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Hinduism: The Universe

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In this new feature of our website, we present every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a variety of sources lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.






Swami Adiswarananda

Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center

New York

Hinduism maintains that the universe is beginning less and endless. It subscribes to the theory of manifestation and non-manifestation of the universe, of evolution of cosmic energy into names and forms and its involution. The Vedas describe this process as the out-breathing and in-breathing of Brahman. The Upanishads say that just as the hair and nails grow on a living person, as the threads come out of a spider, as sparks fly from a blazing fire, as melodies issue from a flute, or as waves rise on the ocean, so also does the universe come forth from Brahman. Brahman is both the material and the efficient cause of the universe.

This manifestation of Brahman as the manifold universe is not real but apparent. Through its inscrutable power of maya, Brahman appears as the world of matter and souls, and as endowed with the activities of creation, preservation, and dissolution. Maya veils the ultimate reality and in its place projects various appearances. Maya is change and relativity. It is neither real nor unreal nor both. If the world of maya were real, then it could never be changed. On the other hand, it cannot be unreal because the sufferings of life are felt tangibly. As long as it is not known, maya is delusive; but when known, maya is nothing but Brahman. Maya is comprised of the three gunas, or qualities: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva is balance or equilibrium; rajas is restlessness or imbalance; tamas is inertia or darkness. The three gunas are present in varying degrees in all objects, gross or subtle, including the body-mind complex of an individual. For example, when sattva prevails in an individual, the light of knowledge begins to shine through his body and mind. When rajas prevails, he is stirred by unrest. And when tamas prevails, he is taken over by inertia. When the universe is in a period of non-manifestation, the three gunas remain in a state of non-differentiation, or equilibrium. Manifestation begins when the equilibrium of the gunas is disturbed.

According to Hinduism, the process of manifestation and non-manifestation of the universe follows a cyclical pattern. In each cycle there is a recurrence of the same material phenomena, and the same recurrences continue throughout eternity. No energy can be annihilated; it goes on changing until it returns to the source. Nature presents both movements-from the subtle to the gross and back from gross to subtle. Evolution presupposes involution. Only that which was involved before can be evolved afterwards. Evolution of the physical universe follows a graduated process. The first element to evolve at the beginning of a cycle is akasa, or the ether, in its subtle form. Then gradually evolve four other elements: air, fire, water, and earth. In the beginning, the five elements remain unmixed. Then, through their various combinations, the elements take their gross forms. From out of the basic gross and subtle elements are produced all objects, gross and subtle, including the body-mind complex of all living creatures.

[Copyright Swami Adiswarananda]

Book  stop.gif (845 bytes) Weekly Message Archive