That’s It

by Sharon Gannon |
June, 2013
Tat Twam Asi - You are That!
Tat Twam Asi

You are That

Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda

It’s gonna be alright
It’s gonna be alright
Darling, its gonna be alright

But who is it?—that you are talking to?
that’s it—it’s that!

And you can’t name that any better than that
Any better than it, cause that’s it—Tat Twam Asi

You are that, and that’s that
You are it—that’s it, I am that, you are that
It is that, and that’s that

It’s gonna be alright
It’s gonna be alright
Darling, it’s gonna be alright
It’s just that—it’s always alright

Often when we reach to comfort someone we tell them, “It’s going to be alright.” We don’t use the person’s name, for instance: “John’s going to be alright” or “Mary’s going to be alright”; instead we say, “It’s” going to be alright. Why do we do that? Why do we say it like that? I think it is because “it” is the truth. “It” is “that” which is always alright—all right—no matter how sad, injured, afraid, lonely or confused. “You” on the other hand might be—might be sad, injured, afraid, lonely or confused. But only because you, at that moment have forgotten who you really are. You have forgotten that you are it—that which is eternal existence, knowledge and bliss (satchidananada).

When we encounter the suffering of another, that suffering is a momentary forgetting of Self. The true Self is eternal; it is boundless, limitless joy; it was never born and will never die, and because of that, “It’s going to be alright” is the most reassuring and true statement that can be made. We, any of us, suffer because we are, at the time we are suffering, forgetting who we really are—we are identifying with a body or mind—this is called avidya in Sanskrit and it means ignorance—ignorance of our true identity. So avidya can also be defined as misidentification—thinking that we are someone who we are not. We all do it. In fact, most of us spend our entire lives, even lifetimes, mistakenly thinking that we are someone who we are not. We identify ourselves as our personality—as the body and mind. We think we were born and we think that some day we will die and in-between we live our lives. We have resigned ourselves to accepting that those lives will have ups and downs—we will have good times and bad times. So when someone that we care about is going through one of those bad moments, we often show kindness towards them with the assurance that “it” will be alright, and as we do that, we remind them as well as ourselves that we really are “it” and that “it” is alright. “It” is always all right—it is not possible for “it” to be anything else but “that.”

Tat Twam Asi, like Aham Bramasmi, is one of the mahavakyas, or great sayings from the Vedas. In essence, the summation of the Vedic philosophy, which underlies all of the yogic teachings, can be stated as: the supreme Self and the individual self are identical. Tat Twam Asi is the final teaching of the Upanishads. Those three words, often translated as “That thou art” or “You are That,” sum up the entire philosophical teachings of Vedanta. And since they are said by one person to another about that other, they can be used as a blessing: Tat Twam Asi—You are That, You are the Self, You are Divine. Yes, That’s it!—and with that it’s going to be alright.

Teaching Tips

The focus this month provides what I feel, and hope you will feel as well, a very rich and deep well to draw from for teaching ideas, because knowing the Self is the point of all that we are doing—That’s really it. When we focus on the affirmation of the fact that the small individual limited self—the jiva—is non–other than Brahman—that which is unlimited—it strikes at the very root of all ignorance. It is this avidya, this delusion, that the practices of yoga aim to dispel. The only real and meaningful job of a yoga teacher is to see the student as a holy being—a realized being—to see them as that which is boundless and limitless—to see them as ‘it’. Sometimes, when a student falls into a funk, a teacher has to reassure the student that it’s going to be alright. So for a yoga teacher to say to a student, “Tat Twam Asi,” they are getting at the essence of the relationship. Even to think silently to oneself, in regards to a student, “You are That” is profound and if done as a practice could trigger the teacher’s own Self realization.

Here are a few more tips, which really are only tips of a huge iceberg, which is this subject, but I hope that some of these ideas will be helpful to you this month:

Because Tat Twam Asi is instructional—that is, it is said by one person to another for the purpose of instructing that other person about who that person really is—it lends itself nicely to using it to give a blessing. You could visualize someone you know and picture a halo over their heads as you mentally bless them by saying silently, “Tat Twam Asi” or “You are That” or “You are Divine” or “You are the Self” or “You are God,” or even more specifically, as you inhale visualize the person and say their name and as you exhale, mentally say “It’s going to be alright.” This practice could also be used by the student as an intention, an offering of the class (their practice session), to benefit someone else.

Use the affirmation as a mantra and chant Tat Twam Asi—the actual words—out loud and/or internalized. Or chant Tat Twam Asi as well as Aham Bramasmi (I am Brahman) or any of the other Mahavakyas, for instance So-ham, Ham-Sa or Ayam Atma Brahma (This atman is Brahman; note the “n” is dropped in atman and Brahman in the Sanskrit). Or chant the “Bodhi rupam bodhi sattvam…” mantra that Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati composed (on page 5 of the JY chant book). I also recorded a rendition of this called Sattvam with Bill Laswell and Mike D. that appears on the CD Asana Two by Bill Laswell as well as the Jai MA CD on the White Swan Label.

Meditate on Tat Twam Asi—meditate/contemplate on the oneness of being. Ask who am I? Direct perception of reality means direct perception of Brahman (God) within you, knowing that as your identity, and this is the goal of Yoga as well as all spiritual practices. A spiritual person is a person who is seeking an expanded understanding of themselves—they are not content to stay confined in any limited persona.