Creation in the Rg Veda
There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.
Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, that one arose through the power of heat [tapas].
Desire came upon that one in the beginning; that was the first seed of mind. Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bond of existence in non-existence.
Their cord was extended across. Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-placers; there were powers. There was impulse beneath; there was giving-forth above.
Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen?
Whence this creation has arisen — perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not — the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows — or perhaps he does not know. (Indian Religions, 51 [Rg Veda, 10.129])
Creation in the Brahmanas
Then he [the sun] rose up and grew hot, and then he [the wind] became mighty and blew. Then Agni turned away. Prajapati performed the offering, produced progeny, and saved himself from Agni, who was death and who was about to devour him. And whoever knows this and offers the Agnihotra oblation, he produces progeny just as Prajapati produced progeny. And in this way he saves himself from Agni, death, when he is about to devour him. And whenever one dies and is placed in the fire, he is reborn from the fire just as he is born from his mother and father, for the fire consumes only his body. (Hindu Myths, 32-3 [Shatapatha Brahmana])
From the Brahmanas to the Upanisads
Creation in the UpanisadsIn the beginning of all things were Self [atman], in the shape of personality [Purusa]. He looked round, saw nothing but Himself. The first thing he said was, “It is I.” Hence “I” became His name. Therefore even now if you ask a man who he is, he first says, “It is I”, and gives what other name he has. He is the eldest of all. Because he destroyed all evil, he is called the first Person [Purusa]. He who knows this, destroys all evil, takes the first rank.
The Identity of Atman and Brahman
He became afraid; loneliness creates fear. He thought: “As there is nothing but myself, why should I be afraid?” Then his fear passed away; there was nothing to fear, fear comes when there is a second.
As a lonely man is unhappy, so he was unhappy. He wanted a companion. He was as big as man and wife together; He divided himself into two, husband and wife were born.
Yadnyawalkya said: “Man is only half himself; his wife is the other half.”
They joined and mankind was born.
She thought: “He shall not have me again; he has created me from himself; I will hide myself.”
She then became a cow, he became a bull; they joined and cattle were born. She became a mare, he a stallion; she became a she-ass, he an ass; they joined and the hoofed animals were born. She became a she-goat, he a goat; she became a ewe, he a ram; they joined and goats and sheep were born. Thus He created everything down to ants, male and female.
Then he put his hand into his mouth and there created fire as if he were churning butter. He knew that He was this creation; that He created it from Himself; that He was the cause. Who knows, finds creation joyful.
When they say: “Sacrifice to this or that god,” they talk of separate gods; but all gods are created by Him, and He is all gods.
Whatever is liquid He created from His seed. Everything in this world is eater or eaten. The seed is food and fire is eater.
He created the gods; created mortal men, created the immortals. Hence this creation is a miracle. He who knows, finds this miracle joyful.
This world was everywhere the same till name and shape began; then one could say: “He has such a name and such a shape.” Even today everything is made different by name and shape.
Self entered into everything, even the tips of finger-nails. He is hidden like the razor in its case. Though He lives in this world and maintains it, the ignorant cannot see Him.
When he is breathing, they name Him breath; when speaking, they name Him speech; when seeing, they name Him eye; when hearing, they name Him ear; when thinking, they name Him mind. He is not wholly there. All these names are the names of His actions.
He who worships Him as the one or the other is ignorant, is imperfect; though he attain completely one or the other perfection. Let him worship Him as Self, where all these become the whole.
This Self brings everything; for thereby everything is known. He is the footprint that brings a man to his goal. He who knows this attains name and fame.
This Self is nearer than all else; dearer than son, dearer than wealth, dearer than anything. If a man call anything dearer than Self, say that he will lose what is dear; of a certainty he will lose it; for Self is God. Therefore one should worship Self as Love. Who worships Self as Love, his love never shall perish.
It is said everything can be got through the knowledge of Spirit. What is that knowledge?
In the beginning there was spirit. It knew itself as Spirit; from that knowledge everything sprang up. Whosoever among gods, sages and men, got that knowledge, became spirit itself. Sage Wamadewa knew it and sang “I was Manu; I was the sun.”
Even today he who knows that he is Spirit, becomes Spirit, becomes everything; neither gods nor men can prevent him, for he has become themselves. (Indian Religions, 61-62 [Brhadaranyaka Upanisad])
mantra) of the Vedic rsis, but by the time of the Upanisads was used to signify ultimate reality itself. ... Brahman is consistently identified as intrinsically connected to the innermost being of all things in existence, including our “selves.” Thus the Self (atman) is often used as a synonym for Brahman, with which it is identified. In the Katha Upanisad, for example, the youth Naciketas consults the Lord of Death, Yama, on the question of whether anything endures beyond the death of one’s body. Yama delivers a teaching on Brahman and Atman, pointing out that the Supreme Lord is the innermost Self (atman) of all beings, who although one, appears to have manifold forms. Only the wise, who recognize the Supreme Lord (i.e. Brahman) within themselves, attain eternal joy (Katha Upanisad II. ii. 12). The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad (I.4.10) also presents this perspective when it points out that whoever knows “I am Brahman” (aham brahmasmi) becomes all of reality. Not even the gods can prevent it, for that person is then the very Self (atman) of the gods. However, the gods are displeased with this for such an individual is freed from serving them. Just as animals serve human beings, so too those who do not know the Self, serve the gods. (IH, 38)
The word karma derives from the Sanskrit verbal root kr and simply means “to do,” or “to act.” Thus karma originally referred to activity of any kind. However, as early as the Upanisads, the idea had developed that one’s actions have consequences both for this lifetime and future ones. The notion of birth in other worlds is prefigured in the Vedic Samhitas, which indicate a fear of re-death (punar-mrtyu) — namely, dying repeatedly. By the Upanisadic period the concept of repeated reincarnations, or punar-janman (birth-again), unless one attained Self-realization, is clearly articulated. Karma thus developed into the notion of a moral principle of causality, in which no deed is without its consequences. Good deeds are meritorious (punya), while evil or sinful deeds (papa) have painful effects. ...
Thus the belief in repeated rebirths in various realms, as various types of beings, became, and still is, commonplace in Hinduism. The term samsara literally means “to flow together,” or “to wander,” and thus refers to this cycle of repeated rebirths. Beings wander through the various realms, taking up birth and ultimately dying again and again. Samsara is thus often rendered as “the cycle of rebirth.” This cycle is virtually endless, and is generally regarded as having no beginning. Eventually, the term samsara is also applied broadly to worldly existence itself and reality as it is experienced by those ignorant of the nature of the true Self (atman). The individual soul (jiva) carries with it a subtle body that is the vehicle for karma. As the jiva transmigrates from one rebirth to the next, it brings along its karmic residue. (IH, 63-64)