Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LXIX

Mahavakyas - Great Sayings

Continued from Part LXVIII

It is of common knowledge that several civilizations had more or less independently evolved and prospered in various parts of the world thousands of years ago predominantly as Agrarian societies for a long time. While most such civilizations sought the material prosperity and bliss but, in all likelihood, the Indian civilization (Sanatana Dharma) was the only one that simultaneously emphasized and pursued both the material and spiritual progress of mankind since inception. Consequently, the Sanatana Dharma hails a long tradition of the ancient rishis and Ashramas, which were essentially scholars and their learning centres, respectively, with the requisite scientific temper and zeal. The Vedas and Upanishads, and further extended work on them in Shastras, Sutras, etc., gave rise to hundreds of Hindu scriptures and texts, still serving as a rich repository of eternal human knowledge and wisdom relevant and applicable for all times. These ancient texts are full of the knowledge and thoughts about the contemporary religious, social, political and economic practices and traditions, including the philosophy of nature and existence, rites, rituals, ceremonies, crops, Astronomy, numerology, medicine and healthcare, and so on.

Accordingly, the Vedic as well as post-Vedic Indians are known for pursuance of both the materialistic and spiritual goals in life. The ritual aspect of the Vedic society was predominantly based on the mantric tradition in which mantras and hymns played a very significant role. The importance of the rituals among the Vedic people through the yajnas and sacrifices could be well understood from the fact that the Mimansa School of Philosophy was predominantly based on sacrificial rituals by the people not only to discharge their mundane worldly obligations but also to attain spiritual bliss as the end goal. In all spiritual practices and yogic exercises, the mantras and hymns have played an important role. These mantras and hymns in the Vedic, Upanishadic and other derived sacred texts have also been a source of numerous meta words, phrases and long statements for a recurring and referral use. Many such phrases and statements from the Hindu texts are referred to as mahvakyas or great sayings for their universal application and implication. In the present piece, the author proposes to discuss few such more important and popular mahavakyas or great sayings which are abundantly used in contemplation, religious discourses and general usage as core tenets and belief in Hinduism.

Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanti

In the present age, the clergy and adherents of two dominant Abrahamic religions so often claim that their God is one and the only true divinity in this world. But the scholars and historians of the world also agree that the Hinduism is the oldest surviving religion in the world and the truth about the God was recognized and well known to the adherents of the Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) thousands of years ago since the Vedic age. The ancient Rishis recognized and venerated various forces of the nature as divine attributes of the same one God recognized as Brahman. The Rig Veda, the oldest Hindu scripture, has described Him as under.

Indram mitram varunamagnimahurtho divyah sa suparnoh gurutmanam,
Ekam sad vipra bahudha vadantiyagnim yamam matrishvanmahuh.

(They called him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, and even heavenly Garuda with beautiful wings. The truth is one, but the sages (or scholars) call it by multiple names or variously describe Him as Agni, Yama, Matarisvan.) (Rig Veda 1.164.46)

Accordingly, the part of verse “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanti (Truth is one, sages call him many ways)” is famous among the Hindu adherents since the ancient age as one of the Mahavakyas (Great Sayings). In a way, this great saying summarises the essence and key component of the spiritual and metaphysical concepts of the Hinduism. In the aforesaid verse, the Sat or truth is symbolized with the Supreme Reality of Brahman Who is transcendent, eternal, infinite, indivisible, indescribable, indestructible and unchanging, but appears in many forms in creation or Prakriti. In a way, this also explains the fact that although Hindus appear to be worshipping multiple gods and goddesses but, actually, these multiple divinities are various manifests of the same Brahman.

Among all Hindu scriptures, the Srimad Bhagavad Gita represents the essence of all the Vedas, embodies the supreme spiritual mystery and secret of the existence, and hence treated as an epitome of all the scriptures. The Chapter X of Gita describes the unending glory of the Brahman as One and how all creation, material and abstract, in this universe begins and ends with Him. The following two verses are relevant to highlight some important attributes that emanate from God.

Buddhir jnanam asammohah kshama satyam damah shamah,
Sukham duhkham bhavo ’bhavo bhayam chabhayameva cha.
Ahimsa samata tushtis tapo danam yasho ’yashah,
Bhavanti bhava bhutanam matta eva prithag-vidhah.

(Reason, intellect, knowledge, clarity of thought, forbearance, truthfulness, control over the senses and mind, joy and sorrow, evolution and dissolution, fear and fearlessness, non-violence, equanimity, contentment, austerity, charity, fame, and infamy these diverse attributes of creatures emanate from Me alone.) (BG: Chapter 10, Verse 4-5)

Ahimsa Paramodharmah

This phrase or great saying appears at several places in the greatest and largest epic Mahabharata which is comprised of about one hundred thousand verses. Although many Western scholars rate Homer’s Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey as the greatest epics of the world, but the fact is that the aforesaid epics stand nowhere near Mahabharata in volume and content. While the Greek epics are essentially the tale and tussle of the gods, humans and other supernatural beings, the Mahabharata besides being the historical tale of the Kuru and Yadu dynasties, also embodies the teachings of Srimad Bhagavad Gita eternally applicable at all times and other socio-political, moral and ethical treaties and teachings. Hence this author considers the Mahabharata as the greatest epic of all time in the world. The literal meaning of “Ahimsa Parmodharmah” is ‘nonviolence is the highest righteous duty or virtue’. This great saying was more popularized by the great Indian leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi during the freedom struggle in the first half of the twentieth century.

There is no doubt that Ahimsa has been accorded a very high duty and virtue along with Satya (truth) which together are often treated as the highest Dharma of an individual. After the initial nomadic life, when human beings started settling in agglomeration, these were basically agrarian societies based on the agriculture and rearing of the domesticated animals for various uses. Such Indian societies were multi-layered with the security and protection being specifically accorded to the Kshatriya class; likewise other key functions accorded to other classes with a view to ensure the orderliness and regularity in this part of the world. While this mahavakya appears in various contexts at many places as part of different verses in Hindu texts but in some contingencies it is not without qualification and Himsa (violence) too is permitted in certain situations, such as to protect Dharma and life. These aspects have been explained in greater details in Part XLIX of this series. Accordingly, the complete mahavakya (great saying) reads as under:

Ahimsa Paramo Dharma
Dharma himsa tathaiva cha.

(Non-violence is the ultimate dharma. So is violence in service of Dharma.)

In other words, the Sanatana Dharma considers it as the mandatory and moral duty of a person to practice nonviolence but one can resort to violence if it is committed to neutralize a greater violence or evil with no other viable option left. While establishing Ahimsa as one of the greatest and core virtues, even the Srimad Bhagavad Gita mandates exception to nonviolence when Shree Krishna advises Prince Arjuna to fight against the sustained war of attrition inflicted by the Kauravas as under:

Atha cet tvam imam dharmyaam sangramam na karisyasi,
Tatah svadharmam kirtim ca hitva papam avapsyasi.

{If, however, you do not fight this dharmayudh (righteous war), then you will certainly incur sins for neglecting your duties and thus lose your reputation as a fighter.} (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 33)

The same spirit is even more emphatically vindicated from the following verse coming from Shree Krishna Himself:

Paritranaya sadhunam vinashaya cha dushkritm,
Dharma-sansthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge.

(To protect the righteous, to annihilate the wicked, and to re-establish the principles of Dharma I appear on this earth, age after age.) (BG: Chapter 4, Verse 7-8)

Satyameva Jayate

As mentioned in the earlier part, along with Ahimsa, Satya is yet another unique and significant attribute of the Sanatana Dharma, and the two together encompass and influence several other divine virtues. For example, a person pursuing Ahimsa will necessarily be pious, kind and compassionate towards all creatures, harmless to others in all situations, and largely free from the vices like hate, anger, envy and violence. Similarly, person pursuing Satya will necessarily be utmost honest with a strong moral character and positive thinking with the virtuous attributes like integrity, truthfulness, politeness, forthrightness, sincerity, and so on besides being free from the vices like telling lies, or being deceitful and machiavellian.

The truth has been glorified in various Indian text in different ways and to the extent of even symbolizing it with the God (Brahman). This mahavakya appears in the ancient Hindu scripture Mundaka Upanishad and has been adopted in the emblem of the Republic of India from the following hymn:

Satyameva jayate nanrtam satyena pantha vitato devayanah,
Yenakramantyrsayo hyaptakama yatra tat satyasya paramammnidhanam

(Truth alone triumphs, not falsehood; by Truth was stretched out the path of the journey of the gods, by which the sages winning their desire ascend there where Truth has its supreme abode. (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.6)

With the adoption as the national motto, the mahavakya “Satyameva Jayate” has further received a shot in the arm with “truth alone triumphs” becoming as one of the most popular sayings of India. Although in the aforesaid hymn, the truth had appeared in the context of spiritual victory which leads to liberation from samsara or the cycle of births and deaths. However, this phrase is effectively applicable even in the mundane life. Although many people find it difficult but the path to truthfulness is rather simple and straight i.e., a person’s thoughts must be in unison with his words, and the words in turn be in harmony with actions. This gives stability to the person’s mind and takes him close to equanimity, thus to the reality of life and universe. Where there is Satya, there is Dharma; and what is done to restore Dharma, it’s true practice of Satya (truth); hence this phrase.

Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah

The Hindu text Manu Smá¹›iti is also known as the Manava Dharmashastra or Laws of Manu which is among the first ancient legal texts of Hinduism. Apparently due to certain interpolations made during the later period, many provisions of this text are treated as controversial these days but it still has many good social instructions which were incorporated while evolving the Hindu Code bill following the independence in 1947. This mahavakya is derived from the Manusmriti as part of essential instruction to uphold the virtue of Dharma. The complete verse and it’s meaning is given as under:

Dharma eva hato hanti dharmo rakshati rakshitah,
Tasmad dharmo na hantavyo ma no dharmo hato'vadhit.

(Justice blighted, blights; and justice preserved, preserves; hence justice should not be blighted, lest blighted justice blights us.) (Manu Smriti 8.15)

The essence of the verse is that it is the duty of every responsible person to endorse and safeguard Dharma. Manu says that if you protect Dharma, in turn, Dharma will protect you. If it is violated, it gets destroyed; therefore, the person too gets destroyed owing to loss of righteous values, duties and actions. Protecting Dharma would mean dutiful observance of the ordained or permitted actions and avoidance of the prohibited actions which fall in the category of Durachara (evil action) and Avidhi (perverse ideas and actions). Apart from Manu Smriti, this phrase also finds mention in the great Hindu Epic Mahabharata.


Guru Sakshat Parabrahmah

This phrase is very common in the Guru-Shishya tradition and literary circle of India. This is part of a verse in the Uttarakhand section of Skanda Purana which is so often chanted by disciples and students in reverence to their gurus/teachers. In common parlance, this mahavakya is taken as reflecting the significance of a teacher in Hinduism as well as the exalted position he enjoys with his pupils. While symbolizing with the Tridev viz. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the verse goes a step further glorifying the position of the Guru with the Supreme Reality Brahman. Traditionally, every Guru is highly respected, more particularly the enlightened, spiritual teachers and knowers of the Vedas and other sacred texts in Hinduism. The verse reads as under:

Gurur Brahm Gurur Vishnur Gurur devo Mahesvarah,
Guruh sakshat param Brahma tasmai sri gurave namah.

{The Guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu and Guru is Maheswara (Shiva); The Guru is the all observing Brahman, and thus I bow down to that Guru.)

Although many titles such as Guru, Adhyapak, Acharya and Upadhyay are prevalent in Hinduism people often treating them as mere synonyms of a teacher but the Guru is a central figure with multiple roles such as a teacher of material knowledge and skills, a counsellor of values and experiential knowledge, an exemplar and inspiration that guides the seeker through spiritual development, knowledge of the supreme truth and realization of one's soul. Guru is the enlightenment principal that aids one in the realization of the true Self. The guru removes avidya, or ignorance, which is a case of mistaken identity. Guru and his roles find mention in many Principal Upanishads such as Katha Upanisad, Chandogya Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, etc., but the Bhagavad Gita brilliantly summarizes it as under:

Tad viddhi pranipatena pariprashnena sevaya,
Upadekshyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darshinah.

(Learn the Truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him with reverence and render service to him. Such an enlightened Saint can impart knowledge to you because he has seen the Truth.) (BG: Chapter 4, Verse 34)

Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah

The happiness and peace for all people is perhaps the noblest concept and the Sanatana Dharma always put an emphasis on shaping a blissful socio-religious lives of the people with commensurate moral and ethical values. No other religion has ever talked of the universal brotherhood or the world as a family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) and no other religion ever thought of the happiness and well-being (Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah) of the entire mankind. This practice was started by the rishis and spiritual teachers in ancient India and has continued till now, whereby a significant population still believes in these concepts despite constant erosion of the culture and religion due to onslaught of the Islamic and colonial rulers for centuries.

This mahavakya is part of the Shanti Mantras (peace verses) in the Indian texts. The common verse in circulation is as under:

Sarve bhavantu sukhina, sarve santu niramayah,
Sarve bhadrani pasyantu ma kascidduhkhabhag bhavet.
Aum Shanti, Shanti, Shanti!

(May everyone be happy, may everyone be free from infirmities; may everyone see goodness in things, may none partake suffering. Aum peace, peace, peace!)

The Shanti Mantras are gems of the Vedic culture and Sanskrit Language but the one (Om dyo shantirantrikshah shantih Prithvi; Yajurveda) that is recited while concluding the worship/yajna and talks about the sustained peace in the world for all living beings including animals, plants and nature, and the other that prays for everyone to be happy and healthy in this world, are perhaps the most valued ones. They pray not only for the followers of the Sanatana Dharma but also for the entire mankind and the living world. The aforesaid verse appears to be a slightly modified version of the following verse of the Garuda Purana.

Sarvesam mangalam bhuyat sarve santu niramayah,
Sarve bhadrani pasyantu ma kascidduhkhabhag bhavet.

(May there be well-being for all, may everyone be free from infirmities; may everyone see goodness in things, may none partake suffering.) (Garuda Purana: Uttarkhanda, Chapter 35, Verse 51)

It appears that the original verse from the Garuda Purana was later slightly modified by other scholars for use but the meaning and message in essence remains the same in both cases. Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah remains one of the most beautiful, well-meaning and universal saying that effectively addresses the wish for well-being and welfare of all living beings in the world. In fact, Hinduism always had a rational and balanced approach towards the peace and bliss of mankind by encoding clear actionable goals through Purushartha at various stages of life rationally codified as the Varnashrama System through the Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa.

Sarva Dharma Sambhav

It is another great saying in Hinduism which conveys that all religions are essentially the same or all religions leads to the same destination. The mahavakya represents the great concept of Hindu philosophy embodying the equality of the all religions which says that the paths (religions) may be different but the destination (God) is same for all. The precise source of this phrase is not well known: however, it has been often cited as one of the great Upanishad quotes. In the modern age, the phrase is often linked to Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda while the Indian leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is known to have first used it in September 1930 with a view to eliminate or minimize the divisionary feelings among Hindus and Muslims. The phrase is also in remarkable contrast to the belief of the two dominant Abrahamic religions of the world which profess that their religion is the only authentic faith and their god is the only true God.

Though the Sanatana Dharma stayed as mainstay of cultural and religious identity of Bharatvarsha (India) since ancient age, it allowed the other Indian religions like Buddhism and Jainism to simultaneously grow intermingled and improvised due to aforesaid conceptual belief only. Later India warmly welcomed people of the persecuted communities of the West such as Jews, Parsis and Syrian Christians due to the same belief and conviction. Barring minor exceptions, the grave socio-religious conflicts and tensions in India are relatively later developments with the arrival of the Abrahamic religions in the sub-continent, when the followers and preachers of these religions attempted to destroy the age-old peace and harmony of the Indian sub-continent by attacking the religious, cultural and educational institutions of Hindus, Buddhists and others through coercion and evangelism. This Hindu concept of pluralism is significantly different from the Abrahamic religions, which pursue an exclusivist, or rather supremacist, doctrine of "only our religion, prophet/angel and divine book”. Whether other religions of the world accept it or not, the mahavakya undoubtedly illustrates its nobility in spirit and application.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

This is yet another great saying and a very old Sanskrit phrase derived from the verses of the Maha Upanishad (also known as Mahopanishad) of the Samaveda tradition - one of the minor Upanishads among Hindu scriptures. The significance of the phrase could be fathomed from the fact that it is engraved at the entrance hall of the Parliament of India - the greatest institution of the Indian democracy and secularism. The full verse reads as under:

Ayam bandhuryamneti ganana laghuchetsaam,
Udaarcharitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam.

(This person is mine and this one is not is made only by the narrow-minded. For those of noble conduct the whole world is one family.) (Mahopanishad Chapter VI, Verse 72)

Here the meaning of the ‘family’ needs to be understood in the context of what the Upanishad text is really intended for. In essence, it is describing the virtue of a man who understands the truth, transcending the multiplicity of the physical world. This mahavakya is not merely a geo-political or socio-cultural jargon; instead, it reflects the truth of universe as also how the Sanatana Dharma looked at the people of whole world during its civilizational history. This phrase was included and repeated, time and again, in different Hindu texts in all times. For instance, another Indian text in Sanskrit language “Hitopadesha” incorporating maxims, worldly wisdom and advice on many subjects included somewhat similar phrase as under:

Ayam nijah paroveti ganana laghuchetasam,
Udaracharitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbhakam.

(This is my own and that a stranger is what the narrow-minded calculates. For the magnanimous characters, however, the entire earth is a family.) (Hitopadesha 1.3.71)

The phrase is not just a temporal idea that the whole world shall live like a family but also about the peace and harmony among the mankind in the world. By sheer contemplation and some endeavour to live to that effect, the world could become a much better place. In the context of the temporal world, the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam conveys a simple message that the whole world is like our own – like one family. But this is not an ordinary concept by any means as it fosters an understanding and cooperation across humanity irrespective of the social or cultural background, faith and belief system of people. This is much more than what we talk or expect in the name of secularism in the modern age. This thought was prevalent in the ancient Hindu society far beyond the usual scope of scriptures which people so often tend to relate with religiosity. When similar teachings was included in the books of fables like Hitopadesha, the intended objective for sure was to educate young minds to foster universality and brotherhood to grow into good and responsible human beings.

Satyam Vad Dharmam Char

This mahavakya appears as part of instructions to the Vedic pupils in a hymn in the Taittiriya Upanishad. For the sake of brevity, only English translation of it is reproduced below:

Having taught the Vedas, the preceptor enjoins the pupils: Speak the truth, do your righteous duty; never swerve from the study of the Veda, do not cut off the line of descendants in your family, after giving the preceptor the fee he desires; Never err from truth, never fall from duty, never overlook your own welfare, never neglect your prosperity; and never neglect the study and the propagation of the Vedas.” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11.1)

In many Hindu scriptures and epics Mahabharatha and Ramayana, the reference of Satya (truth) and Dharma (righteous duty) comes umpteen times. Even more important teachings are that those who ask others to uphold truth and righteous duty must themselves set exemplary model or paradigm for the others to emulate it. It is reminded here again that people ordinarily translate Dharma to religion; on the contrary, there is no exact corresponding term in the Western languages, and wherever it appears in Hindu texts, it implies the righteous duty or action.

Na Bhuto Na Bhavishyati

The complete Sanskrit phrase is “Eko Aham Dwitiyo Nasti, Na Bhuto Na Bhavishyati”; however, its exact origin is not well known. This mahavakya is frequently used by the Indian people (Hindus) in various context but it actually refers to the authority of the only one Supreme Reality i.e., Brahman or His Saguna manifestations Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva, undoubtedly without a second in their role of creator, preserver and destroyer, respectively. The literal meaning of this Sanskrit phrase is ‘neither in the past nor in the future’, which is at times also used by the people to refer to the uniqueness of a person or object. It has been often euphemistically used by writers or presenters to appreciate kings, leaders, Gurus and their rule/acts. Some people even ascribe this mahavakya to Ravana, the ancient king of Lanka and progenitor of the “Raksha” culture. However, it’s appropriate and correct expression could only be in the context of God Who is one and eternally second to none.

More Mahavakyas

The aforesaid are few more popular and widely used mahavakyas or great sayings in Hinduism. As a matter of fact, there are a large number of such sayings from the various Hindu texts as part of some hymn/verse or individually quoted by a great rishi or scholar. For instance, in the context of the Brahman alone, there are many mahavakyas: Aham Brahmashmi (I am Brahman), Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10; Ayam Atma Brahma (The Self is Brahman), Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5; Ekam Evadvitiyam {That (Brahman) is one, without a second}, Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1; Tat Tvam Asi {You are that (Brahman)}, Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7; Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma (All this is verily Brahman), Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1; Prajnanam Brahma (Wisdom is Brahman), Aitareya Upanishad 3.3.7; In essence, all these great saying only refer to the belief of ancient Indian rishis and scholars that the God is one and supreme.

Matru Devobhava (Taittiriya Upanishad1.11.2) is one of the foundational vakyas which suggests that the mother shall be treated like a goddess. The same verse also provides similar reverence to the father and guru as gods. Isavasyamidam Sarvam suggests the omnipresence and omnipotence of Ishvar (God). Naathicharami is the concluding statement of the Hindu wedlock vow “Dharmecha Arthecha Kamecha Naathicharami,” as the part of Grihyasutras that binds the groom with the bride in performance of the four goals of life i.e., Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha at all times to come. There are many Shanti Mantras for recital at various occasions inviting peace, prosperity, bliss, fortune, auspiciousness, and so on. Usually, the syllable Aum is recited as prefix and suffix of the most mantras seeking the grace of almighty Brahman. These mahavakyas are only illustrative and not comprehensive as various Hindu scriptures and texts are full of such knowledge and wisdom eternally applicable to all societies and times.

Continued to Part LXX 


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

Top | Hinduism

Views: 3503      Comments: 0

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.