Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 5

Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V


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Verse 5

thanthumaathro bhavedeva pato yadvadvichaarithah
aathmathanmatramevedam thadvad vishvam vichaaritham


Just as upon close examination the cloth is found to be made up of the cotton thread only you will find upon close examination that this universe is made up of the Self only.


The material cause of creation

This verse states that Brahman or the Supreme Self is the material cause of the universe. There is none other than the Self. He is both matter and consciousness. From the standpoint of Advaita, the difference between Purusha and Prakriti are superficial. Prakriti is a temporary manifestation of Purusha only, and it has no existence of its own.

The material for the formation of worlds, objects and beings is supplied by the Self only. In other words, the projection or the manifestation of Brahman is not different from Brahman. He is the subject, the object, and their connecting link. Just as every organ and process in your body is part of you and represents you, every aspect of creation is part of Brahman and represents him. He is present in them all as their very essence and substance.

The thread is rather a poor metaphor for Brahman, because in real world somebody has to spin that thread from cotton or some synthetic material, whereas Brahman is eternal and unmade. The whole existence arises from the Self and is bound to the Self. Just as the cloth has no existence without the thread, creation has no existence without the Self.

Even from the perspective of modern science, we can justify the underlying unity that is present in the diversity of the material universe. Outwardly, the universe consists of numerous objects. Be it the earth, the planets, the solar system, the stars, galaxies, space dust, and even the invisible gamma rays and infrared waves, they all are made of the same primordial energy only. We can reduce all matter into pure energy. In Hinduism we call it Shakti, the universal force. Etymologically it appears that the word matter is derived from the Sanskrit world, mathar or mathah, meaning the Mother. She is Nature personified, pure energy, and the source of all the materiality found in the universe. However, from the perspective of Advaita, she is a dependent and temporary manifestation of the Self only.

Truth reveals itself to the extent you pay attention to it, and think about it. Take any image or painting. If you keep looking at it, you will perceive many details which were not visible to you before. The same holds true about every aspect of creation, including the people in your life and the objects with which you interact. If you do not pay attention, you will remain ignorant of many truths, and expose yourself to numerous risks.

Thus, this verse contains a hidden suggestion to overcome ignorance. It is that you must pay attention and think deeply about the world and its essential nature to understand its hidden and subtle aspects. You become wiser through contemplation and observation. Vicharitha means consideration, close inquiry, examination, or deliberation. It is an important practice in self-study, and in the speculative philosophies of Hinduism to develop clarity and insight. Since the mind is subject to many impurities, truths of life do not easily reveal themselves to you. Hence, close examination of things is necessary to overcome ignorance and delusion.

The description of Brahman as the connecting or unifying thread is found in other scriptures also. They describe Brahman as the thread who holds the different worlds like beads in a necklace. He is also compared to a spider who weaves the web of illusion to bind the beings and consumes their mortal bodies as the lord of death. In some he is also described as a magician who casts the net of delusion to bind the beings to the cycle of births and deaths. Many Hindu deities hold a pasa (rope) in their hands suggesting their control over human attachments.

Brahman is also described in many scriptures as the suthradhar, meaning the central player, artisan, chief architect, or the holder of a thread or a string in puppet plays. In Hindu puppet shows, he pulls all the strings from behind the screen to make the characters play, besides narrating the story. He is the central character in classical Hindu dramas also, since he arranges the caste to enact the characters and instructs them about their roles and acting. He also takes a prominent part in the introductory part of the play and introduces the characters to the audience. The word also means the composer of Sutras or aphorisms as in Yoga Sutras or Kapila Sutras.

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