Prabhāsvara in the Canonical Texts and in Cosmogony

By David Reigle on February 25, 2014 at 2:42 pm

“The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras,” the previous “Creation Stories” posting, shows the world arising from prabhāsvara, “luminosity” or the “clear light.” We do not read about prabhāsvara in standard sourcebooks on Buddhism. We must try to get a clearer picture of what it is by finding the passages on it in the Buddhist canonical texts, the sūtras and tantras, and the treatises explaining them. Although it is found in the early Buddhist sūtras, it is not a teaching that is featured in them. In the Buddhist tantras, however, prabhāsvara is a prominent teaching. The Buddhist tantras are regarded by modern scholars as a late development in Buddhism, because they do not appear in historical sources until the latter portion of the first millennium C.E. Tibetan Buddhist tradition explains this fact by saying that the tantras were kept secret for many centuries after the time of the historical Buddha Śākyamuni. Even after their existence became publicly known, they have been regarded as teachings to be kept secret from those who have not received initiation into them. It is only in the last decades of the twentieth century C.E. that this traditional restriction has started to be lifted. This fact helps to explain why prabhāsvara, especially in its role in cosmogony, has remained largely unknown.

The Sanskrit word prabhāsvara was translated into Tibetan as ’od gsal, meaning literally “clear (gsal) light (’od).” Thus, thanks to the many translations of Buddhist texts from Tibetan into English in recent decades, prabhāsvara has come to be known in English as “clear light” via its Tibetan translation ’od gsal. Translators working directly from the Sanskrit texts have usually preferred to translate prabhāsvara with words such as “luminosity” or “luminous,” for a couple of reasons. In standard Sanskrit, prabhāsvara was only known as an adjective, defined by Monier-Williams as “shining forth, shining brightly, brilliant,” and by V. S. Apte as “brilliant, bright, shining.” As we can see, the Tibetan translation ’od gsal, “clear light,” is a noun. It is hard to make “clear light” into an adjective if needed (although not impossible), while “luminosity” can easily be made into the adjective, “luminous.” Another reason would be that prabhāsvara is not a compound term in Sanskrit, like “clear (gsal) light (’od)” is in Tibetan. It consists of the main part, bhāsvara, which by itself means the same as prabhāsvara, plus the prefix pra. While prefixes such as pra obviously add something to the meaning of a word, what they add, more often than not, is not enough to require an additional word in the translation.

How, then, did prabhāsvara come to be translated into Tibetan as ’od gsal, “clear light”? One of the many meanings of the prefix pra when added to nouns, according to the Gaṇa-ratna-mahodadhi by Vardhamāna as cited by Vaman Shivaram Apte in The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary, is “purity,” giving the example, prasannaṃ jalam, which means “pure water” or “clear water.” This shows us why ’od gsal, “clear light,” was chosen long ago as the standardized Tibetan translation of prabhāsvara, rather than just ’od, “light.” Yet the related Sanskrit word prabhā was translated into Tibetan as just ’od, “light,” even though it has the prefix pra. In prabhā, as is more usual, the prefix pra does not change the meaning from “light” to “clear light.” An example of an actual compound term in Sanskrit is the title Vimala-prabhā, meaning “stainless (vimala) light (prabhā).” It seems, then, that the addition of gsal, “clear,” to ’od, “light,” serves to distinguish ’od gsal, “clear light,” as a technical term. So there is good reason to translate prabhāsvara either as “clear light” or as “luminosity.” A translator must choose one or the other, and the choice may come down to nothing more than indicating whether the translation was made from the Sanskrit directly or from a Tibetan translation.

In the following translations of the selected Sanskrit passages, I will translate prabhāsvara with the noun “luminosity,” for which one can substitute the “clear light.” Very often, prabhāsvara could just as well be translated with the adjective “luminous.” That is in fact how it is most often translated by other translators in the passages from the sūtras. We do not yet have English translations of most of the tantra sources.

What is perhaps the most frequently quoted passage on prabhāsvara from the sūtras is from the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra in Eight Thousand Lines. It begins with a statement that is characteristic of the Perfection of Wisdom or Prajñā-pāramitā writings, “That mind is no mind.” Then it explains why:1

tac cittam acittam | prakṛtiś cittasya prabhāsvarā

“That mind is no mind. The nature of mind is luminosity.”

This idea, and this term in its Pali form, pabhassara, is not absent from the sūtras or suttas of the Pali Buddhist canon. A passage from the Aṅguttara-nikāya collection tells us the same thing, that “This mind is luminosity.” Then it adds a necessary qualification that we will see again and again:2

pabhassaram idaṃ bhikkhave cittaṃ tañ ca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhaṃ

“This mind is luminosity, O monks, but it is defiled by adventitious defilements.”

Almost the same wording is found in Sanskrit in the Jñānālokālakāra-sūtra, usually classified as one of the ten tathāgata-garbha or buddha-nature sūtras. The original Sanskrit text of this sūtra was only recently discovered in Tibet, and was published for the first time in 2004. There is no English translation of it yet. Its passage is:3

prakṛti-prabhāsvaraṃ cittaṃ tac cāgantukair upakleśair upakliśyate

“This mind is luminosity by nature, but it is defiled by adventitious defilements.”

This same statement that we see in prose in the sūtras was put into verse form for easier memorization in the treatises explaining them. Dharmakīrti, one of the most famous Indian writers on reasoning, in his Pramāṇa-vārttika has the following verse line of sixteen syllables:4

prabhāsvaram idaṃ cittaṃ prakṛtyāgantavo malāḥ

“This mind is luminosity by nature; the impurities are adventitious.”

This same line is the first line of a verse quoted as summarizing the Buddhist Vijñāna-vāda view, the view that everything is consciousness only. The second line of this verse is not found in Dharmakīrti’s treatise. This verse is quoted in a Hindu text, the commentary by Jayaratha on the Tantrāloka by Abhinavagupta, to represent the Buddhist view:5

prabhāsvaram idaṃ cittaṃ prakṛtyāgantavo malāḥ |

teṣām apāye sarvārthaṃ taj jyotir avinaśvaram ||

“This mind is luminosity by nature; the impurities are adventitious. Upon their disappearance, everything is that imperishable light.”

Here we have the straightforward statement that prabhāsvara is light, jyotis, in agreement with the Tibetan translation of prabhāsvara as the noun, ’od gsal, “clear light.” The Buddhist Vijñāna-vāda school holds that everything is consciousness only, vijñāna-mātra, or mind only, citta-mātra. Since the nature of mind is prabhāsvara, luminosity or light, it follows that everything is prabhāsvara, luminosity or light. Thus, when the adventitious impurities disappear, there is nothing left but luminosity, and “everything is that imperishable light.”

In Buddhism, the cosmos is described as consisting of the dharmas, the “elements of existence,” or “phenomena,” as this term is often translated. So to say that everything is mind only, or luminosity, is to say that all dharmas are mind only, or luminosity. This is just what is said in the Guhyasamāja-tantra, one of the most important of the so-called highest yoga tantras:6

prakṛti-prabhāsvarā dharmāḥ suviśuddhā nabhaḥ-samāḥ

“The dharmas are luminosity by nature, pure, and equal to space.”

That everything is prabhāsvara or luminosity by nature is understood to be ultimate truth. The Indian writer Candrakīrti in his Pradīpoddyotana commentary on the Guhyasamāja-tantra says:7

prabhāsvaram paramārtha-satyam

“Luminosity is ultimate truth.”

This is why Nāgārjuna can say in his Pañcakrama that the cause of the world is prabhāsvara, luminosity, as posted earlier in “The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras”:

asvatantraṃ jagat sarvaṃ svatantraṃ naiva jāyate |

hetuḥ prabhāsvaraṃ tasya sarva-śūnyaṃ prabhāsvaram || 3.15 ||

“The entire world is dependent [on a cause], for something independent can never arise. Its [the world’s] cause is luminosity (prabhāsvara); luminosity is the universal void (sarva-śūnya).”

The origination of the world from prabhāsvara is found not only in Buddhist tantric texts, but also in the Ratnagotra-vibhāga, attributed by Tibetan tradition to Maitreya. The central topic of that book is the dhātu, the element, the one element distinguished from all other elements by calling it the buddha-element (tathāgata-dhātu). This pure element (vaimalya-dhātu) is equated with the nature of mind (citta-prakṛti) in chapter 1, verse 49, saying that it is found everywhere, like space. There follows a description of the buddha-element in verses 52-63 using comparisons, where it is said that phenomenal life arises from and returns to the nature of mind (cittasya prakti). This nature of mind is then said to be prabhāsvara in the concluding verses of this group:8

na hetuḥ pratyayo nāpi na sāmagrī na codayaḥ |
na vyayo na sthitiś citta-prakṛter vyoma-dhātuvat || 1.62 ||

cittasya yāsau prakṛtiḥ prabhāsvarā na jātu sā dyaur iva yāti vikriyām |

“The nature of mind, like the space element, has no cause, nor condition, nor coming together [of causes and conditions], no arising, no perishing, no remaining. This nature of mind is luminosity; like space, it never undergoes change.”

Here in the Ratnagotra-vibhāga, like elsewhere, the canonical texts consistently say that prabhāsvara is the nature (prakṛti) of mind (citta), not mind per se. This refers to the true nature (dharmatā) mind, not any other mind. As stated in the Mahāyāna-sutrālakāra, a fundamental Yogācāra or Vijñāna-vāda text attributed to either Maitreya or Asaṅga:9

mataṃ ca cittaṃ prakṛti-prabhāsvaraṃ sadā tad āgantuka-doṣa-dūṣitaṃ |
na dharmatā-cittam ṛte ‘nya-cetasaḥ prabhāsvaratvaṃ prakṛtau vidhīyate || 13.19 ||

“Mind is held to always be luminosity by nature; it is polluted by adventitious faults. Apart from the true nature mind, it is taught, no other mind is luminosity in [its] nature.

Indeed, the Jñānavajra-samuccaya-tantra, an explanatory tantra associated with the Guhyasamāja-tantra, tells us that mind arises from prabhāsvara. This is mind as consciousness (vijñāna), the consciousness we are familiar with. The Sanskrit original of this tantra is lost, but the relevant passage is quoted in the Caryāmelāpaka-pradīpa by Āryadeva, as follows:10

yat prabhāsvarodbhavaṃ vijñānaṃ tad eva cittaṃ mana iti | tan-mūlāḥ sarva-dharmāḥ saṃkleśa-vyavadānātmakāḥ | tataḥ kalpanā-dvayaṃ bhavaty ātmā paraś ceti | tad vijñānaṃ vāyu-vāhanam |

“The very consciousness that is arisen from luminosity is mind (citta), thought (manas). All dharmas, having the nature of defilement and purification, have that [luminosity] as their root. From that [luminosity] come the two [false] conceptions, self and other. That consciousness has wind as its vehicle.”

As the last sentence indicates, the mind that arises from prabhāsvara always has a subtle wind (vāyu) as its vehicle or mount. This is a fact in tantric cosmogony, a fact used in tantric practice. The Tibetan teacher Tsongkhapa, quoting an earlier Tibetan scholar in his major treatise on advanced Guhyasamāja practice titled A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages, writes (as translated by Gavin Kilty, 2013):11

“Until you gain control over the horse-like winds, the mount of the mind, you will not gain control over the rider-like mind.”

This, as noted in the posting, “The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras,” is apparently the same teaching given in Book of Dzyan, stanza 5, verse 2: “Fohat is the steed and the thought is the rider.” Here we have even the same terms used in the analogy. These two work together to produce the phenomenal world. The present Dalai Lama has put this hitherto secret tantric teaching on cosmogony in contemporary language in his 1997 book, The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra, translated by Alexander Berzin:12

“. . . Tsongkapa has mentioned that the inanimate environment and the animate beings within it are all the play or emanation of subtlest consciousness and subtlest energy-wind—in other words, simultaneously arising primordial clear light mind and the subtlest level of energy-wind upon which it rides.”

“. . . In other words, when the subtlest energy-wind causes movement from the sphere of clear light, the coarser levels of mind that emerge, from the three most subtle, conceptual appearance-making minds onwards, produce the appearances of all phenomena of the environment . . .

“. . . This is the Buddhist explanation for what is called the creator in other traditions.”

The Book of Dzyan account of cosmogony says poetically, stanza 3, verse 12: “Then svabhāva sends fohat to harden the atoms.” We have already seen that fohat must correspond to the winds on which mind rides. We now note that svabhāva, “inherent nature,” is a synonym of prakṛti, “nature,” here presumably the nature of mind, which is prabhāsvara, luminosity or the clear light.



1. Aṣṭasāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra, chapter 1, P. L. Vaidya edition, 1960, p. 3, line 18. This is quoted in the Vimalaprabhā, vol. 1, 1986, p. 23, lines 12-13.

2. Aṅguttara-nikāya, 1.5.9-10 and 1.6.1-2, Pali Text Society edition, vol. 1, pp. 8-9.

3. Jñānālokālakāra-sūtra, edited by Takayasu Kimura, Nobuo Otsuka, Hideaki Kimura, and Hisao Takahashi, in Kukai no shisoto bunka: Onozuka kichohakushi koki kinen ronbunshu (Kobodaishi Kukai’s Thought and Culture: Felicitation Volumes on the Occasion of Dr. Kicho Onozuka’s 70th Birthday), 2004, p. 49. See also pp. 55, 66 (all used in defining bodhi).

4. Pramāṇa-vārttika, Pramāṇa-siddhi chapter, verse 208ab, or 210cd in the Ram Chandra Pandeya edition, 1989. This line is quoted in the Abhayapaddhati of Abhayākaragupta, 2009, p. 29. The same idea can also be seen in “The Dharmadhātu-stava by Nāgārjuna” (posting dated April 6, 2012), where verses 19 and 21 speak of the prabhāsvaraṃ cittam.

5. Jayaratha’s commentary on Abhinavagupta’s Tantrāloka, chapter 4, verse 30, Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies edition, vol. 3, 1921, p. 33. This reference was given in Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition and translation of The Āgamaśāstra of Gauḍapāda, 1943, pp. cxli, 70.

6. Guhyasamāja-tantra, chapter 2, verse 7ab, quoted from the Yukei Matsunaga edition, 1978. See also chapter 7, verses 34, 35.

7. Pradīpoddyotana, by Candrakīrti, edited by Chintaharan Chakravarti, 1984, p. 33, repeated on p. 71. This reference was given in Bauddha Tantra Kośa, vol. 1, 1990, p. 77.

8. Ratnagotra-vibhāga, chapter 1, verses 62-63ab. Within the block of verses 52-63, the nature of mind is referred to in verses 57, 59, and 60, and the specific statement saying that phenomenal life arises from and returns to it is in verse 61. This is glossed as the origination of the world in the commentary following verse 64.

9. Mahāyāna-sutrālakāra, by Maitreya (Tibetan tradition) or Asaṅga (Chinese tradition), chapter 13, verse 19. For prabhāsvara in another Yogācāra text, see Madhyānta-vibhāga, chapter 1, verse 23 (22 in Gadjin Nagao edition), explaining śūnyatā, emptiness.

10. Jñānavajra-samuccaya-tantra, quoted in Āryadeva’s Caryāmelāpakapradīpam, Janardan Shastri Pandey edition, 2000, p. 41; Christian K. Wedemeyer edition, in Āryadeva’s Lamp that Integrates the Practices (Caryāmelāpakapradīpa), 2007, p. 401.

11. A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages, by Tsongkhapa, translated by Gavin Kilty, 2013, p. 155. This passage is found in Robert Thurman’s translation of this text, Brilliant Illumination of the Lamp of the Five Stages, 2010, p. 169.

12. The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra, by the Dalai Lama, translated by Alexander Berzin, 1997, pp. 123, 252-253. The first part of the quote is: “The latter [the clear light mind] is similar to Tsongkapa’s explanation in Precious Sprout, Deciding the Difficult Points of [Chandrakirti’s] ‘An illuminating Lamp [for ‘The Guhyasamaja Root Tantra’].’ In the prologue section, commenting on a quotation from Nagarjuna’s The Five Stages [of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage], . . .”

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Buddhist Tantras

By David Reigle on December 25, 2013 at 11:57 pm

The standard Buddhist account of cosmogony shows the world arising from the collective karma or actions of living beings in the form of a primordial wind (vāyu). This account is based on the Buddhist sūtras, and was formulated in the Abhidharma texts. Another account, based on the Buddhist tantras, shows the world arising from the clear light or luminosity (prabhāsvara, ’od gsal), which is the nature of mind (citta-prakṛti). The Book of Dzyan is said to be the first volume of commentaries on the secret Books of Kiu-te (rgyud sde), i.e., the Buddhist tantras. So we might expect its cosmogony account to be closer to that from the known Buddhist tantras than to that from the Buddhist sūtras. In the Book of Dzyan (stanza 3, verse 3), the actual moment of manifestation is described with the words, “darkness radiates light.” In the Buddhist tantras, too, the world arises from light, the clear light or luminosity (prabhāsvara). This cosmogony was concisely formulated by Āryadeva in only four verses. These were often quoted in other tantric texts as what seems to have become the standard account of cosmogony and dissolution from the Buddhist tantras, specifically the so-called “highest yoga” tantras.

Āryadeva is regarded as the spiritual son of Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna wrote the Pañca-krama, the “Five Stages,” describing the completion stage practices of the Guhyasamāja-tantra. The Guhyasamāja-tantra is one of the most central of the “highest yoga” tantras in Buddhism. The third of its five completion stage practices is called svādhiṣṭhāna, “self-blessing” or “self-consecration.” On this, Āryadeva wrote a short treatise called the Svādhiṣṭhāna-krama-prabheda, or just Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda. The four verses giving the Buddhist tantric account of cosmogony are verses 18-21 of this treatise. The original Sanskrit text of the Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda was found and was first published in Dhīḥ: A Review of Rare Buddhist Texts, vol. 10, 1990, pp. 20-24. It was reprinted along with its Tibetan translation in Bauddhalaghugrantha Samgraha, edited by Janardan Pandey, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1997, pp. 169-194. The four verses on cosmogony were quoted in the Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, a Kālacakra work: 1941 edition by Mario E. Carelli, pp. 51-52; 2006 edition by Francesco Sferra, pp. 150-151. As there noted by Sferra, they were also quoted in the Amtakaikodyota commentary on the Mañjuśrī-nāma-sagīti, edited by Banarsi Lal, 1994, p. 165, and in the Pañcakrama-ippaṇī of Muniśrībhadra, edited by Zhongxin Jiang and Toru Tomabechi, 1996, p. 58.

From these texts I have prepared a Sanskrit edition of Āryadeva’s four verses on cosmogony, giving variant readings, and have translated these verses into English. They explain more fully what was said in a verse from the svādhiṣṭhāna chapter of Nāgārjuna’s Pañcakrama, which I cite and translate first. There are no variants for this verse in the three Sanskrit editions: the 1896 edition by L. de la Vallée Poussin, the 1994 edition by Katsumi Mimaki and Tōru Tomabechi, and the 2001 edition by Ram Shankar Tripathi. It is Pañcakrama, chapter 3, verse 15:

asvatantraṃ jagat sarvaṃ svatantraṃ naiva jāyate |

hetuḥ prabhāsvaraṃ tasya sarva-śūnyaṃ prabhāsvaram ||

“The entire world is dependent [on a cause], for something independent can never arise. Its [the world’s] cause is luminosity (prabhāsvara); luminosity is the universal void (sarva-śūnya).”

Āryadeva’s four verses on cosmogony from the Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda that explain this more fully are:

prabhāsvarān mahā-śūnyaṃ tasmāc copāya-sambhavaḥ |

tasmād utpadyate prajñā tasyāḥ pavana-sambhavaḥ || 18 ||

18. From luminosity (prabhāsvara) [arises] the great void (mahā-śūnya), and from that is the arising of means (upāya). From that, wisdom (prajñā) is arisen. From that is the arising of air.

pavanād agni-sambhūtir agneś ca jala-sambhavaḥ |

jalāc ca jāyate pṛthvī sattvānām eṣa sambhavaḥ || 19 ||

19. From air is the arising of fire, and from fire is the arising of water; and from water, earth is born. This is the arising of living beings.

bhū-dhātur līyate toye toyaṃ tejasi līyate |

tejaś ca sūkṣma-dhātau ca vāyuś citte vilīyate || 20 ||

20. The earth element dissolves in water. Water dissolves in fire, and fire in the subtle element [air]. Air dissolves in mind (citta).

cittaṃ caitasike līyetāvidyāyāṃ tu caitasam |

sāpi prabhāsvaraṃ gacchen nirodho ’yaṃ bhava-traye || 21 ||

21. Mind will dissolve in the mental derivatives (caitasika), and the mental derivatives in ignorance (avidyā). This, too, will go to luminosity (prabhāsvara). That is the cessation of the triple world.


As may be deduced from the fact that these verses are given or quoted in “highest yoga” tantra texts, this account of the creation and dissolution of the world from and into prabhāsvara, luminosity or clear light, is correlated to advanced yogic practice. Āryadeva’s concise four verses provide what seems to have been taken as the most representative statement on cosmogony as understood in the Buddhist “highest yoga” tantras. This cosmogony was discussed further in a number of other tantric texts from the standpoint of tantric practice. Very few of these texts have yet been translated into English.

The cosmogony account showing the world arising from the collective karma or actions of living beings in the form of a primordial wind (vāyu), based on the Buddhist sūtras, and the cosmogony account showing the world arising from the clear light or luminosity (prabhāsvara, ’od gsal) that is the nature of mind (citta-prakṛti), based on the Buddhist tantras, need not be taken as conflicting alternative accounts. The latter account can be seen as simply going a little further back. According to Buddhism, karma is not just action per se but rather is volitional action, and there can be no volitional action without mind. So the nature of mind, luminosity, must be there for karma to occur.

Furthermore, the tantric texts that discuss this cosmogony of the luminosity or clear light nature of mind normally do so in association with the subtle winds or airs. The teaching is that mind or consciousness rides on the winds as its mount (vāhana). This is apparently the same teaching given in Book of Dzyan, stanza 5, verse 2: “Fohat is the steed and the thought is the rider.” Fohat, the “fiery whirlwind,” is closely parallel to the primordial wind that forms the world in the karmic wind cosmogony. The two Buddhist cosmogony accounts appear to be the two parts of a single cosmogony, much like the one given more fully in the Book of Dzyan.

Variant readings:

18b: śūnyāc for tasmāc, SṬ1, SṬ2, AKU.

18c: upāyāj jāyate prajñā, AKU.

19b: ca is omitted, PKṬ.

19c: jalāj jāyate pṛthivī, SṬ1, SṬ2.

19d: bhavāṅgānām ayaṃ nayaḥ, AKU.

20a: pṛthivī līyate toye, AKU.

20b: toyas tejasi, SP1, SP2.

21a: cittaś caitasike, SP1, SP2.

21ab: līyed avidyāyāṃ, AKU, PKṬ.

21b: cetasam for caitasam, SP1, SP2, AKU.

21c: so ’pi for sāpi, SP1, SP2.


AKU = Amtakaikodyota.

PKṬ = Pañcakrama-ippaṇī of Muniśrībhadra.

SP1 = Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda, 1990 edition.

SP2 = Svādhiṣṭhāna-prabheda, 1997 edition.

SṬ1 = Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, 1941 edition.

SṬ2 = Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, 2006 edition.

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Abhidharmakośa

By David Reigle on November 17, 2013 at 11:49 pm

The Abhidharma-kośa has long been the standard sourcebook on early Buddhism in use among Mahāyāna Buddhists, and is studied by them up to the present. It presents the entire Buddhist worldview, skillfully condensed by Vasubandhu into 600 terse verses, which are explained by him in his own detailed commentary (bhāṣya) on them. It is an encyclopedic work, reflecting the wide knowledge of educated Buddhists in the fourth to fifth centuries C.E. prevalent in Kashmir, the famous center where these Buddhist teachings were preserved and cultivated and taught. For this reason, it proved to be exceptionally challenging to translate into a Western language. Although this text was known to Western scholars since the mid-1800s, its translation was not attempted until the second and third decades of the 1900s. The fact that the Sanskrit original of the Abhidharmakośa and its own commentary (bhāṣya) by Vasubandhu was then lost made this task doubly difficult. These texts could at that time be studied only in their Chinese and Tibetan translations, with the help of a Sanskrit sub-commentary by Yaśomitra that had been found in Nepal. Not until later was the Sanskrit original discovered in Tibet by Rahula Sankrityayana.

The difficult task of translating the Abhidharmakośa and the bhāṣya thereon was accomplished by Louis de la Vallée Poussin, whose annotated French translation was published in six volumes, 1923-1931. He devoted the latter half of his life to it, after in the first half of his life mastering all four Buddhist canonical languages: Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, and Tibetan. His translation, then necessarily made from the Chinese and Tibetan translations, has not so far been superseded. This is because of his detailed annotations, drawing on a wide range of Buddhist texts in all four canonical languages. His French translation was translated into English in four volumes by Leo M. Pruden, 1988-1990, and translated again into English in four volumes by Lodrö Sangpo, 2012, with many additional annotations. Yet, since the discovery of the Sanskrit original in the mid-1930s, everyone knew that a new translation made directly from it will be required. The Sanskrit Abhidharmakośa was published in 1946, edited by V. V. Gokhale, while the Sanskrit bhāṣya thereon was published in 1967, edited by P. Pradhan (both posted here in the Sanskrit texts section). We do not yet have a translation of the Sanskrit original. We have instead two English translations of a French translation of Chinese and Tibetan translations of the Sanskrit original. Errors in these are inevitable, as will be seen in the passages given below, which I translate from the Sanskrit original.

Chapter 3 of the Abhidharmakośa is titled loka-nirdeśa, “exposition of the world.” This chapter includes a description of the sattva-loka, the “world of living beings,” followed by a description of the bhājana-loka, the “receptacle world.” The receptacle world is the vessel or container or receptacle for the living beings, the house as distinguished from its occupants. So after the kinds of living beings are described, the world in which they live is described. This is the receptacle world. What this chapter describes, however, is not limited to our visible world. It is an entire world-system, a loka-dhātu, more fully a “triple-thousand-great-thousand” (tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasra) world-system (loka-dhātu). Below the human realm are eight hell realms, and above the human realm are twenty-seven heaven realms, where dwell twenty-seven classes of gods (deva). That these beings are invisible to us is taken for granted; it is not stated. Likewise, besides our continent, Jambū-dvīpa, there are three other continents in the cardinal directions, a central mountain named Meru or Sumeru, seven surrounding rings of mountains, seven intervening oceans, etc. From the fact that most of the inhabitants of our world-system are invisible to us, it would logically follow that most of the receptacle world would also be invisible to us. But this, too, is not stated; and the continents and mountains and oceans have usually been understood as features of our visible world. The discrepancies between what is described and what physically exists have caused many modern Buddhists to reject the Abhidharma teachings on cosmology.

The description of the receptacle world, the bhājana-loka, starts with verse 45 of chapter 3. It is here that we find what little cosmogony is given. Vasubandhu’s description given in his commentary begins at the bottom (adhas) of the receptacle world with the vāyu-maṇḍala, the “circle of wind,” saying that this is situated in or supported on space (ākāśa-pratiṣṭha), and came into manifestation (abhinirvṛtta) as a result of the karma or actions of living beings (sattva).

ākāśa-pratiṣṭham adhastād vāyu-maṇḍalam abhinirvṛttaṃ sarva-sattvānāṃ karmādhipatyena | (Skt., p. 158, lines 1-2; Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, lines 6-7)1

“Below, supported in or on space, the circle of wind came into manifestation through the power of the actions (karma) of all living beings.”

The karma that had been latent during the period of twenty intermediate eons (antara-kalpa), when the cosmos was out of manifestation, now brings about the manifestation of the circle of wind. Despite the name “wind” (vāyu), this circle or disk (maṇḍala) is described as being “solid” (dṛḍha). We are given no details as to how the circle of wind or vāyu-maṇḍala arises, which forms the base and basis of the receptacle world. The first half of the next verse, 46ab, brings in the circle of water. Vasubandhu in his commentary explains what happens.

tasmin vāyu-maṇḍale sattvānāṃ karmabhir meghāḥ saṃbhūyākṣa-mātrābhir dhārābhir abhivarṣanti | tat bhavaty apāṃ maṇḍalam | . . . tāś ca punar āpaḥ sattvānāṃ karma-prabhāva-saṃbhūtair vāyubhir āvarttyamānā upariṣṭāt kāñcanī-bhavanti pakva-kṣīra-śarī-bhāva-yogena | (Skt., p. 158, lines 6-11 or 6-12; Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, lines 11-19)2

“Clouds, having arisen through the actions (karma) of living beings, rain on this circle of wind in streams the size of a pole. This becomes the circle of water. . . . Then these waters, being set into circular motion by the winds arisen through the power of the actions (karma) of living beings, become gold on top, like the forming of a skin on cooked milk.”

Two things here require comment. First, what is the strange-sounding rain in streams the size of a pole? We don’t know for sure, and possibly neither did the commentators. This is perhaps rain so heavy that it comes down in continuous streams rather than in drops. Earlier in this chapter, commenting on verse 3, Vasubandhu quotes a sūtra that says: īṣādhāre deve varṣati nāsti vīcir vā antarikā vā antarikṣād vāri-dhārāṇāṃ prapatantīnām,3 “When the god Īṣādhāra rains there is no break or gap in the streams of water falling from the sky.” Now in English we say, “it is raining,” without ever specifying what “it” is that is raining. In Sanskrit they often say, “the gods rain,” or a particular god rains, as we have here. The sub-commentator Yaśomitra explains that Īṣādhāra means: īṣā-pramāṇa-varṣā-dhāraḥ,4 whose “streams of rain are the measure of a pole.” Elsewhere another relevant sūtra is quoted, as noted by Poussin, this one in the Śikṣā-samuccaya by Śāntideva. I give the Sanskrit, from chapter 14, followed by my translation:

vivartamāne khalu punar loke samantād dvātriṃśat-paṭalā abhra-ghanāḥ saṃtiṣṭhante | saṃsthāya sarvāvantaḥ tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasraṃ loka-dhātuṃ chādayanti | yataḥ pañcāntara-kalpān īṣādhāro devo varṣati | (Skt., Bendall ed., p. 247, lines 5-7, Vaidya ed., p. 132, lines 16-18; Tib., collated Tengyur, vol. 64, p. 1335, line 19, to p. 1336, line 3)5

“Then, when the world is coming into manifestation, thirty-two masses of thick clouds gather from all sides. Having gathered, they cover the entire triple-thousand-great-thousand world-system. From them, the god Īṣādhāra rains for five intermediate eons.”

After that three other gods also rain for five intermediate eons each. Altogether the rains occur for twenty intermediate eons, constituting the larger eon of formation.

The other thing here requiring comment is the last phrase, where these waters become gold on top, “like the forming of a skin on cooked milk.”6 There is a small error in the French translation here, that only got worse in the two English translations. Poussin has, “comme le lait cuit devient de al crème,” literally, “like cooked milk becomes cream.” The small error is the word “crème,” meaning “cream.” While the Sanskrit word śara can mean “cream,” this is not the meaning intended here. Cooked milk does not become cream, but a skin or film or scum does form on it. Pruden, perhaps seeing this problem and trying to address it, introduced a second error in his 1988 English translation: “as churned milk becomes cream.” However, the French word “cuit” means “cooked,” not “churned.” Then, Sangpo in his 2012 English translation apparently followed Pruden in this, giving: “in the way that churned milk becomes cream.” The original Sanskrit word pakva means “cooked,” as does the Tibetan translation bskol ba. The analogy given here is not to cream, which rises to the top without the milk being cooked (or churned, which produces butter, not cream). The analogy is to the forming of a crust on the surface of the water like the forming of a skin or film or scum on milk that is cooked. The parallel text in the Saṅghabhedavastu makes this even clearer, by adding that the cooked milk “has become cool” (śītī-bhūta) when this occurs.

tena khalu samayeneyaṃ mahāpṛthivī ekodakā bhavaty ekārṇavā | yaḥ khalu [ekodakāyā] mahāpṛthivyā ekārṇavāyā upari vāyunā saraḥ saṅgacchati saṃmūrchati santanoti tadyathā payasaḥ pakvasya śītībhūtasya upari vāyunā saraḥ saṅgacchati saṃmūrchati santanoti | evam ekodakāyā mahāpṛthivyā ekārṇavāyā upari vāyunā saraḥ saṅgacchati saṃmūrchati santanoti | (Skt., Gnoli ed., p. 7, lines 18-23; Tib., collated Kangyur, vol. 3, p. 620, lines 9-15)7

“At that time this great earth was only water, a single ocean. On top of the great earth that was only water, a single ocean, by means of wind (or air) a skin forms, congeals, and spreads across, just like, on top of cooked milk that has become cool, by means of wind (or air) a skin forms, congeals, and spreads across. In this way, on top of the great earth that was only water, a single ocean, by means of wind (or air) a skin forms, congeals, and spreads across.”

After several verses giving descriptions of the mountains and continents and seas and hells and their measures, we come to the next snippet that is apparently on cosmogony (bhāṣya on verse 59cd). For we read in both English translations of “the winds which create (nirmā) the moon, the sun and the stars” (matching the French, “des vents qui créent (nirmā) . . . la lune, le soleil et les étoiles”). When we read the Sanskrit, however, this is not what we find. Poussin notes here that the two Chinese translations, by Paramārtha and by Hiuan-tsang (Hsüan-tsang, Xuanzang), differ; perhaps meaning that he here followed the Tibetan translation. Unfortunately, the Tibetan translation that he used, the Peking edition or the Narthang edition, has a serious misprint here that misled him. The Peking and Narthang editions have ’phrul ba here, rather than the correct ’phul ba as in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions. With his wide linguistic knowledge acquired by comparing many Sanskrit texts with their Tibetan translations, acquired without the benefit of the Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionaries that we now have, he knew that the Tibetan ’phrul ba often translates the Sanskrit nirmā, meaning “create” (i.e., the prefix nir plus the root , making words such as nirmāṇa and nirmita). But, as he could not know, this is only a typographical error.

That the correct Tibetan word here is ’phul ba would now be a simple matter to verify by comparison with the original Sanskrit text that was discovered, except that the sole known manuscript has a corruption at this very place. The learned editor, P. Pradhan, corrects the unintelligible vocāraḥ of the manuscript to vordhvacāraḥ, which means, “or the going upward.” However, this does not match the normally literal Tibetan translation, ’phul bar byed pa (nor does it match the erroneous reading, ’phrul bar byed pa). So we do not know what the original Sanskrit term is. Nor is it found in the Sanskrit sub-commentary by Yaśomitra, or in the fragmentary Sanskrit Abhidharmadīpa, which is missing most of this chapter. It took the more clearly worded version in the Tibetan translation of the important but neglected commentary by Saṅghabhadra to verify this.8 In this version, ’phul ba is the main verb, rather than a verbal in a dependent clause like in Vasubandhu’s commentary; and in all four editions this text has ’phul (not ’phrul).9

The Tibetan-English Dictionary by Sarat Chandra Das gives as the second meaning for ’phul ba, “to press, to drive, to push.” But we must verify that this meaning is found in canonical Tibetan. The Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary by J. S. Negi (vol. 8, 2002, p. 3653) shows that ’phul ba translates the Sanskrit nutta in the famous Sanskrit lexicon, the Amarakośa. The word nutta, a past passive participle from the verb-root nud, is defined in Liṅgayasūrin’s commentary thereon as nudyate, preryate, i.e., “is pushed or driven, is impelled.” Thus, ’phul ba in this canonical text does mean “to drive,” and is the correct word here rather than ’phrul ba, “to create.” Thanks especially to the Tibetan translation of the commentary by Saṅghabhadra, we are now in a position to accurately translate this Sanskrit passage (3.59cd), despite the corrupt word(s) at the end of it.

athemau candrārkau kasmin pratiṣṭhitau | vāyau | vāyavo ’ntarīkṣe sarva-sattva-sādhāraṇa-karmādhipatya-nirvṛttā āvartavat sumeruṃ parivartante | candrārka-tārāṇāṃ vordhva-cāraḥ ? (ms. vocāraḥ) | (Skt., p. 165, lines 10-11 or 12-14; Tib., vol. 79, p. 365, lines 10-14)

“Now, on what are these two, the moon and the sun, supported? On the wind. The winds in space, originated through the power of the general karma of all living beings, revolve around Sumeru like a whirlpool, driving the moon, the sun, and the stars.”

So this passage does not say that the winds create the moon, the sun, and the stars, but rather that the winds drive them in their circular orbits. We may here recall Book of Dzyan, stanza 5, śloka 1: “The Primordial Seven, the first seven Breaths of the Dragon of Wisdom, produce in their turn from their holy circumgyrating Breaths the Fiery Whirlwind.” The verb used with winds is parivartante, which I have translated as “revolve around,” but it could just as well be translated as “circumgyrate.”

The sun and the moon, or at least their underlying crystal disks, are in fact said a few lines later to be created or brought into manifestation by the karma of living beings. We see again and again in these cosmogonic passages that karma is the creator of the cosmos, not God as in many other creation stories.10 In the Yogācārabhūmi (Skt., p. 43, lines 2-3) the sun disk is said to be made of fire-crystal, sūrya-maṇḍalaṃ tejaḥ-sphaṭika-mayam, and the moon disk is said to be made of water-crystal, candra-maṇḍalaṃ udaka-sphaṭika-mayam. Here in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (3.60b), a fiery (taijasam) crystal disk (sphaṭika-maṇḍalam) is said to be below the celestial palace (vimāna) of the sun, and a watery (āpyam) crystal disk is said to be below the celestial palace of the moon.

sūrya-vimānasyādhastāt bahiḥ sphaṭika-maṇḍalaṃ taijasam abhinirvṛttaṃ tāpanaṃ prakāśanaṃ ca | candra-vimānasyādhastād āpyaṃ śītalaṃ bhāsvaraṃ ca | prāṇināṃ karmabhir | (Skt., p. 165, lines 18-19 or 20-22; Tib., vol. 79, p. 365, line 20, to p. 366, line 2)

“Outside, below the celestial palace of the sun, through the actions (karma) of living beings a fiery crystal disk came into manifestation, heating and illumining. Below the celestial palace of the moon, a watery [crystal disk came into manifestation], cold and radiant.”

We notice in this passage an unusual and curious phrase that is also found in the Dzyan commentary and catechism, “cold and radiant” (śītalaṃ bhāsvaraṃ ca). It seems contradictory for something to be both cold and radiant at the same time, since radiance is normally associated with heat. The “Occult Catechism” uses this phrase in reference to the “Breath which is eternal,” as follows (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 12): “It expands and contracts [exhalation and inhalation]. When it expands the mother diffuses and scatters; when it contracts, the mother draws back and ingathers. This produces the periods of Evolution and Dissolution, Manvantara and Pralaya. The Germ is invisible and fiery; the Root [the plane of the circle] is cool; but during Evolution and Manvantara her garment is cold and radiant.” Then, the “Commentary” on Book of Dzyan, stanza 6, śloka 4, says (S.D., vol. 1, p. 144): “The Breath of the Father-Mother issues cold and radiant and gets hot and corrupt, to cool once more, and be purified in the eternal bosom of inner Space.”

The most connected account of cosmogony found in the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, although still very brief, occurs when the kinds of eons (kalpa) are described. The eon of the coming into manifestation (vivarta-kalpa) of the cosmos is described in verse 90cd and the commentary (bhāṣya) thereon. In the early Buddhist cosmogony accounts, which are well restated here, the genesis of the cosmos begins with the primordial wind.

3.90cd: vivarta-kalpaḥ prāg-vāyor yāvan naraka-saṃbhavaḥ ||

prathamād vāyoḥ prabhṛti yāvan narakeṣu sattva-sambhavaḥ eṣa kālo vivarta-kalpa ity ucyate | tathā saṃvṛtte hi loka ākāśa-mātrāvaśeṣaś ciraṃ kālaṃ tiṣṭhati yāvat punar api sattvānāṃ karmādhipatyena bhājanānāṃ pūrva-nimitta-bhūtā ākāśe manda-mandā vāyavaḥ syandante | tadā yad ayaṃ loko viṃśatim antara-kalpān saṃvṛtto ’sthāt tan niryātaṃ vaktavyam | yad viṃśatim antara-kalpān vivarttiṣyate tad upayātaṃ vaktavyam | tatas te vāyavo vardhamānā yathoktaṃ vāyu-maṇḍalaṃ jāyate | tataḥ śanair yathokta-krama-vidhānaṃ sarvaṃ jāyate ap-maṇḍalaṃ kāñcanamayī mahā-pṛthivī dvīpāḥ sumerv-ādayaś ca | prathamaṃ tu brāhma-vimānam utpadyate | tato yāvat yāmīyaṃ tato vāyu-maṇḍalādīni | iyatā’yaṃ loko vivṛtto bhavati yad uta bhājana-vivartanyā | (Skt., p. 179; Tib., vol. 79, p. 385, line 20, to p. 386, line 13)

“The eon of coming into manifestation extends from the primordial wind to birth in the hells.”

“This time beginning from the first wind up to the birth of living beings in the hells is called the eon of coming into manifestation. So, [as already described,] when the world has gone out of manifestation, what remains is only space (ākāśa). [This situation] lasts for a long time; until once again, through the power of the actions (karma) of living beings, very light winds that are the preceding heralds of the receptacle [worlds] arise in space. At that time, this world has remained out of manifestation for twenty intermediate eons, which [period] is to be described as finished. [It] will come into manifestation for twenty intermediate eons, which [period] is to be described as started. Then, those winds increasing, the circle of wind arises as stated. Then gradually, in the sequence and manner as stated, all arises, the circle of water, the great earth made of gold, the continents, and Sumeru, etc. But first the celestial palace of Brahmā is generated, then down to that of the Yāma [gods], then the circle of wind, etc. This world becomes manifested to this extent, namely, the manifestation of the receptacle [world].”

Such is the classical Buddhist cosmogony.



1. I quote from the Sanskrit edition by P. Pradhan, Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam of Vasubandhu, giving page and line numbers from the 1967 first edition (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts”) followed by line numbers from the 1975 second edition when different. It is also necessary to compare the Tibetan translation, which provides, in effect, a word by word gloss. For this I use the collated Tengyur (bstan ’gyur) published in China, which gives the text as found in the Der-ge edition and variant readings from the Peking, Narthang, and Co-ne editions. Our texts are found in vol. 79, 2001. Sometimes, like here, I have corrected the placement of the daṇḍa in the Sanskrit according to the Tibetan translation. My fairly literal translation of the Sanskrit, made in comparison with the Tibetan, then follows.

2. For the phrase, akṣa-mātrābhir dhārābhir abhivarṣanti, the Tibetan translation is, char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing tsam ’bab pa (Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, line 12; the Peking and Narthang editions have the insignificant variant reading bab for ’bab). The Tibetan term gnya’ shing tsam usually translates the Sanskrit name īṣādhāra.

3. For this sentence, īṣādhāre deve varṣati nāsti vīcir vā antarikā vā antarikṣād vāri-dhārāṇāṃ prapatantīnām, the Tibetan translation is, char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing tsam ’bab pa na bar snang las chu’i rgyun ’bab pa rnams kyi mtshams sam bar med (Skt., p. 113, lines 23-24 or 25-27; Tib., vol. 79, p. 274, lines 1-2; also repeated in Yogācārabhūmi, Skt., p. 44, lines 10-11).

Akira Hirakawa in his very valuable word-index to the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (posted here in the “Sanskrit texts” section) in this case erroneously (or at least incompletely) gives char gyi rgyun for the cloud or god īṣādhāra. As the Tibetan translations of the passages quoted here show, this should be gnya’ shing tsam. However, with deva, the whole phrase is translated as char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing tsam. In this case, deva is not translated as lha, like it usually is in Tibetan. The whole phrase is somewhat paraphrased, making it hard to know exactly what translates what. But in Yaśomitra’s gloss (see note 4 below), īṣādhāra is clearly just gnya’ shing tsam.

4. For this definition, īṣādhāra iti īṣā-pramāṇa-varṣā-dhāraḥ, the Tibetan translation is, gnya’ shing tsam zhes bya ba ni char gyi rgyun gnya’ shing gi tshad tsam ni gnya’ shing tsam mo (Skt., Wogihara ed., vol. 1, p. 259, Dwarikadas ed., vol. 2, p. 388; Tib., collated Tengyur, vol. 80, p. 583, lines 2-3, variant reading in Peking and Narthang editions: gyis, in char gyi rgyun).

5. For the last sentence, yataḥ pañcāntara-kalpān īṣādhāro devo varṣati, the Tibetan translation is, de las bskal pa bar ma lnga’i bar du gshol mda’ tsam gyi char gyi rgyun ’bab po (Tib., collated Tengyur, vol. 64, p. 1336, lines 2-3, variant reading in the Peking and Narthang editions: tsam gyis char for tsam gyi char). Here we have gshol mda’ tsam rather than gnya’ shing tsam for īṣādhāra, although the meaning is the same. Note that there is also a mountain named īṣādhāra, which is translated into Tibetan as gshol mda’ ’dzin, “bearing a pole” (such as the pole of a plough). The spellings of the Sanskrit name īṣādhāra, whether of the god as a raincloud or of the mountain, vary. The first part may be found as either īṣā or īśā, although this probably is due primarily to the meaningless interchanging of the sibilants that is common in Sanskrit Buddhist texts. The standard spelling of this word is īṣā. It means a “pole” or “shaft,” as in the pole of a carriage or a plough. In the Loka-prajñapti we find this as shing rta’i srog shing, the axle of a carriage (collated Tengyur, vol. 78, p. 769, lines 15-16). The second part may be found as either dhāra or dhara. Here the meaning differs. While dhāra can mean the same as dhara, namely, “holding, bearing,” it also means “streaming, flowing,” and as a noun can refer to a downpour of rain. Its feminine form dhārā means a “stream” of something such as water. By contrast, dhara keeps more to its basic meaning, “holding, bearing,” and as a noun can mean a “mountain.” Its feminine form dharā means the “earth.” So according to the meaning, the god as a raincloud should be spelled īṣādhāra, while the mountain should be spelled īṣādhara.

The Śikṣā-samuccaya was long ago translated into English by Cecil Bendall and W. H. D. Rouse, with the additional help of Louis de la Vallée Poussin, before we had the resources that are now available. This 1922 translation was carefully done, and is very helpful to refer to for the general meaning. For precise meanings, however, it cannot be relied on, as shown by the advances of current scholarship in knowledge of Buddhist terms and ideas. A few lines after the passage that I have newly translated above, for example, this older translation refers to “when this world arises” (p. 229). The text goes on to speak of the appearance of seven suns. This occurs prior to the dissolution of the cosmos, and the phrase “when the world arises” must be translated as “when the world is destroyed.” The verb here is saṃvartate (Skt. ed., p. 247, line 10), which is opposite of vivarta. This Buddhist usage caused problems for others as well. Franklin Edgerton notes in his 1953 Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary under vivarta (p. 499) that the Pali-English Dictionary published by the Pali Text Society (1921-1925) precisely inverts the meanings of the corresponding Pali vivaṭṭa and saṃvaṭṭa. J. J. Jones had made a similar observation in his translation of the Mahāvastu, vol. 1, 1949, p. 43 fn. 3.

In the passage that I translated above, the word sarvāvantaḥ is clearly taken in the Tibetan translation with tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasraṃ loka-dhātuṃ, not with the banks of clouds as its declension would indicate. The meaning also would require taking it with the world system (loka-dhātuṃ). So I have translated it accordingly. Here we also have another example of a word whose meaning in Buddhist Sanskrit was not known to the translators Bendall and Rouse. They take it in the standard Sanskrit meaning, translating it as “containing everything” (and construing it with the “palls of cloud”), while in Buddhist Sanskrit it means “entire.”

6. For this phrase, pakva-kṣīra-śarī-bhāva-yogena, the Tibetan translation is, ’o ma bskol ba spris ma chags pa’i tshul du (Skt. reading kṣīra, as in Yaśomitra’s vyākhyā, rather than kṣīrī, as in the sole extant manuscript of the bhāṣya; Tib., vol. 79, p. 355, line 19).

7. For a link to the relevant portion of the Sanskrit edition of the Saṅghabhedavastu, see the post, “Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Yogācārabhūmi.” The whole text is posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” then “Sanskrit Buddhist Texts.” Among the eight collated editions of the Kangyur, seven have grangs pa for śītī-bhūta, while the Zhol or Lhasa edition corrected this to grang ba, “cool, cold,” to avoid confusion with grangs, “number, enumeration.” The parallel text in the Pali Aggañña-sutta also has a word for “cooling” here, nibbāyamānassa. Likewise in the Tibetan translation of the Loka-prajñapti there is a word for “cooling” here, bsgrangs pa (collated Tengyur, vol. 78, p. 769, line 21).

8. While checking for something else I happened to notice that the opening few pages of Saṅghabhadra’s commentary, also called a bhāṣya, matched Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya almost verbatim. Wondering about this, I then saw that the author’s name, ’Dus bzang, is the Tibetan translation of Saṅghabhadra. Saṅghabhadra is thought in Tibetan tradition to have been Vasubandhu’s teacher, who liked his Abhidharmakośa because it gave the teachings of the Vaibhāṣika (Sarvāstivāda) school so well, but disliked portions of his commentary (bhāṣya) thereon in which Vasubandhu criticized some of the teachings of the Vaibhāṣika school. So Saṅghabhadra wrote two extensive critiques of the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya. These are now extant only in Chinese translation. I then checked Collett Cox’s introduction to her translation of a portion of one of these, the Nyāyānusāra (Disputed Dharmas: Early Buddhist Theories on Existence, Tokyo, 1995), to see if there is any tradition of him writing what we have here: a shorter version of the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya, wherein presumably the offensive passages were removed by him.

She says about this commentary, which is only extant in its Tibetan translation (p. 59): “Though initially assumed to be Saṅghabhadra’s shorter work, this Tibetan commentary would appear to be simply a brief summary of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośakārikā and Bhāṣya.” A note thereon (note 31, p. 62) sources this to a personal communication from Alex Wayman, a scholar of Tibetan (Collett Cox is a scholar of Chinese). The late Alex Wayman was not a scholar of Abhidharma, and it would seem that he did little more than glance at this Tibetan text. I next checked the 1998 book, Sarvāstivāda Buddhist Scholasticism. The relevant portion of this book is by Collett Cox, and simply repeats (p. 243 fn. 308) what she wrote in her 1995 book. There is nothing more about this text here.

After that I checked the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, vol. 9: Buddhist Philosophy from 350 to 600 A.D. Here we do not find this book under Saṅghabhadra’s name, but rather under Vinītabhadra (p. 370, see also p. 281). This is a Sanskrit re-translation of the Tibetan ’Dul bzang, almost certainly a typographical error for ’Dus bzang, that is found in the Peking and Narthang editions of the Tengyur. The correct ’Dus bzang is found in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions (see the collated Tengyur, vol. 79, p. 1366, where ’Dus bzang is given in the colophon of this text, and the relevant note on p. 1405 gives the variant reading ’Dul bzang from the Peking and Narthang editions). This Encyclopedia was published in 2003, while the Tohoku Complete Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons, cataloging the Der-ge (sde dge) edition and so giving the correct ’Dus bzang (no. 4091, p. 622), was published in 1934. The authorship of this text really should have been corrected in this Encyclopedia.

This Encyclopedia’s brief entry gives us little more than what Wayman gave us. After saying that “The original Sanskrit is lost; what survives is the Tibetan translation,” and giving the reference to the Peking edition, it tell us only: “This is a simple rehash of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, which shortens Vasubandhu’s Sautrāntika objections to the Vaibhāṣika system, and, aside from the invocatory verses, adds absolutely nothing new.” It is not necessarily the case that readers are seeking something new. The need for a shorter presentation of Abhidharma than is given in Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya has long been felt. Readers get bogged down in the various positions presented there, which often lead to establishing the Sautrāntika position against the Vaibhāṣika position. This commentary is approximately half the size of Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya (434 pp. versus 794 pp. in the collated Tengyur), yet it retains all the material that the Abhidharmakośa was originally written to present; namely, the Abhidharma system as understood by the Sarvāstivāda Vaibhāṣikas of Kashmir.

We finally get some real information about this commentary in Marek Major’s 1991 book, Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośa and the Commentaries Preserved in the Tanjur, pp. 29-38, and this book was even referred to in a footnote to the Encyclopedia entry. It is unfortunate that what Marek Major found has not yet been assimilated by Buddhist scholars, and that this important commentary has remained neglected. There is no real reason to doubt that what we have here is by Saṅghabhadra, a contemporary of Vasubandhu (probably not his teacher as the Tibetan tradition holds, since the older Chinese tradition does not say this). Even if, as Marek Major hypothesizes, Saṅghabhadra’s text was abridged by the Tibetan translator (or perhaps by some earlier Indian writer), this does not take away its value. It closely follows Vasubandhu’s text, leaving out only what many think is non-essential. In the particular case at hand, it seems that while preserving what was in Vasubandhu’s bhāṣya, this commentary only slightly reworded it in order to make it clearer.

9. Saṅghabhadra’s commentary has: gang nyi ma dang zla ba ’di gnyis ci la gnas she na | rlung la ste sems can thams cad las kyi dbang gis ’byung ba’i rlung gling bzhi [var. bzhin du, Pek. Nar.] ri rab yongs su ’khor zhing nyi ma dang zla ba dang skar ma rnams ’phul lo | (collated Tengyur, vol. 79, p. 1067, lines 7-9). Vasubandhu’s commentary has: yang nyi ma dang zla ba ’di dag ci la brten zhe na | rlung la ste | sems can thams cad kyi thun mong gi las kyi dbang gis bar snang la nyi ma dang | zla ba dang | skar ma rnams ’phul [var. ’phrul, Pek. Nar.] bar byed pa’i rlung dag grub ste | ri rab la rlung gi ’khor lo bzhin du ’khor ro | (vol. 79, p. 365, lines 10-14). As may be seen, Saṅghabhadra made ’phul the primary verb and ’khor the verb of the dependent clause, while Vasubandhu made ’phul the verb of the dependent clause, and ’khor the primary verb.

10. Buddhism, of course, does not accept the existence of a creator God, but on the contrary denies the existence of such a being. Like in Jainism and in the original Nyāya school of logic in Hinduism, the law of karma reigns supreme. There can be no God who is able to override or interfere with it. The universe is without beginning, and any new cosmos would be the result of the collective karma of the living beings of the previous cosmos. On the absence of God in the original Nyāya school in Hinduism, see my article, “God’s Arrival in India” (at www.easterntradition.org).

Category: Creation Stories | 1 comment


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Yogācārabhūmi

By David Reigle on October 17, 2013 at 11:55 pm

The Yogācārabhūmi is a massive sourcebook of the Buddhist Yogācāra school. In the second section of this book, titled manobhūmi, occurs an account of cosmology that includes cosmogony. It is similar to, but more detailed than, the standard Buddhist Abhidharma account of cosmology given in the Abhidharmakośa (chapter 3). The Sanskrit original of the Yogācārabhūmi was discovered in Tibet in the 1930s by the indefatigable Rahula Sankrityayana, and was both transcribed and photographed by him. Its first five sections were edited from this transcript and these photographs by Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya, in comparison with the Tibetan translation (Narthang edition), and published in 1957 (I have posted this here: yogacarabhumi_chapters_1-5_1957.pdf). Very little of the Yogācārabhūmi has so far been published in English translation. We are fortunate to have a translation of its account of cosmology, made by the late Yūichi Kajiyama and published in 2000 (posted here: Buddhist cosmology, Yogacarabhumi, Eng. 2000). This translation was competently made from the Sanskrit in comparison with the Chinese and Tibetan translations. Paragraphs pertaining to cosmogony have been selected from this account of cosmology and given below, the Sanskrit from Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition, and the English from Yūichi Kajiyama’s translation. The brackets are theirs. Also given below for comparison are page references to the Tibetan translation found in the collated Tengyur (bstan ’gyur) published in China, vol. 72, 2001.

When the world is regenerated after its periodic destruction by wind (more extensive than by fire or by water), beings from the fourth or highest dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the third dhyāna heaven. Then beings from the third dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the second dhyāna heaven; and beings from the second dhyāna heaven, upon dying there, are reborn in the first or lowest dhyāna heaven. At this point our account continues (Sanskrit, p. 37, line 12; Tibetan, p. 712, line 18; English, p. 191):

tataḥ paścād iha tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasra-[loka-dhātu]-pramāṇaṃ vāyu-maṇḍalam abhinirvartate tri-sāhasra-mahā-sāhasrasya [lokasya] pratiṣṭhā-bhūtam avaimānikānāṃ sattvānāṃ [ca] | tat punar dvi-vidham | uttāna-śayaṃ pārśva-śayaṃ ca | yena tāsāmaraṃ tiryag-vimānaḥ adhaś cāyatanaṃ (?) | tatas tasyopari tat-karmādhipatyena kāñcana-garbhā meghāḥ sambhavanti | yato vṛṣṭiḥ sañjāyate | tāś cāpo vāyu-maṇḍale santiṣṭhante | tato vāyavaḥ sambhūyāpaḥ saṃmūrchayanti kaṭhinī-kurvanti | sā bhavati kāñcanamayī pṛthivy ūrdhvañ cādhaś codaka-vimarda-kṣamatvāt || tasyāṃ vivṛttāyāṃ punas tasyopari tat-karmādhipatyād eva nānā-dhātu-garbho medhaḥ sambhavati | yato vṛṣṭiḥ sañjāyate | tāś cāpaḥ kāñcanamayyāṃ pṛthivyāṃ santiṣṭhante | tathaiva ca punar vāyavaḥ saṃmūrchayanti kaṭhinī-kurvanti |

“Thereafter a whirlwind as large as the Trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra [world] arises here and becomes the support of the Trisāhasra-mahāsāhasra [world] as well as of sentient beings having no palaces [i.e., gods of the two lowest worlds of desire and sentient beings on and under the earth]. It is of two kinds: the whirlwind stretching itself upwards and that stretching itself on the flank of the world, which prevent water [on the wind] from leaking out downwards and sideways. And then clouds containing gold appear above these [whirlwinds] by the influence of [sentient beings’] karma. Rains fall from the [clouds]. The water [of the rains] is sustained on the whirlwind. Then, wind blows and condenses and hardens the water. It is called the earth made of gold as it withstands upward and downward agitations of water. When the [earth] is regenerated, clouds containing various kinds of elements are produced above the earth by virtue of the influence of karma [made by sentient beings]. Rains fall from the clouds, and the water stays on the golden earth. Again, in the same way [as above] wind condenses and hardens [the water].”

The account goes on to say that the best elements produce Mount Sumeru, the middle class elements produce the seven mountain ranges that surround Mount Sumeru, and the inferior elements produce the four great continents, the eight mid-islands, and the surrounding Cakravāḍa Mountain. So we see that the wind hardens the water containing the various elements. Compare Book of Dzyan, stanza 3, śloka 12: “Then svabhāva sends fohat to harden the atoms.” The so far unidentified fohat is described in stanza 6, śloka 1, as “the breath of their progeny,” and stanza 5, śloka 1, tells us that: “The primordial seven, the first seven breaths of the dragon of wisdom, produce in their turn from their holy circumgyrating breaths the fiery whirlwind,” i.e., fohat. So in the Book of Dzyan it is fohat, the breath, the fiery whirlwind, that hardens the atoms. It should be noted that Kajiyama’s “whirlwind” translates vāyu-maṇḍala, which is often translated elsewhere as “wind circle,” or “wind disk.”

After further descriptions of the continents, the mountain ranges, the oceans, etc., the Yogācārabhūmi account proceeds to the topic of the origin of humanity, or anthropogenesis (Sanskrit, p. 41, line 17; Tibetan, p. 717, line 11; English, p. 196):

evam abhinirvṛtte bhājana-loka ābhāsvarād deva-nikāyāt sattvāś cyutvehotpadyante | pūrvavad eva prathama-kalpa-saṃvedanīyena karmaṇā | tac ca param agryaṃ śreṣṭhaṃ kāmāvacaraṃ karma | tadaiva ca tasya karmaṇaḥ phalābhinirvṛttir nānyadā | te ca sattvās tasmin samaye prathama-kalpakā ity ucyante | te ca bhavanti rūpiṇo manomayā ity anusūtram eva sarvaṃ |  

“When the material world (bhājanaloka) has been accomplished in this way, beings among the heavenly class of Ābhāsvara die there and are born here [in this world], as stated before, because of their karma which should be recognized as leading to (saṃvedanīya), the first kalpa [of the regeneration of the world]. It is the superior, first, excellent karma belonging to the world of desire (kāmāvacara), and the karma completes its effect only at this time [when the world is regenerated], and not at other times. And those sentient beings in this very time are called ‘belonging to the first kalpa’ (prathamakalpaka). They have beautiful forms and are ‘made of will’ (manomaya). All of this is described according to Buddhist sūtras.”

The beings of the first kalpa, or age, are given in the Abhidharmakośa and Bhāṣya by Vasubandhu (chapter 3, verses 8-9) as examples of humans (manuṣya) who are self-born or parentless or spontaneously generated (upapāduka). Buddhaghosa says the same in his Pali commentary on the Dīgha Nikāya, using Pali opapātika in place of Sanskrit upapāduka (Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. 3, p. 82 fn. 1). This is the first root-race described in The Secret Doctrine. The Mahāvastu (see below) tells us that: “These beings are self-luminous, move through space, are made of mind [manomaya], feed on joy, abide in a state of bliss, and go wherever they wish.” (J. J. Jones translation, vol. 1, p. 285). In the next paragraph, the Yogācārabhūmi account shows the first appearance of food. We take up where the sentient beings of that time begin to eat it, by which they lose their spiritual powers and their bodies become more dense (Sanskrit, p. 42, line 5; Tibetan, p. 718, line 3; English, p. 196).

tatas te sattvās tat-parigrahe sandṛśyante | tatas teṣāṃ sattvānāṃ rasādi-paribhogād daurvarṇyaṃ prādurbhavati | prabhāvaś cāntardhīyate | yaś ca prabhūtataraṃ bhuṅkte sa durvarṇataro bhavati guruka-kāyataraḥ |

“Thereupon those sentient beings are seen seizing [these foods]. Then, due to their consumption of [earth] nectar and the rest, those sentient beings become ugly (daurvarṇya), and their supernatural powers disappear. The more one eats, the uglier he becomes, and the heavier his body gets.”

This brings us through the period of the second root-race described in The Secret Doctrine, and into the third root-race. In the middle of the third root-race occurs the separation of the sexes. The Yogācārabhūmi account now describes this (Sanskrit, p. 42, line 9; Tibetan, p. 718, line 10; English, p. 196).

tato ’nyonyaṃ cakṣuṣā cakṣur upanidhyāya prekṣante | tataḥ saṃrajyante | tataḥ strī-puruṣa- saṃvartanīyena karmaṇaikatyānāṃ strīndriyaṃ prādurbhavati ekatyānāṃ puruṣendriyaṃ | tato vipratipadyete dvaya-dvaya-samāpattitaḥ |

“Then, they gaze at each other eye to eye, and they become enamored. Then, because of their karma conducive to either femaleness or maleness, some of them acquire female organs and others male organs, and they transgress by means of copulation (dvaya-dvaya-samāpatti).”

After this, says the Yogācārabhūmi account, the idea of possession or ownership arises, with the result that theft and fighting begin. Then arises the need to establish a king to help prevent these things, and the need to allot different tasks to different people, which results in the establishment of the four castes. This brings us up to the present. From the time of the separation of the sexes onward, the mode of birth for humans would be what we know today, birth from a womb. Of the four modes of birth for humans described in the Abhidharmakośa and Bhāṣya (chapter 3, verses 8-9), we have now seen two: the womb-born (jarāyuja) as at present, and the spontaneously generated (upapāduka) as in the first kalpa or age. For the sweat-born (sasvedaja) and the egg-born (aṇḍaja), Vasubandhu’s Bhāṣya gives examples from mythology. No extant Buddhist text that I know of places these in the earlier humanities, as does The Secret Doctrine, after the appearance of food when their bodies lose their spiritual powers and become denser.

The Yogācārabhūmi is attributed to Maitreya by Chinese tradition, and is attributed to Asaṅga by Tibetan tradition, although in both traditions Maitreya taught Asaṅga. Modern scholarship sees the Yogācārabhūmi as a composite text, having various strata, some of which are quite old. Other early Buddhist texts pertaining to cosmology and cosmogony and anthropogenesis may give some portions more briefly and some portions more extensively. The Loka-prajñapti, an early Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma text, gives the appearance of food and what followed upon this more extensively. Although a number of leaves of the Lokaprajñapti in the original Sanskrit have been discovered, its cosmogony portion is not among these (see: Siglinde Dietz, “A Brief Survey on the Sanskrit Fragments of the Lokaprajñaptiśāstra,” attached as:Lokaprajnapti, Survey on Sanskrit Fragments, Dietz 1989). On the basis of the Tibetan translation (Peking edition attached: Lokaprajnapti, Tibetan, Peking edition), however, Siglinde Deitz found that the cosmogony and anthropogenesis account that begins the Saṅgha-bheda-vastu of the Mūla Sarvāstivāda Vinaya corresponds closely to that of the Lokaprajñapti. We have a good Sanskrit edition of the Saṅghabhedavastu prepared by Raniero Gnoli and T. Venkatacharya (2 vols., 1977, 1978; relevant portion, pp. 7-16, attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Sanghabhedavastu, Skt. 1977). Its description of the separation of the sexes, for example, is found on p. 11, line 5 ff., which I quote and translate literally:

tatas teṣām indriya-nānātvaṃ prādurbhūtam | ekeṣāṃ strīndriyam ekeṣāṃ puruṣendriyam |

“Then, for them, difference of organs appeared. For some, female organs; for some, male organs.”

The Lokaprajñapti account, like the Yogācārabhūmi account, is based on Buddhist sūtras. The Lokaprajñapti, unlike the Yogācārabhūmi, gives at the end of each section a quotation from one particular sūtra that it drew upon for this section, and names this sūtra. For the cosmogony section, it quotes the gNas ’jog dang ba ra dva dza lung bstan pa, which would be in Sanskrit, Vāsiṣṭha-bhāradvāja-vyākaraṇa. This sūtra, as stated by Siglinde Deitz, corresponds to the Pali Aggañña-sutta from the Dīgha Nikāya. The Aggañña-sutta has long been known as the Buddhist “Book of Genesis,” since its 1921 publication in English translation by T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids with this title (Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. 3, pp. 77-94, attached: Agganna sutta, Eng. 1921). Its rather brief account of cosmogony and anthropogenesis is found in its paragraphs 10 and 11. In paragraphs 12 and 13 people begin to eat and consequently their bodies become dense. In paragraph 16 the separation of the sexes occurs. This text provides us with an account in Pali (attached: Agganna sutta, Pali, 1889). Besides this and the Yogācārabhūmi and Saṅghabhedavastu accounts in Sanskrit, we have also a parallel account in the Mahāvastu. This large text is the major representative still extant that is written fully in what Franklin Edgerton calls “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit,” including even the prose, and not just the verses. Its account of cosmogony and anthropogenesis is found in É. Senart’s Sanskrit edition, vol. 1, 1882, pp. 338-348 (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Mahavastu, Skt. 1882). In the English translation of this by J. J. Jones, this account is found in vol. 1, 1949, pp. 285-293 (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Mahavastu, Eng. 1949). There is also a parallel account in the Mūla Sarvāstivāda Vinaya Vibhaṅga. Its Sanskrit original has not yet been recovered. Its Tibetan translation (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Vinaya-vibhanga, Tib. Peking ed.) was used by Ernst Waldschmidt to restore a closely parallel fragment on cosmogony discovered in central Asia from an otherwise lost sūtra, possibly the Vāsiṣṭha-bhāradvāja-vyākaraṇa. This was published in Sanskrit and English in 1970 as, “Fragment of a Buddhist Sanskrit Text on Cosmogony” (attached: Buddhist cosmogony, Sanskrit Fragment, Waldschmidt 1970).

As noted by Kajiyama (p. 183): “. . . the cosmology as presented in the Yogācārabhūmi shows a transmission different from that in the Abhidharmakośa. It gives many particular accounts which we do not find in the Abhidharmakośa, although the two are in general similar.” Likewise, the Yogācārabhūmi account differs from the account found in the Aggañña-sutta, the Saṅghabhedavastu, and the Mahāvastu. It gives a somewhat more detailed cosmogony, while those texts give a more detailed anthropogenesis. They have together preserved for us enough to form a skeleton view of what is given much more fully in the Book of Dzyan.


Grammatical notes:

First paragraph quoted above:

śayaṃ (in the sentence, uttāna-śayaṃ pārśva-śayaṃ ca), in the Tibetan translation is gnas, and in Kajiyama’s English translation is “stretching itself.”

yena tāsāmaraṃ tiryag-vimānaḥ adhaś cāyatanaṃ (?), question mark by the editor, Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya, for this whole phrase. In the Tibetan translation it is: des chu de dag thad kar yang mi ’bo la | thur du yang mi ’dzag go |

saṃmūrchayanti, second occurrence, is misprinted as saṃmūrchayāṃnta in Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition. He notes that the manuscript has saṃkarchayanti, which he corrected to saṃmūrchayanti.

Please note that Kajiyama gives, preceding his translation, an important list of corrections to Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya’s edition of the Sanskrit text for this section. A major new study of the Yogācārabhūmi was published in 2013: The Foundation for Yoga Practitioners: The Buddhist Yogācārabhūmi Treatise and Its Adaptation in India, East Asia, and Tibet, edited by Ulrich Timme Kragh, Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 75. Martin Delhey in his contribution to this volume, p. 516 fn. 80, corrects one of Kajiyama’s corrections, saying that sa eca on p. 31, line 17, should be sa ca rather than sa eva as Kajiyama proposed.

Category: Creation Stories | 1 comment


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on April 30, 2013 at 11:30 pm

References for Ṛg-veda 10.129

The following references are also links to the source files: 36 English translations in chronological order, 3 French translations or notes on them, and 12 German translations or notes on them. Then follow the main Sanskrit editions of this hymn: Aufrecht’s 1863 edition of the Ṛg-veda text in roman script; Max Muller’s 1892 revised edition of the text with Sāyaṇa’s commentary; Sontakke and Kashikar’s 1946 edition of the text with Sāyaṇa’s commentary, which is now the standard edition of this commentary; and Vishva Bandhu’s 1965 edition of the text with Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava’s commentary, the only other commentary on this part of the Ṛg-veda now available. Next is Ṛg-veda 10.129 as it is repeated in the three main editions the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa at 2.8.9. All three of these include Sāyaṇa’s commentary. Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra’s commentary is missing on this part of the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, so the 1921 edition with Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra’s commentary had to substitute Sāyaṇa’s commentary here. Some longer articles, a short book (Agrawala 1963), and some book excerpts follow. Lastly come the individual verses. Verse 10.129.4 is given as it is repeated in the three main editions of the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka. Here we do have Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra’s commentary, which proved very helpful for interpreting this verse (see translation notes). The other two editions include Sāyaṇa’s commentary.

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1805 H. T. Colebrooke

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1859 anonymous (in Muller)

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1860 pub. 1888 H. H. Wilson

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1863 John Muir

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1870 John Muir

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1875 Monier Williams

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1882 A. E. Gough

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1882 W. D. Whitney

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1886 Adolf Kaegi

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1887 H. W. Wallis

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1892 Ralph Griffith

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1899 Max Muller

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1900 A. A. Macdonell, less v. 5

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1908 M. Bloomfield, less v. 5

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1917 A. A. Macdonell

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1922 A. A. Macdonell

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1923 E. J. Thomas

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1927 M. Winternitz, 1-2, 6-7

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1933 A. Coomaraswamy

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1941 W. Norman Brown

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1956 P. D. Mehta

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1965 Franklin Edgerton

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1965 W. Norman Brown

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1966 A. C. Bose

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1966 Jan Gonda

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1969 P-E. Dumont, T.B.

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1971 Jeanine Miller

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1975 Jean Le Mee

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1975 Walter Maurer

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1976 Antonio de Nicolas

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1977 R. Panikkar

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1981 W. D. O’Flaherty

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1987 Sarasvati & Vidyalankar

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 1999 Joel Brereton

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 2007 Hans H. Hock

Rg-veda 10.129 Eng. 2007 R. L. Kashyap

Rg-veda 10.129 Fre. 1851 A. Langlois

Rg-veda 10.129 Fre. 1956 Louis Renou

Rg-veda 10.129 Fre. 1967 Notes, Renou

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1875 Geldner & Kaegi

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1876 Alfred Ludwig

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1877 H. Grassmann

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1883 Notes, Ludwig

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1887 Lucian Scherman

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1894 Paul Deussen

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1908 Karl Geldner

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1909 Notes, Geldner

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1912 Notes, Oldenberg

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1913 Alfred Hillebrandt

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1951 Karl Geldner

Rg-veda 10.129 Ger. 1964 Paul Thieme

Rg-veda 10.129 Skt. 1863 Th. Aufrecht

Rg-veda 10.129 Skt. 1892 Max Muller 2nd ed.

Rg-veda 10.129 Skt. 1946 Sontakke & Kashikar

Rg-veda 10.129 Skt. 1965 Vishva Bandhu

Rg-veda 10.129 T.B. Skt. 1859 R. Mitra

Rg-veda 10.129 T.B. Skt. 1898 N. Godabole

Rg-veda 10.129 T.B. Skt. 1921 Shama Sastry

Rg-veda 10.129, Edifying Puzzlement, Brereton 1999

Rg-veda 10.129, Hymn of Creation, Agrawala 1963

Rg-veda 10.129, Hymn of Creation, Miller 1971

Rg-veda 10.129, Kosmogonie van, Gonda 1966 Dutch

Rg-veda 10.129, Poet-Philosophers of the Rgveda 1963

Rg-veda 10.129, Re-examination of, Maurer 1975

Rg-veda 10.129, Reflections on, Alfred Collins 1975

Rg-veda 10.129, Sparks from the Vedic Fire 1962

Rg-veda 10.129, Theories of Creation in the Rig Veda, Brown 1965

Rg-veda 10.129.3 Heat in the Rig Veda, Blair 1961

Rg-veda 10.129.4 T.A. Skt. 1872 R. Mitra

Rg-veda 10.129.4 T.A. Skt. 1898 B. Phadake

Rg-veda 10.129.4 T.A. Skt. 1900 Sastri & Rangacarya

Rg-veda 10.129.5 Philosophical Significance, Jwala Prasad 1929

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On the eternal Germ

By Ingmar de Boer on April 18, 2013 at 6:46 pm

In The Secret Doctrine, in volume I, stanza II, śloka 5-6 (SD I, 28), the Book of Dzyan speaks of a germ from which the universe is born:



In SD I, 1 we find an explanation of this twofold germ in terms of the symbols displayed on the palm leaves of the archaic document mentioned by HPB in the first lines of the Proem:

The point in the hitherto immaculate Disk, Space and Eternity in Pralaya, denotes the dawn of differentiation. It is the Point in the Mundane Egg [...], the germ within the latter which will become the Universe, the ALL, the boundless, periodical Kosmos, this germ being latent and active, periodically and by turns.

absolute - 4 - 2The central point in the circle in the second archaic symbol represents the eternal germ. This germ is one of the fundamental aspects of the unmanifested universe. In SD I, 379 we find another important clue as to the nature of the germ:

The spirit of Fire (or Heat), which stirs up, fructifies, and develops into concrete form everything (from its ideal prototype), which is born of WATER or primordial Earth, evolved Brahma — with the Hindus. The lotus flower, represented as growing out of Vishnu’s navel — that God resting on the waters of space and his Serpent of Infinity — is the most graphic allegory ever made: the Universe evolving from the central Sun, the POINT, the ever-concealed germ.

The navel of Viṣṇu is symbolic for the eternal germ, the central point in the Mundane Egg.

From SD I, 381n we learn that we might look for this allegory, or creation story, “in Indian Puranas”:

* In Indian Puranas it is Vishnu, the first, and Brahma, the second logos, or the ideal and practical creators, who are respectively represented, one as manifesting the lotus, the other as issuing from it.

There are several versions of the story of the birth of Brahmā, for example one of these is found in Manusmṛti chapter I, verses 10-17 and another one in the Mahabhārata book III, section 270. The Manusmṛti version is referred to by HPB in SD I, 333. In the Viṣṇu Purāṇa the story is touched upon several times. In the Bhāgavata Purāṇa however, BhP III.8.10-17, we find a fairly detailed version of the story. In verse 10 in the French 1840 translation of Eugène Burnouf, the primordial state of of the universe is presented like this:

10. Au temps où l’univers tout entier était submergé par les eaux, celui dont les yeux ne se ferment s’abandonna au sommeil, couché sur un lit formé par le Roi des serpents, solitaire, inactif, et trouvant sa dans sa propre béatitude.

We may recognize the waters as the darkness or space from the Book of Dzyan, and the bed formed by the King of serpents, as eternal duration. The serpent in this version of the story is called Śeṣa, and in some other versions it is called Ānanta, meaning endless or eternal. In SD I, 73 we have:

Sesha or Ananta, ‘the couch of Vishnu,’ is an allegorical abstraction, symbolizing infinite Time in Space, which contains the germ and throws off periodically the efflorescence of this germ, the manifested Universe….”.

Viṣṇu’s state of sleep in verse 10 represents pralaya, the tamasic state, a state of inertia. Then there are three qualities attributed to the pralayic state of Viṣṇu: 1. solitaire, 2. inactif, and 3. trouvant sa dans sa propre béatitude. The Sanskrit (see GRETIL: Gaudiya Grantha Mandira) terms here are 1. eka, 2. kṛtakṣaṇa and 3. svātmaratau nirīha:

10. udāplutaṃ viśvam idaṃ tadāsīd yan nidrayāmīlitadṛṅ nyamīlayat
ahīndratalpe ‘dhiśayāna ekaḥ kṛtakṣaṇaḥ svātmaratau nirīhaḥ

The term eka simply means “one”, a term we come across very frequently in volume I of The Secret Doctrine. It is slightly different from Burnouf’s “solitaire”, as it is a more philosophical term indicating primordial unity, rather than isolation or separateness.

Kṛtakṣaṇa would be something like “waiting for the right moment”, composed of kṛta, “done”, and kṣaṇa, “moment”. (Monier-Williams) An alternative “in leisure time”, “waiting”, “pausing”, as opposed to “inactif”, would incorporate the element of time, which is important in subsequent verses. (kāla)

Svātmaratau means “both his own self and delighting”, and nirīha is “indifferent”, “without desire”, “effortless”, or “motionless”, so svātmaratau nirīhaḥ might be translated as “remaining in unity, delighting, without effort”.

In BhP III.8.13-14 the lotus is produced from the navel of Viṣṇu:

13. L’essence subtile, renfermée au sein de celui dont le regard pénètre les molécules élémentaires des choses, agitée par la qualité de la Passion qui s’était développée sous l’influence du temps, sortit, pour créer, de la région de son nombril.

14. Elle s’éleva rapidement sous la forme d’une tige de lotus, par l’action du temps qui réveille les œuvres; ce lotus dont l’Esprit [suprême] est la matrice, éclairait, comme le soleil, de sa splendeur la vaste étendue des eaux.

The corresponding Sanskrit is:

13. tasyārthasūkṣmābhiniviṣṭadṛṣṭer antargato ‘rtho rajasā tanīyān
guṇena kālānugatena viddhaḥ sūṣyaṃs tadābhidyata nābhideśāt

14. sa padmakośaḥ sahasodatiṣṭhat kālena karmapratibodhanena
svarociṣā tat salilaṃ viśālaṃ vidyotayann arka ivātmayoniḥ

The quality of Passion, rajas, stimulates primordial matter, which rises up through the navel taking the form of the bud or stalk of a lotus. (padmakośa)

In verse 13 we have kālānugatena, which is kāla + anugata + -ena, “through acquirement with time” (cf. Monier-Williams), corresponding to Burnouf’s “qui s’était développée sous l’influence du temps”. An alternative would be “after a certain period”, “at a certain time/moment”. In verse 14 we have kālena, “by time”, or “through the workings of time”, “par l’action du temps”, and again an alternative would be the instrumental of time: “in time”, “at a certain moment” or perhaps even HPB’s more poetic “when the hour has struck”.


No. 47.110/60 1 in The National Museum, New Delhi

Returning to the enigmatic quotation from the “Occult Catechism” in SD I, 11:

“What is it that ever is?” “Space, the eternal Anupadaka.”* “What is it that ever was?” “The Germ in the Root.” “What is it that is ever coming and going?” “The Great Breath.” [..]

The eternal germ is the principle “that ever was” because it is at any time the origin of the current world process. It is the First Logos, or as we have seen, in terms of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Viṣṇu, or more specifically the navel of Viṣṇu.

Burnouf - BhP t I - p 191-192
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On the eternal Germ - 2
Title: On the eternal Germ - 2 ( click)
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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on April 4, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Part 3: Comparison of Ṛg-veda 10.129 with the Book of Dzyan

Now that we have what I consider to be an adequate basis for comparison, with the translation choices and the reasons for them explained at length, we may proceed with the comparison of Ṛg-veda 10.129 with the Book of Dzyan. We should keep in mind that the Ṛg-veda hymns are poems, not philosophical or scientific treatises. About the handful of Ṛg-veda hymns that may be considered cosmogonic, C. Kunhan Raja writes (Poet-Philosophers of the Ṛgveda, 1963, p. 221):

“They are primarily poetry and they are poetry with a philosophical topic. In the other places we have poetry with a philosophical back-ground. We have only poetry in the Ṛgveda and we never have a text book on any philosophical topic.”

Among the Ṛg-veda hymns that may be considered cosmogonic, e.g., 10.90 to puruṣa, 10.121 to hiraṇya-garbha, 10.81-82 to viśva-karman, and perhaps a few others, 10.129 is unique. It gives a more or less straightforward account of cosmogony, without mythology. It therefore provides us with quite the closest comparison from the Vedas to the Book of Dzyan.

RV 10.129.1. [It] was not non-existent, nor was [it] existent then. There was no world, nor sky, [nor] what is beyond. What moved incessantly? Where? In the abode of what? Was [it] water, dense [and] deep?

“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 1, śloka 6: “. . . the Universe, the son of necessity, was immersed in pariniṣpanna, to be outbreathed by that which is and yet is not. Naught was.”; 1.8: “Alone the one form of existence stretched boundless, infinite, causeless, in dreamless sleep; and life pulsated unconscious in universal space, . . .”; 3.2: “. . . the darkness that breathes over the slumbering waters of life.”

In particular, we may compare Ṛg-veda 10.129.1a, “[It] was not non-existent, nor was [it] existent then,” with the phrase in Book of Dzyan 1.6, “that which is and yet is not,” which is further clarified in the following stanza 1.7, “eternal non-being—the one being.” For Ṛg-veda 10.129.1c, “What moved incessantly?,” the “incessantly” is only an attempt to render the sense of “repeated” in the intensive verb “moved,” which sense was rendered by Geldner as “back and forth” (hin und her), by Gonda as “intermittently,” and by Hock as “kept on” moving. The parallel phrase in Book of Dzyan 1.8 is “life pulsated unconscious,” where “pulsated” well shows repeated movement. The “water, dense [and] deep” asked about in Ṛg-veda 10.129.1d may be compared with “the slumbering waters of life” that darkness breathes over in Book of Dzyan 3.2, called in 3.3 “the mother deep.”

RV 10.129.2. There was not death nor life (“non-death”) then. There was no distinguishing sign of night [or] of day. That one breathed without air by [its] inherent power. Other than just that, there was not anything else.

“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 2, śloka 2: “. . . No, there was neither silence nor sound; naught save ceaseless eternal breath, which knows itself not.”

According to The Secret Doctrine, “The Great Breath” is “absolute Abstract Motion” (vol. 1, p. 14), which along with “absolute abstract Space” are the two aspects under which the one ultimate principle is symbolized. This breath or motion, the eternal cause, can also be described as force (SD 1.93 fn., speaking of the eternal nidāna or cause, the Oi-Ha-Hou): “. . . it is a term to denote the ceaseless and eternal Cosmic Motion; or rather the Force that moves it, which Force is tacitly accepted as the Deity but never named. It is the eternal kāraṇa, the ever-acting Cause.” This motion or force can also be described as svabhāva, something’s “inherent nature” (The Mahatma Letters, #22, 3rd ed. p. 136): “Their plastic, invisible, eternal, omnipresent and unconscious svabhāva is Force or Motion ever generating its electricity which is life.” The svadhā, “inherent power” or force by which “that one” breathed without air in Ṛg-veda 10.129.2c, is apparently the svabhāva or “inherent nature” of “that one.”

RV 10.129.3. Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning. All this was water without distinguishing sign. That one germ which was covered by the void was born through the power of heat.

“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 1, śloka 5: “Darkness alone filled the boundless all, for father, mother and son were once more one, . . .”; 2.3: “The hour had not yet struck; the ray had not yet flashed into the germ; . . .”; 2.5: “. . . Darkness alone was Father-Mother, svabhāva; and svabhāva was in darkness.”; 2.6: “These two are the Germ, and the Germ is one. . . .”; 3.2: “The vibration sweeps along, touching with its swift wing the whole universe, and the germ that dwelleth in darkness: the darkness that breathes over the slumbering waters of life.”; 3.3: “Darkness radiates light, and light drops one solitary ray into the waters, into the mother deep. The ray shoots through the virgin egg; the ray causes the eternal egg to thrill, and drop the non-eternal germ, which condenses into the world-egg.”

To this we may add a quotation from the “Occult Catechism,” cited in The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 11: “What is it that ever is?” “Space, the eternal aupapāduka (“parentless”).” “What is it that ever was?” “The Germ in the Root.” “What is it that is ever coming and going?” “The Great Breath.” “Then, there are three Eternals?” “No, the three are one. That which ever is is one, that which ever was is one, that which is ever being and becoming is also one: and this is Space.” This goes along with Book of Dzyan 3.8: “Where was the germ, and where was now darkness? Where is the spirit of the flame that burns in thy lamp, oh Lanoo? The germ is that, and that is light; the white brilliant son of the dark hidden father.”

The parallels with darkness and the germ are self-evident. The “water without distinguishing sign” spoken of here in Ṛg-veda 10.129.3b, “All this was water without distinguishing sign,” may be compared with “the great dark waters” in Book of Dzyan 3.7, “Bright Space Son of Dark Space, which emerges from the depths of the great dark waters,” as opposed to “the great waters” at the end of that stanza that are manifested. In the Book of Dzyan it is light rather than the closely related heat in Ṛg-veda 10.129.3d that produces the cosmos. But in Book of Dzyan 3.6 light is heat, “. . . radiant light, which was fire, and heat, and motion,” and in 3.9 light produces heat, which in turn yields the manifested water: “Light is cold flame, and flame is fire, and fire produces heat, which yields water: the water of life in the great mother.” The manifested water symbolizes manifested matter (SD 1.82), which constitutes the manifested cosmos.

RV 10.129.4. Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ], which was the first seed of mind. Sages, having searched in the heart with inspired thought, found out [desire to be] the link of the existent in the non-existent.

The parallel of “desire” (kāma) here in this cosmogonic hymn to Eros in the Greek cosmogony has long been noted by Vedic scholars. In The Secret Doctrine, what is parallel to Eros is the otherwise unknown Fohat (vol. 1, p. 109). Fohat is there described as “the mysterious link between Mind and Matter” (1.16). “Fohat, in his capacity of Divine Love (Eros), the electric Power of affinity and sympathy, is shown allegorically as trying to bring the pure Spirit, the Ray inseparable from the ONE absolute, into union with the Soul, the two constituting in Man the Monad, and in Nature the first link between the ever unconditioned and the manifested” (1.119). This is apparently what the sages found out desire to be in Ṛg-veda 10.129.4, “the link of the existent in the non-existent.” How Fohat or desire functions as the link between the non-existent or ever unconditioned and the existent or manifested is poetically pictured in Book of Dzyan 3.12: “Then svabhāva sends Fohat to harden the atoms. . . .”

RV 10.129.5. Their cord was extended across. Was there a below? Was there an above? There were seed-placers, there were powers; inherent power below, impulse above.

“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 3, śloka 7: “. . . Behold him lifting the veil and unfurling it from east to west. He shuts out the above, and leaves the below to be seen as the great illusion. . . .”

RV 10.129.6. Who really knows? Who here can say? From where has [it] been born? From where [has come] this manifestation? The gods are later than the manifestation of this [cosmos]. Then who knows from what [it] has come into being?

RV 10.129.7. From what this manifestation has come into being, whether [it] was made or whether not, its overseer who is in the highest heaven, he surely knows; or else [he] knows not.

As I hope will be obvious to all who read this, there are close parallels between Ṛg-veda 10.129 and the Book of Dzyan; e.g., what is neither non-existent nor existent, its breathing, darkness, etc. It is true that Blavatsky had access to the anonymous translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129 published by Max Müller in 1859, and even quoted five of its seven verses in The Secret Doctrine facing the opening of the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan. However, a reader not knowing the source of either would far more likely conclude that the brief Ṛg-veda 10.129 was derived from the extensive stanzas of the Book of Dzyan than that the latter were elaborated from Ṛg-veda 10.129.

Now, what can be gained by this comparison? The fact is that the meanings of many Vedic words given in our European language Sanskrit dictionaries are guesses, and likewise the meanings of many Vedic words given in the Sāyaṇa Sanskrit commentaries on the Vedas are also guesses. Comparison with the Book of Dzyan clarifies some of these meanings, providing a new source of information that is no less helpful than guesses based on context or guesses based on late Indian tradition. Conversely, comparison with Ṛg-veda 10.129 shows us the oldest known formulation of what are obviously many of the very same ideas. These ideas, according to ancient Indian tradition, are not the speculations of fledgling philosophers, but rather are the result of the direct spiritual vision of advanced sages, coming down to us from an age of truth.

Category: Creation Stories | 2 comments


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on April 2, 2013 at 1:44 am

Part 2: Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”

Translation Notes (continued and concluded)

RV 10.129.6a: kó addhá̄ veda ká ihá prá vocat, “Who really knows? Who here can say?” As listed in Maurice Bloomfield’s Rig-Veda Repetitions (p. 482), this verse quarter is also found in Ṛg-veda 3.54.5a. Verse 3.54.5 is, as translated by Griffith: “What pathway leadeth to the Gods? Who knoweth this of a truth, and who will now declare it? Seen are their lowest dwelling-places only, but they are in remote and secret regions.” Other verses ask the same two questions, using mostly the same words, but with small variations. For example, Ṛg-veda 1.164.18, as translated by Vasudeva S. Agrawala (Vision in Long Darkness, p. 68): “Beneath the Upper Realm and above the Lower One, who knows the father of this Calf? Who as a Sage putting his thoughts into verses has been able to declare whence hath the godlike Mind originated.”

The exact sense of indeclinables such as addhā, here translated as “really,” is sometimes hard to determine. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses it nicely as pāramārthyena, “ultimately.”

RV 10.129.6b: kúta á̄jātā kúta iyáṃ vísṛṣṭiḥ, “From where has [it] been born? From where [has come] this manifestation?” The word visṛṣṭi is often translated as “creation.” I think this is a good translation as long as one sees it as creation out of something, like creating a pot out of clay. Because “creation” is often associated in Western culture as the creation of the world out of nothing, a number of translators have preferred other words, such as the more literal “emanation.” I have used “manifestation” for visṛṣṭi.

The usual form of the word for creation or manifestation is sṛṣṭi, without the prefix vi-. Gonda apparently came to regard visṛṣṭi in this verse as referring not to just “creation,” but rather to “secondary creation,” as he translated it in his 1983 article, “The Creator and his Spirit” (p. 33, fn. 138): “According to ṚV 10, 121, 9 he [Prajāpati] created earth, sky and waters, the ‘secondary creation’ (visṛṣṭi) of 10, 129, 6.” In his 1966 translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129 (p. 696), Gonda had translated visṛṣṭi as “creation-in-differentiation” and “creation (emanation)-in-differentiation.” Primary and secondary creation are distinguished in the purāṇas.

The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries understand the two occurrences of kutaḥ, “from where,” as asking from what upādāna-kāraṇa, “material cause,” and from what nimitta-kāraṇa, “instrumental cause.” These terms are often used in Indian philosophical texts, so their meaning is taken for granted in the Sāyaṇa commentaries. Using the analogy of a pot, the material cause is the clay, and the instrumental cause is the potter.

RV 10.129.6c: arvá̄g devá̄ asyá visárjanena, “The gods are later than the manifestation of this [cosmos].” The word visarjana is a synonym of visṛṣṭi, so I have also translated it as “manifestation.” We here have it in the instrumental case, visarjanena, going with arvāk, “afterwards, later.” Expressions with arvāk normally use the ablative case, but we occasionally see other cases used with it if required by the meter. I have here translated the instrumental visarjanena in the ablative sense, “than the manifestation.”

RV 10.129.6d: áthā kó veda yáta ābabhú̄va, “Then who knows from what [it] has come into being?” We here see a common feature of Vedic verse: the lengthening of final vowels in order to fit the meter. The indeclinable word atha has here become athā, just like vyoma became vyomā in 10.129.1b. That this has occurred is confirmed in the pada-pāṭha, which gives the words without the lengthened final vowel.

RV 10.129.7ab: iyáṃ vísṛṣṭir yáta ābabhú̄va yádi vā dadhé yádi vā ná, “From what this manifestation has come into being, whether [it] was made or whether not.” The big question in understanding this verse pertains to the verb dadhe, “produced, made, established, upheld.” No subject is stated, and one must be supplied for it. Moreover, the intended voice of this perfect tense middle voice verb is uncertain, since the middle voice may also be used in a passive voice sense (William Dwight Whitney, Sanskrit Grammar, p. 201, paragraph 531, and p. 361, para. 998c-d; A. A. Macdonell, Vedic Grammar, p. 312, para. 410.A.a, and A Vedic Grammar for Students, p. 117, para. 121; see also Maurice Bloomfield and Franklin Edgerton, Vedic Variants, vol. I: The Verb, pp. 51-52). If taken in the middle voice sense, an object must also be supplied for this transitive verb. The whole question of the meaning and usage of the middle voice in the Ṛg-veda, and why it often appears to be used in a passive sense, was studied in detail by Jan Gonda in his 1979 book, The Medium in the Ṛgveda. His conclusion that it may best be described as an “eventive” voice will be discussed below, in relation to this verse, after considering the more immediate question of what the subject of dadhe is here.

Among 36 English translations, a majority (17) supply “it” as the subject, referring to the preceding words, iyaṃ visṛṣṭi, “this creation/manifestation.” A minority (11) supply “he” as the subject, referring to the words adhyakṣa, “overseer,” and saḥ, “he,” from the next line. A few (5) supply a generic “any one,” or “any,” or “one” as the subject, not referring either to the preceding “this” or the following “he.” A few (3) supply “it” as the subject, referring to the preceding “that from which this creation came into being.” The German translation by Karl Geldner (1951) supplies “he” as the subject and takes the verb dadhe in its middle voice sense. The German translation by Paul Thieme (1964) and the French translation by Louis Renou (1956, 1967) supply “it” as the subject and take the verb dadhe in a passive voice sense. Among the three extant Sanskrit commentaries, Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava and the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary supply “he” (saḥ) as the subject. The former explains “he” as the sraṣṭṛ, the “creator,” and the latter explains “he” as paramātman, the “supreme self,” and then as īśvara, “God.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary supplies “that” (tat) as the subject, referring to the preceding “that from which this manifestation has come into being,” explained as the upādāna-kāraṇa, the “material cause.”

I have accepted the impersonal pronoun “it” rather than the personal pronoun “he” as the unstated subject of the verb dadhe here. This is because there is no indication in the previous verses of anything but an evolutionary process of creation or manifestation, nothing that would require the involvement or direction of a personal being as creator. I see no reason to believe that this early hymn had God under consideration as the maker of the cosmos (see my article: “God’s Arrival in India”). If the adhyakṣa, “overseer,” from the next line was the creator, one would have expected him to appear at the beginning of this hymn, not at the end. This is to say nothing of the question posed in this last verse as to whether or not even he knows from what this manifestation has come into being.

Those who supply “he” as the subject take the verb dadhe in its middle voice sense, “he produced, made, established, upheld,” and also supply an object, “it” (this creation); saying, “whether he made it or whether not.” Those who supply “any one” as the subject do the same; saying, “whether any one made it or whether not.” Those who supply “it” as the subject, referring to the preceding “that from which this creation came into being,” do the same; saying, “whether it (that from which this creation came into being) made it (this creation) or whether not” (so Bose 1966: “whether It had held it together or It had not”; verbatim except for the capital letters in de Nicolás 1976; nearly the same in Panikkar 1977: “whether it held it firm or it did not”).

Those who supply “it” as the subject, referring to “this creation or manifestation,” usually take the verb dadhe in a passive sense, “it was produced, was made, was established, was upheld”; saying, “whether it was made or whether not.” No object is stated in a passive construction (since the object has become the subject). A few who supply “it” as the subject, referring to “this creation or manifestation,” take the verb dadhe in its middle voice sense, and also supply an object, “itself”; saying, “whether it made itself or whether not” (Whitney 1882; Bloomfield 1908; Edgerton 1965 only in a footnote: “perhaps, ‘established itself’”; O’Flaherty 1981: “whether it formed itself”). Here the reflexive sense of the middle (ātmane-pada) voice, where the action is directed back on itself, is expressed by the word “itself.” In the translations that supply “he” as the subject (11), or “any one” as the subject (5), or “it” as the subject, referring to the preceding “that from which this creation came into being” (3), the reflexive sense of the middle voice is not expressed. The reflexive sense in these cases would be, “he made it for himself.”

When the verb dadhe is taken in a passive sense, “it was produced, made, established, upheld,” no agency is expressed in these translations (even though it could be). The action could be done automatically or by itself (saying, “it was made by itself”), or by some unspecified other (“by it” or “by him”) or a host of others (“by them”). The agentless passive reading, as stated by Maurer (1975, p. 234), “by omitting all mention of the agency, might imply either the kind of evolution which has been the principal subject of the hymn or some cosmic agency, not necessary the overseer, however.” When the verb dadhe is taken in its middle sense, and accepting “it” rather than “he” as the subject, it pretty much has to be understood as “it made itself.” This, as already stated, expresses the reflexive sense of the middle (ātmane-pada) voice. This is apparently how W. Norman Brown took it in his two translations (1941, 1965), “whether spontaneously or not.” While I find the middle sense as “[it] made [itself]” quite plausible as what the hymn intended, I have opted for translating dadhe in an agentless passive sense, “[it] was made,” as allowing for a wider range of possibilities.

The need to translate middle voice verbs in many cases as if they were passive voice verbs has long been apparent. This led researchers to try to determine more accurately the precise function of the middle voice in ancient Indo-European languages such as Sanskrit. Jan Gonda concluded that the middle voice is best understood as an “eventive” voice. In his 1960 article, “Reflections on the Indo-European Medium,” he explains what he means by this: “The hypothesis seems to be plausible that a widespread use was already in prehistoric times made of the middle forms to indicate that something comes or happens to a person (or object), befalls him, takes place in the person of the subject so as to affect him etc., without any agens being mentioned, implied, or even known. Very often the subject is a person or other living being and the process may take place even contrary to his wishes, unintentionally, more or less automatically. In the ancient periods of the I.-E. languages this use was very frequent.” (Lingua, vol. 9, 1960, p. 49; reprinted in his Selected Studies, vol. 1, 1975, p. 126). Gonda relates this definition to the known reflexive sense of the middle voice (p. 66 or p. 143): “On the strength of the preceding considerations the hypothesis seems therefore justified that the ‘original’ or ‘essential’ function of the medial voice was not exactly to signify that the subject ‘performs a process that is performed in himself’, but to denote that a process is taking place with regard to, or is affecting, happening to, a person or a thing.”

The above-quoted study by Gonda covered middle voice verbs in the whole range of Indo-European languages, and included many examples from ancient Greek, etc., besides Sanskrit. Gonda then went on to study all the occurrences of middle voice verbs in just the Ṛg-veda. Gonda opens his 1979 book, The Medium in the Ṛgveda, by re-stating his definition of the “eventive” middle voice (pp. 1-2): “this diathesis primarily or essentially served to indicate that a process is taking place with regard to a person who, or thing which, is the subject; that it happens to a person or an object, befalls him (it), is at work in the person or thing which is subject of the sentence so as to affect (it); that that person etc. is in a definite physical or mental condition or in a certain set of circumstances etc., without any agens being mentioned, implied, or even known. Very often the subject is a person or other living being and the process may take place spontaneously, unintentionally, more or less automatically, even contrary to the subject’s wishes.” This voice is not easy for us to understand, or to express in English. This is because, as noted by Gonda partially quoting another writer (p. 3, fn. 10): “the fact that ‘the mode of thought and expression’ that is characteristic of modern English ‘which has no distinction of voices as Sanskrit and Greek possess’ often precludes ‘the possibility of thinking from the standpoint of the (ancient) Indians’.”

Among the many examples of the “eventive” character of the middle voice, Gonda gives the passage here under discussion from Ṛg-veda 10.129.7. This illustrates a way to translate the middle voice verb dadhe as an eventive. He quotes this (p. 19) from his 1966 translation: “this creation (emanation)-in-differentiation . . . , whether it is the result of an act of founding (establishing: yádi vā dadhé) or not . . .” The case that Gonda has made for the middle voice being an eventive voice is thorough and, I think, conclusive. While I fully accept Gonda’s explanation of the middle voice as an eventive voice, I have chosen to translate this phrase using an agentless English passive, “was made” (“whether [it] was made or whether not”), in order to avoid a rather lengthy paraphrase of the verb as “is the result of an act of founding.” Like the eventive, which is used without any agent being mentioned, implied, or even known, a passive can also be used without an agent. This, it seems to me, is the main point here in this verse.

RV 10.129.7c: yó asyá̄dhyakṣaḥ paramé výoman, “its overseer who is in the highest heaven.” The noun adhyakṣa is most often translated fairly literally as “overseer.” Here the prefix adhi (adhy) means “over,” and akṣa, “eye,” means “seer.” Like the English word overseer, the Sanskrit word adhyakṣa has the meanings “controller,” “supervisor,” “the one in charge,” etc. However, it may be intended here simply as “surveyor,” “one who surveys,” as some have translated it. Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava glosses it quite literally as adhidraṣṭṛ, “overseer.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses it as īśvara, “God.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary glosses it as svāmī, “master.”

The word vyoman has been taken as a locative, as if vyomani, “in the heaven,” agreeing with the locative parame, “in the highest.” The apparently elided final “i” of vyoman as a locative is not uncommon in Vedic verse. For example, in Ṛg-veda 10.5.7, we see the same phrase, parame vyoman, “in the highest heaven.”

RV 10.129.7d: só aṅgá veda yádi vā ná véda, “he surely knows; or else [he] knows not.” The particle aṅga can mean “just, only,” or “indeed, surely,” and translators have to choose one or the other. Either one could be intended. It is taken as “just, only,” in Sāyaṇa’s Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary, where it is glossed as eva, while it is taken as “indeed, surely,” in Sāyaṇa’s Ṛg-veda commentary, where it is defined as prasiddhau, and glossed as api nāma. Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava does not gloss it. It can also be a vocative, sometimes translated as “sir” (Kunhan Raja takes it this way here), “dear one,” etc.

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on March 31, 2013 at 5:29 am

Part 2: Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”

Translation Notes (continued)

RV 10.129.5: This verse is repeated in the “white” or Śukla Yajur-veda, i.e., the Vājasaneyi-saṃhitā, in both the Mādhyandina recension at 33.74, and in the Kāṇva recension at 32.6.5 (or 32.74).

RV 10.129.5a: tiraścí̄no vítato raśmír eṣām, “Their cord was extended across.” The word raśmi can mean “cord, string, rope,” or it can mean “ray,” as in a ray of light. The two Sāyaṇa commentaries accept “ray,” while most translators accept “cord” (Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava does not gloss it).  I have accepted “cord” because of parallels to two Atharva-veda hymns among the small number that pertain to this subject matter. In Atharva-veda 10.8.37-38 the phrase sūtram vitatam, “extended/stretched thread,” (in which created beings are woven) occurs twice. This phrase is directly parallel to the phrase here in Ṛg-veda 10.129.5, vitato raśmi (“extended cord”), and would incline us to take raśmi as a cord rather than as a ray. In Atharva-veda 13.1.6 the supreme parameṣṭhin stretched out (tatāna) the tantu, the “thread/cord,” after rohita gave birth to heaven and earth. Here we have not only a stretched out thread or cord, but even the ideas around it are parallel.

These Atharva-veda parallels were noticed already by Lucian Scherman in his 1887 book, Philosophische Hymnen aus der Rig- und Atharva-Veda-Sanhitâ. He there (p. 10) gave a partial German translation of Atharva-veda verses 10.8.37, 13.1.6, and 2.1.5, all of which speak of an extended or stretched thread (German “Faden”). The first reference, to 10.8.37, was picked up and repeated by Hermann Oldenberg in his Ṛgveda: Textkritische und exegetische Noten (vol. 2, 1912, p. 347), by A. A. Macdonell in his Vedic Reader for Students (1917, p. 210), and also by Karl Geldner in his German translation of the Rig-Veda (vol. 3, 1951, p. 360, note on 5a). A full English translation of Atharva-veda verses 10.8.37-38 was given by Jwala Prasad in his article, “The Philosophical Significance of Ṛgveda X, 129, 5, and Verses of an Allied Nature” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1929, pp. 586-599, attached), p. 596:

“One who would know the stretched thread across which these creatures are woven; one who would know the thread of this thread, it is he who would know the great Brāhmaṇa.”

“I know the stretched thread across which these creatures are woven, I know the thread of this thread, hence (I know) that which is great Brāhmaṇa.”

Atharva-veda hymn 10.8 appears to be a continuation of the somewhat cosmological hymn 10.7 describing skambha. Skambha means “prop, support, pillar,” and is understood to be the “frame” of creation, as translated by William Dwight Whitney (1905). Hymn 10.7 is cosmological in the sense that skambha is the all, the entire universe, whose parts are its parts. Skambha is therefore in one sense the same as the ultimate brahman or ātman. The Atharvavedīya Bṛhat Sarvānukramaṇikā gives the “deity” (devatā) or subject of each hymn. For hymn 10.7 it gives “skambha or adhyātma,” and for hymn 10.8 it gives “adhyātma” (ed. Vishva Bandhu, 1966, pp. 83, 84). Adhyātma refers to the ātman or to the inner side of things. There was once an adhyātma school of Vedic interpretation (see the important article on this: “The Vedas and Adhyātma Tradition,” by Vasudeva S. Agrawala, Indian Culture, vol. 5, no. 3, Jan. 1939, pp. 285-292, attached). Atharva-veda verse 10.7.28 says that in the beginning skambha poured forth the golden germ (hiraṇya-garbha). In verse 10.7.34 wind or air is the breath of skambha. In verses 10.7.17 and 10.8.20 the “great Brāhmaṇa” spoken of in the verses 37-38 quoted above is apparently identified with skambha.

A brief English summary followed by a translation of most of Atharva-veda hymn 10.7 and part of hymn 10.8 was given by John Muir in his Original Sanskrit Texts, vol. 5, 1870, pp. 378-386, in the section titled, “Skambha and Brahma.” This preceded the first published English translation of the whole Atharva-veda by Ralph Griffith (1895-1896), and the posthumously published full translation (less chap. 20) by Whitney already mentioned (1905), both made independently of each other. Four more English translations of the Atharva-veda have been published. Three of these are connected with the Ārya Samāj and were made in accordance with the monotheistic interpretation of the Vedas put forward in the late 1800s by Svāmī Dayānanda Sarasvatī. These are by Devi Chand (1982), Vaidya Nath Shastri (2 vols., 1984), and Satya Prakash Sarasvati (5 vols., 1992, less chap. 20). Devi Chand translates verse 10.8.38 as: “I know the Vast Matter, on which all these creatures are strung. I know the Efficient Cause of Matter, Who is God the Almighty.” The translation by R. L. Kashyap (6 vols., 2010-2012) was made in accordance with the psychological interpretation of the Vedas put forward by Sri Aurobindo.

What I regard as the best of the three references given by Scherman, Atharva-veda verse 13.1.6, does not seem to have been picked up by Vedic scholars. Atharva-veda hymn 13.1 is about rohita, the “red,” referring to something that is common to both fire and the sun (yet it is not either of these per se, both of which have many Vedic hymns addressed to them individually as agni (fire) and sūrya (sun), etc.). Verse 13.1.6 first says that rohita gave birth to heaven and earth, placing us in the same setting at the beginning of creation as in Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129. It then speaks of the tantu, the “thread, cord, line, web,” that the supreme parameṣṭhin stretched out (tatāna). This hymn 13.1, like hymns 10.7 and 10.8, also has adhyātma as its “deity” (devatā) or subject, and is thus about the inner or higher side of things. Interestingly, the ṛṣi or seer of Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129 is Prajāpati parameṣṭhin, explained by Sāyaṇa as Prajāpati named Parameṣṭhin; i.e., the supreme as the Lord of Progeny. This is the same term as the parameṣṭhin here in Atharva-veda 13.1.6 who stretched out the thread or cord. Verse 13.1.6 may be translated as follows:

“The red (rohita) gave birth to heaven and earth. There the supreme (parameṣṭhin) stretched out the thread (tantu). There reposed the unborn (aja) one-footed (eka-pāda). [It] established heaven and earth by [its] strength.”

I have translated this verse with reference to the eight existing English translations known to me. The verb śiśriye in 13.1.6c, like the verb dadhe in Ṛg-veda 10.129.7b (see below), is a perfect tense middle voice verb that can be understood as a passive voice verb (or better, the middle voice should be understood as what Jan Gonda calls an “eventive” voice; see below). Three translators took this verb in a passive sense: Muir (1870, “was sustained”), Whitney (1905, “was supported”), and Kashyap (2010, “was supported”) following Whitney. Like the other five translators, I did not take this verb in a passive sense. My translation, “reposed,” reflects the perfect tense (a past tense) as do those of Bloomfield (1897, “did fix himself”) and Sarasvati (1992, “has taken shelter”), and follows the meaning given by Griffith (1896, “reposeth”), and Shastri (1984, “lies”). The other translation, Chand (1982, “pervades”), is more of a paraphrase. The subject of this verb is aja eka-pāda, translated by me as the “unborn” (aja) “one-footed” (eka-pāda). Some translators take aja in its other meaning, “goat,” thus translating, “the one-footed goat.” It is because I took aja as the “unborn” rather than as a “goat” that I did not take the verb śiśriye in a passive sense.  The verb in 13.1.6d, adṛṃhat, given by me as “established” (in agreement with Muir, 1870; Griffith, 1896; Chand, 1982), can also be understood as “made firm” (Whitney, 1905; Bloomfield, 1897; Sarasvati, 1992; Kashyap, 2010), or “holds firm” (Shastri, 1984).

The third reference given by Scherman in 1887 is to Atharva-veda verse 2.1.5. Hymn 2.1 has brahmātma as its “deity” (devatā) or subject, so it is also concerned with the inner or higher side of things. Verse 2.1.5 speaks of the ṛtasya tantuṃ vitatam, the “extended/stretched thread of the cosmic order (ṛta),” that the speaker of the hymn beholds. This gives us a third parallel to the Ṛg-veda 10.129.5 phrase, vitato raśmi (“extended cord”). The rest of the verse, however, is not clear. It speaks of gods (deva), their immortality, and moving in some way in a common birthplace or origin (yoni). Because of its obscurity of meaning, I have not counted this verse as a parallel used by me. Similarly, there is a possible but uncertain parallel in the famous hymn Ṛg-veda 1.164, whose verse 5 speaks of the sages (kavi) stretching out seven threads (tantu). This verse is, as translated by Vasudeva S. Agrawala (Vision in Long Darkness, 1963, p. 31):

“Immature in understanding, undiscerning in spirit, I ask where the stations of the Gods exist. When the Calf had become the yearling, the Sages [kavi] spread the Seven Threads [tantu] to form a web.”

The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries take raśmi as a “ray,” both comparing it to a ray of the sun (sūrya-raśmi). In order to comprehend what it is a ray of, we have to know how these two commentaries take the pronoun eṣām, “of them, their.” For most translators, the obvious referent for this pronoun is the sages (kavi) from the immediately preceding verse quarter. In support of this, Geldner (1951) gives references to Ṛg-veda 1.159.4 and 10.5.3d. Checking these, we see that they both refer to a thread (tantu) of the sages (kavi). In the translation by Griffith (1892), the first reference says: “They, the refulgent Sages, weave within the sky, yea, in the depths of sea, a web for ever new.” The second reference says: “they wove the Sage’s thread with insight.” Jwala Prasad in his article on this verse (1929, pp. 594-595) provides evidence that the sages or kavis referred to are the Vedic deities called the Ṛbhus. The Ṛbhus are called kavis, being skillful workmen, and according to Ṛg-veda 4.34.9 they divided the universe into heaven and earth. The Sāyaṇa commentaries, however, do not take the pronoun eṣām here as referring to the sages (kavi).

According to the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary on 10.129.5, the pronoun eṣām, “of them,” refers to avidyā-kāma-karmaṇām, “of ignorance, desire, and karma.” These three, made by beings in the previous manifestation of the cosmos, are the cause of the creation or emanation of the about to be manifested cosmos. The raśmi, “ray,” is of these; it is the ray of ignorance, desire, and karma. It is the kārya-varga, the “multitude of effects,” produced by these three causes. It is therefore the “created universe,” as paraphrased by Jwala Prasad (1929, p. 598). This Sāyaṇa commentary says: “Just as a ray of the sun, immediately upon arising, in a mere wink pervades the whole world all at once, so this ray, which is the multitude of effects, quickly pervading everything, was extended or spread out.” Here the questions asked in the next verse quarter, “Was there a below? Was there an above?,” are also being explained. Because this ray of karmic effects manifests so quickly, it is hardly possible to determine a sequence of above or below in the manifestation of the cosmos.

The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary gives us yet another take on the pronoun eṣām and the raśmi as a “ray.” It says that the ray (raśmi), the same as a ray of the sun (sūrya-raśmi-samāna), is a certain light of itself (svayam-prakāśa), something that is consciousness (caitanya-padārtha). The pronoun “of them” refers to everything that makes up the world (jagad-vastu), in the form of the elements and what is made of the elements (bhūta-bhautika-rūpa). So the ray is the paramātman or highest self, in the form of consciousness (caitanya-rūpa), that pervades everything. It is the light (prakāśa) that shines in everything. The questions asked in the next verse quarter, “Was there a below? Was there an above?,” are explained accordingly. Because the ray of the light of consciousness is shining in everything, it is not possible to speak of it in one particular place such as above or below.

Related to the idea of a “ray” of consciousness, a few translators have understood raśmi here as a “line” of thought or a “line” of vision of the mind’s eye (e.g., Maurer 1975, pp. 228, 230: “their line (of vision)”).

RV 10.129.5b: adháḥ svid āsí̄3d upári svid āsī3t, “Was there a below? Was there an above?” As noted under 10.129.1d, the questions made by interrogatives in Sanskrit can be understood in more than one way. Thus, this could also be asking, “Was [it] below? Was [it] above?,” etc. For the interpretations of the two Sāyaṇa commentaries on what these questions are asking about, see the paragraphs immediately above.

RV 10.129.5c: retodhá̄ āsan mahimá̄na āsan, “There were seed-placers, there were powers.” The two nouns in this verse quarter are etymologically clear, but exactly what they refer to is unclear. For the noun retodhāḥ, “seed-placers,” consisting of retas + dhā, the meaning of retas (“seed, semen, rain”) has been discussed under 10.129.4b. The verb-root dhā means primarily to “put” or “place.” It can also mean to “bear,” so that retodhāḥ could also be translated as “seed-bearers.” Who or what, specifically, does this term refer to? It can refer to Agni (Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, to Soma (Ṛg-veda 9.86.39), to Soma as the moon (Maitrāyaṇī-saṃhitā 1.6.9), to bulls (Ṛg-veda 5.69.2), to rain as a bull (Ṛg-veda 7.101.6), etc. It may be generic here. Retodhāḥ has also been translated as “impregnators” or as “fathers.”

The noun mahimānaḥ means literally, “greatnesses.” It can refer to “mighty forces” or “powers,” as I have translated it here, and as I have translated it or its synonym mahinā in 10.129.3d. These “greatnesses” or “powers” can also be the “mighty ones,” the “gods” (deva) of the Vedic pantheon, as for example in Ṛg-veda 1.164.50: “By means of yajña the gods [devāḥ] performed their yajña: those were the primeval ordinances. Those mighty ones [mahimānaḥ] attained the height of heaven, where the Sādhya Gods of old dwell.” (translated by Vasudeva S. Agrawala, Vision in Long Darkness, p. 193). Indeed, the Vedic gods have long been equated with powers. See on this the 1957 book by Jan Gonda, Some Observations on the Relations between “Gods” and “Powers” in the Veda, a propos of the Phrase sūnuḥ sahasaḥ. Gonda there writes (p. 32): “It is clear that a mighty person and his specific might were—like a god and his śakti- in later times, when the latter was considered his spouse—conceived as a kind of ‘unité-dualité’, as a pair of complements forming unity.” Again, referring to names of deities such as sahasaḥ sūnuḥ, “son of power,” for Agni, Gonda writes (p. 50):

“The idea underlying these names is, irrespective of the vagueness of the conception of the divine powers, no doubt the conviction that every superhuman potency or phenomenon has two aspects, which can for the sake of simplicity be called ‘personal’ and ‘impersonal’, or—to express it otherwise—the belief that there must be sentient and rational beings ‘possessing’, supervising and representing the mighty and often dangerous powers which make their presence felt in the universe, beings which, if need be, can dispose of these powers.”

RV 10.129.5d: svadhá̄ avástāt práyatiḥ parástāt, “inherent power below, impulse above.” The word svadhā, which I have translated as “inherent power,” has been discussed above under 10.129.2.c. What is the inherent power by which the “one” breathed without air could be simply “force” below. I have retained “inherent power” for consistency of translation.

The noun prayati, tentatively taken by me as “impulse,” vies with ābhu for being the least understood word in the hymn (with svadhā being a close third). Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava glosses prayati as yajamānānāṃ pradānam, the “offering of the sacrificers,” and glosses the preceding svadhā (which I have taken as “inherent power,” as in verse 2) as udakam, “water.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses prayati as bhoktā (bhoktṛ), the “enjoyer, eater, experiencer,” referring to the preceding svadhā, which he here glosses as anna, “food,” and this as bhogya, what is “to be enjoyed, eaten, experienced.” It may be noted that the strange-sounding glosses of svadhā as udaka, “water,” by Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava, and as anna, “food,” by Sāyaṇa, have their basis in the ancient Vedic word-list called the Nighaṇṭu, where svadhā occurs at 1.12 in a list of names for udaka, “water,” and at 2.7 in a list of names for anna, “food.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary glosses prayati as paramātmā (paramātman), the “highest self,” in a complementary pair with the preceding svadhā, which he glosses as māyā, “illusion,” or avidyā, “ignorance,” and this as pārameśvarī śakti, the feminine “highest god power,” the power of paramātman, the “highest self.” He then compares the two of them as śakti, “power,” and paramātman, the “highest self,” to prakṛti, “matter, substance,” and puruṣa, “spirit,” respectively.

The existing English translations of prayati in this hymn are similarly diverse. Starting with the most recent, these are: Kashyap 2007, “purpose”; Hock 2007, “will”; Brereton 1999, “offering”; Sarasvati & Vidyalankar 1987, “the creator’s effort”; O’Flaherty 1981, “giving-forth”; Panikkar 1977, “forward move”; de Nicolás 1976, [not translated?, typographical error?]; Maurer 1975, “impulse”; Le Mee 1975, “the Will”; Miller 1971, “will”; Dumont 1969, “impulse”; Gonda 1966, “willingness (to give oneself)”; Bose 1966, “forward movement”; Edgerton 1965, “impellent force”; Brown 1965 and 1941, “emanation”; Kunhan Raja 1963, “activity”; Mehta 1956, “energy”; Coomaraswamy 1933, “Purpose”; Jwala Prasad 1929, “the act of offering”; Thomas 1923, “endeavour”; Macdonell 1922 and 1917, “impulse”; Müller 1899, “will”; Griffith 1892, “energy”; Wallis 1887, “the presentation of offerings”; Kaegi 1886, “striving”; Whitney 1882, “offering”; Gough 1882, “energy”; Monier-Williams 1875, “active forces that energized”; Muir 1870 and 1863, “energy”; Wilson 1860?, “the eater” [of food]; Anonymous 1859, “Power and Will”; Colebrooke 1805, “he, who heeds.” It may be noted that translations of the preceding word svadhā are equally diverse, and some of the same English words used for prayati are used for svadhā.

Etymologically, the noun prayati may be derived either from the verb-root yam, in its meaning “give, offer,” or from the verb-root yat, in its meaning “exert oneself, make effort”; these along with the prefix pra, “forth.” The first of these, yam as “offer,” may be seen in the above translations, “giving-forth,” “offering,” “the act of offering,” “the presentation of offerings.” The second of these, yat as “make effort,” may be seen in the majority of the above translations, including “effort,” “energy,” “impellent force,” “impulse,” “will,” “purpose,” “striving,” “activity,” “active forces that energized.” Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava takes prayati as derived from yam, “give, offer,” glossing it as pradāna, “gift, offering.” The Sāyaṇa commentaries take prayati as derived from yat, “exert oneself, make effort” (or simply “act” in some contexts). It is explained in his Ṛg-veda commentary with the noun prayatitṛ, “one who acts” (not prayantṛ, “one who offers”), as the bhoktṛ, the “enjoyer, eater, experiencer.” It is explained in his Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary with the verb prayatate and the noun prayatna. He there says that the paramātman in which that power, i.e., svadhā, exerts itself/acts (prayatate), being the basis for the exercise (prayatna) of that power, is the prayati.

For parallel passages in which prayati occurs, throughout the Vedic texts, we can now consult the monumental 16-volume Vedic Word-Concordance, by Vishva Bandhu and his assistants (Hoshiarpur: Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute, 1935-1965; rev. ed. of vol. 2, parts 1 and 2, 1973; rev. ed. of vol. 1, part 1, 1976; the 2nd eds. of the other volumes are unrevised reprints). For just the Ṛg-veda, besides Hermann Grassmann’s long standard 1873 Wörterbuch zum Rig-Veda, we can now also (or instead) use the 1951 Indices volume (vol. 5) to the Vaidika Saṃśodhana Maṇḍala edition of the Ṛgveda-Saṃhitā, or the 1966 Indices volume (vol. 8) to the Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute edition of the Ṛgveda.

The noun prayati occurs in the Ṛg-veda in three other places, at 1.109.2, 1.126.5, and 8.69.18. In these places it apparently means “gift” or “offering,” and thus would be derived from the root yam. This meaning is based on context, and is also stated by the commentators. For example, 8.69.18 is (Wilson’s translation): “The Priyamedhas have reached the ancient dwelling-place of these deities, having strewed the sacred grass and placed their oblations after the manner of a pre-eminent offering [prayati].” At 1.109.2, where Skandasvāmin’s commentary is available, he writes: prayatir dānārthaḥ, “prayati has the meaning ‘gift’.” He then also glosses it with pradāna, “offering.” Both Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava and the Sāyaṇa commentary gloss prayati in all three of these places as pradāna, “offering.” The context of prayati in these three verses is, however, quite different from its context here in 10.129.5.

The noun prayati also occurs in the Yajur-veda, both in the “white” or Śukla Yajur-veda, and in the “black” or Kṛṣṇa Yajur-veda. In the “white” or Śukla Yajur-veda, called the Vājasaneyi-saṃhitā, it occurs in the Mādhyandina recension at 18.1 and 20.13, and again at 33.74 where this same Ṛg-veda verse 10.129.5 is repeated. In the Kāṇva recension these places are 19.2.1, 21.7.14, and 32.6.5 (or 32.74). In the “black” or Kṛṣṇa Yajur-veda, the verse corresponding to 18.1 is found at Taittirīya-saṃhitā, at Maitrāyaṇī-saṃhitā 2.11.2, at Kāṭhaka-saṃhitā 18.7, and at Kapiṣṭhala-saṃhitā 28.7, while the verse corresponding to 20.13 is found at Maitrāyaṇī-saṃhitā 3.11.8, and at Kāṭhaka-saṃhitā 38.4. In these two verses, 18.1 and 20.13, prayati apparently does not refer to offerings, but rather to something that is (or can be) a quality of a person.

In verse 18.1 of the “white” or Śukla Yajur-veda (Mādhyandina recension) the person says (Griffith’s translation): “May my strength and my gain, and my inclination [prayati] and my influence, and my thought and my mental power, and my praise and my fame, and my renown and my light, and my heaven prosper by sacrifice.” Similarly, in verse 20.13 the person says (Griffith’s translation): “My hair is effort and attempt [prayati], my skin is reverence and approach. My flesh is inclination, wealth my bone, my marrow reverence.” The commentators do not gloss prayati in these places as “offering,” but rather with words derived from the root yat, “make effort” (e.g., Mahīdhara on 20.13: prayatanam, prayatnaḥ). They also bring in another gloss, śuddhi, “purity.”

The verse corresponding to Mādhyandina recension 20.13 is Kāṇva recension 21.7.14. It is numbered 21.111 (also 21.7.16) in the 1978 Śarmā and Śarmā edition of the latter half of the Kāṇva recension that includes a commentary said to be by Sāyaṇa (likely wrongly; see B. R. Sharma’s comments in his Introduction to his edition of the Kāṇva Saṃhitā, vol. 1, 1988, pp. vii-ix). This commentary says: mama madīyāni lomāni prayatiḥ prayatnasya śuddher vā kāraṇāni santīty arthaḥ, “My hairs are prayati, i.e., are the causes (kāraṇāni) of effort (prayatna) or of purity (śuddhi); this is the meaning.” At the verse corresponding to 18.1 in the Taittirīya-saṃhitā (, the Sāyaṇa commentary simply says: prayatiḥ śuddhiḥ, “prayati is purity (śuddhi).” A. B. Keith here translates prayati as “influence.” Mahīdhara in his commentary on this Mādhyandina Śukla Yajur-veda verse 18.1 says the same as Sāyaṇa, prayatiḥ śuddhiḥ, “prayati is purity (śuddhi).” None of the English translations of Ṛg-veda 10.129.5 take prayati as “purity.”

At Kāṇva recension verse 19.2.1, corresponding to Mādhyandina recension 18.1, the (undisputed) Sāyaṇa commentary on the first half of the Kāṇva recension glosses prayati as prakṛṣṭa-yatanam, “exertion in a high degree.” Ānandabodha’s commentary says the same: prakṛṣṭaṃ yatanaṃ prayatiḥ. I have here cited the Vaidika Saṃśodhana Maṇḍala edition of the Kāṇva Saṃhitā with commentaries, critically edited by B. R. Sharma in four volumes, 1988-1999 (vol. 5, Indices, 2009). The Sāyaṇa commentary then adds: prayatir yatna-viśeṣaḥ, “prayati is a particular kind of effort.” This phrase is not in the 1915 Madhava Sastri edition of the first half of the Kāṇva recension with the Sāyaṇa commentary (p. 169 of the relevant section). This edition has the erroneous prapati instead of prayati, and glosses prapati as prakṛṣṭa-gamanam, “going in a high degree.” The Sharma edition lists gamana as a variant reading for yatana from two of the seven manuscripts used for this commentary. The gloss gamana, “going” (rather than yatana, “exertion”), probably an error, apparently takes prayati as derived from the verb-root yam in its meaning “go.” The English translations of Ṛg-veda 10.129.5 by Bose 1966, “forward movement,” and by Panikkar 1977, “forward move,” take prayati in this meaning.

The noun prayati also occurs in the brāhmaṇas, as these texts repeat the Vedic verses to show their usage in Vedic ritual. The verse corresponding to 20.13 is repeated at Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa (Mādhyandina recension; it is not found in the Kāṇvīya recension), where Julius Eggeling translates prayati as “endeavour.” The Sāyaṇa commentary is apparently missing on this part of the Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa, and the extant commentary by Harisvāmin does not specifically gloss prayati here. This verse is also repeated at Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, where the Sāyaṇa commentary again brings in śuddhi, “purity,” to gloss prayati: madīyāni lomāni prayatiḥ śuddhi-karāṇi santu, “May my hairs be prayati, i.e., makers of purity (śuddhi-karāṇi).” The commentary by Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra is missing on this part of the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, and unfortunately also on 2.8.9, where the whole Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129 is repeated.

As we saw, the Sāyaṇa commentary on this hymn 10.129 differs substantially in the two locations (Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa). The specific verse of this hymn that includes the word prayati (10.129.5) is repeated in the “white” or Śukla Yajur-veda, as noted above, in the Mādhyandina recension at 33.74, and in the Kāṇva recension at 32.6.5 (or 32.74). The commentary that is (probably wrongly) attributed to Sāyaṇa on Kāṇva verse 32.74 (or 32.6.5) matches the Sāyaṇa commentary on this verse as it occurs in the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa almost word for word, such that one was apparently copied from the other. There, we recall, he glossed prayati with words derived from yat, “make effort,” and equated it with paramātman, the “highest self,” also comparing this with puruṣa, “spirit.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary had also glossed prayati with a word derived from yat (prayatitā), but there he equated it with bhoktṛ, the “enjoyer, eater, experiencer.” Mahīdhara, too, in his long commentary here (Mādhyandina recension 33.74) glosses prayati with words derived from yat (prayatate, prayatnavān, prayatnāt, prayatitā), and he equates it with bhoktṛ as does the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary. Uvaṭa, even though explaining this verse in relation to a soma sacrifice, also glosses prayati with a word derived from yat: prayatana, “effort, exertion.”

The noun prayati does not occur in the Upaniṣads. It is found in Yāska’s Nirukta only as it occurs in the Ṛg-veda verse 1.109.2, which is there quoted. In that verse it means “gift, offering,” and thus is glossed in the Nirukta (6.9) as pradāna, “offering.” The noun prayati is not used in classical Sanskrit.

What all the above tells us is that the Sāyaṇa commentaries distinguish two different nouns prayati used in the Vedas: one derived from the root yam, “give, offer”; and one derived from the root yat, “exert oneself, make effort,” with an associated meaning, “purity.” For its usage here in Ṛg-veda 10.129.5, both of the Sāyaṇa commentaries derive prayati from the root yat, “make effort.” Following the method of comparing the usage of a word in all its occurrences throughout the Vedic writings, we saw that the noun prayati does indeed appear to be used in two different senses.

Karl Geldner was among the first of the third generation of Western Vedic scholars, coming after the first generation who fully used the Sāyaṇa commentaries, and the second generation who rejected Sāyaṇa and used comparative word studies instead. Geldner at first went back to Sāyaṇa fully, and then later took the approach that is still widely used today: fully consult the traditional commentaries; fully use comparative word studies; and then when they agree, accept the results; and when they disagree, choose which makes the most sense. Geldner rejected the contention of Hermann Oldenberg (a severe critic of Sāyaṇa) that prayati in Ṛg-veda 10.129.5 must be derived from the root yam (Oldenberg 1912, p. 347), and agreed with the Sāyaṇa commentaries that prayati in Ṛg-veda 10.129.5 is used within the range of meanings derived from yat, “make effort” (Geldner 1907, p. 118; 1908, pp. 14, 22, 32; 1909, p. 213; 1951, vol. 3, p. 360). Such a meaning appears to the majority of translators, including myself, to be intended here. Although the exact meaning of prayati remains uncertain, I think the general idea of “impulse” can be accepted as being within the range of its meanings. This would be true even if prayati did turn out to be a technical term referring to some higher principle such as paramātman, the “highest self,” or puruṣa, “spirit.”

In summary, the noun prayati is an old and rare Vedic word. By tracing out all the references to it given in the Vedic Word-Concordance, we found that it occurs in only six different Vedic verses, however many times those verses may be repeated in the various Vedic texts. In three of these verses, it fairly clearly means “gift, offering.” In two more of these verses it seems to refer to something that is (or can be) a quality of a person, something related to “effort.” Then in the remaining one of these six verses, Ṛg-veda 10.129.5, it appears as some sort of cosmogonic principle, a principle that is above, paired with another principle that is below. That it here functions as a cosmogonic principle is true even if, on analogy to a Vedic sacrifice, we take it symbolically and translate it as “offering.” We should recall that several schools of Vedic interpretation are known to have once existed, from references in the ancient Nirukta by Yāska. The tradition known to us from the now extant commentaries by Sāyaṇa and others represents only one or two of these schools of Vedic interpretation. The others are lost, and no doubt with them a more precise understanding of the meaning of the noun prayati.

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on March 19, 2013 at 5:03 am

Part 2: Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”

Translation Notes (continued)

RV 10.129.4: This verse is repeated in the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka at 1.23.1-2 (Bibliotheca Indica edition, 1871-1872, p. 142; Ānandāśrama edition, vol. 1, 1898, p. 86; both with the commentary by Sāyaṇa), or 1.23.90-91 (Mysore edition, vol. 1, 1900, pp. 137-138; with the commentary by Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra).

RV 10.129.4a: ká̄mas tád ágre sám avartatá̄dhi, “Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ].” The “that” (tat) that desire came upon is taken by almost all the translators to be “that one” (tad ekam) that breathed without air from verse 2. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries do not take it as this, and neither do I. The “that” in this verse refers to the ābhu (“germ”) from the previous verse, in accordance with the natural grammatical sequence. How the commentaries understand the ābhu has been given above under 10.129.3cd, in the second paragraph about ābhu. Here, however, we have a decided advantage over what these late commentaries can tell us. The fact that this verse, 10.129.4, is repeated in the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka (1.23.1-2) means that we have available a much older understanding of what it refers to. There this verse has been removed from the rest of the verses in hymn 10.129, so it is not preceded by the verse that speaks of the ābhu (“germ”). In place of the germ, this text in the preceding lines says that Prajāpati is what desire came upon in the beginning. Prajāpati, the “Lord of Progeny,” is so called because he produces all creatures. The whole cosmos is his progeny or offspring.

The Taittirīya-āraṇyaka (of which we unfortunately do not yet have an English translation) says in the lines preceding the verse 10.129.4 from the Ṛg-veda that [all] this was only water, just like 10.129.3b says (“All this was water without distinguishing sign”). It then says that the one (eka) Prajāpati came into being (samabhavat), just like 10.129.3cd says that the one (eka) germ (ābhu) was born (ajāyata). It says that desire (kāma) arose (samavartata) within (antar) in his mind (manas), using the same verb as used in 10.129.4, only without the auxiliary word adhi, “over, upon.” So samavartata, “became, occurred, arose,” could in this text simply be translated as “arose,” while it would be translated as “came upon” or “came over” in 10.129.4. The desire that arose in the mind of Prajāpati is put into words in the text as idam sṛjeyam, “may I create this [cosmos]” (or more literally, “may I emanate this [cosmos]”). After relating this to what a person does, the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka text then gives the whole Ṛg-veda verse 10.129.4. This directly parallel passage makes it clear that what was called the ābhu in Ṛg-veda 10.129 was called Prajāpati in the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka.

The Taittirīya-āraṇyaka parallel provides us with another advantage. On this text we have an additional commentary available, by the pre-Sāyaṇa commentator Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra. While Sāyaṇa glosses Prajāpati here as jagad-īśvara, the “Lord of the World,” Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra glosses Prajāpati here much more in keeping with its Vedic context as hiraṇya-garbha, the “golden germ” (or “golden embryo” or “golden womb”). There is a Ṛg-veda hymn addressed to hiraṇya-garbha, 10.121. In its last verse (10.121.10), hiraṇya-garbha is specifically called Prajāpati. (The doubts about this verse being original, on which see Gonda 1983, p. 31, do not change the fact of hiraṇya-garbha’s identification with Prajāpati; e.g., they are again identified with each other at Taittirīya-saṃhitā Like hymn 10.129, hymn 10.121 is a cosmogonic hymn. It begins: “The golden germ arose (samavartata) in the beginning (agre).” Since some translators (including myself) have already arrived at a meaning such as “germ” or “potential” for ābhu by other means (see above under 10.129.3cd), there will be no difficulty in identifying the ābhu of 10.129 with hiraṇya-garbha, the “golden germ.”

Another cosmogonic hymn, Ṛg-veda 10.82, includes two verses describing the garbha, “germ.” This hymn is addressed to viśva-karman, “builder of all,” who is also identified with Prajāpati (for references, see Gonda 1983, p. 20). These verses, 5-6, are (as translated by Ralph Griffith, 1892): “That which is earlier than this earth and heaven, before the Asuras and Gods had being,—What was the germ primeval [garbham prathamam] which the waters received where all the Gods were seen together? The waters, they received that germ primeval wherein the Gods were gathered all together. It rested set upon the Unborn’s navel, that One [i.e., the germ primeval] wherein abide all things existing.” The parallels to what is said in 10.129 are obvious.

The germ (garbha) is also said to be wind or air in a hymn addressed to vāta (“wind”), Ṛg-veda 10.168. Its verses 3cd-4ab say about wind (as translated by F. Max Müller, 1891, p. 449): “. . . the friend of the waters, the first-born, the holy, where was he born, whence did he spring? The breath of the gods, the germ [garbha] of the world, that god moves wherever he listeth; . . .” Wind or air is here described as the “first-born” (prathama-jā), the “holy” (ṛtāvan; more literally, “in accord with the cosmic order,” ṛta), like Prajāpati is described as the “first-born of the cosmic order” (prathama-jā ṛtasya) in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 1.23.9. Prajāpati is directly identified with wind or air in a related passage involving the waters in Taittirīya-saṃhitā and The phrase that Müller translates as the “breath of the gods” is ātmā devānām. It has long been known that breath is an early meaning of the word ātman, as found in the Vedas. A verse from the hymn to hiraṇya-garbha, the “golden germ,” also speaks of the breath of the gods. It is 10.121.7 (as translated by F. Max Müller, 1891, p. 2): “When the great waters went everywhere, holding the germ (Hiranya-garbha), and generating light, then there arose from them the (sole) breath of the gods: . . .” Here the phrase “breath of the gods” is devānām . . . asuḥ. So wind or air as the breath of the gods is also the first-born or first to arise, and is described as the germ of the world.

In summary, just like the germ (ābhu) is the first thing born in Ṛg-veda 10.129, so the golden germ (hiraṇya-garbha) arose in the beginning in 10.121.1. The golden germ is identified with the Lord of Progeny (prajāpati) in 10.121.10, who also arose from the waters in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 1.23.1 and is there described as the first-born. Wind or air (vāta) is the first-born in Ṛg-veda 10.168, and is the germ (garbha) of the world. Desire came upon “that” in 10.129.4a, “that one germ” (ābhu) from 10.129.3cd, just like desire came upon the one Lord of Progeny (prajāpati) in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 1.23.1-2, where Ṛg-veda 10.129.4 is repeated.

For the word kāma, “desire,” a few translators have used “love,” and a few have used “will.” It is easy to see how desire as the attraction between the two sexes can come to mean love, and it is not hard to see how desire as wish can be a meaning of will (e.g., “do as you wish,” or “do as you will”). These translations help to show the range of meanings that kāma might have, especially as a cosmic principle. We know from Hesiod’s Theogony that the comparable eros (“desire”) is also a cosmic principle in ancient Greek cosmogony. Like with tapas (10.129.3d), I have preferred to use the basic meaning (“desire”), rather than a derivative meaning, and let the interpretations come later.

Regarding the verb (samavartata, “became, occurred, arose”) and its auxiliary adhi, as noted by Macdonell in his Vedic Reader (1917, p. 209): “ádhi upon makes the verb transitive = come upon, take possession of.” That is, it then takes an object. In agreement with this, most translators have taken its object as tat, “that.” A few (e.g., Edgerton 1965; Brereton 1999) have taken tat here as an indeclinable rather than a pronoun, and have translated tat as “then.” The Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava Ṛg-veda commentary and the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary also take tat as “then” (tadānīm). The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa and Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries do not take adhi as making samavartata transitive, but instead take it as ādhikyena, “in a high degree.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries gloss the sam of samavartata as samyak, “completely.” So the Sāyaṇa commentaries take this verb to mean that desire fully arose.

RV 10.129.4b: mánaso rétaḥ prathamáṃ yád á̄sīt, “which was the first seed of mind.” None of the words in verse 4 are mystery words, like some words in other verses of this hymn. Yet there are more possible ways to construe this verse than any of the other verses. The common interpretation of it as saying that desire was the first seed of mind is far less certain than the consensus of translations would lead the unsuspecting reader to believe. So one cannot say with confidence that Ṛg-veda 10.129 teaches that desire precedes mind in the cosmogonic process, and then proceed to make comparisons with other cosmogonies. Reliable conclusions cannot be built on unstable ground.

In this verse the referents for the pronouns are uncertain, if they are pronouns at all. Does the auxiliary word adhi make the verb take an object or merely intensify it? On this depends whether tat is taken as the pronoun “that” or the adverb “then,” and therefore whether or not it correlates with the following yat as the pronoun “which.” Does the word retas here mean seed as a cause or seed as a product? That is, is desire the cause of mind or the product of mind? Related to this is the question of whether the word manasaḥ is to be taken as the genitive “of the mind” or the ablative “from the mind.” Then, does manas here mean mind or thought? More crucially, does manas here refer to an unmanifested ultimate mind or a manifested conventional mind (both of which are fully attested in the Vedic writings)?

Most of the English (and German and French) translations understand this line to say that desire was the first seed of mind, while the Sanskrit commentaries agree that mind or thought preceded desire. In these translations the verb takes an object, “that” (tat), which is then correlated with the following “which” (yat). So they understand this line as: “Desire in the beginning came upon that [one], which [desire] was the first seed of mind.” That is, they take the “which” to refer to “desire” from the first part of the line. However, as a standard yat-tat pronoun correlative construction, the “which” (yat) goes with the “that” (tat) that desire came upon, not with desire. What is the “that” that desire came upon? According to most translators, the “that” here is “that one” that breathed without air from verse 2. Perhaps they did not want to say that “that one” was the first seed of mind, and therefore took the corresponding “which” to refer to “desire” instead. But the “that” that desire came upon may not be “that one” that breathed without air from verse 2.

For reasons given above, I understand the “that” that desire came upon to be the germ (ābhu) from verse 3. Then, taking this line as a standard yat-tat pronoun correlative construction, it would be understood as: “Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ], which [germ] was the first seed of mind.” That is, the “which” (yat) refers to “that” (tat) [germ] from the first part of the line. It is not unreasonable to say that the germ was the first seed of mind. What the germ (ābhu) would refer to as the first seed of mind is either the first product of an ultimate mind, or the first cause of the conventional mind about to be manifested, or both. In the second case, mind would be equivalent to mahat, the “great” principle of intelligence from which the entire cosmos evolves. This is much like in the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary on 10.129.3d where the germ as the unmanifest world comes into manifestation by means of mahat. In the first case, mind would be a synonym of or associated with the ultimate, like brahman or para-brahman or īśvara or parameśvara in the commentaries. As both, mind would be what is personified as Prajāpati in the commentaries: the first-born from the ultimate brahman, and the “Lord of Progeny” from which the cosmos is produced.

Regarding the ideological question of whether desire precedes mind or mind precedes desire, the available Sanskrit commentaries take for granted that mind or thought precedes desire. Leaving aside the Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava Ṛg-veda commentary, which is so brief that it gives us nothing to judge this by, we have four other commentaries on this verse. These four agree that desire arose in some mind or thought, whether this mind or thought is connected to (para)brahman through tamas, “darkness” (so the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary), whether it is of (parama)īśvara (so the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary), or whether it is of Prajāpati (so the Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra and Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries). Desire is the first thing that arises in mind or thought. So for them, mind or thought precedes desire. They explain the phrase, “the first seed of mind,” in relation to this taken for granted fact.

The word retas, usually translated here in this verse as “seed,” commonly means “semen.” It can also mean “rain,” which is how Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava takes it in the next verse. It is not the word “seed” as the seed of a plant, which word is bīja. However, the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses retas here as bīja. It is understood as the seed consisting of the karmic residues made by living beings in the previous period of manifestation that will bring about their manifestation in the upcoming period of manifestation. It is a cause in relation to the future period of manifestation, but an effect in relation to the previous period of manifestation. The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa and Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries and the Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary all gloss retas here as kārya, an effect in contradistinction to a cause; it is a product, being a manifestation from the cause. It is understood as being the first product or result of mind or thought. It is the desire to create. So this verse quarter is understood as speaking of “the first seed (as a product) of mind” rather than “the first seed (as a cause) of mind.”

In the above it will be noticed that I did not give the whole phrase, “which was the first seed of mind.” This is because the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries do not take yat as the pronoun “which” here. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary takes yat as the indeclinable yataḥ, “from which, due to which, since, because,” further glossing it as yataḥ kāraṇāt, “from which cause, for what reason.” It correlates this with the preceding tat, again not taking this as the pronoun “that,” but rather as the indeclinable tataḥ, “from that, therefore,” further glossing it as tataḥ hetoḥ, “from that cause, for that reason.” So it takes this line to say: “Because a retas (“seed”) of such kind, being the first seed (bīja) of the future manifestation (prapañca), the karma consisting of the merit made by living beings in the past period of manifestation (kalpa), at the time of creation (sṛṣṭi) was (āsīt), i.e., came into being (abhavat), . . . therefore the desire to create was born in the mind of parameśvara (highest God), the giver of the fruits [of karma], the witness of all, the overseer of karma.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary similarly takes yat as yadā, “when,” and the corresponding tat as tadā, “then,” saying: “When the first seed (retas), i.e., product (kārya), of mind was (āsīt), then, at the time of creation, from Prajāpati in the beginning, at first, a desire (kāma), the desire (abhilāṣa), ‘may I create all,’ arose fully, in a high degree, was completely arisen.”

As we see, these two commentaries did not take yat and tat in this line as pronouns in a yat-tat pronoun correlative construction, as did most translations. The Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava Ṛg-veda commentary also took tat as an adverb (tadānīm, “then”) rather than as a pronoun. He did not gloss yat. The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary did take yat and tat here as pronouns. In order to correlate them it said: which (yat) seed (retas), i.e., product (kāryam), that (tat) product (kāryam), having become desire (kāmo bhūtvā), arose. That is, it took the yat-tat pronoun correlative as all neuter words, and then used “having become” (bhūtvā) to bring in the masculine kāma. In full: “What was the first seed (retas), the initial product (kārya), of the mind connected with para-brahman, that product in the beginning, at the start of creation, having become desire, fully arose, in a high degree became manifest.” The Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary did not gloss either yat or tat, so we do not know how he understood them. What is common to these commentaries that provide glosses is taking the text in such a way as to get the required gender agreement.

The pronoun yat (“which”) is neuter in gender, while the noun kāma (“desire”) is masculine in gender. So the “which” cannot stand for “desire,” grammatically speaking, because of the difference in gender. The translation of this verse quarter that we usually see, “which [desire] was the first seed of mind,” does not show how this gender disagreement was accounted for. This is a separate problem from the one spoken of above about the “which” (yat) going with the “that” (tat) that desire came upon (not with “desire”) in a yat-tat pronoun correlative construction. So it applies even if this line is not taken as a yat-tat pronoun correlative construction, but instead the tat is taken as the adverb “then.” I have seen only one comment on this. Macdonell in his 1917 Vedic Reader says (p. 209), “yad: referring to kāmas is attracted in gender to the predicate n. retas.” That is, according to Macdonell it is due to this attraction that yat (yad) agrees with the neuter word retas (“seed”) in the predicate rather than with the subject, desire, as would be expected.

As far as I can tell from the English translations, only Coomaraswamy (1933) attempted to account for this gender disagreement in his translation. He did so by taking the yat (“which,” but “that” in his translation) with the neuter retas (“seed”) rather than with masculine kāma (“desire,” translated by him as “will”). He translates: “In the beginning, Will (kāma) arose (samavartat) therein, the primal seed (retas) of Intellect (manas), that was the first.” Coomaraswamy here appears to have understood an implied “is” between kāma and retas, and then he took prathamaṃ yad āsīt, “that was the first,” as a separate phrase. Although it is not altogether clear from his punctuation, he seems to have ended up with the same meaning as is given by most of the other translators, that kāma is the primal seed of mind. But he did so without taking “which” (yat) as kāma (“desire”). Kashyap (2007) copied Coomaraswamy almost verbatim here, even including the typo samavartat for samavartata. But the punctuation was changed, and this changed the meaning. He has: “In the beginning, desire (kāma) arose (samavartat) therein. The primal seed (retas) of mind (manas), that was the first.”

While most of the translations make it clear that by “which” they intend “desire,” in some the referent for “which” is ambiguous, due to the nature of English. When we say: “Desire in the beginning came upon that, which was the first seed of mind,” the rules of English grammar say that the referent for “which” should be the immediately preceding “that.” But in real life, language does not always follow the rules. This sentence can easily be understood to mean that “desire” is the referent for “which,” and this can be what was intended by the writer. Thus, when we read “in It, which was” (Muir 1863, 1870), or “upon It, which was” (Whitney 1882), or “in That [One], which became” (Brown 1941), or “on that (viz. on the One), which was” (Gonda 1966), it looks like the “which” goes with the immediately preceding word. But when Gonda, for example, explained how he understood this sentence, we see that he in fact intended that “desire” is the referent for “which.” Gonda in his article, “The Creator and his Spirit (Manas and Prajāpati)” (Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens, vol. 27, 1983, attached), wrote on p. 9: “in the cosmogonical hymn 10, 129 [st. 4] kāma ‘desire’ is said to be the first retas ‘seminal fluid’ of manas.” Only Gough (1882) gives an indication that he intends the immediately preceding “it” as the referent for “which.” He does this by leaving out the “which,” translating: “Desire first rose in it, the primal germ.” But even this is uncertain.

Gonda in his 1983 article just cited goes on (p. 38) to translate this verse quarter as “which was the first semen of manas,” after which he speaks of “the manas in which the desire arose.” In a footnote here he rejects the translation, “kāma the origin of manas.” His point is that retas, which he here translates as “semen” rather than “seed,” is a product of manas, not the cause or origin of manas. Maurer (1975, pp. 226-227) made this point clearly, translating retas as “offshoot” rather than “seed,” and describing it as a “product” rather than a “source” or “producer.” He also takes manas as “thought” rather than “mind,” and translates: “desire, which was the first offshoot of (that) thought.” A few previous translators had given the same idea. Müller (1899) translates: “the seed springing from mind.” Macdonell in his 1922 translation gives: “It was the earliest seed, of thought the product” (but not in his 1900 and 1917 translations). Winternitz (1927, p. 99) paraphrases this as: “as the first product of his mind—‘the mind’s first fruit,’ as the poet says—came forth Kāma.” More recently, Brereton (1999) translates: “from thought there developed desire, which existed as the primal semen.” Notice that Müller and Brereton translate manasaḥ as an ablative, “from mind, from thought,” rather than as a genitive, “of mind, of thought.” All these translators are in agreement with the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary and the Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra and Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentaries, which take retas as a product (kārya), as we have seen above.

The paṇḍits who wrote the commentaries that go under the name Sāyaṇa were Advaita Vedāntins. As such, they were committed to an ultimate, brahman, that is described as satyaṃ jñānam anantaṃ brahma (this is actually quoted in the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary here on this verse), or sat cit ānanda, where brahman is jñānam, “knowledge,” or cit, “consciousness.” They are therefore committed to an ultimate consciousness, an ultimate mind, that would necessarily precede desire. The question is whether this is warranted in the Vedic texts as such (i.e., not including the upaniṣads, where manas and brahman are equated at Taittirīya-upaniṣad 3.4.1, Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 4.1.6, Chāndogya-upaniṣad 7.3.1, etc.). The answer is yes. The Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa passage ( partially quoted above (under 10.129.1a) identifies what was neither non-existent nor existent in the beginning as manas (“mind”). It then quotes Ṛg-veda 10.129.1a, making this the earliest commentary we have on this hymn. Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa also speaks of manas in the beginning when there was nothing else. Gonda (1983, p. 16) gives references to other brāhmaṇa texts saying that there is nothing that precedes manas (Aitareya-brāhmaṇa 2.40.2 and Kauṣītaki-brāhmaṇa 27.5 or 27.9.18). In Martin Haug’s 1863 edition of the Aitareya-brāhmaṇa this passage is (pp. 52-53): manaso hi na kiṃcana pūrvam asti, which he translates as “nothing exists anterior to the mind.” So can we take manas here in Ṛg-veda 10.129.4 as ultimate mind?

There are also brāhmaṇa texts saying that mind is something created or emanated. Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa was noticed and translated by John Muir in his comments on his translation of this hymn (1870, p. 365): asato ’dhi mano ’sṛjyata | manaḥ prajāpatim asṛjata | prajāpatiḥ prajāḥ asṛjata, “From the nonexistent[,] mind (manas) was created. Mind created Prajāpati. Prajāpati created offspring.” This passage was also translated by Gonda in his 1983 article (pp. 25-26), who follows this with a similar passage from the Sāmavidhāna-brāhmaṇa (1.1.1). He translates the latter as: “In the beginning, bráhman (neuter) was here. Its semen became predominant; it became brahmán (masculine). He considered silently and mentally. His ‘mind’ became Prajāpati. That is why the (mantras) belonging to an oblation made to Prajāpati are pronounced mentally, for Prajāpati is manas.” Prajāpati is frequently equated with manas, “mind” (for references, see Gonda’s 1983 article on Manas and Prajāpati, pp. 23-25). Prajāpati is also usually understood to be the same as the masculine Brahmā, even though sometimes equated with the neuter brahman (see J. Gonda’s 1989 monograph, Prajāpati’s relations with Brahman, Bṛhaspati and Brahmā); and Prajāpati or Brahmā are normally considered to be the first-born. In other words, manas is the first-born, something created/emanated.

It is not necessarily contradictory for manas to be both ultimate mind and conventional or created mind. In the Vedic texts we find things like this, that are each true from their own perspective. Thus, Ṛg-veda 10.72.4 says Dakṣa was born from Aditi, and Aditi was born from Dakṣa; Ṛg-veda 10.90.5 says Virāj was born from Puruṣa, and Puruṣa was born from Virāj. Even though we speak of the conventional or created mind in manifestation, this does not mean that it is not ultimately the ultimate mind. Nonetheless, it is useful to make the distinction for normal purposes. While Prajāpati is sometimes equated with the ultimate brahman, he is usually and normally equated with the first-born Brahmā, the creator. In any given passage a text is usually speaking specifically of one or the other, at least primarily. A line from Ṛg-veda 1.164.18 speaks about the born mind in almost the same way as Ṛg-veda 10.129.6 speaks about the born cosmos: “Who here can say from where the divine mind (devam manas) has been born (prajātam)?” (10.129.6: “Who here can say? From where has [it] been born? From where [has come] this manifestation [of the cosmos]?”). This parallel with another famous hymn gives us reason to believe that 10.129.4 is speaking specifically about the born mind rather than the ultimate mind.

There are additional reasons why it is more likely that Ṛg-veda 10.129.4 is speaking specifically of the conventional or created mind than the ultimate mind. Where it speaks of manasaḥ retas, manasaḥ is most naturally understood as a genitive, the seed “of mind,” rather than an ablative, “from mind.” Regarding how we take retas, “seed” (or “semen”), whether as a product (kārya), or whether as seed (bīja) in the sense of a cause, the above-quoted Sāmavidhāna-brāhmaṇa passage may be relevant. This passage in Gonda’s 1983 translation speaks of the “semen” of brahman, which became Brahmā. After again translating this passage in his 1989 monograph, Prajāpati’s relations, etc., he comments that this passage is remarkable “in that the neutral concept Bráhman is credited with semen” (pp. 43-44). Checking the original Sanskrit (in the critical edition by B. R. Sharma, 1964), we find that what Gonda translated as “semen” is actually two words: “tejo raso . . .,” whether we take tejas and rasa separately or in a compound. The word tejas has many meanings, including light, luster, splendor, heat, fire (the element), and vital power. The word rasa also has many meanings, including sap (of trees), juice (of plants), fluid, taste, sentiment, and essence. Gonda apparently took these in a compound as something like “vital power fluid” = “semen,” no doubt with good reason. However, neither of the two commentaries on the Sāmavidhāna-brāhmaṇa, by Sāyaṇa and the slightly earlier one by Bharatasvāmin, take these words as semen.

The two words tejas and rasa also occur together in a cosmogonic passage from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad (1.2.2), on which we have additional commentaries. The relevant sentence is translated by Radhakrishnan (1953) as: “From him thus rested and heated (from the practice of austerity) his essence of brightness came forth (as) fire.” He translates tejas as “brightness” and rasa as “essence,” in the compound “essence of brightness,” citing the gloss from Rāmānuja’s commentary, tejas-sāra-bhūtaḥ. Gonda, too, in his 1959 book, Four Studies in the Language of the Vedas, had translated these two words in this passage as “essence of brightness” (p. 16). This translation takes them as a tatpuruṣa case-relation compound, putting the first member in the genitive case, “of tejas.” S. C. Vasu (1916) also takes them as such, “essence of energy,” giving Madhva’s commentary, sāmarthya sārabhūta. It is possible to take these as two separate words, as did Swāmī Mādhavānanda (1934, 5th ed. 1975), “essence, or lustre,” and Robert Ernest Hume (1921, 2nd ed. 1931), “his heat (tejas) and essence (rasa),” and Patrick Olivelle (1998), “his heat—his essence.” The oldest commentary we have on this upaniṣad is the one by Śaṅkara, who glosses rasa as sāra, “essence,” as does Rāmānuja and Madhva.

Śaṅkara takes these two words as a karmadhāraya compound, having them in apposition: teja eva rasas. They are nicely translated as such in the translation published by the Sri Ramakrishna Math (Mylapore, Madras, 1951, 3rd ed. 1968), “essence as lustre.” More fully: “In this (work of creation) Prajāpati was tired. From him, fatigued and afflicted, came forth his essence as lustre. This was fire.” Of course, rasa can mean “fluid” or “juice” besides “essence.” In an article on “Tapas” from The Brahmavādin (Madras, vol. 12, no. 11, Nov. 1907, p. 573), the unnamed author uses the poetic yet accurate translation, “the juice of Light,” saying: “From toil and Tapas came Tejorasa, the juice of Light.” If we take these words as a karmadhāraya compound following Śaṅkara rather than a tatpuruṣa case-relation compound, using “as” rather than “of,” we get “juice as light” for what came forth. What is semen for male creatures may be light for formless beings.

In fact, retas (“seed, semen”) is directly equated with light (jyotis) in the Vedic texts. Gonda in his article, “Background and Variants of the Hiraṇyagarbha Conception” (Studies in Indo-Asian Art and Culture, vol. 3, ed. Perala Ratnam, New Delhi, 1974, pp. 39-54, attached), writes (p. 43): “The ancients obviously were strongly inclined to believe that seed (retas) is a form or manifestation of light, . . . This identity is clearly stated at ŚB. [Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa] ‘In saying, “Agni is light (jyotis), light is Agni, svāhā,” he encloses that seed, light, on both sides with the deity, viz. Agni’ (the text is discussing the agnihotra ceremonies) and 35 ‘Then, in the morning, with the words, “The light is Sūrya (the Sun), Sūrya is the light,” he places that seed, light, outside by means of the deity . . .’; . . .” He then gives additional references. So “juice as light,” or “semen as light,” is an equation that the texts directly make.

We are provided with yet another possible synonym for retas in Ṛg-veda 10.129.4 in a parallel passage quoted in the Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary here, Manu-smṛti 1.8cd: apa eva sasarjādau tāsu vīryam apāsṛjat. The whole Manu-smṛti verse is translated by Gangā-nātha Jhā (1920) as: “Desiring to create the several kinds of created things, He, in the beginning, by mere willing, produced, out of his own body, Water; and in that he threw the seed.” The word for “seed” here is vīrya, another word having many meanings, including strength, might, virile power, heroism, luster, and semen. There is a variant reading in this verse. While the Manu-smṛti as commented on by Medhātithi has vīrya here, as commented on by Kullūka-Bhaṭṭa it has bīja here. As we recall, bīja is the basic word for “seed” like the seed of a plant. Naturally, the translators following this reading give “seed” here (A. C. Burnell, 1884; G. Bühler, 1886; M. N. Dutt, 1908). Jhā, quoted above, was the first person to edit and translate Medhātithi’s commentary, having vīrya, which he also translates as “seed.” Patrick Olivelle also accepts the reading vīrya in his 2005 critical edition and translation, and he translates this phrase as, “it was the waters that he first brought forth; and into them he poured forth his semen.” Medhātithi glosses vīrya as śukra, “semen,” while Kullūka-Bhaṭṭa glosses bīja here as śakti-rūpa, “in the form of power.” In the next verse, the Manu-smṛti tells us what that became, aṇḍam haimam, the “golden egg”; i.e., hiraṇya-garbha, the “golden germ,” and in that was born Brahmā, the creator.

We see from the parallel passages that “seed,” as retas or the parallel terms tejas rasa, vīrya, or bīja, comes from something, and is in that sense an effect or product, kārya, but more importantly becomes the cause of the cosmos about to be manifested. What exists at this point may be called Prajāpati, the “Lord of Progeny,” or manas, “mind,” or other synonyms in a somewhat fluid manner, depending on the particular account. Sometimes Prajāpati is equated with the germ (hiraṇya-garbha), as seen above, and sometimes Prajāpati is born from the germ (garbha). Thus Vājasaneyi-saṃhitā 23.63, as translated by Gonda (1974, p. 50): “The Self-existing One (svayambhūḥ), of excellent nature, the first, laid down within the mighty flood the embryo [garbha] which observes the proper time, from which Prajāpati was born.” Similar is Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa, where Prajāpati was born from a golden egg (aṇḍa). Then he created the cosmos. Earlier in this text (, Prajāpati was equated with mind: prajāpatir vai manas. So it seems most likely that Ṛg-veda 10.129.4b speaks primarily of “the first seed of mind” as we would normally take that phrase: the cause of mind; and mind in turn results in the manifestation of the cosmos. But this seed or cause is unlikely to be desire.

If there is anything in the Vedic texts that is said again and again to desire, it is Prajāpati and its synonyms. Geldner in his 1951 German translation (footnote on verse 10.129.4a) gives an example of this in association with tapas, along with several references: prajāpatir akāmayata prajā sṛjeyeti sa tapo ’tapyata, which can be translated as, “Prajāpati desired, ‘may I create progeny.’ He generated tapas.” (Taittirīya-saṃhitā; also Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa;;; Aitareya-brāhmaṇa 4.23.1; 5.32.1; Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa;; While the texts are quite willing to attribute desire to the one ultimate brahman (e.g., both commentators on the Sāmavidhāna-brāhmaṇa passage quoted above say, brahmaṇaḥ sisṛkṣoḥ, “of brahman desiring to create”), they much more often say, “Prajāpati desired.” The fact that desire is almost always attributed to the “one” that breathed without air from verse 2 in the translations of 10.129.4 is likely due to two facts. First, as already discussed, the one ābhu (“germ”) is usually taken to be identical with the “one” ultimate. Second, the fact that Prajāpati and its synonyms are regularly also described as “one” (eka) is therefore not brought into the picture. When we take the one ābhu as the one hiraṇya-garbha or the one Prajāpati, we can construe this verse quarter naturally as a yat-tat pronoun correlative construction without gender disagreement: “Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ], which [germ] was the first seed of mind.”

In summary, most translators understand this line as: “Desire in the beginning came upon that [one], which [desire] was the first seed of mind.” A comparatively few understand desire to be the first seed of mind in the sense of a product rather than a cause. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary understands this line as: “Because the first seed [the seed (bīja) of the future manifestation, consisting of the karma made by living beings in the previous period of manifestation] in the beginning came into being, therefore the desire [to create] arose in the mind [of parameśvara].” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-āraṇyaka commentary understands this line as: “When the first seed [product (kārya)] of mind was, then [from Prajāpati] in the beginning a desire [to create] fully arose.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary understands this line as: “What was the first seed [product (kārya)] of the mind [connected with para-brahman], that [product] in the beginning, having become desire, fully arose.” The paṇḍits who wrote under the name Sāyaṇa agree that mind or thought precedes desire. When this line is taken as a yat-tat pronoun correlative construction, it may be understood as: “Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ], which [germ] was the first seed of mind.” The first seed of mind may be the first product of an ultimate mind, and more specifically the first cause of the conventional mind about to be manifested. The parallel with the poetically expressed “juice as light” (tejo-rasa) may be applicable to this seed.

RV 10.129.4c: sató bándhum ásati nír avindan, “found out [desire to be] the link of the existent in the non-existent.” The word “desire” (kāma) is here carried down from the first half of this verse. Most translators do not do this. If we do not carry down “desire,” then the first and second halves of this verse make independent and unrelated sentences. The second half of this verse then would say only that sages found the link between the existent and the non-existent. As Maurer astutely observed (p. 228), this is “hardly any discovery at all.” When we do carry down “desire,” thus taking the verse as a whole, it says what that link is. Sages found desire to be the link between the existent and the non-existent.

Walter Maurer (1975, pp. 220, 227-228) strongly advocated this interpretation, regarding it as “the key to the entire hymn” (p. 220). I have adopted it from him. Only some of the earlier translators took it this way, as he notes (pp. 228-229, fn. 31), adding that this is how the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary understands it, but not the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary. I can add that Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava’s Ṛg-veda commentary is too brief to even raise the question, but both Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra’s and Sāyaṇa’s commentaries on this verse as it is found repeated in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 1.23.1-2 take desire to be the link between the existent and the non-existent.

RV 10.129.4d: hṛdí pratí̄ṣyā kaváyo manīṣá̄, “Sages, having searched in the heart with inspired thought.” The specific meaning of the word manīṣā is not easy to determine, and the word is not easy to translate into English. It has most often been translated as “wisdom” in this verse, and this is no doubt a reasonable approximation. In an attempt to get a little closer, I have adopted “inspired thought” from Jan Gonda’s study of this term in his 1963 book, The Vision of the Vedic Poets, pp. 51-56. An example of some of the evidence that he there gives for reaching this meaning is (p. 52): “That the manīṣā like intuition in general is compared to a flash of light appears from 10, 177 where it is described as dyotamānām and svaryam ‘bright (shining)’ and ‘of the nature of the light of heaven’.” He paraphrases its sense as (p. 55): “the faculty of having an immediate insight into reality without the help of discursive thought.” In Gonda’s 1966 translation of this hymn, he translates manīṣā with the phrase, “the inspired thoughts of their minds.” Similarly, Brereton (1999) translates it as “inspired thinking.”

Kashyap (2007) points out that manīṣā is part of a Vedic triplet of hṛdā, manasā, manīṣā, occuring in Ṛg-veda 1.61.2 and Kaṭha-upaniṣad 2.3.9. In the latter, where the triplet is given in the order, hṛdā, manīṣā, manasā, S. Radhakrishnan translates these three as: “by heart, by thought, by mind.” Patrick Olivelle (using the numbering 6.9 instead of 2.3.9) translates these as: “with the heart, with insight, with thought.” That is, Radhakrishnan translates manīṣā as “thought,” while Olivelle translates manīṣā as “insight,” and manas as “thought.” These are two of the most widely respected translations of the upaniṣads. This example is given to show the difficulty in translating a term such as manīṣā, while retaining any meaningful distinction between it and similar terms such as manas.

Gonda in his 1963 book also refers to this triplet, and translates Ṛg-veda 1.61.2. Here, we recall, the terms are given in the order, hṛdā, manasā, manīṣā. Gonda translates, p. 54: “they polish, for Indra, their dhiyaḥ (‘visions’) with their heart, their ‘mind’, their ‘inspired thought’.” Gonda then translates the verse here being discussed, Ṛg-veda 10.129cd: “seeking in their heart the sages found the inherence of being and non-being by their specific inspired thought.” He translated this in his 1966 translation of this hymn as: “The sages after having received (it) in their hearts with the inspired thoughts of their minds, found the bond of the reality of the ‘cosmos’ in (with) the undifferentiated ‘chaos’.”

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on March 2, 2013 at 5:33 am

Part 2: Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”

Translation Notes (continued)

RV 10.129.2a: ná mṛtyúr āsīd amṛ́taṃ ná tárhi, “There was not death nor life (“non-death”) then.” The word amṛta commonly means “immortality,” and most translators have translated it as such; for example: “There was not death nor immortality then.” Coomaraswamy (1933), however, translates this verse quarter as: “Then was neither death (mṛtyu) nor life (amṛta).” He points out that (pp. 56-57), “Amṛta, in the second stanza, is not ‘immortality,’ but simply life, continued existence, as in Ṛg Veda, VII, 57, 6, and equivalent to dīrghamāyuḥ in X, 85, 19; the sense is ‘neither birth nor death as yet were.’” Gonda (1966) apparently agrees, translating this as: “There was not death (nor continuation of life) then.” I, too, agree, seeing amṛta here not as “immortality,” but merely as “non-death,” i.e., “life,” in a contrasting pair with mṛtyu, “death.”

The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary says this clearly, glossing amṛtam with jīvanam, “life” (in the sense of the condition of being alive). The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses amṛtam much less clearly with amaraṇam, literally “non-death,” which can signify either “life” or “immortality.” When choosing between two meanings that are equally possible grammatically, reason must be a criterion. I can see little reason why immortality would be spoken of here, especially when life and death form a more natural contrasting pair. Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava in his brief commentary does not gloss amṛtam.

RV 10.129.2b: ná rá̄tryā áhna āsīt praketáḥ, “There was no distinguishing sign of night [or] of day.” The word praketa, here translated as “distinguishing sign,” is a Vedic word. It is not used in classical Sanskrit, and its meaning is not certain. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses praketa as prajñāna, which can mean (from V. S. Apte’s dictionary): 1. knowledge, intelligence; 2. sign, mark; 3. discernment. Possibly H. W. Wallis intended this third meaning in his 1887 translation, “there was no discrimination of night and day.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary glosses praketa as cihna, “sign, mark,” probably indicating that this was also the meaning of prajñāna intended in the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary. The classical Sanskrit word saṃketa, differing from praketa only in the prefix sam rather than pra, also means “sign.” A majority of the recent English translations use “sign.” Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava glosses praketa as vibhāga, “distinction.” Although this portion of his commentary was not published until 1965, a majority of the earlier English translations (going all the way back to Colebrooke’s of 1805) use “distinction,” perhaps based on context. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty in her 1981 translation has combined the two meanings in “distinguishing sign,” which I have adopted. A few earlier translations used “light,” a different meaning deduced from the usage of praketa in some other locations (Ṛg-veda 1.113.1 and 1.94.5; see the footnote by Wallis, p. 59).

RV 10.129.2c: á̄nīd avātáṃ svadháyā tád ékaṃ, “That one breathed without air by [its] inherent power.” As pointed out by others, tad ekam, “that one,” can also be translated as “that alone.” The word avāta is often translated as “without wind”; but vāta, like vāyu, can also mean “air.” Air is more fitting in regard to breath.

The difficult word in this verse quarter is the feminine noun svadhā, translated by me as “inherent power.” Elsewhere in the Vedic texts svadhā often means a food or drink offering or oblation, a meaning that is obviously not appropriate here. The majority of the later translators take it here as some kind of power or force, a meaning derived from the context. The prefix sva, “self, own,” would indicate that it is an inherent or intrinsic power or force. The majority of the earlier translators take it here as some kind of inherent nature, something that is self-supported or is its own support or is supported by itself, and thus has also been translated in the instrumental case simply as “by itself.” This meaning is derived from the context as well as from the etymology of svadhā, sva-dhā. The verb-root dhā means “put or place,” “grant or confer or bestow,” “produce or make,” “bear or hold or support.” The last of these meanings is apparently the one that is relevant here. This is also how the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary understands svadhā, in its etymological analysis. After analyzing the sva as svasmin, “in or on itself,” it gives the passive verb made from the verb-root dhā, “dhīyate,” and glosses this with the passive verb made from the verb-root dhṛ, “dhriyate.” The verb-root dhṛ means, “hold, bear, support.” So the dhā of svadhā, by way of dhīyate, is explained as dhriyate, “is held, borne, supported.” In agreement with this etymological meaning, this phrase would say more fully, “That one breathed without air by [its] inherent or self-sustaining power.”

The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries gloss svadhā here as māyā, “illusion.” Advaita Vedānta regards māyā as a power (śakti) associated with the absolute brahman. However, Sāyaṇa is not saying that māyā is the power by means of which the “one” (brahman) breathed without air. Rather, he takes this line (as worded in his Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary) as, “That one along with [its] māyā breathed without air.” The instrumental case can mean “by” or “with”; i.e., “by means of,” or “along with.” Sāyaṇa uses saha and sahitam to show that he takes the instrumental svadhayā in the latter meaning. If svadhā is māyā, Sāyaṇa is obliged to take the instrumental here as “with” rather than “by.” This is because, according to the teachings of Advaita Vedānta, the ultimately unreal māyā is not inherent in the real brahman (in the sense of being inseparable from it). Something that is ultimately illusory cannot be the means by which the one brahman breathed without air. In accordance with these teachings, this verse can only be saying that brahman breathed (without air) along with or accompanied by its māyā.

Taking it in this way, however, stretches the natural reading of this line to such an extent that only followers of Advaita Vedānta have accepted it, and not all of these. Of more than thirty English translations, only two of the first ones accepted it, when there was little else to guide the translators besides Sāyaṇa’s commentary (these are: the first ever translation, made by Colebrooke in 1805; and the first one made by Muir in 1863, but not in his 1870 revised translation). Not even Wilson (died 1860) followed Sāyaṇa here, as he normally did. Nor did the 1987 translation done jointly by an Advaita Vedānta swami, Svami Satya Prakash Saraswati, and Satyakam Vidyalankar. There were, of course, other schools of Vedānta, which did not take māyā or its synonyms to be ultimately illusory. Then there would be nothing against identifying svadhā with māyā or its synonyms, when reading this verse in its natural manner.

Māyā is regarded in Advaita Vedānta as the power of projecting (vikṣepa) illusion. By way of this, it is regarded as being the cause (kāraṇa) of the phenomenal world. The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary here glosses: “with svadhā, i.e., along with māyā in the form of the cause of the entire world, based in itself.” “Itself” refers to “that one brahman”; “based” is āśrita. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary here (but not the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary) takes pains to explain that, when svadhā as māyā is said to be based in brahman, this does not mean that it is inherent in brahman in the sense of being inseparable from brahman. It is only superimposed on brahman, like the illusion of silver in certain seashells. It is for this reason that he must read this line as saying that brahman breathed without air with svadhā/māyā, not by svadhā/māyā.

In the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary on verse 5 (see below), svadhā is glossed as anna, “food,” thus bringing in the meaning of svadhā as a food offering or oblation. Advaita Vedānta also regards māyā as prakṛti, “matter, substance”; and food, as we know, often stands for matter. (S. Radhakrishnan in his highly accurate translation of the upaniṣads sometimes translates anna as matter rather than food.) Again, prakṛti is regarded in Advaita Vedānta as ultimately illusory, not as inseparably inherent in brahman. Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava in his brief commentary does not gloss svadhā.

Suryakanta in his 1981 Practical Vedic Dictionary gives “inclination” for svadhā, citing its occurrence in Ṛg-veda 10.129.5. He also gives two other passages illustrating this meaning: Ṛg-veda 1.113.13, ajarāmṛtā carati svadhābhiḥ, which he translates as “she the ageless and deathless moves according to her wont or inclination”; and Ṛg-veda 1.164.30, jīvo mṛtasya carati svadhābhiḥ, “the soul of the dead moves according to his inclination.” We notice in both of these cases that svadhā is in the instrumental plural, svadhābhiḥ (not singular, despite the singular translation, “inclination”), and that it is used with the verb carati, “moves.” If something moves according to its inclination, this could also be by its inherent power, or by its inherent nature.

As already said, besides as some kind of inherent power, the meaning of svadhā has also been taken as some kind of inherent nature. It is not very different to say, “That one breathed without air by [its] inherent nature,” as “by [its] inherent power.” This would make svadhā practically equivalent to svabhāva, “inherent nature,” something’s “own nature.” Ralph Griffith (1892) translates this phrase as, “breathed by its own nature.” Jan Gonda (1966) also translates this as: “breathed . . . by its own nature.” It is unlikely that Gonda would have copied Griffith, because Griffith’s metrical translation is not regarded by scholars as being accurate enough. So I hoped that Gonda would explain his choice of this translation term or idea in his full article in Dutch that his English translation of this hymn accompanies. Ingmar de Boer kindly translated the relevant portion of the Dutch article into English for me.

Gonda did not, it turns out, explain his translation term for svadhā. But he did give an alternative translation of svadhayā (in the instrumental) in a footnote, “van zelf” (not “vanzelf” written together as is usual, says Ingmar), or in English, “by itself” (or automatically, says Ingmar), and he referenced this to Alfred Hillebrandt’s 1913 Lieder des Ṛgveda, p. 133. There in his German translation of this hymn, Hillebrandt translates svadhayā as “von selbst,” or in English, “by itself,” and he does give references for his translation of this term in a footnote: Ṛg-veda 3.35.10, 4.45.6, 4.58.4 (“Indra created one, Surya one, one they made themselves”), 10.88.1. Here we have textual warrant for translating svadhayā as “by itself,” or “by its own nature,” or “by its inherent nature,” the same meaning as svabhāva.

Coomaraswamy (1933, p. 56) gives three synonyms for svadhā: māyā, śakti, svabhāva; apparently from the upaniṣads. We have already discussed these three, which pretty much summarize the proposed meanings for svadhā in this hymn. Coomaraswamy did not give a reference for the equivalence of svadhā to svabhāva, “inherent nature.” The equivalence of svadhā to śakti, “power,” is contextual here in Ṛg-veda 10.129.2. The equivalence of svadhā to māyā, “illusion,” given by Sāyaṇa, requires us to read this line in a somewhat unnatural manner and take svadhā as merely accompanying the “one.” In the natural reading of this line, svadhā is something by which the one breathed without air. For māyā or its synonyms to be this, it would have to be understood as something inseparable from brahman, an inherent power or an inherent nature. It could not be something that is ultimately unreal and is only superimposed on brahman, as māyā has been understood to be in Advaita Vedānta for the last 1,200 years. There were other schools of Vedānta prior to this, such as Bhedābheda, that did not make this ultimate distinction between the synonyms of māyā and brahman. For them, the equivalence of svadhā to māyā or its synonyms could work, following the natural reading of this line. The same inherent power or inherent nature by which the one breathed without breath could also bring about the manifested cosmos, as māyā is understood in Advaita Vedānta to do. Something like this must have been intended in this hymn, because in its verse 5, svadhā is described as being below (avastāt).

RV 10.129.2d: tásmād dhānyán ná paráḥ kíṃ caná̄sa, “Other than just that, there was not anything else.” This simple translation requires no comment other than to note that “just” translates the particle ha, and that paraḥ, “else,” could also mean “beyond.”

RV 10.129.3ab: táma āsīt támasā gūḷhám ágre ’praketáṃ saliláṃ sárvam ā idám, “Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning. All this was water without distinguishing sign.” It is a general rule in Vedic Sanskrit verse that a unit of meter is a unit of sense (a rule that Irach Taraporewala applied with good results to his translation of the related Avesta Gāthās). For this reason, most translators have taken the first verse quarter as a unit, and translated it like I have, “Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning.” Interestingly, the three extant commentaries take the first two words as a sentence, and then construe the rest of that verse quarter with the second verse quarter; in general like this: “There was darkness. All this [the cosmos], [like] water without distinguishing sign, was hidden by [this] darkness in the beginning.” Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava says that tamas, “darkness,” intends prakṛti, “matter, substance.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary gives three words for tamas: avidyā, “ignorance”; māyā, “illusion”; and śakti, “power.” It explains this as the material cause (upādāna) of the world, and glosses this as mūla-ajñāna, “root unknowing.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary says that another name for tamas is māyā, and it describes this as bhāva-rūpa-ajñāna, “unknowing in the form of an existing thing.” That is, darkness is equated with unknowing as a positive entity, a something, not unknowing as an absence of knowledge. It adds that this is the mūla-kāraṇa, the “root cause” (of the cosmos).

For apraketa, “without distinguishing sign,” see my comment on praketa in 10.129.2b. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary here on 10.129.3 takes apraketam as aprajñāyamānam, “not being known.”

RV 10.129.3cd: tucchyénābhv ápihitaṃ yád á̄sīt tápasas tán mahiná̄jāyatáikam, “That one germ which was covered by the void was born through the power of heat.” Because of the yat-tat pronoun correlative, something not used in English, the word order of these two verse quarters had to be rearranged in translation. It is, more literally, “Which germ was covered by the void, that one was born through the power of heat.” So it is only in the English translation that words from one verse quarter were put in the other verse quarter. These units of meter remain units of sense in the original. This half verse includes three words whose meaning is not precisely known (tucchya, ābhu, mahiman), and a fourth whose applicable meaning here is debated (tapas).

The word tuccha means “empty,” like the synonymous but more widely used word śūnya. The word tucchya used here, with the added “y,” is the same as tuccha. As a noun, which we have here, it would mean a void, something that is empty. This is how I have translated it (in the instrumental case), “by the void.” But we do not know exactly what it signifies as a technical term. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses it as bhāva-rūpa-ajñānam, “unknowing in the form of an existing thing.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary glosses it as mūla-ajñāna, “root unknowing.” So Sāyaṇa glosses tucchya like he glossed tamas, “darkness,” in the first part of this verse. Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava glosses tucchyena rather differently, as mṛtyunā, “by death,” and as udakena, “by water.” His commentary is very brief, and he assumes that his readers are already familiar with the Vedic literature. For “death” here, they would probably recall Bṛhad-āraṇyaka-upaniṣad 1.2.1, which begins: “There was nothing whatsoever here in the beginning. By death indeed was this covered” (translated by S. Radhakrishnan). For “water” here, the previous line of this verse had just said, “All this was water.” So the commentators say that tucchya, “the void,” is “unknowing,” i.e., “darkness,” or else “death,” or “water.”

The noun ābhu, taken by me and some others in the general sense of a “germ” or “potential,” more literally something that “comes into existence,” is one of the least understood words in the hymn. It is etymologically simple, being derived from the prefix ā and the verb-root bhū, “be.” The verb in the past tense made from this prefix and root, ābabhūva, “has come into being,” occurs in verses 6 and 7. But the neuter noun ābhu is practically unknown elsewhere in Sanskrit texts, so we do not know what it may mean as a technical term. It is not found in the ancient Nirukta by Yaska. From its etymological meaning, “that which comes into being, that which becomes,” Maurer said (p. 225) he “somewhat freely translated” it as “the germ (of all things).” I have adopted “germ” from him. “Germ” had also been used earlier in the anonymous translation of 1859 and Max Müller’s comments thereon, and in his own translation of 1899. Some other translators have used similar translations: “generative principle” (Edgerton, 1965), “the virtual” (Gonda, 1966), “the pregnant point” (Le Mee, 1975), “primordial potency” (Panikkar, 1977, only in his notes), “life force” (O’Flaherty, 1981), “the thing coming into being” (Brereton, 1999).

Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava glosses ābhu as maho brahma, “great brahman.” He does not elaborate. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses ābhu as ā samantād bhavati, “[it] becomes from all sides.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary glosses ābhu as ā samantād bhavaty utpadyata ity ābhu jjagat, “ābhu [is what] becomes, arises, from all sides, i.e., the world.” A few lines later Sāyaṇa speaks of this kind of world as avyakta, “unmanifest,” distinguishing this from the abhivyakta-jagat, the “manifest world.” So Sāyaṇa, too, understands ābhu as kind of a “germ” or “potential” world. There is a direct parallel to this verse in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 1.23.1-2, where Prajāpati, “Lord of Progeny,” is found in place of ābhu. On that text we have, besides another Sāyaṇa commentary, also a pre-Sāyaṇa commentary by Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara-Miśra. The latter there glosses Prajāpati as hiraṇya-garbha, the “golden germ.” See below under 10.129.4a.

In the word apihita, “covered,” we see the same archaic prefix “api” that is also seen in the word apyaya, found in the compound prabhavāpyaya from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. (see the post, “The One Form of Existence”: prabhavāpyaya in the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā).

The basic meaning of the word tapas is “heat.” Derived from this is the common meaning “austerity, penance,” related to the heat or intensity of such practices undertaken by yogis, etc. This can be applied not only physically but also mentally. Thus, there can be a mental tapas related to intense meditation. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary quotes a passage from the Muṇḍaka-upaniṣad (1.1.9) speaking of tapas consisting of knowledge/wisdom, jñāna-mayam. Sāyaṇa here glosses: “of tapas in the form of reflection on [what is] about to be emanated.” While this meaning may well apply here, as Sāyaṇa says it does, I think it is better to give its basic meaning rather than its derivative meaning. This was proven on a large scale in the literally accurate Tibetan translations of the entire canon of Sanskrit Buddhist texts. The literal translations allowed for various interpretations to be made later. They did not pre-judge the issue and thereby limit it from the beginning to only one interpretation. So I have translated tapas as “heat.”

Tapas is not glossed by Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava, nor in the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary, where the variant reading tamas is found in the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa text instead of tapas. John Muir in his 1870 translation gives a long footnote (fn. 541, pp. 361-362) reviewing the evidence for taking tapas as “rigorous and intense abstraction.” This includes Ṛg-veda 10.167.1, which “says that Indra gained heaven by tapas, where the word can only mean rigorous abstraction.” A little later (p. 365) Muir gives a passage on cosmogony from Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, where through tapas is produced smoke, fire, light, flame, rays, blazes, etc., one after the other. He there notes: “It may perhaps be considered that the manner in which the word tapas is used in this passage is favourable to the idea that in R.V. x. 129, 3, it signifies heat rather than rigorous abstraction.” Chauncey Blair in his 1961 book, Heat in the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda, cites Ṛg-veda 10.129.3 under the section, “Tapas as a Creative Power” (pp. 67-68). He introduces it with: “In the two following verses, tapas has become not only a completely abstract entity, but also a great creative, primeval power.” The second verse is Ṛg-veda 10.190.1, which he translates as: “Both Universal Order and Truth were produced from incandescent heat. From that (heat) night was born. And from that (heat) the billowing ocean (was born).”

The word mahinā, or mahimnā as Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava has it in his brief commentary, is regarded as the instrumental singular of mahiman, or of mahin. These are, in any case, synonyms. Mahiman commonly means “greatness,” but also “might, power,” as the context seems to require here. I have translated it (in the instrumental case) as, “through the power” (of heat). The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses mahinā as māhātmyena, simply “by greatness.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary, however, glosses mahinā quite differently. It takes mahiman (or mahin) as mahat, the “great” principle of the Sāṃkhya system. Mahat is another name for buddhi, the principle of intelligence from which the entire cosmos evolves. This quite different interpretation is due in part to the fact that this commentary accepts and uses some Sāṃkhya ideas, and due in part to the fact that the Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa reading of this verse has tamasas instead of tapasas. So rather than saying, “that one [germ or potential world] was born through the power of heat,” it says, “that one [germ or potential world] was born from darkness by way of mahat (the “great” principle).” It glosses: “by way of mahiman/mahin as mahat in the form of the manifest world.” It had spoken of the principle of mahat (mahat-tattva) earlier here, in its commentary on verse 1. The word mahiman occurs in the plural in verse 5, where the meaning “powers” is more fitting than “greatnesses.”

The “one” (ekam) that was born (ajāyata) is taken by almost all the translators to be “that one” (tad ekam) that breathed without air from verse 2. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries do not take it as this, and neither do I. The verse clearly says that the ābhu (“germ”) is what was born, however we understand that term. How the commentaries understand the ābhu has been given above in the second paragraph about ābhu. There is a distinction to be made between “that one germ” and “that one” itself that breathed without air. This hymn says in verse 2d that other than just that one, there was not anything else. If just that “one” is really and truly only “one,” then it cannot be born except metaphorically. The upaniṣads and brāhmaṇas are quite willing to speak metaphorically, and even have the “one” thinking and creating. For example, Aitareya Upaniṣad 1.1.1: “The self, verily, was (all) this, one only, in the beginning. Nothing else whatsoever winked. He thought, ‘let me now create the worlds.’” (translated by S. Radhakrishnan). Ṛg-veda 10.129, however, does not appear to do so, preserving at least a verbal distinction between “that one” itself and the “one germ” (ābhu). Unless and until there is clear evidence that the ābhu is completely identical with “that one” that breathed without air, I think we must keep this distinction.

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on February 28, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Part 2: Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”

There are, I think, at least six important points in Ṛg-veda 10.129 on which there is disagreement among translators. Despite collecting more than thirty English translations of this hymn, I was unable to find any one translation that understood all six of these the way I understand them. This at last caused me to undertake a new translation, in order to have what I regard as an adequate basis for comparison with the Book of Dzyan. Before giving my translation, I here list these six important points and how I have understood them. The first two of these differ from almost all the translations known to me (but not from the two Sanskrit commentaries of Sāyaṇa), the next two differ from most of the previous translations, and the last two differ from more or less than half of them. There are, of course, differences on a number of other points as well (e.g., the meaning of rajas in 1b), sometimes also significant (e.g., the meaning of tapas in 3d). How I understood them may be seen in the translation notes. The six important points of difference are:

(1) In the second half of verse 3, the “one” (ekam) that was born is the germ (ābhu) of verse 3, not “that one” (tad ekam) that breathed without air of verse 2. The word that I and some others have taken as a germ (a very rare word of uncertain meaning), also described as “one,” is here understood to be distinct from “that one” itself. This makes a subtle but philosophically quite significant distinction. Following the natural grammatical construal of the standard yat-tat pronoun correlative found in this line, this verse says only that the germ is born, and applies the adjective “one” to it. Unless the germ is taken to be completely identical with “that one” that breathed without air of the previous verse, this verse does not say that “that one” itself is born.

(2) In the first half of verse 4, the “that” (tat) that desire came upon is the germ of the previous line, not the “that one” (tad ekam) that breathed without air of verse 2. This is the natural grammatical construal. Again, unless the germ is taken to be completely identical with “that one” that breathed without air of verse 2, this verse does not say that desire arose in “that one” itself.

(3) In the first quarter of verse 1, an implied “it” is supplied, saying, “[It] was not non-existent, nor was [it] existent then,” rather than the equally possible, “There was neither non-existence nor existence then.” Supplying “it” is based on parallel passages in the Vedic texts that specifically say “it” in this context. When this verse is translated as saying that there was neither non-existence nor existence then, it is sometimes understood to mean that there was absolutely nothing then, with the result that the cosmos arises from nothing rather than from something.

(4) In the second half of verse 4, the “desire” (kāma) from the first half is carried down. Rather than saying just that the sages found the link between the existent and the non-existent (“hardly any discovery at all”—Maurer, p. 228), the verse says what the sages found that link to be, when its two halves are taken together. Desire is the link between the existent and the non-existent. This is how the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary understands it, as does Walter Maurer, who regards it as “the key to the entire hymn” (p. 220 in his article linked in the previous post on this topic).

(5) In the third quarter of verse 1, the verb āvarīvar is taken as derived from the root vṛt, “exist, turn, move,” rather than from the root vṛ, “cover.” The verse therefore asks “what moved?” rather than “what covered?” This apparently describes the breathing without air of “that one” in verse 2. In taking the verb this way, I follow many of the later translators, based on the meaning found in parallel passages in the Vedic texts, rather than most of the earlier translators, based on the gloss given by Sāyaṇa (“covered”). Further, this being an “intensive” verb, I show the intensive sense with the word “incessantly” in my translation of it as “moved incessantly.”

(6) In the second quarter of verse 7, the unstated subject of the verb dadhe (“produced, made, established, upheld”) is taken to be “it” (“this creation or manifestation”) rather than “he” (the “overseer”). This applies whether the perfect middle verb dadhe is taken in a middle sense, “[it] made [itself],” or in a passive sense, “[it] was made.” When taken as “[he] made [it],” the “he,” the “overseer” from the next line, is usually understood to be a personal being, a creator, “God” (īśvara), as the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses “overseer” (adhyakṣa). However, there is no indication in the previous verses of anything but an evolutionary process of creation or manifestation, nothing that would require the involvement or direction of a personal being as creator. Only about a third of the English translations take “he” as the subject; mine is among the majority that do not.


Translation of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the “Hymn of Creation”:

ná̄sad āsīn nó sád āsīt tadá̄nīṃ ná̄sīd rájo nó výomā paró yát

kím á̄varīvaḥ kúha kásya śármann ámbhaḥ kím āsīd gáhanaṃ gabhīrám || 1 ||

1. [It] was not non-existent, nor was [it] existent then. There was no world, nor sky, [nor] what is beyond. What moved incessantly? Where? In the abode of what? Was [it] water, dense [and] deep?

ná mṛtyúr āsīd amṛ́taṃ ná tárhi ná rá̄tryā áhna āsīt praketáḥ

á̄nīd avātáṃ svadháyā tád ékaṃ tásmād dhānyán ná paráḥ kíṃ caná̄sa || 2 ||

2. There was not death nor life (“non-death”) then. There was no distinguishing sign of night [or] of day. That one breathed without air by [its] inherent power. Other than just that, there was not anything else.

táma āsīt támasā gūḷhám ágre ’praketáṃ saliláṃ sárvam ā idám

tucchyénābhv ápihitaṃ yád á̄sīt tápasas tán mahiná̄jāyatáikam || 3 ||

3. Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning. All this was water without distinguishing sign. That one germ which was covered by the void was born through the power of heat.

ká̄mas tád ágre sám avartatá̄dhi mánaso rétaḥ prathamáṃ yád á̄sīt

sató bándhum ásati nír avindan hṛdí pratí̄ṣyā kaváyo manīṣá̄ || 4 ||

4. Desire in the beginning came upon that [germ], which was the first seed of mind. Sages, having searched in the heart with inspired thought, found out [desire to be] the link of the existent in the non-existent.

tiraścí̄no vítato raśmír eṣām adháḥ svid āsí̄3d upári svid āsī3t

retodhá̄ āsan mahimá̄na āsan svadhá̄ avástāt práyatiḥ parástāt || 5 ||

5. Their cord was extended across. Was there a below? Was there an above? There were seed-placers, there were powers; inherent power below, impulse above.

kó addhá̄ veda ká ihá prá vocat kúta á̄jātā kúta iyáṃ vísṛṣṭiḥ

arvá̄g devá̄ asyá visárjanená̄thā kó veda yáta ābabhú̄va || 6 ||

6. Who really knows? Who here can say? From where has [it] been born? From where [has come] this manifestation? The gods are later than the manifestation of this [cosmos]. Then who knows from what [it] has come into being?

iyáṃ vísṛṣṭir yáta ābabhú̄va yádi vā dadhé yádi vā ná

yó asyá̄dhyakṣaḥ paramé výoman só aṅgá veda yádi vā ná véda || 7 ||

7. From what this manifestation has come into being, whether [it] was made or whether not, its overseer who is in the highest heaven, he surely knows; or else [he] knows not.


Translation Notes

“. . . a mere translation of the Veda, however accurate, intelligible, poetical, and even beautiful, is of absolutely no value for the advancement of Vedic scholarship, unless it is followed by pièces justificatives, that is, unless the translator gives his reasons why he has translated every word about which there can be any doubt, in his own way, and not in any other.” (F. Max Müller, Vedic Hymns, Part I, p. x, Sacred Books of the East, vol. 32, 1891.)

RV 10.129.1a: ná̄sad āsīn nó sád āsīt tadá̄nīṃ, “[It] was not non-existent, nor was [it] existent then.” Most translators take this line as the equally possible, “There was neither non-existence nor existence then.” I understand this line with an implied subject, “it,” in agreement with Walter Maurer (1975, p. 221), though he takes its referent as “all this (world)” (sarvam idam) from verse 3, while I take its referent as “that one” (tad ekam) from verse 2. To me, the convincing evidence for understanding an implied subject here (“it, this, that”) comes from what are by far the oldest extant re-statements of this line. These are found in the brāhmaṇas. There, the word idam, “this, it,” is explicitly stated. Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa says: neva vā idam agre ’sad āsīn neva sad āsīt, “In the beginning this was certainly not non-existent, [it] was certainly not existent.” (In translating this, I follow Joel Brereton’s convincing explanation of neva, na iva, as a strong negation in his article, “The Particle iva in Vedic Prose,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 102, 1982, pp. 443-450, especially p. 448, paragraph 4.1.2.) In the next sentence the Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa quotes the same line that we are discussing, Ṛg-veda 10.129.1a. Similarly, Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa says: idaṃ vā agre naiva kiṃcanāsīt | na dyaur āsīt | na pṛthivī | nāntarikṣam |, “This, indeed, in the beginning, was not even anything; not the heavens; not the earth; not the atmosphere.” We see here also a re-statement of our next line, Ṛg-veda 10.129.1b: “There was no world, nor sky, [nor] what is beyond.”

Some of the translators who take the line under discussion as, “There was neither non-existence nor existence then,” understand it to say that there was nothing then. Thus, creation would be creation out of nothing. But this is more an Abrahamic than an Indian idea. It is not that there was nothing then, but rather that what there was cannot be called either existent or non-existent, being or non-being; it is beyond dualistic conception. This is a basic idea in Indian thought. This idea is basic to what is often regarded as the pinnacle of Hindu Vedānta thought, the Advaita or “non-dual” tradition; and this idea is basic to what is often regarded as the pinnacle of Mahāyāna Buddhist thought, the Madhyamaka or “middle way” tradition. The Madhyamaka view is defined in an often-quoted verse as follows:

na san nāsan na sad-asan na cāpy anubhayātmakam |

catuṣ-koṭi-vinirmuktaṃ tattvaṃ mādhyamikā viduḥ ||

“The Mādhyamikas know reality free from the four positions of the tetralemma: neither is it existent, nor non-existent, nor both existent and non-existent, nor is it neither.”

(found in the Jñāna-sāra-samuccaya, etc.; here translated by David Seyfort Ruegg, Three Studies in the History of Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka Philosophy, Wien, 2000, p. 143).

RV 10.129.1b: ná̄sīd rájo nó výomā paró yát, “There was no world, nor sky, [nor] what is beyond.” Most translators take the word rajas here to mean “atmosphere” or “sky” or “air” or “midspace” rather than “world” as I have taken it, and see only two things here rather than three. Thus, for example, Arthur Macdonell in his very helpful Vedic Reader for Students (which most of us in the West learned with) translates this line as: “there was not the air nor the heaven which is beyond.” Of course, rajas does mean “atmosphere” in probably a majority of Vedic passages. But it also means “world,” as in Ṛg-veda 1.164.6 for example, where six worlds are spoken of; and it was glossed as loka in the plural (lokāḥ), “worlds,” in the very early Nirukta by Yaska (4.19). It does not necessary mean our world, but can refer to any globe in a series of worlds, usually higher worlds. These are often given as fourteen in number in Hindu texts. To us, these higher worlds would be the same as higher heavens or heaven worlds. They may be placed by us in what we call the atmosphere or sky. Both of the commentators, Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava and Sāyaṇa (in his Ṛg-veda commentary), gloss rajas here as loka, “world” (the Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary takes rajas as the guṇa rajas). They also see three things here rather than two. As we saw in the previous note, these three are spelled out in the old Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa at “not the heavens; not the earth; not the atmosphere.” This gives us a perfectly logical and fitting interpretation as the world, the sky, and what is beyond.

There are important references in The Secret Doctrine that include the term rajas. The first is vol. 2, p. 385 fn., where the plural form rajāṃsi, “worlds,” is used. The second is vol. 2, pp. 621-622, where both the singular form, rajaḥ (mistakenly changed to rāja in the 1978 ed.), and the plural form, rajāṃsi, are used in an extract from the secret commentaries.

RV 10.129.1c: kím á̄varīvaḥ kúha kásya śármann, “What moved incessantly? Where? In the abode of what?” The verb āvarīvar (ā avarīvar), an intensive imperfect third person singular active, may be derived from the root vṛ, “cover,” or possibly from the root vṛt, “exist, turn, move.” In the former derivation, this verse quarter would begin, “What covered [all]?” I have taken it in the latter derivation, “moved.” Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava takes it as “covered,” glossing it as ācchādayām āsa. Sāyaṇa also takes it as derived from vṛ, “cover,” as has long been known. The majority of translators followed him in doing this, especially the earlier ones. More recently, most of the translators who have critically studied the Vedic Sanskrit of this hymn (in contradistinction to the translators whose intent was more to improve the language of the previous translations) have taken avarīvar as derived from the root vṛt, “exist, turn, move.”

The method of trying to determine the meaning of Vedic words by comparing their usage in all their occurrences in the Vedic texts was pioneered by Rudolph Roth, and he contributed the results to the massive seven-volume Sanskrit-Wörterbuch (1855-1875, in German). There (vol. 6, 1871, page column 757, lines 5-6) he derived āvarīvar in Ṛg-veda 10.129.1 from vart (vṛt), specifically rejecting the commentator’s (Sāyaṇa’s) derivation of it from var (vṛ). He translated āvarīvar into German as, “regte sich,” or in English, “stirred.” Hermann Grassmann followed Roth in deriving avarīvar from the root vṛt in his still widely used Wörterbuch zum Rig-Veda (1873, page column 1333; hymn 10.129 is there numbered 955). Grassmann in his 1876-1877 German translation of the Rig-Veda (vol. 2, p. 406) translated this phrase as, “Was regte sich?,” or in English, “What stirred?” Among English translations, “stirred” was used by Edward J. Thomas (1923), Franklin Edgerton (1965), Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty (1981), and Joel Brereton (1999). Karl Geldner and Adolf Kaegi in their joint 1875 German translation of this hymn (p. 165) translated this phrase as, “Bewegt’ sich was?,” taking āvarīvar as “moved” (likewise derived from vṛt). Geldner used the derivation from vṛ in his 1908 German translation of this hymn (p. 14) that included the commentary by Sāyaṇa (who derived avarīvar from vṛ). Geldner ultimately used the derivation of avarīvar from vṛt in his posthumously published 1951 German translation of the Rig-Veda (vol. 3, p. 359), “Was strich hin und her?,” adding the phrase “back and forth” to the general idea of “moved.” The first English translation to depart from the meaning “covered” for āvarīvar was Macdonell’s 1900 translation, which used “motion” (“What motion was there?”). However, he returned to the derivation from vṛ in his translations of 1917 (“What did it contain?”) and 1922 (“What was concealed?”). Closely related to “move” is the meaning of vṛt as “exist,” taken by Walter Maurer in his 1975 translation (“What existed?”).

Taking avarīvar as derived from the root vṛt, “exist, turn, move,” is done on the basis of the meaning as found in parallel passages. In Ṛg-veda 10.51.6 the term ā avarīvur is used in connection with a chariot. Like avarīvar, there is no “t” in avarīvur, and here the meaning is evidently related to motion rather than covering (vṛt rather than vṛ). Hermann Oldenberg in his Ṛgveda: Textkritische und exegetische Noten has succinctly stated the case for vṛt (vol. 2, 1912, pp. 346-347, in German). Geldner has done so even more briefly in a note to his German translation (vol. 3, 1951, pp. 359-360). He cites parallels where cognate forms describe the alternating motion of wind and of breath. To me, the convincing evidence is that the next verse, 10.129.2c, speaks of the breath: “That one breathed without air.” So we would expect the verb āvarīvar here in 10.129.1c to be describing the alternating motion of the breath, its coming and going. In a parallel passage at Ṛg-veda 1.164.30-31, after speaking of the breath in the prior verse, the verb ā varīvarti (clearly from vṛt) is used in the next verse to describe “coming hither and going afar” (Vasudeva S. Agrawala translation, Vision in Long Darkness, 1963, p. 112). I have used “moved” rather than the more poetic “stirred,” because “stirred” describes an awaking from sleep, while the hymn apparently describes the regular movement of the breath during sleep.

In my translation of āvarīvar as “moved incessantly,” the “incessantly” is an attempt to render the sense of “repeated” in the intensive verb form. The so-called intensive is a verb that shows either repeated or intensified action. Thus, repeated action is shown by Jan Gonda’s translation (1966), “moved intermittently,” by Hans Henrich Hock’s translation (2007), “kept on moving,” and by Geldner’s German translation (1951), “hin und her” (“back and forth”), while intensified action is shown by Paul-Emile Dumont’s translation (1969), “was violently moving,” and by Louis Renou’s French translation (1956), “mouvait puissamment” (“moved powerfully”). The other translations mentioned above, “stirred,” etc., do not reflect the intensive sense. Since the verb āvarīvar has been associated with alternating motion, the intensive sense of repeated could perhaps just as well be rendered “rhythmically” as “incessantly.” In regard to the coming and going of the breath, “moved rhythmically” would certainly be applicable.

The phrase, kasya śarman, translated by me as, “In the abode of what?,” is most often translated as, “In whose protection?” (The interrogative pronoun kasya can equally mean “of what” or “of who, whose.”) While the word śarman means “protection” in Ṛg-veda verses such as 6.75.11, I could never see the relevance of such a meaning in this verse, asking such a question here. It always seemed incongruous to me to ask “In whose protection?,” when the entire cosmos was out of existence, or in a state of dissolution. Such a question would assume a “who” outside of the cosmos, who had not dissolved with it, and who was there to protect it. One must also wonder what there was then that it would need protection against, when the entire cosmos was dissolved. Therefore I have accepted the meaning of śarman as found in the ancient Vedic word-list known as the Nighaṇṭu, where (3.4) it is given in a group of twenty-two words for gṛha, “house,” and have translated it as “abode.”

Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava, who often follows the Nighaṇṭu, glosses śarman here as gṛhe, “in the house.” The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries give us another meaning of śarman, taking it as sukha, “happiness,” which is explained in relation to bhoga, “enjoyment.” The meaning “house” can be seen behind Ananda K. Coomaraswamy’s 1933 translation of śarman here as “resting-place.” I think this translation of śarman is a good take on “house,” and was going to adopt it; but then the question, “In the resting-place of what?” would be answered with, “The formerly manifested cosmos.” I do not think that this obvious fact is what is being asked about here. I understand the question to be asking about the ultimate reality that is now asleep during pralaya when the cosmos is not in manifestation. So I have chosen “abode” for śarman, and translated this phrase as: “In the abode of what?”

Like the Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava gloss of śarman in the locative case, “in the house,” so the Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary has śarman in the locative case, śarmaṇi, “in the enjoyment/happiness.” The many translators who translate this phrase as “In whose protection?” similarly understand śarman as a locative here. This is because, for words such as śarman ending in “-an,” locatives without the final “i” are actually more common in the Ṛg-veda than those that have it. This fact was ascertained by Charles R. Lanman in his comprehensive study, “A Statistical Account of Noun-Inflection in the Veda,” presented to the American Oriental Society in 1877 (published in Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 10, 1872-1880, pp. 325-601). Of 330 instances, 127 have the final “i,” while 203 have dropped it (see pp. 535-536). The word śarman has it 11 times, and drops it 17 times. Lanman writes: “I examined the passages in which the above 330 forms occur, and found that the choice between the two forms was often decided simply by the metre.” The fact about the dropped locative ending was duly reported by A. A. Macdonell in his Vedic Grammar, p. 203, paragraph 325, and in his Vedic Grammar for Students, p. 67, para. 90.

RV 10.129.1d: ámbhaḥ kím āsīd gáhanaṃ gabhīrám, “Was [it] water, dense [and] deep?” The interrogative kim can be taken in more than one way, so that this could be asking: “Was there water?” (as most translators take it), or even “What was water?,” besides “Was [it] water?” The two words gahana and gabhīra both mean “deep, thick.” They are so closely related in meaning that, in order to make good English, they have often been given in a phrase (or paraphrase) here, such as “fathomless abyss.” Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava does not gloss them, but the two different commentaries that go under Sāyaṇa’s name gloss them consistently. The Sāyaṇa Ṛg-veda commentary glosses gahanam as duṣpraveśam, “hard to penetrate.” The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary ( glosses gahanam as praveṣṭum aśakyam, “unable to penetrate.” Seeing no reason not to accept these glosses, I have therefore translated gahana as “dense.” Sāyaṇa in both his Ṛg-veda and Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentaries glosses gabhīram with the word agādham, “not shallow, deep, bottomless.” So I have translated gabhīram as “deep.”

The Sāyaṇa Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa commentary says that this water, dense and deep, is not the water known to us. It is not the water that remains during an intermediate pralaya or period of dissolution, when the earth remains in status quo and only its life-forms disappear. In the great pralaya, the earth itself disappears, along with everything on it including water. The water that the verse asks about is something different.

(Translation Notes to be continued)

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Vedas

By David Reigle on January 27, 2013 at 12:08 am

Part 1: Introduction

Facing the opening page of the stanzas from the Book of Dzyan given in The Secret Doctrine is a quotation of most of Ṛg-veda 10.129, known as the “Hymn of Creation.” There are obvious parallels between the two texts. The first verse of the Ṛg-veda hymn says, in the early translation there quoted, “Nor Aught nor Nought existed.” The first stanza of the Book of Dzyan speaks of “that which is and yet is not. Naught was.” The second verse of the Ṛg-veda hymn says, “The only One breathed breathless by itself.” The second stanza of the Book of Dzyan says that there was “naught save ceaseless eternal breath, which knows itself not.” The third verse of the Ṛg-veda hymn says, “Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled in gloom profound.” The first stanza of the Book of Dzyan had said that “Darkness alone filled the boundless all.”

The quoted Ṛg-veda hymn was not labeled as such in the 1888 first edition of The Secret Doctrine, nor was any reference given; so readers did not know that they were reading one of the most famous hymns from the Ṛg-veda. The 1893 revised edition added only the caption, “Rig Veda,” incorrectly attributing this translation to “Colebrooke.”  Not until the carefully corrected 1978 edition of The Secret Doctrine, prepared by Boris de Zirkoff, was the source traced out and the reference accurately given. However, the 1888 first edition has often been reprinted, and is the edition that is now available online; so most readers still do not know what they are reading here. Boris de Zirkoff identified this quotation as Ṛg-veda 10.129, and found that this translation of it was quoted from Max Müller’s 1859 book, A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature. The translation is not, however, by Max Müller. In introducing it, Müller there writes, “I subjoin a metrical translation of this hymn, which I owe to the kindness of a friend.” Thus we do not know who made the translation quoted in The Secret Doctrine. This hymn consists of seven verses, which are not numbered in the metrical translation. Five of these unnumbered verses were quoted in The Secret Doctrine. These are verses 1-3 and 6-7 of Ṛg-veda 10.129.

The Vedas are considered to be the oldest texts known on earth that have been preserved up to the present in a still living tradition. The ancient commentaries that explain them, however, are all lost (or were withdrawn, see: The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, pp. xxiii ff.), and we have only some comparatively late commentaries on them. The overall or general meaning of the Ṛg-veda Hymn of Creation is not in question, but the intended meaning of a number of its words and sentences is far from certain. The standard commentaries now available, those by Sāyaṇa who lived in the 1300s C.E., were written at least two thousand years after the time of the Vedas, and probably considerably more. When the Vedas were first being studied by Western scholars, Sāyaṇa’s commentaries had to be consulted at every step, just to understand the words of the Vedas. The often unsatisfactory nature of his explanations, however, caused Western scholars to distrust them, and then to reject his commentaries. The next generation of Western scholars, disregarding Sāyaṇa’s commentaries, attempted to determine the meaning of the Vedas by comparing the usage of individual words in all their occurrences throughout the Vedic writings. While this often yielded good results, it was also often uncertain, leading to conflicting opinions. In brief, we do not know the exact meaning of Ṛg-veda 10.129, the Hymn of Creation.

We would all like to just read “the” translation of the Hymn of Creation and move on to making comparisons with the Book of Dzyan, or with any other cosmogony. Unfortunately, there is no agreed upon translation. Does the cosmos arise from nothing or from something? What does “that one” (or “that alone”) refer to? Can it be born? Can desire arise in it? Is the cosmos made by an overseer, God, a He? So unless and until the meaning given for any particular passage is explained and justified, anything more than general comparisons are only likely to lead to faulty conclusions. As noted by Walter Maurer in his excellent study, “A Re-examination of Ṛgveda X.129, the Nāsadīya Hymn” (Journal of Indo-European Studies, vol. 3, 1975, pp. 217-238, attached), the numerous existing translations of this hymn often just borrow from each other, without addressing the many difficulties of its interpretation. He writes (p. 219): “In all probability no hymn in the entire Ṛgveda has been the object of more attention than this short hymn of but seven stanzas. Moreover, it has been translated more than any other hymn in the whole collection, . . . But in spite of the attention that has been accorded this hymn, many difficulties continue to impede its interpretation. Unfortunately the translations, though numerous, tend to borrow from one another, especially in those parts where a fresh interpretation would be most welcome.”

It is also the case that most Western scholarship, and now much Indian scholarship, assumes that the Vedas come from primitive times and are the speculations of comparatively primitive people. So with this widely held presupposition, most translators are not willing to see “advanced” philosophical ideas in the Hymn of Creation. While scholars try to be objective, this basic presupposition does affect their translations. By contrast, Indian tradition holds that the Vedas come down to us from an “age of truth” (satya-yuga) or “age of perfection” (kṛta-yuga), the “golden age” of other traditions; and, far from being speculations, record facts of nature that were directly perceived by spiritually advanced sages, even if their symbolic language proves enigmatic to us. A respected Indian scholar who also studied in Europe, C. Kunhan Raja, tried to take an objective view of the Vedas, but did so without the presupposition that they are primitive. He writes in his Preface to his valuable 1963 book, Poet-Philosophers of the Ṛgveda: Vedic and Pre-Vedic (“Dedicated to K. F. Geldner, under whom I studied Veda and Avesta at Marburg”), p. x:

“I have never believed in the theory of the ‘evolution’ of philosophy in India, as now available in the Ṛgveda and the later texts like the Upaniṣads and the classical systems, from pastoral poetry relating to Animism and Anthropomorphism through Polytheism and Henotheism to Monotheism and Monism. In the Ṛgveda I have been able to detect only what Max Müller terms Henotheism (perhaps in its revised form of Kat-henotheism). I have never seen a Monotheism in the Ṛgveda nor in any current of thought in India similar to the Theism of, say, Christianity and Islam. There is a clear Monism; but that Monism is not quite what is meant by Monism in the terminology of later Indian Philosophy. The Monism in the Ṛgveda is a Matter-cum-Spirit unity and not the pure Spirit of latter-day Monism, in which matter is thought of only as an illusory transformation from the pure Spirit, and not a reality.”

As we will see, the question of just what monism is intended in the Hymn of Creation by its tad ekam, “that one” (or “that alone”), is a major factor in its interpretation. The comparatively late Indian commentaries see it as the same as the latter-day monism (or “non-dualism”) of Advaita Vedānta, while most Western scholarship disagrees that this hymn could be so philosophically advanced (or else views this hymn as a very late hymn, despite its archaic language). What Kunhan Raja sees in the Ṛgveda is exactly the monism that also can be found in the purāṇas, particularly in the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. The “Matter-cum-Spirit unity and not the pure Spirit of latter-day Monism” is exactly the primary substance (pradhāna) that is identified with the highest (para) brahman in the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā (see: Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas, Part 2. “In the Beginning” as Derived from the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā). This is also exactly the monism taught in the Secret Doctrine or Wisdom Tradition from which the “Book of Dzyan” comes (reviewed in the first part of the post: Part 3. Tracing the Cosmogony Account from the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā).

For the reasons alluded to above, I concluded that it would be better to make a new translation of the Hymn of Creation for comparison with the Book of Dzyan, rather than to adopt one of the thirty or so English translations of Ṛg-veda 10.129 that I have gathered over the years. This will also provide a certain consistency of translation that allows for more accurate comparison with other cosmogony accounts, such as those from the Mokṣopāya and from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, also translated by me here. In so doing, I have tried to give equal consideration to the extant Indian commentaries and to the researches and word-studies of modern scholars, mostly Western. Regarding the latter, more than twenty English translations, along with Karl Geldner’s German translation and Louis Renou’s French translation, have already been posted in two files in the “References” section of this site, and additional materials will be posted and linked directly as I cite them. Regarding the former, besides the well-known commentaries of Sāyaṇa, both on Ṛg-veda 10.129 and on the same hymn as it is repeated in Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa 2.8.9 (where his commentary differs substantially), another commentary was published in full in 1965. This is the pre-Sāyaṇa commentary by Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava on the whole Ṛg-veda. Since none of these commentaries have been translated into English, and since Veṅkaṭa-Mādhava’s does not seem to have been used (or at least is not cited) by other translators, I have given relevant quotes from them in my notes. This is where I explain and justify my translation. As F. Max Müller said in his Introduction to his translations of Vedic Hymns long ago, which is just as true today, “The notes . . . must always constitute the more important part in a translation or, more truly, in a deciphering of Vedic hymns.” (Part I, pp. ix, cxxv, Sacred Books of the East, vol. 32, 1891, this first written in 1869.)

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“The One Form of Existence”: prabhavāpyaya in the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā

By David Reigle on January 15, 2013 at 4:57 pm

“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 1, verse 8, is given by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 46) as:

“8. Alone, the one form of existence stretched boundless, infinite, causeless, in dreamless sleep; and life pulsated unconscious in universal space, throughout that All-Presence which is sensed by the ‘Opened Eye’ of the Dangma.”

In her commentary on this verse, Blavatsky says (p. 46): “The Secret Doctrine carries this idea into the region of metaphysics and postulates a ‘One Form of Existence’ as the basis and source of all things. But perhaps the phrase, the ‘One Form of Existence,’ is not altogether correct. The Sanskrit word is Prabhavapyaya, ‘the place, or rather plane, whence emerges the origination, and into which is the resolution of all things,’ says a commentator.”

This appears to be one of the very rare instances where we are given an original term, prabhavāpyaya, behind a translation, “the one form of existence,” from the Book of Dzyan. From what she told us earlier (p. 23), “Extracts are given from the Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit translations of the original Senzar Commentaries and Glosses on the Book of Dzyan,” this would be a term from the Sanskrit translation. It is also possible, however, that Blavatsky is here merely giving another, later Sanskrit equivalent of the Senzar term, as might be found in the later Sanskrit texts that are now available. The commentator referred to is Śrīdhara-svāmi. She quoted this Sanskrit term and its explanation from editor Fitzedward Hall’s footnote to H. H. Wilson’s translation of The Vishnu Purana (vol. 1, 1864, p. 21). I had at first favored the latter of these two possibilities, because I wondered why the Viṣṇu-purāṇa term would be found in the Sanskrit translation of the Book of Dzyan or its commentaries. The purāṇas as now extant are known to have been continually revised. But once we know that there was an original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, and that this word prabhavāpyaya was found in it, the former of the two possibilities becomes quite plausible. Moreover, prabhavāpyaya is a somewhat archaic Sanskrit word.

The word prabhavāpyaya is found in the fourth verse of the cosmogony account derived from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, as may be seen in the September 1 (2012) posting: Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas, Part 2. “In the Beginning” as Derived from the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. This verse is:

anādy-antam ajaṃ sūkṣmaṃ tri-guṇaṃ prabhavāpyayam |

asāmpratam avijñeyaṃ brahmāgre samavarttata || 4.20 ||

4.20. In the beginning there was brahman, without beginning or end, unborn, subtle, having the three qualities (guṇa), the origin and cessation [of the cosmos], timeless, and unknowable.

The term prabhavāpyaya, here translated as “the origin and cessation [of the cosmos],” is a compound of two words: prabhava and apyaya. The first of these, prabhava, is common enough, and means “source” or “origin.” The second of these, apyaya, is quite uncommon and rather archaic. This word was so unfamiliar that in about half of the purāṇa sources it was changed over the centuries to the much more familiar avyaya, commonly understood as “imperishable.” In fact, the recently published critical edition of the Viṣṇu-purāṇa (see posting dated May 5, 2012) adopted prabhavāvyaya rather than prabhavāpyaya (1.2.21), based on 16 of 27 manuscripts. Yet, prabhavāpyaya is found in the famous Māṇḍūkya-upaniṣad (verse 6). What makes apyaya hard to recognize is the archaic prefix “api” rather than the standard prefix “abhi” (the change of final “i” to “y” before a vowel is normal). This is easily confused with the common Sanskrit indeclinable word, “api.” Once this is recognized as a prefix, a rare and little used prefix, the rest of the word’s derivation is simple. The “aya” can now be seen to come from the verb-root “i,” meaning “go.” The idea is “go into,” “enter into,” disappear or be absorbed. So it may be translated as “cessation” or “dissolution.”

The commentator Śrīdhara-svāmi explains apyaya by giving its verbal form, apiyanti, and glosses this as līyante, “dissolves.” He then says that it is the laya-sthāna, the “place of dissolution.” It is about this word “place” (sthāna) that Blavatsky says, “the place, or rather plane.” So she in turn glosses “place” as “plane,” attempting to give the idea behind prabhavāpyaya more accurately. How does one describe that which the cosmos originates from and then dissolves back into? The “one form of existence” is apparently Blavatsky’s attempt to render or paraphrase the meaning of the Senzar term, which she then tries to clarify by giving its Sanskrit translation, prabhavāpyaya. The evidence from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā gives us reason to believe that prabhavāpyaya is in fact an early Sanskrit translation of the Senzar term. Moreover, it is perhaps even a direct descendant of the phonetic Senzar term, more a transformation than a translation of this term.

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas

By David Reigle on December 26, 2012 at 5:47 am

Part 3. Tracing the Cosmogony Account from the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā

If the “Book of Dzyan” is real, we may wonder why it has been kept secret until H. P. Blavatsky brought out stanzas from it on cosmogenesis and anthropogenesis. In response to this question, it will be instructive to try to trace the cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. As found in the various purāṇas now extant, this account goes from an impersonal primary substance as the origin of the world and of what people call God, to primary substance being equated with God, to God creating primary substance and the world through His will. Apparently the custodians of the “Book of Dzyan” did not want this to happen to its teachings, and thus preferred to hand down this book in secret. We see that its custodians, now known as the Theosophical Mahatmas, tried to address these very same questions of God and ultimate substance when they allowed some of the teachings from the “Book of Dzyan” to be made public.

Like any busy executive, the Theosophical Mahatmas normally imparted what they wanted to say to their “secretaries,” advanced chelas such as H. P. Blavatsky, who then passed it on to the appropriate party on their behalf. One of the two Englishmen who received “Mahatma letters” in this way in the early 1880s, in attempting to write an exposition of the occult philosophy that he gathered from these letters, had drafted a chapter on “God.” At this point the Mahatma K.H. replied, apparently directly, with one of the clearest and most forceful statements of their teachings that we have. As he said about this elsewhere, “I cannot permit our sacred philosophy to be so disfigured.” This extraordinary reply, known as Mahatma letter #10, is where the Mahatma says that they deny God, and that they believe in matter (or substance) alone. Here are a few highlights from it, starting with its opening sentence:

“Neither our philosophy nor ourselves believe in a God, least of all in one whose pronoun necessitates a capital H. . . . If people are willing to accept and to regard as God our ONE LIFE immutable and unconscious in its eternity they may do so and thus keep to one more gigantic misnomer. . . . When we speak of our One Life we also say that it penetrates, nay is the essence of every atom of matter; and that therefore it not only has correspondence with matter but has all its properties likewise, etc.—hence is material, is matter itself. . . . Matter we know to be eternal, i.e., having had no beginning. . . . As to God—since no one has ever or at any time seen him or it—unless he or it is the very essence and nature of this boundless eternal matter, its energy and motion, we cannot regard him as either eternal or infinite or yet self existing. . . . Then what do we believe in? . . . In other words we believe in MATTER alone, in matter as visible nature and matter in its invisibility as the invisible omnipresent omnipotent Proteus with its unceasing motion which is its life, and which nature draws from herself since she is the great whole outside of which nothing can exist. . . . The existence of matter then is a fact; the existence of motion is another fact, their self existence and eternity or indestructibility is a third fact. And the idea of pure spirit as a Being or an Existence—give it whatever name you will—is a chimera, a gigantic absurdity.”

The idea of ultimate reality as eternal substance rather than a Godhead was so unexpected that it was doubted even by students of Theosophy and followers of the Theosophical Mahatmas. Is this really what the Mahatma meant? Did we understand him correctly? Is the letter authentic? Was it transmitted accurately? The three most advanced chelas of the Theosophical movement, H. P. Blavatsky, T. Subba Row, and Damodar Mavalankar, all agreed that the answer to these questions is “yes.” The teaching was correctly understood. Damodar Mavalankar, when reviewing a book in 1883, reiterated this teaching, and in so doing stressed that it is a central Theosophical teaching. He wrote:

“One point, however, may be noticed, as it is found to be constantly contradicted and picked holes into, by the theists as well as by all the supporters of independent creation—viz., the ‘definition of matter.’

“‘Kapila defines matter to be eternal and co-existent with Spirit. It was never in a state of non-being, but always in a state of constant change, it is subtle and sentient,’ &c., &c., (p. 2.)

“This is what the Editor of this Journal [H. P. Blavatsky] has all along maintained and can hardly repeat too often. The article: ‘What is Matter and what is Force?’ in the Theosophist for September 1882, is sufficiently lucid in reference to this question. It is at the same time pleasant to find that our learned friend and brother, Mr. T. Subba Row Garu, the great Adwaitee scholar, shares entirely with all of us these views, which every intuitional scholar, who comprehends the true spirit of the Sankhya philosophy, will ever maintain. This may be proved by the perusal of a recent work on ‘Yoga Philosophy’ by the learned Sanskritist, Dr. Rajendra Lala Mittra, the Introduction to which has just appeared, showing clearly how every genuine scholar comprehends the Sankhya in the same spirit as we do. The ONE LIFE of the Buddhists, or the Parabrahm of the Vedantins, is omnipresent and eternal. Spirit and matter are but its manifestations. As the energising force—Purush of Kapila—it is Spirit—as undifferentiated cosmic matter, it is Mulaprakriti. As differentiated cosmic matter, the basis of phenomenal evolution, it is Prakriti. In its aspect of being the field of cosmic ideation, it is Chidakasam; as the germ of cosmic ideation it is Chinmatra; while in its characteristic of perception it is Pragna. Whoever presumes to deny these points denies the main basis of Hindu Philosophy and clings but to its exoteric, weather-beaten, fast fading out shell.

(The Theosophist, vol. 4, no. 12, September 1883, p. 318)

The article that Damodar refers to, “What is Matter and What Is Force?,” also authored by the Mahatma K.H., sums up in its conclusion:

“Therefore, whether it is called Force or Matter, it will ever remain the Omnipresent Proteus of the Universe, the one element—LIFE—Spirit or Force at its negative, Matter at its positive pole; the former the MATERIO-SPIRITUAL, the latter, the MATERIO-PHYSICAL Universe—Nature, Svabhavat or INDESTRUCTIBLE MATTER.”

In Mahatma letter #22, a follow-up to Mahatma letter #10, the Mahatma K.H. says about spirit and matter: “it is one of the elementary and fundamental doctrines of Occultism that the two are one, and are distinct but in their respective manifestations, and only in the limited perceptions of the world of senses.” In letter #10 after saying “we believe in MATTER alone,” he went on, “with its unceasing motion which is its life.” In letter #22 he explained: “Motion is eternal because spirit is eternal. But no modes of motion can ever be conceived unless they be in connection with matter.” That is why he cannot accept spirit as a principle distinct from matter. Spirit, puruṣa, is the motion or life of matter, prakṛti. And that is why he would give matter as primary, saying “we believe in MATTER alone” rather than “we believe in SPIRIT alone.” There can be no motion without something to move.

Thus, understanding “matter alone” to be living matter or substance, endowed with motion or life or spirit, we have a succinct statement of ultimate reality as taught in the Wisdom Tradition now known as Theosophy. As already noted, ultimate reality, the highest (para) brahman, is clearly and unambiguously equated with primary substance (pradhāna) and substance or matter (prakṛti) in the cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. This makes the cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā to be of particular value for our Book of Dzyan research. It provides, in the oldest form that can be traced, of the most central sourcebooks of Hindu cosmogony, direct agreement with what is understood to be a fundamental teaching of the Wisdom Tradition that the Book of Dzyan comes from.

We may now proceed to try to trace the cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā through its changes in the now extant purāṇas, and try to see how the teaching of primary substance as ultimate reality was displaced by that of God. It is a good lesson in what happens to primeval truths over time in the hands of the public. It illustrates why the custodians of the “Book of Dzyan” preferred to preserve it in secret.

Our oldest sources (the Vāyu and Brahmāṇḍa purāṇas) report only one player here in the first verse of the creation or emanation (sarga) account derived from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, namely, the unmanifest (avyakta), the cause (kāraṇa), called primary substance (pradhāna), or substance (prakṛti). This same verse is also found with no substantial variants in the Kūrma Purāṇa (4.6) and the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa (1.77.2), and somewhat re-worded in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (1.2.19) and the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa (45.32), but adding only the adjective “subtle” (sūkṣma) to “substance” (prakṛti). Primary substance (unmanifest, and quite non-physical, we recall) is in the following lines of the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā account described as the highest (para) brahman, ultimate reality.

In other than the oldest sources of the creation or emanation (sarga) account derived from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā we find its first verse in more or less modified form. Padma Purāṇa 1.2.8 merely summarizes that everything emanates (sṛjati) from the unmanifest (avyakta), the cause (kāraṇa), what was called primary substance (pradhāna) in the fuller verse. The “Laws of Manu,” Manu-smṛti 1.11, specifies that what emanated from this is the puruṣa (“person, male”) called Brahmā. Brahmā is the creator god (not the neuter absolute brahman). So puruṣa is here not the cosmic principle “spirit,” who would be our second major player. Rather, this Manu-smṛti verse introduces our third main player, the puruṣa (“person” or “male”) who is equivalent to the creator god Brahmā, and who is also called īśvara, “God,” or loka-bhāvana, “creator of the world(s),” in other variations of this verse.

Besides in Manu-smṛti 1.11, puruṣa is also brought into this verse as it is found in Brahma Purāṇa 1.33 or 1.34, Harivaṃśa 1.17, and Śiva Purāṇa 5.29.5. Here things get fuzzy in regard to how puruṣa is meant. Although the Manu-smṛti no doubt underwent modification, it probably did so less than most of the purāṇas did. So we may take its version of this verse as a reasonably reliable guide for comparison on this question. As already noted, its Brahmā, the creator god, or the synonyms īśvara, “God,” and loka-bhāvana, “creator of the world(s),” bring in puruṣa as our third main player, rather than puruṣa as the cosmic principle “spirit.”

In Brahma Purāṇa 1.33 or 1.34, īśvara (“God”) is the puruṣa (“person, male”), and he produces (nirmame) the universe from primary substance (pradhāna). The very same wording also occurs in Harivaṃśa 1.17, except that it has puruṣa in a grammatically different case (puruṣam rather than puruṣas), so that puruṣa is no longer īśvara. Here, if we accept this grammatically problematic reading, puruṣa may be taken as the cosmic principle “spirit” rather than as the “person” or “male.” Then to make sense of the verse we must force its construal, and have it say that īśvara (“God”) produces the universe from primary substance (pradhāna) and spirit (puruṣa). For the Harivaṃśa we have a critical edition, and we see that not all of the manuscripts accepted this reading (puruṣam rather than puruṣas). Indeed, the oldest manuscript says just the opposite, that pradhāna (primary substance) and puruṣa (spirit) produce (nirmame) this creator of the world (loka-bhāvana; i.e., Brahmā, given in the following verse).

This verse as found in Śiva Purāṇa 5.29.5 is even more grammatically problematic. Here is what the “Board of Scholars” who translated it could make of it: “Puruṣa is eternal and he is of the nature of Sat and Asat as Pradhāna and Puruṣa. The creator of the worlds created Pradhāna after becoming Puruṣa.” This would be a reversal, having puruṣa, spirit, create pradhāna, primary substance. This, of course, makes little sense when pradhāna is everywhere said to be eternal, and therefore could never be created.

So of the four sources that bring puruṣa into this verse, puruṣa is clearly the “person” or “male” as Brahmā, the creator god, in Manu-smṛti 1.11, and as īśvara (“God”) in Brahma Purāṇa 1.33 or 1.34. Because of a grammatically questionable reading in Harivaṃśa 1.17, and multiple ones in Śiva Purāṇa 5.29.5, we cannot say that these verses unambiguously bring in puruṣa as the cosmic principle “spirit.” Our second major player, puruṣa as the cosmic principle “spirit,” appears unambiguously only in the fourth verse of this account only as it is found in the Bhaviṣya Purāṇa (1.77.5). This verse may be translated as: “. . . without form, unknowable, they call this the highest (para) puruṣa. By the self (ātman) of this great self (mahātman) all this world is pervaded.” Here puruṣa, like pradhāna in its first verse, is clearly used as a synonym of the absolute brahman. However, the other purāṇas that have this account in full (Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Kūrma, and Liṅga, and also its somewhat re-worded form in the Mārkaṇḍeya) all have brahman here in this verse rather than puruṣa. So it is probable that only brahman, and not puruṣa as “spirit,” is found here in the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā.

Lastly, we get to the first verse of the creation or emanation (sarga) account as found in Liṅga Purāṇa 1.70.3. We have seen that in Manu-smṛti 1.11 puruṣa as the creator god Brahmā emanates from the unmanifest (avyakta), also called primary substance (pradhāna), and that in Brahma Purāṇa 1.33/1.34 puruṣa as īśvara (“God”) produces the universe from primary substance (pradhāna). Now in the Liṅga Purāṇa what had been merely our third player trumps our first player. Here in the preceding verse the great God (mahā-īśvara, maheśvara), also known as Śiva, stands above substance (prakṛti) and spirit (puruṣa), and is equated with the highest self (parama-ātman). From this God (īśvarāt tasmāt) came (abhavat, “became”) the unmanifest (avyakta), the cause (kāraṇa), called primary substance (pradhāna) and substance (prakṛti). Our verses now continue unchanged (except ajara for ajāta), bringing in the highest (para) brahman as a synonym of primary substance (pradhāna). But here the Liṅga Purāṇa adds “impelled by the command of God” (īśvara-ājñā-pracodita). After another unchanged verse (except aprakāśa for asāmprata), the Liṅga Purāṇa account concludes with one more dramatic change: It was “by the will of Śiva” (śiva-icchayā) that “all this [universe] was pervaded by its [brahman’s] self (ātman).” So here in a full reversal, God creates primary substance (pradhāna), rather than God emanates from primary substance.

The idea of a God who can create even primary substance, supposed to be eternal, found its way into this cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā only gradually. In the Liṅga Purāṇa version of it, primary substance is stated to have originated from God or Śiva. The Kūrma Purāṇa version of it is also preceded by a verse bringing in God, stating that the great God (mahā-īśvara, maheśvara), also known as Śiva, is above the unmanifest (avyakta), and is the niyantṛ (regulator, controller, governor) [of the universe]. Here, however, this God may be equated with primary substance rather than being its creator, by way of the relative pronoun, yat, in the first verse of the cosmogony account proper. After the verse that precedes this account, the Kūrma Purāṇa continues with a largely unchanged version of this cosmogony account in comparison with that found in the Vāyu and Brahmāṇḍa purāṇas.

A verse mentioning God and the great God similar to the one preceding the cosmogony account in the Kūrma Purāṇa also found its way into the Vāyu Purāṇa, in a different location (1.42 or 1.48-49), although it is not found in the corresponding Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa. Its construal with the verse that follows it, the same verse that appears in Padma Purāṇa 1.2.8 (mentioned above), is ambiguous. But in yet another location, the Vāyu (2.41.36 or 103.36) and Brahmāṇḍa ( purāṇas clearly state that the great God (mahā-īśvara, maheśvara) arises from the unmanifest (avyakta), the cause (kāraṇa), from primary substance (pradhāna) and spirit (puruṣa), and this God is also there called Brahmā, the creator god. In other words, the great God (mahā-īśvara, maheśvara) is there equated with our third player.

In the cosmogony account that can be recovered from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, no God is involved. The impersonal “great” (mahat) principle, also called the principle of intelligence (buddhi), emanates from primary substance, and the world emanates from the “great” principle. The “great” principle then came to be called the creator god Brahmā, or just God (īśvara), or even the great God (mahā-īśvara, maheśvara). Once this happened, God became more and more powerful in human estimation. So as seen above, we go from no God, to God who emanates from primary substance, to God who is equated with primary substance, to God who creates primary substance. As the idea of God moved in, the teaching of ultimate primary substance faded out (see: “God’s Arrival in India”). Yet, ultimate primary substance, endowed with motion or life or spirit, is affirmed to be the original teaching of the Wisdom Tradition, and the evidence from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā strongly supports this.

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas

By David Reigle on September 1, 2012 at 5:54 am

Part 2. “In the Beginning” as Derived from the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā

The first verse of the actual creation or emanation (sarga) account from the Vāyu and Brahmāṇḍa purāṇas is repeated in so many other sources that we can feel sure it is from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. The initial nine lines of this account are repeated in enough other purāṇas that we may assume all nine are from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. These nine lines describe the stage “in the beginning” (agre), before creation or emanation has begun, directly parallel to stanza I of the “Book of Dzyan.” As we know, the purāṇas have undergone revision, in many cases extensive revision, and this account found in them is no exception. When following this account from one purāṇa to another, we see things changing, until it says something entirely opposite of how it started out. Like a drama or mystery novel, in which we never know who did what to whom, so we never know what to expect in any given purāṇa as to what emanated from what and by what. It may therefore be worthwhile to start introducing the cast of players.

The purāṇas follow a Sāṃkhya model of cosmogony overall, so that two of the main players will be puruṣa and prakṛti, often translated as “spirit” and “matter.” This “matter” is not physical matter, as “matter” has now come to be understood, but rather is an unmanifest something that manifests as everything from the principle of intelligence (buddhi) to the principle of self-consciousness (ahaṃkāra) to mind or thought (manas) to the sense-faculties (buddhīndriya) to the great elements (mahā-bhūta), included in which latter is physical matter. I will therefore translate prakṛti as the slightly better “substance” rather than as “matter,” although we still must remember that it is unmanifest “substance”; and that when it does manifest, we must remember just how non-physical most of its manifestation is. A much-used synonym of prakṛti is pradhāna, meaning “primary,” so I will translate pradhāna as “primary substance.” Another common synonym for prakṛti (“substance”) and pradhāna (“primary substance”) is avyakta, the “unmanifest,” often seen in the phrase, vyaktāvyaktajña, the “manifest” (vyakta), the “unmanifest” (avyakta, i.e., pradhāna or prakṛti), and the “knower” (jña, i.e., puruṣa). It is this term, “unmanifest” (avyakta), that begins the first verse of the creation or emanation (sarga) account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. Here is that verse, as found in the Vāyu (4.17 or 4.18-19) and Brahmāṇḍa ( purāṇas:

avyaktaṃ kāraṇaṃ yat tu nityaṃ sad-asad-ātmakam |

pradhānaṃ prakṛtiṃ caiva yam āhus tattva-cintakāḥ || 4.17 ||

“The unmanifest (avyakta) is the cause, eternal, and of the nature of existence and non-existence. Those who contemplate the principles of reality call it primary substance (pradhāna) and substance (prakṛti).”

The first verse of stanza I of the “Book of Dzyan” begins: “The Eternal Parent (Space), wrapped in her ever invisible robes, . . .” Blavatsky comments (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 35): “The ‘Parent Space’ is the eternal, ever present cause of all . . . .” Here, “parent” clearly corresponds to the “cause” of the purāṇa verse, and both call it “eternal” (nitya). Blavatsky continues: “. . . whose ‘invisible robes’ are the mystic root of all matter, and of the Universe. . . . Thus, the ‘Robes’ stand for the noumenon of undifferentiated Cosmic Matter. It is not matter as we know it, but the spiritual essence of matter, and is co-eternal and even one with Space in its abstract sense. . . . The Hindus call it Mulaprakriti, and say that it is the primordial substance, . . .” Here again, “invisible robes” clearly corresponds to the “primary substance (pradhāna) and substance (prakṛti)” of the purāṇa verse.

The unmanifest primordial substance is called “absolute abstract Space” in the explanation of the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, pp. 14-15). Along with “absolute Abstract Motion representing Unconditioned Consciousness” (i.e., spirit or puruṣa), it is one of the two aspects under which the “one absolute Reality,” the “Infinite and Eternal Cause,” is symbolized. When symbolizing it thus in our dualistic thought, we are asked to note that (p. 15): “Spirit (or Consciousness) and Matter are, however, to be regarded, not as independent realities, but as the two facets or aspects of the Absolute (Parabrahm), which constitute the basis of conditioned Being whether subjective or objective.” This is exactly how the Sāṃkhya ideas of the purāṇas differ from those of the Sāṃkhya philosophical system as it is now known. Rather than taking puruṣa and prakṛti as two distinct ultimate principles, the purāṇas unite them in the absolute brahman. As Fitzedward Hall observed long ago: “And still different are the Puranas, in which the dualistic principles are united in Brahma, and—as previously remarked—are not evolutions therefrom, but so many aspects of some supreme deity” (The Vishnu Purana, trans. H. H. Wilson, vol. 1, 1864, p. 22 fn.). The next seven lines of the creation or emanation account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā in fact equate the unmanifest cause found in the first two lines, there called primary substance (pradhāna) and substance (prakṛti), with the highest (para) brahman. Here are all nine lines as found in the Vāyu (4.17-21 or 4.18-22) and Brahmāṇḍa ( purāṇas:

avyaktaṃ kāraṇaṃ yat tu nityaṃ sad-asad-ātmakam |

pradhānaṃ prakṛtiṃ caiva yam āhus tattva-cintakāḥ || 4.17 ||

gandha-varṇa-rasair hīnaṃ śabda-sparśa-vivarjitam |

ajātaṃ dhruvam akṣayyaṃ nityaṃ svātmany avasthitam || 4.18 ||

jagad-yoniṃ mahad-bhūtaṃ paraṃ brahma sanātanam |

vigrahaṃ sarva-bhūtānām avyaktam abhavat kila || 4.19 ||

anādy-antam ajaṃ sūkṣmaṃ tri-guṇaṃ prabhavāpyayam |

asāmpratam avijñeyaṃ brahmāgre samavarttata || 4.20 ||

tasyātmanā sarvam idaṃ vyāptam āsīt tamomayam |

4.17. The unmanifest (avyakta) is the cause, eternal, and of the nature of existence and non-existence. Those who contemplate the principles of reality call it primary substance (pradhāna) and substance (prakṛti).

4.18. It is without smell, color, or taste, devoid of sound or touch, unborn, constant, imperishable, and always remaining in itself.

4.19. The unmanifest was assuredly the womb of the world, the great element (or great being), the everlasting highest (para) brahman, the embodiment of all beings.

4.20. In the beginning there was brahman, without beginning or end, unborn, subtle, having the three qualities (guṇa), the origin and cessation [of the cosmos], timeless, and unknowable.

4.21ab. All this [universe], consisting of darkness, was pervaded by its [brahman’s] self (ātman).

The last line immediately reminds us of verse 5 of stanza I of the “Book of Dzyan”: “Darkness alone filled the boundless all, . . .” With “darkness” we have an obvious terminological parallel; with brahman in verses 19 and 20 we have a less obvious but philosophically profound parallel. In this account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, the absolute, the highest (para) brahman, is clearly and unambiguously equated with primary substance (pradhāna) and substance (prakṛti). We do not see this in other Hindu texts, and it became modified in a number of the purāṇas. We recall the rather startling statement by the Mahatma K.H. in Mahatma letter #10, “we believe in matter alone.” This, too, it seems, was hard to accept, and it became displaced in Theosophical writings by more familiar teachings. Yet, that this was the actual teaching of the Theosophical Mahatmas was understood by their highly regarded chela, T. Subba Row.

As we saw in the comparison of the Book of Dzyan with the Mokṣopāya, Subba Row wrote: “The Arhat Cosmogony accounts for the evolution of the manifested solar system from undifferentiated Cosmic matter, . . .” He was distinguishing this from the much more well-known teachings of Advaita Vedānta. He continued: “. . . and Adwaitee Cosmogony accounts for the evolution of Bahipragna from the original Chinmatra.” Here, the absolute brahman is equated with pure consciousness (cin-mātra). For Subba Row, the two systems are complementary, and “The eternal Principle is precisely the same in both the systems.”

In standard Advaita Vedānta, however, unlike in Subba Row’s esoteric version of it, primary substance (pradhāna) was demoted to the status of illusion (māyā). This occurred when the Śaṅkarācārya who lived around the eighth century C.E. wrote the now extant Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya, in which he refuted the then prevalent Sāṃkhya teaching that equated brahman with primary substance (pradhāna). He defeated the Sāṃkhya school so thoroughly that it died out as an independently existing philosophical school. Where Sāṃkhya teachings are found, they are now interpreted to mean that their eternal puruṣa, “spirit,” is equivalent to brahman, and hence is above primary substance (pradhāna). The two are no longer taken as equal and eternal twin principles, as the Sāṃkhya school of philosophy had taught. This Śaṅkarācārya also equated brahman with God (īśvara), and this idea soon became the dominant one.

The same thing happened with the purāṇas, too, as they were revised over the centuries. The creation or emanation account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā equated the highest (para) brahman with primary substance (pradhāna), as had the so-called Arhat system of the Theosophical Mahatmas. The “great” principle (mahat) arose from it, and the world arose from the “great” principle. So the “great” principle (mahat), as the purāṇa account says, is also known by many other names, including Brahmā, the creator god (not to be confused with the absolute brahman), and God (īśvara). But as the idea of God (īśvara) came into prominence, and the idea of an ultimate primary substance (pradhāna) fell into disfavor, the original account of creation or emanation was reversed in some of the purāṇas. Some of the purāṇas now have God (īśvara or maheśvara) creating primary substance (pradhāna), rather than arising from primary substance. This is despite the fact that primary substance is described as being eternal, so could never be created. The attempt to trace the cosmogony account from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā through its changes in the now extant purāṇas is interesting, but that is another story for another day.


Translation Note:

4.17a. The words avyaktaṃ kāraṇaṃ are often translated as the “unmanifest cause,” where avyaktaṃ, “unmanifest,” is taken as an adjective. I have taken avyaktaṃ as a noun, “the unmanifest,” on the basis of its usage as a Sāṃkhya technical term meaning pradhāna or prakṛti, and on the basis of parallels in the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa 45.32ab (pradhānaṃ kāraṇaṃ yat tad avyaktākhyaṃ maharṣayaḥ), where primary substance, the cause, is called (ākhyaṃ) the unmanifest, and in the Liṅga-purāṇa 1.70.3ab (avyaktaṃ ceśvarāt tasmād abhavat kāraṇaṃ param), where the unmanifest was (abhavat) the highest cause.

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Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas

By David Reigle on August 14, 2012 at 3:27 am

Part 1. On the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā

The first place that one would look when seeking knowledge of cosmogony from Indian sources is the purāṇas. The purāṇas are traditionally supposed to teach five subjects, the first of which is creation or emanation (sarga). There are reckoned to be eighteen major purāṇas in the Hindu tradition, and some extend over multiple volumes. These sourcebooks of India’s creation stories are among the texts said by H. P. Blavatsky to be derived from the “Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World” that the “Book of Dzyan” is a secret commentary on: “the Purāṇas in India . . . are all derived from that one small parent volume” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. xliii). In fact, there is a tradition given in the purāṇas themselves that they come from a single now lost source. This source is described as the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. It consisted of 4,000 verses, less than in any of the eighteen purāṇas now extant, but not a small book. It would therefore have been an intermediate stage in the derivation “from that one small parent volume” described by Blavatsky, like the “Book of Dzyan” is also said to be.

The idea that all the purāṇas come from a single now lost source, an original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, was also arrived at by Western scholars, independently of Indian tradition. Ludo Rocher writes in his 1986 book, The Purāṇas (part of the series, A History of Indian Literature), p. 45: “The Western concept of a single, original purāṇa, from which all existing purāṇas ultimately derive their origin, resulted from a strict application of the rules of textual criticism, which were the backbone of European, especially German, classical philology. Scholars extended to purāṇas the same rules and principles they would have applied had they been editing Greek or Latin texts. Others, however, came to the same conclusion via a totally different route: the Indian tradition itself suggests that originally there was but one purāṇa.”

This one purāṇa is claimed by the purāṇas to be older than the vedas: “First, of all the scriptures the purāṇa was remembered by Brahmā; and afterwards, the vedas issued forth from his mouths” (Vāyu-purāṇa 1.1.54, Matsya-purāṇa 53.3, etc.). The Secret Doctrine also claims that its teachings are older than the Vedas: “For in the twentieth century of our era scholars will begin to recognize that the Secret Doctrine has neither been invented nor exaggerated, but, on the contrary, simply outlined; and finally, that its teachings antedate the Vedas” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. xxxvii).

It would seem that the purāṇas follow what was described by Blavatsky as the “Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World” much more closely than do the other texts that are said to be derived from it. Blavatsky goes on to say there (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. xliii): “The old book, having described Cosmic Evolution and explained the origin of everything on earth, including physical man, after giving the true history of the races from the First down to the Fifth (our) race, goes no further. It stops short at the beginning of the Kali Yuga just 4989 years ago at the death of Krishna, . . .” Likewise, the purāṇas end their accounts, purporting to give history, at the beginning of the current kali-yuga. Blavatsky continues: “But there exists another book. None of its possessors regard it as very ancient, as it was born with, and is only as old as the Black Age, namely, about 5,000 years. In about nine years hence, the first cycle of the first five millenniums, that began with the great cycle of the Kali-Yuga, will end. And then the last prophecy contained in that book (the first volume of the prophetic record for the Black Age) will be accomplished.” Similarly, in seven of the purāṇas there is an added supplement on the dynasties of the kali-yuga, put in the form of prophecies. This account was carefully edited in Sanskrit by F. E. Pargiter and translated into English in his 1913 book, The Purāṇa Text of the Dynasties of the Kali Age.

Unlike the vedas, which had to be preserved unchanged, the purāṇas were expected to evolve and expand and be augmented (upabṛṃhaṇa) with new material. The five subjects that a purāṇa is traditionally supposed to teach are: (1) sarga, creation or emanation; (2) pratisarga, dissolution and re-creation; (3) vaṃśa, lineage or race, the genealogies or dynasties of kings, sages, and gods; (4) manvantara, the time period of a manu or humanity; (5) vaṃśānucarita, accounts of the individual kings, sages, and gods that comprise the genealogical listings. However, some of the purāṇas as we now have them include very little of these five subjects, and instead consist almost entirely of stories, praises of gods and goddesses, instructions for worship, descriptions or glorifications of sacred places, and various other subjects. As new material was added and old material was left out, the purāṇas evolved until in some cases there was almost nothing left in them of the one original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. How far is it possible to recover the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā from the extant purāṇas, we must wonder.

Pargiter’s in-depth work on the dynasties of the kali-yuga, the first ever critical edition of a purāṇa text, brought out some important facts. He established his text on the basis of the several printed editions then available plus sixty-three manuscripts. Of the seven purāṇas that have this account, he noted (op. cit., p. vi): “The versions of the Matsya, Vāyu, and Brahmānda present a remarkable similarity.” The Viṣṇu and Bhāgavata are condensations of this account, and the Garuḍa is a further condensation. The Bhaviṣya as we now have it “shows all the ancient matter utterly corrupted” (p. xxviii), even though the original Bhaviṣya is the source from which the Matsya, Vāyu, and Brahmāṇḍa say they took their account. Pargiter also found that (p. x): “There are clear indications that the Sanskrit account as it exists in the Matsya, Vāyu, and Brahmāṇḍa was originally in Prakrit, or, more accurately, that it is a Sanskritized version of older Prakrit ślokas. . . . The above conclusion holds good for the whole of the text of the Matsya, Vāyu, and Brahmānda; their verses are older Prakrit ślokas Sanskritized. It also holds good for such portions of the Viṣṇu and Bhāgavata as have preserved the old verses; but the main portions of these two Purāṇas are condensed redactions composed directly in Sanskrit.” So according to this, the Matsya, Vāyu, and Brahmāṇḍa are the oldest of the extant purāṇas.

Meanwhile, in 1910 S. P. L. Narasimhaswami had begun a comparative study of the purāṇas that would eventually lead to his reconstruction of the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā in 4,000 verses, unfortunately never published. He independently also concluded that the Matsya, Vāyu, and Brahmāṇḍa are the oldest of the extant purāṇas, and added to these the Harivaṃśa, a purāṇa-like supplement to the Mahābhārata. In his article,Purana Samhita” (Journal of Sri Venkatesvara Oriental Institute, Tirupati, vol. 6, 1945, pp. 54-71, attached), he writes (p. 59): “Keeping these facts in mind, I began to examine the ślokas which were repeated in different Purāṇas. Staunch sectarian Purāṇas, like Padma, Kūrma, Liṅga, etc. do not contain these stanzas. Those like Vishṇu, Mārkaṇḍeya, etc. contain very few of them. Matsya and Harivaṃśa (although the latter is not a Purāṇa) contain hundreds of stanzas in common with Vāyu and Brahmāṇḍa, while these last Purāṇas have thousands of stanzas in common though they are not in a continuous line.” After preparing a parallel text of the account of the Yādava dynasty in the Brahmāṇḍa, Vāyu, Matsya, and Harivaṃśa, he concluded: “When I made sufficient progress in the formation of the parallel text, I was convinced that the common portion was the Purāṇa-saṃhitā.”

Of these texts, we see that the Vāyu and Brahmāṇḍa purāṇas have thousands of these old verses in common. As now extant, the Vāyu Purāṇa has 10,714 verses in the Bibliotheca Indica edition, or 10,991 verses in the Ānandāśrama edition, while the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa has 14,286 verses in the Veṅkaṭeśvara edition (the only one published). According to Narasimhaswami (ibid.), they have 7,557 verses in common, and there are two lacunae in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa that would add 826 verses to this. So the total of 8,383 verses would have to be reduced by about half to get to the 4,000 verse extent of the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. Because the extant Vāyu Purāṇa is shorter than the extant Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, most researchers regard the Vāyu Purāṇa as being the oldest purāṇa we have, and the closest to the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā.

S. P. L. Narasimhaswami concluded that the Vāyu Purāṇa is the oldest purāṇa in another statement, naming additional purāṇas, in his only other published article that I know of, “Aikṣvāku Dynasty” (Bhāratīya Vidyā, vol. 4, 1943, pp. 217-220, attached), where he writes (p. 219): “In the light of the Purāṇa-saṃhitā, the value of the different Purāṇas has to be assessed differently. Some Purāṇas, like the Agni, the Garuḍa, the Bhaviṣya and the Brahmavaivarta, have no historical matter in them and are only Purāṇas in name. . . . Others like the Viṣṇu, the Bhāgavata, the Mārkaṇḍeya, and the Vāmana are cognizant of the Saṃhitā and incorporate it partly in them. The rest which are very old, like the Vāyu, the Brahmāṇḍa, and the Matsya contain the Saṃhitā in them, either wholly or partially. It is these Purāṇas that helped me in the task of recovering the Saṃhitā. Of these the Vāyu-purāṇa is the oldest and most valuable.”

Despite regarding the account of the dynasties of the kali-yuga found in the Matsya Purāṇa as slightly older in his 1913 book (p. xiv), F. E. Pargiter had come to the conclusion that the Vāyu and Brahmāṇḍa were the oldest purāṇas we have in his 1922 book, Ancient Indian Historical Tradition (p. 78): “These two appear to be the oldest of the Puranas that we possess now, and are on the whole the most valuable in all matters of traditional history.” He had then come to regard them as originally one purāṇa (p. 77): “The Vāyu and Brahmāṇḍa have the best text of the genealogies. Their accounts agree closely, so that they are really only two versions of the same text. They have a great part of their contents in common, generally almost verbatim, and it appears they were originally one Purana.” That they were originally one, incidentally, is also the conclusion that I had reached before seeing his book, and for the very same reason that he there gives (pp. 77-78). This is as follows:

The lists of the eighteen purāṇas given in the majority of the purāṇas omit the Vāyu Purāṇa. In a minority of the lists, the Vāyu Purāṇa is given in place of the Śiva Purāṇa. But both of these are major purāṇas, and we cannot have nineteen. Pargiter notes that only two of the lists have both the Vāyu and the Brahmāṇḍa, and one of these two lists is from the Vāyu itself as we now have it (the other is from the Garuḍa). The obvious implication is that the Vāyu was not separate from the Brahmāṇḍa until quite late. They are the same purāṇa. The majority of the lists, which omit the Vāyu, are correct, since the Vāyu is there as the Brahmāṇḍa.

To demonstrate that the two are one, the close parallel contents of the extant Vāyu and Brahmāṇḍa purāṇas were laid out in detail in a chart prepared by Willibald Kirfel. He did this at the beginning of his introduction to his major 1927 study, Das Purāṇa Pañcalakṣaṇa. In this 598-page book, Kirfel gathered together from the various purāṇas all the passages on the five subjects that a purāṇa is traditionally supposed to teach, the purāṇa-pañca-lakṣaṇa, the “five defining characteristics of a purāṇa.” So the book is entirely in Sanskrit. It is prefaced by a 40-page introduction in German. Kirfel’s German introduction was translated into English by P. V. Ramanujasvami, at the request of his brother, S. P. L. Narasimhaswami, and published in Journal of Sri Venkatesvara Oriental Institute, Tirupati, vol. 7, 1946, pp. 81-101; vol. 8, 1947, pp. 9-33 (attached as Purāṇa Pañcalakṣaṇa Introduction). Ludo Rocher notes that this translation “should be used with extreme caution” (The Purāṇas, p. 44, fn. 12). Nonetheless, it affords us some access to Kirfel’s German in English. About the Brahmāṇḍa and Vāyu purāṇas, Kirfel writes (English translation, p. 83): “The first result of the Purāṇic text-comparison is the perception that the Bḍ. [Brahmāṇḍa] and Vā. [Vāyu] must have originally formed a single Purāṇa.”

However, Kirfel did not regard the Brahmāṇḍa/Vāyu Purāṇa as the oldest, as did Pargiter and Narasimhaswami. Kirfel’s approach was to gather together the passages from the various purāṇas on each of the five subjects of a purāṇa (although he took the first two closely related subjects together, sarga and pratisarga, creation and dissolution), then to place them into text groups having matching accounts, and lastly to arrange these text groups as much as possible into what he regarded as their chronological order. Thus, on the subject of creation or emanation and dissolution followed by re-creation, his first text group consists of the Brahma Purāṇa, the Harivaṃśa, and the Śiva Purāṇa, with partial support from the Agni Purāṇa. His second text group was divided into two sub-groups. Group 2A consists of the Padma Purāṇa and the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, with a little support from the Garuḍa Purāṇa. Group 2B consists of the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, the Vāyu Purāṇa, the Kūrma Purāṇa, the Liṅga Purāṇa, and the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa. His third text group consists solely of the Matsya Purāṇa. (He did not use the Nārada, Brahma-vaivarta, Skanda, or Vāmana purāṇas in his book, and for this subject he did not find or give anything from the Bhāgavata, Bhaviṣya, or Varāha purāṇas.) As may be seen from this, he regarded the account of creation and dissolution from the four purāṇas in the first text group to be older than that from the Brahmāṇḍa/Vāyu Purāṇa, found in his text group 2B.

Part of Kirfel’s reasoning for this is that the account from the first text group is much briefer, and hence presumably less expanded. By contrast, on the subject of the dynasties of the kali-yuga, Pargiter saw the briefer accounts in the Viṣṇu, Bhāgavata, and Garuḍa purāṇas as condensations of the accounts in the Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, and Matsya purāṇas. Kirfel also used the criterion of whether the accounts contained Sāṃkhya ideas. This is based on the assumption that Sāṃkhya philosophy is a later development, and thus was added to the purāṇas later. By contrast, Indian tradition regards Sāṃkhya as the oldest philosophy, so that it would naturally be in the purāṇas from early on. Narasimhaswami disregarded both of these criteria used by Kirfel, and focused instead on parallel old verses. Kirfel perceived the hand of a reviser in the Brahmāṇḍa/Vāyu verses by comparing similar material from other purāṇas. But how do we know which direction this revising went in? What was convincing evidence to Kirfel was not convincing to others. Of course, the usefulness of Kirfel’s book is not dependent on accepting his chronological views. The value of his compilation for comparing the accounts of the various purāṇas on the five subjects is very great indeed. He concluded (English translation, pp. 28-29): “Apart from the abridgement in A. [Agni] and Ga. [Garuḍa] as well as the prose paraphrase of Vi. [Viṣṇu], we find in the Purāṇas only three complete compositions of this text [the pañca-lakṣaṇa], namely that of the Br. [Brahma] and H. [Harivaṃśa], that of the Bḍ.-Vā. [Brahmāṇḍa-Vāyu] and that of the Mt. [Matsya]; all others contain only smaller or greater parts of the same.” He, too, was trying to ascertain the contents of an original or “Ur-purāṇa.”

The “Original Purāṇa Saṃhitā,” by V. S. Agrawala (Purāṇa, vol. 8, 1966, pp. 232-245, attached), summarizes the information we have on this, and accepts the extant Vāyu Purāṇa as the oldest and closest to the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. As we have seen, the extant Vāyu Purāṇa has about 11,000 verses, while the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā is reported to have had 4,000 verses. So Agrawala here (pp. 242-244) provides a listing of what portions of the extant Vāyu Purāṇa making up about 7,000 verses should be discarded, and what portions making up about 4,000 verses should be retained as constituting the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. This may be compared to Narasimhaswami’s detailed listing of what chapters, and how many verses in each, made up the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā that he reconstructed (“Purana Samhita,” pp. 63-69). While Narasimhaswami and Pargiter were interested in recovering history from the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, Agrawala was interested in recovering the ancient knowledge called Purāṇa-Vidyā.

In the Preface to his 1963 book, Matsya Purāṇa—A Study (An Exposition of the Ancient Purāṇa-Vidyā), Agrawala explains (p. ix): “Purāṇa-Vidyā—The point of view which has inspired the present study of the Matsya Purāṇa is an investigation not of chronology or of canons of authorship but of the real secrets of what once was known as the Purāṇa-Vidyā. Like other Vidyās as Vyākaraṇa [grammar], Jyotisha [astronomy/astrology], Nirukta [etymology] etc., Purāṇa also was a subject of intensive purposive study in which serious teachers and pupils were engaged. What that purpose was is often stated in the Purāṇas themselves. The objective was to present, amplify and preserve the meaning of the Vedic Sṛishṭi-Vidyā or the science of cosmogony.” The ancient Purāṇa-Vidyā is apparently the key that Blavatsky refers to in this statement from The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 423): “But there was a time when the Puranas were esoteric works, and so they are still for the Initiates who can read them with the key that is in their possession.”

Pargiter had found that, for the account of the dynasties of the kali-yuga he edited, the verses from the Matsya, Vāyu, and Brahmāṇḍa purāṇas were originally in Prakrit, being Sanskritized versions of older Prakrit ślokas. At that time, the so-called “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit” had not yet been identified or studied. In Buddhist texts, old verses are found that use Prakrit-type words and inflections, words and inflections that could not be changed into classical Sanskrit without spoiling the meter. Even a few old prose texts were found written in this dialect, dubbed “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit” by Franklin Edgerton, who published a grammar and dictionary of it in 1953. We can now see that these old purāṇa verses in Sanskritized Prakrit are like the “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit” verses in Buddhist texts, where the process of changing them into classical Sanskrit is more visible. While it is possible to regard these old verses as going back to a vernacular Prakrit form of these early writings, it is also possible to regard them as remnants of an older pre-classical form of sacred Sanskrit, closer to the esoteric Senzar. Senzar is the name given to the language of “that one small parent volume” from which the purāṇas are said to be derived.

In summary, Indian tradition speaks of an original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, no longer available, that is the source of the eighteen purāṇas now known. The idea that the purāṇas come from a single now lost source was arrived at independently by Western scholars through their own researches. The idea that the purāṇas come from a single now lost source was also stated by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, and this source is the book that the “Book of Dzyan” is a commentary on. This source is said to describe cosmic evolution up to the beginning of the present kali-yuga. The purāṇas also describe cosmic evolution and end with the beginning of the present kali-yuga. The Secret Doctrine speaks of another book that gives the prophecies of the kali-yuga. Seven of the purāṇas also have a supplement that gives in the form of prophecies an account of the dynasties of the kali-yuga. The original Purāṇa-saṃhitā is said to consist of 4,000 verses. This would be an intermediate text between the “one small parent volume” and the eighteen known purāṇas. Attempts to recover the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā indicate that many, if not most, of its 4,000 verses may be found in the extant Vāyu Purāṇa and its twin Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, supplemented by the Matsya Purāṇa and the Harivaṃśa. Research showed that these verses were Sanskritized from an earlier language, a language that may have been intermediate between Senzar and classical Sanskrit. Attempts have also been made to recover the ancient knowledge called Purāṇa-Vidyā, which would provide the key to the meaning of the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā.

Category: Creation Stories | No comments yet


The Three Logoi (1)

By Ingmar de Boer on July 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm

H.P. Blavatsky (HPB), in The Secret Doctrine uses the term Logos throughout the text (with capital “L”, and without prior ordinal), usually indicating the so called Second Logos. In The Secret Doctrine each of the three logoi is attributed consistently to one of the three aspects, the hypostases, of what may be called the first cosmological triad of our system. Studying the three logoi in The Secret Doctrine can easily lead to confusion, not only because the subject matter itself is prone to confusion, but also because HPB’s style of writing can at times be very confusing.

In the oevres of Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater on the other hand, the three logoi are more clearly defined, but unfortunately they do not in every respect correspond to the logoi in The Secret Doctrine. In many later theosophical works, and also in many other modern works in the area of spirituality, the three logoi are often introduced without any attempt to definition, while implicitly referring to the relevant works of Besant and Leadbeater.

We could ask ourselves what is the origin of the Besant-Leadbeater interpretation, and how does it correspond to HPB’s version of the logoi? Can we explain the differences? Could we perhaps formulate new air-tight definitions for the three logoi?

1. Some Examples of Differences

There are some clear differences in interpretation, which we could discuss here, illustrated with examples from both Besant’s The Ancient Wisdom (AW) and HPB’s The Secret Doctrine (SD), before trying to go deeper into the foundations of the models.

Example 1: Mahat

In SD II, 468 we have:

[...] it is the Logos Demiurge (the second logos), or the first emanation from the mind (Mahat), […]

Instead, in AW, p.112, we find:

[...] the Great Mind in the Kosmos.  (Mahat, the Third LOGOS, or Divine Creative Intelligence, the Brahmâ of the Hindus, the Mandjusri of the Northern Buddhists, the Holy Spirit of the Christians.) 

HPB in the SD associates Mahat with the Second Logos, Divine Wisdom, the Brahmā of the Hindus, the Son-aspect of the Christians, instead of the Third.

Example 2: Mahat, the Demiurge and Avalokiteśvara

In SD I, 572 we have:

[...] universal Buddhi (the Maha-buddhi or Mahat in Hindu philosophies) the spiritual, omniscient and omnipotent root of divine intelligence, the highest anima mundi or the Logos.

The “Logos” here is the manifested or Second Logos. HPB in the SD identifies the Universal Mind (Mahat) with the Second Logos.

Further in SD I, 110 we have:

Simultaneously with the evolution of the Universal Mind, the concealed Wisdom of Adi-Buddha — the One Supreme and eternal — manifests itself as Avalokiteshwara (or manifested Iswara), which is the Osiris of the Egyptians, the Ahura-Mazda of the Zoroastrians, the Heavenly Man of the Hermetic philosopher, the Logos of the Platonists, and the Atman of the Vedantins.* By the action of the manifested Wisdom, or Mahat, represented by these innumerable centres of spiritual Energy in the Kosmos, the reflection of the Universal Mind, which is Cosmic Ideation and the intellectual Force accompanying such ideation, becomes objectively the Fohat of the Buddhist esoteric philosopher.

The Logos of the (Neo-) Platonists is the Plotinic Second Logos. It is the Demiurge and Avalokiteśvara, and corresponds to Mahat. In SD I, 72n we have, to be sure that HPB does not mean the Third Logos:

But there are two Avalokiteshwaras in Esotericism; the first and the second Logos.

Instead, in AW p. 42 we find:

Then the Third LOGOS, the Universal Mind, […]

Note that in the quotation from SD I, 110, the Anima Mundi (Second Logos), is not equivalent to the Anima Mundi, the World Soul, of the Neo-Platonists, which is the third aspect. This is, of course, to make things easier for us…

Example 3: Brahmā

In SD I, 381n we have:

In Indian Puranas it is Vishnu, the first, and Brahma, the second logos, or the ideal and practical creators, [...]

HPB in the SD identifies Brahmā with the Second Logos.

Instead, in AW p. 14-15 we find:

The LOGOS in His triple manifestation is : [..]the Third, Manjusri – “the representative of creative wisdom, corresponding to Brahmâ.”

We could now take a closer look at the “definitions” of the three logoi in both these works, in the next post.


Category: Anima Mundi, Avalokiteshvara, Brahma, Cosmogenesis, Creation Stories, Darkness, Demiurge, Fohat, Hypostasis, Logos, Mahat, Mulaprakriti, Nous, Universal Mind, World Soul | No comments yet


Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Mokṣopāya

By David Reigle on July 1, 2012 at 3:17 am

In the Mokṣopāya, the “Means to Liberation,” we have the least mythological and most detailed account of cosmogony, especially its very early stages, found in any Sanskrit book known to me. The Mokṣopāya, as described here earlier (April 13, 2012), is an unrevised and considerably more original version of what has become known as the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha. Through the kindness of a friend, I have now acquired the recently published large Sanskrit volume giving its utpatti-prakaraṇa, the section (prakaraṇa) on the origination (utpatti) of the world (Mokṣopāya, Das Dritte Buch: Utpattiprakaraṇa, Kritische Edition von Jürgen Hanneder, Peter Stephan und Stanislav Jager, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2011). The fact that ultimately the world has never really arisen, according to this text, does not prevent this text from teaching cosmogony, which it here does. A large percentage of the Mokṣopāya (and Yoga-vāsiṣṭha) is teaching stories used to illustrate its ideas. Only a small percentage directly states the teachings. The core account of cosmogony is found in chapter twelve of the utpatti-prakaraṇa or third section of the Mokṣopāya. No translation of this yet exists. Martin Gansten informs me that the projected translation of this section by him, announced in The Mokṣopāya, Yogavāsiṣṭha and Related Texts (2005, p. 4), had to be abandoned years ago. Roland Steiner informs me that it is years away in the German translation that is underway by him as part of the Mokṣopāya Project, funded by two German universities. I have not heard of any English translation that is either planned or begun. I have therefore translated this chapter myself, since it is of fundamental importance for Book of Dzyan research.

An altered version of this chapter is, of course, found in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha. The only complete translation of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha is that by Vihāri-lāla Mitra, published in four large volumes, 1891-1899 (Calcutta). Unfortunately, it is more of an interpretation than a translation. About this translation B. L. Atreya writes in his extensive 1936 study, The Philosophy of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha (p. 31), that it “is praiseworthy only as an effort, not as a translation. It is not reliable, being wrong at numberless places. It is altogether useless for a student of the philosophy of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha.” While it may not be useless for other purposes, so that the years of labor bestowed by Mitra on the translation were not in vain, I would agree that it is useless for those who want to study the philosophy. It is just too loose. Moreover, Mitra often adds things of his own that are not in the Sanskrit. At the same time, he often omits the more difficult terms, simply leaving them out of his translation. Thus, from his translation, a reader cannot know what is and is not in the Sanskrit text. Since his time, a few summarized and paraphrased translations of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha have been published (e.g., Vasiṣṭha’s Yoga, by Swami Venkatesananda). But for the chapter in question they are too vague and general to be of much use for comparative studies of its cosmogony.

B. L. Atreya gives a general summary of this chapter in his book, The Philosophy of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, on pp. 188-189. He then notes: “The above passages are freely rendered into English, as literal translation would appear to be unintelligible.” Intelligible or not, a literally accurate translation (as accurate as English allows) is necessary for comparative research on cosmogony, especially the detailed cosmogony of the Book of Dzyan. Atreya probably here also alludes to the fact that while it is usually possible to get the text’s general meaning, its precise meaning is often uncertain. The Yoga-vāsiṣṭha uses some unusual words whose exact meaning has not been fully ascertained. This is even more the case in the Mokṣopāya, where considerably more unusual words are found. These have often been changed into familiar words in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, sometimes changing the meaning entirely. On more common words, there are always questions about which of their several meanings are intended. These include many technical terms, whose meanings vary from one system to another. The metrical verse format means that in many cases more than one way to construe the words into sentences is possible. A verse can be taken in various ways. So while one may get the general sense well enough, the precise meaning cannot always be arrived at with certainty. Along with this is the fact that Sanskrit technical terms simply have no accurate English equivalents in many cases. The Yoga-vāsiṣṭha and Mokṣopāya use, for example, several different terms for consciousness, with varying shades of meaning. Sometimes these are used as synonyms, and sometimes they are not. Even when these shades of meaning are understood by the translator, they often cannot be rendered into English for lack of equivalents. These two facts make it difficult to produce a complete and literally accurate translation. Despite the difficulty, a literally accurate translation of chapter twelve of the third section of the Mokṣopāya must be attempted.

Sanskrit texts written in verse are normally read in India with the help of commentaries, because sentences are often somewhat abbreviated when put into verse. There exists a very helpful commentary on the Mokṣopāya, written by Bhāskara-kaṇṭha, but unfortunately we do not have it complete. It so happens that the extant fragment of this commentary on the utpatti-prakaraṇa breaks off after three and a half verses of chapter twelve (Bhāskarakaṇṭhas Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā: Die Fragmente des 3. (Utpatti-)Prakaraṇa, ed. Walter Slaje, Graz, 1995, pp. 186-187). For the construal and meaning of the remaining verses of this chapter we have little help. The commentary by Ānanda-bodhendra Sarasvatī on the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha comments on a text that differs substantially from the Mokṣopāya, and does so from the standpoint of Advaita Vedānta (which is not the standpoint of the Mokṣopāya). Nonetheless, I have consulted this commentary and taken help from it where possible. These cases have been clearly noted.

For most of this chapter of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha there is also a carefully done translation by Samvid that attempts to be literally accurate. It is found in The Vision and the Way of Vasiṣṭha (Madras: Indian Heritage Trust, 1993, pp. 141-147). This book is the Vāsiṣṭhadarśanam, 2,461 of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha’s approximately 28,000 verses, selected by B. L. Atreya as giving the philosophy of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha. To Atreya’s collection, first published in Sanskrit in 1936, is here added a careful English translation by Samvid. He writes (p. xlviii): “The translator is aware that his obsession with exactitude in translation has led to complex constructions in several places and perhaps, some transgression of the normally accepted usage of the language. The translator hopes that the readers will pardon this apparent shortcoming, since the advantages of the translator’s approach outweigh those of the usual paraphrases which are presented as translations.” Where the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha and the Mokṣopāya coincide, I have found this translation to be very helpful, and have adopted some phrases from it. The extensive differences between Samvid’s translation and my translation mostly reflect the considerable differences between the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha and the Mokṣopāya, and sometimes the different possibilities for English translation of the same Sanskrit.

For the meaning of the unusual words found in the Mokṣopāya (and often in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha), and to determine as accurately as possible the meaning intended for the more common words, I have spent many hours searching for and checking other passages in which they occur in the Mokṣopāya, and for glosses of them in the extant portions of Bhāskara-kaṇṭha’s commentary on the Mokṣopāya (sections one through four, edited by Walter Slaje, 1993-2002). This has been made easily possible through the courtesy of Walter Slaje, in supplying a searchable electronic file of these four volumes to the GRETIL (Göttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages) project, available at: http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/6_sastra/3_phil/vedanta/motik_au.htm. This searchable electronic file has allowed me to check a substantial portion of the Mokṣopāya for these terms, to a degree that was not possible with the physical printed volumes. It is never safe to attempt to translate a piece of a large work before the whole has been studied. Since it has not been possible for me to study the whole Mokṣopāya, due to its great size and also because much of it still remains unpublished, I have derived much benefit from Jürgen Hanneder’s 2006 book, Studies on the Mokṣopāya (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag). Hanneder’s book has provided a very helpful perspective on the whole text.

The Sanskrit text of this chapter has been very carefully edited, as far as I can judge. It has been a joy to work with. We have Jürgen Hanneder to thank for the extremely accurate edition of this chapter. This excellent scholarship provides a solid basis for reliable research. The translation of this chapter has likewise been done as carefully as possible, and it should provide reasonably accurate access to this important material on cosmogony. Sanskrit technical terms are given in parentheses after their English translations, which can only be approximate. Additions to what is actually stated in the Sanskrit text are given in square brackets. Sometimes they fill in what a pronoun refers to, based on its gender in Sanskrit. When explanatory material is added in brackets to make sense of a line, references to its source in other passages of the text are given in the “Translation Notes” following the translation. These are marked with asterisks. The “Translation Notes” also include some of the sources from which I derived the meaning of unusual terms not found in our Sanskrit dictionaries (or not found there in the appropriate meaning), and explain my choice of translation terms used for them.

The first several verses give an unusually detailed account of the initial stages of the arising of the world. In this text, unlike the Book of Dzyan, the ultimate (here called brahman) is equated with pure consciousness (cin-mātra). “Creation,” or more accurately and literally “emanation,” is called its radiance (kacana), which becomes a functioning consciousness (as opposed to pure consciousness). As this functioning consciousness takes on a sense of self-consciousness the world condenses into manifestation. The idea of self-consciousness (ahaṃkāra) is also found in Sāṃkhya, where it is often applied to the human constitution, so has sometimes been translated as ego or egoism or egotism. In verses 13 onward we see another idea that is found in Sāṃkhya, what is usually translated as the subtle elements (tanmātra). Both here and in Sāṃkhya, the principle of self-consciousness (ahaṃkāra) produces the subtle elements. The subtle elements in turn produce the great elements (mahā-bhūtas): space (or ether), air, earth, fire, and water. These latter elements are apparently used symbolically, and not as the physical elements of those names. In order to follow this chapter of the Mokṣopāya, it is necessary to know the Sāṃkhya teaching on the subtle elements and great elements. According to Gauḍapāda’s commentary on Sāṃkhya-kārikā, verse 3:

(1) the subtle element sound (śabda) generates the great element space or ether (ākāśa).

(2) the subtle element touch (sparśa) generates the great element air (vāyu).

(3) the subtle element smell (gandha) generates the great element earth (pṛthivī).

(4) the subtle element form (rūpa) generates the great element fire (tejas).

(5) the subtle element taste (rasa) generates the great element water (apas).

It seems that the Mokṣopāya is willing to refer to the subtle elements either by their own names, sound (śabda), etc., or by the names of the great elements that they produce, space (ākāśa), etc. Thus, the Mokṣopāya may refer to the subtle element of space, meaning the subtle element of sound. This must be noted to avoid confusion.


Mokṣopāya, Section 3, Chapter 12

etasmāt paramāc chāntāt padāt parama-pāvanāt |

yathedam utthitaṃ viśvaṃ tac chṛṇūttamayā dhiyā || 1 ||

1. Listen with utmost understanding to how this universe has arisen from that highest quiescent place, of the highest purity.

suṣuptaṃ svapnavad bhāti bhāti brahmaiva sargavat |

sarvam ekaṃ ca tac chāntaṃ tatra tāvat kramaṃ śṛṇu || 2 ||

2. [Just as] one who is asleep appears as dream, [so] also brahman appears as creation (“emanation”). That quiescent [brahman] is the all and the one. In regard to this [emanation of the universe], listen to the sequence in its entirety.

tasyānanta-prakāśātma-rūpasyātata-cin-maneḥ |

sattā-mātrātma kacanaṃ yad ajasraṃ svabhāvataḥ || 3 ||

tad ātmani svayaṃ kiñcic cetyatām iva gacchati |

agṛhītārthakaṃ saṃvidīhāmarśana-sūcakam || 4 ||

3-4. The radiance (that is manifestation), having the nature of the mere state of existing (sattā) of that [brahman] whose form consists of the infinite light of the jewel of all-pervading consciousness (cit), ever by its inherent nature (svabhāva), in itself, by itself, becomes to a certain extent as if cognizable. Here, no objects are apprehended in consciousness (saṃvid), and there is no indication of conscious deliberation (marśana).

bhāvi-nāmārtha-kalanaiḥ kiñcid ūhita-rūpakam |

ākāśād aṇu śuddhaṃ ca sarvasmin bhāvi-bodhanam || 5 ||

5. Through the conceiving (kalana) of future names and objects [of the universe about to be manifested], its form becomes perceived to a certain extent, being subtler and purer than space (ākāśa). This is the awakening that is about to take place in all.

tatas sā paramā sattā satītaś cetanonmukhī |

cin-nāma-yogyā bhavati kiñcil labhyatayā tayā || 6 ||

6. Then that highest state of existing (sattā), now being ready for [functioning] consciousness (cetana) [as opposed to pure consciousness, cin-mātra],* becomes fit to be called consciousness (cit) due to this attainability [in speech or thought] to a certain extent.

ghana-saṃvedanāt paścād bhāvi-jīvādi-nāmikā |

sā bhavaty ātma-kalanā yadā yāntī parāt padāt || 7 ||

7. After that, from dense [i.e., undivided] cognition (saṃvedana), [comes that consciousness (cit) which is] called future individual souls (jīva), etc. It becomes the conception (kalanā) of self (ātman) when going from the highest place.

svataika-bhāvanā-mātra-sārā saṃsaraṇonmukhī |

tadā vastu-svabhāvena tanvas tiṣṭhanti tām imāḥ || 8 ||

8. [That consciousness (cit) whose] essence is only the single ideation (bhāvanā) of its own nature (svatā) is ready for cycling in the round of rebirth. Then, through the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the substance (vastu) [i.e., consciousness (cit)], these selves (tanū) establish it [in manifestation].

samanantaram etasyāḥ kha-sattodeti śūnyatā |

śabdādi-guṇa-bījaṃ sā bhaviṣyad-abhidhārtha-dā || 9 ||

9. Immediately thereafter, from that* arises the state of existing (sattā) of space, [which state of existing of space is] emptiness (śūnyatā). It, the giver of future names and objects, is the seed of the qualities (guṇa) beginning with sound.

*jīva-sattā, “the state of existing of the individual souls,” according to the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha commentator Ānanda-bodhendra, which also makes sense here in the Mokṣopāya.

ahantodeti tad-anu saha vai kāla-sattayā |

bhaviṣyad-abhidhārthe te bījaṃ mukhyaṃ jagat-sthiteḥ || 10 ||

10. After that the sense of individuality (ahaṃtā, lit. “I-ness”) arises, along with the state of existing (sattā) of time. In regard to future names and objects, these are the primary seed of the subsistence (sthiti) of the world.

tasyāś śakteḥ parāyās tu sva-saṃvedana-mātrakam |

etaj jālam asad-rūpam sad ivodeti visphurat || 11 ||

11. From this highest power (śakti) comes mere self-cognition (sva-saṃvedana). Manifesting, this web in the form of the unreal (asat) arises as if real (sat).

evam-prāyātmikā sā cid bījaṃ saṅkalpa-śākhinaḥ |

tatrāpy ahaṅkāra-karas sa tat-spandatayā marut || 12 ||

12. That consciousness (cit), of such kind, is the seed of the tree of creative thought (saṃkalpa). There also is the maker of self-consciousness (ahaṃkāra). That [self-consciousness], as the motion (spanda) of that [consciousness], is wind.

cid ahantāvatī vyoma-śabda-tanmātra-bhāvanāt |

svato ghanībhūya śanaiḥ kha-tanmātraṃ bhavaty alam || 13 ||

13. Consciousness (cit) possessing the sense of individuality (ahaṃtā), gradually becoming dense, as a result of the ideation (bhāvanā)* of the subtle element (tanmātra) of sound or space from itself, fully becomes the subtle element of space.

*i.e., the developing in thought.

bhāvi-nāmārtha-rūpaṃ tad bījaṃ śabdaugha-śākhinaḥ |

pada-vākya-pramāṇāḍhya-veda-vṛnda-vikāri tat || 14 ||

14. That, in the form of future names and objects, is the seed of the tree of the multitude of sounds. It has for its products the multitude of knowledge (veda), rich in the measures (pramāṇa) of words and sentences.

tasmād udeṣyaty akhilā jagac-chrīś śabda-rūpiṇaḥ

śabdaugha-nirmitārthaugha-pariṇāma-visāriṇī || 15 ||

15. From that [seed] in the form of sound will arise the entire splendor of the world, diffusing as the transformations of the multitude of objects formed by the multitude of sounds.

cid evam-parivārā sā jīva-śabdena kathyate |

bhāvi-śabdārtha-jālena bījaṃ bhūtaugha-śākhinaḥ || 16 ||

16. This consciousness (cit) having such a retinue is described by the word “individual soul” (jīva). By means of the web of future sounds and objects it is the seed of the tree of the multitude of beings.

caturdaśa-vidhaṃ bhūta-jātam āvalitāmbaram |

jagaj-jaṭhara-yantraughaṃ prasariṣyati vai tataḥ || 17 ||

17. From that will flow forth the fourteenfold class of beings [of the fourteen worlds],* whose space is enclosed [in the egg of Brahmā],* the multitude of instruments (yantra) in the womb of the world.

asamprāptābhidhā-sārā cij jīvatvāt sphurad-vapuḥ |

yā saiva sparśa-tanmātraṃ bhāvanād bhavati kṣaṇāt || 18 ||

18. The same consciousness (cit) that in its essence has not acquired names, [but that] in its form is manifesting because of being the individual soul (jīva), becomes the subtle element of touch in a moment through ideation (bhāvanā).

pavana-skandha-vistāraṃ bījaṃ sparśaika-śākhinaḥ |

sarva-bhūta-kriyā-spandas tasmāt samprasariṣyati || 19 ||

19. [The subtle element of touch is] the seed of the single tree of touch, [a seed] whose expansion is the branches that comprise [the element] air. From that will flow forth the motion (or vibrations, spanda) in the form of all beings and activities.

tatra yaś cid-vilāsena prakāśo ’nubhavād bhavet |

tejas-tanmātrakaṃ tat tad bhaviṣyad-abhidhārtha-dam || 20 ||

20. There, the light that will come into existence by the play of consciousness (cit) due to [its self-]experience* is the subtle element of fire. It is the giver of future names and objects.

tat sūryādi-vijṛmbhābhir bījam āloka-śākhinaḥ |

tasmād rūpa-vibhedena saṃsāraḥ prasariṣyati || 21 ||

21. That, through its manifestations as the sun, etc., is the seed of the tree of light. From that, through the division of forms (rūpa), the cycle of rebirth will flow forth.

bhavac caturṇām avatas tatas sata ivāsataḥ |

svadanaṃ tasya saṅghasya rasa-tanmātram ucyate || 22 ||

22. Being below the four [other subtle elements, arising] from that [principle of self-consciousness, which although actually] non-existing is as if existing,* is tasting. Of this group [of subtle elements], it is called the subtle element of taste.

bhāvi-vāri-vilāsātma tad bījaṃ rasa-śākhinaḥ |

anyo’nyāsvadanenāsmāt saṃsāraḥ prasariṣyati || 23 ||

23. That [subtle element of taste], having the nature of the manifestation (“play,” vilāsa) of future water, is the seed of the tree of taste. From that, by mutual tasting, the cycle of rebirth will flow forth.

bhaviṣyad-gandha-saṅkalpa-nāmāsau kalanātmakā |

saṅkalpātmā sa-saugandha-tanmātratvaṃ prayacchati || 24 ||

24. That called the creative thought (saṃkalpa) of future smell, consisting of conception (kalanā), having the nature of creative thought (saṃkalpa), gives forth the subtle element of smell.

bhāvi-bhū-golakatvena bījam ākṛti-śākhinaḥ |

sarvādhārātmanas tasmāt saṃsāraḥ prasariṣyati || 25 ||

25. As the future sphere of the earth it is the seed of the tree of shapes (ākṛti, i.e., the modes of appearance of all things). From that, having the nature of the support of all, the cycle of rebirth will flow forth.

citā vibhāvyamānāni tanmātrāṇi parasparam |

svayaṃ pariṇatāny antar ambunīva nirantaram || 26 ||

26. Being ideated by consciousness (cit), the subtle elements are continually transformed one by the other of their own accord within [consciousness] like [water] in water.*

tathaitāni vimiśrāṇi viviktāni punar yathā |

na śuddhāny upalabhyante sarva-nāśāntam eva hi || 27 ||

27. These [subtle elements], so being mixed, are not perceived as again distinct and pure up to the very end at the universal destruction.

saṃvitti-mātra-rūpāṇi sthitāni gaganodare |

bhavanti vaṭa-jālāni yathā bīja-kaṇāntare || 28 ||

28. Situated in the womb of space in the form of mere consciousness (saṃvitti), they are like hosts of banyan trees inside tiny seeds.

prasavaṃ paripaśyanti śata-śākhaṃ sphuranti ca |

paramāṇv-antare mānti kṣaṇāt kalpībhavanti ca || 29 ||

29. They picture progeny and manifest a hundred branches. They are contained inside an ultimate atom (paramāṇu) and in a moment become all-creating thought (kalpa).

vivartam eva dhāvanti nirvivartāni santi ca |

cid-veditāni sarvāṇi kṣaṇāt piṇḍībhavanti hi || 30 ||

30. Being without modification (vivarta) they flow [out to become] the [apparent] modification [that is the world], and experienced (or felt, vedita) in consciousness (cit) they all become solidified in a moment.

tanmātra-gaṇam etat sā sva-saṅkalpātmakaṃ citiḥ |

vedanāvasare ’ṇv-augham anākāraiva paśyati || 31 ||

31. This group of subtle elements is that consciousness (citi) consisting of its own creative thought (saṃkalpa). In the scope of experience (vedana) [that consciousness] which is quite without forms (ākāra, modes of appearance) pictures [into existence] the multitude of atoms (aṇu).

bījaṃ jagatsu nanu pañcaka-mātram asya

bījaṃ parā vyavahitā citi-śaktir ādyā |

tajjaṃ tad eva bhavatīti sadānubhūtaṃ

cin-mātram ekam ajam ādyam ato jagacchrīḥ || 32 ||

32. Surely the seed of the worlds is only the group of five [subtle elements]. The seed of that is the concealed highest primordial power of consciousness (citi-śakti). That [group of five subtle elements] indeed becomes born from that [power of consciousness]. Thus is always experienced (or known, anubhūta) the one unborn primordial pure consciousness (cin-mātra). From it [arises] the splendor of the world.


Comparison with the Book of Dzyan

The Mokṣopāya provides an account of cosmogony that is complementary to the cosmogony account given in the Book of Dzyan. The Mokṣopāya account is given from the standpoint of an ultimate consciousness, while the Book of Dzyan account is given from the standpoint of an ultimate substance. According to The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, pp. 14-15), these are the two aspects under which our finite intelligence must symbolize or conceive the one ultimate “be-ness.” A very helpful comparison of the two systems of cosmogony was made by the Advaita Vedāntin Theosophist T. Subba Row, in his article, “A Personal and an Impersonal God.” The Yoga-vāsiṣṭha has long been considered an Advaita Vedānta work, and from the terminology used by T. Subba Row, it is clear that this was his source for describing the Advaita system. He uses the term cid-ākāśa, which is not found in the standard Advaita Vedānta works of Śaṅkarācārya, etc., and also cin-mātra and cit-śakti, all of which are basic terms of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha. Indeed, in T. Subba Row’s third lecture on the Bhagavad-gītā (December 29, 1886), he says about the gāyatrī that: “It is stated to be Cit-śakti by Vasiṣṭha” (T. Subba Row Collected Writings, comp. Henk J. Spierenburg, vol. 2, p. 511). In comparing the two systems of cosmogony, he refers to the system of the Book of Dzyan as the Arhat system. He concludes in this article:

“Now, it will be easily seen that the undifferentiated Cosmic matter, Purush, and the ONE LIFE of the Arhat philosophers, are the Mulaprakriti, Chidakasam and Chinmatra of the Adwaitee philosophers. As regards Cosmogony, the Arhat stand-point is objective, and the Adwaitee stand-point is subjective. The Arhat Cosmogony accounts for the evolution of the manifested solar system from undifferentiated Cosmic matter, and Adwaitee Cosmogony accounts for the evolution of Bahipragna from the original Chinmatra. As the different conditions of differentiated Cosmic matter are but the different aspects of the various conditions of pragna, the Adwaitee Cosmogony is but the complement of the Arhat Cosmogony. The eternal Principle is precisely the same in both the systems and they agree in denying the existence of an extra-Cosmic God.”

(The Theosophist, vol. 4, March 1883, pp. 138-139; reprint in Five Years of Theosophy, London, 1885, pp. 208-209; Second and Revised Edition, London, 1894, p. 133; reprint in A Collection of Esoteric Writings of T. Subba Row, published by Tookaram Tatya, Bombay, 1895, pp. 97-98; reprint in T. Subba Row Collected Writings, compiled by Henk J. Spierenburg, San Diego, 2001, vol. 1, p. 127; the concluding portion of the article, including this paragraph, was mistakenly left out in the reprint in Esoteric Writings of T. Subba Row, Second Edition—Revised and Enlarged, Madras, 1931, ending on p. 470; reprint, 1980)

A few points of comparison between the Mokṣopāya chapter (section 3, chapter 12) and the “Book of Dzyan” stanzas given in The Secret Doctrine may be noted:

Mokṣopāya verses 3 and 8 say that manifestation is due to the inherent nature (svabhāva) of pure consciousness. Similarly, the Book of Dzyan teaches that manifestation is due to the inherent nature (svabhāva) of the one element.

Mokṣopāya verse 9 describes the state of existing of space as emptiness, śūnyatā. While the relatively few stanzas we have from the Book of Dzyan do not explicitly mention emptiness, their use of Mahāyāna Buddhist terminology would indicate that it is part of their system. It is basic to Mahāyāna Buddhism. Note that for “space” the Mokṣopāya here uses the generic “kha,” and that this is before the manifestation of the element “space” (or “ether”), ākāśa.

Mokṣopāya verse 12, describing the principle of self-consciousness (ahaṃkāra), says that as the motion (spanda) of consciousness (cit) it is wind (marut). Again, this is before the manifestation of the element wind or air. So perhaps this wind is the fohat of the Book of Dzyan, the whirlwind that hardens the atoms.

Mokṣopāya verse 11 in fact speaks of śakti (“power”), used by T. Subba Row as a synonym of fohat, and the concluding Mokṣopāya verse 32 makes it very clear that the power of consciousness, citi-śakti, is responsible for the manifestation of the worlds. This is very much like fohat as found in the Book of Dzyan.


Translation Notes:

verse 2: The “[Just as] . . . [so]” are added by me following the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha commentator Ānanda-bodhendra’s yathā . . . tathā. The word tāvat is glossed by the Mokṣopāya commentator Bhāskara-kaṇṭha as sākalya, “entirety,” which I have followed. The translation by Samvid in The Vision and the Way of Vasiṣṭha (p. 141, no. 406) takes the word tāvat as “first,” which is equally plausible.

verses 3-4: The word kacana, which I have translated as the “radiance (that is manifestation),” is not in the dictionaries, neither the Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionaries Śabdakalpadrumaḥ (5 vols.) and Vācaspatyam (6 vols.), nor in the Sanskrit-English dictionaries by Monier Monier-Williams and by Vaman Shivaram Apte (publication of the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Sanskrit on Historical Principles has not yet progressed to the letter “ka”). It is glossed in the Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā here as sphuraṇa. Sphuraṇa can mean vibration or pulsation, radiance or shining, emanation or manifestation, etc. In the Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā, sphuraṇa and its cognates usually gloss words meaning manifestation (e.g., bhāti, avabhāsate, udeti, bhānam, bhāsanam, pratibhānam, etc.). Nonetheless, the primary meaning of kacana seems to be radiance or shining. Two meanings of the root kac are given in the Pāṇinīya-dhātu-pāṭha: bandhana, “binding” (1.181), and dīpti, “shining” (1.182). Another meaning is given elsewhere: rava, “sounding.” The relevant one here is obviously dīpti, “shining.” This meaning of kacana can be seen in the following verses:

saṃvid-ākāśa-kacanam idaṃ bhāti jagattayā |

“This radiance of the space of consciousness appears as the world.” (Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, section 6.2, chapter 171, verse 1)

yathā maṇiḥ prakacati svabhāsā’vyatiriktayā |

ātmano ’nanyayā sṛṣṭyā cid-vyoma kacitaṃ tathā ||

“Just as a jewel shines by its own light not separate from it, so the space of consciousness has radiated as creation not other than itself.” (Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, section 6.2, chapter 171, verse 28)

yaś cin-maṇiḥ prakacati prati-deha-samudgake |

“That jewel of consciousness shines in each ‘casket’ of body.” (Laghu-Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, section 3, chapter 1, verse 79)

The word sattā is from the present participle sat, “being,” with the suffix tā, “-ness.” So it is literally “beingness,” or “state of being,” “state of existing.” It has usually been translated simply as “existence” or “being.” It is a technical term. To show this, and to distinguish it from other words for being or existence, I have translated it as “state of existing.”

The extant manuscript of Bhāskara-kaṇṭha’s Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā commentary is missing folios here after the first three and a half verses, so we do not have his commentary for the rest of the verses of this chapter.

verse 5: The word kalana, which I have translated as “the conceiving,” is used in the Mokṣopāya in a meaning that is not given in the dictionaries. Its basic meaning, when found at the end of a compound (as it is here), is given in Vaman Shivaram Apte’s Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary as “causing, effecting.” It is here glossed by the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha commentator Ānanda-bodhendra as anusaṃdhāna, which in a related meaning is “planning, arranging, getting ready” (Apte, meaning no. 3). But in Advaita Vedānta, which this commentator follows, anusaṃdhāna usually means “inquiring into, examination, investigation, contemplation” (e.g., as the function of the citta in Sureśvara’s Pañcīkaraṇa-vārttika, verse 34; cp. Śaṅkarācārya’s Upadeśa-pañcaka, verse 1: bhava-sukhe doṣo ’nusaṃdhīyatām, translated by Y. Subrahmanya Sarma as “ponder deeply about the evil consequences of worldly pleasures”). He probably intends it as “contemplating.” At Yoga-vāsiṣṭha 3.13.2-4, where kalana is used five times, Ānanda-bodhendra glosses it as kalpana. Kalpana, like these and many other Sanskrit words, has multiple meanings, including “construction, fabrication, the forming, fashioning, making,” etc., often in the sense of “thought construction, forming an image in the mind, imagination,” etc. This appears to correctly reflect the meaning of kalana as found in the Mokṣopāya, as we may deduce by looking at its usage of the closely related term kalanā. Kalanā is described in Mokṣopāya 4.12.5 as saṅkalpa-rūpa, “in the form of saṃkalpa,” and is glossed in extant portions of Bhāskara-kaṇṭha’s commentary as saṃkalpa at least twice (1.15.7, 4.10.47). Saṃkalpa, too, has multiple meanings, including “thought, conceptual thought, conception, imagination, will, resolve,” etc. Here kalanā and saṃkalpa apparently refer to the formative thought or creative thought that forms or creates everything in the universe. I have used “creative thought” for saṃkalpa, and “conception” for kalanā. The feminine noun kalanā would refer to a particular conception, while the neuter noun kalana, which we have here, would be the act of conceiving. Hence, I have translated kalana as “the conceiving.” It would also have the sense of “the forming in thought.”

verse 6: We have in English few ways to distinguish cit, cetas, cetana, saṃvid, saṃvedana, etc., all meaning consciousness in some way.

*[functioning] consciousness (cetana) [as opposed to pure consciousness, cin-mātra]: Cetana as being lower is clearly distinguished from the ultimate cit (cin-mātra) at Mokṣopāya 3.7.2-14.

verse 8: The first word of this verse, svatā (joined with eka making svataika-), is apparently used in a meaning that is not recorded in the dictionaries. It is sva, “self, own,” plus the suffix tā, “-ness,” the state or condition of being something, in this case, itself. Svatā is found in a similar compound at Mokṣopāya (and Yoga-vāsiṣṭha) 3.3.14, svatodayaḥ, where Bhāskara-kaṇṭha glosses svatā as svabhāva, “inherent nature” (svatayā svabhāvena). Bhāskara-kaṇṭha again uses svatā (in the instrumental case, svatayā) at Mokṣopāya 4.31.32 to explain cin-mātra-svarūpe, the “essential nature of pure consciousness.” Svarūpa (“essential nature”) is practically synonymous with svabhāva (“inherent nature”). I have followed Bhāskara-kaṇṭha in understanding svatā in this way, and have translated svatā as “its own nature.”

While vastu can mean a “thing” in general, there is good reason to think that it is here used in its more specific meaning of “substance.” This is especially so when we find it in the compound, vastu-svabhāvena, “through the inherent nature of the substance,” as we have here. On this, see the section titled “Consciousness as a ‘Substance’,” in Jürgen Hanneder’s 2006 book, Studies on the Mokṣopāya, pp. 188-192. B. L. Atreya, too, in The Philosophy of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, p. 572, understands that “the Absolute Reality . . . is a distinctionless, homogeneous Substance.” Likewise, Vihāri-lāla Mitra here translated vastu as the “divine essence,” adding in parentheses, “as the fallacy of the snake, depends on the substance of the rope” (vol. 1, p. 278). This, of course, is the famous example of where the illusion of the world arises on the basis of the real brahman, like the illusion of a snake arises on the basis of a real rope, an actual substance.

I understand tanvas (feminine nominative plural of tanū, “body, self”) to refer the “individual souls” (jīva) or “self” (ātman) spoken of in the previous verse. So I have taken it in the sense of its usage as a pronoun, “selves,” rather than as the noun, “bodies.”

verse 12: The word ahaṃkāra, literally “I-maker,” is well known as a major principle in the Sāṃkhya worldview. It has often been translated as “ego” or “egoism” or “egotism.” However, as it there applies to both a person and the cosmos, I have chosen to translate it as “[the principle of] self-consciousness” in my unfinished translation of the Sāṃkhya-kārikā. Here in this chapter of the Mokṣopāya, where it is clearly a cosmic principle, it is all more appropriate to translate it as “self-consciousness.”

The word spanda means “pulsation, vibration, motion, movement.” In this text, it is often associated with wind. See, for example, Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, section 6.2, chapter 84, verse 3, translated by Samvid, The Vision and the Way of Vasiṣṭha, p. 299, no. 1130:

yathaikaṃ pavana-spandam ekam auṣṇyānalau yathā |

cin-mātraṃ spanda-śaktiś ca tathaivaikātma sarvadā ||

“As wind and its motion are the same and as fire and its heat are identical, even so, mere Consciousness and its power of movement are always identical in essence.”

While we may speak of the pulsation or vibration of consciousness, we must speak of the motion or movement of wind. Since wind is mentioned here in verse 12, I have translated spanda as “motion.”

verse 17: *[of the fourteen worlds]: The Yoga-vāsiṣṭha commentator Ānanda-bodhendra says: caturdaśa-bhuvana-bhedāc caturdaśa-vidhaṃ prāṇi-jālaṃ, “the fourteenfold group of living beings due to the division of the fourteen worlds,” which makes perfect sense here.

*[in the egg of Brahmā]: This is suggested by the following jagaj-jaṭhara, “the womb of the world.”

The word āvalita is not found in Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary, and is found in Vaman Shivaram Apte’s Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary only as “slightly turned” (from the Kādambarī), which is not relevant here. In the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha it is in the compound āvalitāntaram rather than āvalitāmbaram, as we have here in the Mokṣopāya. So Ānanda-bodhendra’s gloss, khena vyāptāntarālam, “that whose interior is pervaded by space,” does not really help us. Samvid translates āvalitāntaram in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha verse as “moving all around the interior” (p. 144, no. 419), which also does not help us. We must now search for other occurrences of āvalita in the Mokṣopāya, where the meaning may be clearer, and in Bhāskara-kaṇṭha’s commentary thereon.

Two occurrences where the word is clearly āvalita (and not just valita preceded by a word ending in ā) can be found in the published volumes of the Mokṣopāya with the extant portions of Bhāskara-kaṇṭha’s Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā thereon, sections one through four, edited by Walter Slaje (1993-2002). These can now be easily searched, thanks to the electronic file of them that Dr. Slaje made available online through GRETIL (Göttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages). The first of these is in Mokṣopāya 1.19.46 (= Yoga-vāsiṣṭha 1.20.43), where we find āvalitaṃ gunaiḥ. Here the meaning is not entirely clear. In form, āvalita is a past passive participle, usually translated by English words ending in “-ed.” This occurrence tells us only that youth is “āvalita by/with good qualities.” It could be endowed (with), accompanied (by), surrounded (by), etc.

In the second occurrence, the meaning is clear. In Mokṣopāya 4.11.63 (= Yoga-vāsiṣṭha 4.11.64) āvalita clearly means “enclosed,” like the third meaning of valita (without the prefix “ā”) listed by Apte, “surrounded, enclosed.” Here is the verse:

yadaiva cittaṃ kalitam akalena kilātmanā |

kośa-kīṭavad ātmāyam anenāvalitas tadā ||

“When the mind (citta) is formed in thought (kalitam) by the partless self (ātman), this self is then enclosed (āvalita) by it like a pupa in a cocoon.”

Bhāskara-kaṇṭha here glosses āvalita with āvṛta, “covered, concealed, enclosed, surrounded,” giving the expected meaning.

For the compound āvalitāmbaram, since it begins with a past passive participle, we expect a bahuvrīhi compound such as: “that by which space is enclosed.” That which encloses space is the egg of Brahmā. However, this compound here appears to be an adjective describing the fourteenfold class of beings. They do not enclose space; they are enclosed by space inside the egg of Brahmā. So this meaning is not appropriate. Since we now know that āvalita means the same as valita in its meaning of “surrounded, enclosed,” we may search for the compound valitāmbaram. At Mokṣopāya 4.26.28 (= Yoga-vāsiṣṭha 4.26.29) we find valanā-valitāmbaram. There, valitāmbaram is glossed by Bhāskara-kaṇṭha as tābhiḥ valitaṃ vṛttam ambaraṃ yasya tat, “that whose space is surrounded, i.e., encircled, by those.” It is a battle scene, between the gods and the demons. It is their individual space that is surrounded by moving armies. This shows us how the compound āvalitāmbaram is to be understood here in verse 17, “whose space is enclosed.” It is apparently enclosed in the egg of Brahmā.

The word yantra, “instrument” (also “machine”), here presumably refers, if not to the beings themselves, to their bodies, minds, and faculties. The blood, flesh, and bones that compose the body are referred to as instruments, yantra, at Mokṣopāya 1.32.32 (= Yoga-vāsiṣṭha 1.33.35). At Mokṣopāya (and Yoga-vāsiṣṭha) 2.19.26 the faculties of action are compared to instruments (yantravat). Verse 27 speaks of the instrument of the mind (mano-yantra).

verse 20: *[its self-]experience: For the self-experience of consciousness, see Mokṣopāya 3.10.17 and its commentary by Bhāskara-kaṇṭha (same verse number in Yoga-vāsiṣṭha). See also the reference to “the inner self-experience of consciousness” from Mokṣopāya 6.230.10 given by Jürgen Hanneder, Studies on the Mokṣopāya, p. 188.

verse 22: *that [principle of self-consciousness, which although actually] non-existing is as if existing: For this idea, see verse 11.

verse 24: The Sanskrit phrase, sa-saugandha-tanmātratvaṃ, “that which has the state of the subtle element of good smell,” is a rather cumbrous way of saying “the subtle element of smell.” But it fits the meter.

verses 29, 31: The translation of the verb paśyati as “picture” is because, when creating in thought, things are “pictured,” not “observed.”

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Creation Stories: On the Cosmogony Account from the “Book of Dzyan”

By David Reigle on June 18, 2012 at 5:00 am

The “Book of Dzyan,” from which a number of stanzas on cosmogenesis and anthropogenesis are given in The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky, purports to give the original genesis account possessed by humanity (see: “The Secret Doctrine-Original Genesis and the Wisdom Tradition”). The other genesis accounts found in the world are regarded as more or less modified copies of this original, going back to what was described as the “Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World.” We learn that the genesis account found in the latter and explained in “Book of Dzyan” is the original account of cosmogony, and that this is so because it is based on direct knowledge. It is not a story made up to explain what is commonly considered to be unknowable. It may be called a creation story, but not in the usual sense.

The category of “creation stories” is widely used for cosmogony accounts from traditional sources. It is a category in which the cosmogony account from the “Book of Dzyan” may usefully be placed. This cosmogony account, however, is not a story resulting from the speculations of finite or even primitive human minds. It is supposed to be a record of observation. How, one may wonder, can creation be observed when there is at that time no one to observe it? As we learn from a hitherto secret commentary, it was observed by spiritually advanced seers when entranced in states of samādhi, through a spiritual sight that can see into the past (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 289):

“Extracts from a private commentary, hitherto secret:

(xvii) “The Initial Existence in the first twilight of the Mahā-Manvantara [after the Mahā-Pralaya that follows every age of Brahmā] is a conscious spiritual quality. In the manifested worlds [solar systems] it is, in its objective subjectivity, like the film from a Divine Breath to the gaze of the entranced seer. It spreads as it issues from Laya throughout infinity as a colorless spiritual fluid. It is on the seventh plane, and in its seventh state in our planetary world.

The cosmogony account from the “Book of Dzyan” is not a creation story in the usual sense also because it does not teach “creation” as normally understood in the West. Like other cosmogony accounts found in the sacred texts of India, it teaches manifestation or emanation rather than creation. The world arises from something; it cannot be created out of nothing. So when we here speak of “creation,” it must be understood in that sense. That sense was lost in the West when the original account of cosmogony was incorporated into systems that postulate a God who can create something out of nothing.

According to The Secret Doctrine, the original account of cosmogony was recorded in the language of symbols. Because a symbol can express things much more concisely than words can, this original account made only a very small book. This brief account of cosmogony written in symbol language is said to be the original source of the other genesis accounts found in the world (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. xliii):

“The ‘very old Book’ is the original work from which the many volumes of Kiu-ti were compiled. Not only this latter and the Siphrah di-Tseniuthah but even the Sepher Yetzirah, the work attributed by the Hebrew Kabalists to their Patriarch Abraham (!), the book of Shu-King, China’s primitive Bible, the sacred volumes of the Egyptian Thoth-Hermes, the Purāṇas in India, and the Chaldean Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch itself, are all derived from that one small parent volume.”

The stanzas from the “Book of Dzyan” given in The Secret Doctrine do not come directly from that one small parent volume, the “Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World,” but rather from the first of fourteen volumes of secret commentaries written on it (Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 422). Thus, these stanzas must to some extent adopt a particular set of terminology, which in turn has become associated with a particular system of thought. It may be that there are other secret or now lost commentaries, which adopt a different set of terminology associated with a different system of thought, but which are also valid ways of interpreting the original account. Perhaps the lost Ṣaṣṭi-tantra by Kapila, founder of the ancient Sāṃkhya system, is an example of such a text. We will try to be aware of such possibilities as we proceed in this series of investigations of creation stories.

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