This article has been published with the kind permission of Srivatsa Ramaswami.
Charles Darwin’s 200th Birth Anniversary has—indirectly–energized
many to restart the debate about God, Creation and Evolution.
This kind of discussion, though, has been going on from time immemorial.
Sayana, the well known commentator on the Vedas, starts his commentary
by pointing out that several of the sayings of the Vedas on Heaven and
the less favorable place and the details of how to get to the former
and avoid the latter can never be proved or disproved. Even if they
debate for a billion years (sata koti varsa) the believer can not
prove to the nonbeliever the existence of these worlds and God, nor
can the non-believer disprove their existence to the believer.
Recently, several Darwin believers have put up graffiti billboards,
etc., proclaiming—inter alia, — “Probably there is no God, so go out
and enjoy life”, drawing an equally telling response from a believer
—“God exists, so go out and enjoy life”.
The most popular theory of creation of modern science is the Big Bang
theory. Great minds have propounded this theory. Basically it asserts
that the present Universe we experience evolved out of a dime sized
entity called “Singularity” that the universe has expanded from this
primordial hot and immensely dense initial condition at some finite
time in the past, and continues to expand to this day.
The mathematicians would say that this singularity has no dimension and
infinite density. Then the Universe evolved out of it. I understand
that the Big Bang theory does not address the question whence the
Singularity was formed and how. Some speculate that these are formed
from matter and energy sucked by the Black Hole(s), which is the end
chapter of the previous evolution. Implicitly there is no mention of
the need for an intelligent cause (Nimitta Karana) for the creation.
It evolves by itself. Of course there are many scientists who believe
that there could be an intelligent principle behind it—though they may
not call it God.
This view that the Universe evolved without God or an
efficient cause has been there along with the theistic view from time
immemorial. An orthodox philosophy, Samkhya avers that the entire
Universe evolved out of a singular non-dimensional entity called Mula
Prakriti, without an efficient cause (nimitta karana) called God.
Both these views hold that the Universe, the macrocosm that we
experience has a real, material cause. And theists believe in a
material cause which is also efficient/intelligent cause, which is
God. This macrocosmic view that out of the huge macrocosm, countless
individual entities like us have sprung up or were created, or
evolved, is generally accepted. But there is a third view less known,
less straightforward, which tries to understand the whole evolution
from a different point of view, from the point of the individual
Yoga looks at it from the individual viewpoint, as briefly explained
below, which will help and lead us to understand the third viewpoint
about Creation, propounded by the Advaitic School of the Upanishads.
All my life I am the subject and the world around is the object. I see
objects, hear sounds, smell things etc. When I am awake and see an
object, the sequence as all of us know is as follows.
Light falls on the object that I see, the light is reflected by the object, and the
light particles, reach my eyes and then the retina. The retina
converts them into electrical impulses and they reach some part of my
brain. Then there may be some chemical changes in my brain cells and
communications among the brain cells resulting in my seeing the
object. But in physical terms all the information reaches my brain and
is absorbed. With this the physical phenomena end.
After these reach my brain, how do I see the object, outside of me, in front of me?
The information is in my head physically but how do I see it outside of
me? Nothing goes out of my head. The brain projects an image, not
outside but in the mental space according to Yogis, because the
projection does not and cannot take place in the physical space. My
mind projects it and there has to be some awareness or consciousness
in me which sees or experiences this mental projection.
The yogis call the projection a chittavritti. The chittavritti is the projection of
the mind made out of the information received through the eyes.
Of course the projection is a little more involved. The mind not only
gets information through the eyes but also through the ears and other
senses, and the mind collates the information and makes a composite
presentation which I see in the mental space, just as the objects
appear to be outside of me. I not only have the outside picture
reproduced in my mind but also me, the subject, as part of the
experience. I am also aware that I am in the midst of the total
picture as the ‘subject’ experiencing the outside world. I also feel
emotions attached to the mental picture. I also react to the
experience, sometimes with a happy or sometimes an unhappy
disposition. Anyway there is a composite picture I experience. The
totality of what I experience including that I am the observer, I like
it, I don’t like it, everything,– this is the chittavritti at a
moment. In the next moment, the chittavritti changes. Moment after
moment there is a new chittavritti and the non-changing Self, the pure
consciousness keeps observing this changing flux of chittavrittis.
The chittavritti is not confined to objects outside that I see
directly. Sometimes, I infer from partial sensory perceptions or
occasionally I try to picture on the basis merely of what I hear. Then
there are occasions when I close my eyes and produce my own
chittavrittis, without objects, like in dreams—day or night. Then I
have chittavrittis produced purely from past incidents which I
remember. Then of course my mind completely closes shop when there is
an ‘experience of sleep’. So I have a variety of chittavrittis, all
taking place in my head. My chittavritti which is the totality of my
experience at any given moment takes place not in physical space but
in mental space or in virtual space. So even though the objects I
perceive may be real, what I experience is virtual. This is what
happens in all of us all the time. But even as the experience may be
with virtual objects, the objects of the outside world are real
according to Yogis.
But the Vedantins, especially advaita vedantins, ask a further question.
If the experience we have takes place in mental space or chitta akasa,
the experience of the prior moment also should be taking place in
virtual space. So the objects that reflected light particles for my
eyes to perceive themselves are virtual objects. Thus going back they
aver that our entire life experience is only virtual and not ‘really’
real. We can extrapolate this to the entire outside world and say the
Universe is not really ‘real’, it is an illusion.
So we have three possibilities, following this line of reasoning.
Firstly the universe is real even though our experience, known as
chittavritti is virtual. This is the position of the Yogis, and we
would agree with that. The second view is that it is not possible to
say for sure if the outside world exists or not (anirvachaniya) since
our experience is limited to our virtual chittavrittis. The third view
is that there is no real outside world, there is no real creation and
the experience is virtual and the universe is illusory. But, one may
assert that the objects are real, we can see, we can feel them. But
the Mayavadins or those who say that the world is only an illusion,
aver that just as we feel the dream space, dream objects and the dream
self to be real during dream but they are found to be an illusion when
we wake up, likewise the waking state experience also is virtual and
there is no real world outside. They say that there is no real
creation, all our life we have a succession of virtual experiences.
Let us get back to the ideas at the beginning of the article.So we
have now three views about creation of the universe.
One is that it evolved from “Singularity” and that is the material cause of the
Universe. Like the modern scientist, Samkhya does not feel the need
to agree to an efficient cause like God, the creator.
The second view is that God created the Universe and He is both the material and the
The third view is that the creation itself is anillusion and hence there is no need to
subscribe to a material cause,like the Singularity or the Mulaprakriti. However since
there is an experience, the experiencer (Atman or drashta), which is non changing
pure consciousness alone exists which observes the illusionary experience. Some
Buddhists schools find no need for even postulating the constantly observing Self.
So, the Upanishads aver that there is an origin of the Universe, like
the Singularity of the Scientists or the Mulaprikriti of the Samkhyas,
which ‘origin’ the Upanishads call as Brahman, literally meaning “the
principle that expanded into this Universe’. But the comparison ends
there. While the Singularity is inert, without consciousness, Brahman
is pure, non-changing consciousness.
It is the considered view of the vedandins that matter cannot produce or become consciousness; the object cannot become the subject. The advaita vedantins
further aver, likewise, Consciousness cannot produce or become matter,
it can only be an observer. So they postulate the theory that what evolved out of
the Brahman is not really real, but only an illusion. Brahman does not
expand like the Singularity does as postulated by the Big Bang Theory.
In fact it is said that the zero dimension Brahman contains the entire
universe within itself, but the Universe appears to be outside of it–
like during our dream state the dream objects are within our
consciousness but appear to be outside us. Or, it is like the thin
film of the reflecting surface of a mirror giving the impression of
having the three dimensional space and objects behind it.
One may therefore examine theories of creation other than the most
popular views of “God created the Universe” or “the Universe evolved
on its own”. The third view is that there is no real creation.
Uncomfortable? But this obviates the need to answer the rather
difficult questions, “Whence did all this material come to make this
Universe.” Or “Why God created this Universe” and many other
questions. The theory of illusory evolution is plausible and
tantalizing. Some traditional theists (astikas) who are drawn towards
the logic of this third theory of Virtual Creation (maya vada), call
the Lord a Mayavin, or the Creator of the Grand Illusion.