[Advaita-l] The Flawless Advaitic teaching of ‘Tat tvam asi’ - Part 1

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Wed Dec 1 05:34:31 CST 2010

*ShrIgurubhyo namaH*
The Flawless Advaitic teaching of ‘Tat tvam asi’

(A Study in Reply to a Dvaita Objection)

*In the Chandogya Upanishad VI Chapter occurs the dialogue between UddAlaka,
the father and Shvetaketu, the son.  This dialogue, called SadvidyA , is a
teaching of Brahman, Sat, as the Satyam.  The teaching, through the famous
‘Tat tvam asi’ occurring nine times, culminates in Shvetaketu gaining the
Konwledge of the Truth.  In the following remarks, sourced from the site :
http://www.madhva.org/vms_mi/htm/Dashaprakarana.htm *

*the propriety of the Advaitic interpretation of ‘Tat tvam asi’ has been
questioned/objected to, upholding the interpretation of the Dvaita school. *

*In this article the above objection is analyzed in detail and the
appropriateness and  the flawlessness of the Advaitic interpretation is
established.  Here is the objection:*


*(Upanishad  & DashaprakaraNa)*

…. The context of the teaching of *Atat* *tvam* *asi* is that svetaketu had
developed the pride that he knew everything. He was to be told that he did
not know the highest entity, i.e. Supreme God as distinct and superior to
him. He also did not know that he was under the control of this Supreme God.
In this context, no useful purpose would be served if he is told that he is
identical with the God. This would increase his pride. Therefore, he is told
*Atat* *tvam* *asi*, you are not the God. You are completely under his
control. Therefore, it is jivesvarabheda that is intended to be conveyed
here. Ekavijnanena sarvijnana stated in this context does not indicate
upadanopadeyabhava here but it is based on pradhanya and sadrsya, therefore,
this does not convey jaganmithyatva. //
The Advaitin’s Response to the above observation:

At the very outset it is to be noted that the above observation is fraught
with many misconceptions.  These are classified under the following heads:

   1. Misconception about the Upanishadic protocol in giving out the Tattva
   2. Misconception about the facts of the Chandogya Upanishad VI Chapter
   regarding the above.
   3. Misconception about the Chandogya Upanishad VI Chapter contents of the
   teaching of the Tattva.
   4. Misconception about the Advaitic method of interpreting the Mahavakya
   ‘Tat tvam asi.’

The above points are considered hereunder:

   1. *Misconception about the Upanishadic protocol in giving out the Tattva

In the Vedantic scripture, we note one outstanding feature: The disciple
approaches the Acharya with reverence and devotion and offering
prostrations, uses pleasing words of request and respect while seeking the
teaching to be bestowed to him.  For example, in the Mundaka Upanishad
(1.i.3) it is said:

शौनको ह वै महाशालोऽङ्गिरसं विधिवदुपसन्नः पप्रच्छ । कस्मिन्नु भगवो विज्ञाते
सर्वमिदं विज्ञातं भवतीति ।

[Shaunaka, well known as a great householder, having approached Angiras duly,
asked, ‘O adorable Sir, (which is that thing) which having been known, all
this becomes known?’]

About the type of aspirant too there is a norm set by the Upanishads:

For example, in the Mundaka Upanishad (1.ii.13) it is said:

तस्मै स विद्वान् उपसन्नाय सम्यक् प्रशान्तचित्ताय शमान्विताय ।

येनाक्षरं पुरुषं वेद सत्यं प्रोवाच तां तत्त्वतो ब्रह्मविद्याम् ॥

[To him who has approached duly, whose heart is calm and whose outer organs
are under control, that man of enlightenment should adequately impart that
knowledge of Brahman by which one realizes the true and imperishable

In the Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhruguvalli, we find BhRgu, the aspirant,
approaching his father VaruNa, seeking the Tattva UIpadesha:

अधीहि भगवो ब्रह्मेति ।

[‘O, revered Sir, teach me Brahman’] This manner of addressing the teacher
(father) and seeking Brahmavidya occurs several times in this section

In the Bhagavadgita (4.34), the Lord says:

तद्विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया ।

उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदर्शिनः ॥

[Know this (Truth) by long prostration, by enquiry, by service.  Those men
of wisdom who have realized the Truth will teach you this wisdom.]

The precaution too is specified by the Lord (18.67):

इदं ते नातपस्काय नाभक्ताय कदाचन ।

न चाशुश्रूषवे वाच्यं न च मां योऽभ्यसूयति ॥

[This (which has been taught to thee) is never to be taught to one who
is devoid
of austerities, nor to one who is not devoted, nor to one who does not do
service, nor to one who speaks ill of Me.]

The set of qualifications that a spiritual seeker aught to be endowed with,
is also specified by the Lord.  Here is an example (13.7):

अमानित्वं अदम्भित्वं अहिंसा क्षान्तिरार्जवम् ।

अचार्योपासनं शौचं स्थैर्यमात्मविनिग्रहः ॥

[Humility, modesty, innocence, patience, uprightness, service of the teacher,
purity, steadfastness, self-control..]

In these examples, taken just as a sample, we find that the aspirant seeking
the Highest Knowledge has to be a qualified one, possessed of humility,
devotion to the Acharya, etc.  Also he must approach the Acharya in the
prescribed manner, with prostrations, etc.  The protocol in this matter is
taught by the Upanishads and the Gita.  Unless an aspirant, duly qualified,
approaches in the said manner, the Acharya would not give out the teaching.

दैवीसंपद् विमोक्षाय निबन्धाय आसुरी मता । Says Bhagavan in the Gita (16.5).
The Sattivic, Daivi, qualities are conducive for the arising of the Jnanam
that leads to Moksha.

The Lord has also stated दम्भो दर्पोऽभिमानश्च…आसुरीम् (16.5)
[Ostentation, arrogance
and self-conceit ….demoniac lot.]

‘mAnitvam’, ‘Atma-sambhAvitatvam’, pride, egotism, etc. are listed as AsurI,
demoniac, qualities not conducive for the Moksha sadhana.

*2. Misconception about the facts of the Chandogya Upanishad VI
Chapter* *regarding
the above.*

In the Chandogya Upanishad VI chapter too, as stated in the foregoing, the
Upanishadic method is followed.  Shvetaketu approaches Uddalaka and
addresses him:

कथं नु भगव: स आदेशो भवति (६.१.३)

[‘O Venerable Sir, in what way is that instruction imparted?’]  (6.1.3)

न वै नूनं भगवन्तस्त एतदवेदिषुः….भगवान्स्त्वेव मे तद्ब्रवीतु .. (६.१.७)

[‘May yourself, venerable Sir, tell me that’.] (6.1.7)

भूय एव मा भगवान् विज्ञापयतु..(६.५.४)

[‘May the venerable Sir explain to me over again.’] (6.5.4)

This last mode of request is made by Shvetaketu innumerable times throughout
the entire discourse.

UddAlaka too, bestowing affection, addresses the boy ‘Somya’ throughout the
discourse several times.

This mode of surrender, praNipatanam, and devotional addressing as
‘BhagavaH’ by Shvetaketu shows that he no longer was possessed of the pride
of learning; he had transformed into a sincere, qualified seeker of Truth.
This transformation came about when his ego took a severe beating upon being
questioned by UddAlaka, the father, about the crucial knowledge that when
comprehended results in liberation from samsaric existence.  It can
reasonably be assumed that some time lapsed between the father questioning
him about this esoteric knowledge and the real transformation in Shvetaketu
taking place.  It could have been days or weeks or even months. (The first
mantra VI.i.1 opens with UddAlaka exhorting Shvetaketu to get initiated and
go to a Gurukulam.  The very second mantra informs us that Shvetaketu has
returned after staying for twelve years in the Gurukulam.)  That such a
transformation must have taken place could be inferred from what we saw in
the earlier section about the Upanishadic/Gita protocol regarding the
requirement of qualification (vinaya, etc.) and manner of approach that is
shown as a sine qua non for seeking and bestowing of Tattva Upadesha.

If this is not granted, there will be the grave misdemeanor of implicating
the Shruti of flouting the well-laid out norms regarding the Tattva
Upadesha.  Thus, Shvetaketu, even though did entertain pride when he
returned from Gurukula, yet, over a period of time shed that pride and
developed genuine jijnAsA for the tattva.  UddAlaka’s initial questioning
did the magic.

That Tattva upadesha will not become fruitful in an unqualified aspirant is
well known.  Our inference regarding Shvetaketu’s transformation is proved
by yet another fact from this Upanishad itself.  In the end of the
discourse, the Upanishad reports that Shvetaketu succeeded in realizing the
Truth of his Sat-identity.  Says the Upanishad:  तद्धास्य विजज्ञौ, तद्धास्य
विजज्ञौ इति (6.16.3) [He, Shvetaketu understood that from him, UddAlaka.]

[To be concluded in Part 2]

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