Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 23

Cosmic Play

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V


Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 23

aho bhuvanakallolair-vichithrair-draak samutthitam
mayyanantham-ahaambhodhau chittavaathe samudyathe


Oh, in the limitless great ocean of myself by the winds of consciousness are produced instantly waves of wonderful worlds.


The worlds in the infinite ocean of the Cosmic Self

Bhuvana means mansion, world, or a plane of existence. Kallola means disturbance, waves, or flux. It represents dynamism or activity (chaitanyam). Vichitra means various, diverse, colorful, or wonderful. Maha ambha means a great body of water, which is a reference to the ocean.

In this verse, the Self is compared to an ocean and creation to waves. The basis of that creation is mind consciousness or dynamic consciousness (chitta), in which thoughts arise and subside like waves, creating in the process the dream like illusion of existence, reality, worlds and beings. Ashtavakra articulated here a grand vision of creation, which is described in many Upanishads, from a purely subjective, and personal perspective of an awakened seer.

When you are silent, when nothing is happening, and when you have no awareness of your name, form, identity and relationships or possessions, you have no boundaries as you transcend them and become like an infinite ocean, dissolving your identity in the infinite space around you. The boundaries arise when you define yourself and consider yourself an individual, which is what you normally experience in your wakeful consciousness. With that, you experience otherness and witness the universe in that otherness as distinct from you.

However, in deep sleep you lose all sense of individuality and separation and become one with the silence and the space that surrounds you. In that state, the otherness disappears During the day, you are active and engaged in numerous activities. In the night, you are silent and absent. All that noise, commotion and waves of thoughts and emotions subside into deep silence. Since the otherness is temporary and conditional, Advaita believes that it is an illusion created by the mind rather than reality.

Silence is permanent. Noise is intermittent. It manifests when your senses are awake and your mind is active. When you wake up, in that silence arise wave after wave of thoughts, concerns, relationships, hopes, desires, worries and anxieties. They are the worlds that manifest within yourself as your creations. Now superimpose the same idea upon the universal Self. There, thoughts have the power to acquire force and materialize into reality as tangible objects, unlike in your universe where thoughts remain intangible and subtle as simple vibrations. We are reflections of the one, indivisible Brahman, just as the rays of the sun. Hence, our thoughts or consciousness do not have that power, but the same structure and subtle process.

Vishnu, the Cosmic Mind

The central theme of this verse is repeated many times in our scriptures in the creation stories and descriptions of Lord Vishnu. The impelling power of those waves of thought or consciousness, be it in us or in God, is intention or desire. It is symbolized in the Puranas as the thousand-hooded, infinite serpent, known as Adishesha, upon which Lord Vishnu rests in the ocean of creation. Desire by itself is not evil. It becomes evil only when it is tainted by selfishness.

As Anantasayana, the universal Self, who rests in the infinite ocean, Lord Vishnu is Brahman or the Supreme Self. The ocean, from which he arises as Hiranyagarbha, is his unmanifested aspect, pure Self or pure consciousness. We call him Avyakta Brahman or Nirguna Brahman. His reclining form, which floats in it upon the infinite serpent Adishesha, is his manifested form, which represents his dynamic consciousness, the universal mind and body or the universal beingness. We call him Vyakta Brahman or Saguna Brahman. Both these aspects are also described in the Upanishads as Murtam and Amurtam (with form and without form) or as Asambhuti and Sambhuti. You may also call them the Self and the not-Self, or the subjective Self and the objective Self.

From that manifested form of Brahman, arises Brahma, seated in a lotus flower, as a further modification of his dynamic consciousness. He represents all the worlds and beings, and further modifications that take place in the field of Prakriti (universal materiality or the force of God). All that diversity which manifests in the infinite ocean of Brahman through the dynamism of Vishnu and Brahma is temporary. It lasts for the duration of the cycle of creation and disappears at the end of it, which according to the Puranas constitute a day in the life of Brahma.

According to Advaitavadins like Ashtavakra the Universal Self is the only reality, which is compared here to the limitless ocean. It is the source of the materiality and support for the creation that manifests within itself. Just as the waves rise and fall in the ocean, diverse worlds appear and disappear in the mind of the supreme Self. Just as winds are responsible for the waves, the modifications (chitta vrittis) which arise in the consciousness are responsible for the appearance and disappearance of the worlds.

Bhuvana is a reference not only to the worlds but also to all the beings, who are but worlds in themselves. Just as the real worlds, they also arise in the ocean of existence because of the modifications in pure consciousness. The waves are temporary, while the ocean itself is infinite and eternal. The ocean is one, but the waves are diverse and numerous. Thus, the waves in the ocean symbolize the diversity in creation. They also symbolize transience, mutability and mortality.

The analogy of ocean may confuse some since in the previous verses, the Self is described as pure consciousness. Here it is compared to the ocean while consciousness is compared to waves. In this context, consciousness does not refer to the pure consciousness of the soul, but to the consciousness of the mind and body, which is called chitta in Yoga philosophy.

The soul consciousness is eternal and immutable. It is not subject to modifications, while it is the support for the individualized or materialized consciousness (chitta) which arises from it as a projection. Chitta is not pure consciousness of the Self, but the modified and individualized consciousness of the embodied soul. In the Cosmic Being, it is pure, but in the human beings it is impure and subject to modifications and impurities such as egoism and delusion. It cannot reflect the Self until it is completely cleansed and suffused with Sattva through self-purification, and all the modifications of the mind are suppressed.

You may also consider it the ego consciousness, which is vulnerable to the five types of modifications, and which are described in the Yoga Sutras. They are responsible for the instability of the mind, attachments, desires, delusion and bondage. In a yogi the mind becomes still, whereby the waves or the modification in the consciousness disappear, resulting in stateless Samadhi.

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