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The Mahavakyas (sing.: mahāvākyam, महावाक्यम्; plural: mahāvākyāni, महावाक्यानि) are "The Great Sayings" of the Upanishads, as characterized by the Advaita school of Vedanta.

Most commonly, Mahavakyas are considered four in number,[1][2]

  1. Prajnanam Brahma (प्रज्ञानम् ब्रह्म)
  2. Ayam Atma Brahma (अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म)
  3. Tat Tvam Asi (तत् त्वम् असि)
  4. Aham Brahma Asmi (अहम् ब्रह्म अस्मि)

The four principal MahavakyasEdit

Though there are many Mahavakyas, four of them, one from each of the four Vedas, are often mentioned as "the Mahavakyas".[3] According to the Vedanta-tradition, the subject matter and the essence of all Upanishads are the same, and all the Upanishadic Mahavakyas express this one universal message in the form of terse and concise statements.[citation needed] In later Sanskrit usage, the term mahāvākya came to mean "discourse", and specifically, discourse on a philosophically lofty topic.[web 1]

According to the Advaita Vedanta tradition the four Upanishadic statements indicate the ultimate unity of the individual (Atman) with Supreme (Brahman).[citation needed]

The Mahavakyas are:

  1. prajñānam brahma - "Prajñāna[note 1] is Brahman"[note 2], or "Brahman is Prajñāna"[web 3] (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rig Veda)
  2. ayam ātmā 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 brahmāsmi - "I am Brahman", or "I am Divine"[7] (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda)

People who are initiated into sannyasa in Advaita Vedanta are being taught the four [principal] mahavakyas as four mantras, "to attain this highest of states in which the individual self dissolves inseparably in Brahman".[8]

Other MahavakyasEdit

Prajñānam BrahmaEdit

Several translations, and word-orders of these translations, are possible:


  • jñā can be translated as "consciousness", "knowledge", or "understanding."[9]
  • Pra is an intensifier which could be translated as "higher", "greater", "supreme" or "premium",[10] or "being born or springing up",[11] referring to a spontaneous type of knowing.[11][note 3]

Prajñānam as a whole means:

  • प्रज्ञान, "prajñāna",[web 7]
    • Adjective: prudent, easily known, wise[web 7]
    • Noun: discrimination, knowledge, wisdom, intelligence. Also: distinctive mark, monument, token of recognition, any mark or sign or characteristic, memorial[web 7]
  • "Consciousness"[4][web 2]
  • "Intelligence"[5][6]
  • "Wisdom"[web 3]

Related terms are jñāna, prajñā and prajñam, "pure consciousness".[12] Although the common translation of jñānam[12] is "consciousness", the term has a broader meaning of "knowing"; "becoming acquainted with",[web 8] "knowledge about anything",[web 8] "awareness",[web 8] "higher knowledge".[web 8]


Most interpretations state: "Prajñānam (noun) is Brahman (adjective)". Some translations give a reverse order, stating "Brahman is Prajñānam",[web 3] specifically "Brahman (noun) is Prajñānam (adjective)": "The Ultimate Reality is wisdom (or consciousness)".[web 3]

Sahu explains:

Prajnanam iti Brahman - wisdom is the soul/spirit. Prajnanam refers to the intuitive truth which can be verified/tested by reason. It is a higher function of the intellect that ascertains the Sat or Truth in the Sat-Chit-Ananda or truth-consciousness-bliss, i.e. the Brahman/Atman/Self/person [...] A truly wise person [...] is known as Prajna - who has attained Brahmanhood itself; thus, testifying to the Vedic Maha Vakya (great saying or words of wisdom): Prajnanam iti Brahman.[13]

And according to David Loy,

The knowledge of Brahman [...] is not intuition of Brahman but itself is Brahman.[14]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Consciousness",[4][web 2] "intelligence",[5][6] "wisdom"[web 3]
  2. ^ "The Absolute",[4][web 2] "infinite",[web 2] "the Highest truth"[web 2]
  3. ^ Compare Radhakrishnan's notion of "intuition". See [web 4][web 5][web 6]


  1. ^ "Meditation on Mahavakyas". Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Mahavakyas: Great Contemplations of Advaita Vedanta". Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  3. ^ Saraswati 1995, p. 4.
  4. ^ a b c d Grimes 1996, p. 234.
  5. ^ a b Sivaraman 1973, p. 146.
  6. ^ a b Braue 1984, p. 80.
  7. ^ Baue 1984, p. 80.
  8. ^, The Upanisads
  9. ^ See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "jña," p. 425 (retrieved 14 Aug. 2012 from "Cologne U." at
  10. ^ See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "prā," p. 652 (retrieved 14 Aug. 2012 from "Cologne U." at
  11. ^ a b Loy 1997, p. 136.
  12. ^ a b Raṅganāthānanda 1991, p. 109.
  13. ^ Sahu 2004, p. 41.
  14. ^ Loy 1997, p. 62.


Published sourcesEdit

  • Braue, Donald A. (1984), Māyā in Radhakrishnanʾs Thought: Six Meanings Other Than Illusion, Motilall Banarsidass
  • Grimes, John A. (1996), A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English, SUNY Press
  • Loy, David (1997), Nonduality. A Study in Comparative Philosophy, Humanity Books
  • Raṅganāthānanda, Swami; Nelson, Elva Linnéa (1991), Human Being in Depth: A Scientific Approach to Religion, SUNY Press
  • Sahu, Bhagirathi (2004), The New Educational Philosophy, Sarup & Sons
  • Saraswati, Chandrasekharendra (1995), Hindu Dharma: The Universal Way of Life, Bhavan's Book University, ISBN 81-7276-055-8
  • Sivaraman, K. (1973), Śaivism in Philosophical Perspective: A Study of the Formative Concepts, Problems, and Methods of Śaiva Siddhānta, Motilall Banarsidass


External linksEdit