“Aham brahmasmi: I am spirit. It is said that one should understand that he is Brahman, spirit soul. This Brahman conception of life is also in devotional service, as represented in this verse. The pure devotees are transcendentally situated on the Brahman platform, and they know everything about transcendental activities.” – Srila Prabhupada
This great teaching occurs in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the Mukhya Upanishads. The focus of Upanishads is proclaiming the glory of Brahman, the Infinite Supreme Spirit, hence, they represent the Advaita Vedanta wing of Hindu Philosophy.
Advaita Vedanta is nominally a school of Indian philosophy, although, in reality, it is a label for any hermeneutics that tries to provide a consistent interpretation of the philosophy of the Upanisads. The philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which literally translates as non-dualism, is the premier and oldest extant among the Vedanta schools of Indian philosophy.
Aham Brahmasmi meaning:
The verse states “This was indeed Brahman in the beginning. It knew itself only as ‘I am Brahman’. It became all. Whoever realized this, they also became That. And to this day, whoever in a like manner knows the self as ‘I am Brahman’, becomes all this universe”.
In Sanskrit, ”Brahman” is used to denote ”All that is and has been and will be”. This sacred word is a root for Brahmin (Brahman jaanaati iti brahmanaha – meaning the one who knows everything is a Brahmin) and Brahmaand (universe).
When you recite ”Aham Brahmasmi,” you acknowledge that you are the world, you are everything. And at the same time, you also imply that there is actually no entity as you. No individuality. No ego.
Advaita Vedanta philosophy encourages individuals to utilize their life inquiring seriously the ultimate truth and understand that we are the Spirit Soul, the indestructible, eternal living spark. Also, to understand that we are different from this body and thought. This mind and body is just a template to execute the nature of Soul.
Moreover, this profound teaching is known as the statement of experience (anubhava vakya), since it is the declaration that comes out of the direct realization of reality. Even in the previous spiritual teachings, a separate universal Self and an individual Self have been presumed.
This mantra is one of the four Mahavakyas used to explain the unity of microcosm and macrocosm. The Mahavakyas are “The Great Sayings” of the Upanishads, as explained by the Advaita school of Vedanta. In addition, according to the ancient Vedanta-tradition, the subject matter and the essence of all Upanishads is the same, and all the Upanishadic Mahavakyas express this one universal message in the form of terse and concise statements.
The Mahavakyas are:
- prajnanam brahma – “Prajnana is Brahman”, or “Brahman is Prajnana” (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rig Veda).
- aham brahmasmi – “I am Brahman”, or “I am Divine” (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda).
- ayam atma brahma – “This Self is Brahman” (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2 of the Atharva Veda).
- tat tvam asi – “Thou art That” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda).