The Mahavakyas (sing.: mahāvākyam, महावाक्यम्; plural: mahāvākyāni, महावाक्यानि) are "The Great Sayings" of the Upanishads, declaring the relation between Atman and Brahman, as characterized by Vedanta philosophy. Most commonly, Mahavakyas are considered four in number,[1][2]

  1. Prajñānam Brahma (प्रज्ञानम् ब्रह्म) - "Knowledge is Brahman," or "Brahman is Knowledge"[web 1] (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rig Veda)
  2. Ayam Ātmā Brahma (अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म) - "This Self (Atman) is Brahman" (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2 of the Atharva Veda)
  3. Tat Tvam Asi (तत् त्वम् असि) - "That you are" (tat, referring to sat, "the Existent"[3][4]) (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda)
  4. Aham Brahmāsmi (अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि) - "I am (part of) Brahman" (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda)

They all express the insight that the individual self Atman which appears as a separate existence, is in essence identical with the Ultimate Reality Brahman.

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".[5] 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 2]

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 1] (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," "that essence (tat, referring to sat, "the Existent"[3][4]) you are" (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda)
  4. aham brahmāsmi - "I am (part of) Brahman", or "I am Divine"[9] (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".[10]

Other Mahavakyas are:

Prajñānam BrahmaEdit

Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rig Veda:

[1] Who is this self (ātman)? - that is how we venerate. [2] Which of these is the self? Is it that by which one sees? Or hears? Smells [etc...] But these are various designations of cognition. [3] It is brahman; it is Indra; it is all the gods. It is [...] earth, wind, space, the waters, and the lights [...] It is everything that has life [...] Knowledge is the eye of all that, and on knowledge it is founded. Knowledge is the eye of the world, and knowledge, the foundation. Brahman is knowing.[11]

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


  • jñā refers to the "understanding" of knowledge, and sometimes "consciousness"[12]
  • Pra is an intensifier which could be translated as "higher", "greater", "supreme" or "premium",[13] or "being born or springing up",[14] referring to a spontaneous type of knowing.[14][note 3]

Prajñānam as a whole means:

Related terms are jñāna, prajñā and prajñam, "pure consciousness".[15] Although the common translation of jñānam[15] 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 1] specifically "Brahman (noun) is Prajñānam (adjective)": "The Ultimate Reality is wisdom (or consciousness)".[web 1] Sahu explains:

Prajnanam iti Brahman - wisdom is the Self. 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/Existent in the Sat-Chit-Ananda or truth/existent-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.[16]

And according to David Loy,

The knowledge of Brahman [...] is not intuition of Brahman but itself is Brahman.[17]

Ayam Ātmā BrahmaEdit

Mandukya Upanisha 1-2 of the Atharva Veda:

[1] OM - this whole world is that syllable! Here is a further explanation of it. The past, the present and the future - all that is simply OM; and whatever else that is beyond the three times, that also is simply OM - [2] for this brahman is the Whole. Brahman is this self (ātman); that [brahman] is this self (ātman) consisting of four quarters.[18]

In Sanskrit:

सर्वं ह्येतद् ब्रह्मायमात्मा ब्रह्म सोऽयमात्मा चतुष्पात् ॥ २ ॥
sarvaM hyetad brahmAyamAtmA brahma so.ayamAtmA chatuShpAt[web 9][web 10]

  • sarvam hyetad - everything here,[19] the Whole,[18] all this
  • hi - (is) certainly
  • brahma - Brahman
  • ayam - this[web 11]
  • ātmā - Atman, self, essence
  • brahma - Brahman
  • sah ayam atman - "this very atman"[19]
  • chatuShpAt - "has four aspects"[19]

While translations tend to separate the sentence in separate parts, Olivelle's translation uses various words in adjunct sets of meaning:

  • सर्वं ह्येतद् ब्रह्मा sarvam hyetad brahma - "this brahman is the Whole"
  • ब्रह्मायमात्मा brahma ayam atma - "brahman is ātman"
  • ब्रह्म सोऽयमात्मा brahman sah ayam atman - "brahman is this (very) self"

The Mandukya Upanishad repeatedly states that Om is ātman, and also states that turiya is ātman.[20] The Mandukya Upanishad forms the basis of Gaudapadas Advaita Vedanta, in his Mandukya Karika.

Tat Tvam AsiEdit

The phrase "Tat Tvam Asi" in the Malayalam and Devanagari scripts, displayed outside the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, India. The sacred syllable "Om" is the glyph in the middle.

Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7,[21] in the dialogue between Uddalaka and his son Śvetaketu. It appears at the end of a section, and is repeated at the end of the subsequent sections as a refrain:

[6.2.1] In the beginning, son, this world was simply what is existent - one only, without a second. [6.2.3] And it thought to itself: "let me become many. Let me propagate myself." [6.8.3] It cannot be without a root [6.8.4] [l]ook to the existent as the root. The existent, my son, is the root of all these creatures - the existent is their resting place, the existent is their foundation[7] The finest essence here - that constitutes the self of this whole world; that is the truth; that is the self (ātman). And that's how you are, Śvetaketu.[22]

Etymology and translationEdit

Tat Tvam Asi (Devanagari: तत्त्वमसि, Vedic: tát tvam ási) is translated variously as "Thou art that," "That thou art," "That art thou," "You are that," "That you are," or "You're it":

  • Tat - 'it', 'that', from which an absolutive derivation is formed with the suffix -tva: tattva,[23] 'thatness', 'principle', 'reality' or 'truth';[24] compare tathātā, "suchness", a similar absolutive derivation from tathā - 'thus', 'so', 'such', only with the suffix -tā, not -tva. Tat refers to Sat, "the Existent,"[3][4] Existence, Being,[25] which is the base of everything.[25] Deutsch: "Although the text does not use the term brahman, the Vedanta tradition is that the Existent (sat) referred to is no other than Brahman."[26]
  • tvam - you, thou[27][25]
  • asi - are, 'art'[25]

Tat, the true essence or root or origin of everything that exists is sat, "the Existent,"[3][4] and this essence is what the individual at the core is.[28][29]


Major Vedantic schools offer different interpretations of the phrase:

  • Advaita - absolute equality of 'tat', the Ultimate Reality, Brahman, and 'tvam', the Self, Atman.
  • Shuddhadvaita - oneness in "essence" between 'tat' and individual self; but 'tat' is the whole and self is a part.
  • Vishishtadvaita - tvam denotes the Jiva-antaryami Brahman while Tat refers to Jagat-Karana Brahman.
  • Dvaitadvaita - equal non-difference and difference between the individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat'.
  • Dvaita of Madhvacharya - “Sa atmaa-tat tvam asi” in Sanskrit is actually “Sa atma-atat tvam asi” or “Atma (Self), thou art, thou art not God”. In refutation of Mayavada (Mayavada sata dushani), text 6, 'tat tvam asi" is translated as "you are a servant of the Supreme (Vishnu)"
  • Acintya Bheda Abheda - inconceivable oneness and difference between individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat'.
  • Akshar Purushottam Upasana - oneness of the individual self, Atman, with Aksharbrahman, while worshipping Purushottam (God) as a supreme and separate entity.[30][31]

Aham Brahma AsmiEdit

Ahaṁ Brahmāsmi (Devanagari: अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि), "I am Brahman" is in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Shukla Yajurveda:

[1.4.1] In the beginning this world was just a single body (ātman) shaped like a man. He looked around and saw nothing but himself. The first thing he said was, 'Here I am!' and from that the name 'I' came into being. [1.4.9] Now, the question is raised; 'Since people think that they will become the Whole by knowing brahman, what did brahman know that enabled it to become the Whole? [1.4.10] In the beginning this world was only brahman, and it knew only itself (ātman), thinking: 'I am brahman.' As a result, it became the Whole [...] If a man knows 'I am brahman in this way, he becomes the whole world. Not even the gods are able to prevent it, for he becomes their very self (ātman).[32][note 4]


  • Aham (अहम्) - literally "I"
  • Brahma (ब्रह्म) - ever-full or whole (ब्रह्म is the first case ending singular of Brahman)
  • Asmi (अस्मि) - "am," the first-person singular present tense of the verb as (अस्), "to be."[citation needed]

Ahaṁ Brahmāsmi then means "I am the Absolute" or "My identity is cosmic,"[33] but can also be translated as "you are part of god just like any other element."


In his comment on this passage Sankara explains that here Brahman is not the conditioned Brahman (saguna); that a transitory entity cannot be eternal; that knowledge about Brahman, the infinite all-pervading entity, has been enjoined; that knowledge of non-duality alone dispels ignorance; and that the meditation based on resemblance is only an idea. He also tells us that the expression Aham Brahmaasmi is the explanation of the mantra

That ('Brahman') is infinite, and this ('universe') is infinite; the infinite proceeds from the infinite. (Then) taking the infinitude of the infinite ('universe'), it remains as the infinite ('Brahman') alone. - (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad V.i.1)[note 5]

He explains that non-duality and plurality are contradictory only when applied to the Self, which is eternal and without parts, but not to the effects, which have parts.[34] The aham in this memorable expression is not closed in itself as a pure mental abstraction but it is radical openness. Between Brahman and aham-brahma lies the entire temporal universe experienced by the ignorant as a separate entity (duality).[35]

Vidyāranya in his Panchadasi (V.4) explains: {{talkquote|Infinite by nature, the Supreme Self is described here by the word Brahman (lit. ever expanding; the ultimate reality); the word asmi denotes the identity of aham and Brahman. Therefore, (the meaning of the expression is) "I am Brahman."[note 6]

Vaishnavas, when they talk about Brahman, usually refer to impersonal Brahman, brahmajyoti (rays of Brahman). Brahman according to them means God - Narayana, Rama or Krishna. Thus, the meaning of "aham brahma asmi" according to their philosophy is that "I am a drop of Ocean of Consciousness.", or "I am Self, part of cosmic spirit, Parabrahma". Here, the term Parabrahma is introduced to avoid confusion. If Brahman can mean Self (though, Parabrahma is also the Self, but Supreme one - Paramatma), then Parabrahma should refer to God, Lord Vishnu.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Consciousness",[6][web 3] "intelligence",[7][8] "wisdom"[web 1]
  2. ^ "The Absolute",[6][web 3] "infinite",[web 3] "the Highest truth"[web 3]
  3. ^ Compare Radhakrishnan's notion of "intuition". See [web 4][web 5][web 6]
  4. ^ : "ब्रह्म वा इदमग्र आसीत्, तदात्मनामेवावेत्, अहम् ब्रह्मास्मीति
  5. ^ : पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते
  6. ^ : स्वतः पूर्णः परात्माऽत्र ब्रह्मशब्देन वर्णितः


  1. ^ "Meditation on Mahavakyas". Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Mahavakyas: Great Contemplations of Advaita Vedanta". Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d Deutsch & Dalvi 2004, p. 8.
  4. ^ a b c d Olivelle 2008, p. 151-152.
  5. ^ Saraswati 1995, p. 4.
  6. ^ a b c d Grimes 1996, p. 234.
  7. ^ a b Sivaraman 1973, p. 146.
  8. ^ a b Braue 1984, p. 80.
  9. ^ Baue 1984, p. 80.
  10. ^, The Upanisads
  11. ^ Olivelle 1998, p. 198-199.
  12. ^ See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "jña," p. 425 (retrieved 14 Aug. 2012 from "Cologne U." at
  13. ^ See, e.g., Monier-Williams (1899), "prā," p. 652 (retrieved 14 Aug. 2012 from "Cologne U." at
  14. ^ a b Loy 1997, p. 136.
  15. ^ a b Raṅganāthānanda 1991, p. 109.
  16. ^ Sahu 2004, p. 41.
  17. ^ Loy 1997, p. 62.
  18. ^ a b Olivelle 1998, p. 289.
  19. ^ a b c Waite 2015, Absolute everything is Brahman.
  20. ^ Olivelle 1998, p. 289-290.
  21. ^ Raphael 1992, back cover.
  22. ^ Olivelle 1998, p. 152.
  23. ^ Ram Chandran, tat tvam asi, Advaita Vision
  24. ^ "tattva - of the truth" from BG 2.16 Archived 2007-02-23 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ a b c d Shankara, Chandogya Upanishad Bhasya - Chapter 6 (Tat Tvam Asi)
  26. ^ deutsch & Dalvi 2004, p. 8.
  27. ^ Sanskrit Dictionary, tvam
  28. ^ Max Muller, Chandogya Upanishad 6.1-6.16, The Upanishads, Part I, Oxford University Press, pages 92-109 with footnotes
  29. ^ Dominic Goodall (1996), Hindu Scriptures, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0520207783, pages 136-137
  30. ^ Aksharananddas, Sadhu; Bhadreshdas, Sadhu (1 April 2016). Swaminarayan's Brahmajnana as Aksarabrahma-Parabrahma-Darsanam. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199463749.003.0011. ISBN 9780199086573.
  31. ^ Williams, Raymond Brady (2001). An Introduction to Swaminarayan Hinduism. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-65422-X.
  32. ^ Olivelle 1998, p. 15.
  33. ^ "Meaning of Aham Brahamasmi". Archived from the original on 27 June 2018. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  34. ^ The Brhadaranayaka Upanishad. Advaita Ashrama. 1950. pp. 98-105, 557, 559.
  35. ^ Raimundo Panikkar (1994). Mantramañjari. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 742–743. ISBN 978-81-208-1280-2.


Printed sourcesEdit

  • Braue, Donald A. (1984), Māyā in Radhakrishnanʾs Thought: Six Meanings Other Than Illusion, Motilall Banarsidass
  • Deutsch, Eliot; Dalvi, Rohit, eds. (2004), The Essebtial Vedanta. A New Source Book of Advaita vedamta, World Wisdom
  • 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
  • Olivelle, Patrick (2008) [1996], Upanisads. A new translation by Patrick Olivelle, Oxford University Press
  • Raṅganāthānanda, Swami; Nelson, Elva Linnéa (1991), Human Being in Depth: A Scientific Approach to Religion, SUNY Press
  • Raphael, Edwin (1992), The pathway of non-duality, Advaitavada: an approach to some key-points of Gaudapada's Asparśavāda and Śaṁkara's Advaita Vedanta by means of a series of questions answered by an Asparśin, Motilall Banarsidas, ISBN 81-208-0929-7
  • 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
  • Waite, Dennis (2015), A-U-M: Awakening to Reality, John Hunt Publishing


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit