Indian Creation Theories

Indian philosophy and religion are very diverse and comprehensive. They never provide a “one size fits everyone” solution to any concept. They provide a full spectrum of options and possibilities for people with various temperaments. Theory of Creation is no exception. There are various theories on how the world that we see came into being.

Here, I am trying to put together the various theories of creation. At the top level, there is a two-fold classification.

  • asatkaarya vaada – Creation is a new beginning. The world was created out of no prior existing material substance.
    • caarvaaka
    • hinayaana Buddhism
    • nyaaya-vasisesika
  • satkaarya vaada – Creation is an explicit manifestation of an entity that was existing previously in unmanifest form.
    • parinaama vaada – The manifestation from the unmanifest is a real transformation.
      • prakrti parinaama vaada – The world is an evolution of a primordial inert dynamic principle called prakrti. (saankhya)
      • saguna brahma parinaama vaada – The world and all the conscious beings are a part of the Universal conscious Being. The Universal Being internally transforms to form the inert world and the conscious individual beings. (visistaadvaita)
    • vivarta vaada – The manifestation from the unmanifest is only an apparent change. The change is not experienced by the unmanifest.
      • sunyata vivarta vaada – The world is an apparent manifestation of absolute void. (sunya vaada)
      • vijnaana vivarta vaada – The world is an apparent product of a stream of thoughts. (vijnaana vaada)
      • nirguna brahma vivarta vaada – The world and individual conscious beings are apparent superimposition on the pure undivided universal Consciousness. (advaita vedaanta)
  • sadasatkaarya vaada – There is no creation.
    • Individual conscious beings, matter, space, time and laws governing them exist eternally. (jainism)
    • purva mimaamsa

This is only a small scratch on the surface. Every school listed has several variations. For example, purva mimaamsa has schools like Prabhakara, Bhatta, Gangesa. Advaita Vedanta has schools like Bhamati, Vivarna. visistaadvaita has schools like Ramanuja, Chaitanya. Hinayaana has vaibhasika and sautrantika schools. The list is endless.

Another speciality of Indian culture is that all these schools have parallely and simultaneously developed over several centuries. Every proponent of a school must first summarize several other major schools, challenge those schools on the basis of sruti (scriptures), yukti (logic) and anubhava (empirical observations). It only after effectively refuting the other schools that he can establish his school. This created a very healthy and rich intellectual environment. There are hundreds of important significant treatises and thousands of auxiliary works.

Often, the theories are presented as allegories to the common man. For example, one theory of creation is that from the unmanifest universal conscious being (isvara) came the cosmic intelligence (mahat). In the cosmic intelligence, various natural laws are conceived. Then matter is created according to the laws to become the material world. This is popularly depicted as Vishnu (isvara) lying in the infinite ocean on a coiled snake (unmanifest space and time). From his navel comes a lotus and on the lotus comes Brahma (mahat). Brahma meditates and the world is created in his mind.

Another popular over-simplistic depiction is as Brahma creates, Vishnu preserves and Shiva destroys. The Vedas themselves say that they are not different deities. The One Supreme Universal Being when creating is called Brahma, when maintaining is called Vishnu and when recycling is called Shiva. Also, Vishnu is also depicted as the creator through Brahma who is a part of him and as the destroyer as Kalki. Shiva is also depicted as the creator and destroyer as Nataraja with a drum symbolizing creation and fire symbolizing destruction. The Devi, the Universal Being depicted as feminine, is often shown with Siva and Vishnu as her parts.

The theories of creation in Indian thought is very diverse and numerous. They provide arguments for and against so many possibilities. It is not as simplistic as Creation vs Evolution. There are hundreds of possibilities and thousands of shades of them.

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4 Responses to Indian Creation Theories

  1. Arnab Lahiri says:

    Dear Gomuji,

    Not just I read this, but also saved the same for future reference which I am going to use in my exams (MA Philosophy) which I will appear very soon. Thanks a lot for such a lucid and beautiful explanation. IT really sum up well all the concepts. I read the same earlier as well but since it was on mobile I was not able to post the comment.

    Thanks a lot and please keep writing.

    Warm Regards,

  2. Anand Balaraman says:

    Good one Gomu. Reading something on philosophy after what appears like eons. Enjoyed it.


  3. Anand Balaraman says:

    Is Vijnaana Vivarta Vaada a form of Solispsism?

    • gokulmuthu says:

      Both Vijnaana Vivarta Vaada and Nirguna Brahma Vivarta Vaada will qualify as solipsism. Both deny the existence of real external material world, multiple individuals and at the same time accept the existence of a single individual. Vijnaana Vivarta Vaada says that the highest unitary existence is the mind, which is just a stream of thoughts. Nirguna Brahma Vivarta Vaada says that the mind functions only during waking and dream states. To explain deep sleep and samaadhi states, you have to go one step further. The interesting thing is that, even when both accept solipsism, they do not violate law of Karma. The world seen may be unreal (from materialistic point of view). But in that unreal world, the desires, experiences and actions of the individual are real. They drive the nature of the next scenes in that unreal world. The unreal world created in the mind is the result of past Karma. So even though it is solipsism, the world has a purpose – to become free from desires, which are the cause of suffering.

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