You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : 1994

tat-tvam-asi debate

From: Sudarshan Iyengar H3-378 (
Date: Thu Jun 23 1994 - 13:13:17 PDT

       This is in continuation to my earlier mail.
       You may want to glance through these points before replying to
       Vidyasankar's posting.

Discussion on soc.religion.eastern
Subject: mAyA (was Re: The Theism of the Upanishads)

      (tat-tvam-asi section)

vidya>> Advaita would rather leave the ontological status of mAyA as  
vidya>> anirvachanIya, than compromise on the Upanishadic teaching of identity  
vidya>> between Atman and Brahman. When the Upanishad says "tat tvam asi" it does  
vidya>> not mean "tad tava AtmA". Similarly, "ayamAtmA Brahma", not "asya Atmana:  
vidya>> AtmA Brahma".  No SarIra-SArIrin relationship here, no soul of the soul  
vidya>> description, only absolute identity. In fact, it is this identity that is  
vidya>> unique to the teaching of the Upanishads, in no other religion is such  
vidya>> powerful non-duality affirmed. (Buddhism teaches identity, but not with  
vidya>> Brahman, because there is no concept of Brahman in Buddhism.)  
vidya>> Visishtadvaita offers alternative explanations to such identity, and is  
vidya>> comfortable with it; Advaita does not wish to dilute the Upanishadic  
vidya>> teaching.

    Does'nt the entire context of this Chandogya aphorism matter ?
    "Aitadaatmyam idam sarvam. Tatsatyam. Sa Atmaa. Tattvamasi Svetaketo" 
                                                -Chandogya Upanisad (VI.8.7)

    Ramanuja interprets as follows: (free translation by SSR)

    " All this, namely, the world of physical nature and finite selves
    is ensouled by the Supreme Being. The world is the cosmic body of
    the Sat and has IT as it's soul.
    "It is only by virtue of this immanence that the world is real."
    "He the Lord, the Supreme Deity, is it's (world+finite self's) soul."
    (While the first statement posits the relation from the standpoint
     of the world, this sentence reaffirms it from the standpoint of the
     Supreme Brahman)

      The fourth sentence "Tattvamasi" is the culmination of the knowledge
    imparted by Uddaalaka to Svetaketu. The term "Tat" is taken to  
    signify the supreme and primordial Sat, which was one without a second
    before creation. It also signifies all the attributes implied by the 
    fact that it produces the world. "Tat" (that) must bear all this
    richness of connotation in order to be really meaningful.
      "Tvam", meaning 'thou' refers (superficially) to Svetaketu. But what is
    the deeper significance? What is the scope of the reference? It does not mean
    the body as that cannot be the reciepient of philosophical wisdom. 
    Does it mean the individual self?
    The discourse, while explaining the entry of Sat into the world of
    particulars, has made it clear that the finite self cannot exist if 
    the Supreme Self does not reside in it. 
    NO term appicable to the individual self is applicable only to it.
    It's reference must extend to the indwelling Divine principle
    too. This applies to the term "tvam" also. The speciality of this
    term as opposed to "Tat" is that it signifies the Divine self as
    dwelling within the individual self of Svetaketu,which itself dwells
    in the body of Svetaketu. It is this totality that is described as 
    "tvam" and the principal factor is the immanent Divine self and the
    subsidiary factor is the Jiva of Svetaketu. So "tvam" means the 
    Supreme Spirit as immanent in the individual.

    The verb "asi" means "art", and effects the identification of the 
    meaning of "tat" and "tvam". The causal Brahman is identified with 
    the Immnanent Brahman in the effect. It is this level of self
    knowledge that Uddaalaka found wanting in his son, and he 
    accordingly imparts it to him.

    According to the Advaitic school, "tat" stands initially for Brahman
    the source of the universe, characterised by all the characteristics
    implied in being that. "tvam" stands initially for the individual
    self, subject to all the imperfections characteristic of it. 
    At his stage the "identification" of "tat" and "tvam" is certainly
    impossible. Hence a drastic revision of their connotations must
    be worked out to facilitate the identification. In the revised 
    scheme all that the word "tat" means, by virtue of Brahman's 
    creatorship of the world, gets abolished. Only the idea of Brahman
    being infinite and non-dual remains. In the same way all that is
    understood by the word Jiva, its finitude, it's subjection to evil,
    is to be rejected. Only it's being the immediate and self evident
    subject of knowledge is to be retained. The resulting import that
    emerges out of the "identification" is that the self, signified 
    by "tvam" is immediate and infinite. 
        This double pruning down of the connotations of the two terms
    costs a great deal. The entire thought that Brahman is the 
    creative source of the world is abandoned. The finiteness and
    evil associated with the individual self, must be given up
    as just creations of misunderstanding and error. Ramanuja
    refutes this interpretation repeatedly and thoroughly in 
    the AanandamayaadhikaarnA of the Sri Bhasya and also in the
    Vedaartha Sangraha.  The whole of Sadvidya upto the declaration of
    "Tattvamasi" builds up the conception of Brahman as the source and 
    sustaining soul of the cosmos. It is on this premise that 
    "Tattvamasi" is constructed. 
         One cannot demolish the premise and enjoy the conclusion.
     The "tat" vanishes into nothingness, if very attribute 
    distinguishing Brahman is drastically cut out. The subjection
    to evil characterising the Jiva cannot be abolished by the
    hypothesis that it is just a fabrication of error. The liability
    to such an error is itself a fundamental evil and as that is 
    admitted, the "identification" of the Jiva with the perfect Sat 
    is untenable. The pruning proposed is utterly unworkable. 
    It is a "poor" Brahman that remains after this reduction.

        Hence Ramanuja suggests that "tvam" must not be mechanically
    understood as standing for the jiva but for the Supreme self 
    immanent in the jiva. Brahman, which is the ground of the 
    world is identified with Brahman, the ultimate self of all 
    individual selves. 
         This general thesis, already propounded in the 
    Aitadaatmyam idam sarvam. Tatsatyam. Sa Atmaa. 
    is particularised in conclusion, with reference to Svetaketu in 
   The scriptural texts, in certain parts, establish plurality of entities
 in the Universe (bheda srutis), whereas in some parts they ordain simple Unity,
 discarding plurality (abheda srutis). This apparent contradiction cannot be 
 successfully reconciled either ny the school of Monism or the school of Dualism 
 that give prominence either to Abheda or Bheda texts exclusively. In either case it 
 becomes extremely difficult to interpret all passages satisfactorily. But 
 Visistadvaita  takes Brahman as the Saririn of all beings and by this Sutra, 
 binds all plurality into Unity without straining the scriptural texts.

  Whether Advaita borrows from Buddhism or not is not important. Whether
 it does justice to the Upanisads as a whole is the question ?

  (references  1. Ramanuja on the Upanisads by SS Raghavachar.
      and      2. The philosophy of Sadhana in Visistadvaita by NS AnanthaRangachar)