A Study of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: The Total Picture of Creation

Bhagavan Sri Krishna held the opinion that Arjuna was lacking sankhya, which means proper understanding, and I endeavoured to tell you that sankhya is the knowledge of the placement of a person in this universe. Unless you know where you are placed in this universe, your location in this setup of things, you will not be able to do anything. Work, activity – doing anything whatsoever, and any motion for that purpose – is guided by the circumstances prevailing at that given moment of time. ‘Circumstance’ means the knowledge of the location of the person at a given moment of time.

Now, your location in this universe can be known only by a study of the whole process of creation. Doctrines of creation are adumbrated in schools of thought such as the Sankhya and the Vedanta. I mentioned to you previously in the context of the discussion of the nature of consciousness that the primary principle is the pure ‘I-amness’, Pure Consciousness adapting and adjusting itself to its own Self, as it were. The Sankhya calls this indivisible absolute consciousness Purusha. You may call it by any other name – God, if you like, the Supreme Absolute. It is absolute because it is not related to anything outside. It is a non-related, indivisible omnipresence, conscious of itself alone, and there is no consciousness of anything else. ‘I am what I am’ – aham asmi. This is the consciousness of the Supreme Purusha.

The process of creation is supposed to start with the emergence of the activity of Prakriti, which is the cosmic impulsion of this Universal Consciousness to delimit itself in a certain fashion for the projection of this cosmos. As I mentioned, this Prakriti, this cosmic impulsive objectivity, is made up of three forces called sattva, rajas and tamas – dynamis, stasis and equilibration. Prakriti, so-called, is compared to a rope with strands. You must have seen coir ropes or jute ropes, etc., with three entwined strands. The rope is not different from the strands. You cannot say the strands are the qualities or the properties of the rope. Many times people say sattva, rajas, tamas are the qualities of Prakriti. This is an understatement, really speaking, because these three properties constitute the very substance of Prakriti itself, just as the three strands of the rope are the rope itself. The threefold operation of sattva, rajas, tamas is itself Prakriti. Therefore, Prakriti may be said to be activity minus the consciousness of Universality, and Purusha is consciousness of Universality without activity.

Sankhya has a humorous analogy to describe how Purusha and Prakriti work together in collaboration because, as I mentioned, Purusha consciousness is universal awareness minus activity or motion, and Prakriti is only motion or activity minus consciousness. So how can these two, inactive consciousness and active unconsciousness, be clubbed together?

The analogy of the Sankhya philosophy describes two persons, one who is blind but can walk, and another who is lame but can see. These two people join together because they both want to move in the same direction.–But how is it possible? Without legs they cannot move, and without eyes they also cannot move. So the lame person sits on the shoulders of the blind person, and now there is a joint action of seeing and moving. The lame person who sits on the shoulders of the blind walking person can see, and directs him where to go, and so it is a very good understanding between them. This is how Sankhya gives you a humorous comparison of the manner in which perhaps Universal Consciousness, which is inactive, operates in conjunction with the activity of Prakriti, which is unconscious. When these two processes are blended together and Purusha and Prakriti jointly act, what happens first is that Prakriti, in its sattva aspect, reflects the Universal Consciousness within itself, as light can be reflected in a glass. The glass here, which is sattva, is not perfectly clean where the light passes unaffected and undisturbed, but there is a little disturbance and the consciousness, which is universal Purusha, gets delimited to some extent, though in a very insignificant manner.

Sattva is all-pervadingness. The consciousness of omnipresence and all-pervadingness is sattva. In Pure Consciousness, there is no such thing as all-pervadingness, and so on. We cannot say that consciousness is all-pervading unless we define it in terms of Prakriti’s sattva guna, because a thing can be all-pervading only when there is a space to pervade. As space is a part of Prakriti, then Purusha, which is independent of Prakriti, cannot be said to be all-pervading in a strictly logical sense. It is just Being-as-such, Pure I-am, and cannot be called all-pervading. But it appears to be all-pervading on account of its reflection in the sattva guna of Prakriti, which also has other qualities – rajas and tamas. It does not mean that Prakriti is only pure sattva, all-pervadingness. It also has, under its arm, the projective forces or factors known as rajas and tamas. On account of a subtle apperception of rajas and tamas also, together with sattva, there is a slight limitedness imposed on the reflection of consciousness in the sattva guna of Prakriti. And then what happens? After Purusha there is Prakriti, and after Prakriti there is Mahat. Mahat is the third principle – Cosmic-consciousness, the Pure I-am, Be-ness-as-such. The Absolute Existence becomes conscious as all-pervading, omnipresent. This Mahat, or the Great Being Mahat-tattva, is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. This is the God of the universe, you may say if you like.

Pure God, by Himself, creates nothing. He is just All-in-All. Creativity is attributed to God on account of His so-called reflection in the sattva omnipresence of Prakriti, and God becomes Mahat-tattva, also known as Hiranyagarbha in Vedanta terminology. The pure potential of consciousness prior to the manifestation of Mahat in terms of Prakriti is called Ishvara, which is something like the cosmos sleeping. Sleeping is not an inactive condition; it is a dormant potential of future activity. So in Ishvara-tattva, which is the potential of Universal Consciousness coming in conjunction with Prakriti as a whole, we have Ishvara-tattva. This is a term which is not in the Sankhya but in the Vedanta doctrine. Mahat may be said to be Hiranyagarbha, the all-knowing creative principle, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent consciousness. When omnipresence becomes conscious of itself – I-am, omnipresent – it becomes cosmic Ahamkara. So first is Purusha, second is Prakriti, third is Mahat, fourth is Ahamkara. Ahamkara here is to be understood as Cosmic Self-awareness – the whole universe becoming conscious: ‘I am.’ It is not merely omnipresence as such; it is consciousness of one’s being omnipresent.

In the state of Ahamkara, Cosmic I-amness, or consciousness of one’s being omnipresent, a threefold activity is supposed to take place: the threefold division of the supreme Self-consciousness into the subjective perceiver adhyatma, the objective universe adhibhuta, and a third connecting link adhidaiva, about which I mentioned already. The trouble of creation starts at this stage. Until this time, it was all paradise, glory, all-pervading bliss, God roaming alone in the Garden of Eden; there was no Adam and Eve, nothing of the kind. Wonder! This wonder gets clouded when this Cosmic I-amness decides to divide itself into three, and beholds itself as three. For example, your body has a trunk, a right hand and a left hand. The right hand is totally different from the left hand. If you can suppose that the right hand has a consciousness, and with that consciousness it can know the existence of the left hand, this will be adhyatma and adhibhuta. But it cannot know the existence of the left hand except through the body, of which it is a part. So the entire body is the transcendent connecting link which makes it possible for the adhyatma to be aware that there is adhibhuta.

Now, I mentioned that there is a threefold division of this universal omnipresence – adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva. The adhibhuta prapancha, or the universe of material existence, we may say, is originally a space-time vibration complex. Even today, physical scientists and philosophers of physical science say that the whole universe is basically space-time. Space, time and motion – this is the beginning of creation. Space means a sudden vacuum, as it were, created before the omnipresence. In order that you may become something other than what you are, you have to cease to be what you are at present. If God has to become the object, He has to cease to be the subject. Now, He cannot cease to be the subject as He is the Pure Subject, so a sudden vacuous condition is created, as perhaps is done by a juggler who creates an illusion. Suddenly a thing which is not there will be projected before you. Your consciousness is interfered with by the juggler’s magic or his slight-of-hand. Immediately he creates a vacuous condition of your mind by his action so that you forget what you saw and you begin to see what is not there. God may be playing His magical trick, as it were. God is sometimes called Mahamaya, which means the Great Juggler who can project a thing which is not there. God created the heaven and the Earth, says the Bible. Out of what substance did He create them? Out of his own body, which is something very funny to say. And if there is nothing outside God, out of what substance did He create it? He created it out of a vacuum, a kind of nothingness.

You will find later on, by a deep analysis of the process of creation, that creation is a vacuous projection. It has no substance by itself because substance is God only, and if the universe also had a substance independently, there would be a conflict between the two substances – God and Satan, as certain theologies posit. There is no Satan; he does not exist outside God. It is only a theological conception of human frailty, I may say, which is unable to locate evil in this world because it does not know where it exists. The Satanic, the evil, the bad, etc., must exist somewhere. It cannot exist in God, and it cannot exist outside God, so where does it exist? This is the theological problem before all religious people. Anyway, we shall not touch that subject now.

God seems to be creating a vacuous situation to create a universe that is also basically a vacuum. Hence, there is non-substantiality in the whole universe. Everyone, everything, including you and I, are basically vacuous. There is no substance in us. The substance is only a jugglery. It is a mix-up of space-time and certain elements which I will mention to you afterwards. Thus, creation might have taken place, or creation might not have taken place. You may say the juggler has really created something because you can see it, and therefore God has created the world because you are seeing it. But the juggler has created nothing; he has only put you under the pressure of an influence. In the same way, God has created no world, but somehow or other some illusion has caught hold of you – this consciousness. You do not know how you are seeing what the juggler is doing, though he has done nothing. In the same way, God has done something like the greatest juggler, and you are seeing a world which is really not there. Finally you will see, if the curtain is lifted, God alone is permeating the whole thing. This so-called world is nothing but scintillating God. That is what you will realise afterwards, about which you will be told a little later.

So the objective universe, which is adhibhuta, starts with space, time and vibration. This vibration is fivefold in its nature. In Sanskrit, these five aspects of vibration are called shabda, which means the potential of sound, sparsha, the potential of touch, rupa, the potential of sight, rasa, the potential of taste, and gandha, the potential of smell. The whole universe of perception is constituted of these fivefold forces. What do you see in this world? What do you mean by ‘the world’? What is called ‘world’ is nothing but what you hear, touch, see, taste, and smell. Suppose you do not see anything, and you cannot touch or smell or taste; the world vanishes for you. So the world is nothing but a bundle of sensations; it looks like that.

There is a great history behind this question of whether there is a substance behind sensations or whether the world is made up of sensations only. Subjective philosophers in the West, such as Berkeley, concluded that the whole world is nothing but sensations only. If these five sensations are removed from you, there will be no world, and your body will also not be there. But a difficulty arises in the mind due to its very structure because it believes the sensations are sensing something, and if something is not there to be sensed, what are the senses going to sense?

A question was put to Berkeley. “My dear Father,” (he was a clergyman) “what are your senses sensing if there is nothing to be sensed?” So he modified his doctrine a little, and his pure subjective idealism of only sensations got transformed into what is called objective idealism. The senses cannot know that the world exists unless the sensations operate. So inasmuch as the sensations tell you through their media of what may exist outside, you are seeing the world as conditioned by your sensations; the real world is not seen by you. The real world is cast in the mould of your sensations, and so you are not seeing the world as it is. You are seeing only the thing-as-such, as you may call it, but what that thing-as-such is, nobody knows, as it is cast in the mould of the five sensations.

But Berkeley agrees that something should be there in order that the senses may sense. That is God’s mind. The universe is God’s mind, the Cosmic Mind, which looks like a world in front of you; but you are not actually seeing the Cosmic Mind. You are not seeing God with your eyes; you are only sensing, in a distracted, fivefold manner, this one indivisible thing which is otherwise the Cosmic Mind. You are lodged in the mind of God even now, accepted; but you cannot touch Him, you cannot see Him, because your sensations are diversified. These diversified functions are connected with these potentials, as I mentioned – shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha. These are forces.

Afterwards, these forces congeal into solidity in a particular permutation and combination process. These congealed forms of the five forces shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha become space – or sky, as it is called – and air, fire, water, earth. In Sanskrit, sky or space is called akasha, air is vayu, agni is fire, apas is water, pritvi is earth. So this world of the physical elements of earth, water, fire, air, ether, space and sky – this world which you value so much, on which you are seated, which is attracting you and repelling you at the same time – is just the last concretisation of these forces shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha which are the vibrations of space and time, which is one aspect of this cosmic omnipresence, Ahamkara. Thus, the objective side has been explained.