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Cosmology - Origin Of Universe In The Upanishads

The theological concepts in the Vedas centred around a supreme god evolved into a concept of impersonal divine reality in the Upanishads. This ultimate reality is called by different names such as sat, pure existence; brahman, the great one; and Atman, the cosmic Self.

We find various descriptions of creation and its origin in the Upanishads. The theory of creation in the Upanishads is twofold: Physical origin of universe, and Divine origin of universe.

The Taittiriya Upanishad says: ‘This is the Self, the Spirit, and from the Spirit, ether was born; and from the ether, air; and from the air, fire; and from the fire, the waters; and from the waters, earth; and from the earth, herbs and plants; and from the herbs and plants, food; and from food, man was born.’ This is an illustration of the physical origin of the universe in the Upanishads.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad gives a more profound description of the creation. It says: ‘All this universe was then undifferentiated. It became differentiated by name and form: it was known by such and such a name, and such and such a form. … This Self has entered into these bodies up to the very tips of the nails. … He who meditates on one or another of Its aspects does not know, for It is then incomplete. … The Self alone is to be meditated upon, for in It all these become unified.’

Adi Shankaracharya explains in his commentary to the above mantra that the Self is superimposed by avidya, the primordial ignorance, with the differences of agent, action, and result. That is when the name and form consisting of this universe pass from undifferentiated to differentiated state. The creation in essence is an apparent modification involving superimposition. The Self remains the same unaffected and unmodified in this process. This is the reason why the Upanishad instructs us to mediate on the Self alone, since it is the only reality in the midst of apparent modifications that has taken the form of a universe.

Sourceexcerpts from Editorial of Prabuddha Bharata Magazine October 2020.