We are already That – the truth, reality or whatever other word is preferred. We do not need to (nor can) do anything to bring about this already existing fact. One aspect of the value of the scriptures, therefore, is in their ability to bring about the realization of this already existing fact.
As things stand at present, I know that I am ‘I’ and that Brahman is ‘That’ – it is unthinkable that I can be Brahman. I think I am an insignificant, limited, body-mind which is a created thing whereas Brahman is the unlimited, all-powerful, ubiquitous creator. How can we be the same? But the mahAvAkya tat tvam asi cancels out all of these contradictory elements and tells me that ‘I’ am ‘That’, i.e. Brahman. This canceling out of contradictory elements, leaving an equality of the non-contradictory parts is called bhAga tyAga lakShaNa. The oneness that is pointed to (lakShaNa) is understood by ‘giving up’ (tyAga) the contradictory parts (bhAga).
There is an excellent metaphor that explains how this works. Suppose that you and a friend, A, both went to school with a third person, X. Although you were not particularly friendly with X, you knew him quite well but, since leaving school you lost touch and have forgotten all about him. Today, you happen to be walking along with A and see Y, who is a famous film star, walking by on the others side of the street. You have seen films starring Y and admire him very much. A now makes some comment such as “Y has come a long way in the world since we knew him, hasn’t he?” You are mystified since you have never even spoken to Y as far as you know and you ask A to explain himself. A then makes the revelatory statement: “Y is that X whom we knew at school.”
All of the contradictory aspects, that X is an insignificant, scruffy, spotty youth that you once knew at school, while Y is a rich, famous and talented actor, are all cancelled out, leaving the bare equation that X and Y are the same person. Furthermore, the knowledge is apArokSha – immediate. We do not have to study the reasoning or meditate upon it for a long time.
In the example of tat tvam asi, the canceling out of body, mind etc. is possible because of what has gone before. We have investigated these beliefs and exercised our reason, negating the false impressions (neti, neti). Without this preparation, there could not have been the sudden understanding that tat and tvam are indeed the same.
Return to the Contents page for the Terms and Definition.