The Upanishads contain four mahavakyas—great sayings, that sum up the teachings of the Upanishads. The most famous of these is—Aham brahmasmi. The literal meaning of this is—I am Brahman. Brahman is an often-confused term from our epics. It does not mean ‘Brahma’—a god who is credited with having created the world. It does not mean ‘Brahmin’—the priestly caste concerned with studying scriptures and conducting rituals. It also does not mean ‘Brahmana’ which, we have seen in a previous article, is one of the four parts of the Vedas.
Brahman literally means ‘the vast’. That is the closest word to God you have in Upanishads. So, the saying means that there is an absolute reality. This world is an appearance of that reality. You are that absolute reality. This is the most important teaching of the Upanishads, that you have a spiritual identity within yourself that is the same as the spiritual identity of every other living being (not just humans) and also the supreme reality.
This reality is eternal—meaning it has always been there and will always be there. It is also constant—meaning that it does not change over time. On the other hand, the universe that we can observe through our senses is temporary and changing. Thus, Brahman is the reality behind the appearances.
The realisation that each one of us is the same as the ultimate reality immediately empowers and opens up a new perspective on life. Swami Vivekananda said—the goal of life is to manifest the divinity already within us. We need not look outside. All power is already within us. We can do anything and everything. We are the makers of our fate.
However, the divinity already within us will not automatically manifest itself. It will be through our conscious efforts—our love and devotion. When we are able to experience both joy and sorrow without being overwhelmed; when we are able to maintain our composure in the face of the most challenging situation and the most irritating person; when we find ourselves ready to take on any challenge with just our self-belief, expecting no help from anyone; when our way of living adds joy and happiness to those around us—then we can believe that the divinity within us is manifesting itself.
A truly realised person is one who has peace inside them and also radiates peace to those around them. They have overcome anger, hatred, and jealousy. It is not sufficient for us to merely read about it, or even to understand it. That is useless unless we can put it into practice and behave like we are truly part of the ultimate reality.