Tat Twam Asi, a teaching of the Upanishads, translates to That Thou Art or You Are That, That which is the identification to the Absolute, the Infinite, the Self.
We can get caught up with these vague yogic ideas with big words, and while chanting Om or Shantih or Tat Twam Asi is beautiful in itself, manifesting these teachings is what yoga is about. As my teacher Sharon Gannon reminds us, yogis are practical people. So in practical terms, what does it mean to us that we are That?
That is the idea that you and I are not separate, that all of our notions of separation are either illusory, ignorant or stem from mis-knowing. That acknowledges the Truth that we are one, that we are in this together. Your joy is my joy, your peace is my peace. Your pain is my pain, your suffering is my suffering. Whoever you may be, this applies. That is who we truly are.
How can we then see ourselves as one when our experience is that we are separate? You may think you have your own thoughts, your own desires, your own fears, your own story, your own life, your own path. How does this sense of ownership fit into That? Our identification with our thoughts, desires, fears, story, life, path, so on and so forth are our identification with our egoic self. These things strengthen our sense of ego identity, and if we blindly attach to them, we create this web of separation. It is our human experience to be predisposed to having these identities and these attachments. It is the karma, the cause and effect, of having this human body. We do, however, possess something that can untangle this web of attachment. It is like a key that we all have within us, a built-in mechanism. This is our compassion. In Sanskrit, it is called karuna.
The word compassion is Latin in origin. It means co-suffering. It means we are in this together. No one left behind. It means that because I am feeling what you are feeling, I am at that moment letting go of my egoic attachments to my thoughts, desires, fears, story, life, path, so on and so forth. Because when I am co-suffering with you, my superficial concerns fade away. The layer of egoic self sheds and allows the Self- That- to take over.
We are all compassionate, and many of us are not even aware of the depth of compassion that we have. Perhaps there was a time you saw an elderly homeless man on the street, and momentarily forgot where you were going or what your own worries were. An experience like this is two-sided. We forget our egoic self because we remember our Self- we are That. Or maybe you witnessed a mother cow being slaughtered because she is no longer producing milk and it broke your heart. You are crying because a body other than yours is hurt. Pain is inflicted on someone other than your own egoic self. You let go of your separation and you remember that you are more than this body and this mind. You remember you are That. This forgetting self/remembering Self instinct comes to us in different situations because of the cultural, educational, psychological, speciesist and other biases that we have acquired. Nonetheless, we all have it. That is why we can read a novel or watch a movie or hear a song and be emotionally affected by them- because we are capable of relating to an "other", even as we see others as others. We are all naturally compassionate.
From our selective compassion, what steps do we take to be That? We take one step repeatedly: let go. As Alan Watts explained, finding who we are is like falling asleep. We don't command it or attach to it. We let it happen by letting go.
Let us take an honest spiritual inventory of where we are, or rather who we are, at the moment. How much anger, jealousy, fear, greediness, resentment, bitterness, pettiness are we keeping in our lives? How many beings have we classified as enemies or inferior to us or unworthy of our consideration? How many past incidents are we still holding on to and unwilling to forgive? How much material comfort are we holding on to in order to mask our fear of confronting who we could be- who we truly are? Why are we holding on to any of these?
Let go of the perceived wrong someone did to you five years ago. Let go of your attachment to convenience or taste that keeps you stuck in the cycle of violence that is eating and using animals. Let go of the jealousy you feel towards those whom you feel are more successful than you. Let go of the judgment you make towards those whom you think are less successful than you. Let go of your addiction to bury your pain and emptiness with things and material pursuits and trivial obssessions. Let go.
When we let go of this idea that who we are is limited to the outline that is our physical body, then we start to see that who we are is a co-partnership with all beings, that who we are is That which feels what the entire Universe feels. We realize that we are all connected to each other. That connection- knowing that you and I being separate is merely an illusory construct projected by our biased and overthinking yet misled mind- is compassion. That is karuna.
Tat Twam Asi. You are That.