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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