Creation According to Hinduism
Hinduism has both theistic and nontheistic elements. You will find aspects of both polytheism and monotheism in it. People worship several gods and goddesses according to their beliefs and practices. They may worship them as separate divinities or as aspects of the highest supreme Self, who is described in the Vedas as Brahman, but goes by several other names in different traditions. In this essay, we will discuss how Hinduism views creation and what we can learn from it about ourselves and our existence.
Brahman and Isvara
In his original and absolute aspect, Brahman is universal, eternal, indestructible, invisible and incomprehensible. He is also without gender, duality, divisions, states, qualities, names and forms. However, in his manifested aspect he joins with Nature and becomes Isvara. Isvara is Brahman who is endowed with power, awareness and dynamism (chetana). He represents the opposite reality, or that which Brahman is not (neti) in his absolute state, and contains within himself the entire creation or the material universe.
In the higher planes of material existence, he becomes associated with the purest of energies and manifests as divinities and celestial beings. In the deeper layers of Natures, he becomes associated with several impure energies and gross material forms and manifests as beings and objects of lower worlds. We should not forget that although creation may appear to be different and diverse, it is but Isvara only in his subtle or gross forms. The one becomes many or appears as many in different forms and aspects of Nature. 1
The Vedas proclaim that we cannot be certain about the beginning of time, how the worlds manifested or who created them. Probably it was done by God, or probably not. This does not mean that the Vedas are skeptical about God or the source of creation. They draw our attention to the indeterminate nature of God himself, who cannot be fitted into a particular form, description or definition. They also caution us to be careful while drawing conclusions about him or his actions.
1. Creation is a process of becoming and being
From the aforementioned descriptions of how Brahman becomes Isvara, you can see that in Hinduism creation is a process of becoming. One becomes another or many. It does not happen outside God or distinct from him. Brahman becomes all this by himself and within himself. Becoming Isvara or the manifested reality or reflection of himself in the domain of Nature, which is but his own beingness, he acts as the center as well as the circumference of everything. In that becoming, Brahman remains immutable. Only his mutable aspect or materiality becomes all this.
Isvara is the lord as well all that over which he exercises his lordship. He is the subject, the object and that which connects both. There is nothing which he is not, and which does not arise from him or which does not exist in him. He is the source of all. All the worlds, beings and objects arise from him, reside in him and subside in him. From the highest perspective of Isvara, everything is himself. There is no “second” or “the other”, or “you.” All is, “Aham Brahmasmi,” I am Brahman.
We do not know why Brahman becomes his juxtaposed Self as Isvara with a form or the not-Self or the Cosmic Being, possessing consciousness, will, bliss and power (shakti) from his pure, absolute and indeterminate state of non-Being or pure consciousness. Probably he becomes so for his own enjoyment or perhaps for no particular reason. Since he is complete in all respects, there is nothing which he seeks or desires or upon which he depends. In other words, God’s creation has no specific end. It may be subject to certain laws and limitations which he sets in motion, but it exists for no particular end. Rationally speaking, it may appear to the human mind as a random process or a chance occurrence.
2. Creation does not happen in vacuum
Hinduism does not believe that creation arises from emptiness. Things do not arise from nothing. There must be an eternal, universal, primordial substance from which things manifest, and which acts as both the source and the support. In other words, creation is not an instantaneous and miraculous process whereby things appear suddenly out of nowhere in a few moments, hours or days. It is a gradual, transformative or modificative process in which one thing becomes another or one reality becomes another or a combination of things, states and realities lead to the formation or manifestation of another reality or combination of realities. Isvara, the being with an exalted state (mahanubhava) becomes beings with gross bodies who are subject to perceptual experience (anubhava).
Thus, becoming (bhava) or coming into existence (bhavati) is an important aspect of creation. We see it happening every day in the birth of a living being, change of seasons or the germination of a seed. God’s creation is a large web. He is its soul as well as body. There is interconnectedness of things, or unity and continuity in the diversity and impermanence of manifested worlds. For example, humans offer prayers and sacrifices to nourish gods and strengthen them.
Pleased by their actions, gods protect them from adversity and natural calamities. When Maruts and Rudras ride in the sky in colorful attires, clouds appear in the sky. Indra strikes the lightings to stir the water bearing clouds. By their actions, rains fall and nourish the earth. Seeds germinate. Farmers sow crops. The earth turns verdant, and gifts plenty of food for the cattle and the people in reverential gratitude. Happiness, peace and prosperity are earned through righteous actions, not freely given. No one is entitled to anything in the creation of God. One has to earn it through effort and merit.
Thus, the Vedic people saw interconnectedness of things such as the relationship between gods in heaven and humans upon earth or between humans and other living beings. They believed that even miracles to happen, a divine or a manmade cause was necessary. While we were largely responsible for our lives and actions, gods and numerous invisible causes often interacted with our lives and contributed to our welfare or suffering. Sometimes, they acted on their own and manifested miracles, and at other times they allowed humans to invoke them through prayers, rituals and chants and seek their help or intervention. They also inferred that beyond the gods with whom they could communicate and beyond the known objective world and perceptual experience, there was a silent, supreme Being, who was the source of all and who was largely unknown even to gods.
This ability of the humans to draw richly from the eternal powers of God for their own welfare and happiness through appropriate means is what constitutes the core or the foundation of Hinduism. As a human being you have limitations in creating things and manifesting your desires, but with the help of divine power, drawn by invoking God or his manifestations, you can break that. With God’s help one can travel from death and darkness to light and immortality, or from sin and suffering to purity and bliss.
Thus, we can see that from an eternal, immutable, indestructible and indivisible reality arises multiple realities, states and entities, which are transient, mutable, destructible and divisible. As the Vedas suggest, preexisting primordial force or matter (rayi) undergoes transformation by the will of God to emerge as movements, forces, laws, states, modes (gunas), realities (tattvas) and numerous chains of causes and effects. Together they project a derivative reality which we experience through our minds and senses as perceptual reality, creation or existence.
The reality which thus arises from God and Nature, and all the components which exist in it or arise from it are subject to the triple conditions, the beginning, the middle and the end, known as srishti (formation), sthiti (continuation) and laya (dissolution) respectively. They are universally present in all things that are impermanent, including our very lives and almost everything which we experience upon earth, be it happiness or suffering or a momentary thought, sensation or feeling.
3. God is the source of all that manifests here and above
Hinduism recognizes God as the primary cause, the cause of causes, the ultimate cause or the source of all. However, it does not ignore the role played by Nature, variously referred to as Shakti, Prakriti, Mother Goddess, Devi and so on. A divergence of postulations exists among various sects and schools of Hinduism with regard to their respective roles and status. While all agree that God (Purusha) is eternal and immutable, many consider that the Goddess (Prakriti) has both mutable and immutable aspects. Her immutable aspect (para) is pure, subtle and transcendental whereas her mutable aspect (apara), which is subject to transformation and modifications, can be pure, impure, mixed, subtle, gross and partly subtle and partly gross. Through the mutation or transformation of Nature from her primordial state into her dynamic state, the worlds and beings manifest. In this transformation, which we regard as the very process of creation, God acts as the efficient cause and Nature as the material cause.
We find primarily three speculative theories in Hinduism about how God participates in creation along with Shakti to manifest the worlds and beings. According to the first one, God (Purusha) is the sole creator. The Goddess (Prakriti) is his dependent, dynamic force, bound to his will and control. She does his bidding and manifest diversity of names, forms and objects. The second theory holds that both God and the Goddess participate in creation as two independent and eternal cocreators. Together, they manifest the worlds and beings. In the third version, God does not participate in creation at all. He remains a passive witness, while the Goddess undertakes all actions and acts as the Supreme Lord of all manifested worlds.
There are also two other variations about how God takes part in creation. According to one version, he actively descends into matter to breathe life into it or awaken it from a state of inertia and inactivity. It is similar to how a living body becomes active and alive when it is awakened from a long sleep. According to the other, Nature envelops passive, individual souls and creates life forms (just as the mother of pearl envelops a small particle to produce a shiny object).
Although creation is the process of becoming and being, it is also interpreted in Hinduism in other ways, which are stated below.
- Transformation as in case of an egg becoming a fetus or a fetus becoming a living being
- Projection as in case of rays spreading out from the sun or a projector projecting a film on the screen.
- Reflection as in case of the image that appears in a mirror or on the surface of water
- Superimposition as in case of clouds covering the sky and the sun and darken the world
In all these interpretations, the resultant reality is considered an illusion or Maya because it is a temporary appearance which is withdrawn at the end of creation. It is also the opposite of God, the not-self. Hence, one should not become involved with it or become stuck in it, since it leads to bondage to the cycle of births and deaths and resultant suffering.
4. Brahma, the creator God is a manifestation of Brahman or Isvara
Although Brahman is the highest supreme God, he does not actively engage in any action. He is too remote for the human mind to comprehend. His manifested form, Isvara, is also remote and beyond our perception. However, since he belongs to the objective realm and manifests in our thoughts and dreams, we can envision his forms and worship him as our very personal God. He has numerous forms, aspects, manifestations, emanations, full and partial incarnations, associated deities, powers and functions, and so on. They include his triple aspect as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva also. All the Puranas speak about him only, although they may appear to be about individual gods and goddesses. The whole pantheon of Hinduism arises from Isvara only, and contain his essence in their pure state.
Of all the deities who arise from him with names and forms, Brahma contains his creative power in full force. The Vedas and the Puranas describe him as the creator God (srishti karta), who arises from Isvara, sitting in a lotus flower, with the Vedas in one hand. He has other names such as Purusha, Viraj, Ishana, Prajapati, Chaturmukha, Syayambhu, etc. Although in the popular lore he is the creator God, he is actually the secondary creator, with Isvara acting as the primary creator. Isvara sets the stage or the field (kshetra) in which Brahma creates the rest of the things with his mind energy.
In the Puranas Brahma is described as the god of purity, intelligence, radiance, knowledge and discernment. He is the first born, the progenitor of all beings. From him arise several mind-born sons (manas putras) and Manus (overlords) who act as progenitors to other beings and several human races. Since creation is cyclical, Brahma appears at the beginning of each cycle of creation. The Bhagavata Purana alludes to the possibility or a multiverse. It states that God being infinite and boundless, there may be hundreds and thousands of universes, and a Brahma in each of them.
In earthly years each cycle of creation lasts for one Kalpa, which is equal to billions of years, but in the world of Brahma to just a day. In that long span of time which is but a Brahma Day, life appears and disappears upon earth several times. Different human races thrive upon earth as Time passes through several great epochs. However, during that phase, the gods and celestial beings in the highest worlds remain comparatively stable since they are eternal. Creation begins at an auspicious moment (brahma muhurtam) in Brahma’s day and lasts for several hours until the evening. In the night, the worlds become dissolved and Brahma goes to a long sleep, which lasts for billions of years. When he wakes up the next day, a new cycle of creation starts all over again.
5. Creation is ongoing and happens at various levels
Hinduism does not hold that creation happened in an instant or in a few days. It happens continuously at various levels and in different ways, and lasts for millions of earth years. It is also cyclical, gradual and consequential, and happens simultaneously in many ways, both in the macrocosm and the microcosm of all living beings. They all are subject to the three states namely the beginning, the middle and the end. There may be pauses in between one phase and another or one state and another, but the process of becoming and being within the womb of Nature goes on until Brahma falls into a long sleep or Isvara withdraws everything into himself.
While we may have the illusion of continuity and stability, the world is always in a state of flux. Everything is subject to change and impermanence. Therefore, the gods or the creator himself cannot simply retire into inertia after manifesting the worlds and beings. They have to perform their duties to ensure that the worlds remain stable and safe from chaos and disorder. They have to make sure that the worlds do not fall into the hands of evil forces, and the progression of time and other events such as the transmigration of souls happen in an orderly manner.
As stated before, creation happens at various levels and in different planes, from the subtlest to the grossest. In some cases, it happens simultaneously in all planes, while in some cases it first happens in the subtle worlds and gradually manifests in the outer material planes. For example, dreams are a form of creation only. However, not all dreams become real. Only a few translate into reality. The same happens in the macrocosm also. The changes and the creation which manifest in the higher worlds of gods and celestial beings may take eons before they manifest upon earth, or they may never.
Creation is a rather complex process in which it is not always possible to connect the dots or ascertain the relationship between causes and effects. Apart from the primary causes (Purusha and Prakriti) many derivative causes also play an important role. For example, things may arise from preexisting causes, intervening causes, derivative causes, known causes, unknown causes or causes which cannot be directly correlated to their effects or traced to them. God himself represents an indeterminate reality. Therefore, we can expect that his creation may also have some indeterminate aspects about it.
We cannot easily comprehend the mysterious ways in which he engages in action or manifests reality. We know that all causes produce effects, which may act as causes to produce further effects. However, their relationship is not always self-evident, especially when they belong to the transcendental realm, which is beyond our grasp. We may arrive at them through inference or with the help of scriptural testimony or the word of God. Only those who purify their minds and bodies and engage in Yoga succeed in resolving problems such as suffering and bondage by becoming aware of their hidden causes and their own true nature.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Creation Theories in Hinduism
- Creation in Hinduism As a Transformative Evolutionary Process
- Hinduism - The Faith Eternal
- Kaivalya, the State of Aloneness
- Lessons from the Dance of Kali, the Mother Nature
- Life’s Lessons from Mother Nature
- The Nature of Consciousness
- The Nature of Spiritual Experience
- The True Meaning of Prakriti in Hinduism
- Polytheism and Monotheism in Hinduism
- Creation Myths of Ancient People
- Pollution and Evolution
- The Power of Imagination
- Essays On Dharma
- Esoteric Mystic Hinduism
- Introduction to Hinduism
- Hindu Way of Life
- Essays On Karma
- Hindu Rites and Rituals
- The Origin of The Sanskrit Language
- Symbolism in Hinduism
- Essays on The Upanishads
- Concepts of Hinduism
- Essays on Atman
- Hindu Festivals
- Spiritual Practice
- Right Living
- Yoga of Sorrow
- Mental Health
- Concepts of Buddhism
- General Essays
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