by Jayaram V
The Mahavakyas are pithy statements with profound spiritual and
significance. They are very useful in meditation and in
developing a deep insight into the secrets of Hindu mysticism. These
statements are gathered from various sources such as the Vedas and the
Upanishads. They are ageless because they are as relevant today as
they were thousands of years ago. They purify our minds, promote
introspection and insight,
and lead us to transcendental states of awareness. They are like the
divinities who reveal themselves to a seeker depending upon the latter's'
inner state of consciousness. The following 22 Mahavakyas are taken from the Siva Purana
where they are listed. Any one can use them to stabilize one's mind on
Brahman or the Absolute Self.
1. prajnanam brahma
Translation: Prgnanam= knowledge.
Meaning: Brahman is knowledge or knowledge is
Prajnanam means knowledge, wisdom or intelligence. According to this
mahavakya (great truth), Brahman is knowledge.
Two Types of Knowledge
Knowledge (jnanam) is
of different kinds. There is the lower knowledge of the Vedic rites
and rituals, of the smritis, sutras, puranas, darshanas and vedangas,
and the higher knowledge of Atman (self) and Brahman (supreme-self).
We have the knowledge that comes from our study of the scriptures and
knowledge that comes from the interaction of our senses with the
external world. This is inferior knowledge, because it is impermanent,
unreliable and subject to the duality of right and wrong, truth or
untruth and the multiplicity of opinion and perspective. Both
types of knowledge are important. From the lower knowledge comes the
discipline and the ability to practice the higher and realize the
highest. According to our scriptures, Brahman is the highest
knowledge, because it is permanent, unchanging and indivisible, by
knowing which there is no further knowing.
It is important to know that Brahman is not to be viewed here as an
object of knowledge, something that we need to know or gain or
possess or remember. In
our phenomenal world, this is what we ordinarily do with our mental knowledge.
We think knowledge in material terms, because we cannot conceptualize
knowledge that arises spontaneously without the intervention of the
mind, the senses and the ego. To aspire for divine knowledge through
our minds and senses would be equal to creating
another distraction or activity in our lives, another
mirage or delusion in which our
egos indulge and lead us astray. Brahman is realized only in a
transcendental state, when we manage to rise above the habitual movements of
our minds and senses
and cease all goal oriented effort to know him or experience him.
The Paradox of the Pure State
The problem and paradox of spiritual experience is that, from a
mental perspective, in a state of duality, the knowledge of Brahman is
indescribable, and in a state of unity it is unknowable. When we are
in a state of samadhi, we have no means of knowing what is happening,
and when we come out of it we have no means of remembering what
happened, because our minds and senses were not involved in that
experience. It is like the deep sleep state, beyond dreams and all
mental formations, about which we have no idea.
Brahman is an absolute, infinite and
complete being. In his
indivisible and absolute state he is not subject to duality, because he
is not united with Prakriit (nature ) or its qualities (gunas) and
elements (tattvas). So the absolute Brahman does not know, other than
by himself, that he knows or
that he exists. It is a state of Being, in contrast to the state of
Doing, in which he simply is without a second and without any
instruments such as a body or senses. It is a purely
subjective state in which there is no process, no otherness, no knowing, no doing
and no remembering.
Such is the paradox of the state of Brahman. To
know him is not to know him and not to be him in the present. To describe him from
the memory of our experience is to negate his transcendental unity and
continuity! In his absolute
state Brahman has no sense of objectivity, no simultaneous experience
of self and the not-self, but only a subjective sense of "I
am" ness, because to be aware of the self
means duality which is not the state of Brahman.
Why Brahman Manifests Creation
The only way the knowledge of Brahman becomes important is when he
is subject to duality and his knowledge becomes the ultimate solution
for the problems of his limited existence. In order to accomplish
creation, Brahman subjects himself to the illusion of duality and becomes a limited being
who is limited by the divisions of time and pairs of opposites. To consciously experience the joy
of seeing himself in innumerable forms, he
becomes some one other than himself. He projects himself as
innumerable beings and equips them with instruments of knowledge (senses and the mind), through
which he can look upon himself objectively in a state of duality and
experience the phenomenal world as a play ground of his innumerable
This is the secret and purpose of our creation. Brahman
descends into our worlds, as limited beings, in order to experience in
his limited state the thrill of knowing and becoming, which are simply inconceivable in
his absolute state. He associates himself with his shakti (the primordial nature)
and conceals his true consciousness to manifest his pluralistic objective
worlds and the jivas (beings) as a part of his universal game (maha-lila).
The Knowledge of Brahman Vs The Knowledge of Jivas
In contrast to the knowledge of Brahman, which is self illumined
and exists by itself and unaware of itself, that of the beings is
illumined by their senses and minds and
exists only in relation with
others. The knowledge of the beings is an objective knowledge, which is subject to duality,
division and pairs of opposites. While Brahman is knowledge, the
beings are not the sum total of their knowledge. Knowledge is part of
them. It is stored in their memory like a possession, with which they identify
themselves or become attached or detached, or about
which they form opinions and attitudes. They also impart to it their
gunas or qualities and keep it in a state of flux according to their
thoughts, emotions, desires and expectations.
In our consciousness we
experience knowledge as different
from us and other than us. Our knowledge does not truly represent us
and cannot be relied upon all the time. In our knowing there is a
process, a movement, a conscious experience of
knowing or not knowing, the division of time, a distinction between what we know and what we don't,
what we can hold and what we cannot, a
desire to know or not to know and an effort to know or resistance to
know. There is also a
discontinuity in our knowing. In between two thoughts and two pieces
of knowledge there is always a gap, a silence in which hides the unity
of our existence. Our senses and minds are imperfect and
unreliable as instruments of knowledge.
there are such divisions and pairs of opposites. There is no effort to know, no desire to know,
no process of knowing, no means of knowing, no experience of knowing,
no contradictions of what is known and unknown and no division of time
and movement. It is a state of pure consciousness, the state of
Being, the state of Truth which is veiled in us and which is denied to
us by the power of maya. The purpose of our existence is to realize
that consciousness and to become one with it.
The Journey Back to the Source
This is what we are reminded through this mahavakya. If we want to go
back to our source, we have to overcome our limitations of prakriti
and duality and regain our true consciousness in the state of Brahman.
We need to experience our knowledge of oneness, withdrawing ourselves
from the objects of the worlds, the senses and the mind and
transcending our memory and phenomenal awareness. As free individuals,
we have the choice to choose our paths to arrive at the destination. We can
continue with our limited existence as long as we want, for we have
that freedom too.
There is nothing wrong with human existence or human knowledge. It
is neither inferior nor superior. It is definitely not an evil or
sinful existence. It is an aspect of Brahman, a plane of existence
that has its own significance in the order of the universe. We are here because of a desire of
Brahman that arose in him millions of years ago. Every aspect of our
creation, every quality, element and being in our nature is divine. If that is
not so we
would not be worshipping so many divinities who represent the
plurality of our cosmos in our microcosm. Every aspect of creation is precious, so are all the beings
and all the objects. Through them Brahman is witnessing the drama of
this universe unfolding every moment. When he knows that the being is tired
of its journey, he comes forth and guides himself back to his source.
Properly practiced and meditated upon this mahavakya will help us
realize who we are, why we are here and what is the purpose of our
creation and existence. It will help us know the mysteries of Atman
and Brahman. It reminds us what we have been and where we need to go.
Suggested Further Reading