Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 4

Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V


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Verse 4

yathaa na thoyatho bhinnaasthara'ngah phenabudbudah
athmano na tatha bhinna vishvaamathma vinirgatham


Just as the waves, the foam and the bubbles that are not different from the water, so does the universe that emanate from the Self is not different from the Self.


Nature of creation

Three metaphors are used in this verse to explain how worlds and beings manifest during creation namely waves, foam, and bubbles. All the three have one quality in common. They are impermanent formations and denote the impermanence of creation. Creation is a phenomenon, with a beginning and an end, like a dream that gives you the illusion of being real for the duration of its existence. You cannot be certain about it because you will not outlast it.

However, you can be certain that someday in a distant future it will come to an end, just as everything else. We now know that everything in the universe, from the atoms to the galaxies, is bound to time and space. We also know that the universe did not exist a few billion years ago and will not exist after a few more billion years. However, no one knows whether another universe will appear after that and whether it will be the same as the present one.

Hindu theories of creation suggest that worlds (lokas) and universes (brahmandas) appear and disappear cyclically in Brahman, and their duration and formation are predetermined. Frankly, no one can be definitive about it, and much of it is intellectual and creative speculation. What is however certain is that the worlds are impermanent, and subject to change for better or the worse. From a scientific perspective, only some aspects of the material universe seem to be permanent such as the energy and space. Advaita holds that only Self is permanent and eternal, while the rest appear and disappear.

In Hinduism, you come across two basic arguments about how things are manifested. According to one, they appear from nowhere or from emptiness. The second argument is that they arise from preexisting causes or realities because things cannot manifest from emptiness or nothingness. Most acknowledge that Brahman or the Supreme Self is the ultimate cause of all creation.

With regard to Brahman also there is speculation about whether he is the material cause, or the efficient cause or both. Some argue that the primordial Nature is the material cause, while Brahman is the efficient cause. Others argue that he is both. They differ mainly due to their speculation about Nature, whether she is dependent or independent, and whether she is eternal or temporary.

Some schools argue that Nature is eternal and independent, while some suggest that Nature is a dependent aspect of Brahman only and acts according to his will. Among the latter, there are some who believe that Nature exists eternally but cannot act without the will of Brahman, and others who believe that Nature manifests from Brahman during creation and has no existence of its own. Advaita Vedanta believes in the singularity of Brahman and accepts the theory that Brahman is both the material and efficient cause, and Nature temporarily manifests from him during creation.

Those who acknowledge that Brahman is the material and the ultimate cause of creation hold three views with regard to how it happens namely as a transformation, superimposition, or projection. According to the first, the contact between the Self and Nature triggers transformation of Nature which results in the formation and evolution of worlds, things and beings and the diversity of creation.

The second opinion holds that Nature superimposes itself upon the Self, just as the clouds cover the Sun, and creates an alternate reality in which Self is no more visible. According to the third School, the Self appears in the field of Nature as a projection, illumination or reflection. This verse supports the speculation that creation is a formation or a transformation of Nature within in the field of Brahman. Water becomes waves, foam or bubbles to create the illusion of things and forms. In reality they are temporary formations or appearances which cannot exist without water, their source.

The transformation is also superficial in the sense that water remains the same except in appearance when it becomes waves, bubbles or foam. Hence, you can say that they are not different from water. Also hidden in this proposition is the idea that the Supreme Self is the material cause. He is also the substance or materiality, from which everything springs. It is his manifested aspect (Saguna Brahman), which is temporary and forms out of him like waves in an ocean. It appears differently within himself according to the modes or gunas and the collection of realities (tattvas) that separate from him. The world has no existence of its own. It cannot exist without the support of the Self. When it ends it disappears into the Self only, just as the waves subside into the waters of the ocean.

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