The universe exists before its creation and after its destruction

Śrī Kṛṣṇa makes the following statement in the Bhāgavata purāṇa:

na yat purastād uta yan na paścān madhye ca tan na vyapadeśa-mātram: “That which was not existent before and which will not persist later is also non-existent in the interim. Its intermediate existence is in name only”.

As the universe did not exist before its creation by Bhagavān, and as it will be destroyed at some point, the above principle can be interpreted to mean that the universe does not “really” exist in between creation and destruction. This would then support the vivarta-vāda principle- that the universe is an illusion, perceived because of a mental superimposition onto Brahman like the illusion of a snake superimposed on a rope or silver on an oyster shell.

The universe exists but is unmanifest before creation and destruction

In Anuccheda 71 of the Paramātmā Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva discusses a verse from the Bhāgavata purāṇa spoken by the Vedas personified to refute this inference. He draws out the concept that the universe is existent even before its creation. Its existence is in a subtle state at that time. Likewise, when the universe is destroyed, it continues to exist but in an unmanifest state.

This of course is in line with the principle of sat-kārya-vāda which we have discussed elsewhere. In sat-kārya-vāda, everything exists all the time in either an unmanifest or manifest state. There is nothing new that is ever created. This is similar to the principle of conversation of matter and energy of the universe.

That which is non-existent cannot be produced

To explain the application of sat-kārya-vāda, Śrī Jīva considers the example of a clay pot that is made from clay. Did the pot exist before it was made into clay by the potter? The answer from sat-kārya-vāda is that it was neither completely non-existent nor completely existent in manifest form.

If it did not exist before the clay was moulded into a pot, the non-existent pot could not have a relationship with the existing clay and the action of the potter which produced it. This is because a) both relata in a relationship must exist simultaneously for a relationship to exist, and b) All effects must be relatable to their causes because only specific causes produce specific effects. Thus, a non-existing object could never come into existence.

If it already fully existed before the pot was made, then why did the potter have to mould the clay to make it all?

Śrī Jīva concludes that the pot existed in the clay but in an unmanifested state. It became manifest through the actions of the potter and the characteristics of the clay. Likewise, before creation, the universe exists in Bhagavān in an unmanifested state, and becomes manifest by the actions of Bhagavān.

The notion that the world is a mental projection has the defect of infinite regress

Śrī Jīva further notes the absurdity of the notion that the world is a mental projection or thought construct superimposed on Brahman. The mind itself is also a thought construct, so how can a thought construct project a thought? This has the defect of mutual dependence or anyo’nyāśraya-doṣa. We would be forced to imagine a mind that projected the mind, which would lead to an endless need for a projecting mind.

The universe is not destroyed in ātyantika laya

Four kinds of laya or dissolution are described in the Bhāgavata purāṇa – pṛākrta laya (SB 12.4.22), naimittika pralaya (SB 12.4.4), ātyantika laya (SB 12.4.34) and nitya-laya (SB 12.4.35). nitya laya refers to the pure jīva’s daily dissociation from the mind and body in deep, dreamless sleep. naimittika laya takes place at the end of Brahmā’s day when lower lokas are destroyed. pṛākrta laya occurs when Brahmā himself dies, and every last loka including his own are dissolved. The universe continues to exist whether in manifest, partially manifest or unmanifest states in all these types of layas.

ātyantika laya or ultimate dissolution is the liberation of a person by becoming free of avidyā. Śrī Jīva points out that when one realizes that the illusory snake is actually a rope, the snake disappears from perception and one perceives only the rope. But even when a person achieves ātyantika laya, or the liberated state, the world does not disappear. It continues to exist even for a jīvan mukta or liberated person. Nor is such an absurd notion supported by the scriptures.


The universe exists in all phases of time- past, present and future. It merely becomes manifest and unmanifest. It is real but it is transformable, which is why it can be created or dissolved. Thus, it is not as real as Paramātmā, who exists in all phases of time, but remains unchanged or untransformed. Because Paramātmā is a real cause, His effect, the universe is also real.

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