The manifested universe ‘becoming’ from the unmanifest?

“At the beginning of all things, there was neither being nor non-being, and what existed was an impenetrable darkness” – R.V. X 129.

“From the unmanifested (asat) the world of names and forms (sat) is said to arise.” – Taittiriya Up ll.7.1 (S. Radhakrishnan trans.)

(The manifested universe – the world of names and forms – is called sat, and its unmanifested condition asat. The possible or potential is prior to the actual… Asat, non-existent, does not mean absolute non-being. It is a state in which name and form were not manifested: avyakrta-nama-rupam – S. Radh.)

In the Chandogya Up there is this: “in the beginning this was non-being. That was being; it came into existence… “ – CU, lll.19, The Upanishads, trans. & ed. Valerie J. Roebuck (2003). (In Radhakrisnanan trans.: “In the beginning this (world) was non-existent. It became existent. It grew… “)

As Valerie J. Roebuck notes, this is in apparent disagreement with the following:

“In the beginning, good lad, this was being*, one alone without a second. Some say, ‘In the beginning this was not-being, one alone without a second. From that not-being, being was produced’. But, good lad, how could that be?, he said. How could being be produced from non-being? In the beginning, good lad, surely this was being, one alone without a second.

‘It thought, ‘Let me become many; let me be born’” (CU Vl. 2. 1-2)

*Under Note 36, V. J. Roebuck writes: “That was being: Or perhaps, ‘it became being, though the verb used is asit, not abhavat’.


Note. Any thoughts on the above, or is it clearly only an apparent contradiction? Secondly, what does ‘becoming’ mean in an ambience of non-duality, e.g. the unmanifest ‘becoming’ manifested?

4 thoughts on “The manifested universe ‘becoming’ from the unmanifest?

  1. Hi Martin,

    Just a quick point – I really can’t afford to get into a potentially long discussion at present! The prior non-existence of the universe in the unmanifest state is not ‘absolute non-existence’ (asat) but non-existence of specific objects in brahman, which is the only absolute Existence. This ‘prior non-existence’ I understand is called prAgabhAva, e.g. the prior non-existence of pots in a lump of clay. So there is no contradiction, I think.

    According to Shankara in Sri Dakshinamurti Stotram, the existence of anything is actually the Existence of paramAtman, in the same way that the consciousness of anyone is actually the Consciousness of jIvAtman.

    This is the sort of discussion that is best directed at the Advaitin group – I’m sure they would love it!

    Best wishes,

  2. Martin,

    In concurrence with Dennis, Sw Nikhilananda comments on Ch Up 19.1 that it is a eulogy to the sun (= as Brahman) and that from the relative standpoint the existence and non-existence of an object seem to depend upon the sun.

    Your second point: isn’t that just the difference between ajata vada and vivarta vada?


  3. Yes, Venkat; that is the central issue: Has the world been created (or has it somehow emanated) from the unmanifest dimension of Atman/Brahman, or has a world always been along with Brahman, as its manifestation? We can relate the first option to vivarta vada or abhasa vada (aparent creation), and the second to ajati vada (no creation). There would be a third option: intermittent manifestation (mahapralaya), but this belongs to the world of mythology.


    On a previous comment I quoted Shankara as saying that ‘what exists cannot cease to exist, and what exists not cannot come into existence’.

    “How could being be produced from non-being?” (I queried in my last post), or, to to put it the other way around, ‘How can non-being ‘become’ being? As we can see, this is not possible. Even considering that the world ‘comes’ ultimately from, or is caused by, God or Consciousness/Atman/Brahman, the doctrine that the effect is not other than the cause (or that the cause inheres in the effec) tells us that there is no cause for the world, no creation at all – and also, coincidentally, that there is no time involved. What is, is from all ‘time’, ever, as it were; it is always ‘there’.

    The metaphysical doctrine of transcendence/immanence points at an apparent distinction, without need of calling forth time, for one can see it as timeless or instantaneous. Further, one can say, paradoxically, that “what is/appears to be ‘transcendent’ inheres, or is ‘immanent’, in the universe of ‘forms and names’”. All is One. The consequence, then, is that there is no such distinction, or dichotomy, ‘in reality’. This would also do away with the pair unmanifest (avyakta)-manifested (vyakta).

    For, is Consciousness-Atman/Brahman, transcendent, or is it so apparently and only to the limited, unprepared mind? Reality, Consciousness-Atman (or sat-chit), is a priori unchanging, immutable; and it is said that it is unknowable to or by the mind. But the awakened mind merges with pure Consciousness, and it is then understood that the apparent multiplicity of names, forms, the gross and the subtle, inner and outer, are nothing more than the way Reality or Consciousness shows itself, that ‘they’ are not separate or different from It. Reality, then, is self-evident.

    So there is no becoming, only an act of understanding – in the mind – which henceforth ceases to be mind and is transmuted, as it were, into pure Consciousness, kevala. This act cannot be said to happen in or within time, and it certainly does not pertain to the ‘individual’ jiva – it is timeless and, one could say, gratuitous. By this act timelessness bursts into time, which, along with space, and everything else, is but a mere appearance, a presentation (or disguise) of the changeless Absolute.

  4. Consider the possibility that the Rig Veda and Chandogya Upanishad quotations are referring to different types of creation? Brahmic and Isvaric? Universal and individual?

    Rig Veda Hymn X 129
    Verse 1
    Non-being then existed not, nor being:
    There was no air, nor sky that is beyond it.
    What was concealed? Wherein? In whose protection?
    And was there deep unfathomable water?

    Verse 3
    Darkness there was at first by darkness hidden;
    Without distinctive marks, this all was water.
    That which, becoming, by the void was covered,
    That One by force of heat came into being.
    [translation: Eliot Deutsch].

    The Rig Veda Hymn X 129 is referring to the creation of the world by the god Brahma. At the end of the Kalpa all the demons are let out of Siva Loka, destroying the universe created by Brahma. Brahma is held in Siva Loka for immeasurable time, covered by Siva’s own body, concealed from himself, but in whose protection… Visnu’s (the protector god). Siva cannot destroy Brahma only cover him, (avarana). The universe is beginningless and endless, and what is being referred to is the beginning of a Kalpa, the beginning of one of the cycles of creation, not the original creation which there is none. Water refers to Visnu Loka. Siva is associated with darkness and the void. Brahma is associated with the force of heat, self remembering, and the discovery of the principle of existence… being… existence is possible if all support all. Being means existence. The Trimurti are none other than the three gunas personified. They manifest at the causal, subtle and gross material levels. In equilibrium they are Prakriti, the Unmanifest; but when the equilibrium is disturbed they are the gunas, the Manifest. It is all an illusion.

    Chandogya Upanisad III-19-1
    The sun is Brahman. This is the instruction. Of that the explanation is: In the beginning all this was indeed unmanifest. That became manifest. That sprouted. That took the shape of an egg. [translation: Gambhirananda]

    The Brahman being referred to is Saguna Brahman, which is Isvara who dwells in the sun. Isvara creates the universe by means of light, which becomes consciousness when it is absorbed as food by man and transported to the neurons in the head, where they fire and create consciousness. Isvara’s light also is present in man as the atman, which jnanis say is a type of light, precisely the same light as Saguna Brahman. Isvara’s light is deep within one, and shines onto the screen of the mind creating the appearance of the universe. So, the universe is a creation of light. The next few sentences do not refer to Isvara but possibly to Hiranygarbha (= the god Brahma), the half silver, half golden egg, in which there is all men that presently exist, have ever existed, and will exist in future. In other words the whole universe is eternally there in the seed-egg, including all past-present-future, which in the West is sometimes called the Akashic records, as are the Vedas. It is the blueprint of the universe and every possible life experience in it, recorded in eternity, never manifesting itself, but copies of it manifesting in time, as parallel lines of time. It is available now, has always been available, and will always be available, to the rishis, such as Brahma and his sons, who were the first to teach Advaita Vedanta. Brahma and his Loka, composed of golden light, is at the level of the subtle element of tejas (fire), whereas the Records exist at the level of akasha (space). The Records precede Brahma’s cycle(s) of creation. It is Shakti who unfolds herself as the five subtle elements. Without their shakti none of the gods, including Brahma, can even move, nor of course do or create anything. Between akasha (space) and tejas (fire) is the subtle element of vayu (air) where all the power to create resides (shakti as power). So the universal blueprint is held in akasha, the power to create comes from vayu, and the illusory creation by light occurs with tejas. The jivas, who believe the universe is real, are composed of jala/sneha (subtle element of water) and the (our individual) atman has long become identified with a jiva, which it is not. The characteristic of water (jala) is bond. The atman is firmly bonded to the jiva, a bond that is so strong it survives through countless transmigratory existences. The atman, as a type of light which is pure consciousness, is identical with Saguna Brahman, and consequently is part of the illusion.

    Existence and non-existence relate to something in space and time, both of which are illusory and are only creations of the mind, a useful part of its attempt to arrange and comprehend the universe. Being and becoming are not separate, they are aspects of the same, since both can only exist in the light of consciousness. Existence is in consciousness whereas the self is independent of consciousness. Since being means to exist, sat can be translated as either ‘being’ or ‘existence’, and there is probably no contradiction?

    “It is in the nature of being to see adventure in becoming, as it is in the very nature of becoming to seek peace in being. This alteration of being and becoming is inevitable, but my home (the Self) is beyond.” [Nisargadatta].

    The Absolute (Parabrahman), is not involved in creation. To the Absolute, which is beyond being and non-being, beyond existence and non-existence, the universe does not exist. Some jnanis state we are consciousness, others say we are awareness which observes consciousness, yet others that we are awareness of awareness, but ultimately we are not even an observer, since an observer has to observe something, a dualistic second. Therefore a few discerning jnanis say we are awareness which does not know it is aware, which implies we are the ultimate potentiality, of which awareness of consciousness is the manifestation and expression.

    “Awareness and consciousness are not the same. There can be no transition from consciousness to awareness, for awareness is not a form of consciousness. Awareness is primordial, it is the original state, beginningless, endless, uncaused, unsupported, without parts, without change. Consciousness is on contact, a reflection against a surface, a state of duality. There can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, eg. as in deep sleep. Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content since consciousness is always consciousness of something. Consciousness is partial and changeful, awareness is total, changeless calm and silent, and is the common matrix of every experience.” [Nisargadatta].

    Yehan Romane

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