How was the world created? What is its essential cause?

We don’t generally ask these sorts of questions, but they do occasionally arise in our mind especially when we are in a quiet mood or while appreciating the beauty of nature.

Today, science tells us that everything is energy and matter.

Vedanta, the spiritual science of life affirmed this fact many millennia ago. But it didn’t stop there. It went on to explain the very origin of energy and matter and the process of creation.

It’s a fascinating perspective on how this entire phenomenal world of living and non-living things has come about. Read on…

The Creator

In the Prashna Upanishad, an ancient Vedantic text, there is a story of six spiritual aspirants who approached an enlightened spiritual master with some fundamental questions about life.

The very first question was, “Where have all these creatures come from?”

The wise sage answered, “Desirous of offspring, Prajapati, the Lord of the creatures, did penance and created a pair—matter and energy.” [1]

It is from matter and energy that all creatures are born.

In explaining this verse, my guru, Swami Chinmayananda tells us the language of the Upanishads is mystical and symbolic.

That’s why we shouldn’t think that there is literally a Creator sitting somewhere up in the clouds who created this world and then threw us into it to live through the endless ups and downs of life.

There is a deeper meaning and it’s good to first understand where the Creator itself came from.

You may be thinking, “The Creator has a cause? Wouldn’t the Creator alone be the highest cause?”

The ultimate cause of creation

Vedanta explains that all of creation has one supreme or ultimate cause called Brahman in Sanskrit. There is no higher cause and Brahman is self-existing.

Self-existing? How could there ever be such a thing? Doesn’t everything have to come from somewhere?

Yes, but this rule doesn’t apply to Brahman.

Think about this. . . if you were to take any object and hunt down its ultimate cause, you would come to a dead end.

The best example to explain this is the classic chicken and egg dilemma. Which came first—the chicken or the egg? A chicken must have come from an egg, but how did the egg get there in the first place without a chicken? There is no logical answer.

Brahman is where we arrive when the hunt for a logical answer ends. That’s why it’s said to be the ultimate or supreme cause.

So, what exactly is this Brahman?

Brahman is timeless, changeless, omnipresent, extremely subtle and therefore unseen.

Its principal aspects are Existence and Consciousness. They play a primary role in creation. Here’s how:

Existence: Every thing or being exists only because it has Brahman expressing as existence at its core. In other words, Brahman lends existence to all things and beings.

Consciousness: Non-living things only have a gross physical form, whereas living beings have a physical form and a mind made of subtler matter. Consciousness expresses only where the mind is present.

Because of this, non-living things express only the existence aspect of Brahman, whereas living beings express both existence and consciousness.

Now let’s look further at Brahman and how the world was created. . .

The Total Mind

Inherent in Brahman is a mysterious and unlimited creative power called Maya.

On its own, Brahman has no properties, form, activity, or function. But when it works through its Maya, there appears a world of things and beings with properties, forms, activities, and functions.

 Creation of the world happens in three stages:

  1. At the macrocosmic level, Brahman functioning through Maya creates the Total Mind.
  2. The Total Mind then projects the world of energy and matter.
  3. From energy and matter come all of creation—living and non-living things.

So, the Creator mentioned above is a symbolic representation of the Total Mind that has emerged out of Brahman expressing through the medium of Maya.

Are you with me so far?

Energy, matter and the process of creation

How does energy and matter make up the world of things and beings? What exactly are energy and matter?

The Prashna Upanishad provides an explanation.

Let’s start with matter. Matter is inert and without life. It has weight, volume, density and mass. Non-living things are made up of gross matter and exhibit the existence aspect of Brahman.

Energy is the vitality that makes matter vibrate with activity and appear to be alive. In living beings where the matter has evolved a mind, energy expresses there as life. This is because the mind is the means through which the consciousness aspect of Brahman is demonstrated.

The Total Mind creates the world in the same way as your own mind creates another world of things, beings and phenomena when you experience a dream.

Let’s say you had a dream where you saw yourself at the beach enjoying the day with your family. Your mind provided the energy and matter that created the beach, the sun, the water, your family members, the food you ate, the conversations and laughter you shared, the games you played and all your sensory perceptions.

These were all projected by your own mind.

Creation in a nutshell

Here are the concepts again in brief:

  • The world consisting of things and living beings is created from energy and matter.
  • Energy and matter come from the Total Mind.
  • The Total Mind is the Creator, Prajapati or the Lord of all the creatures.
  • The Total Mind is created by Maya, the inherent creative power of Brahman.
  • Brahman is the ultimate cause of all creation.

Vedanta explains that everything that we experience is essentially that same one Brahman expressing in an infinite number of ways.

This explanation of how the world was created confirms a fundamental spiritual truth—the truth of Oneness inherent in this infinitely diverse world we live in.

[1]  Chinmayananda, Swami. Prasnopanisad [Prashna Upanishad], Mumbai: Chinmaya Prakashan, 2013.

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Manisha Melwani

Manisha Melwani is a teacher and the author of, "Your Spiritual Journey" She offers spiritual and wellness solutions for life and stress management. She teaches classes in personal growth, stress management and meditation. Contact her for more information or to have her speak to your group or organization. She also offers private counseling sessions on-line.

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