The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is a part of the Shukla Yajur Veda. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad contains this verse (1.4.10):

ब्रह्म वा इदमग्र आसीत्, तदात्मानमेवावेत् ‘अहं ब्रह्मास्मि’ इति । तस्मात् तत् सर्वमभवतद्यो यो देवानां प्रत्यबुध्यत स एव तदभवत्तथर्षीणां तथा मनुष्याणां तद्धेतत्पश्यन्नृषिर्वामदेवः प्रतिपेदेऽहं मनुरभवं सूर्यश्चेति । तदिदमप्येतर्हि य एवं वेदाहं ब्रह्मास्मीति स इदं सर्वं भवति तस्य ह न देवाश्चनाभूत्या ईशते । आत्मा ह्योषां स भवत्यथ योऽन्यां  देवतामुपास्तेऽन्योऽसावन्योऽहमस्मीति न स वेद तथा पशुरेवं स देवानाम् । यथा ह वै बहवः पशवो मनुष्यं भुञ्जयुरेवमेकैकः पुरुषो देवान्भुनक्त्येकस्मिन्नेव पशावादीयमानेऽप्रियं भवति किमु बहुषु तस्मादेषां तन्न प्रियं यदेतन्मनुष्या विद्युः ।

I-iv-10: This self was indeed Brahman in the beginning. It knew only Itself as, ‘I am Brahman’. Therefore It became all. And whoever among the gods knew It also became That; and the same with sages and men. The sage Vamadeva, while realising this (self) as That, knew, ‘I was Manu, and the sun’. And to this day whoever in like manner knows It as, ‘I am Brahman’, becomes all this (universe). Even the gods cannot prevail against him, for he becomes their self. While he who worships another god thinking, ‘He is one, and I am another’, does not know. He is like an animal to the gods. As many animals serve a man, so does each man serve the gods. Even if one animal is taken away, it causes anguish, what should one say of many animals ? Therefore it is not liked by them that men should know this.

I'm interested in the bold quoted part. As it says who worships God by thinking, "He is one and I am another." are like animals to Gods. As God/Brahman is same as Jeeva in Advaita philosophy there is no problem for it.

But In Dvaita Philosophy a devotee always worships God thinking himself different from God as Jeeva and Brahman are different in Dvaita. Hence I want to know How is this verse interpreted by Dvaita philosophers? What commentaries are made by Dvaita philosophers on that part of the verse?

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    Excellent point. Maybe Keshav or some Maadhvas on this site can answer this question.
    – Surya
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 10:38

2 Answers 2


Here's how the Dvaita philosopher Madhvacharya renders the portion you put in bold, in this excerpt from his commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

But he worships any other god (than Brahman), he does not know. Similarly when one worships some other devata as Ever-present, Ever-full, Ever-existing knowledge (thinking that Brahman is devoid of qualities), he also does not know. (Such men are like beasts.) (The true knower of Brahman is) also like a beast to the Devatas. As many beasts go to nourish a single man (by supplying milk, etc.), so even one single knowing man nourishes many devas. (He is beloved of the devas.) For as in this world, when one beast is given to a man, he becomes pleased, what to say when many are given. (Therefore, greater the number of the knowers of Brahman, greater the happiness of the devas.) Therefore the devas do not like this that men should know (worship) (anyone else other than Vishnu as the Ever-present, etc.).

See here for a word-by-word breakdown. So in Madhvacharya's view, the gods feel pleased, not threatened, when someone attains knowledge of Brahman.

By the way, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Madhvacharya's interpretation of the most important part of the verse, namely the famous Mahavakya "Aham Brahmasmi" emphasized by Advaitins:

The word Aham in the sentence 'Aham Brahma asmi' does not mean "I", and the sentence above given does not mean "I am Brahman". On the other hand Aham means Aheyam "that which cannot be neglected, cannot be avoided"; similarly the word Brahma means "all-full". Asmi does not mean "I am" but it is a compound of two words "As" meaning existence and "Mi" meaning knowable. So Asmi means ever-existing knowledge or he whose knowledge is ever-existing and never-obscured. Brahman knew (always realizes) the nature of His self as being Aheyam (all-pervading ruler of the world), Brahma (all-full), and Asmi (ever-existing knowledge).

Personally I find Madhvacharya's interpretation rather implausible. In any case, Visistadvaita has another way of interpreting seemingly Advaita-sounding statements in Hindu scripture, namely that they're referring to Brahman as the Antaryami or inner self of the Jivatama; see my question here.

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    @Tezz Two words: motivated cognition slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/04/… People often use reasoning to prove that what they already believe is correct. It's relatively rare to find people who use reasoning to find out if what they believe is correct. Commented May 4, 2016 at 15:01
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    @Tezz By the way, you may be interested in my question here, about a case where different people, who all belong to the Shaiva Siddhanta sect, still manage to interpret a Shwetashwatara Upanishad verse in exactly opposite ways: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/10296/36 Commented May 4, 2016 at 15:04
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    @TheDestroyer All the Dvaita philosophers are followers of Madhvacharya, so they agree with Madhvacharya's interpretation. Commented May 5, 2016 at 14:55
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    @TheDestroyer Well, for better or worse there aren't that many Shaivite philosophers within the Vedanta school. That's actually one of the reasons why philosophical Vaishnavism is so much more popular than philosophical Shaivism nowadays; a lot of Shaivite sects rejected the Vedanta school, whereas the Vaishnava sects aligned themselves with Vedanta. So when Vedanta became the dominant school of Hindu philosophies, a lot of Shaivite sects dwindled or became extinct. Nowadays most people who call themselves "Shaivites" aren't philosophical Shaivites, just people who have Shiva as Ishta devata. Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:12
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    @TheDestroyer Philosophical Vaishnavism, on the other hand, is still thriving. Anyway, the only Shaivite commentary on the Brahmasutras I have is by Srikantha Shivacharya, who belonged to the Shaiva Siddhanta sect. I haven't checked how he interprets the "Aham Brahasmi" verse, but in any case how a person interprets the Upanishads isn't based on Vaishnavism vs. Shaivism, it's based on the Vedantic philosophy they subscribe to. So Srikantha Shivacharya would interpret the verse using his philosophy of Shivadvaita, aka Shiva Visistadvaita, which is pretty similar to Ramanujacharya's philosophy. Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:25

Since I cannot add a comment (being a newcomer on this forum), adding it as answer. Shri Madhvacharya justifies his interpretation, while showing the inaccuracy in the conventional or the superficial meaning. He says, in his commentary on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, that if the meaning of that phrase was 'I am Brahman', the words 'AtmAnaM' would be redundant -

yadyahaMshabdo asmachChabdArthavAchI, asmishabdashchottamapuruShe tadA.a.atmAnamiti vyarthaM syAt..

The entire line is तदात्मानमेवावेत् ‘अहं ब्रह्मास्मि’ इति. If you take every word at its conventional meaning, it means - Then, it knew itself as I am Brahman.

This is grammatically wrong. It should either be 'it knew itself as Brahman' or 'it knew as - I am brahman'.

Since the flawless Veda wouldn't indulge in superfluous usage, even in terms of svara or chandas, the superficial interpretation as 'I am Brahman' should be rejected. Moreover, the Vedantic lore (including Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) considers 'ahaM' as not just a pronoun, but also as a name. See 1.4.1 tato ahaM-nAma abhavat.

While non-dvaitins may ignore or reject the above as nitpicking or hairsplitting every vedic utterance, the dvaitin holds that any interpretation that makes vedic words redundant, should be shunned.

  • Can you add dvaitin translation of full sentence? Starting from तदात् to इति
    – Aks
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 18:22

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