The Nature of the True Religious Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: The Doctrine of Creation in the Purusha Sukta

All philosophical study is centred around four great themes: the nature of the Ultimate Reality, the process of creation, the status of the individual, and the mutual relationship among individuals, called society. The whole of philosophy is only this much – four themes. All these four themes are pressed into the Purusha Sukta in a very few words, so that we may say the whole of philosophy is here in sixteen mantras.

Yesterday I touched upon the subject of the characteristic of the Ultimate Reality as enunciated in the very first mantra of the Purusha Sukta: sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ sahasrākśaḥ sahasrapāt. Actually, only the first half of the first verse is the foundational enunciation of the nature of the Supreme Being. From the second half of the first verse until a few mantras onwards, there is a very concise and pithy statement of creation: how the great Almighty, the One Being, encompasses all that can be regarded as the universe, the cosmos.

Recall to your memory one important point I referred to in this connection, namely, that the Supreme Being has no sense organs; and symbolically when it is said that it is all heads and all eyes and all feet and all hands, what the mantra implies is that it has no heads, no hands, no eyes, no feet, no limbs, because that which is everywhere is really nowhere. That which is everything is equal to nothing.

In a similar fashion, we may say that every face of the Supreme Being is every other face at the same time. Anything that we can think of God is also any other thing that we can think of God at the same time. So the concept of God is a novel idea in our minds. It cannot be compared with any other idea related to things visible, audible, etc. God thinks and acts and feels and does all things at once, at the same time. His existence is His activity. While our activity proceeds from our existence, His existence is identical with His activity. Being is acting, being is knowing, being is force, being is all things. Everything is everywhere, timelessly and spacelessly.

Sa bhūmiṁ viśvato vṛtvā'tyatiṣṭaddaśāgulam: Enveloping everything, He stands above infinitely, transcending the whole of creation. Puruṣa evedaṁ sarvam yadbhūtaṁ yacca bhavyam. This Supreme Purusha, as the Almighty is designated in the Purusha Sukta, is whatever was, whatever is and whatever will be. Evedaṁ sarvam: all this. Yadbhūtaṁ: whatever was. Yacca bhavyam: whatever shall be, whatever will be. Past, present and future are melted in the eternity of infinite comprehension.

The compactness of eternity is not a composite of past, present and future. It is not woven into a fabric by the threads of past, present and future, but an unimaginable, unthinkable, transcendent indivisibility which is not a combination of past, present and future but something in which these three limitations of the time process are overcome completely as dream is overcome in waking, to give one instance.

The concepts which you are familiar with in your studies of the Vedanta philosophy – Ishwara, Hiranyagarbha, Virat, terms which do not occur in the Purusha Sukta – have a parallel series in this Sukta when, in a half mantra the Sukta says, tasmādvirāḍajāyata virājo adhipūruṣaḥ: From this all-comprehending Almighty, the Virat is born. The word ‘Virat’ occurs, but the word ‘Hiranyagarbha’, though it occurs elsewhere in the Rigveda in a sukta called the Hiranyagarbha Sukta, it does not occur in the Purusha Sukta. There is another sukta altogether called Hiranyagarbha Sukta in the Tenth Book of the Rigveda; that is a different matter. But the word Virat occurs. It is said here that the Virat is revealed as bodily coming out from this great Purusha; and the Purusha once again manifests himself through the Virat as the superintending principle of creation, known here in the language of the Purusha Sukta as Adi Purusha.

These terms sometimes, with a little variation, can be seen in the Bhagavadgita also, especially in the beginning of the eighth chapter. Adhibhūtaṁ kṣaro bhāvaḥ puruṣaś cādhidaivatam, adhiyajñoham evātra dehe dehabhṛtāṁ vara (Gita 8.4). These verses at the commencement of the eighth chapter of the Bhagavadgita refer practically to the manifestations stated in the Purusha Sukta in very precise, pithy and pregnant words. When God becomes the universe, He does not become something else.

Yesterday when I was casually speaking to a few people who were sitting in front of me outside on the veranda, I put a question, almost in a humorous way. In the beginning there was God, and there was nothing except God, and this is the fundamental principle of all religions. The Upanishad says this, the Bible says this, and every other scripture says this. There was God alone in the beginning. Sad eva, saumya, idam agra asid ekam evadvitiyam (Chhand. 6.2.1), says the Chhandogya Upanishad: Pure Being alone was there. One alone was. And that One Being manifested this universe. Or, to put it in more plain language, God created the world.

Now, we have to bring about a harmony between these two statements: “God alone was and there was nothing else outside Him, external to Him” and “God created the world”. From what substance did He create the world? The carpenter created the table out of wood; the mason created the building out of bricks. Out of what substance did God create the world if our earlier statement that God alone was, and nothing else could be, is to be true? So the Bible says God created the world out of nothing. Well, what else can we say? When it has been accepted that God alone was, the word was with God, and the word was God, how could we escape asserting that God created the world out of nothing? There was no substance, no wood, no brick, no mortar, no cement, nothing of the kind. This is not a very safe statement. Very serious consequences will follow from this statement that God created things out of nothing. I shall tell you what consequences follow from this.

There are others who think that it is meaningless to say that a substantial universe has been created out of nothing. The world is not a nothing; it is something. How can something come out of nothing? Ex nihilo nihil fit is a logical dictum. Nothing can come from nothing. If nothing was the cause of the universe, the whole universe is also a nothing, and we, as a part of the universe, also are nothing – a very strange conclusion indeed. We cannot stomach all these things. So it was opined that God created the world out of Himself, not out of nothing. Hence, this whole universe is God Himself manifesting in space and in time.

But this also has a serious consequence. It is not a very safe statement because if God has become this universe, we are subjecting God to the process of becoming. Being cannot be identified with becoming, because being is a timeless eternity, whereas becoming is a time process. We cannot subject the indivisibility of eternal being to the movement of the process of what we call time. Unless there is time present as an element involved in the process of creation, God transforming Himself into the world is inconceivable.

There are some philosophers, thinkers, religious theologians who think that God became the world as milk becomes curd, yoghurt. This is another interesting thing. Milk has become curd; like that, God has become the world. It looks very easy to say this, but hard to understand its implications. If milk has become curd, the whole of the milk has become curd. We cannot have only half the milk as milk, and half as curd. If the whole of God has become the world, no further God is remaining that we may reach through our aspirations; and there will be nothing called moksha, inasmuch as curd cannot become milk once again. Yoghurt does not become milk; it has become yoghurt. Finished. The matter is over. So no moksha is possible; there is no such thing as that because moksha is curd becoming milk once again, and that is ruled out. Thus, there is a snag in this doctrine of the modification of God into the world because modification involves limbs, parts, spatio-temporal involvement. No modification is conceivable except in terms of space and time, and God is above space and time. So the doctrine that God became the world through a modification is also hard for the brain of man to comprehend. On the other hand, that He created the world out of nothing also seems to be very difficult to grasp.

Now we are landing ourselves in an impasse when we discuss the doctrine of creation. It was Acharya Sankara who, for the first time in the history of philosophy, boldly proclaimed that the doctrines of creation are not histories of events that took place in time. The process of creation described in the scriptures, whether it is in Hinduism or Christianity or Islam or wherever it be, is not a chronicle that a historian has written of events that actually took place in the process of space and time. In order that the seeds of modification or creation be sown at the outset, space and time should be there. But space and time are a part of creation; therefore, they could not be prior to creation, and unless they are prior, they could not be creation. There is a very difficult subject before us, and without going too much into the details of these intricacies, inasmuch as our main theme is the Purusha Sukta, I shall bypass this problem by giving one simple example which will bring some sort of a satisfaction. How has creation taken place, whether it is a modification or it is a creation out of nothing, etc.?

This question can be solved by one analogy that you can bring before your mind by present-day observations in science. Imagine that there is a stone, a piece of granite, in front of you. When you open your eyes and look at the object, what do you see? A round, oblong-shaped object, hard to the touch – what you call a stone. This is what the eyes report to you. The eyes tell you, here is a hard stone. The eyes and the ears and the nose and the taste and the sense of touch always collaborate with one another in describing a particular object. There is no discrepancy among the reports of the five senses.

But if you bring a microscope and look at this very same stone, you will realise that you are not seeing the very same thing in the same manner as you saw it earlier. You will find it is a family of small members. It was not a round, hard stone. It is made up of small molecules. Go deeper with a stronger microscope and you will see they are not chemical substances called molecules, but indescribable units which are sometimes called atoms, with large spaces intervening between one atom and the other. Go deeper with an even stronger microscope. You will see a seeping energy rushing hither and thither in a hectic manner, and you will not see the molecules; you will not see the atoms. You will see a tremendous activity billowing like waves in the ocean and an activity comparable only to an electromagnetic action, a field of force, a field of energy emanating from an electromagnetic setup. It is not a molecule, it is not an atom, it is something different, as you can imagine for yourself. You will see there is no rotundity or squareness or oblong nature of the object. It is a concretisation or a concrescence or a particularisation of a heap of force which has centralised itself in one speck of space, one point in time.

And now bring your doctrine of creation. You may say that this seeping energy has created the atom, the atoms have created the molecules, the molecules have created the stone. You may say that. Or you may say the energy has become the atoms, the atoms have become the molecules, the molecules have become the stone. Now, can you say that they have transformed themselves into the stone or the molecule, as milk becomes curd? You cannot say that there has been a transformation. You are only seeing things more and more clearly; that is all. You are not seeing a transformation of things. You cannot say that the atoms have transformed themselves into the molecules because if they have actually transformed themselves, they will be as molecules only, and cannot be anything else.

One thing cannot be seen in three different ways at the same time, because one thing cannot be more than one thing at one and the same moment of time. A is always A at one moment of time. A cannot be B. So if we are seeing one and the same thing as A and B and C and D, it is very strange. It only means that the substance has not become A, B, C, D; we are only enhancing the intensity of our perception and employing a newer faculty of observation in the envisagement or insight into the very same object. As we cannot say that the force which is seeping in a concretised form has become, transformed itself, into the more concrete form, we cannot say that God has become the world. Yet, God is the world in the same way as the atoms are the stone.

Now, as the atoms have become the stone, so God has become the world. But as we cannot say that the atom has become the stone – they have not become; they are just what they are, even now – in the same way, we cannot say that God has become the world. So the process of creation, says Acharya Sankara, is an x in an equation. He does not use this word ‘x’, but I am telling you for your understanding. It is a kind of symbol we have introduced in the understanding of a great problem, and the symbol itself has no significance. It has no substantiality of itself. The x in the equation is not a numerical by itself, but its importance is known very well to every student of arithmetic. The x helps us in solving a great mystery of an equation, and then it is cancelled automatically when the equation is solved.

So the doctrine of creation is a ladder for us to climb to the pinnacle of the Ultimate Truth, but when we reach the roof, the ladder is no longer necessary. And even this analogy of a ladder is inadequate here because we will not even see the ladder afterwards, as x cannot be seen afterwards when the equation is over. We see only the result. The means that we have employed is no more there.

So these strata of creation – Ishwara, Hiranyagarbha, Virat, the Adi Purusha mentioned in the Bhagavadgita or the Purusha Sukta – are the strata of our confronting, through the layers of our personality as it is now at this present moment of time in the present state of evolution, this great Almighty which has no degrees of reality in itself. Before the sunrise, we see things dimly as a homogenous mass. We cannot see the mountain in its clarity with the trees or the stones, with animals moving, etc. As the day breaks and the light becomes clearer and clearer, we will see things more and more clearly and our understanding increases. But it does not mean that merely because we see things more and more clearly, the things have become different. The things are the same; they have never changed themselves, or become something else. They have been seen in different ways because of the inadequacy of the apparatus of perception or understanding.

Thus, the Purusha Sukta comes down to the level of the cosmic appearance as this universe, and the whole of the Vedanta doctrine of creation is simply stated in three words of the Purusha Sukta when it says that the Almighty Purusha became the Virat, and Virat appeared as the multitudinous variety of this creation superintended over by the Adi Purusha, the Lord of the universe, the God Whom we worship in religions.

Then I told you that philosophical studies involve four themes: the great Reality, the process of creation, the status of the individual, and the society of human beings and of everything. The individual is nothing but a spark of this huge fire of God, and these are the gods of religions. Christianity speaks of angels, Hinduism speaks of devas, and every religion speaks of some divine beings. These divine beings, these gods, these celestials, these angels are the sparks which have been shot forth bodily, as it were, from this Almighty conflagration. This analogy, this picture, this image is given to us in the Mundaka Upanishad: Sparks emanate from fire; thus, individuals shoot forth from the Almighty.

The gods are supposed to be qualitatively almost equivalent to the Almighty Himself, though quantitatively they are very small sparks. We know fire is fire, even if it is a spark; but it is a spark in quantity, while a conflagration is such a large mass. In Hindu mythology and theology and in the Puranas we hear that the attendants of Lord Vishnu in Vaikuntha are also of the same form as Narayana himself. We cannot distinguish one from the other, so the attendant may be mistaken for Vishnu himself. He has four hands; he has shankha, chakra, gada, padma, and the same gorgeous appearance, but he is not Vishnu, he is not Narayana. Likewise, a spark may look like fire, but it is different from fire in the sense that it has not got the strength of the whole conflagration.

These devas were originally created. The first creations of God were angels. We do not speak of Adam and Eve in the beginning itself. The angels come first, Adam and Eve afterwards. Human beings – Manu, Satarupa in Indian theology – also come later on. So these angels were the first manifestation of the one Supreme Light, which alone was as the Supreme Logos.

The Purusha Sukta continues. Yatpuruṣeṇa haviṣā devā yajñamatanvata: The great sacrifice was performed in the form of a cosmic worship by these angels in respect of the Almighty. The moment the angels were created, they offered their obeisance to the Almighty. “Great Lord, obeisance to Thee.” This is the first utterance or the first inward communion of utter harmony with the Almighty and at the same time implicit obedience to the Almighty. How was this obedience manifest? What was the first worship which was performed in creation?

We perform worship in temples and churches, but these gods, angels, also performed worship. They performed worship in the form of what can be called yajna. Yajñena yajñamayajanta devāḥ, says the Purusha Sukta. They performed a great sacrifice, a gorgeous worship of the Almighty, at the very outset in the beginning of creation. How did they perform this sacrifice? What was the worship that they offered to the Almighty? There were no flowers, no incense sticks, no place to sit, and no temple, no church, no buildings. What kind of worship or service can be offered? What sacrifice is practicable at that moment at the outset of creation when the spark has shot forth from the Almighty and it’s beholding the great vision as Arjuna saw, as described in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita?

Yajñena yajñamayajanta: They performed the sacrifice through the sacrifice. The material was the Purusha himself, not some flower that is purchased from the shop, not some incense stick from a bazaar, not some water brought from a river. There were no rivers at that time. No vessels were there, and no ground on which to sit. In such a predicament of proximity to the terrible Almighty, the sparkling effulgences of the angels – the celestials, the devas – contemplated; and the contemplation itself was the sacrifice and the worship. So the highest worship is contemplation; the greatest sacrifice is meditation. The greatest martyrdom, we may say, of the spirit of the angel was a surrender of his very being to the Almighty Presence. This was the original sacrifice, and this was the origin of law; this is the origin of dharma. Yajñena yajñamayajanta devāḥtāni dharmāṇi prathamānyāsan.

Tāni dharmāṇi prathamānyāsan. These sacrifices that they performed, this worship that was offered to the Almighty at the beginning of creation by the gods, was the origin of all law, regulation, constitution and dharma, in essence. Oh, wonderful! This contemplation of the Almighty by the divine celestials was the seed of the law of the cosmos – rita or satya in the language of the Veda. Satya is the word used in the Veda to designate the law of the indivisibility of the Absolute. Rita is the law of the Absolute as manifest in the cosmos of space and time, from which all dharmas emanate, and every law is determined by that central organisational principle. Tāni dharmāṇi prathamānyāsan. All enactments in the parliament, all regulations in human society and all principles followed in mutual relationship among individuals should be conditioned by the original law which was the dharma of the Absolute as contemplated in the minds of the sparkling gods. What was this dharma? This dharma was the dharma of sacrifice – yajna, to repeat once again.

I had occasion to mention at other times also that the culture of Bharatavarsha is summed up in one word – yajna. If anybody asks what is Indian culture, yajna, sacrifice, is our culture. What is yajna? It is sacrifice, to translate it into a simple English term. What is sacrifice? It is that intricate relationship that you establish between yourself and the Almighty through all the strata of manifestations of Himself. So in the act of sacrifice, in the act of worship, in the act of doing anything in this world for the matter of that, you simultaneously establish a relationship with all the manifestations of God.

I will give you another example of how to understand this difficulty. There is a democratic government, and there is a central figure called the President, and he lays down a constitution through a parliament. The parliament elects ministers called the cabinet. The cabinet forms the system of working in the various provinces or states, as they are called. Each state has its own secondary minister or a secretary. Each province or state is divided again into districts. Each district has a head called the collector or the magistrate, and under him there are so many revenue officials, and below these revenue officials there are small petty officials who look to the organisation and welfare of small villages. This is the lowest strata of the government. Now this little man, who has a small authority over a little village, may appear to be confined only to the law of that little village, for all practical purposes. He is not concerned with bigger things. He may not even know that there is a man called the President. It is not necessary.

But we know very well this little relationship of legal management that he is conducting in a small village is conditioned by the immediately higher organisation, which again is conditioned by the immediately higher, immediately higher, immediately higher, until the last point is reached where we have the original seed of the enactment of law. So in a single little act of this smallest official in a village he has at once unconsciously, as it were, established a harmonious relationship with the highest law-making feat. Though he may not be aware of all these little things that are involved in his act, he does not contradict even his littlest act in a village. Any law may operate upon him through the various strata of the descent of this law through these layers in a particular democratic setup of government.

Likewise is every one of us. We are small beings, little nothings practically. Nobody wants us. Yet a little so-called insignificant behaviour of ours is a dharma that we are manifesting out of ourselves. It is a law unto itself. When you behave or conduct yourself in a particular manner, or say something, do something or even think something, you have moved the whole cosmos into action, just as when the little official in the village has done something, he has touched the layers of all the manifestations of the law of the republic and government.

Imagine how careful you have to be in living in this world. You cannot say you can go scot-free and do something in a little teashop unknown to people, and nobody is seeing you. Everybody is seeing you in the little shop. Even when you have a sip of tea in a dark corner of a shop in Rishikesh, the Almighty sees. Be very careful.

In the same way, the law sees with its long arms through every little act of every official in the development of the administration of a country. This is an explanation of the way in which the original dharma of the sacrifice of the gods in respect of the Almighty’s presence conditions every other dharma in this world. Therefore, it is said these worships they offer, this sacrifice that was made in the presence of the Almighty merely by the act of contemplation, is the original dharma: tāni dharmāṇi prathamānyāsan.

Now, we have touched upon three important themes of philosophical considerations: the Ultimate Reality, the process of creation, and the individuals originating in the angels, the gods, parts of the cosmic fire who gradually descend into the more manifest forms of individuals like us.

Many of you might have read Plato’s Republic, for instance. The philosophy of Plato envisages the realm of ideas. These ideas are not your idea and my idea. I have an idea that I am sitting here, and you have an idea that you are listening to me. This is not the idea that Plato is thinking of. The Idea – with ‘I’ capital, if you like – is the contemplation of Plato’s philosophical mind of what we are calling angels, gods, celestials, etc., the originals of the duplicates which we are of. Plato thinks these are all duplicates of an original prototype which is in the realm of ideas, and this is a world of sense, and he calls that as the realm of reason. It is not the ordinary reason that we are using in courts and mathematical solutions. It is the pure reason of the spirit, the angel that is in you. You are also an angel in your essence, but you have become very gross by descending into this body. So this Idea that Plato speaks of corresponds to the angels of our religions, or the gods or the devas of the Purusha Sukta.

And sometimes it is said all marriages take place in heaven first; they are celebrated on Earth afterwards. It is not only marriages; every event takes place in heaven first. Even a war takes place in heaven first. Even a disease originates in heaven first, and it comes down to the level of the body and society afterwards, as great thinkers have told us that the originals condition and determine the processes of the manifestation and activity of the duplicates or their manifestation.

So we are not doing things wholly independently, as we are prone to think. We are limited by the original realm of the ideas or the originals we ourselves were at the beginning of creation, and these originals that we were are the conditioning factors of the present movements of ours as gross bodies, as individuals, as human beings.

Much has been pressed into these few words of the Purusha Sukta. Something more about this theme has to be thought over by us, a subject I shall take up afterwards.