Cosmic Person (Virāṭ)

The current population of the world is said to be a little over 8 billion. Compare that with the number of bacteria in every human body, which is estimated to be around 39 trillion. If the earth is a community of 8 billion human beings, within every one of us is a staggeringly larger community of around 39,000 billion bacteria.

It is astonishing to think that billions of bacteria are born in my body, that is where they live their entire lives, that is where they multiply and where they eventually die. For a great many of these, my gut is their entire world. It is tempting to wonder if any of them are even aware of the world outside the gut. Do any of them even know that they are a part of the larger body of a conscious being? It seems unlikely. Just as I am unaware of their presence most of the time, they are probably unaware of my presence all of the time.

May be my own situation is similar to theirs? Like the bacteria, what if I am one among billions of other living beings inside the body of another living being of cosmic proportions? I live in my little world and think this is all that there is, but I could be wrong. I might well be inside the gut of someone unimaginably huge. May be the universe is much larger than what I see or imagine. How can I be sure that it is not? Perhaps there is a bigger presence out there, way bigger than what my mind can grasp. This is the thinking behind the idea of a cosmic person, the transcendent conscious being who is infinite, immortal and divine. In Sanskrit, this being is called virāṭ.

But the virāṭ is not simply an idea or a speculation. The virāṭ is real. Across centuries many mystics have experienced the world as a living entity, as a conscious cosmic being, stretched in all directions and pulsating with life. It is this vision of the cosmic person that finds expression in the Ṛg-veda (10.125.6-8):

अहं द्यावापृथिवी आ विवेश ।… अहं सुवे पितरमस्य मूर्धन् मम योनिरप्स्वंत: समुद्रे । ततो वि तिष्ठे भुवनानु विश्वो तामूं द्यां वर्ष्मणोप स्पृशामि ।अहमेव वात इव प्र वाम्यारभमाणा भुवनानि विश्वा । परो दिवा पर एना पृथिव्यैतावति महिमा सं बभूव ।

Ahaṁ dyāvā-pṛthivi ā viveśa. … Ahaṁ sure pitaram asya mūrdhan mama yonirapsvantaḥ samudre. Tato vi tiṣṭhe bhuvanānu viśvo tāmuṁ dyāṁ varṣmaṇop spṛśāmi. Aham eva vāta iva pra vāmyārabhamāṇā bhuvanāni viśvā. Paro divā para enā pṛthivyaitāvati mahimā saṁ babhuva.

“I pervade heaven and earth. … I have given birth to the father-like sky placed above this world. My source is in the ocean, within the waters. From there I pervade all beings and touch the heaven with my body. Like the wind that blows, I set in motion all the worlds. I am beyond the sky and beyond the earth, and I have become all this in my splendor.”

The macrocosm (samaṣṭi) and the microcosm (vyaṣṭi) are believed to be built on the same plan, the same blueprint. Just as I have my body, the universe as a whole is the living body of God. Just as I have life-energy (prāṇa) that animates my body, the universe is animated by a vast and intricate system of prāṇa, energy which manifests in various forms. Just as I am the true self (ātman) that dwells in the body, God is the true self—or “supreme” self (paramātman)—that dwells in the universe and, at the same time, pervades it.

As the Taittirīya Upaniṣad (2.6) points out:

तत्सृष्ट्वा तदेवानुप्राविशत् ।

Tat sṛṣṭvā tad eva anuprāviśat.

“Having created it, [God] entered into every bit of it.”

My own body is a little wave in the ocean we call the universe, which is the cosmic body of God. My own mind is a little wave in the ocean which is the cosmic mind of God. My own true self is a little wave in the infinite being of God, the ocean of consciousness who is the supreme self of the universe. A wave is a wave only between the time it rises and the time it subsides. Before its birth and after its death, the wave is indistinguishable from the ocean. Not for nothing did Swami Vivekananda say, “Look at the ocean and not at the wave” (CW 7. 7). The ocean is the reality that endures. The wave seems real but, beyond its fleeting lifespan, it is indistinguishable from the ocean.

Seeing the universe as the cosmic person reminds me of how insignificant I am at present, being only one among the many “bacteria” crawling in the cosmic gut. If this is not enough to crush my ego, nothing else ever will. My birth was a big deal to my parents but the world didn’t care (why would it care for a run-of-the-mill event, given that every second at least four babies are born in the world)—and the world won’t care when I die (again, no reason it should, since every second there are at least two deaths). I realize I am just too small, too insignificant, too dispensable, and all too forgettable in the mind-boggling immensity of the virāṭ.

But my smallness, my insignificance, my dispensability, is intrinsically connected with my wave-identity. When I strive to look beyond what makes me a wave, the picture changes dramatically. The wave miraculously disappears and the infinite ocean begins to shine in its majestic magnificence.

I look at my body and then I look at the universe—and I see that what makes up my body is not different from what constitutes the material universe, the same cluster of atoms and molecules, the same electrons and protons in different configurations, the same chemical elements of the periodic table. If I stop identifying with my little body, I expand in every direction. Nothing can hold me back. The entire universe becomes my body. Even when (what I presently see as) my body dies, I realize that it will continue in a different form. The dust will return to dust. The ashes will mingle with the soil. Maybe some of it will eventually emerge inside a flower and nod at little children of a future generation when they pass by.

I dive into my mind and discover lots of ideas, thoughts, feelings, and memories. All of these have been nourished and shaped by the ideas, thoughts, feelings, and memories of others who have influenced me in life. My mind thrives in the company of other minds—and it is continually engaged in a give-and-take with them. The contents of my mind are “mine” only to the extent a wave’s water is the wave’s. Again, remembering Vivekananda’s words:


“The mind is universal. Your mind, my mind, all these little minds, are fragments of that universal mind, little waves in the ocean.” (CW 2. 13)


The wave-water is always the ocean-water even when it looks like a wave. My mind is always a part of the cosmic mind even when I think of it as mine. The sooner I let go of the little mind, the more easily do the treasures of the universal mind become my own.

When I withdraw from thinking of the body and the mind as me or mine, I become aware of consciousness itself, which is free and boundless. I am then no longer small. I am no longer even a wave. I am no longer the little “I” twisting and twirling inside the cosmic gut. To me there is no inside and no outside. If there is a person, I am that person. If there is a cosmos, I am that cosmos. Consciousness knows no boundaries. It is one. It is indivisible. It is unchangeable. It is also indescribable (making all of the earlier descriptions mere approximations). It is what it is. I am who I am. The best description is always given and received in silence.

The journey from the little-me to the cosmic-me doesn’t happen on its own. I need to do something to make it happen. My little personality has to dissolve somehow before the cosmic person can emerge. If I remain satisfied and sheltered under my “fish basket,” there is no way I can experience, appreciate and enjoy the fragrance of flowers (see Gospel, 433-34). It all begins with a profound dissatisfaction with my present littleness and the hopeful dream of overcoming it—the hope of breaking barriers and attaining fullness in some way.

The step ahead becomes obvious, namely, letting go of everything that keeps me small and makes me dependent. Which means putting into practice Swami Vivekananda’s simple advice: “Look at the ocean and not at the wave” (CW 7. 7). I have to find ways to identify with the cosmic-me (“the ocean”) and, with determination and persistence, let go of my present-me (“the wave”). It is by no means easy and I shouldn’t expect a pain-free path. Nothing in life is got on the cheap. There is always a price to pay. But is there anything in life that purity, patience and perseverance cannot accomplish?

A great help in the process is my ability to view the world around me with clarity and wisdom. If the world is the body of God, then taking care of the world becomes a way of serving God.  If worship is form of loving service, then serving the world becomes the same as worshiping God. This is what Swami Vivekananda said: 

“This is the only god that is awake—‘everywhere his hands, everywhere his feet, everywhere his ears, he covers everything.’ All other gods are sleeping. What vain gods shall we go after and yet cannot worship the god that we see all round us, the virāṭ? When we have worshipped this, we shall be able to worship all other gods. … The first of all worship is the worship of the virāṭ—of those all around us.” (CW 3. 301)

Today a lot of things in the world need our attention: poverty, homelessness, fights and wars, cruelty to animals, mindless deforestation, air and water pollution, the various kinds of addictions. The enormous work needed to prevent these can be done as a worship of the virāṭ. This will help me eliminate my puny ego (“the unripe I,” Gospel, 480) and along with it my little personhood. When the virāṭ fills my being, I will experience true and total fulfillment. I will go beyond birth and death. I will know (in the words of Swami Vivekananda) that

“All bodies are mine; so even body is eternal, because the tree, the animal, the sun, the moon, the universe itself is my body; then how can it die? Every mind, every thought is mine, then how can death come? The Self is never born and never dies. When we realize this, all doubts vanish. ‘I am, I know, I love’—these can never be doubted. There is no hunger, for all that is eaten is eaten by me. If a hair falls out, we do not think we die; so if one body dies, it is but a hair falling.” (CW 7. 93–94).

from Vedanta Blog - Vedanta Society

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