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I came across this quote: Only when space is rolled up like a piece of leather will there be an end to suffering apart from knowing god - Svetasvatara Upanisad, VI 20

The quote is in a Science Fiction book (Eternity by Greg Bear) but the quote seems to be genuine. What does Hinduism say about the nature of space that indicates it can be "rolled up"?

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The mantra is not talking about rolling the sky, it's just used in analogous comparision:

निष्कलं निष्क्रिय शान्तं निरवद्यं निरञ्जनम् ।
अमृतस्य पर सेतुं दग्धेन्धनमिवानलम् ।। 19
यदा चर्मवदाकाशं वेष्टयिष्यन्ति मानवा ।
तदा देवमविज्ञाय दुःखस्यान्तो भविष्यति ।।
20

When men shall roll up space as if it were a piece of hide, then there will be an end of misery without one’s cultivating the Knowledge of the Lord, who is without parts, without actions, tranquil, blameless, unattached, the supreme bridge to Immortality, and like a fire that has consumed all its fuel.

It doesn't mean one can roll up the sky. It means just as it is never possible to roll up the sky as a piece of leather, in the same way it is utterly impossible to put an end to miseries of the world without the knowledge of the Lord.

Here is what commentary of AdiShankara tells about this verse (although it is debated that whether Shankara wrote commentary on this Upanishad or not):

This is a beautiful way of explaining a difficult topic. The Mantra says that just as it is never possible to roll up the akasa (sky) as a piece of leather (like a piece of suit-length cloth) so it is utterly impossible to put an end to miseries of the world without the knowledge of the Lord. Only when something impossible happens will misery cease without one’s realizing God in one’s heart. That God has been described in various terms. Brahman is free from the slightest trace of phenomenality. It is like blazing charcoal which burns radiantly after the wood is consumed.

Bhagavad Gita says:
naadatte kasyachit paapam na chaiva sukritam vibhuh ajnaanenaavritam jnaanam tena muhyanti jantavah //5.15 //
Nor does the all-pervading Spirit take on the merit or demerit of any. Knowledge is enveloped in ignorance and hence beings get deluded.

jnaanena tu tadajnaanam yeshaam naashitamaatmanah teshaam aadityavajjnaanam prakaashayati tatparam // 5.16 //
But to those whose ignorance is destroyed by the Knowledge of the Self, that knowledge, like the Sun, reveals the Supreme (Brahman).

tadbuddhayas tadaatmaanas tannishthaas tatparaayanaah gacchantyapunaraavrittim jnaana nirdhoota kalmashaah // 5.17 //
Fixing their minds on Him, at one with Him, abiding in Him, realizing Him alone as the Supreme Goal, they reach a state, from which there is no return, their sins having been destroyed by their Knowledge.

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  • Thanks - accepted your answer. In light of the new theories of space/time, like warping due to gravity, it would have been interesting if Hinduism had a theory where space could be rolled up. – Sanjay Jain Jun 27 '16 at 15:49
  • @Sanjay Jain I think there may be such concepts in Yoga Vasistha... – Tejaswee Jun 27 '16 at 15:53

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