[Advaita-l] The Preeminently Advaitic ‘Atat tvam asi’

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Sat Feb 20 11:41:09 CST 2010

Shrigurubhyo namaH
The Preeminently Advaitic ‘Atat tvam asi’

The Chandogya Upanishad Chapter VI contains a dialogue between Uddalaka, the
father-teacher and Shvetaketu, the son-disciple on Sadvidya or Atmavidya.  The
Upanishad presents Sat, the Existence Principle, Brahman, as the material
cause of the entire universe.  It teaches that the universe, the effect, of
the Cause Sat, is non-different from the cause in the absolute sense.  It
gives out the teaching ‘Tat tvam asi’ nine times to impress upon the
disciple that he, in essence, is non-different from the Sat.  This
realization of the Advaitic identity, the Upanishad teaches, constitutes the
liberating knowledge.

However, being founded on theistic considerations, the Dvaita school opted
to make a  reading: ‘atat tvam asi’ (You are not That) and concluded that
the teaching is aimed at confirming the difference between the soul and the


*(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. ....//

Be that as it may, the Advaitin is undaunted by such a reading.  He takes up
this reading ‘atat tvam asi’ for analysis and concludes that even this
reading results in the Advaitic teaching that is got from the correct
reading ‘Tat tvam asi’.  In the sequel the method of such an analysis and
conclusion is presented.

The word ‘atat’ is a compound consisting of ‘a’ and ‘tat’.  The
sound/syllable/word ‘a’ refers to Atman, the innermost self.  Shri
Paramashivendra Saraswati (16-17th Century AD), the Preceptor of the great
jivan-mukta Yogi Shri Sadashivendra Saraswati of Nerur, had compiled a work
titled: ‘VedAnta-nAma-ratna-sahasram’ (A collection of a thousand name-gems
from the Vedanta on Atman/Brahman).  This work is published by Sri Kanchi
Kamakoti Sankara Mandir, Secunderabad, India, in 1969 under the editorial
guidance of Brahmasri S.R.Krishnamurti Sastrigal.  In this work the name
‘akAraH’ is shown as a Vedic name for pratyagAtma, the innermost Self.  Thus
it says:

अकार:  - प्रत्यगात्मा । ननु अकारस्य प्रत्यगात्मपरत्वं कथं, अप्रसिद्धत्वात्
इति चेन्न । श्रुत्यैव प्रतिपादनात् । तथाहि – ‘अथैषो एवाकार आप्ततमार्थ:’ इति
।  अत्र एवकारो भिन्नक्रम: । अकार आप्ततमार्थ: एव, व्याप्ततमार्थ एवेत्यर्थ: ।
स च व्याप्ततमार्थ:  क: यस्मिन् अकारस्य वृत्तिर्भवति इत्यत आह श्रुति: -
आत्मन्येवेति – प्रत्यगात्मन्येवेत्यर्थ: ।

[’akaaraH’ – is the Innermost self.  Question:  How is ‘akaaraH’ conducive
to denote the innermost Self as it is not a popular usage? Reply:  Since it
is established by the Shruti itself, there is no defect.  Thus says the
Shruti: ‘ *thus, this alone/itself is ‘akaaraH’ in the sense of being the
innermost.*’  Here, the ‘itself’ is to be read as ‘ akaaraH is in the sense
of being the innermost *alone*.’  It means: akaaraH is also supremely
all-pervading.  Where does this akaaraH apply itself? Replies the Shruti: in
the Self itself; Innermost Self itself. ]

The Author concludes that this Atman is 'All-pervading' because the word
'aaptatamaarthaH' of the Shruti means: 1. The most intimate, loveable,
innermost. 2. aapnoti/vyaapnoti means 'all-pervading'.

By taking the meaning of ‘a’ to be the innermost self  on the authority of  the
above, we arrive at the purport of the compound word ‘atat’ as ‘that
*‘tat’*which is ‘none other than the innermost self’.
The entire sentence: ‘atat tvam asi’ would mean: You (*tvam*) are verily (*
asi*) That Sat which is none other than the Innermost self (*atat*)’

Objection:  In the whole sentence of the teaching: ‘tat satyam sa aatmaa
atat tvam asi shvetaketo’ there is already the word ‘aatmaa’ appearing just
before the ‘atat’.  You have taken the ‘a’ of ‘atat’ to mean ‘aatmaa’.  Is
there not the defect of repetition, punarukti?

Reply: There is no such defect.  This reading quite eminently brings out the
advaitic purport of the teaching.  The first occurrence of ‘aatmaa’ refers
to the ‘Tat’, the Sat, of this Upanishad which is the Cause of the universe.
This is the Supreme, the ‘tat-pada’ of the mahavakya ‘tat tvam asi’.  The
second occurrence of the word ‘aatmaa’ is in the compound word ‘atat’ in the
form of the ‘a’.  This signifies the non-difference of the Supreme ‘aatmaa’
and the tvam, the soul.  How?  The purport is this: You are That ‘tat’ which
is none other than your innermost self (‘a-tat’).  To explain further: The
‘tat’, Supreme, which is none other than your innermost self, pratyagaatmaa,
‘a-tat’ is you.  प्रत्यगात्माभिन्नतत् त्वं असि.  The Taittiriya Upanishad
says: ’यो वेद निहितं गुहायां परमे व्योमन्’ [‘He who realizes It, Brahman,
available in the cave of the intellect…’] This consciousness that is
experienced by all is the Tat which is non-different from the innermost

The method of arriving at the identity is explained thus:

The Sat which is the material cause of the whole universe is really the Pure
Consciousness.  The material universe, formed of the matter fire, water and
earth, which themselves are evolutes of Sat, is in effect non-different from
the Sat itself as per the ‘VAchaarambhaNa shruti’ of this very
Upanishad.  According
to this teaching, all the effects are merely words and their substance is
only their causal principle.  Therefore, when the entire gamut of the
effect, the whole universe, which includes the body-mind apparatus of the
soul, is negated as anAtmaa, insubstantial, what remains is the One Pure
Sat, Consciousness, The Cause.  Since the Consciousness present in
Shvetaketu is non-negatable, it alone remains.  This is identical with the
Non-negatable Cause, the Sat.

To conclude, the reading ‘atat tvam asi’ too culminates, flawlessly, in the
eminent Advaitic teaching exactly the same way the reading ‘tat tvam asi’
conveys.  Thus, this reading is yet another jewel in the resplendent Crown
of Advaita.

Om Tat Sat


   1. The Aitareya Aranyakam has a mantra: ‘अ इति ब्रह्म…’ ‘a’ is
   2. The Lord says in the Gita 10.33: ’अक्षराणां अकारोऽस्मि’ (‘I am the
   syallable ‘a’ among the alphabets’)
   3. Sri Madhwacharya is reliably learnt to have given the meaning
   ‘विष्णु:’ for the syllable ‘अ’ in his commentary for the word ‘अक्रतु:’
   occurring in I.ii.20 of the Kathopanishat.  Thus ‘अ’ = ’विष्णु:’
   according to him. [By applying this meaning, the ‘atat tvam asi’ will be
   comprehended as: ‘विष्णुतत् त्वं असि’ - You are that Tat which is
   non-different from Vishnu, the All-pervading Consciousness]
   4. The derivation of the Advaitic purport from ‘atat tvam asi’ can be
   worked out by taking the above instances also in many ways.

Om Tat Sat

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list