Sunday, September 1, 2013




Mahaavaakyas are the great dicta, formulae, or pronouncement found in the Upanishads on which the seeker of Liberation from this mortal life has to meditate with one-pointedness.  In the philosophy of Western countries and of some others, inquiry does not go beyond making intellectual inquiry.  Upanishads, philosophical portion of the Vedas, prescribe a way of life for the seeker of Liberation with actions and duties calculated to discipline and purify him called Karmayoga. After leading such a life and eventually forsaking all actions, he meditates on the truths of Upanishads. The highest of the truth is that there is no difference between the individual Self and the Brahman (Supreme Principle). It is to attain this highest state in which the individual Self dissolves inseparably in the Brahman an individual turns a Sanyaasi (renunciation or sainthood)  after forsaking the very Karma that gives him inward maturity.  When he is initiated into Sanyaasa (renunciation) he is taught four mantras, the four Mahaavaakyas. In Sopana panchaka Lord Sankra urges us to chant the Samhitas of Vedas, perform the duties laid down in the Brahmanas of Vedas, finally, to meditate on the Mahaavaakyas, after receiving initiation into them, the purpose being to attain oneness with the Brahman.  In our prayers to God we speak hoping He would listen; He will if our prayers are sincere.  In meditation we get a feeling He speaks to us and we listen. This is a divine feeling we get when we meditate and enter into trance with the Mahaavaakyas or Pranava. This was the experience of Sankara which he has shared with us. Even Lord Krishna use to meditate during morning hours as Puranas reveal. Nowhere Upanishads talk about Mahaavakyas. It was Sankara while commenting on Upanishads identified them as Mahaavaakyas. Later other philosophers like Ramanuja, Madhva and others have also commented on these Mahaavaakyas with their own interpretations based on their philosophy.

Specific Veda mantras help us to transcend this life and become one with the Ultimate Truth.  Some mantras that create vibrations in our naadis (nerves) accomplish such a goal. Those are Mahaavaakyas of Upanishads and Pranava (OM). Upanishads which contain the essence of the Vedas form the Jnaanakhaanda portion of the Vedas are the very foundation of Vedanta-philosophy. Texts of Upanishads are enigmatic in character. They deal exclusively with the discovery of the fundamental Spiritual Truth. They enshrine the doctrine of: 1) the Supreme Brahman; 2) the individual Self; 3) the ultimate goal of life; 4) the way of attaining that ultimate goal of life; and, 5) the impediments on the way of that attainment.

Every individual soul is only a focus, as it were in one infinite Consciousness, referred to as Brahman in all the Upanishads.  Upadhis are the limitations of our souls. They are in simple terms the physical, mental and moral conditions under which we have to work in life. When these upadhis are removed, what we call the individual soul is identical with the Universal soul.

 Mahaavaakyas means great sentences of Advaita Vedanta and Jnaana Yoga.  Mahaa-vaakyas are the heart of Vedanta. Contemplation on Mahaavakyas provide the answer to our question “Who am I?”  This we call enlightenment.  The great maxims called Mahaavaakyas contained in the four Upanishads of the four Vedas describe Brahman as:

1. Praajnam Brahman”—Aitreya Upanishad of Rigveda, meaning “Intelligence or Consciousness is Brahman.  This explains the nature of Brahman and is identified as   Svaroopa-bodha Vaakya in Vedanta.

2. “Aham Brahmaasmi”—Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad of Yajurveda, meaning “I am Brahman’’ This is identified as Anusandhaana Vakya in Vedanta—the idea on which the aspirant tries to fix his mind.

3. “Tattvamasi”—Chandogya Upanishad of Saamaveda, meaning “That thou art”. Here the teacher instructs through this. It can be called Sikshaa vaakya.

4. “Ayam aatma Brahman”—Mandookya Upanishad of Atharvaveda, meaning “This Self or Aatma is Brahman” Here the sentence gives the expression to the intuitive experience of the aspirant. This is identified as Anubhava-bodha Vaakya in Vedanta.

These four maxims are called as ‘Mahaa-vaakyas’ or ‘great maxims or mottos’ which were direct revelations to the seers. Upanishads do not talk about personal God except Svetasvataropanishad, which mentions Rudra as Brahman. Etymologically the word Rudra in Sanskrit is derived as ‘rutaat-kashtaat draavyati iti rudraha’ meaning the chaser of tribulations, trials and torments of the devotees. According to Vishishtaadvaita, Rudra signifies the supreme Paramaatman and not the well-known Rudradeva, Siva. It is therefore proper to conclude that Upanishads dwell on superior and most difficult Jnaana yoga in the pursuit of the Absolute, which is the climax of the spiritual quest. Karma yoga and Bhakti yoga are the other paths of salvation which were not brought to light in Upanishads as such but are dealt at great length in Bhagavadgeeta, which are widely practiced in Kaliyuga and are more suited to the present times. Bhaktimaarga maintains personal relationship with the Supreme in various forms and avatars (incarnations). The Aranyakas shifted the emphasis from the ritualistic to philosophical thought which work was completed by the Upanishads. The Upanishads also develop the monistic ideas scattered in the Samhitas, as conveyed forcibly in the Mahaavaakyas. It is interesting to note that criticism directed against ritualism and ceremonialism is not directed against philosophical conception found in the Mantras which are faithfully acknowledged and vividly developed in the Upanishads.

The Upanishads were grappled with the problem of plurality of God (celestial) and came out with the solution of Advaita. The four Amnaya Mathas (monastic centers) of Advaita philosophy founded by Jagadguru Sankaraacharya have adopted these Mahaavaakyas as their mottos. Sri Sankaraacharya established his monastic centers in four corners of India—Dwaraka, Badrinath, Puri and Sringeri

1.  Dwaraka Kaalika Matha— Tattvamasi”
2.  Badrkashrama Jyotir Matha—“Ayamaatma Brahman”
3.  Puri Jagannaatha Govardhan Matha—“Praajnam Brahman”
                                         4.  Sringeri Saarada Matha—“Aham Brahmaasmi”

                                    Even though not considered among four Mahaavaakyas, the following two oft-quoted maxims can be considered as Mahaa-vaakyas. These are: Satyameva Jayate and   Eko vipraaha Bahudaa Vadanti”.

Satyameva Jayate” is contained in the mantra 3-1-6 of Mundakopanishad, meaning ‘Truth alone wins’. The word Satyam contains three letters ‘sath’, ‘thee’ and ‘yam’. What is designated as ‘sath’ is immortal (the order of sentient). That which is designated as ‘thee’ is the mortal (the order of non-sentient). That which is designated by ‘yam’, is Brahman, because the two signified by the forms of sentient and non-sentient is regulated by the Supreme Brahman implying thereby that ‘satyam’ is Brahman (Chandogyopanishad 8-3-5).

“Ekam sat viprah bahuda vadanti’ is contained in Rigveda 1-164-46, meaning the Supreme or Brahman is addressed by many ways by the learned seers: “That which they call Indra, Mitra, Varuna and Agni, as also the celestial beautiful feathered eagle—that which is the ONE being, the sages call by manifold ways”.  The word Brahman is not found in Rigveda but referred as Tadekam or Tat and by the Vyaahritis Indra, Varuna, Aaditya etc.

Our scriptures have given further guidelines on the nature of Brahman, the Universal Self.  These are:

Sarvam Kalvidam Brahma (Everything is, indeed, the Brahman. All of this including me is that Absolute Reality)

Ekam Evadwiteeyam Brahma (It is one, without second)

Satyam Jnaanam Anantam Brahma  (The Brahman is Truth, Knowledge, Infinite and Eternal)

Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithyam (Brahman is real; the World is unreal)

Bhagavadgeetaa is often called as Geetopanishad. Geetaa unmistakably bears the influence of Upanishads particularly Svetaavataara and Katha.  Geetaa carries the message of the Mahavaakya Tat Tvam Asi (That Thou Art) in its 18 chapters.  The first six chapters of the divine scripture dwell on the Tvam—the Soul. The next six chapters explain the Tat--Supreme and the last six chapters dwell on the union of the soul and god--Aci. In simple language it means: I am His; He is mine; and you and I are one. 18 chapters of Bhagvadgeetaa symbolize 18 steps to heaven. They represent eighteen principles which have to be transcended to reach the Supreme Principle as explained in the Upanishads. These are 5 sense organs, 8 internal enemies like lust and greed, 3 Gunas, Sattva (tranquility, peac , contention), Rajas (anxiety, enthusiasm,  activity, ambition) and Tamas (dullness, ignorance, sorrow) as also Vidya and Avidya. One of the special features of the Sabarimali Temple in Kerala in India is the Padinettupadi (18 steps) a flight of eighteen steps. This is presumed to be the ladder to heaven.

One could see the influence of Upanishads in ancient religions like the Jewish religion. The Jews were called Indians by the Greeks, Judea (yaudheyas) by the Syrians and Kalanis or orthodox people by the Indians.   God is named “Jehovah” by the Jews, meaning ‘I am that”. It’s close proximity to “Aham Brahmaasmi”, the Mahaavaakya from Brihadaaranyaka upanishasd, meaning the same thing is worth noting.


In five verses of his famous work Maneeshpanchakam, Sankaracharya describes the Vedanta terms Guru, Eeswara, the Jeevaa and Aaatma. He makes us realize the oneness in all of them which is the essence of his Advaita Philosophy. The first four verses of Maneesha Panchakam explain the idea contained in the four famous Mahaavaakyas explained above.  Mahaavaakyas derive their greatness among all quotes from Vedas, because they reveal the identity of Jeeva (Self within us) and Brahman (Supreme Principle). There are many important and inspiring quotes  from Vedas which I have been quoting from time to time in many of my discourses, but the above four, one from each Veda, are famous.  Mahaaavakya can therefore be defined as Akhandaartha Bodhakam or the similitude of everything.

The first verse of the Maneeshapanchakam explains Prajnaanam samvit or Consciousness. The second verse contains Brahmaiva aha, which explains aham Brahmaasmi.  Advaita philosophy founded by Sankara is based on the Mahaavaakyas of Upanishads Prajnaanam Brahma and Tatvamasi. Expounding Brahman further in slokas three and four he concludes in Sloka 5 the Self is the essence of happiness.

Sankaraacharya in his Maneeshapanchakam categorically says it is not the caste or the social status or any other attributes of the person that determines the eligibility as the Guru. It is the firm knowledge of the Self that determines the worthiness of the person. He beautifully reveals that it is the one Truth that obtains in the form of Eeswara, Guru and the Self in the five slokas thereby convincing that the essence of Vedanta is contained in all the four Mahaavaakyas. Those who do not find time to undergo study of Vedanta should at least study the five slokas in their life-time with their deeper meanings as explained by great scholars as this famous work serves as Vedanta Darsana (Gateway to Vedanta).

Profound Vedanta contained in five slokas of Maneeshapanchakam with their meanings is given below:  

SLOKA 1—Consciousness is Brahman

Jaagrat-swapna-sushuptishu sphutataraa yaa samvit-udjjrimbhate
Yaa brahmaadi-pipeelikaanta-tanushu proetaa jagatsaakshinee  |
Saivaaham na cha drisya-vastviti dhridha-prajnaapi yasyaasti chet
Chandaaloestu sa tu dvijoe-astu gururityeshaa maneeshaa mama    ||

Whoever has the firm knowledge of being that awareness, which effortlessly shines in the states of waking, dream and deep sleep (in an individual), which permeates all the impositions (upaadhis), from Brahmaa right down to an ant, and is the witness of the creation, he is indeed my Guru, be he an out-caste or Brahmin; thus is my firm conviction.

SLOKA 2--I Am Brahman

Brahmaivaahamidam jagaccha sakalam chinmaatra-vistaaritam
Sarva chaitadavidhyayaa trigunaayaa asesham mayaa kalpitam |
Ittham yasya dhridhaa matih sukhatare nitye pare nirmale
Chandaaloestu sa tu dwijoe-astu gururityeshaa maneeshaa mama ||

I am indeed Brahman and the entire creation is nothing but an extension of Chit, Consciousness. All this has been projected by me on account of ignorance having the three-fold attributes of Sattva (tranquility; peace; contention), Rajas (activity; ambition; enthusiasm; anxiety;  ego) and Tamas (ignorance; dullness; sorrow; misery). In this manner, one whose knowledge is firmly rooted in that which   is happiness, eternal, limitless and pure, he indeed is my Guru, be he an out-caste or Brahmin; thus is my firm conviction.

SLOKA 3--Liberated while Living

Sasvannasvarameva visvamakhilam nischitya vaachaa guroeh
Nityam brahma nirantaram vimrisataa nirvyaaja-saantaatmanaa |
Bhootam bhaavi cha dushkritam pradahataa samvinmaye paavake
Praarabhdaaya samarpitam sva-vapur-ityeshaa maneeshaa mama ||

By the teaching of his Guru, one who has ascertained the entire universe is constantly perishing, who is constantly contemplating effortlessly upon the eternal Brahman with a tranquil mind, who burns past and future bad actions in the fire of knowledge, and who has offered his gross and subtle body to destiny, such a one is indeed is my Guru; thus is my firm conviction.

 SLOKA 4--Contemplation upon the Self 

Yaa tiryang-nara-devataabhirahamityantah sphutaa grihyate
Yadbhaasaa hridayaakshdehavishayaa bhaanti svatoe-achetanaah |  
Tam bhaasyaih pihitaarka-mandala-nibhaam sphoorti sadaa bhaavayan
Yogee nirvritamaanasoe hi gururityeshaa maneeshaa mama ||

That which is clearly experienced as "I" by animals, human beings and divines, by the light of which the mind, sense organs, sense objects and the body shine in spite of themselves being inert, that which like the sun concealed by clouds is covered by the very body, mind etc. that it illumines, on that awareness, the Yogi contemplates and is thus fulfilled at heart; he indeed, is my Guru; thus is my firm conviction.

SLOKA 5--Realizing Self  is the ocean of happiness

Yat saukhyambudhi-lesalesata ime sakraadayoe nirvritaa
Yacchitte nitaraam prasaanta-kalane labdhvaa munir-nirvitah |
Yasmin-nitya-sukhaambudhau galita-dhee-brahmaiva na brahmavid
Yah kaschitsa surendra-vandita-padoe noonam maneeshaa mama ||

By getting a fraction of a fraction of which ocean of happiness the gods like Indra etc. are fulfilled, and having gained which in a mind that is completely at rest, the sage is fulfilled, He is one whose intellect is totally absorbed in the eternal ocean of happiness, and is, therefore, Brahman itself and not merely a knower of Brahman; whoever he may be, his feet are worshiped even by the king of the gods (Indra); He indeed is my Guru. Such is my firm conviction.


1.      D.S. Sharma, A Primer of Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai.
2.      The Greatness of Sringeri, Dakshinamnaya Sri Sarada Peetham, Sringeri.
3.      N.S. Anantha Rangacharya, Principal Upanishads, Bangalore.
4.      David Frawley, Hinduism, Voice of India, New Delhi.
5.      T.R.Viswanathan, Sanatana Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai.
6.       Shakuntala Jagannathan, Hinduism, Vakils, Feffer and Simons Pvt. Ltd.,Mumbai.
7.      Chandradhar Sharma, A critical survey of Indian Philosophy, Motilal Banarasidas Publishers Private Limited, Delhi.
8.      Vidya Ravindra,The Bhagavadgita, Golden Goose Publishing, New Delhi, India.
9.      Swami Viditatmananda, Maneesha Panchakam,   Arsha Vidya Guru-kulam, Salyorsburg, P.A., USA.
10.   Swami Chandrsekharananda Sarasvati, Dhrama, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.