How to tell Hinduism to Your Child? – K Aravinda Rao : Part 4 (7 & 8 Chapters)
Chapter - 7 : How did Universe Come About?
It (Hinduism) is the only religion in which the time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long, longer than the age of the earth or the sun and about half the time since the big bang. - Carl Sagan in Cosmos
We have to use a little bit of terminology in this chapter.
7.1. Material for the Universe
When we see any object it is natural for us to assume the presence of a creator. The created object is called the effect and the creator is the cause. When we take the example of an earthen jar, we see that clay is the raw material (called the material cause) and the potter is its maker (called the intelligent cause). The question now is, as to what is the cause of the universe we see, who is its maker and wherefrom the material has come?
Different religions give different versions of creation of Universe by God. Upanishads give a different picture. A passage from Taittiriya Upanishad (2-1) of Krishna Yajurveda tells like this:
The all pervading space emerged from the eternal Consciousness.
From space, emerged air. From air, emerged fire,
And from fire, emerged water
Earth as we see, has emerged from these waters. The plant kingdom originated thereafter. Plants became the food for the living beings, And thus, all the living beings emerged.
We are concerned about us. The above passage says that all living beings, including humans came from the plant kingdom, which is called ‘annam’, the food, because they eat and get eaten. We too are called food. The sage, on discovering that he is nothing greater than ‘fodder’, cries out ‘I am food, I am food, I am the eater, I am the eater’.
The above description by the Upanishad is almost close to the scientist’s view of the origin of earth. It is the hot airs or the nebulae which condensed to become fluid and thereafter to solidify in order to become all the stars and planets. Vedanta is not saying that there is a creator who is sitting high above in skies and creating the cosmos from out of some material.
The idea of ‘all illumining’ ākāśa i.e. space, which was the origin of all, is something surprising at a time when all other cultures accepted only four elements i.e. earth, water, fire and air. These five elements are like the raw material for all the living beings as we shall see later.
What is the material with which Brahman created the universe and where did it come from? Let us try to follow what Vedanta says.
In the earlier chapter we saw that Brahman is Existence, Consciousness and Infinitude. In other words, it is consciousness existing infinitely around. It is not of the nature of a personal God. There cannot be anything un-pervaded by It.
In such case if we accept any material outside what we have called Brahman, then, Brahman would be a limited entity, however powerful it may be. Therefore the material should be from the Brahman itself.
If we agree that the material is from the Brahman, then, we would be assuming that Brahman is an entity with limbs or parts in it. It is facile to say that Brahman took out a part from itself and fashioned the cosmos. Brahman having limbs or parts would also make it a very limited entity. It would hit the definition ‘infinitude’ which we noted above.
If we think that Brahman changed itself into the cosmos just as milk changes into curd, then Brahman no longer exists having transformed itself into the universe. This cannot be the situation. Brahman would become a changing and impermanent entity. This would again hit our conception of Brahman.
The only option which remains is to say that it is the Brahman which is ‘appearing’ as the universe, while itself not undergoing any change. It is the unchanging material cause and also the intelligent cause of the universe. (Vedanta calls this the abhinna nimitta - upādāna - kāran )am.
7.2. The Concept of Māyā.
The Brahman has no doer-ship, we saw. It cannot be having the duty of being the creator. How is it that space, the other elements and universe emerged from that? The scriptures introduce a sort of interface called ‘māyā’. This is described as a sort of enveloping and manifesting power in Brahman. It envelopes the real nature of Brahman and makes it appear or manifest as the universe. In other words, you and I are the same consciousness, appearing as individual entities. All the animals, plants and all inanimate things we see are all manifestations of the same consciousness.
We have landed in a situation where we say that the cosmos is ‘appearing’, all appearances are not real. This is a question which has perplexed the minds of the sages who revealed the Upanishads. Science, till recently, maintained that consciousness has come out of matter. Vedanta on the other hand, says that matter is appearing from consciousness. Science appears still undecided about the issue. The Vedantins too are undecided, and hence, they said that the existence or otherwise of the universe cannot be asserted. It is neither real nor unreal (neither sat nor asat).
Vedanta says that this creation is a temporary appearance in māyā. It appears and disappears. It is not a one-time activity of God. In fact, what we call creator is only a function in māyā.
Western Religions talk of only one creation. The Vedas talk of recurring cycles of creation. There is a creation, sustained for some time and then which resolves into the above said māyā.
All the above discussion may not be easily understood by the common man. Hence the later texts, called purān a-s, told the above in a figurative way. The power of creation was called Brahma, a four headed god, whose consort is Saraswati (symbolizing wisdom). The power of sustenance was called Vishnu, whose consort is Lakshmi (symbolizing wealth). The power of resolving the universe was called Rudra, whose consort was Shakti (symbolizing the power of destruction). We will know about these god forms in later chapters.
The parent may also see:
Chapter - 8 : Man and Creator from the Absolute Point of View
8.1. Understanding Consciousness
We saw above that god did not abruptly stand in the space and create the whole universe. We merely saw a phenomenon called creation and that Brahman (consciousness) had no direct activity called creation. The question follows as to what is the human being (and other beings) and who is the creator?
Let us take the example of the ocean. What all you see is water, but in different shapes like giant waves, small waves, bubbles and foam. We see them all collectively as ocean. Waters do not undergo any change whether it is a giant wave, a petty wave or mere froth.
Take another example of space. The space in a room, the space in a vessel, the space in a huge building and the infinite space outside are all but space. The space does not undergo any change because of its apparent limitations like vessel-space, room-space or a building-space.
The Supreme Being was called Brahman, as we recall. It is consciousness existing infinitely all around. Upanishads say that there cannot be anything other than consciousness. In such case where do we map the human being or the creator?
In the above chapter we saw the lines from the Upanishad about the emergence of the universe. It told that all living being
have come out of the plant kingdom. All these beings (both an-imals and plants) starting from a blade of grass to mighty trees and starting from an ant to a dinosaur do have some intelligence. This is to feed themselves, protect themselves and also propagate themselves. It means that all these beings seem to be a mixture of intelligence plus some other raw stuff. It is flesh, blood and bones in the case of mobile beings (called jaṅgama) and fibrous stuff in non-mobile beings (called sthāvara).
8.2. Individual Mind and Consciousness Animating It
Upanishads say that what we call mind in the living beings is merely an insentient material, but very sensitive material capable of reflecting the consciousness (Brahman). It is somewhat like a mirror reflecting the consciousness. It is capable of interacting with the world around it by the senses and mind activated by the same consciousness. Thus we note that the living beings are associated with some bit of consciousness, which we call it intelligence. This tiny bit of intelligence is called the individual self, jīva (it includes plants and all animals). We may compare this with a tiny wave in the ocean of consciousness or a mere pot-space in the space like consciousness.
8.3. Cosmic Mind – Iswara
If we visualize all the beings in the universe collectively and look at it at a cosmic level, we can call it the cosmic mind. The cosmic mind has certain additional abilities like governing the heavenly bodies like the stars, sun and the moon. In other words, the cosmic mind is in charge of the cosmic order. This cosmic mind is called Iswara, the Lord and creator of the universe. We may compare this cosmic mind with the giant wave or with the building-space.
What we noted as Brahman is not limited to the universe. Universe is a temporary manifestation in the Brahman consciousness. This can be compared to the ocean or the space in terms of the above examples.
All living beings have limitations of space and time. They live and die for a specific time in a specific place. Even the cosmic mind, is a limited entity compared to Brahman consciousness.
The jīva consciousness and the Iswara consciousness are said to be delimited, while the Brahman is infinite.
Iswara is called the creator, and he is as much a limited being as the jīva, though he pervades the universe.
Consciousness cannot be taken as a substance which can be divided into parts but the expressions such as ‘pot-space’ are only for the sake of illustration. Another example given is that of the same sun getting reflected in different water bodies and appearing as different. Shankaracharya uses these comparisons in different places to illustrate the point the consciousness is one and the same in all beings whereas the delimiting factors (the mind in which it gets reflected) can be different.
Iswara, the empirical god at the cosmic level is a manifestation in the Supreme Consciousness called Brahman, due to the power called māyā as we noted earlier. An ocean is a manifestation of water and so too a wave. The ocean is called the cause and the wave is called the effect, though they are both water. Even so, the Supreme Consciousness manifesting as Iswara is the cause and manifesting as jīva is the effect.
Vedanta has to take into consideration the requirements of human society. At all times, human beings thought of a God form and submitted himself to His or Her will. This was a convenient and happy arrangement. It is a sort of utilitarian view of religion. The ancient seers did not want to dismiss this and hence, accepted different God forms but then treated them as a lower level of truth (vyāvahārika satyam) i.e. which is true at a transactional level (as we noted earlier). The higher level of truth, or the real truth, at the absolute level, is that Brahman has nothing to do with creation as we understand.
For the purpose of devotees, God or Iswara who is accepted at an empirical level can be a man or a woman. Thus we see a number of Gods and Goddesses in our religion.
God is ‘intelligent’ (in the sense that he has the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance and dissolution) and Brahman is intelligence, i.e. consciousness.
The functions of creation, sustenance and dissolution are functions which we attribute to the cosmic mind Iswara but not to Brahman. These functions are given various names,
Whatever you call it, it is the cosmic being with different functions and different names. It is the cosmic being Iswara who has functions like creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe. Each cosmic function is visualized as a God. The function of creation is called Brahma (different from the Supreme Brahman which we saw above), a four-headed deity who keeps on creating the universe. He requires intelligence for creation and that power of intelligence is visualized as his consort named Saraswati.
The function of sustaining the universe is visualized as Vishnu, a male deity and a powerful one. All resources are required for sustenance of the universe and these resources are visualized as a female deity named Lakshmi, who is said to be the consort of Vishnu. Similarly, the function of dissolution of universe is visualized as Rudra, or Shiva and his power of dissolution is visualized as a female deity named Shakti, who is the consort of Shiva.
The Sanskrit word for power is śakti, which is in feminine gender. Hence these powers are visualized as wives of the Gods. It is not as though these Gods have many wives and live a polygamous life. When we say that the popular god Lord Venkateswara has two wives it means that he has two types of power – the resources (Lakshmi) to sustain the universe and the power to restore dharma on earth (Bhudevi, the goddess of earth).
8.4. All Forms are One
While talking at two levels, and writing different prayers for different deities, the sages left enough hints in the mantras to show that all god forms were, indeed, one.
When you go to any temple and perform worship, you find the priests chanting the mantra from the Narayanopanishad –sa brahma sa śivah sa hari sendrah ṣsokarah paramah svarāṭ.
“WhatwecallBrahma(thecreaistheor)sameasShiva,it is the same as Hari, (the sustainer), Indra, and the non-perishing Brahman”Allthese.arethesameasone’sownselfbecausethe consciousness is the same in one and all. We find several other mantras in the same vein. (Note the difference between Brahman and Brahma. The former is the infinite and the latter is the finite. The former is in neuter gender and the latter is in masculine gender).
There are several minor deities, like the fire god, the rain god, the lord Yama (who is the one that awards the fruit of karma to a person) and so on. These have to be understood as universal or cosmic functions visualized as gods.
When the creation itself is a temporary appearance in Brahman, it follows that all these deities are temporary appearances. Hence they are like tenure posts, valid as long as a particular cycle of creation appears in Brahman.
There is no uniform description of the trinity in the Vedantic texts because the function of Vedanta is to show that Brahman is all pervasive and what we think as a human being is nothing but Brahman itself. Vedanta does not attach much importance to the description of deities. This resulted in a number of belief systems and stories of god under the broad philosophy of the Upanishads, as we shall see.
8.5. Debate about Consciousness and Matter
This discussion is about advaita (non-dualism), viśiṣṭādvaita (qualified non-dualism and dwaita (dualism). These are difficult concepts to be introduced to the students. It is difficult to discuss these in a primary text like the present one. However, a brief idea is needed for the parents who may be belonging to one of those traditions. Most of us, happily, do not belong to any tradition and so look at this issue without bias.
We see the world around us, with all its variegated gifts to man. We see the beautiful rivers, mountains and forests which we freely exploit. Not only the humans but also the animals do this. The trees too, have intelligence to some extent and they know how to survive. Thus, we identify two aspects in nature – one intelligent and the other non-intelligent; one is the enjoyer and the other is the enjoyed; one is the knower and the other is the known; in other words, one is sentient and the other is insentient. The body is made of matter, but somehow it is also having intelligence.
Are these two things or are they one? This is a question which engaged the sages who gave us the Upanishads. In chapter 7 we were examining as to what could be the matter for creation and we saw one view that consciousness itself manifested as the jagat, the universe, in other words, as matter. But this is only one view. This view is contested by other equally learned sages. We may briefly see their points of view.
The first view (predominant view) is that there is only one entity, consciousness, which is manifesting as all the things which we see. How is it done, is inexplicable. That is why the idea of māyā was postulated and māyā, the creative or manifesting power in consciousness is something inexplicable (anirvacanīya). The consciousness itself has no attributes and no activity in it. This is the Brahman we saw in chapter 7.
The second view is that there are two aspects – sentient (cit), and insentient (jaḍa), but both exist in the body of the Supreme Being Vishnu. This Supreme Being is with all glorious attributes – omniscience, omnipotence and so on. He is a personal god who is closer to religion than the attribute-free Brahman.
The third view is that the two aspects – sentient and insentient, and they are two distinct things. Materialist philosophers of all types held this view. All diversity which we see is real. All sentience is from the Supreme Being Vishnu, and the universe is his creation. All differences – that between one individual and another, that between jīva and the world, that between jīva and Iswara – are all real and irreducible. The god is a personal god, as in the above case.
The first view is what is called the non-dualism (advaita), the second view is known as qualified non-dualism (viśiṣṭādvaita) and the last view is known as dualism (dwaita). The prominent exponent of the first school is Sri Shankaracharya, that of the second is Sri Ramanujacharya and that of the third is Sri Madhwacharya. It is also the chronological order of the three masters.
All the three teachers based their arguments on the basic texts, the Upanishads, because the Upanishads spoke of a god with attributes and also about a Brahman who is attribute-free. Sri Shankara called them two levels of reality, one at the level of religion, to guide the common man and the other at the level of absolute reality. The god with attributes is for upāsanā, and through such upāsanā, the Brahman without attributes has to be realized.
It may be relevant to see that the changing times could also have impacted the thinking of these teachers. During the time of Shankara, the very existence of Brahman was questioned by Buddhists and others who advocated nihilism. Shankara was able to dispel the arguments of the nihilists and establish religion with a philosophy.
There was considerable social ferment in the Hindu society by the time of Sri Ramanuja and hence he had to give more importance to a personal god and social harmony. He introduced bhakti, devotion to Vishnu, as a means to unite all sections of society. Thus we see the religious teachers, called Alwars, even from the lowest castes in society.
By the time of Sri Madhwa, India was already under the ruthless invasion by the Muslims and hence, perhaps he had no great inclination to call the world as an appearance. He was a wrestler who is also said to have taken part in fighting the invaders. His followers consider him to be the reincarnation of Vayu, the strongest among the gods. Madhwa, like Ramanuja considered Vishnu as the supreme deity and as a personal god.
This book has broadly adopted the non-dual approach, as it is the oldest way of interpreting the texts and also because we can answer all criticism relating to the multitude of gods, idol worship and many other questions at the philosophical level. Besides, it is able to cover all forms like Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Shakti or any other form or formless god.
It is interesting for us to know that this debate about consciousness and matter is also the most important debate in science and the issue is yet undecided. Several modern physicists seem to be closer to the non-dualist way of understanding the universe.
Parents may see:
- Erwin Schrodinger on Veda
Part 5 (9 & 10 Chapters) will follow next week.
* Dr. K. Aravinda Rao, IPS, the author of the book “How to Tell Hinduism to your Child?” holds PhD in Sanskrit. He had a distinguished career in Andhra Pradesh holding a number of positions in the safety and security departments. He was appointed as Director General of State Police in 2010 and retired in 2012. He also worked as the Additional Director General of State Intelligence Department the Additional Commissioner of Police, Hyderabad, Inspector General of Police (Greyhounds) and IGP (Crime Investigation Department).
Global Hindu Heritage Foundation was very happy to receive his permission to share the book to our readers. We will be send two chapters at a time so that it would allow the readers and the students to digest the material before they receive the next set of chapters. “The present book is to give the modern students and parents an appreciation of the statute philosophical inquiry, universal values, and pluralism of Hinduism and enable them to look at their own religion with esteem in the present competitive environment.” Please enjoy reading the book.
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