The meaning of this Mahàkàvya is All that is Brahm alone. Now question arises what All that is here in the eyes of Sankara Vedàntin?

As we know that world is mere a mirage in Sankara Vedànta, then what "all that" is?

  • If "all that" is world here, then Sankara Vedànta turns out to be in conflict with Màhàvàkya as world must be Mirage, not Brahm.

  • If "all that" is not world, then what actually is "all that"? As there is nothing we know about Brahm (Neti Neti). hence this Màhàvàkya turned out to be meaningless.

  • If "all that" is world & the world is Brahm but this Brahm is different, of different level then please give Scriptural references ( Shruti & Smriti ).

2 Answers 2


Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma is Chandogya Upanishad (III.14.1.) A better translation is - All this is Brahman. Swami Nikhilananda in his translation, says that this chapter, chapter 14 (which consists of 4 verses) -"The present chapter describes the meditation on Saguna Brahman without a physical symbol." The verse reads (Swami Gambhirananda translator):

All this is Brahman. (This) is born from, dissolves in, and exits in That. Therefore, one should meditate by becoming calm. Because a person is identified with (his) conviction, (therefore) just as the conviction a man has in this world, so does he become after departing from here. Therefore he should shape his conviction.

Another translation of the same verse by Swami Nikhilananda:

All this is Brahman, From It the universe comes forth, in It the universe merges, and in It the universe breathes. Therefore a man should meditate on Brahman with a calm mind. Now, verily, a man consists of will. As he will in the world, so does he become when he has departed hence. Let him (with this knowledge in mind) form his will.

The last part of this verse is an echo of Asthvakra Samhita (1.11) Swami Nityaswarupananda translator:

He who considers himself free is free indeed, and he who considers himself bound remains bound. 'As one thinks, so one becomes' is a popular saying in this world, and it is quite true.

So the Upanishad says that all this universe is Brahman. We, however, do not see the universe as Brahman. Brahman has been compared to the desert and the world as a mirage in the desert. The desert is real, in seeing the mirage we do not see the desert, we see the mirage. In a mother of pearl shell we see silver, but it is not really silver, it is really just shell.

Swami Vivekananda says (Complete Works V7, p 33; available here under the heading Inspired Talks, sub-heading Saturday, July 6 - http://cwsv.belurmath.org/volume_7/vol_7_frame.htm):

Om tat sat! According to Shankara, there are two phases of the universe, one is I and the other thou; and they are as contrary as light and darkness, so it goes without saying that neither can be derived from the other. On the subject, the object has been superimposed; the subject is the only reality, the other a mere appearance. The opposite view is untenable. Matter and the external world are but the soul in a certain state; in reality there is only one.

All our world comes from truth and untruth coupled together. Samsâra (life) is the result of the contradictory forces acting upon us, like the diagonal motion of a ball in a parallelogram of forces. The world is God and is real, but that is not the world we see; just as we see silver in the mother-of-pearl where it is not. This is what is known as Adhyâsa or superimposition, that is, a relative existence dependent upon a real one, as when we recall a scene we have seen; for the time it exists for us, but that existence is not real. Or some say, it is as when we imagine heat in water, which does not belong to it; so really it is something which has been put where it does not belong, "taking the thing for what it is not". We see reality, but distorted by the medium through which we see it.

We see Brahman, but It is distorted through the lens of Maya. For a detailed explanation of Adhyâsa, see Sankara's explanation in the section titled Adhyâsa or Superimposition at the beginning of Sankara's commentary on the Brahma Sutras available here - http://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc62753.html

  • Thanks @SwamiVishwananda sir. The line "We see Brahman, but it distorted through lens of Maya" is Kashmiri Shaivism concept as well. So in fact, I was looking for that particular sentence somewhere in Sankara Vedànta. I guess this sentence can be inferred directly from Shrutis or Smriti. Feb 26, 2017 at 14:22
  • Check my answer, I have found that. Jul 27, 2017 at 5:12

Regarding this, Ramana Maharshi said this (From the book teachings of Bhagwan sre Ramana Maharshi)-

Then Bhagavan said: “The names and forms which constitute the world continually change and perish and are therefore called unreal. It is unreal (imaginary) to limit the Self to these names and forms and real to regard all as the Self. The non-dualist says that the world is unreal, but he also says, ‘All this is Brahman’. So it is clear that what he condemns is, regarding the world as objectively real in itself, not regarding it as Brahman. He who sees the Self sees the Self alone in the world also. It is immaterial to the Enlightened whether the world appears or not. In either case, his attention is turned to the Self. It is like the letters and the paper on which they are printed. You are so engrossed in the letters that you forget about the paper, but the Enlightened sees the paper as the substratum whether the letters appear on it or not".

This is still more succinctly stated as follows:

The Vedantins do not say that the world is unreal. That is a misunderstanding. If they did, what would be the meaning of the Vedantic text: ‘All this is Brahman’? They only mean that the world is unreal as world but real as Self. If you regard the world as non-self, it is not real. Everything, whether you call it illusion (Maya) or Divine Play (Lila) or Energy (Shakti) must be within the Self and not apart from it.

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