Commentary on the Panchadasi
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 21 (Continued)

Chapter 5: Mahavakya Viveka – Discrimination of the Mahavakyas
Verses 1-8

The Fifth Chapter is very short. It describes the four mahavakyas: prajñānam brahma, aham brahmāsmi, tat tvam asi, ayam ātmā brahma.

Prajñānam brahma (A.U. 3.3): “Consciousness is Brahman.” This is a statement that occurs in the Aitareya Upanishad of the Rigveda. Aham brahmasmi (B.U. 1.4.10) is the mantra “I am Brahman, identical with Brahman”. It is a mantra, a statement that occurs in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of the Yajurveda. Tat tvam asi (C.U. 6.8.7): “Thou art That” is a statement that occurs in the Chhandogya Upanishad of the Samaveda. Ayam ātmā brahma (Ma.U. 1.2): “This Self is Brahman” is a statement that occurs in the Mandukya Upanishad of the Atharvaveda. These four mahavakyas are culled from the Upanishads belonging to the four great Vedas.

What is the meaning of these four statements: prajñānam brahma, aham brahmāsmi, tat tvam asi, ayam ātmā brahma? The meaning of these mahavakyas is briefly elucidated in the Fifth Chapter.

Yenekṣate śṛṇo-tīdaṁ jighrati vyākaroti ca, svādva svādū vijānāti tat prajñānam udīritam (1). Consciousness is Brahman. That is what the Upanishad says. Prajñānam brahma: Consciousness is Brahman. What does it mean? Consciousness is that through which we see things, hear things, smell things, understand the variety of things, taste things, and understand the very existence of things. That which enables us to know that something is, is Consciousness.

We have, first of all, a consciousness that we are existing. After that, we have a consciousness that the world is existing outside, and that people are existing outside. Then we have a consciousness that we see, we hear, we touch, we smell and we taste. We have a consciousness that we perceive the world. This consciousness is what is meant by prajñāna in this great statement of the Upanishad when it says prajñānam brahma: Consciousness is Brahman. Inasmuch as Consciousness is universal, it cannot be located in one particular place; it has naturally to be identical with the Universal Absolute. So it is simple enough to understand that Consciousness is the same as Absolute Brahman, which is of the nature of Consciousness.

Catur-mukhendra-deveṣu manuṣyā-śva-gavādiṣu, caitanya mekaṁ brahmātaḥ prajñānaṁ brahma mayyapi (2). This Brahman is Consciousness, and the Consciousness is also in us, through which it is that we become aware of all things outside. Right from the creative principle of Brahma with four heads, right from the gods in heaven such as Indra, including all people, humans, animals, etc., among all these there is one Consciousness pervading. There is instinct, there is impulsion, there is desire, there is understanding, there is thinking, there is volition, there is ratiocination—all these are various degrees of the manifestation of awareness in a larger degree or a lesser degree, a more intense degree or a mild degree. That is, right from the creative Brahma onwards to the lowest category of living beings, even to the ants, we will see the Universal Consciousness pervading in different degrees of manifestation. One Consciousness is there everywhere. Caitanya mekaṁ: Because of the universality of its being, it is Brahman the Absolute. Therefore, prajñānaṁ brahma: Consciousness is Brahman. It is everywhere, and it is also in us. This Consciousness which is within us is also the Consciousness which is everywhere.

Paripūrṇaḥ parātmā-smin-dehe vidyā-dhikāriṇi, buddheḥ sākṣi-tayā sthitvā sphuran-naha mitīr yate (3). Aham brahmāsmi. Who is this aham? The deepest Consciousness in us, which is more internal than any of the sheaths that we have—Consciousness which is aware of the five sheaths, the nature of which we have studied in the First Chapter of the Panchadasi—verily is aham, ‘I’. “I am coming.” “I am here.” “It is I.” When we make statements like this, to what ‘I’ do we actually refer? Not this body, as the First Chapter and the Third Chapter have clarified this subject very well.

The physical body, the vital body, the mental body, the intellectual body and the causal body cannot be Consciousness; therefore, they cannot be ‘I’. The body is not the ‘I’; the breath, the mind, the sense organs, the intellect, and the causal sheath are also not the ‘I’. The ‘I’ is that which is aware of an absence of all things in the state of deep sleep. That awareness which knows nothing external to itself but still is, in the state of deep sleep, is our real nature.

Our real nature is not to be seen in the waking state, in which we identify with the five sheaths. Our real nature is seen only in deep sleep, in which we are dissociated from all objects. That real Consciousness which is uncontaminated by association with the bodies, and therefore incapable of division into parts, and therefore everywhere—that is aham. “I am coming.” This ‘I’ is actually the Universal Being asserting itself, not the body.

Svataḥ pūrṇaḥ parātmā’tra brahma-śabdena varṇitaḥ, asmī tyaikya parāmarśas tena brahma bhavā myaham (4). Aham brahmāsmi—the meaning of ‘I’, or Brahman, in the individual has been explained. What is this ‘I’? What is aham? Aham brahmāsmi: I am Brahman. Now, what is Brahman? How can we be Brahman unless Brahman itself is in us? Here is a great danger in immature students chanting this mantra: aham brahmāsmi. It should not be like an ant saying “I am an elephant”. Even if an ant always says it is an elephant, it cannot become an elephant merely because it chants that.

“I am Rockefeller.” If we go on saying that, we do not become rich. What is the good of chanting mantras? We must be able to understand their meaning. This verse in the Panchadasi takes pains to explain that this aham, ‘I’, is not Mr. so-and-so. It is not the ‘I’ which is visible here. So do not say that “I am Brahman” means “I, this person sitting here, is Brahman”. This is not the meaning of the mantra. We are not to be identified with the Universal Being as an individual. The Universal alone can be identified with the Universal. The Universal in us is identical with the Universal that is everywhere. That is the meaning of aham brahmāsmi. It does not mean that one person is equal to Brahman. Such mistakes should not be committed; it is an immaturity and enthusiasm of thought. Otherwise, we will have suffering afterwards.

That which is self-sufficient, svataḥ pūrṇaḥ, the Supreme Self, all-pervading in nature, which is called Brahman, is identified with this very same Universal present in the individuals also. The identity-consciousness of these two is called asmi, “I am”. This verb, this copula as we call it, I-am-ness, is only a conjunction, a link that is there between the Universality appearing to be in us and the Universality that is everywhere. The space in the pot is identical with the space that is everywhere. Inasmuch as there is no such thing as space inside the pot, there is also no personality of the individual. So we should not say that “I am Brahman” means this person is Brahman. It is the Universal getting identified with the Universal, God being conscious of God. That is aham brahmāsmi. Be careful in knowing its true meaning. Otherwise, you will run into trouble.

Ekemeva advitīyaṁ san nāma rūpa vivarjitam, sṛṣṭeḥ purā-dhunā’py asya tādṛk tvaṁ tad itīryate (5). Tat tvam asi. Tat: That. That which was there even prior to creation—One alone without a second, as described in the Chhandogya Upanishad as without name and form differentiation because prior to creation, there were no names, no forms, no diversity, no space, no time—in that precondition of creation, that which was there as One alone without a second, and exists even now through and in the midst of all things in the world as immanency, that is called tat. “That thou art.” What is ‘That’? That which is now as an immanent principle, and which was also there before creation as One alone without a second, That is not different from us.

Śrotur-dehe indriyā-tītaṁ vastv atra tvaṁ pade ritam, ekatā grāhyate’sīti tad aikya manu bhūyatām (6). Tvam: ‘thou’, ‘yourself’. This word implies that Consciousness, which is the very thing that is behind the sense of ‘I’, that which is internal to the organs such as hearing and the sheaths such as the body, etc., that which is the deepest ‘I’ Consciousness as explained earlier, is the tvam. Aham brahmāsmi and tat tvam asi mean the same thing. They are only two ways of expressing the same truth. That Universal in us is identical with that Universal which is everywhere. So both these, aham brahmasmi and tat tvam asi, mean one and the same thing, and are only different words. Tat tvam asi: Thou art That. This ‘art’ is the verb which links the Consciousness immanent in us with the Consciousness that is everywhere. Tad aikya manu bhūyatām: Please experience this identity in yourself.

Svaprakāśā parokṣa tvam ayami tyukti to matam, ahaṁ kārā’di dehāntāt pratyag ātmeti gīyate (7). Ayamātmā brahma: I am This, the Self is that Brahman. What is ‘This’? This is again the same question. This aham, this ‘I’, this tvam, or ‘you’, is also the same as ‘This’. Svaprakāśā parokṣa tvam: The self-identical immediacy of Consciousness which is self-luminous in us is the established Consciousness, which is referred to as ‘This’. This Consciousness, which is universally pervading everywhere, also appears to be within us. It is free from egoism, free from the consciousness of the body, internal to the five sheaths, internal to the body, internal to consciousness of even personality and egoism—that Consciousness is the Atman, ayam ātmā.

Dṛśya mānasya sarvasya jagatas tattva mīryate, brahma śabdena tadbrahma svaprakāśā-tma-rūpakam (8). This Atman is that Brahman. It is another way of saying this Consciousness which is ‘I’ is the same as that Consciousness which is Universal Brahman. Of all the visible universe, there is an essence which is immanent. The pervading Reality behind all this visible world is called Brahman, as we already know. Self-consciousness is its nature. Self-luminous is it. That Brahman is identical with this Atman that we ourselves are.

Now we know the meaning of these four sentences. Prajñānam brahma: Consciousness is Brahman. Aham brahmāsmi: I am Brahman (a very dangerous mantra—we should not utter it too much). Tat tvam asi: Thou art That. Ayam ātmā brahma: This Atman within us is the same as that universal Brahman.

With this, we conclude the Fifth Chapter of the Panchadasi.