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How do Hindu scriptures define Ākāśa?

A little bit of background:

Ākāśa -> Vāyu -> Agni -> Jala -> Pṛthvī – this is the order of creation of the 5 elements.

Their corresponding qualities are – sound, touch, sight, taste and smell – which are each inclusive of the previous element's quality. Meaning, if there is a place in this universe where Vāyu exists, we can hear & feel it, but cannot see, taste or smell. If there is a place where Agni exists, we can hear, feel & see it, but cannot taste or smell.

Modern science says sound cannot travel in vacuum. But light does because we can see Sun which is 100 million miles away. According to the order of elemental creation, where light exists, sound can too.

So, is vacuum not same as Ākāśa? I thought ākāśa just meant space where something can exist or move about.

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    No. Akasha mean space, not vacuum. Think of it as distance between two objects. 'Outer space' has mostly vacuum, but there is a measurable distance between two objects in outer space. Between me and the person standing near me there is space also, but that space is more or less filled with air. It is the first created as where would matter and energy be able to exist if there was no space? – Swami Vishwananda Jun 23 '16 at 7:40
  • does that mean akasha includes vaccum and non-vaccum (atmosphere,planets etc.) ? – ram Jun 23 '16 at 13:25
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    Yes. Vacuum or no vacuum, it doesn't matter. In a vacuum is there not distance between two objects? That distance is space, akasha.The distance between you and me is filled with air, people, plants, etc. Still, space. We know there is space because we can observe distance between two objects. Sometimes there are no 'things' between you and me, but still distance; and sometimes there are many things between you and me, but still distance. – Swami Vishwananda Jun 24 '16 at 4:52
  • if akash includes vaccum, and, the property of akasha is sound, then why can't we hear sounds in vaccum (according to science, air is needed for sound waves to travel) ? – ram Jun 27 '16 at 19:53
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Is vacuum not same as Ākāśa? 

No , Akasha or Space is not same as vacuum .Even from modern discoveries, its clear that empty space isn’t so empty , space is filled with invisible Dark-Matter , other low mass particles ,and background radiation.

How do Hindu scriptures define Ākāśa?

In Hinduism scriptures like Purusha Sukta from Rig-Veda and various puranas , Akasha or Antarikssam or space is described as part of “Virat Purusha” , which is first avatar of Paramatma or supreme soul.

नाभ्या आसीदन्तरिक्षं शीर्ष्णो द्यौः समवर्तत ।
पद्भ्यां भूमिर्दिशः श्रोत्रात्तथा लोकाँ अकल्पयन् ॥१४॥

Naabhyaa Aasiid-Antarikssam Shiirssnno Dyauh Samavartata | Padbhyaam Bhuumir-Dishah Shrotraat-Tathaa Lokaa Akalpayan ||14||

Meaning: 14.1: His Navel became the Antariksha (the intermediate Space between Heaven and Earth), His Head sustained the Heaven, 14.2: From His Feet the Earth (was sustained), and from His Ears the Directions (were sustained); in this manner all the Worlds were regulated by Him.


द्वे जानुनी सुतलं विश्वमुर्ते रुरुद्वयम् वितलं चातलं च |
महीतलं तज्जघनं महीपते नभस्तलं नाभिसरो गृणन्ति ||27||

dve jānunī sutalaṁ viśva-mūrter ūru-dvayaṁ vitalaṁ cātalaṁ ca
mahītalaṁ taj-jaghanaṁ mahīpate nabhastalaṁ nābhi-saro gṛṇanti

Meaning- The knees of the universal form are the planetary system of the name Sutala, and the two thighs are the Vitala and Atala planetary systems. The hips are Mahītala, and outer space is the depression of His navel SB 2.1.27


So from above shlokas we come to know that The space or Akasha itself is part of Virata purusha , which is everywhere in space. So space is different than a vacuum even in Hinduism scriptures.

We also find definition of Akasha in Brahma Sutras (Shankara Bhashya)

आकाशोऽर्थान्तरत्वादिव्यपदेशात् ॥ ४१॥

ākāśo'rthāntaratvādivyapadeśāt || 41 ||

ākāśaḥ—Âkâsa; arthāntaratvādi-vyapadeśāt—because it is declared to be something different etc.

  1. Âkâsa (is Brahman) because it is declared to be something different etc. (from names and forms and yet their revealer).

“That which is called Âkâsa is the revealer of all names and forms. That within which these names and forms are, is Brahman, the immortal, the Self” (Chh. 8.14.1).

Here ‘Âkâsa’ is Brahman. Why ? Because names and forms are snid to be within this Âkâsa, which is therefore different from these. In this phenomenal world everything is conditioned by name and form, and Brahman alone is beyond them. Âkâsa is said to be the revealer of names and forms; and as the Inner Ruler of the whole world of names and forms it cannot be anything else but Brahman. Moreover, epithets like ‘Infinite’, ‘Immortal’, ‘Self’ also show that ‘Âkâsa’ here refers to Brahman.

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