Equivalences in Advaita:

There are many equivalences that shruti and Shankara bhAShya there on teach us in order to make it easy for us to understand and appreciate the nuances of the Advaita doctrine. Crowning them all is, of course, the well-known equation Atman = brahman. The other equations being not so popular, we tend to forget them and draw some invalid inferences to claim that a sthitaprajna is gauNa compared to a jnAni; one can have dualist perception, though one is brahman and so on. Therefore, I present a few of the important equivalences we find in Advaita shruti and bhAShya and request the readers to add on to the list here.

i) Atman = brahman

[shruti and bhAShya support (SBS):

अयमात्मा ब्रह्म …| — mantra 2, mANDUkya Upanishad.

The Self is brahman.

अयमात्मा ब्रह्म सर्वानुभूः — 2.5.29, BU.

This self, the apprehender of everything, is brahman.]

ii) Knowledge = brahman;

ज्ञानं ब्रह्म’ (Self-knowledge is brahman) — 2.2.1, taittirIya.U.

विज्ञानं ब्रह्म चेद्वेद (It should be known that Knowledge is brahman) — 2.5.1, taittirIya.U.

विज्ञानं ब्रह्मेति व्यजानात् (One should understand that brahman is Knowledge) — 3.4.1., taittirIya.U.]

iii) Identity with brahman is Liberation;


ब्रह्मभावश्च मोक्षः (Liberation is the state of identity with brahman) — 1.1.4, BSB. ]

iv) Attainment = Knowledge;


ज्ञानलाभयोरेकार्थत्वस्य विवक्षितत्वात् । आत्मनो ह्यलाभोऽज्ञानमेव ; तस्माज्ज्ञानमेवात्मनो लाभः| — 1.4.7, BUB.

The shruti uses the words ‘knowledge’ and ‘attainment’ as synonymous. The non-attainment of the Self is but the ignorance of It. Hence the knowledge of the Self is Its attainment.

तस्मान्निराशङ्कमेव ज्ञानलाभयोरेकार्थत्वं विवक्षन्नाह — ज्ञानं प्रकृत्य — ‘अनुविन्देत्’ इति ; विन्दतेर्लाभार्थत्वात् ॥ — 1.4.7, BUB.

Therefore, the shruti, wishing to express the indubitable identity of meaning of knowledge and attainment, says after introducing knowledge, ‘May get,’ for the root ‘vid‘ also means ‘to get.’ ]

v) niSTha = (niḥ + stha) being in or on; being grounded in; i.e. abidance.

If we put together the equations (ii) to (v) above, we get,

vi) jnAna niSTha = brahma niSTha.

4 thoughts on “Equivalences in Advaita:

  1. Dear Ramesam,

    Interesting post! I naturally agree with your conclusions here but I feel the middle bits are potentially confusing.

    I actually think that this is a good example of where ‘reason’ has to prevail over excessively literal translations of Sanskrit.

    The unarguable state of affairs before we begin (assuming that we accept the bottom-line of Advaita, even if that acceptance is not yet ’firm’) is that there is ONLY Brahman. Other mahāvākya-s such as ‘I am Brahman’, ‘Consciousness is Brahman’ automatically follow. Indeed, EVERYTHING is Brahman – sarvam khalvidam brahma. So, it must also follow that ‘knowledge is Brahman’ but, indeed, ignorance is also Brahman – there is nothing else.

    But the converse does not follow. The wave is water, but water is not the wave. Knowledge is Brahman, but Brahman is not knowledge. When it comes to ‘identity-with-Brahman is Liberation’, this is a tautology given the above. Since we are already Brahman, we must be already free by definition. It is a case of ‘accomplishing the accomplished’, as the title of Rambachan’s book puts it.

    The only way that this can make sense is to understand it as ‘KNOWING that we are Brahman is Liberation’.

    Similarly, ‘Liberation is the state of identity with Brahman’ becomes ‘Liberation is KNOWING that we are identical with Brahman’, which is your point iv) – knowledge and attainment are synonymous.

    And, of course, the final point v) still follows: jñāna niṣṭha = brahma niṣṭha.

    Best wishes,

  2. Thank you, Dennis, for your observations.
    It’s a thought-provoking point you make regarding the Equation # 2 which I mentioned as:

    “Knowledge = brahman.”

    But, as you know, it has been my consistent argument that the translation of ‘jnAnam‘ (in 2.2.1, taitt) as “Knowledge” does not convey the true sense of the word. I preferred the gerund form (for lack of any other way), ‘Knowing’ or ‘Knowingness’ which is the intrinsic nature or the essence of brahman. For example, please see the last para here or my explanations here. However, I used the word “Knowledge” instead of “Knowingness” in equation (ii) in this Post as a concession because the supporting citations (classic translations) I gave used “Knowledge” instead of its gerund form.

    I am sure you will agree that “Knowing nature” is not a manifestation of brahman but brahman Itself and is intrinsic to brahman. If it is agreed so, we can accept the validity of the reverse form, viz., ‘brahman = Knowing.’

    Liberation too is intrinsic to brahman and may not be called Its manifestation like the “wave” is a manifest ‘form’ of the water. If so, we can also accept ‘liberation’ is brahman.

    Though I did present a Post titled “Ignorance is also brahmanhere in 2015, I now feel that strictly it may not be correct to say so as “ignorance” is only shAstra kalpita (concocted by the scriptures) for teaching purposes and we all agree that there is no animal called ‘ignorance’ anywhere. It is like the 18th elephant in the well-known story of distributing 17 elephants to the three sons.


  3. Dear Ramesam,

    We do seem to repeat our discussions, don’t we! I’m afraid I often fail these days to remember what I have said before, let alone what others have said.

    So, yes, I do in general agree with what you have said regarding the failure to translate j~nAnam appropriately. It is possibly best to treat it like mithyA and not give a translation at all.

    I don’t like the wording ‘knowing nature’. I prefer not to attribute ANY attributes to Brahman. ‘Liberation’ is ok – ‘Brahman is ever free’ is a bit like ‘Brahman is infinite’, so that is fine. To say that Brahman is ‘knowing’ asks (to my mind) the question ‘knowing what?’. There is nothing else for Brahman to know so what could ‘knowing’ or ‘knowledge’ mean of Brahman?

    That is how my mind works anyway!

    Best wishes,

  4. Dear Dennis,

    Yes, I agree. You are right. Even “Knowing” (capitalized) does sound a bit awkward and seems to be a compromise. That’s a problem inherent with “Agentative languages.” One may call It “Pure Sentience,” but questions can be raised on that too.

    We can be more confident with Liberation because Shankara himself often says “Liberation” is the intrinsic nature (swabhAva) of brahman — nitya suddha buddha “mukta” swabhAvah (BSB, BGB, BUB, muNDakaB, mANDUkyaB, kenaB).

    However, retaining jnAna as it is may not be very helpful to a new entrant to Advaita.

    What do you say, Rick, if I may know?


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