Devadatta at a remote time and place. However, in understanding the statement, the associations regarding time and place are eliminated, and the person called Devadatta is accepted.
Similarly, in the statement, tat tvam asi the two words tat and tvam both means one non-different Consciousness. A question may arise here – how can the jiva who is alpajna, alpasaktimän, and alpavyäpi, and who is denoted by the word tvam be equated with Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent ‘vastu’ who is Sarvajna, Sarvasaktimän, and Sarvavyäpi and is denoted by the word ‘tat’ of the equation, since both are contradictory to each other. Therefore, as per Advaita Vedänta, to understand the meaning of the mahäväkya – tat tvam asi, one has to take the lakshanä or intended-meaning, and not the abhidhä or väcyärtha – direct meaning. Here it becomes necessary to explain the various vrttis used in the language to obtain the purport of any statement.
To ascertain the meaning of a mahäväkya, a thorough understanding of the method employed to know the purport is indispensable. When a sentence is used as a pramäna, its operation is effective; provided the meaning of the words therein and the sentence as a whole, are properly understood.
The meaning of a given word or a sentence can be literal, implied, or figurative, depending on the way it is employed. Words have an inherent capacity to yield appropriate meaning as per the context, which is called vrtti. It indicates the relation (sambandha) between the word (pada) and its meaning (padärtha), resulting in an understanding of the word (säbdabodha). Vrtti can also be defined as the power of the force of a word, by which it expresses, indicates or suggests the meaning of the given word. Vrttis are of three types:
It gives the literal meaning (väcyärtha) of a word. It is also called mukhyavrtti. For example, when you say, ‘this is a book’, the direct meaning of the word ‘book’ is immediately understood. Here, abhidhävrtti operates.
When the literal meaning of a word or a sentence is incongruous, either the meaning must be wrong, or something else is indicated or implied thereby. If the sentence is not wrong, there may be a possibility of conveying some meaning other than the direct one. This is called lakshanävrtti. It gives the lakshärtha – implied meaning. In this case, some aspects of the word or words may have to be discarded, some retained or added, or both, depending on the context. The three subdivisions of this vrtti will be seen subsequently.
This gives the figurative meaning. When the first two types of vrttis fail to convey suitably, one has to employ this vrtti. This will not be applied in our topic.
A lakshanävrtti is applied when the väcya, the immediate meaning of the sentence is incomplete or does not make sense. Lakshanävrtti or implications are of three types i) jahad-lakshanä ii) ajahad-lakshanä and iii) jahad-ajahad-lakshanä or bhäga-tyäga lakshanä. The word jahat is derived from the Sanskrit root √ohäk = tyäge, meaning to discard or abandon. So jahat means to discard, so the direct meaning is dropped, ajahat means without discarding, hence the direct meaning is not dropped, but one more word is brought in to get the intended meaning. And jahäjahat means, part of the meaning is discarded, and part of the meaning is retained to get the intended meaning.
In jahad-lakshanä, one has to discard the väcyärtha or primary meaning is given up, yielding a different sense, which is connected to the primary meaning in some way. The classic example of jahad-lakshanä is gangäyäm ghoshah meaning ‘a hamlet on River Gangä’. One can get the meaning of the sentence only by using jahad-lakshanä. Since it is impossible for a hamlet to be on river Gangä, one has to discard the term ‘River Gangä’ and take tiram – ‘the banks (of River Ganga)’ to be the meaning. Gangä goes away, and tiram comes in. Another example is mancäh krosanti meaning ‘cots cry’. Since cots cannot cry, it means ‘the patients on the cots’ are crying. This is found in English language also. ‘We read Shakespeare’ means ‘we read the works of Shakespeare’. However, this lakshanä cannot be used to understand the mahäväkya – tat tvam asi, since the Consciousness aspect of the words tat and tvam are not being discarded.
In ajahad-lakshanä, the original meaning of a word used is not given up, rather is supplemented by an additional word to obtain the intended meaning. The classic example is sono dhävati – ‘the red runs’. Since the red (colour, being an adjective) cannot run by itself, it has to qualify a noun. Therefore it means ‘the red horse runs’. We get the meaning of the sentence by associating a red horse with the red (colour). This method also cannot be used in deciphering tat tvam asi.
c) Jahad-ajahad-lakshanä or bhäga-tyäga-lakshanä in deciphering Srutiväkya:
In jahad-ajahad-lakshanä or bhäga-tyäga-lakshanä, one part of the apparent meaning (väcyärtha) of a sentence is given up, and the other part is retained. The given-up meaning is contradictory, and the retained meaning is adjustable. To understand tat tvam asi, both jahallakshanä and ajahallakshanä have to be used. The jiva or the tvam-pada is endowed with upädhis such limited knowledge, limited power, and limited pervasiveness, whereas Isvara or tat-pada enjoys Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent status. However, if both the upädhis are discarded, then what remains for both tat and tvam is the Pure Consciousness. This is the meaning of equation tat tvam asi. Here, by jahad-lakshanä the contradictory nature of the upädhis that is remoteness and immediacy; omniscience and limited knowledge which are contradictory are given up. By ajahad-lakshanä the consciousness which is common to both tat-pada and tvam-pada is retained, and the intended meaning of the equation tat tvam asi is understood. That is why it is known as jahad-ajahad-lakshanä.
Most of the criticism cast at Advaita Vedänta are by those who are ignorant of the total context, or do not care to know it fully. This is the reason why one has to learn Vedänta from a competent teacher, who is able to unfold these statements. Sruti also emphasizes the importance of a right Guru. Äcärya Sankara while commenting on such an instruction given in Mundaka Upaniñad advises that, even a scholarly person should not independently enquire into the nature of Brahman.