© J. Glenn Friesen 2003-2007.
Glossary of Terms
"Tat tvam asi" means "That art thou." It is found in the Upanishads, and refers to our experience of "identity" with Brahman. We see Brahman in all things, and the basis for our love of others is that they also are one with Brahman. Vivekananda spoke of the need for a "Practical Vedanta."This was using the principles of advaita in a practical way to achieve moral results. This was the basis of the Ramakrishna Mission which he founded. In support of this Practical Vedanta, Vivekananda referred to the mahavakya (great saying) tat tvam asi in the Upanishads. If we are identical with the other and with Brahman, then we will want to do good to the other. This mahavakya is therefore the foundation for morality. It is not that we do good to our neighbour out of altruism, but because the neighbour is identical to our self.
Some Indologists have said that the use of "tat tvam asi" in ethics is only relatively recent within Hinduism, and that in fact neo-Hinduism was influenced by Western interpretations of itself in coming to this viewpoint. Paul Hacker said that traditional Hinduism did not relate "tat tvam asi" to ethics. Hacker points to the German philosopher Schopenhauer, and to Schopenhauer's student, Paul Deussen for this usage. Because of Schopenhauer's world-denying philosophy, he himself did not advocate this morality. Deussen took the principle further and actually advocated it as the basis for how we should act. Deussen gave a lecture in Bombay on February 25, 1893 concerning the tat tvam asi theory of the foundation of ethics. He went again to India in 1896 and there met Vivekananda. Hacker says it is not until after this meeting that Vivekananda's writings included the principle as a basis for ethics. Prior to this time, Vivekananda's ethics were based on the idea of disinterested action. In fact, in his book Karma-Yoga Vivekananda said that it was foolish talk to speak of doing good to the world.
Whether Hacker's view of a Western influence for the "tat tvam asi" ethics is true or not, we can find a similar basis for ethics in Dooyeweerd, who says,
What does Dooyeweerd mean by saying that the second commandment is implied in the first? I think he means that in loving our neighbour, we are also loving our real and true selfhood, the image of God.
Dooyeweerd says something similar in his article "What is Man?" We cannot have an inner meeting with another person except in the central religious sense, which for Dooyeweerd is always related to our supratemporal selfhood.
And in the same article, Dooyeweerd makes it clear that our love for our fellow man is related to our being created in the image of God, which means being created as a being in whom the temporal world is concentrated in our religious centre:
Baader has a similar view of ethics. In one place, he attributes it to Plato. He quotes Diotima in Plato: Not because he is beautiful to I seek my beloved, but because he helped me to experience the Beautiful. Philosophische Schriften I, 100-103. Religion and love have the same root.
Elsewhere, Baader expresses a similar view in relation to our participation in the work of Christ, and the suffering of his divine-human heart. The Redeemer gives us a new law, to love our neighbour as ourselves, and this means to love our neighbour in God:
See Panikkars's reference to tat tvam asi in my note on selfhood.
Revised Sept 22/08