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Vijnanam Brahma

Vijnanam Brahma is one of the mahavakyas (basic statements) of Vedanta. Vijnanam Brahma means Brahman is Wisdom. In spiritual terms, vijnanam means that special knowledge which has become part of one’s experience. Jnana with prefix ‘vi’ means special knowledge.

Vijnanam Brahma statement is found in the Taittiriya Upanishad – “Vijnanam Brahma Cedveda.”

The mantra insists upon the importance of intellect. The intellect is the determining and discriminating faculty in us. By the help of intelligence one can aspire to reach up to the experience of the Real Self. The self-realized intelligence is all-pervading and in essence the same as Brahman. Brahman is said to be the most Supreme (paratpara).

The reality is a Unity; this knowledge removes all delusion. By reflecting upon one’s own self, the mind becomes free from all illusions, bring us near to our own self.
The identification of the self with a being (jivabhava) is a worldly nature; this self is always busy in thinking about external objects.

The Essential Self (Atma Tattva) in us is Shantam (still), a Sakshi (pure witness) and is not interested in any sense objects. It is always calm, serene, fulfilled. The atman (self) is nothing else but Brahman itself. Therefore, the nature of Brahman is the same as that of atman, or self.

To understand ‘Vijnanam Brahma’ one has to cover the distance between jiva and atma. This distance appears long because of the misguided use of intelligence. The intellect is capable of finer appreciation, but we do not use it for subtle subjects. Once we come to discriminate the true nature of the Self, that is all bliss, free from any modification, will never die or suffer any pain, only then we realize the real nature of our own self. Thus knowing this Pratyak Atma (True Self), the knowledge dawns on us, it illuminates what was latent, that everyone and everything is Brahman, there is nothing else. This enlightenment is of the nature of bliss.

Brahman is both the illumined and the illuminating entity. Intellect illuminates the knowledge of any object, but Brahman is not an object; Brahman is the vijnanam (knowledge) itself. It is like the salt doll that went to measure the ocean and became the ocean itself.

The discrimination (viveka) is said to be the first step towards the path to spirituality.
In the Bhagavad Gita it has been mentioned twice that when the fire of knowledge enlightens, all the bondages of past actions get burnt.

Thus, when the knowledge of Brahman become the atmaswarupa (state of experience of one’s own true self), then it is said that that special kind of knowledge is Brahman (Vijnanam Brahma).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume XI page 344 – 45 – IHRF
Srimad Bhagavata (1980) Translated by Swami Tapasyananda – Ramakrishna Math Chennai