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The four great Vedic statements

By Swami Nikhilananda
Sri Ramakrishna Centre, New York, USA

The identity of Brahman and Atman (the embodied soul) has been expressed in the well known Vedic formula as Maha Vakya (great dictum) "THAT THOU ART".

The very conception of Atman in the Upanishads implies that it is the knowing subject within us. It is the inner consciousness and the real agent of perception , the senses being mere instruments. Perception, which is a conscious act, is impossible without the presence of a sentient principle which is Atman(Self).

He who says:"Let me smell this"- he is Atman; the nose is the instrument of smelling.

He who says:"Let me think this"- he is Atman; the mind is his
divine eye.

Because Brahman is identical with Atman, Brahman is consciousness, knowledge, light. It is self-luminous and needs no other light to illumine itself. It is the light of lights; it is that which they know who know the Self.

What is the process by which a student realises his oneness with Brahman?
The teacher instructs him about the four great Vedic statements asserting this unity directly experienced by the Vedic seers (Rishis) and subsequently explained by philosophers.

The four great Vedic statements


    From Samveda - Chandogyopanisad

    From Yajurveda - The Brhadaranyakopanisad

From Atharva Veda - Mandukyopanisad

From Rgveda-Aitareyopanisad

That Thou Art (Tat Tvam Asi). The direct meaning of the word 'THAT' comprises the conditioned Brahman (associated with the limited adjuncts of creation, preservation and destruction and endowed with Omniscience, Lordship, Omnipotence and similar attributes) and Pure Consciousness which is its unrelated substratum.

Likewise the direct meaning of the word 'THOU' comprises the jiva or individual soul (associated with the limiting adjuncts of the body, mind and the sense organs and endowed with such traits as little knowledge, little power, and dependence), and Pure Consciousness which is its unrelated substratum.

But there is also an implied meaning of the words 'THAT' and 'THOU', namely Pure Consciousness itself, unassociated with any limiting adjuncts. It is common practice to explain a statement through its implied meaning when the direct meaning contradicts actual experience: when we say that a red hot iron ball burns something, we say the direct agent of burning is the iron; but the implied though real agent is fire, unassociated with iron.

Again in the statement "He spent the night on a sleepless pillow", the word 'sleepless' does not refer to the pillow but to the person who used the pillow. Similarly in the Vedic statement 'THAT THOU ART' the word "ART" denoted the identity of 'THAT' and "THOU", which directly refers to the conditioned Brahman and the embodied soul respectively. But this identity is obviously absurd, since they are poles asunder. Therefore, we must explain the statement by its implied meaning.

The identity is really based upon the Pure Consciousness which is the unrelated substratum of both. The limiting adjuncts in both cases are the creation of ignorance and therefore unreal; so these must be discarded.

Therefore the statement "THAT THOU ART" really conveys a
transcendental experience of oneness which is beyond the body, mind, senses and ego and the sensations associated with them. When a person realises this oneness with Brahman. he is oblivious of the idea that he is an embodied being.
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