The Drop in the Ocean Argument

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All physical analogies fail to correctly describe Bhedābheda philosophy. One such analogy is a drop in an ocean. The Bhedābheda proponent says: The drop is distinct from the ocean and yet one with it. The reductionist’s counter to that claim is that if you remove all the drops, there will be no ocean; hence the ocean is a fictional construct reducible to drops. The impersonalist’s counter is that there is only an ocean and dividing it into drops is a temporary illusion; hence the drops are a fictional construct produced from and reducible to the ocean. Due to these counters, it is impossible to say that both drops and ocean are real, and Bhedābheda becomes Achintya or inconceivable.

To understand Bhedābheda, we have to define the “Pacific Ocean” independent of the drops in it. Adding drops to the Pacific Ocean will not make it something other than the Pacific Ocean. Removing drops from the Pacific Ocean will not make it something other than the Pacific Ocean. This is achieved if we treat the Pacific Ocean as a person—if a person gains or loses weight, he doesn’t become a different person. If losing some weight doesn’t reduce the person, then, in the limiting case, the person exists even without a body. But if there is a fat or lean body, then you can point to it saying—”this is the same person”. Thus, the “person” is unchanged with a fat body, a lean body, or no body.

The distinction between the body and the person is inconceivable in logic because the person is defined as a set of things. For example, we can say that “natural number” is the set S := {1, 2, 3, …}. Thus, “X is a natural number” is equivalent to “there exists an X such that X is a member of S”. If you remove some elements from the set S, then it can no longer be called S. It must be called S’ or something else. The identity of a set is not preserved when we add and remove elements from a set. But the identity of a person is preserved when a person gains or loses weight. If identity preservation was allowed even with sets, then the set formed after removing odd numbers from natural numbers would still be called “natural number”, and that will naturally lead to logical contradiction because “natural number” now equals “even number”.

Most people cannot see how the logic of things is not the logic of persons. This is because, in common parlance, we treat most so-called things—e.g., the Pacific Ocean—as persons. How we talk in ordinary language is not logical. And yet, most people cannot see the fact that we preserve the identity of the Pacific Ocean even though it gains and loses drops every day. That is absolutely the antithesis of logic. The Aristotelian dictum “A is A” is falsified if the Pacific Ocean remains the Pacific Ocean despite the addition or removal of drops.

Bhedābheda is inconceivable when we use logic because logic is meant to be used only for things (sets of things are also things). Bhedābheda is conceivable if we reject binary logic and treat everything as a person. If we have trouble thinking in terms of person and body, then we can think in terms of mind and thought. The mind doesn’t reduce to the thoughts because the same mind can think different thoughts one after another. And yet, at the point of thought, the mind is the thought. That is just like a person is a fat or lean body and yet the fat or lean body is not the person. Under Bhedābheda, we can say “the ocean is the drops, and yet, the drops are not the ocean”. This is how we refute both materialism and impersonalism—both ocean and drops are real; the ocean doesn’t reduce to the drops, and the drops don’t reduce to the ocean.

In this post, I will talk about how the ocean and drops analogy is poorly used if we quantify the ocean as many drops. The same analogy is used correctly if we treat the ocean and drops as qualities. With the quantity description, the ocean ceases to exist if all the drops have dried up. With the quality description, the ocean exists as a distinct quality even if all the drops have dried up.

The Saraswati River dried up a few thousand years ago. But Saraswati still exists. Saraswati is the knowledge of karma-kānda rituals. Those rituals ended as the Saraswati River dried up, destroying with it the Indus (also called the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan) Civilization. But Saraswati as the knowledge of karma-kānda rituals still exists. Saraswati is the person, and the Saraswati River was her body. Even if the body ceases to exist, the person still exists. How Saraswati exists even when there are no drops in the Saraswati River requires personalist non-binary logic contrary to the objectivist binary logical thinking. Such existence is beyond the imagination of materialism and impersonalism.

Descriptions of Oceans in Vedic Texts

When Lord Ramachandra wanted to attack Lanka, He waited patiently for three days “praying” to the ocean to give way for His armies to cross. However, the ocean did not provide a way. Then Lord Ramachandra took His bow and arrow and was about to launch a weapon, by which the ocean would be dried to make way for His army, when the ocean personified appeared before Him begging for forgiveness and provided the following solution: “If your army drops a rock into the ocean with your name written on it, then those rocks will float on the water”. The ocean did not part to make way for the army, as Lord Ramachandra had originally intended. Instead, a bridge was constructed over the ocean to allow for Lord Ramachandra’s army to cross, by following the proposal given by the ocean personified. The ocean was not trillions of drops; it was one person.

During the creation of the material world, a primordial kāraṇa or the “causal ocean” is expanded from the body of Kāraṇodakaśāyī Viṣṇu as His sweat. Each drop in the ocean becomes a universe. Kāraṇodakaśāyī comprises three terms—kāraṇa (cause), udaka (water), and śāyī (resting)—due to which the water was previously in Kāraṇodakaśāyī, it came out of Kāraṇodakaśāyī, and then He lay in that water resting. Thereby, Kāraṇodakaśāyī is the original cause, and a secondary cause is produced from Him, but Kāraṇodakaśāyī “rests” in that secondary cause, appearing to be causally inert. That kāraṇor cause of creation is the guna, karma, and chitta of the individual soul.

Kāraṇodakaśāyī then “enters” each drop as Garbhodakaśāyi Viṣṇu, to produce the universe. Garbhodakaśāyi comprises three terms—garbha (womb), udaka (water), and śāyī (resting). In this case, Garbhodakaśāyi is the soul in the womb. By His presence, the womb becomes a full-fledged body. Finally, Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu “enters” each part of the body—i.e., the atoms of the universe—to become the soul resting in each atom. Kṣīrodakaśāyī comprises three terms—kṣīra (milk), udaka (water), and śāyī (resting). By His presence, each atom “sees” the other atoms in the universe and that vision becomes a universe within the atom comprising pictures of other atoms. Even an atom is a person.

The universe has infinite atoms, and each atom is a universe. The universe is outside the atom, and inside the atom. The “outside” is the terrain, and the “inside” is a map of that terrain. The map is not the terrain, but it is not different from the terrain. By knowing the map, we can know the terrain. If we know one atom completely, then we can know the entire universe, because that atom is an ocean of information. If we dive into the ocean, then the atom is many things. If we stay outside the ocean, then it is one thing. That one thing is a mind within which the entire universe is compressed as knowledge due to Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu. To study atoms, we must think of minds and meanings.

These three Viṣṇu forms correspond to the deep sleep, dreaming, and waking stages of experience. The deep sleep stage is an unconscious realm of guna, karma, and chitta, which becomes the cause of dreaming and waking experiences when its parts are mixed by time. The dreaming stage is a self-created experience, with no corresponding external reality. The waking stage is an experience correlated to an external reality. Thus, the information in an atom has a corresponding external reality, like waking. The information in a universe has no corresponding external reality, like dreaming. And the information in the causal ocean is not experienced, like deep sleep.

These three stages of experience are called māyā, which means what God is not. God is a master with no desire for mastery. Instead, māyā is God’s power with a desire for mastery. When a soul loses self-satisfaction and develops the desire for mastery, then he comes under the control of māyā. The creation is the result of God’s interplay with His power. In spiritual creation, māyā dominates God to increase Him, and God submits to that domination. In material creation, māyā dominates God to decrease Him, and God defeats that domination. Hence, the spiritual world is a place of cooperative harmony, and the material world is of competitive conflict. The fact is that every person has the power to improve or degrade themselves. They can accept the power of improvement and reject the power of degradation. But in the material world, almost everyone is enamored by the power of degradation and averse to the power of improvement.

The Three Meanings of Ocean

The atom-body-ocean-universe can be described in three ways—knower, known, and knowing (it may be worth noting that this is not the only triad; there are six distinct types of triads for self, cognition, conation, emotion, intention, and relation). The person is the knower, the different individual parts of this person correspond to some known (because they are the pictorial representations of the external reality), and the parts are organized in a certain structure by the activity of knowing to construct the knowledge as the result of combining the knower, known, and knowing. We can describe these three as sets, objects, and structures—if we wish to use a set-theoretic metaphor.

If we consider all universes, atoms, bodies, or oceans, then everything is inside and outside everything else. Since everything contains a picture of everything else, they are in some sense equivalent. But the structure inside each universe, atom, body, or ocean is different because they constitute different perspectives on the same reality. Each atom is a perspective on the whole of reality and it is a part of reality. However, one of these perspectives is the original perspective by which the various atoms were created, which constitutes the absolute reference frame. All subsequent perspectives are relativized versions of the original reference frame. Hence, all the perspectives are not identical. Each perspective is different, and many perspectives are produced from an original perspective. But relativized reference frames do not refute an absolute reference frame.

We can explain this difference again with a set-theoretic analogy of a bag with infinite balls in it. The balls in the bag can be drawn out of the bag in many orders or sequences. By sequencing the balls, we assign them different numbers. If there are just three balls—red, green, and blue—we can assign each ball a different number—1, 2, or 3—thereby sequencing them in different orders. The problem of sequencing objects in a set is called the Axiom of Choice in set theory because many such sequencing orders can be constructed as a choice. All these choices are equivalent in one sense, and yet, they are not identical.

Set theory doesn’t delve into how these choices are created, because the knower is disregarded, and the set is just a collection. Ordering the set is not the set’s own choice. These choices appear in the paradox of Buridan’s Ass, who has a pile of hay and a bucket of water in front but cannot decide whether to drink or eat first. The paradox says that since both alternatives are equivalent, hence the ass cannot make a choice and dies of hunger and thirst. The answer to that paradox is that the ass has a personality due to which it will either prioritize drinking or eating, and one of the alternatives will be chosen. The personality of the ass, therefore, determines the sequence or how the hay and water are sequenced and labeled by numbers as first and second. Even the ass must be treated as a person with the capacity for choice to resolve this problem.

Thereby, set theory speaks about three things—sets, objects, and structures—but due to the problem of choice in ordering the objects into a structure, we must replace that set with a person. In the context of an ocean, the ocean is primarily a person. Then there are drops—the objects in a set. And there is a structure by which the drops are arranged in some way although they can be arranged in another way. Typically, the drops in an ocean are not in a fixed structure due to ocean waves. The drops move around, changing the structure between the drops. That can only be explained if we say that the ocean has many drops, but the structure is not fixed because there is a choice to reorganize the drops in many structures. That reorganization of the drops—i.e., ocean waves—is the Axiom of Choice in action. At each moment, the ocean can make a new choice, reorganizing the parts in a new way, because the ocean is a person.

While these arrangements are equivalent, they are not identical, if the drops in the ocean are like differently colored balls—red, blue, and green. If all the drops were all like white balls, then no matter how you rearrange them, they will look the same and remain indistinguishable. Then it would be impossible to choose one arrangement over another because they will be like two identical buckets of water or two identical piles of hay instead of a pile of hay and a bucket of water. When a choice cannot be made, then postulating a person for reordering elements is an unnecessary addendum. When a choice can be made, but it hasn’t been made, then the set is simply a potentiality for creating many orders.

The Significance of Three Meanings

If the atoms are like white colored balls, then they can be organized in any way. But if the atoms are distinguishable in some way, such as red, blue, and green colors, then some choices are better than others and the choices can therefore be judged. Since these balls are pictures of external reality, hence, some arrangements of the balls are “true” if they correspond to the external reality. We can change that order in different situations and call that arrangement “right” if it is more suited to the specific context. Finally, we can say that some arrangement is “good” because I prefer to see things in a certain way. Thus, the choices can be judged as good based on individual preferences, as right based on contextual appropriateness, and as true based on universal reality.

This helps us recognize additional features of the set, object, and structure. The objects have to be qualitatively unique in some sense for us to distinguish them. There should be a possibility to choose one of the many structures. And there has to be rationality—i.e., a method to judge whether a choice is true, right, or good—based on universal, contextual, and individual natures.

We can now say that a set is a person, who makes choices. Those choices operate on qualitatively distinct parts. And those choices can be judged to be true, right, and good. We transform set theory into a theory of personhood, knowledge, choices, and rationality for making better or worse choices.

In this theory, each drop in the ocean is not identical to the other drops; the drops are not white-colored balls, because if that were the case, there would be no rational way of organizing the drops in any order. Rather, each drop is a different colored ball—i.e., qualitatively different from other drops—to construct different orders and then choose one of those orders as better or worse. The ocean that organizes these drops makes a choice, so it is a person. And the ocean’s choices are judged. This is a complete answer to the problem of choice.

Thus, we transform impersonal thinking into personalism—(a) the set is a person, (b) the parts of that person are qualities, (c) those qualities constitute a picture of reality organized based upon the nature of reality, personal preferences on how to visualize reality, and contextual appropriateness of some vision over another, and (d) the choices of the person organizing this vision are judged as better (true, right, and good) or worse (false, wrong, and bad). Now, we speak about the consequences of those rational judgments by which different balls are added to the bag or removed from the bag, to construct a theory of the evolution of the bag—a metaphor for the evolution of conscious experience in which different things (balls) go in and out of our consciousness (the bag) due to a judgment (rationality). This would be the theory of experience in which a person evolves lawfully due to the judgments of their choices.

Two Uses of the Ocean Analogy

Advaita impersonalists transformed the above personalist analogy into impersonalism in three steps—(a) the red, blue, and green balls are separated aspects of whiteness, (b) the distinction between the balls as separated things is an illusion, and (c) the choice of one ball over another is a false idea. This transformation is affected by postulating two categories—called Brahman and māyā—in which Brahman is an undivided white ocean, which is divided into separated red, green, and blue balls by māyā, and if we merge red, blue, and green colors, then we recover the undivided whiteness in the ocean.

The materialists instead say that only the drops are real and the “ocean” is an emergent property of the drops. There is factually no such thing as an ocean because only the drops of the ocean are reality. The ocean can be reduced to drops, and it is merely a word that refers to the collection of drops.

Thus, in the impersonalist use of the drop in the ocean analogy, the ocean is real and the drops are an illusion. But in the materialist use of the drop in the ocean analogy, the drops are real and the ocean is an illusion. They can be contrasted as the oneness of the ocean vs. the multitude of the drops. The analogy of the ocean in the drop is thereby reduced either to the ocean or the drops, eliminating one of them. We can no longer talk both about the ocean and the drops so the questions about their oneness and difference do not arise.

The impersonalist accepts that all the drops are qualitatively different—e.g., red, green, and blue balls. Thereby, there is a possibility of judging which order is better. But since all these distinctions are false, the judgment of a better choice is rooted in the ideology of dividing white into red, green, and blue. If we collapse that distinction, then the divisions, choices, and judgments disappear.

The materialist claims that all the drops are qualitatively identical—e.g., as white balls. The result is indeterminism—we can arrange the white balls in infinite sequences none of which can be preferred over the others. Since no choice of rearranging the balls is preferred over the others, therefore, there is no rational way to choose. Without choices, there is no person who makes a choice, no person who is judged, and no law of consequences of choices.

The Third Use of the Ocean Analogy

There is yet another use of the ocean analogy employed by personalists in which ocean and drops are separately real—i.e., neither ocean nor drops are reduced to the other. It is also accepted that the ocean is a person, from whom the drops have manifested. It is also recognized that the drops manifested from one kind of ocean are qualitatively different from the drops manifested from another ocean. For example, there can be oceans of milk, water, honey, yogurt, butter, etc. whose drops are qualitatively different from each other’s. Then, a partially correct analogy of the ocean and drops is created in which the drops are qualitatively similar to each other and the ocean is quantitatively big.

The fact is that if all the drops were qualitatively identical, then there would be no way to sequence them or organize them into a structure, and the choices of these organizations would be indistinguishable. When you cannot tell how one choice is different from another, you can reject choices and persons. Therefore, the drops can never be qualitatively identical within an ocean. The drops in a water ocean can just be more similar to each other compared to the drops in the milk ocean. That similarity of the drops is relative to the drops in other kinds of oceans, not a factually qualitative equivalence. Likewise, the quantitative bigness of the ocean relative to the drops is also relative to the quantitative bigness of other kinds of oceans and drops. The ocean is not qualitatively identical to the drops, because the ocean organizes all the drops within itself.

The different shades of color are similar to each other because color is present within red, green, and blue. Since color is not confined to either red, green, or blue, therefore, it is beyond each shade. Since color includes red, green, and blue, hence every shade is in color. The qualitative similarity arises because color is in each shade, and yet, (a) red, green, and blue are not qualitatively identical, and (b) the shades of color are not qualitatively identical to color itself. However, if we contrast the set of colors to the set of smells, then we can say that color is qualitatively similar to the shades and different from the various flavors of smell and smell itself. That qualitative similarity between color and shades is a contextual rather than a universal claim. If we universalize that contextual claim, then we get the erroneous idea that (a) all shades are qualitatively identical, and (b) they are qualitatively identical to color, which is nothing more than the bigger quantitative collection of all the shades.

The correct universal claim is that each drop in the water ocean is qualitatively different from the other drops and the ocean is qualitatively different from each drop. But in contrast to the milk ocean, each drop in the water ocean is qualitatively similar to the other drops and similar to the water ocean. That similarity between the water ocean and the water drops in contrast to the milk ocean and the milk drops is not a universal fact. It is just a contextual claim similar to saying that the president of a country is similar to the people of that country and different from the presidents and people of other countries. This analogy is employed only when there are numerous countries and their respective citizens and presidents. The analogy becomes totally false and misleading if it is treated as a statement about one universal country.

The fact is that if the quantitative analogy is used all the way, then either there is an ocean without drops, or drops without the ocean because ocean and drops cannot exist as distinct realities. That distinctness between ocean and drops requires the use of qualities such as color and shades or smell and flavors.

Nuances In the Ocean Analogy

The soul is a part of God, like shades are part of color and flavors are part of smell. However, there are many forms of God, akin to the difference between color and smell. Then, there is a complete form of God, of which color and smell are simply two aspects. The soul that is like a shade of color is part of both color and the complete form, just like the soul that is a flavor of smell is a part of both smell and the complete form. Hence, the claim that “the soul is a part of God” can be interpreted in three ways—(a) the soul is a shade of color, (b) a flavor of smell, and (c) a part of the complete form that includes color and smell. These three claims are not mutually equivalent. Factually, different souls have a different svarūpa due to which they can be parts either of different partial forms or a complete form. Someone who looks at this big picture of reality can say that “the souls are qualitatively similar to each other and quantitatively smaller than God” because they are comparing a soul to the specific form of God that they are part of. This contextual claim is contingent on the fact that there are many partial forms of God and one complete form of God. But in English, “God” means one form. With this assumption, we get the false idea that all souls are qualitatively similar and God is quantitatively bigger because the contextual claim has been universalized by removing diversity.

The fact is that the legs and hands—as part of the body—are not equal to the head. But if there is love, then each part gets to play its role in the body without trying to equate the hands to the legs or head. There is an ideology of egalitarian respect even in Vedic philosophy in which souls of different natures respect each other, but they do not mix closely. But in the ideology of loving devotion, a soul with one nature lives with other souls of a contrasting nature.

The emancipation of egalitarian respect is called mukti, and that of loving devotion is called bhakti. The diversity of bhakti is orders of magnitude higher than the diversity of mukti. Factually, there is no contradiction in saying that a shade is a part of color and a part of the complete form. But whether we see the similarity between colors, or see the differences between colors and smells is up to us. The pleasure of the diverse experience is greater but loving others with a different nature is harder. Hence, bhakti and mukti are not identical.

The Misuse of the Ocean Analogy

The ocean analogy is misused in three ways—(a) by the impersonalists when they say that the ocean is real while the drops are unreal, (b) by the materialists when they say that the drops are real and the ocean is unreal, and (c) by the mukti proponents when they equate the parthood of a shade within a color with the parthood of color and smell in the complete form of the bhakti proponent.

Acharyas have contextually used the analogy of drop and ocean, referring to the qualitative similarity of the parts and the quantitative magnitude of the whole. But if this quantitative analogy is universalized, then we will end up either with an ocean without drops, drops without the ocean, or the inability to organize drops within the ocean because all the drops are now indistinguishable. All these positions are incorrect. The correct usage is that the drops are not qualitatively identical to each other or to the ocean. The ocean is not just quantitatively bigger, but also qualitatively different than each drop.

Physical analogies are imperfect because reality is not quantities. The correct analogy is that of mind and thought. All the thoughts are semantically different from each other and the mind as a summary of the thoughts is semantically different from the thoughts. Since some thoughts can summarize other thoughts, therefore, some thoughts can be superior to other thoughts.

The problems with the ocean-and-drop analogy disappear when it is replaced by the mind-and-thought analogy, and this is also the correct analogy because the ocean is a person, distinct from the drops manifested from him. The ocean exists even when the drops have dried up, the ocean does not decrease if the drops are manifest, and the ocean does not decrease with the drops merging into the ocean. All these are best illustrated by the kārana ocean, manifested from Kāraṇodakaśāyī Viṣṇu at the time of creation and merged into Kāraṇodakaśāyī Viṣṇu at the time of annihilation. They are also illustrated by the pastimes of Lord Ramachandra where the ocean personified appears before Him. The fact is that the ocean is a person, distinct from the drops that make up the manifest ocean. If we don’t preserve the distinction between the person and the collection of drops then our analogies would always be mistaken.

Statements from Brahma-Saṁhitā

The complete form of God is described in many ways in Brahma Saṁhitā, of which I will examine two distinct descriptions to further illustrate how soul and God are distinct and similar—(a) sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ, and (b) ānanda-cinmaya-sad-ujjvala-vigrahasya. We will examine them one after another.

Let’s begin with the term “vigraha” used in both statements. The term “graha” means a house; it is often used as a substitute for planets, although a person lives in a house, but a person lives on a planet. A planet is not equivalent to graha, although this equivalence is used in dictionaries without noting the differences. The “graha” denotes a region of space in which the soul can roam, just like a person under house arrest can roam from one room to another, but cannot escape the house. A person, however, can leave a planet at any time. Thus, when “graha” is translated as “planet”, a problem in cosmology is created where a soul is under house arrest in a graha, but he can leave a planet. The graha signifies the soul’s bondage while a planet signifies its freedom. This distinction lies at the root of the famous “moon landing” controversies where according to Vedic cosmology a soul can never leave the present graha to go to another graha and hence there is no way to go to another graha using a rocket.

However, remember that each atom is also a universe. What is inside that atom is a picture of the universe, because that atom is a mind, and pictures of the universe are thoughts in the mind. The first thought in the mind is that of the self. Everything else is a secondary thought. There are thoughts “closer” to the self-thought, and “farther” from the self-thought. When the soul is confined to a graha, its consciousness is confined to the graha and it can roam to various parts of the graha. The soul itself is not bound to a graha. In the case of the earth graha, what we call the round earth is akin to the self-thought in the mind. If you sit in a rocket and travel outward for a trillion years, you are still in the earth graha. However, you have left behind the self-thought to roam to other thoughts. This is not going to other planets, but seeing their pictures closely. That picture is an earthly representation of the graha, not the graha. Looking closely at the earthly picture of the graha is not looking closely at the graha. So, “going” to the moon inside the earth graha is not going to the moon graha.

The term “vi” means separation with reciprocity. For example, if a friend comes to your house, the process is called saṃyoga and when the friend goes back to his house the process is called viyoga. The friendship is not broken if the friend returns to his house. The relationship continues but the friend is still separated. Hence, the term “vi” means departure without a separation. When “vi” is prefixed to “graha” in “vigraha”, there is a departure without a separation. This process can be understood as the mind manifesting a thought and then remaining connected to the thought. The thought is in the mind like a person in a house, and yet, the mind is separate from the thought. However, when the thought is manifest from the mind, the mind becomes that very thought.

Thereby, sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ means all the emotions, intentions, cognitions, conations, and relations that are in the house and yet not the house. The mind is the graha, and all its contents are vigraha. Since those contents are produced from the mind, hence there is a distinction between the fully manifest and the fully unmanifest states of the mind. The fully unmanifest state is the sleeping state and the fully manifest state is the awake state. Hence, vigraha denotes the awake state of God. But in this awake state, the mind is the thought. God’s wakefulness is His complete self-awareness. We don’t call it awareness of the self, because we cannot separate the self from its awareness.

The situation changes when we use vigrahasya because “asya” means “of”. Now, there is awareness of sad-ujjvala or the six self-effulgent qualities described as knowledge, beauty, power, wealth, fame, and renunciation. These six properties of the self-thought or self-image are distinct from the self that was earlier described as vigrahaḥ. The vigrahaḥ is the self-aware mind, and sad-ujjvala-vigrahasya is the self-thought or self-image produced from the mind as the first thought. We can say that God is self-aware, and His self-thought or self-image is the combination of six qualities. These qualities are ānanda (pleasing) and cinmaya (eternal), so when God thinks of Himself, He is not deluding Himself since all these qualities are eternal and He is not suffering by this self-image because these qualities are pleasing. Moreover, these qualities are ujjvala or self-effulgent. Just like a light source expands into light rays, similarly, each of the six qualities self-expands to construct a world springing out of self-thought that remains in His mind as a picture that could be externalized.

When the world is externalized by God’s power—akin to His power of speaking—then the picture of the world (which was previously inside, in which God had pictured Himself as part of a world), becomes a world. The world emerges from God due to His power of expression and is connected to Him in exactly the way that He had previously envisioned an eternally pleasing (ānanda-chinmaya) self-image (sad-ujjvala-vigrahasya) connected to a world in His mind.

The Ocean of Six Pleasing Qualities

These things are important when we speak about the ocean and its drops because the ocean is not the post-facto manifest world in which the soul is one of the parts. It is rather the person from which the ocean has sprung out in the process of realizing His self-image like a painter visualizing who he is, and then articulating that self-image into a portrait distinct from himself.

When the ocean is a person, then He is the source of the post-facto ocean, the cause that produced the post-facto ocean from Himself, controller of the post-facto ocean, and yet a part of the post-facto ocean. Then, we speak of the ocean in three ways—the pre-facto ocean, the structure of the post-facto ocean, and the drops in the post-facto ocean structure. The pre-facto ocean is God, the structure that controls and organizes the drops in the ocean is His power, and the drops controlled by His power are the souls. The ocean can thus be described in three ways—God, His power, and the various souls.

The impersonalist says that there is no God nor is there any power. There is simply an ocean of souls, which are illusioned to think they are separate from each other. The impersonalist transforms the ocean of drops into the pre-facto ocean. The materialist says that there is no ocean other than the drops. And some personalists equate a soul to other souls and sometimes partly to God.

The ocean and drops analogies are dangerous because they can be, and have been, misinterpreted. But they are used because they are easily understood. That ease is deceptive because the pre-facto ocean is the sum total of eternally pleasing six qualities which are divided into parts in the post-facto ocean to create distinct drops but we cannot equate the various drops to each other, nor can we say that each drop has all the qualities in small amounts and the whole is just the greatest amount of all the qualities. That claim will convert all the drops into white balls, and the collection of the drops into an infinite white ocean. All the diversity in the world will disappear by that quantitative claim.

As qualities are combined, new irreducible qualities are produced which exist only in the combination and never in the parts. For example, when beauty and knowledge are combined, then there is knowledge of beauty and beauty of knowledge. The power to understand beauty and produce beautiful knowledge doesn’t exist if beauty and knowledge are separated. Then, a knowledgeable person can speak the truth, but not beautifully, and an artist can only produce beautiful lies. However, to the extent that a person can speak more truths, we can say that there is a quantitative increase in the number of truths. However, the additional truths are not qualitatively identical to other truths.

Bigger Man vs. Better Man

All quantitative conceptions of truth are false because no two things in the world are exactly alike. But we can count them after ignoring their differences. For example, we can count grains of rice although no two grains are identical. The differences between the grains of rice may be small and neglectable in one case but not in another. Thereby, quantitative claims are useful in some cases and useless in others. However, even when they seem to be useful, they are merely approximations obtained by a process of simplification.

Under the process of simplification, we can say that God is a bigger man. But that is not the whole truth because God is also a better man. In fact, He is bigger because He is better. But since most people may not understand a “better man”, while they understand a “bigger man”, therefore, one might simplify the understanding of God to say that “God is the biggest man” (i.e., an ocean) while we are “small men” (i.e., drops). Generally, when a society degrades morally and spiritually, then people cannot understand the meaning of “better man”. They can only understand the meaning of “bigger man”. Then, we loosely talk about God as the biggest man. But if society advances morally and spiritually, and develops discrimination between better and worse, then we start talking about “better” more than “bigger”. The material universe is big, but it is not better. God is not big, but He is the best. When the mind is underdeveloped, then we impress a person by talking about quantitative bigness. When the mind is developed, we impress them by talking about qualitative betterness.

In the ultimate analysis, God is the best man. In the love of His devotees, He becomes a small man, a child, or a puppet, dominated and conquered by their love. He is still the best man, but He is no longer the biggest. Exceptions to God’s bigness exist but exceptions to God’s betterness do not. Since everyone cannot understand how something small can also be the best, and in their imagination bigger is more important than better, hence the Acharyas describe God as the biggest man rather than the best man. That is not always true, it is certainly not the whole truth, and it is definitely not the most important consideration in understanding God. But it is used because it works on most people.