Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Tattva Bodha
in a nutshell
by Peter Bonnici

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Tattva Bodha Chart

tattva bodha

[Download a PDF of the Tattva Bodha in a nutshell chart.]

1. Tattva Bodha is a fundamental text for those desirous of mokSha [freedom from the sense of limitation centered on ‘I’]. Its value is to present succinct definitions of some key terms in vedAnta. The chart isn’t a replacement for reading the text, but is an attempt to present the information graphically so that linkages and levels can be brought out.

2. The text starts by laying out the qualifications of one fit for discriminative knowledge of truth which it defines as: 'Atman [the Self] is truth, everything other than that is mithyA [relatively real].' Consciousness (sat)-AtmA and mithyA are two levels of reality: absolute and relative, respectively. In the chart, everything below the red dotted line is mithyA.

3. The chart also shows that there is only one Reality, given two names: satyam-j~nAnam-anantam brahman to infer limitlessness, and sat-cit-Ananda AtmA to infer pervasiveness.

4. One term not on the chart (because it is not in the text) is the term ‘jagat, commonly translated as ‘creation’, or ‘universe’. Everything that can be perceived, gross or subtle, is objectified through name, form and function. The totality of manifest names and forms, together with pure existence (sat-brahman), is called jagat. Thus when we say: ‘chair is’, ‘thought is’, ‘feeling is’, the ‘is-ness’ is sat brahman, while ‘chair’, ‘thought’, ‘feeling’ are names of forms in which pure existence can be experienced. That which is seen with name and is-ness together is mithyA-jagat.

5. What the chart also aims to clarify is that there aren’t three co-existent ‘bodies’ or ‘worlds: causal, subtle and gross. The causal level is the unmanifest state of the subtle and gross levels. The gross body/world is perceivable by others, the subtle body is perceivable only by the individual, the causal body is not perceivable by even the individual because the I-sense too has been resolved. Similarly, at the macrocosmic level, mAyA [brahman’s potential/power to manifest] is the undifferentiated and unmanifest state of jagat. Thus, it is not strictly accurate to point to the surrounds and say: it is all mAyA. mAyA is not available for experience as mAyA, but only as jagat. All we can point at is jagat.

6. Finally, it may not be clear from the text how or where the kosha-s (five layers of personality) and the three states of experience – sleeping, dream and waking – fit in. Hopefully the chart makes clear that these are different ways of seeing the gross, subtle and causal. So, one way of describing the individual is in terms of gross, subtle and causal bodies, or another way is as five layers of personality. Or another way of seeing it is that the gross, subtle and causal worlds are accessible at different levels of experience: waking, dream and deep sleep respectively.

7. In conclusion: having clarity about what is AtmA and what is not is key to understanding the concluding section of Tattva Bodha. The oneness of jIva and Ishvara is described by enquiry into the inner meaning of the statement tat tvam asias follows:

  • tat refers to Ishvara, the Lord - the word Ishvara has a literal and an implied meaning;
  • the literal meaning of ‘Ishvara is ‘satyam-brahman together with mithyA-mAyA’;
  • the implied meaning of Ishvara is pure brahman devoid of the superimposition of mAyA;
  • tvam refers to the jIva, the individual;
  • the literal meaning of ‘jIva is ‘AtmA identified with mithyA gross and subtle bodies’;
  • the implied meaning is pure consciousness-AtmA without mithyA gross and subtle bodies;
  • as we saw at the start, AtmA and brahman are different names of the one Reality;
  • thus, jIva and Ishvara are Absolutely non-different in reality, and only relatively different because of the superimposed names and forms through which the one Reality is experienced.

The text concludes by quoting scripture: 'The knower of AtmA crosses sorrow.’

Thus, after resolving mithyA back into its cause by understanding it as merely a manifestation of that cause, there is only one Reality. When wave is seen to be nothing but a form of its cause, we understand there is only water.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012