- The mahavakyas (maha, great; vakya, sayings) are usually a series of brief statements extracted from the UPANISHADS that are said to sum up their philosophy. Occasionally, they are from commen-taries on the Upanishads or other sources that express Upanishadic philosophy. They are sub-jected to extensive exposition and exegesis in the different schools of VEDANTA.Most commonly, only four mahavakyas are counted. These four statements are from the YAJUR, SAMA, RIG, and ATHARVA VEDAS in order. Some Vedic systems cite five, six, or even seven mahavakyas.The first of the basic four is from BRIHADA-RANYAKA UPANISHAD I. 4. 10: “Aham brahmasmi” (I [aham] am [asmi] the ultimate reality [the brahman]). In other words, the individual self is identical to the ultimate reality of the brah-man. From the CHANDOGYA UPANISHAD VI. 8. 7 is the second phrase, “Tat tvam asi” that [tat] (is what) you [tvam] are [asi]. That refers to the brahman, while you refers to the AT M A N, the indi-vidual soul or self within every human being. In Vedanta the atman as ultimate self and the brah-man are seen to be one. This particular phrase is used in succession eight times in chapter 6 of the Chandogya Upanishad, and once each in sections 8 through 16, when Aruni, the father, is teaching his son the truth of the Atman, the Ultimate Self.The third mahavakya is “ayam atma brahma” (This [ayam] self [atma] is brahma.) This means that the individual self is the Ultimate Reality, the All, the brahman. This phrase is found verbatim in MANDUKYA UPANISHAD I. 2 and is the logical conclusion of statements made by YAJNAVALKYA to two different questioners in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, II.4. 1; II.4.2 and II. 5.1. The fourth phrase is taken from AITAREYA UPANISHAD, III.3.13: “prajnanam brahma.” The Ultimate Reality is wis-dom (or consciousness [prajnanam]).Another mahavakya from the Upanishads that is sometimes cited is “sarvam khalu idam brahma” (All indeed is that ) (CHANDOGYA UPANISHAD III.14.1 and Maitri Upanishad IV.6 2). Other mahavakyas commonly cited are from the commentaries of specific Vedanta philosophers such as SHANKARA or from still other sources. The word can be used generically to refer to the “Great Sayings” of any particular person, for example, SAI BABA OF SHIRDI.Further reading: Jan Gonda, Notes on Brahman (Utre-cht: J. L. Beyers, 1950); M. P. Pandit, Gleanings from the Upanishads (Pondicherry: Dipti, 1969). R. Puligandla, “That Thou Art”: The Wisdom of the Upanishads (Fre-mont, Calif.: Asian Humanities Press, 2002).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.
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