Mahavakyas, the four great sentences

Our meditation is a Hindu doha which Swami Saccidanandaji used more than once. It contains the highest spiritual truth. Those of you who like can adopt it as a subsidiary practice for meditation:

“OM. As long as I do not understand the spiritual truth, I am a jiva. (Jiva is the individualized entity, subject to sansara.) When I understand it, I am Ishvara. But I am a Witness of both the state of understanding and the state of ignorance. Therefore right now I am Ishvara of Ishvara. OM.”

Both the states are phenomenally superimposed on the supreme Consciousness, and that supreme Consciousness right now I am. I am that Consciousness on which both the jivahood and Ishvarahood are imposed.

“Vichara Sagara”: “That great and august Power, by means of which Ishvara creates the whole universe, that Sat-Chit-Ananda I am. OM.” When you study the philosophy of Shri Shankara, it presents a two-fold category – transcendental and empirical, the absolute and the relative, the category of the passing and that of perpetual light. Many of his works start with this hypothesis of  the two categories, but he only accepts them to explain and finally to demolish sansara.

In reality there is only one continuous principle Sat-Chit-Ananda, and everything else has only an illusory appearance.  The Vedanta Sutra Bhashya starts with two categories, the and  the seen, and each is totally different from the other, but this is only accepted to explain certain things. To understand this, some of his students write on paper and have it before them all the time: “There is only One Reality Sat-Chit-Ananda and all plurality is merely an appearance.” Everything that we can speak of, that we can hear, touch, taste, see, perceive intellectually, is all merely words, words, and nothing but the modification of words. This is a cardinal point of the philosophy of Shri Shankara. If even in a dream we accept a duality, then it is not the holy philosophy. In truth there is a single identical category of existence. We should never lose sight of this point.

What is the Truth? That which is beyond speech, beyond mind, and beyond the senses. One cannot speak or think of It. Such is the Absolute or Brahman of Shri Shankara.

Some expressions in the Upanishads seem to contradict this idea of identity. In the Upanishads there are three kinds of statements:

(1) sentences for preliminary understanding,

(2) sentences which are to give an understanding, and

(3) sentences put into the mouths of realized beings.

Rama Tirtha said: “When the Rishis speak to children, they use sentences of the first category, for instance ‘I am One, let Me be many.” (“Taittiriya Upanishad” 2.6.1., “Chandogya Upanishad” 6.2.3.) There appear to be contradictions in the Upanishads to those who do not understand. There are eighteen theories given to explain how the world came into being. The purpose of writing the “Brahma Sutras” was to reconcile these seeming contradictions, which are only apparent. Sometimes creation is said to be from the breath of the Lord; sometimes it is said to be by the evolution of akasha into the other elements that creation comes about. Shri Vyasa says in the Sutra of the first pada: “There is no contradiction, because the world never came into being.” If the world had come into being, naturally there could only be one explanation; as it has not, different explanations demonstrate that it has never come into existence. If the world is a dream of Ishvara, what is the use of analysis of the details of the dream? All explanations of the world are not to analyze the dream through the discussion of the koshas, of the antahkarana, of proofs etc., but to show that the dream is an illusion and not a reality.

Pundit Baijnath calls Shruti “a most kind and compassionate mother.” Suppose a child goes out of the house and refuses to return. The mother goes and begs her son to come back. The son makes ridiculous conditions and demands to come back through a separate door or some other way: “I won’t go through the door. I will only go through the window.” The mother complies; and so Shruti employs hundreds of similar allegories and descriptions to bring us to the central truth of Brahman. There are four great sentences, Mahavakyas:

 Tat Tvam Asi (“Chandogya Upanishad” 6.8.7),

Aham Brahmasmi (“Brihadaranyaka Upanishad” 4.10),

Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma (“Chandogya Upanishad” 3.14.3),

Ayam Atma Brahma (“Brihadaranyaka Upanishad” 4.4.5).

 (“Katha Upanishad” 2.2.15): “Him the sun cannot illumine, neither the moon nor the stars nor these lightning flashes, what to say of the physical fire.” He is svavam prakasha, self-illumined, self-evident, and not subject to illumination by any. “When He shines, everybody, the whole world, shines after Him.” This experience is he transcendental or absolute aspect of Brahman, very clearly.

From the exoteric plane, these five modes have a hold on our jivic consciousness; these modes are phenomenal and not real:

(1) Jiva, the individual soul; “I am doing this”, and so forth.

(2) Isha the all-enveloping conscious Reality, the omniscient and omnipresent Lord.

(3) The difference (bheda) between jiva and Isha. The goodness of Isha is paramount. Jiva is limited, subject to suffering, of little power, of doubtful goodness. Isha is none of these. He is unlimited in knowledge, power and goodness.

(4) Avidva, the eternal nescience which creates both jiva and Isha, and which conceals Brahman.

(5) The relations of the locus of avidya and jagat. What is the support or locus of avidya and of jagat? What is that which is supported on Brahman and Isha, Who marks the limits of the planets, the sun and the moon and the Milky Way, and out of fear of Whom they do not move a millionth of an inch out of place? This is one of the knottiest problems in Vedanta.

These five categories strike our mental eye when we start considering the world. They often impinge on our consciousness, demanding an answer. All five categories vanish with the dawn of Self-realization. No beginning of them in time can be conceived. They are objectively real, but transcendentally they are phenomenal. There is a subtle but sharp difference here from the doctrine of the Tathagata. Objectively, they are real.

The knowledge obtained by the senses and the mind is called “empirical” when the spiritual vision is swayed by avidya. Now, validity, immediacy, and possession is the claim of the spiritual vision as opposed to empirical knowledge. The knowledge of the spiritual vision is completely valid. All those Seers who have had glimpses of it have given one and the same verdict. Empirical knowledge from the senses and the mind is not valid, that is, it can be disproved by subsequent scientific knowledge. Aristotelian physics was invalidated by Galileo; Newton’s hypothesis was invalidated by Einstein. Then, the knowledge which is immediate is spontaneous; it is not laboured as the sense-knowledge is. And it possesses the person.

No one has given up the world for the knowledge of Locke, Hume or Russell, but the spiritual knowledge possesses. Everything is given up in order to possess it; people become monks and sannyasis and so forth. The noumenal aspect of Truth is another name for this knowledge. All that is a description of the One who is seated in you as Consciousness.

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