Parinama Vada or the Law of Causation in Hinduism

God and Creation

by Jayaram V

Summary: Parinama Vada, the law of causation or the theory of cause and effect is an important aspect of Hinduism and Hindu speculative philosophies. In this essay we discuss its importance and how according to different schools of Hindu philosophy, change or transformation manifests in creation through causes and effects


According to Hinduism, all effects arise from preexisting causes only. Nonexistence cannot be the cause of existence in any form or manner. Three conditions or causative principles are essential for effects to manifest from their causes namely the material or substance, qualities or essential nature and force or impetus. The first two constitute the material cause and the third, the essential cause. The material cause is inherent to both cause and effect and entirely make up its materiality. The efficient cause is external to them and exerts its influence from outside. It is the will, intention or desire. Apart from them, certain concomitant conditions are also imperative for effects to manifest from causes such as place and time. In the following discussion we elaborate upon these ideas according to various schools of Hinduism

Parinama Vada, the theory of change or manifestation

The idea of change, evolution or transformation (parinamam) is central to many beliefs and practices of Hinduism. It is also central to the law of causation and associated with many other important beliefs of Hinduism such as creation, karma, suffering, transmigration, bondage, self-purification and liberation. Although Hinduism has an ambiguous approach to the nature of existential reality, it firmly believes in the law of causation or the role causes and effects play in creation.

Hinduism clearly holds that everything in existence has a cause. Causes and effects follow a predictable pattern, which ensures the order and regularity of things or the reality that manifests. Nothing can come out of nothing. There must be a cause for something to manifest. The only exception is Brahman, God or Self, who is without a cause but the cause of all causes.

Brahman is eternal, imperishable and unchangeable. All his manifestations (vibhutis), including Isvara, Hiranyagarbha and Viraj are effects only, of which he is the cause. Nirguna Brahman, who is without a cause, is the cause of Saguna Brahman, and Saguna Brahman is the cause of all creation. Together, both represent the highest heaven where the roots of the tree of life (Asvattha Tree) are located, with its branches spread everywhere in the manifested worlds.

How effects manifest from causes

Change is the essential characteristic of all creation, which is cyclical and follows a predictable path through four great epochs or Mahayugas, with Brahman acting as its hub and spokes. Change is responsible for impermanence. It is also responsible for creation, which is a transformative process, in which God acts as both the cause and effect. How does reality manifest or how does creation happen?

In Hinduism we find three possible methods by which change or transformation may happen in creation namely by alteration, superimposition and projection. In the alteration method, causes undergo mutation or transformation to become effects. For example, water becomes ice or vapor, depending upon the changes in temperature. The seed becomes a plant or a tree. The egg becomes a living being.

In superimposition the causes are concealed by the power of Maya and superimposed by an alternate reality, as in clouds obstructing the light of the sun and creating darkness or the soul becoming bound to Nature due to the impurities that envelop it and obscure its purity and effulgence. In projection, causes project an alternate reality, as in a film appearing on a screen or an air bubble, waves or foam arising from the surface of water.

In the first method, the causes undergo change or alteration to become effects. However, in the last two methods, they remain unchanged while change itself appears as a temporary illusion or formation. In all the three methods, effects may manifest from causes due to five basic processes or functions namely creation, correction, destruction, concealment and expression. These five are symbolized in Hinduism as the five aspects (panchanana forms) of God.

God as the first cause

God is the only independent and foremost cause. All other causes are dependent, subsequent and interdependent. Each cause may be preceded or followed by other causes to produce a chain of effects. Thus, every cause is subject to several other causes or factors such as time, place, intensity, divine will (adhi daiviki), one’s own actions (adhyatimika) and the actions of others (adhibhautika). Changes that are part of divine will ensure the order and regularity of the worlds, while those that are opposed to him are responsible for adharma, disturbance and disorderliness.

Orderly changes bring peace and happiness and ensure the smooth progression of life upon earth and in other worlds. Disorderly changes lead to suffering, confusion, uncertainty, ascendance of evil and decline of Dharma. It is obligatory for humans to perform their sacred duties to ensure the order and regularity of the worlds, so that Nature can do its part in producing desired effects, and time will progress smoothly without major upheavals.

In living beings, change happens mainly due to desires and desire-ridden actions, which are in turn caused by the predominance of gunas. The causes and the desires or intentions that are associated with them determine the effects. If the causes are good, the effects will be good, and vice versa. Those who are endowed with free will have to bear responsibility for the effects they produce through their actions and the nature of change they seek. Thus, karma, which arises from desire-ridden actions, is part of Nature’s transformative and correcting mechanism and an important factor in manifesting effects from causes. Karma itself is an effect, which also acts as the cause to further effects and future karma.

The law of causation in different schools of Hinduism

The seers and philosophers of ancient India probed into the mysteries of creation to understand the law of causation. They wanted to know how things manifested and what path one was supposed to follow to attain desired effects and secure peace and happiness here and hereafter. One of their findings was that sacrificial actions produced different effects, compared to selfish actions. They believed that when desires became the efficient cause of any action, it produced karma, since the only efficient cause which was responsible for all effects in existence was the divine will. To ignore it or undermine it was to incur sin. Therefore, they advocated a sacrificial approach, which neutralized the causes and produced no binding effects. The following are a few important beliefs that are associated with the law of causation in different schools of Hinduism.

Nyaya, the school of logical wisdom

The Nyaya school views the law of causation as a sequence or series of antecedent and consequent events, in which the cause is an invariable and unconditional antecedent to the effect. The relationship between the antecedent and succeeding events is either logical or chronological or both. In other words, the cause always precedes the effect, and certain conditions, factors or events must be sequentially present as causes before certain conditions factors or events manifest as effects. The ones which appear first and which are invariably required are the causes, and the ones which follow are the effects.

The school also speaks about, Karana, the direct and proximate cause. Karana is not just an adjunct or accessory, but is always required for the effect to manifest. For example, the potter’s wheel or stick is an invariable, unconditional and immediate antecedent to the effect namely the pot, but the color of the potter’s wheel is not an invariable antecedent. The cause and effect are also bound by a positive and negative relationship (anvaya -vyatireki) so that the effect is produced only when the cause is present and not produced when it is absent. Both cause and effect are passing events in a long chain of causation, change itself is a passing event which may act as the cause of an antecedent condition to a subsequent event or events.

The Nyaya school identifies three types of causes (upadana) namely the material cause, the non-material cause (asamvayi) and the efficient (nimitta) cause. The material cause provides the material for the effect to manifest, the nonmaterial cause provides some quality or property such as the color or pattern, and the efficient cause provides the motive power or will power. For example, in weaving, the threads constitute the material cause, the conjunction of the threads acts the nonmaterial cause, and the loom is the efficient cause.

Samkhya, the school of transformative wisdom

The Samkhya philosophy, which is closely aligned with the Yoga philosophy, believes that all effects are latent or preexistent in their causes. No effect can arise without a cause, and effects which are hidden in their causes manifest when right conditions or facilitating factors (sahakara shakti) are present such as place, time, form or shape. The Samkhya school is realistic in its interpretation of the existential reality. It denies God as the cause of causes, but accepts both cause and effect as real. According to it the nonexistent cannot be made to become existent. Things do not manifest if they do not already exist in some form or condition.

In other words, the effect must invariably arise from an existing cause. It must also be materially and qualitatively bound to the cause and share the same essential nature. If this is untrue, then any cause can produce any effect, and anything can arise from anything else. The cause and effect are not essentially different from each other. They are different states and serve different purposes. For example, the clay with which the pot is made cannot be used to hold water as the pot, and the pot cannot be used like clay to make another pot.

What we perceive as birth or development is the coming to fruition of what is already latent. The potential becomes the reality. The possibility becomes a certainty. The cause is the undeveloped state and the effect is the developed state of the same substance. The transformation of the cause into effect is the birth or origin of things (udbhava), and the withdrawal of the effect into the cause is the dissolution (audhbhava). Dissolution is not total annihilation. The past, present and future states of cause and effect remain intact as potencies or latent states even after an object is destroyed.

The Samkhya school identifies only two causes, the efficient cause and the material cause. The material cause becomes part of the effect while the efficient cause exerts its influence from outside. The transformation of cause into effect (parinama) may be superficial or internal. It may be a change of state (avastha parinama), production of something from something else, change of essential nature (dharma parinama) or superficial property (lakshana parinama).

Vedanta, the school of transcendental wisdom

According to the Vedanta schools, cause and effect represent the dynamic functions of God, symbolized as Nature or Prakriti. Some schools of Vedanta believe that God is both the efficient and material cause of creation, while others believe that God is only the efficient cause, and Nature is the material cause. Effects manifest in time from their causes through a transformative process according to the will of God and the associate factors such as Vidhi (fate), Rta (order and regularity), Niyati (predetermined time), dharma and karma. Change is what makes creation, preservation, destruction, diversity, time, life, death, bondage and liberation possible. Existence is characterized by movement or dynamism (chaitanyam). It is possible only because change is inherent in the actions of Nature through causes and effects.

As the source of all and the supreme lord of all, God has the power to influence the law of causation and even change the effects or the concomitant conditions that precipitate them such as time and place. The so called divine miracle is one such example, which defies all laws, including the law of causation. Although effects manifest from existing causes, with the power of his Maya he seems to make things appear from nowhere as if from nothing. As both the cause and effect, he has the unlimited power to produce effects from their causes and withdraw them into their causes.

Fatalistic schools

The fatalistic doctrines of ancient India such as the Ajivikas believed that all changes emanated from God, and living beings had no control over them, other than living their lives according to the will of God, predetermined fate (vidhi) or prearranged progression of events (niyati). In other words, they believed that human beings had no power whatsoever to change their fate or the turn of events. Even the changes which seemingly happened due to individual actions were caused by divine will only. Hence, taking responsibility for them amounted to egoism and sinful conduct. Therefore, they advised their followers to live their lives freely, unconditionally accepting their fate without a question and flowing with the turn of events to ensure maximum happiness in their lives, without exertion or effort and without actively trying to change anything. The idea of Sanyasa or renunciation in Hinduism was derived from such earlier practices only and suitably integrated into the Vedic tradition as a part of the Varnashrama Dharma.

Karma and the law of causation

The fatalistic beliefs were opposed by non-fatalistic schools, which believed in karma and the ability of humans and other creatures which were endowed with intelligence to change their fate through self-willed actions. They believed that God played an important role in ensuring the orderly progression of the world. At the same time, he endowed human beings with free will and intelligence so that they could use their discretion and determine their fate through their actions. By that, they also became responsible for their joys and sorrows. Some of these schools accepted the karma doctrine, but held different beliefs about God and his role in creation. They believed that either God was nonexistent or played passive role in creation. Whatever role he played in the lives of living beings (jivas), it was in his aspect as the individual souls or the Self of all. These schools tried to free their followers from fatalistic beliefs, but in the process marginalized the role of God in the order and regularity of the world.

The Bhagavadgita strikes a balance between the two approaches. We can see in it a smooth integration of both fatalistic and non-fatalistic beliefs. According to the scripture, God is the cause of all causes. He is the material as well as the efficient cause, and responsible for everything that happens in the entire creation. Yet, human beings cannot ignore their duties or live passively because inaction is also a cause and produces consequences.

Besides, although God is an active and dynamic upholder of Dharma, he remains a passive witness in the beings until he is approached with submission, reverence and devotion for help and guidance. In performing their obligatory duties, human beings should also not assume ownership or doership, because God is the source of all and all actions arise from and subside in God only. Therefore, ideally humans should perform their actions without doership and without desires for their fruit and offer them all to God as a sacrifice. By constantly thinking of God, by selflessly performing their duties and by offering them to God, they do not incur karma and become liberated by the love of God.


Thus, we can see that the idea of change or transformation is central to Hinduism. It is also central to the Yoga Philosophy, because as the Yoga Sutras declares, the purpose of Yoga is suppression of the modifications of the mind (chittavritti) by identifying their causes and resolving them. Change or transformation is responsible for existence itself. It is also responsible for impermanence and the suffering that arises from it. Again, it is change that makes possible the idea of liberation from the mortal world and eternal freedom from rebirth and suffering.

Life is subject to change because beings are caught in the modifications of Nature and the duality of cause and effect. Liberation in a sense means liberation from cause and effect only. The eternal souls are free from all effects. They remain unaffected and immutable even when they are bound to Nature and the cycle of births and deaths. Changes may happen around them but not in them.

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