While today it has become a fashion amongst the scientific community to call themselves atheists, it was not always so. In fact, amongst the truly great, it was exactly the opposite, as is evident from the following incident in the life of the famous scientist Isaac Newton.
Newton had a friend who did not believe in God. He was always asserting that the creation of the world and the activities in it do not imply any god. Once Newton was sitting by the side of a marvelous model of the solar system, absorbed in the thoughts of planetary motion. At that time his friend entered and started gazing at the model with great curiosity. After sometime he asked Newton:
"Isaac, who made this?"
Without even lifting his head, Newton replied: "Nobody".
"Isaac, I am asking about this wonderful model. Who made this?"
"I told you no one."
The friend was peeved. Raising his voice, he asked, "Are you kidding me? This is working so wonderfully and when I ask you who made it you say ‘No one’. What do you mean?"
"My dear friend, if no one is necessary to create the solar system, do you mean to say that someone is necessary to make a trivial model of it?"
This marvelous world needs a creator much more marvelous than itself. However, questions like how God created this world, why did He create it, how is this world different (or non-different) from its creator, what is the nature of the creator who created this immensely diverse world, all these are bound to spring up in one’s mind. The group of ancient scriptures, collectively known as the Upanishads, amply explain these points. These exalted texts lay down the foundations of Vedic philosophy on a firm grounding, in a sublime yet forceful manner.
A Potter at Work
The Upanishads begin with the stock example of a pot and pot-maker.
The pot-maker creates a pot using clay and a potter’s wheel. Thus we see that the creation of a pot requires three different causes:
1). The Potter: This is known as the Efficient Cause (Nimitta Karana in Sanskrit)
2). The Clay: Material Cause (Upadana Karana)
3). The Wheel: The implement used to create the pot (Sahakari Karana).
Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Shankaracharya
According to the ancient scriptures, God is at once all the three causes of the world. That is, the stuff (clay) out of which this world is made is God, the one who caused it (potter) is also God and the implement used for it is also God. In the technical language of Vedanta, this Supreme God is known as Brahman.’ In fact, the unambiguous definition of God given by Veda Vyasa is ‘God is that from which the world originates, sustains and then finally dissolves back into.’ (Brahma Sutra 1.1.2)
Doubt: We see everywhere, as in the case of the pot, that all the three causes are different. How then is it possible that all the three are same in the case of the universe?
Resolution: This is a very important and basic question. In fact, it forms the very foundation of all Vedanta. Though it is right to say that generally the three causes are different, there are also cases where it is not so. Consider the example of a spider making a web. The spider alone is all three causes for the web – material, efficient and implemental.
Thus we have a clear example of all the three causes coinciding in one. Similarly, God or Brahman is at once all the three causes for the world. Therefore, because of this counter example, this axiom of the scriptures cannot be rejected.
However, on accepting the above hypothesis, many objections come to a thinking mind. The ever compassionate scriptures have a resolution to each of them:
1). Objection of the Non-difference Between the ‘Eater’ and that which is ‘Eaten’
Objection: If God be considered the only cause of the world, then there is nothing different from It. In such a case, the distinction between a subject and its object would vanish. For example, if both Devadatta and the rice he eats are formed out of the same One God, then there would be no difference between the eater and that what is eaten. This would amount to saying that Devadatta eats himself, which is obviously absurd. Therefore, the above declaration of God as the only cause of this world is invalid.
Resolution: This objection is not correct. Consider the example of a hammer and anvil. Both are in essence made of iron, even then, to our eyes, the hammer is not anvil and the anvil is not the hammer, both are different. Therefore, because of being different modifications, even though they have the same material cause (iron), there is scope for interaction between the two. One beats and the other gets beaten up. Even then, essentially, the iron neither beats nor gets beaten. It is only the two modifications of iron which interact with each other. In a similar manner, the subject and the object can interact, even though they are formed of the same material, and Devadatta can enjoy his rice without any disturbance.
The Objection of the Lack of Motive
Objection: God cannot be the creator of the world because He has no motive to do so. It is pretty evident from our everyday experience that any reasonably intelligent person will not begin any work, however insignificant it may be, if he has no purpose to achieve. Here we are talking about the supreme work of the creation of this unimaginably complex and diverse world. Moreover, the Upanishads clearly state that God is self-content (apta-kama, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.21). If we attribute some selfish motive to God, then it would be contradictory to His self-content nature. If we say that He has created this world without any motive, then we know that only someone who is mad does something without any purpose, like we often see madmen laughing or running without any reason. This is not feasible at all. Hence, your God cannot be the creator of this world.
Resolution: The scriptures resolve this objection by pointing out that God created this world for the sake of all beings (jivas). Jivas have performed various karmas over their numerous births. During the dissolution of the world, saving these karmas in their seed forms, all jivas merged into God. To facilitate the reaping the fruits of these karma for the jivas, God sets out to create the world again. It is like the father, who, even though he has no need for it himself, prepares a toy for his child weeping for the same. Similarly does God create this world for jivas.
However, the remarkable thing about this world is that not only does it provide the means for the inevitable reaping of our karmic fruits, but at the same time it also gives ample opportunity during the whole process to facilitate our Moksha too.
God is Partial and Cruel
Objection: There are a lot of dissimilarities in this world. Some people get a chance to lead a happy life, while animals generally lead an unhappy life. Some people live a mixed life, partly happy and partly unhappy. Therefore, your God is partial. Not only this, during the dissolution of the world, all jivas experience only extreme pain. Hence, not only is your God partial, He is also extremely cruel. Therefore, He cannot be the creator of this world.
Resolution: The perceived inequality in the happiness of various beings of this world is due to the difference in their karma. It is not God’s fault at all. God’s creates this world taking into account our previous karma. If this were not so, He would be like an employer who pays all his workers the same salary, regardless of their relative work. The dissolution of the world too is according to the collective karma of all beings. Hence God is neither partial nor cruel.
The Nature of the World is Different from God, Hence God Cannot be Its Creator
Objection 1: According to the definition of God in the Upanishads, when the world dissolves (pralaya), it merges into God. This means at that time all the attributes of the world merge into God. Now, this world is not only diverse, but also impure because it consists of pleasure and pain, attachment and hatred, joy and sorrow. Therefore, while merging into God, this world will contaminate Him, who is Eternally Pure, with its own impurity. Thus, God cannot be the creator of this world.
Resolution: When ornaments melt back into gold, their attributes do not contaminate it. An effect merging back into its material cause doesn’t contaminate it. Not only that, even at the time of its existence an object doesn’t have any affect whatsoever on its cause. An ornament may be big, loose, formed, deformed or broken. However, all these modifications are only in the ornament, not in the gold. Nobody says that gold is loose or broken. All such attributes are directed only at the ornament not at the gold. Similarly, neither when it is born, nor during its existence, nor when it dissolves back into It, does this world have any affect on God.
Objection 2: God is a conscious principle. Hence, we can believe Him to be the efficient cause of the universe, much like a potter is for the pot. However, a conscious principle (chetan) cannot be the cause of this inert (jada) world. An effect cannot differ in nature from its cause. The characteristic features of the cause must inhere in the effect. The world as an effect of God does not have His qualities. Therefore, God cannot be the material cause of this world.
Resolution: This objection can be divided into three parts:
a). All of God’s qualities are not present in this world, thus He cannot be the creator.
b). None of His qualities is present in this world, hence He cannot be the creator.
c). Since this world is inert, lacking the quality of consciousness (which God has), He cannot be its creator.
Resolution a): If all the qualities of the cause inhere in the effect then there would be no difference between the cause and its effect. In such a case the effect would not be able to manifest itself. Therefore, it is not possible for all qualities of the cause to appear in the effect. If all features of God were seen in this world, there would remain no difference between Him and this world. Then there would be no hope of proving the Upanishadic principle of creation of this world. Therefore, this objection is not valid.
Resolution b): The objection that none of God’s qualities are discernible in the manifested world does have substance. If not even one of God’s attributes is present in this world then God cannot be proved to be the cause of this world. Therefore, at least one of God’s qualities definitely needs to inhere in this world. The question is, which of God’s attributes is present in this world?
To answer this question, let us consider the following statements:
1). God is unchanging while the world is ever-changing.
2). God is consciousness but the world is inert.
Shri Adi Shankaracharya
What we observe in common in the first and second parts of both sentences is the word ‘is’, i.e., the fact of ‘being in existence’. This is the attribute which is present both in the cause (God) and the effect (world). The great Shankaracharya says: ‘the characteristic feature of God, i.e. the fact of existence, is found inhering in the manifested world.’ (Commentary on the Brahma Sutras, 2.1.6). Thus, the argument that not even one feature of God is present in this world does not hold.
Resolution c): The last objection says that consciousness, which is a characteristic feature of God, should be present in this world. To this we pose a counter query. How can you make a rule that a particular feature of the cause should be present in the effect? Like the material sugar cannot be ‘touched’ in lemonade but only perceived through its sweetness, similarly, even though the conscious principle is not present in the physical world, we can still conclude that God is the material cause of this world.
Even after this discussion, agreeing that God, who is of the nature of consciousness, could create this diversely opposite inert world, is still hard for some. For such skeptics, an example from modern science will suffice. According to science, the material cause of water is oxygen and hydrogen. Out of the two, hydrogen is combustible, while oxygen is a supporter of combustion. However, their product water has none of these characteristics, rather it is the opposite, having the property of extinguishing fire. What’s more, water is liquid, as against to both oxygen and hydrogen, which are gases. Therefore, here we have an example where an effect doesn’t have a property existing in its cause, namely liquidity; not only that, it has a property diametrically opposite to its material cause – namely being an extinguisher of fire. Therefore, that this inert world has as its cause God, who is of the nature of consciousness, is no contradiction at all.
References and Further Reading:
- Bharati, Swami Paramananda. Foundations of Dharma. Bangalore 2008.
- Bharati, Swami Paramananda. Lectures on Vedanta (80 MP3 Files).
- Bharati, Swami Paramananda.Vedanta Prabodh: Varanasi, 2010.
- Date, V.H. Vedanta Explained (Samkara's Commentary on The Brahma-sutras in Two Volumes): Delhi, 1973.
- Goyandka, Shri Harikrishnadas. Translation of Shankaracharya's Commentary on the Upanishads (Hindi): Gorakhpur, 2006.
- Goyandka, Shri Harikrishnadas. Vedanta Darshan (Explanation of the Brahma Sutras in Hindi): Gorakhpur, 2009.
- Gupta Som Raj. Upanisads with the Commentary of Sankaracarya, Five Volumes. Delhi.
- Jacob, G.A. A Concordance to the Principal Upanisads and Bhagavadgita. Delhi, 1999.
- Sivananda, Swami. Brahma Sutras: Tehri-Garhwal, 1999.
This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Param Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any error is entirely the author's own.