Unity in Transcendence


The previous lecture, following the directions of Tagore and Gandhi to look for the philosophy of the people, concerned a major paradox in human understanding. It suggested, with Heidegger, that the way forward for philosophy was for it to take a "step back"; that radical newness is to be found, not in doing more of the same, but in reaching more deeply into our heritage. To do so it was essential to mine the long human experience in living and to draw out what has not, and perhaps cannot be thematized and treated with the analytic tools of science. In doing this we were led to the totem as the principle of plenitude in which people understood their lives during the more than 99.8 percent of human experience which preceded the composition even of the Rg Veda.

The present lecture will concern a later period, that of myth and hymn, in order to see how the theme of plenitude and participation was further developed. Where the earlier nonverbal tradition of the totem could test the validity of the proposition that human life must be lived in a unity based on a principle of plenitude, the verbal tradition of myth and hymn will begin its progressive articulation, a process which will continue into philosophy and down to the present.

In this we shall encounter a new set of issues. First and in principle, how does development take place in order that new questions can be asked and new insights acquired, and what is the relation between the content of the prior and the subsequent stages? Second and concretely, what was the nature of the transition from the primitive to the mythic stage of consciousness. and what advance did it make possible in understanding the theme: plenitude and participation, in both East and West ? The former question will be treated only with a view to the latter. Then the study will focus upon Hesiod’s Theogony in the Western tradition, and conclude with some analogous issues which might be raised regarding the Nâsadîya-sûkta or "creation hymn", Rg Veda X, 129.1


In the first of his Six Studies in Developmental Psychology Piaget outlines a general theory of the transformation of structures in which development consists. Any stage in the growth of a person, as of a science, constitutes an equilibrium. This is an integrated stage of its component factors; in this state each factor is able to make its contribution to the others and to the whole. An equilibrium is upset by a need, which leads to whatever activity is required in order to satisfy the need and to restore an equilibrium. Where the need can no longer be satisfied by the capabilities possessed, new ones must be developed. The subsequent integrated state, which includes also these new capabilities, will constitute a new equilibrium at a higher level. This pattern of development holds true of the range of transformations from a child’s learning to walk, through the green revolution in agriculture, to the stages in the history of the science of astronomy.

Development implies elements both of continuity and of differentiation. There is continuity because in the higher stage the capabilities of the previous one are not lost, but perfected. The infants’ ability to move its limbs in crawling is not lost, but perfected when these add the strength and balance which enable them to walk; these abilities are perfected still further when they learn to run and then to dance. Throughout, the earlier capabilities are retained and increasingly perfected. When this is not the case what is had is not development but only change, not improvement but mere substitution.

Conversely, development implies, not only continuity, but differentiation because the adoption of one from among the many contrary modes of activity for responding to a need means that this type of activity will be the more developed. As further needs arise it will be easier to respond by further developments in this same line than by activating other capabilities which, though in principle equally effective, are in fact less available. A family, for example, may solve their food problems by either more intensive farming or more intensive fishing, but seldom by both. Progressively, one capability or mode of action atrophies as the other is repeatedly employed and developed. Thus, over time and in interaction with its physical and social environment, each people evolves its distinctive cultural patterns along with its history.


The general theory of development described by Piaget can aid in better understanding the cultural transition from a totemic to a mythic mode of human awareness. Many of the elements were gathered by the philosopher-anthropologist, Lucien Levy-Bruhl, in the last chapter of his work, How Natives Think.2

In totemic societies all were one in the symbiosis of the totem; social differentiation was minimal. Subsequently, in accordance with the nature of development as just described, a differentiation of roles arose within the life of the tribe. When socially approved this made it possible for the primitive to develop a greater awareness of his own self-identity and of that of the others in the tribe, as well as of the complementarity between himself and others.

Because development implies perfecting the powers it employs, what atrophies are the contrary powers which are not exercised. Thus, the development of the sense of self-awareness implied not the disappearance, but a correlative perfecting of the awareness of that foundational whole or fullness articulated in the totem. In the process of becoming more aware of the distinctive reality and complementarity of oneself and other members of the tribe, people became increasingly aware also of the distinctive character of the totem as the principle of this relation and as inexhaustible no matter how many the participants. Further, what previously had been grasped simply in direct symbiotic unity, now, with the development of a more distinctive self awareness, came to be appreciated not only to be immanent to each and all, but to transcend them as well. Thus, whereas the totem was considered to be simply one with the primitive so that the question of worship, sacrifices, priesthood, symbols and the like did not arise, all of these elements now come into evidence.3

Having attained this consciousness of themselves, people were able also to see that the principle of the meaning of all things and of every person could not itself be less than knowing and willing; that is, it must be personal. Thus, the objective reality which had been expressed by the totem henceforth was appreciated to be both transcendent and personal, that is, to be divine. As the imagination was essentially involved in this thought the personal divine was pictured in the anthropomorphic forms of gods and their interaction was the material of which myths were woven. Where the totem had been proto-religious, the myth was religious.

In contrast to the taboos of the social unity based upon an unthinking totem, the unity founded in the gods could have elements of comprehension and command, of love and mercy; it could extend to all person while being specific with regard to each person. To ask of men in this stage of equilibrium how this could be so would be to suppose a later and philosophical type of thinking. What is important for the present is that, having attained the mythic level of development, it was possible to articulate with vastly greater complexity the unity which had been expressed by the totem as simple and direct identity. That unity could now be textured or woven, as it were, with the many rich threads of meaning found in the myths.

It should be noted that the evidence from this stage of development does not point to the use of mythical forms merely as symbols or as literary devices. That would presuppose a prior understanding of things simply in their own proper terms--a mode of understanding which had not yet evolved. Rather, at this stage of "unbroken myth," the myth was the only mode of understanding and the many realities of the world were understood simply and directly in terms of the distinctions and interrelations between the gods. Thus, the interpretation of the gods was the highest wisdom and the questions were asked, as notes the Rg Veda, "not jestingly. . . . Sages, I ask you this for information."4


To carry out the search for the enhanced vision of unity and participation in the myths and hymns it will be especially important to interpret these texts in terms of the specific equilibrium or stage in the development of thought in which they were composed. Our "stepping back" is directed toward drawing upon the lived experience and correlative wisdom of countless generations of our forebears--wisdom of which only certain strains have been developed in subsequent times. If we are to accomplish this purpose we must make every effort to read the text in the sense in which it was written

There are, of course, other legitimate and important modes of interpretation. One is to read the sacred texts of a particular community in terms of the understanding had by its later generations. This will make manifest at least one facet of the text which has proved to be a significant contribution to understanding the meaning of life and the principles by which it can be lived. Another method is to read the text in terms of a philosophic structure which evolved in later ages on the basis of this text. The classical commentaries on Aristotle and most of the medieval scholastic philosophy, East and West, are instances of this mode of work. These commentaries can be of special value in enabling one to profit from the sophisticated analyses subsequently developed in order to understand in depth the topic treated in the text. Both of these approaches can make their proper contribution--indeed, the most rich contribution--to our understanding, and must be part of an overall effort to gain maximum comprehension regarding the issues raised by the text.

Nevertheless, neither will be the precise mode of the present work, for each depends upon later stages of the process of cultural determination and delimitation, as is reflected by the terms ‘school’ and ‘scholastic’. Hence, (a) to avoid the petitio principii and circulus vitiosus of justifying a later system on the basis of texts read in terms of that system, (b) to renew awareness of the vital meaning of the scientific terminology of the schools by rediscovering the ground from which they have developed, and (c) to retrieve the vision needed in order to resolve problems of life which characterize the world which has been developed in terms of the scientific systems, this study will attempt to return to the lived experience from which the text has come and to recapture the content of the vision it expressed.

This will require not only reading but reflecting, which is the proper work of the philosopher. In reflecting one must keep in mind any continuing factors from the earlier totemic equilibrium, as well as the requirements of meaning itself as was done in the previous lecture. To find the meaning of the myths themselves, however, it will be important that the reflection not be carried out through methods and conceptions not available to the mythic mind, but developed only in a later age. Further, as this work will not be a commentary but a metaphysical reflection upon the meaning of the text for the theme of plenitude and participation, the order of the remarks will correspond to the structure of that issue, rather than to the words, verses or mantras themselves.


In view of what has been said above, the Theogony, written by Hesiod (Ca. 776 B. C.) is of special significance. Because the gods stated the reality of the various parts of nature, when Hesiod undertook to state the relationship which obtained between them he undertook in effect to articulate the theme of this study, namely, the Unity and interrelation of all.

His work has a number of important characteristics. First, it intends to state the highest possible type of knowledge. Thus, it begins with an invocation to the Muses to provide him with divine knowledge. "These things declare to me from the beginning, ye Muses who dwell in the house of Olympus."5 Secondly and correspondingly, it is concerned with the deepest issues, namely the origin and unity of all things. "Tell me which of them came first" he asks, and then proceeds to a poetic treatment of issues ranging from the fact of evil to the justification of the reign of the gods; he includes all the problems to which the religious awareness of the period gave rise.6 Thirdly, because it was written as the period of purely mythic thought was drawing to a close--within two centuries of the initiation of philosophy in Greece--it manifests the extent to which mythic thought could understand basic issues. Hesiod drew upon the full resources of the body of Greek mythology, weaving the entire panoply of the gods into the structure of his poem. He did not, however, simply collect and relate the gods externally in a topographical or chronological sequence; his organization of the material was ruled by an understanding of their inner meaning and real order of dependence. Thus, when in the Theogony he responds to the question: "how at first gods and earth came to be,"7 his ordering of the gods weds theogony and cosmogony and constitutes a unique manifestation of the degree of understanding regarding the unity and diversity of reality of which the mythic mind was capable.

The order which Hesiod states in the Theogony is the following. The first to appear was Chaos: "Verily at the first Chaos came to be." Then came earth: "but next wide-bosomed Earth the ever sure foundation of all," and starry Heaven: "Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself." From Earth, generally in unison with Heaven, were born Oceanus and the various races of Cyclops and gods. From them, in turn, were born still other gods such as Zeus and the races of men. In this manner, Hesiod articulates the sequence of the origin of all the parts of the universe. Eros and the various modalities, such as Night and Day, Fate and Doom, are pictured also as arising from Chaos.

If, then we ask what is the understanding of the unity of reality expressed by this poem, it will be noted that Hesiod expresses the very opposite of a random gathering of totally disparate and equally original units. On the contrary, the relation between the gods and between the parts of nature they bespeak is expressed in terms of procreation. As a result, every reality is related positively to all the others in a genetic sequence.

This relatedness does not depend upon a later and arbitrary decision; it is equally original with their very reality. Neither is it something which involves only certain aspects of the components of the universe; it is as extensive as their total actuality. This includes actions: Rhea, for example, appeals to her parents for protection from the acts of her husband, Cronos, against their children. The understanding which the poem conveys, therefore, is that of a unity or relation which is as original as the reality of things and on which their distinctive character and actions depend.

Indeed, unity is understood to be by nature prior to diversity. This is indicated by the genetic character of the structure in which each god proceeds from the union of an earlier pair of gods, while all such pairs are descendent from the one original pair, Earth and Heaven. Further, the procreation of the gods proceeds from each of these pairs precisely as they are united in love. Finally, this is done under the unitive power of Eros who is equally original with heaven and earth.

From what has been said we can conclude that unity pervades and precedes gods and men. All is traced back to Earth and Heaven as the original pair from whose union, under the impetus of Eros, all is generated. But what is the relation between Heaven and Earth? This question is at the root of the issue of unity in this perspective; it can take us to a still deeper understanding if we return to the text and use the proper etymological tools.

The text states the following order: Chaos, Earth, Heaven. Unfortunately, since the Stoics, Chaos has come to mean disorder and mindless conflict or collision. Aristotle, however, in his Physics referred to chaos as empty space (topos).8 Etymologically, the term can be traced through the root of the Greek term ‘casko’ to the common Indo-European stem, ‘gap’. Using this stem, as it were, as a sonar signal to sound out mythic thought throughout the broad range of the IndoEuropean peoples, we find that the term is used to express a gaping abyss at the beginning of time as, e.g., the derivative ‘ginungagap’ in Nordic mythology.9 Kirk and Raven confirm this analysis and conclude that ‘chaos’ meant, not a state of confusion or conflict, but an open and perhaps windy space which essentially is between boundaries.10

Returning to the text in this light, it will be noted that it does not say "In the beginning" or speak directly of a state prior to Chaos, but begins with Chaos: "At first Chaos came to be". There is no suggestion that Chaos was the original reality; on the contrary, the text is explicit that chaos came to be "He toi men protista Chaos genet."11 Further, Chaos is a space to which boundaries are essential. These, it would seem, are the gods which the text states just as coming after Chaos, namely, Earth, and its equal, Heaven. They are not said to have existed prior to chaos and to have been brought into position in order to constitute the boundaries of the ‘gap’; rather, they are said somehow to follow upon chaos.

Thus, Kirk and Raven understand the opening verses of the body of the text, namely, "Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth . . . and Earth first bare starry Heaven equal to herself," to express the opening of a gap or space, which thereby gives rise to Heaven and Earth as its two boundaries.12

For its intelligibility, this implies: (a) that reality precedes the gap, and (b) that by its opening or division Heaven and Earth have been constituted. That is, on the basis of the gap one boundary, Heaven, is differentiated from the other boundary, Earth; by the gap the boundaries are identically both constituted and differentiated as contraries. As all else are derivatives of Chaos, Earth, and Heaven in the manner noted above, it can be concluded that the entire differentiated universe is derivative of an original undifferentiated unity which preceded Chaos. It would be premature, however, to ask of the mythic mind whether this derivation took place by material or efficient causality; that question must await the development of philosophy.

The original reality itself is not differentiated; it is an undivided unity. As such it is without name, for the names we give reflect our sense perceptions which concern not what is constant and homogeneous, but the differentiated stimuli. What is undifferentiated is not only unspoken in fact, but unspeakable in principle by the language of myth, which is characterized essentially by dependence upon the imagination.

Nonetheless, though it is unspeakable by the mythic mind itself, reflection can uncover or reveal something of that undifferentiated reality which the Theogony implies. We have, for instance, noted its reality and unity. Its lack of differentiation is not a deficiency, but a fullness of reality and meaning from which all particulars and contraries are derived. It is unspeakable because not bounded, limited or related after the fashion of one imaged contrary to another; it is the transcendent fullness of that which is seen and spoken in our language based in the imagination, namely, the world of names and forms.

In addition, it is the source, not only whence the differentiated realities are derived, but of the coming forth itself of these realities. This is reflected in two significant manners. First, Eros, which itself is said to come from chaos, is the power which joins together in procreative union the pairs of gods. This power reflects something of the dynamic character of the undifferentiated reality. In a negative manner this is also indicated by the acts which the Theogony describes as evil. For example, it says that "Heaven rejoiced in his evil doing," namely, hiding away his children in a secret place of Earth as soon as each was born, and not allowing them to come into the light. Cronos is termed "a wretch" for swallowing his children. In each case evil is described as impeding the procreative process by which new realities are brought into existence; its opposite, good, must then consist in or involve bringing forth the real. Whatever is most fundamental to this bringing forth must pertain particularly to that undifferentiated unity from which has come Chaos and Eros, through which came Heaven and Earth, and all things. The undifferentiated unity is originative of differentiation; it is participative.

Finally, it can now be seen that all the progeny, that is, all parts of the universe and all human beings, are born into the unity of a family. This traces its origin, not only to a pair of distinct realities and certainly not to chaos as conflict, but to an undifferentiated. Just as there is no auto genesis, there is no unrelated reality or aspect of reality. It would seem, then, that verses 118-128 of the hymn imply a reality which is undifferentiated, unspeakable, and productive of the multiple. For the Greek mythic mind, beings are more one than many, more related than divided, more complementary than contrasting.

As a transformation of the earlier totemic structure, mythic understanding continues the basic totemic insight regarding the related character of all things predicated upon a unity and fullness of meaning. Thinking in terms of the gods, however, myth adds a number of important factors. First, quantitatively the myth can integrate, not only a certain tribe or number of tribes, but the entire universe. Second, qualitatively it can take account of such intentional realities as purpose and fidelity. Third, while implying the unitive principle expressed with crude directness in totemic thought, it adds the connotation of its unspeakable, undifferentiated, and fruitful character.

Rg Veda X, 129: Nasadiya Sukta (Hymn of Creation)

Thus far, we have been looking into the transition to a state beyond that of totemic thought and discovered that the totemic understanding of the unity of reality as based in a plenitude was further developed in mythic thought at a higher and later level of development. We have looked in particular into Greek myth as the root of specifically Western philosophy. It would be helpful at this point to look with a similar purpose to the Vedas, the corresponding roots of Eastern thought. Here my words must above all be questions concerning issues for scholars within the Eastern tradition, but Socrates has shown that question can be integral to philosophizing.

The Vedas were poetry with a purpose. They sought not to entertain or even to guide, after the manner of an ethics. Rather, as pertaining to sacrificial rituals, their intent was to express in words meaning and reality that is as radical as that expressed symbolically in the sacrificial act itself in which phenomenal existences were negated in favor of absolute reality. Their purpose was to transcend the realm of ordinary meaning, which in comparison is ignorance or illusion, and to proclaim the origin, order and sense of this life. "Unripe in mind, in spirit undiscerning, I ask of these the Gods’ established places . . . I ask, unknowing, those who know, the sages, as one all ignorant for the sake of knowledge, what was that One who in the Unborn’s image hath stablished and fixed firm these world’s six regions." 13

There would appear to be a potentially significant contrast to the Greek mind in the thought expressed in the Vedas. While using the language of myth and expressing realities in the concrete and personal terms of the gods, the Vedas also employed concrete and proper terms, e.g., for the parts of the universe; indeed, the whole of Rg Veda X, 129, for example, is written in these non-mythic terms. This enabled the Rishis to state content which nowhere appears in the records we possess of the early Greek mind which was totally characterized by the mythic mode of thought.

In view of what has been said in the previous chapter concerning the importance of retrieving the content of earlier thought, attention to the Vedas can be of special importance for a further reason. Though they probably go back to the Thirteenth Century B.C. as oral transmissions, 14 Keith claims that no significant progress was made during the subsequent period of the Brahmanas which closed about 500 B.C. Thus, "the Rg Veda carries us nearly as far as anything excogitated in this period" 15 prior to the Upanishads with which philosophy proper is generally thought to have begun.

For this reason we shall now turn to the Vedas and in particular to the "Nasadiya Sukta" or "Creation Hymn" which appears as Rg Veda X, I29. The hyrnn has been considered to be "by far the most important composition in this class in the whole Veda."16 It is "the finest effort of the imagination of the Vedic poet, and nothing else equals it."17


Here we shall look for the hymn’s understanding of: (a) that from which all derive, (b) the origination of the universe, (c) the resultant relation between things, and (d) the nature of reality itself. We shall be interested in seeing what light might be shed on this by taking into account also the earlier context of primitive thought and, comparatively, what relation there might be to the process from unity to diversity developed in the Greek branch of the Aryan family and reflected by Hesiod’s Theogony.

Our project is not a simple one from first to last, and some specific hermeneutic considerations should be noted. The problems begin with the establishment of the text itself. One mantra may have been lost18 and even the classical text has recently been accused of depending excessively upon the quantity of syllables in each verse and failing to take account of their quality due to the loss of accents which had indicated, e.g., a short syllable or vowel that had been reflected in the pronunciation. Esteller claims that as a result unwarranted changes were made in the Sanskrit text.19 This question must be left to Sanskrit scholars for further study.

In reading this text a sensitivity to metaphysical issues will be indispensable. A. K. Coomaraswamy remarks that "for an understanding of the Vedas a knowledge of Sanskrit, however profound, is insufficient. . . . Europe also possesses a tradition founded in first principles. That mentality which in the Twelfth and Thirteenth centuries brought into being an intellectual Christianity would not have found the Vedas difficult."20

In keeping with the developmental model elaborated in the first of this lecture, we shall be interested in determining the distinctive manner in which the mode of thinking in this hymn surpasses that of the primitive or totemic mind, and differs from subsequent developments.

This, of course, does not discount the value of later systematic commentaries. They draw upon the full strength of the resources available to them to elucidate, in a manner consistent with their own doctrines, both the issue being treated in the text and related new problems which had arisen. It is precisely in these successive commentaries that Indian philosophy has progressed through the ages. They are our richest and clearest statements of the cumulative wisdom available on the issues treated in the text. This applies to the encegesis of our text in the Satapatha Brahmana, and even more to Sayana’s commentaries on this text and in the Taittiriya Brahmana.21

Nevertheless, here we are engaged in the somewhat different task, described in the first chapter, of stepping back to the content in human thought which preceded the development of the philosophic systems. It is crucial that this be done in terms of the early texts themselves, both in order that they might, without circularity, provide a basis for the subsequent systems and in order to retrieve as a basis for really new progress what the systems have not yet said.

Another important approach, suggested by V. Agrawala draws upon M. Ojha’s Dasavada-Rahasya. He identifies ten "doctrines which served as nuclei for the gathering thoughts of the Rishis when poetic statements of Srshti-Vidya were being attempted in a rich variety of bold linguistic forms." They constitute ten ‘language games’ to use more recent terminology—which were employed in the Samhitas and Brahmanas, and which are referred to in the first two mantras of the "Nasadisya Sukta." These are: Sadasad-Vada or speech in terms of existence and non existence; Raso-Vada or the primaeval material cause; Vyoma-Vada or space as the ultimate substratum; Parapara-Vada or such pairs as absolute-relative, transcendent-immanent, or higher-lower; Avarana-Vada or measure or container; Ambho-Vada or water; Amrita-Mrityu-Vada or death and immortality, matter and energy; Ahorata-Vada or time; Deva-Vada or the gods; and Brahma-Vada or the transcendent reality. 22

These ten nuclei provide notably more proximate contexts for interpreting the text of Rg Veda X, 129 than do the much later six orthodox and three heterodox systems. They can be especially useful in identifying both the implicit content of the terms and their allusions. In particular, they were the tools with which that mythic mentality carried out its reflection upon the issues of unity and of participation therein. Hence, they will be particularly central to our project of determining the metaphysical content of the mythic vision in its own terms, though from our later and hence more self conscious standpoint.


The hymn would appear to be constructed of three parts. The first, mantras 1-3, verse 2, treats the state prior to, or without, creation; the second, mantra 3, verse 3—msntra 5, describes the creative process; the third, mantras 6-7, constitutes an epistemic reflection. In part one a number of things are to be noted. First, reality in this state is repeatedly affirmed to be undifferentiated. This is proclaimed by negating successively all that is related as a contrary to something else: there was neither air nor heaven beyond, neither death nor immortality, neither night nor day. There was no place. Some see this undifferentiated character as being stated more directly by rejecting even the principle for such distinctions: there was no beacon of night or day. Esteller would read this as stating directly that there is "no distinguishing sign of the night nor of the day"; Sayana would say only "there was no consciousness of night and day." Finally, that its nature is undistinguishable (apraketam) is pictured by stating that it was darkness hidden in darkness and that it was water: "indistinguishable, this all was water." By pointing out that water is the stage of creation prior to earth, Sâyana illustrates the way in which this reference to water implies undifferentiation. Together this constitutes a real advance in stating the unity found in the totemic and mythic visions analysed above.

There are even certain more positive indications of the nature of the undifferentiated. First, it is termed "that one" (tad ekam). This should be taken as a positive affirmation of being for the text adds that "other than that there was not anything beyond" (Mantra 2). Secondly, it is also referred to as being of the nature of life by the statement, "that one breathed."

Thirdly and of special importance, it indicates the self sufficiency of "that one" for "That one breathed by its own power " (Mantra 2). Radhakrishnan accepts the description, "windless," and understands it as bespeaking Aristotle’s unmoved mover- - a point which A. Keith rejects as anachronistic. 23 Esteller reads this as "sunconquerable by his inborn power." Sayana may arrive at a similar point by holding that "breathless" implies the negation of all limiting factors, that is, all except the self; it is that which exists depending on or supported by its own being. This is important lest the originating experience of the Rg Veda be erroneously interpreted as being no more than a proto-materialism of the Samkhya type—as is often said—and the Absolute be considered merely a later superimposition for selfish purposes.

Finally, it might be asked whether in the first mantra the expression of undifferentiation by the words "there was not the air nor the heaven which is beyond" is not of further significance. In a threefold division of earth, air, and heaven24 it is by means of the introduction of the notion of air or space (rajo) that heaven is differentiated from earth. If this be the case, then, as with the notion of the beacon of day and night in the second mantra, the statement "there was no air" negates the principle of division and differentiation of heaven from earth, and hence the differentiated condition of heaven and earth. If there is substance to this suggestion it would have two implications. First and most important, it would mean from the very beginning of this hymn the philosophically important introduction of the principle, not only of the unity, but of the differentiation of being. This would indicate that the two were not seen to be incompatible one with the other. Secondly, it would imply some correspondence to the above-mentioned, and not unrelated,25 notion of chaos as space (gap) found in this role in Hesiod’s Theogony. If this is found in widely diverse parts of the Indo-European diaspora it would be proportionately ancient and foundational for human thought.

Part II of the hymn (mantra 3, verse 3—mantra 5), is concerned with "the origin of the evolved world from the unevolved." This introduces two issues: first, in what does this origination consist; second, how is it realized?

The first issue is answered in terms of the differentiation of that which had been described repeatedly in the first part of the hymn as undifferentiated. In mantra 4 this is spoken of as the bond of the existent with what had previously been called non-existent. Mantra 5 describes the differentiations of above and below, of impregnators (redodha) and powers (mahimanda), of energy (svadha) and impulse (prayatih). Sayana is keenly sensitive to the value implications of this differentiation; others would see these pairs also being contrasted as male and female cosmogonic principles.26 In that case the text would not merely state an initial differentiation of what previously had been undifferentiated. Just as in the Theogony heaven and earth were related as male and female from which all else springs, the original pair in Rg Veda X, 129, if related in principle as male and female, would imply that all further plurality and differentiation can be understood fruitfully on the basis of a genetic unity. Only the main lines of a theogony are traced, however, and that only in Rg Veda X, 72.

As with the Theogony, the nature of the unity which the male and female cosmogonic principles imply depends upon the degree of the unity of this original pair. Here it is most significant that the image conveyed by the hymn from beginning to end is not that these two principles are simply different and then brought together. On the contrary, what precedes and from which their differentiation arises is a state of undifferentiation. Most fundamentally they are one rather than many. Continuity with the totemic vision and the experience it embodied could provide a basis for this vision.

On the second issue, namely, how this initial division was realized, the text is not silent, though it speaks after the manner of poetry, rather than of technical scientific prose.

First, in ‘tuchyenabhu’ the word ‘tuchya’ introduces the notion of ‘void" or that which is not. To this is added the instrumental suffix "by it," to state "by means of the void." Finally there is the verb ‘bhu’ or "become, arise, " that is, what comes into being everywhere A. Coomaraswamy would interpret the following words "all that existed covered (apihitam yad asit)" as veil or avarivah in mantra 1, namely the world as that which covers the ultimate reality. Does this mean that the void plays a role in the transition from the undifferentiated to the differentiated state, in which transition creation consists? If so, it would correspond well to mantra 5 regarding the division of the above and the below as cosmogonic principles.

This raises the further question of whether the notion of the void here is related in any way to the notion of chaos as ‘gap’ or "open space" found in the Theogony’s description of the origin of the universe, especially as that notion reflected a very ancient, and hence common foundational element in Aryan thought. Here in mantra 3 it is not merely an open space as in mantra 1, but the more philosophically suggests the notion of void. This evokes the notion of non-being which later will be of great systematic philosophic importance regarding these very issues in the West. Sayana interprets it as Maya which will play the major systematic role in these issues 1300 years later in Shankara’s Advaita. Here, however, it remains a poetic and imaginative statement.

Second, whatever be said of verse 3, verse 4 of mantra 3 and all of mantra 4 may contain more substantive indications of the manner of differentiation of the universe through the notions of will and mind. Heat is often used as the simile for that ardour of will with which one grasps (kamas), holds to, or is attached to existence. When the reality is present this attachment is enjoyment, that is, it is one and holds itself in bliss. Verse 1 of mantra 4 proceeds to state that the origin was not deficient but sam, which Sayana understands as meaning complete or having fullness. Further, avartatadhi should be understood, not as coming upon a reality from without, but as arising from within. This would mean that from the point of view of its origin creation is seen in this hymn as taking place, not out of need, but out of the plenitude of perfection. Would not this imply that it is pure gift?

Returning once again to kamas in order to ask what it indicates regarding the nature of reality itself and hence of created reality, it should be noted that, when the reality with which the ardour of the will is concerned is absent, grasping or attachment has the nature of desire. If the void has a separative role in the origination of differentiation as suggested above, and especially if the original state is one of undifferentiation in contrast to the present differentiated state but in continuity with the totemic unity, it can be seen how the differentiated parts would nonetheless be most fundamentally attracted one to another. In this case the text would be suggesting that it pertains to the internal nature of reality itself to be unitive and for the differentiated realities to be positively related or attracted to one another. This is what the Greeks had expressed in a relatively external manner in their mythic notion of the god, Eros. It would also be the metaphysical basis for the social life of the family or village.

Further, verse 2 proceeds to say that desire is the first seed of mind. As regards the nature of reality itself does this imply that bliss (ananda) as enjoyment of being in some sense follows upon or expresses consciousness (cit) of existence (sat)? For the originating Self as one this would imply that the creative causality of its active will is fully conscious. In turn, this would provide the basis for the unity of order and of intelligibility which so characterizes the realm of creation.

In the order of created or differentiated beings the fact that desire is the first seed of mind would appear to imply that the striving of one person to grasp (kamas) the other is predicated upon mind. In turn, this is predicated ontologically upon the fact that the mind and its object originally were undifferentiated unity as noted in the first part of the hymn and inherited from totemic thought. Thus, knowledge itself is most fundamentally the effort to grasp the other in its differentiated and hence partial expression of the original and undifferentiated unity? In this light the desire or will of one differentiated being as regards others should be not that of self seeking, but of aiding, of serving the other, so that it might share or participate more fully in Plenitude.

Finally, both mind and desire may be combined in wisdom in verses 3 and 4 of 4: "Sages seeking in their hearts with wisdom found out the bond of the existent in the nonexistent." Does this mean only that by reflecting on the problem they found the origin of the differentiated universe? This is possible, but the explicit distinction and ordering of desire and mind would suggest more, namely, the interior road to wisdom so characteristic of the Indian philosophers and of great interest in the west from Saint Augustine to present day phenomenologists.

What was said above regarding developmental modes of thought and the dependence of the poetic imagination upon the senses suggests that the answers to further questions, such as monism or pluralism, monotheism or henotheism, and material or efficient causality, will require the development of subsequent modes of thought for work in philosophy proper. This will be the concern of the two lectures to follow. The human mind, however, will never be able to supplant poetry or exhaustively to articulate its meaning in scientific terms. Thus, poetic hymns as the Theogony and Rg Veda, X, 129, will ever remain inexhaustible and essential store-houses or treasuries for philosophers and for all people in their effort to find the meaning of their lives and the means for living it together.


1. Arthur A. MacDonell, A Vedic Reader (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1917), pp. 207-211. Citations from Rg Veda X, 129 will be taken from this text.

2. (New York: Washington Square Press, 1966). See also Ernst Cassirer, Mythical Thought; Vol. II of Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1965), pp. 3-59.

3. Ibid., chap. ix.

4. Hymns of the Rg Veda, trans. by Ralph Griffith (Varanasi: Chowkhamba, 1963), X, 88. This source will be used for all citations from the Rg Veda except X, 129. See also Adolf Kaegi, The Rg Veda, trays. by R. Arrow Smith (New Delhi: Amarko, 1972), p. 87 and nn. 364 and 368.

5. George F. McLean and Patrick Aspell, Readings in Ancient Western Philosophy (New York: Appleton, Century, Croft, 1971), p. 4. See also by the same authors, Ancient Western Philosophy (New York: Appleton Century, Crofts, 1972).

6. Werner Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), pp. 12-13.

7. McLean and Aspell, p. 5.

8. Physics IV, 1, 208 b 31.

9. Jaeger, p. 13.

10. G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven, The PreSocratic Philosophers (Cambridge: At the Univ. Press, 1960), pp. 26-32.

11. Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica, trans by H.G. Evelyn White (London: Heinemann, 1920), p. 86.

12. Kirk and Raven, loc. cit.

13. C. Kunhan Raja, Asya Vamasya Hymn (The Riddle of the Universe), Rg Veda I-164 (Madras: Ganesh, 1956), pp. 5-6.

14. Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy (Dedhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975), I, 10.

15. Arthur B. Keith, The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads (Harvard Oriental Series, Vol. XXXII; Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1925), II, 442.

16. Kaegi, p. 89

17. Keith, p. 437.

18. Griffith, II, 576, n 5.

19. A. Esteller, "The Text-critical Reconstruction of the Rg Veda," Indica, XIV (1977), 1-12. See also the Bandorkar Institute of Oriental Studies Jubilee Volume, 1978.

20. A. New Approach to the Vedas: An Essay in Translation and Exegesis (London: Luzac, 1933), p. vii.

21. Vasudeva S. Agrawala, Hymn of Creation (Nasadiya Sukta, Rg Veda, X 129) (Varanasi: P. Prakashan, 1963), pp. 40-57. This remains true even while recognizing the value of observations by Roth and Muller: see Griffith, Vol. I, pp. x-xi. I am particularly indebted to Dr. R. Balasubramanian of the University of Madras for his extremely generous and detailed exposition or Sayana’s commentary on Rig Veda X, 129.

22. Ibid., pp. 5-18. Other more detailed analysis of Rg Veda X, 129 are found in Sampurnand, Cosmogony in Indian Thought (Kashi Vidyapith), pp. 61-80; C. Kunhan Raja, Poet Philosopher, pp. 221-31; and Coomaraswamy, pp. 52-59.

23. Rhadakrishnan, Indian Philosophy (London: Allen and Unwin, 1977), 1, 101; Reith, p. 436 and n. 3.

24. Kaegi, p. 34.

25. Ibid., p. 5 and notes 12, 82 and 95. Note the etymological similarity of the sanskrit root of Brahman, ‘brah,’ to the Old Norse, ‘brag,’ and the close parallels between the German spells and those of the Artha Veda.

26. MacDonell, pp. 209-210.

Last Revised 06-Feb-09 02:20 PM.