by Swami Krishnananda
The worship of Mahadevi—Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati—which is prevalent in India, is a religious festival, an occasion for great enthusiasm socially, and people revel in the freedom to express their feelings for the divine superintending power which is regarded as the source of this universe.
Every aspiration that originates from the mind of a human being has several facets and interpretations. When something happens, does anyone pause to think why anything happens at all? Why should anything occur? We generally attribute events in the world to some cause that is visible to our eyes or is calculable intellectually. To that extent we can find out why things happen in the way that they happen.
We have great scientists in this world who are proficient in finding the causes of things; and as science advances, the meaning of ‘cause’ receives newer and newer interpretations. When it poured rain, religious observers thought that a divinity called Indra was lashing forth his Vajra (thunderbolt), a weapon which he wields in his hand; he whirls the forces around, and there is the downpour of rain. The rainbow was considered as Indradhanush, a bow wielded by Indra after the rainfall. We attributed divine causative factors behind visible phenomena: a bow wielded by Indra after the rainfall appeares as the rainbow. But science has nothing to do with religion. It believes only what it sees. As we cannot see Indra in the skies, science cannot agree that he is the cause of rain.
What do we see with our scientific eye? Here, also, observations started advancing gradually from crude perceptions to finer and finer subtleties. There were philosophers both in the West and the East who thought that originally God created cosmic waters, and He brooded on these waters at the beginning of creation. A poem in Sanskrit says that God created waters, and everything emanated from the waters.
There are others who think that this Earth itself is a chip, a block shot off from the orb of the Sun, and evolution took place gradually on this planet over the course of endless time. But why all these things happen was also a question of the scientific mind. They happen because there are causes behind causes. There are minute molecules which are the causes of solid objects such as a rock, for instance. Everything that is solid in appearance is molecular in its structure; and there scientific observation during the medieval period ceased. But then it advanced and discovered finer and finer potentials behind the molecules. Forces seemed to be whirling like eddies in a vast sea of energy everywhere, and it was thought and believed, by mathematical calculation as well as observation and experiment, that the whole world of solid matter is some sort of condensed energy. Energy, even in its gross form like electricity, has such power that it can break solid objects to pieces. If an adequately powerful voltage of electric current is passed through a mountain, the solid mountain will crumble to pieces and be reduced to smithereens. Such is the power of even electricity.
These causative energies which are supposed to be at the back of all occurrences were further analysed by more and more concentrated observational processes, and it was not easy to understand why such a variety should be there in this creation, even taking for granted that the cosmic sea of force is manifesting itself as material substances. The variety of individuality was inexplicable. This was a further advance in modern techniques of scientific observation, whereby it was observed that I differ from you and you differ from me—everything differs from everything else, nothing is equal to another—because of a mysterious activity taking place in the various centres of this cosmic sea of force, though we cannot imagine differentiations in a vast sea of equilibrated energy.
For instance, we do not see difference in the water of an ocean. However far we may travel on the surface of this water, everywhere it is the same water. We do not have one kind of water in one place in the ocean and another kind of water in another place. It is a variety of a uniformly distributed nature. But it appears that the world is not made up of a sea of this kind because there is a dramatic differentiation of everything from everything else. Why do you differ from me in every manner and in every way? Even the RNA and DNA principles of medical science, which are supposed to be the determining factors of the cells of an individual’s body, do not produce identical individuals.
Why are we born in different psychophysical states or conditions? Modern scientific inward analysis is based on what is called the quantum mechanics of observation, whereby it is seen that there is an action and interaction taking place between centres of force in this vast energy ocean. There is a central pressure exerted at one spot, and that pressure will be of that character, that intensity, that specification, that form and significance as is its relation to other such centres in this vast sea of energy. It is very difficult to understand what all this means. A particular action of a particularised centre of energy is not an offhand action of that location independently by itself, but is universally determined by its connections through tentacles that it manifests through millions and millions of centres of that kind, so that the world of centres is more a bundle of relations of one with another than a heap of individual solid centres of activity.
We are reminded here of what Buddha said long ago in a similar strain. There is movement only, relativity only, fluxation only, process only, and nothing is stable and located in one place continuously. Even a burning flame in a lamp is not a solid flame. It is an emanation which is jetting forth with rapidity, forces impinging one on the other, so that it is like the flow of the river which looks like a continuous mass of water. Such is a flame, a burning fire. “The world is burning fire,” said Buddha. From this statement one can discover any meaning.
Why does this happen? The scientist has his own answer. There was an original action of the universe, and that original action is the motivation for every other subsequent action. This original action is called by many types of descriptive epithets. Some call it the Big Bang; a large sound was produced. What would be that sound which became the cosmos? We cannot imagine what it is. They posit some such thing as the original cause, which broke the universe into two parts—half this way, half that way. This is corroborated by the Upanishads, the Manu Smriti and the Mahabharata. So what they are saying is not a fairytale. There seems to be some truth behind it because we have it said even before scientists were born. The Manu Smriti says a big anda was there, a cosmic egg which split, as it were, into two parts. We may call one part gold and the other part silver. Who broke it? Scientists cannot answer this question. Who split the universe into two parts? “He became the All. He was the All, is the All, and shall be the All in the future. He, being All, created Himself through Himself,” says the Purusha Sukta. Tasmādvirāḍajāyata virājo adhipūruṣaḥ, sa jāto atyaricyata paścādbhūmimatho puraḥ: From Him arose the cosmos; from that arose the presiding principle of the cosmos; from that also arose that which decides what is to happen in this universe after this split took place.
The beginning of the concept of power, or shakti, seems to be hidden here when we are told that one part was cut off from the other part. This is also the concept of Ardhanarishvara, in our religious parlance. Lord Siva is half man and half woman, but not half in the sense of two differentiated irreconcilable parts. It is an androgynous totality. Lord Siva is not a half-man, and the other part is not segregated from him. It is his energy, which cannot be dissociated from himself.
Descriptions of this are attempted in scriptures like the Yoga Vasishtha, the Vishnu Purana, etc. where we are told that the relationship between one part and the other part—Siva and Shakti, and Ishvara and Nari in this Ardhanarishvara concept—is something like the relationship of sesame to the oil which is immanent in it. Water which has liquidity imbedded in it, fire which has heat inseparable from it, sugar which has sweetness that cannot be separated from it, and so on, are examples given in such scriptures as the Yoga Vasishtha. In the Vishnu Purana, the relationship between Narayana and Lakshmi is described in this fashion. Sesame is Narayana, oil is Lakshmi; water is Narayana, liquidity is Lakshmi; fire is Narayana, heat is Lakshmi; and so on.
All these are intriguing descriptions of certain mysteries which seem to be the cause of everything, and the cause of even our own selves. The person who speaks and the people who are listening and this very building, this very Earth—all these are included in the activity of this comprehensive occurrence that took place originally as, in the language of the Purusha Sukta, a yajna or a sacrifice. God sacrificed Himself, as it were, in becoming the universe. Why is it called a sacrifice? He became other than what He is. The alienation of Himself in the form of another than what He Himself is, is the act of His sacrifice. When I cease to be what I am and give away part of me to somebody else—a share of me goes to another—I am supposed to be doing a sacrifice. If nothing goes from me, it is not a sacrifice. If you give charity but lose nothing by giving that charity, it is not charity. You have not shared a joy of your personality. A millionaire’s donation of one dollar is not to be regarded as a great sacrifice on his part, because he has not shared his joy. He has a joy in possessing the dollars, and he has not lost that joy even in a modicum by parting with one dollar. But if half of it has gone and he has given it voluntarily, he has shared a large part of his joy also, and he has done a sacrifice.
The abundance of the joy of God’s universal existence is supposed to be overflowing in the form of this creation. This is how mystics sometimes exuberantly describe the act of creation: He becomes His own power. “I am death and immortality,” says the Lord in the Bhagavadgita. The Nasadiya Sukta says, “Death and immortality are shadows cast by this Absolute Being.” Immortality also is a shadow; so, what is the original of it? There cannot be anything called immortal unless there is something called death. They are correlative factors, and there is no such thing as independent immortality minus its relationship with the concept of dying. Hence, even immortality is considered as a secondary factor. God transcends death and immortality, life and annihilation, because He Himself is this process.
“One who contemplates this mystery,” says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, “he himself becomes death.” Death cannot kill that person, because death becomes his very existence. Death itself, which is so frightening, seeming to be totally outside us, controlling us in every way, is the very self of that person who knows this truth. So if the self itself is death, and death is your own self, who will kill it? That is not possible.
Thus, in the act of sacrifice of the Almighty in the form of this creation, He has become Himself in another form, as it were. Siva has become Shakti, Narayana has become Lakshmi, Brahma has become Saraswati, meaning thereby the power of transformation, the power of sustenance and the power of illumination are three phases of one great activity interconnectedly taking place in this sea of energy I mentioned—which, according to modern scientists, is the beginning of all creation.
Namo viśvasṛje pūrvaṃ viśvaṃ tadanu bibhrate, atha viśvasya saṃhartre tubhyaṃ tredhāsthitātmane. This is the commencement of a prayer in Kalidas’ Raghuvamsha Kavya made by the gods when they went to the abode of Narayana and prayed to him for redress from the sorrows inflicted upon them by Ravana. What is the beginning of this prayer? Namo viśvasṛje pūrvaṃ: Prostration to Thee who appearest as the Creator of all things. Viśvaṃ tadanu bibhrate: Prostration to Thee who appearest as the Sustainer of all things. Atha viśvasya saṃhartre: Prostration to Thee who appearest as the Transformer and Destroyer of all things. Tubhyaṃ tredhāsthitātmane: Prostration to Thee who appearest as all these three things. He does not become these three things; He Himself is the judge and the executive and the legislature, if we can imagine such a thing. The legislature, the executive and the judiciary are not identical. They are three facets of the administrative principle. But what if one thing is all three? Previously, the king was all three. He was the judge, he was the executive, and he was also the legislative authority. He could do anything. Such seems to be the manner in which the origin of things operates in this world, and our religious interpretation of this cosmic activity is in the form of the worship of Siva or the worship of Shakti. In whatever manner we may try to understand this mystery, this mystery indeed is what lies at the back of our irresistible urge to worship Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati every year, whether or not we understand what we are doing.