A Brief Summary of Creation Views




By Peter Holleran



   "The different theories of creation are due to the different stages of mind of their authors." - Ramana Maharshi

   Not only Advaita Vedanta but also the Lankavatara Sutra in Buddhism long ago refuted all theories of creation except that of non-causality, non-creation, and non-duality. This article tried to outline the major views leading up to and including the ajatavada , or non-causality view, as background preparation for Avery Solomon's April 2009 seminar at Wisdom's Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies. The article was already in progress before the author even heard of the seminar, and was therefore purely synchronous with no "causal" relationship between them!


(1) God created the world out of nothing (ex nihilo). Bible account; Nayyayika view.

   Objection: How do we know that? no way to prove it; did you see God before you came into existence? appeal to clockmaker or divine architect analogy only; no evidence; nothing in nature ever created out of nothing. No proof of an unborn first cause. In nature every cause is the effect of something else.

   “He who speaks of creation is telling lies.”

   "All those religionists, mystics, and metaphysicians who start with the assumption of an unborn uncreated First Cause or of a similar element which has emanated or created the world, enunciate something which exists nowhere in anyone's experience - the birth of an effect from an unborn cause."

   "We have never seen a beginningless cause."
(V.S. Iyer).

   Problem: What God makes he can unmake, we are snuffed out at death. Unsolved mysteries of evolution; how does anyone know there is such a substance - that was created out of nothing? All we know are appearances, i.e., ideas.


(2) Universe created out of two primary things: Purusha / Prakriti, i.e. Sam'khya view.

   "Some, who are especially silly, declare that there are two primary things, a primary substance and a primary soul, that react differently upon each other and thus produce all things from the transformations of qualities." (from The Lankavatara Sutra, as condensed in The Buddhist Bible, link below).

   Objection: How do we know that? no one has ever seen Prakriti; also, how to know there are multiple Purushas, as Sam'khya claims? - no one has seen into the mind of another. Also, how to know there is a supreme Purusha? - same objection to creator God as in #1 above.

   Problem: Two separate things means duality, how to bridge the gap? For with either Samkhya or Nayyayikas, an effect can’t be a cause at the same time, they must be two separate things; God therefore can’t be a cause without been being the effect of something else.


(3) Universe emanated out of God (Consciousness or Mind) into various levels or stadia; i.e., parinamavada theory of Vedanta: i.e., Plotinus, PB (sometimes), Sant Mat, Paramhansa Yogananda’s view (also a version of Samkhya, postulating God and Prakriti) ; in Sant Mat, Sat Purush projects out spiritual, spirituo-material, materio-spiritual, and physical realms; for Yogananda, causal plane is mental (thoughts), astral plane contains lifetrons, physical plane is matter (Yogananda thought Sankara was wrong, and was confused over concept of mind; Yogananda did not accept mentalism).

   "Others see the eternality of things in the conception of Nirvana as the absorption of the finite-soul in Supreme Atman; or who see all things as a manifestation of the vital-force of some Supreme Spirit to which all return." (Lankavatara Sutra)

   Objection: How do we know that? How do we know there are really different substances? Mandukya Upanishad says, “the existent cannot pass into birth,” i.e., become an effect; that assumes duality. The One itself can never be a cause of anything, or else there is two, i.e., duality. Appeals to naive experience; but nothing in nature ever becomes something else; different substances are only apparent; How to know God then? Berkeley said God puts thoughts in our minds; Hume said you can’t do that - God is another thought; Kant said time, space, and causality are all in the mind, but still proposed a noumenon behind phenomena anyway - no proof for that, said Fichte and Hegel; Hume also said you can’t say it, having to bring in the unknowable to do so; Kant at least was on right track about the categories of the mind - but still brought in the concept of God in his philosophy anyway. None of them could get to the Atman, however, because they confined their analysis to the waking state only, missing the lessons of dream and sleep).

   Problem: What God can make, He can unmake; we are afraid of displeasing God and still propitiate him. Further, our life remains tenuous and we not free from delusive behavior or fortune.


(4) God is Mind and projects or manifests thoughts while remaining unchanged itself; i.e., vivartavada theory of Vedanta;

   Objection: How do we know that? How to know there is Mind if thoughts are separate from it ? still in duality; have to believe in causation by Mind; this contradicts evidence of avastatraya (analysis of the three states of waking, dream, and sleep); from dream and sleep the nature of thoughts is clear: they are nothing but Mind itself. Creation, production, change brings in a second thing, thus causality and duality.

   "Those who are suffering or who fear suffering, think of Nirvana as an escape and a recompense. They imagine that Nirvana consists in the future annihilation of the senses and the sense-minds; they are not aware that Universal Mind and Nirvana are One, and that this life-and-death world and Nirvana are not to be separated....As to the notion of Nirvana as held by disciples and masters who still cling to the notion of an ego-self, and who try to find it by going off by themselves into solitude: their notion of Nirvana is an eternity of bliss like the bliss of the Samadhis - for themselves. They recognise that the world is only a manifestation of mind and that all discriminations are of the mind, and so they forsake social relations and practise various spiritual disciplines and in solitude seek self-realisation of Noble Wisdom by self-effort." (Lankavatara Sutra)

   “This form of idealism can never escape to the truth except by the road of non-causality. Otherwise it will always be deluded by the idea that a thought must reside in the mind of a Thinker, i.e., produced by a Universal Mind or God, i.e., caused by such a Mind....There is no proof that the seer) produces the seen.”

   "You can never realize Brahman so long as causation is not understood, for you will be still thinking that God is somehow imagining the illusory world, that of course is a higher standpoint than God creating world out of nothing (view #1) or out of some matter which always existed (view #2). But...how do you know God is imagining this world? It is only your imagination to say so.
[i.e., PB's problem with the World-Mind projecting a master image to all individual minds; No proof exists]. For the advaitin no question of cause or creation can ever arise." (V.S. Iyer)

   Problem: we are still in the realm of duality, with Mind as cause of thoughts; no proof of such a causal link; therefore, we can still be concerned with life and death, karma and reincarnation. We also suffer uncertainty and doubt of our knowledge, although vivartavada is the second highest view one may adopt, according to Advaita.


  *** Difficulty with strict adherence to first four views [leaving out the unpredictable factor of grace]: Enlightenment (moksha) is impossible. If you could be unenlightened one moment, and enlightened the next, enlightenment would be bound by time, would be made substantive by its opposite, would be dualistic, would be some ‘thing’ to be attained. Awake is what you are, not what you become.

   "There is absolutely nothing which can be attained....I assure you that one who comprehends the truth of 'nothing to be attained' is already seated in the sanctuary (bodhimandala) where he will gain his Enlightenment." (Huang Po)

   "Atman is not a thing to be attained, it is always there nearer than your body. No other effort is necessary than the knowledge of it." (V.S. Iyer)

   "These views severally advanced by the philosophers with their various reasonings are not in accord with logic nor are they acceptable to the wise. They all conceive Nirvana dualistically and in some causal connection; by these discriminations philosophers imagine Nirvana, but where there is no rising and no disappearing, how can there be discrimination? Each philosopher relying on his own textbook from which he draws his understanding, sins against the truth, because truth is not where he imagines it to be. The only result is that it sets his mind to wandering about and becoming more confused as Nirvana is not to be found by mental searching, and the more his mind becomes confused the more he confuses other people." (Lankavatara Sutra)


(5) The world and thoughts are Mind; i.e., the ajata doctrine of Vedanta; the world uncreated and uncaused, all IS Mind, not produced by Mind; 'things' do not come from Consciousness, they ARE Consciousness; true non-duality. View of Maharshi, Sankara, PB (sometimes), Papaji ("Nothing ever happened"), V.S. Iyer (avastatraya analysis).

   "The Tathagata's Nirvana is where it is recognised that there is nothing but what is seen of the mind itself; is where, recognising the nature of the self-mind, one no longer cherishes the dualisms of discrimination; is where there is no more thirst nor grasping; is where there is no more attachment to external things......Some day each and every one will be influenced by the wisdom and love of the Tathagatas of Transformation to lay up a stock of merit and ascend the stages. But, if they only realised it, they are already in the Tathagata's Nirvana for, in Noble Wisdom, all things are in Nirvana from the beginning." (Lankavatara Sutra)

   "There is happiness and unhappiness in this world only because of this consciousness of ‘I am’. This consciousness of ‘I am’ is the world. With the touch of this ‘I am’ consciousness, this world comes into existence. Without the ‘I am’ consciousness, you are untouched or absolutely pure. There is no cause or reason for this consciousness of ‘I am’, it has just simply appeared."

   "I am' is an ever-present fact, while 'I am created' is an idea. Neither God nor the universe have come to tell you that they have created you. The mind obsessed by the idea of causality invents creation and then wonders 'who is the creator?' The mind itself is the creator. Even this is not quite true, for the created and its creator are one. The mind and the world are not separate. Do understand that what you think to be the world is your own mind."
(Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj)

   "Those who have faith in causality will always go on believing that somehow the world was produced by Brahman, but they start with a lie for causation is unproved. We know only that one thing appears after another, which is not the same thing as "being created" by the other." [i.e,. The doctrine of "Interdependent Origination" in Buddhism - "this being, that appears."]

   " At the beginning of Mandukya's Karika it is said that mind produces objects
[i.e., thoughts], at the end of the Karika it says that mind has not produced anything. This appears contradictory. It is so, only beause Guadapada takes a lower standpoint at the first stage and a higher one at the final stage, when he has disposed of the notion of causality and consequently shown that nothing is caused or produced. Everything is then always the mind." [note: PB's work showed a similar progression]

   "At the beginning of our studies we say mind produces dream-objects, and that sleep produces dream and waking, but at a later stage we drop the tentative position with the causality involved in it, because there is only unaltered oneness."

   "Vivartavada is based on change, .i.e., causality, on one substance appearing in different changing forms without becoming changed itself. Its fallacy is saying that it says Brahman is the cause of the experiences, i.e., duality, whereas Ajatavada is changelessness. The various appearances are no doubt regarded as unreal but still they are regarded as there, i.e., as a second object. Hence we say Vivartavada fails to rise to non-duality although it comes closest to it. We say that when there appears to be two there is really only one, hence the question of unreality does not come up in Advaita."

   "The mind is possessed by the devil of causality, therefore you have troubles and difficulties. Give up causality, and you shall have the One."
(V.S. Iyer)

   Objection: How do we know that? Answer: philosophical investigation, epistemological certainty, avastatraya; no objection truly possible. All other views assume a first cause that is not the effect of a prior cause, something never found in nature and therefore unprovable, leading to dualism. Quantum physics also casts doubt on notion of causality.

   Problem: also none possible, as the source of problems - the ego - is gone. Analysis of waking, dream, and sleep reveals that the “I” is just a changing thought, inseparable from Mind and of the same substance as it. The world is friendly again, free of ignorance over concepts like birth, death, karma, and reincarnation; identification, differentiation and desire; suffering and bliss; time, space, and causality. We realize Nirvana, having overcome delusive doctrines. [Link to Lankavatara Sutra, brilliant chapter on false views, including those quoted above; see if you can identify them all! ].

   The universe in ajata is known as oneself, as Atman or Brahman, whereas with vivarta it is known as within oneself or within Brahman. ["What is Mind - Atman or Brahman - a box ? to hold ideas in?" - Anthony Damiani].


   “The truth is that there is absolutely no change, the world has not been produced, there is only non-dual Atman.”

   “Maya is dissolved only after you know the nature of causality. Until then you have to talk of God, higher power, etc. But the meaning of cause is the most difficult part of philosophy.”

   “Causation depends on taking your stand in the ego as real. Know that ego is but an idea, let it go and think of it as the unlimited Mind, and your causation notions will drop off because there is no-two and hence no cause-effect relation possible. Shift standpoints from ego to that Mind (which is Brahman) and no question about what caused is possible.”

   "The hardest thing in Vedanta is to see that causation rises and falls with the ego. That is the last secret of Vedanta. When you see that ego comes and goes, is unreal, that Mind alone is, then ego is seen not other than Mind, no-two, and the question of its cause and of the world cause simply does not and cannot arise."

   “When you know that the world has not been created by you, and yet that it is existent in you, you are forced to come to the conclusion that world is non-different from yourself, that no causal relation can exist between it (and therefore any object in it) and you. Whatever appears is still Atman. Duality goes when causality goes.”

   "If you want to realize immortality you must understand non-causality, then you will know you can never change, i.e., never die."

   "Brahman can never be
[directly] got by practice, whether yogic, samadhi, etc. The reason is there is no such thing as a causal relation, hence no practice or effort will, as cause, produce Brahman as effect. A limited cause cannot produce an unlimited effect. Brahman is got by understanding only." (V.S. Iyer)


The Chief Difficulty:


   “Epistemology is the enemy, the devil of yogis, mystics and religious teachers because it pries into the truth, the source and validity of the knowledge they claim. Therefore it is the most difficult part of philosophy.”

   “How do get this knowledge? What is meant by knowledge? Which kind of knowledge is true? Those are the questions which epistemology asks.”
(V.S. Iyer)

   “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts!” - William Bendix (from The Life of Riley)



Addendum: A Practical Contemplation

   "O guru! On entering samadhi, I perceived (a state of voidness) like a cloudless sky, radiant, pure and clear. Is that the nature of the Dharma, O guru? Then, after coming forth from meditation, I was troubled by no attachment, but longed to be of benefit to sentient beings. I recognize the reality of karma, even though all objects are revealed as illusions. O guru, is my practice without error?"

   The guru answered: "Fortunate man. You are a product of accumulated merit. As a bhikshu I do not exaggerate or pervert the truth. Although at the time of concentration one perceives that all objects share the voidness of the sky One must lift up all beings through compassion after the concentration has been performed. This is an exposition of two truths, absolute and relative.”
  (Atisha)

   "As long as you do not properly modify your actions according to the law of cause and effect, you could still go to hell, despite being a great adept and yogi. Until you abandon grasping at a self and while you still place little value on the law of cause and effect, always remember that yogi so-and-so was reborn in hell."   (Atisha's guru, Avadhutipa)


   Further, the One being beyond both duality and non-duality, it may paradoxically be said, in favor of a 'qualified' parinamavada or vivartavada:

   “You must begin with the external world because it lies before you first. How can you understand the inner self correctly if the world which is in front of you is not correctly understood?"

   “This changing world is given to us that we may learn eventually the important lesson that there is a permanent unity beneath the apparent multiplicity, hence nothing is to be despised. The world is most useful to make us wise.”

   “The fear of death...comes to all in order to teach them the true immortality, which is in Unity. If you think that you are one and he is another, then you have to die: if you think all are one, then you become deathless.”

   “When you get rid of the idea that your body is separate from that of some one else, then you can see that there is only one common soul.”
  (V.S. Iyer)

   “You are becoming Wisdom… by experiencing the World-Idea.”

   "Without the fullness of the understanding that comes from penetrating into the World-Idea - in other words, the full development of the faculty of understanding which comes to a soul through the World-Idea - in the trance state one would be utterly unprepared to understand the mysterious Void...Or we can put it this way: It will take all the teaching that the World-Mind can bring to bear upon the soul, in order for the soul to understand its origins, its own priors...that's what is necessary to become the sort of philosopher that not only understands the nature of the soul but also something about the prior principles that are, let's say, eternally generating it."
  (Anthony Damiani)