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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Creation Myths

Should we call this Creation Myth or Manifestation Myth? Creation needs a creator and a motive. Manifestation leaves us wondering how it started. If you like definitive answers, you will be happy with creation myths. If you can live with indefinite answers and mystery, you will like the idea of manifestation. Fortunately, the Vedic tradition provides for both alternatives.

All myths try to answer the same questions:  Where did all this come from? How did something come from nothing? How did order come out of chaos? How did one become many?  All myths try to speculate about the “after”. That is  after life began or after the earth came about. None can reach THAT which must have been before all this.

There is no one single canonical creation or manifestation myth in Hinduism. There are several, starting from the Vedic to the puranic period. Hindus consider these legends as allegories or metaphors rather than absolute truth.

The most humble and honest view was expressed in Nasadiya Suktam. It is the 129th hymn, in Chapter 10 of the Rg veda. It is attributed to Rishi Prajapathi and it is about Parabrahman and it is in Anuhstup chandas, 4 lines of 11 syllables each. It is called Nasadiya because it starts with the words: naasat aasit no sad aasit   which means “in the beginning there was no asat (opposite of sat, non-existent, un-manifest, non-being), nor was there any sat, being”.

Here is my own translation of the Sukta with one word of caution. I am no scholar in either Sanskrit or Rg Veda.

“In the beginning there was no asat (non- existent, un-manifest, non-being), nor was there any sat, being. Then, there was no earth, no sky. In that state, who (what) was covering what? And for what purpose? Was there deep water?                                                                                       (Sloka/Stanza1)

There was no death; no immortality either; There was no means for finding out the difference between day and night. Not moved by any wind, it was breathing by its own power. There was nothing else.                                                                                                                                                    (Sloka/Stanza 2)

Some say that there was darkness or there was water enveloped in darkness. But, that all powerful Brahman covered by Maaya came into manifestation by austerity and transformation from that one Brahman.                                                                                                                        (Sloka/Stanza 3)

The seed of the mind of this, which first came into existence, became desire (kaama) (to create the world). Great minds have seen that this is the initial relation between the sat (the manifest, the being) and the asat, the unmanifest Parabrahman.                                                            (Sloka/Stanza 4)

A ray fell transversely between them. If you say It was below, It was also above. Some of these grew bigger pervading on one side by Its own prowess and pervading everything on the other side.

                                                                                                                                                (Sloka/Stanza 5)       

Who is there who can explain how the sat (the manifest) developed and from whom? Who knows for sure? Even the gods came only after the sat came into being? Then, who is to know from where it came?                                                                                                                                           (Sloka/Stanza 6)

The adhyaksha (the Primordial One) may know how the development of the Sat came about or did not come about. Perhaps, even He may not know that!       (Sloka/Stanza 7)

Rg Veda refers to Purusha and Prajapati (?the first human) who gets sacrificed as described in Satapata Brahmana of Sukla Yajur veda. Purusha of the Veda becomes the Prajapati of the Puranas. Purusha sukta (R V 10:90) says that the universe came out of the parts of Purusha, Brahman or Prajapati.

Three creative divinities mentioned in the Vedas are Prajapati, Vishnu and Rudra. In the puranic period Prajapati became Brahma; Rudra became Shiva.

In Satapatha Brahmana, Prajapati, the first creator or the father of all  felt lonely and felt a desire to be many. He differentiated himself into two beings, man and woman. The man wanted to unite with the woman he had created from himself. The woman (Ushas) got scared and regarded union with her producer as incest. She fled from his embraces assuming various animal disguises. He became the male of the species. The male of each species pursued the female, and from these unions sprang the various species of animals.  (Satapatha Brahmana, xiv. 4, 2)

A related story in Satapata Brahmana says that when Ushas runs away from his incestual embrace, a hunter appears and sends an arrow at Prajapati. The arrow strikes Prajapati and creates a wound. This story is repeated with variation in Maha Bharata. Pandu wounds a male deer during the act of mating. The deer curses the king that if he ever unites with a woman, he will die. That means an end to his line of succession to the throne. That is why Satyavati requests Vyasa to beget sons through the queens of Pandu.

After the idea of yuga cycles came into use, for each creation cycle there was a Brahma to create, Vishnu to sustain and Shiva to dissolve and merge with the ONE. In some myths, Vishnu is the remaining power at the end of a cycle. He is alone floating on a leaf or sleeping on a serpent. At Vishnu’s will  the creation cycle starts, Brahma comes out of the lotus emerging from His navel.

According to the Satapata Brahmana, Manu is the originator of the current generation of humans. He was the only man who survived a great deluge and this legend is comparable to  flood legends in other traditions.

How did creation myth get connected with constellations? How did the Prajapati get connected with the constellation Mrga.   Mrga means an animal or antelope. This constellation is Orion or the Great Hunter in the Greek astronomy.  What a coincidence? In addition, when Prajapati takes the form of an antelope and chases Ushas in the form of a female antelope, she  runs towards Rohini. Rohini’s counterpart in Greek astronomy is Aldabaran, which is in the constellation Orion.

One scholar points out that these mythological deities came out of the observation of the stars which are easily observable to the naked eyes. The Milky way is the eternal river. The stars of the Milky Way were a rich source for mythological stories in the east and the west.

The Krittikas and Saptarishis have stories connected with them. In the western system, Krittikas are called the Seven Sisters or the Pleiades. The Sapta Rishis are the same as the Great Bear or the Ursula Major of the western system. The Krittikas are in the east and the Sapta Rishis are in the north. The seven rishis were married to the seven sisters and lived in the north at one time. One day Agni fell in love with the seven sisters. Trying to forget his predicament, Agni wandered into the territory of Svaha, which is in modern terminology the star Zeta Tauri.  Svaha disguised herself as six of the seven sisters and Agni believed he had conquered the sisters. The rishis heard the rumor and divorced their wives, except Arundathi, who stayed with her husband. The others became the current stars Krittika, or the Pleiades. Arundathi is Alcor in the western system.

It does not require too much imagination to believe that our ancestors were dramatizing celestial events such as location and movement of stars and planets and the cyclic movements of the sun and the moon in relations to the background movements of the stars and galaxies. When we add the fact that the galaxies themselves move and therefore the relative positions of the closer celestial objects will vary over millennia, some of the mythologies make sense. For example, based on ancient astronomical names in the Vedic literature, Prof. Kak has estimated that the Satapata Brahmana was probably written somewhere around 2700 BCE (almost 5,000 years back).  

There are other creation stories in the Vedic literature. For example, Rig Veda Book 10 Hymn 90 is Purusha Sukta. In this we read that the Primordial Force called Purusha had thousand eyes, thousand feet and face all over. It is symbolic of the suggestion that the One is in the Many. This poem suggests that the original Purusha remained on earth with the creatures and three-fourths went to heaven. All the worlds and all the creatures came out of the sacrificial fire when Purusha Himself was sacrificed. In yet another place (R V 10:63:6-7), Manu is mentioned as the person who performed the first sacrifice.

Rg Veda Book 10, Verse 190 says that Eternal Laws and Truth were born out of the force of Tapas (ardor). Then came the night and the ocean. From the ocean came the Year, the ordainer of days and nights. The great creator made the Sun and the Moon and Heaven and Earth and the region in between and also light.

After Prajapati or the first person  is sacrificed, the devas request his spirit to come back. Based on what they had observed, our ancestors thought that life must disappear to come back again. This concept was prevalent in all ancient societies as pointed out by Durkheim. The primary purpose of the sacrifice was reconstruction of life, not destruction. The reconstruction purpose of the sacrifice is seen in RV 10:58: 1-12 as follows:

THY spirit, that went far away to Yama to Vivasvān's Son,
We cause to come to thee again that thou mayst live and sojourn here.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Self and Spirituality

I have spent several  hours of my meditation time thinking about “self” and “spirituality”. During a meditation walk at the Winterthur Garden, I suddenly saw a thread connecting them. The critical word is connection.

The concept of self depends on my making connections between my body and my mind, between “me” and my experiences both in time and in space. It is a state in which one is aware of oneself as a continuum experienced at different times. According to the Upanishads  it is a state beyond the state of wakefulness, dream state and deep sleep. It is the common ground state which makes the awareness of the other three states possible. It depends on the mind making connections between the various states of the mind. The concept of self depends on this.

That common ground state is called meta-awareness by psychologists. But I think it is way beyond meta-awareness. It is the eternal behind dualities and instabilities. It is the constant that gives the base for all variations and multiplicities. The Vedas call this the Brahman, Purusha or simply That.

Spirituality is the totality of one’s being which can see the interconnections between the different layers of one’s self, between one's self and the self of others and between the self and the universe.

When I observe people with brain damage or dementia, I notice that the inability to connect the various components of the self  is at the core. Several of them have lost contact with parts or the whole of their own self. Most do not see the connection between their body and their name, their body and their belongings and their life’s experiences. I get the sense that most of them have lost their spiritual self since they are not able to connect with others or with the rest of the world.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Samkhya System for the 21st Century

I am sure you want to know what the original Samkhya text says. The word samkhya denotes enumeration. Here are the 22 sutras of Thathva Samaasa of Sage Kapila.                

1.       Athaatah thathva samaasah – This is the summary of the truth.

2.        Kathayaami ashtau prakritayah – There are eight root causes. (Nature, intellect, ego, sound, touch, form, taste and smell)

3.       Shodasah asthu vikaarah – There are 16 modifications (mind, five cognitive senses, five active senses, five primordial elements)

4.       Purushah – There is a spirit, an indweller.

5.       Traigunyam – There are three attributes namely, sattva (light), rajas (movement) , tamas (stability)

6.       Sanchaarah, prathisanchaarah – There is evolution and involution

7.       Adhyaatmam, aadhibootham aadhidaivam cha – Suffering may be caused by self, other beings or Divine acts

8.       Pancha abhibuddhayah – Five sources of knowledge (intellect, ego, mind, five cognitive senses and five active organs)

9.       Pancha karmayonayah – Five causes of action (evidence, fallacy, fancy, sleep and memory)

10.   Pancha vaayavah – Five winds (inbreath, outbreath, holding breath, spreading breath and steadying breath)

11.   Pancha karma aatmaanah – Five essences of action ( self restraint, practice, dispassion, stable intellect, wisdom)

12.   Pancha parvaah avidyaah – Five kinds of false knowledge (darkness, infatuation, deep infatuation, aversion and deep aversion)

13.   Ashtaavimsathidha asaktih – Twenty-eight inabilities

14.   Navadha thushtih – Nine types of satisfaction

15.   Ashtadha siddhih – Eight gifts or attainments

16.   Dashmoolikaarthah – Ten primary qualities

17.   Anugrahah sargah – Emanation is accumulation

18.   Chathurdashvidha bhoothasargah – Fourteen stages in the evolution of beings

19.   Trividha bandhah – Threefold knots or bondages

20.   Trividha mokshah – Threefold emancipation

21.   Thrividham pramaanam – Threefold proofs (seeing, inference and testimony)

22.   Says that whoever understands the above will be free from the effects of bondages and escape suffering caused by self, others or by Divine will.

Finally, here is a short summary of ideas from the Greek philosophers. In the 6th century BCE, Thales said that water was the original source of this earth. Anaximander said that space was the original source. Anaximedes thought that air was the primary source. Between 540 and 480 BCE, Paramanides said that “Nothing can come out of nothing; something that exists can become nothing.” Heraclites who said that “one cannot step into the same river twice” said that constant change is the nature of the world. Further, one universal reason, a constant oneness underlies all changes. 

Empedocles proposed four elements as the sources of this world – air, water, fire and earth. This is similar to the Samkhya philosophy except for the omission of space. Later Anaxagoras (500 – 428 BCE) said that each of the four elements are made of minute particles call atoms. This idea was developed further by Democritus and Lucretius. These writing were considered heretic and buried until the middle of the 13th century when a secretary to the Pope by name Poggio Braccolini unearthed these documents. 

Reference: Kapil's Samkhya and Patanjali's Yoga. Compiled and Edited by William and Margot Milcetich. Brahma Rishi Yoga Publications.2008

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Samkhya System for the 21st Century

I have always respected tradition. I have also learnt not to get stuck with tradition without updating. Our ancestors deserve our respect for the ideas they developed. At the same time, we need to check those ideas against current knowledge and reality. If they do not agree, we should be bold enough to let go of them or change them. That is what Buddha said, 2,500 years back. That is what Adi Sankara said 1,000 years back.

With that central idea in my mind, I wrote an essay on how to read ancient texts (www.timeforthought. net. June 2011). Now, I am trying to look at the Samkhya philosophy with a 21st century mind.

Samkhya philosophy is probably the first known attempt to answer fundamental questions of the human mind such as “How did this universe come about?” and “How did the one original source become many?” The author was Sage Kapila. His original was in the form of sutras or terse, short passages. When these simple sentences were interpreted differently by different people, a whole variety of philosophical schools came into existence.

I give you my version. I am not interpreting the old Samkhya. I am recreating it using the same line of thought as that of Sage Kapila.  But my outline is consistent with modern physics and biology, I hope. It is also consistent with both Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. 

1.       How did this Universe come about? What are the fundamentals of Nature?

2.       There seems to be 5 root elements – matter, energy, time, space and knowledge (Information or code)

3.       Modifications of these fundamentals are multitudinous.

4.       Aggregation and disaggregation of matter in space and time give rise to physical forms. We give names to those forms.

5.       Manifestations are due to unfolding of information/codes in the elements and their aggregates over time.

6.       When causes and conditions are ripe, “forms” manifest; when the causes and conditions are no more, they disaggregate and become part of Nature again.

7.       Life Force enters later.

8.       We do not know what Life is and why it appeared. It is the ultimate mystery.

9.       Human awareness is dependent on a body with life and a functioning brain.

10.   Memory followed by will and ownership (ego) impel action.

11.   All these are functions of the brain and known as the mind.

12.   A basic awareness is essential before all the other functions of the mind can manifest in that awareness.

13.   Life force is needed for awareness.

14.   Life tends to cling to life. It is driven by a need to preserve itself, escape danger and reproduce.

15.   Life’s realities are an end to life as an individual and loneliness.

16.   False hope is in clinging to this life.

17.   Forms appear, exist, grow, decay and disappear.

18.   There is transformation, all the time, but no death. Something cannot become nothing.

19.   Satisfaction is in realizing the impermanence of individual life and recognition of the similarities of needs of other lives.

20.   Humility is needed in the face of our ignorance of life and its impermanence.

21.   Compassion is needed in relating to the condition of all lives.

22.   Universe is a projection of matter and energy in space and time as experienced by human awareness.

23.   At the same time, they are real, not imaginary.

24.   Spiritual Ignorance and bondage are due to overemphasis on the individual existence and non-recognition of the universal realities.

25.   Peace and Wisdom can be had here and now with humility, compassion and detachment without disengagement.

I am sure you want to know what the original Samkhya text says. That will be summarized in the next post.