Swami Vivekananda says this,

Suppose there is a wave in the ocean. The wave is distinct from the ocean only in its form and name, and this form and this name cannot have any separate existence from the wave; they exist only with wave. The wave may subside but the same amount of water remains, even if the name and form that were on the wave vanish for ever. So this Maya is what makes the difference between me and you , between all animals and man, between gods and men.

Here he compares, like many Advaitins have compared, that Brahman is like ocean and the name and form universe are all like waves, and these waves are Maya.

But here is the problem, how can there be anything like waves in Brahman? Waves can only be there in a medium where disturbance can be set by changing a part of it. But as Brahman is changeless and is partless, there cannot be waves.

There can be multiple waves only if there is three dimensional space. Is Ocean a singular entity? Ocean is three dimensional and is with parts, it can have waves in one part while the oher part remains calm. This is not true for Brahman.

How does Advaitins exaplin multiple names and forms in a single Brahman? As Brahman is dimensionless, if there is a wave, then the whole Brhaman will have wave. Moreover any disturbance is not possible in changeless Brahman.

P.S: I myself am an Advaiti, I have asked this question to many people, and they just hand wave the question saying it is all Maya. This answer explains nothing, it seems like a escaping answer, which can be given to any question. So don't just say it is maya. Explain how there are apparent changes and multiple forms in a single Brahman. The Name and Forms which are different from each other is Maya, but not the Ocean itself. Ocean itself is not illusion, it is real. But the Ocean can be changed and is with space dimension which is not true for Brahman.

1 Answer 1


This is a good question.

The first problem with the Advaita interpretation is that Advaita Brahman is not an ocean since it is not an object. There is no second entity. So who is seeing the Advaita Brahman as an ocean?

Manu said, ‘Brahma is not an object of touch, or of hearing, or of taste, or of sight, or of smell, or of any deductive inference from the Known. Only the Understanding (when withdrawn from everything else) can attain to it. All objects that the mind apprehends through the senses are capable of being withdrawn into the mind; the mind can be withdrawn into the understanding; the Understanding can be withdrawn into the soul, and the Soul into the Supreme.’

Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section CCIV

The second problem is that Maya is inexplicable and unknowable in the Advaita scheme and can't be compared to a wave.

From the point of view of Advaita Vedanta, maya and avidya are the same. Just as avidya or ignorance has the powers, as it were, to hide Brahman and project something else, such as the world, on it, so also maya, as it were, can cover up Brahman and project the world onto it. Maya cannot really cover the Reality that is Brahman. A patch of cloud can never cover the sun. It only covers the eyes of those who are looking at the sun. In the same way maya covers our knowing ability and thus obstructs our knowledge of Brahman. In any act of knowing, the ‘knower’ and the object known’ have to be separate from each other. They cannot be the same. In order for us to know maya, it has to be separate from us. Individuals like us are the products of maya and we are all posited within the domain of maya. Maya and we individuals are not separate from each other, just as chocolate and a bear-shaped chocolate candy are not different from each other. As we are identical with maya, we cannot know maya. For this reason, maya is not only unknowable; it is inexplicable as well (anirvachaniya).

Journey from Many to One essentials of Advaita Vedanta by Swami Bhaskarananda

The illustration of the ocean with its waves is really a Kashmiri Saivism interpretation and not in accord with Advaita Vedanta.

So the question boils down to why Advaitins use a Kashmiri Saivism style interpretation?

The reason is that there is no way to explain Maya in Advaita Vedanta. Yet this maya is necessary to explain the universe given that the Advaita Brahman is inert.

Ultimate Reality is cit or Parasamvit. It is non-relational consciousness. It is the changeless principle of all changes. In it, there is no distinction of subject and object, of I and This. It is the Supreme Self surveying Itself. In the words of Pratyabhijna Sastra, it is prakasa-vimarsamaya. Prakasa is the eternal light without which nothing can appear. It is Siva. Vimarsa is Sakti, the swabhava of Siva. It is, so to speak, the mirror in which Siva realizes His own grandeur, power and beauty. Vimarsa is the Katrtva Sakti (the power of doership) of Siva.

Mere Prakasa cannot be the nature of Reality. Even diamond is prakasa, but the diamond does not know itself as prakasa. Vimarsa is that aspect of prakasa by which it knows itself. That self knowledge is activity.

Vimarsa betokens that activity. As Ksemraja says in his Parapravesika (p. 2), Vimarsa is "akrtrimaham iti visphuranam". It is the non-relational, immediate awareness of I. Ksemraja says, "Yadi nirvimarsah syat anisvaro judasca prasajyeta" (Parapravesika, p.2) i.e. "If Ultimate Reality were merely prakasa and not also vimarsa, it would be entirely powerless and inert." It is this I-consciousness of Ultimate Reality that is responsible for the manifestation, maintenance, and reabsorption of the universe.

Cit is conscious of itself as Cidrupini Sakti. This consciousness of itself as Cidrupini sakti is Vimarsa. ....

It is because Sankara Vedanta considers Brahman to be only prakasa or jnana (light or illumination) without any vimarsa or activity that it has to invoke the help of Maya for the manifestation of the universe. Brahman is devoid of any activity; it is, therefore, impotent to create. It is, only Isvara or mayopahita caitanya that can manifest the universe. But whence does this maya drop in? If it is some power extraneous to Brahman or Isvara, then Sankara Vedanta is reduced to dualism. If Maya is only an expression of the power of Brahman, then Brahman cannot be devoid of activity. Both Sankhya and Vedanta consider the Purusa or Atma to be niskriya or inactive, because they take the word 'activity' in a very crude sense. Surely, Brahman or Atma does not work like a potter or watch-maker. The very Vimarsa, the very Iccha (will) of the Divine is spiritual energy of incalculable force that can penetrate into any form from the subtlest to the grossest.


Ultimate Reality is not only Universal Consciousness but also Supreme spiritual energy or power. This All-inclusive Universal Consciousness, is also called Anuttara, the Highest Reality, the Absolute. It is both transcendental (visvottirna) and immanent (visvamaya).

It is the svabhava or very nature of Ultimate Reality to manifest. Creativity is of the very essence of Divinity. If the Ultimate Reality did not manifest, then it would not be Self or consciousness, but not-Self, something like a jar.......

Introduction to Siva Sutras by Jaidev Singh

  • 1
    Thank you for clearing the doubt that this approach is of Kashmiri Shaivism and not Shankara Advaita. 🙏But my question as to how a completely static, changeless and partless Brahman even have anything in it as changing, with part, Maya remains unanswered. Is there no answer in Advaita?and is this the Anirvachaniya that is being talked about?? So Advaita kind of admits that this problem cannot be solved and can only be understood when one achieves realisation?
    – user28152
    Aug 27, 2022 at 9:09
  • Sri Ramakrishna has an answer to your question. Advaita Brahman can't be separated from Sakti just as whiteness of milk can't be separated from milk. If you think of milk than you won't think of green milk. The inertness of Brahman is due to inactive Sakti. Maya is anirvacahaniya because we are products of maya and hence can't objectively look at Maya. Aug 28, 2022 at 3:43

You must log in to answer this question.