by Swami Krishnananda
If any scripture of the Hindus can be compared with the Bible, it is the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana. It consist of twelve books, the first nine of which are something like the Old Testament, and the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth can be compared to the New Testament. In the earlier sections – the first nine books – we have a cosmology of the whole of creation, and practically a history of mankind as conceived from the point of view of a religious interpretation of the process of creation. Suka Maharishi placed before Raja Parikshit a picture of the Cosmic Being, through whose Being, through whose Person, run all the levels of existence – seven realms above and seven realms below, from Patala to Brahmaloka. Having described this wondrous structure of creation through every level which one has to pass in the process of spiritual evolution, he now turns his attention to the possibility of self-purification through the worship of the lesser gods who operate through every level of creation as the fingers of the Almighty working everywhere.
The gods in heaven cannot be counted, even as the fingers of God cannot be counted. They are like infinite triangles that can be drawn on the canvas of space, all which have a base and an apex, the apex connecting the relationship between the two points at the base – which represent the perceiver and the perceived, the subject and the object – in a transcendent presence called the adhidaiva. The process goes on rising, one above the other, until the Supreme Person is reached. Thus, the gods in heaven represent the different layers of superintending authority in the levels of creation, and one may take them all together at one stroke for a total meditation on creation in its entirety, or each one of them can be taken separately for the purpose of concentration.
For instance, Suka Maharishi says: brahma-varcasa-kāmas tu yajeta brahmaṇaḥ patim (Bhagavata 2.3.2). A human being has various desires, aspirations and longings. Every longing can be fulfilled by adoration of a particular divinity. If you aspire for radiance in your face, energy in your personality, and lustre in the whole of being, then meditate on Brahmanaspati, who is the abode of all lustre; if you long for knowledge, enlightenment, wisdom, meditate on a person like Lord Siva; if you want health, vigour of personality and long life, offer your prostrations and adorations to Surya, the resplendent lord of the skies; if you want mental peace, balance of feeling, concentrate your mind on the moon as identical with yourself; if you want a warlike energy and strength in your person, meditate on Kumara – Skanda, the generalissimo of the gods; and if you want to be free from every kind of obstacle along your successful approach in life, pray, offer your adoration to Ganapathy, Ganesha Bhagavan, who is the remover of all obstacles.
Having said all these things, Suka concludes by giving his final opinion: akamah sarva-kamo va, moksha-kama udara-dhih; tivrena bhakti-yogena yajeta purusham param (Bhagavata 2.3.10). Infinite desires can be fulfilled by infinite adorations of different varieties, summoning the angels in heaven in different ways, which are the upasanas as mentioned; but if you want nothing, or want all things at the same time, then your heart should be devoted to the Supreme Narayana who is the mokshadata – the giver of liberation.
The condition to attain Narayana is that finally we want nothing, or we want everything at the same time, because wanting everything is equal to wanting nothing. The trouble is that we want only certain things, and not all things. No one can humanly long for all things in the world at the same time. But why does the mind make this discrimination in asking for things? Why does it ask only for little things? Here is the trouble with human nature: it wants, but it does not want everything. But in the condition of moksha, liberation, we have to want everything, or we do not want anything. Akamah means one who has no desires of any kind; sarvakamova means one who has desires for all things at the same time; moksha-kama udara-dhih – whose intent is on liberation alone; such a person has to worship the Supreme Purusha. That is the Great Person who superintends the whole creation – the Father in Heaven, if we want to call Him so.
This way of instruction by Suka Maharishi continues through the second skandha, or the second book of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, and the same subject is continued in the third skandha where an elaborate description of the creational process through Brahma is described. This description of the coming of things from the supreme Creator as we have it in the Srimad Bhagavata practically tallies with modern findings of the process of evolution. The Bhagavata does not say that God created man in the beginning. There was an evolutionary process, as conceived in scientific circles – namely, God created the earth and the heaven, as it is said in the Bible for instance, but He did not create man immediately. Here is a little departure in the story of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana.
There is the vast ocean, the vast Earth, the entire physical universe before us – Sun, Moon, stars – all things. God created vegetation first. The plant kingdom manifested itself in the process of evolution. In this context, a question arises: Did God create all things at one stoke with a fiat of His will, or did He allow things to grow gradually from lower to higher species in a systematic manner? Both ways seem to be a valid answer in this connection. It is something like what goes on in the dream world. Do we suddenly dream mountains, rivers and things in our perception of dream, or is there a gradual perception of things from one stage to another? We can say both are equally valid. At one stroke we fall into sleep, and suddenly we begin to dream, and the entire picture of the dream world is before us as if it has been created at one stroke. In that manner, we may say the universe was created by a fiat of God with the will which He announced: “Let there be light” – and there was light. That’s all. One word of God is enough, and the whole thing is manifested.
But after having created this total with the fiat of His will, there is no objection to the idea that the process of evolution took place gradually, because the theory is that creation is a cyclic process. It is not a sudden emerging of things that did not exist earlier. It is not that God created the world from nothing. We may say that, in some way, God does not create things Himself, as the Sun does not create the problems of life, though without it no movement can take place here. God is responsible for the evolution of the potentials that existed during the conclusion of the previous cycle – called mahapralaya, the dissolution of the cosmos after one hundred lives of Brahma, the creative principle.
The one hundred lives of Brahma is something difficult to imagine in one’s mind. There are four cycles of time, called Krita Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. Kali Yuga, which is the time through which we are passing now, is considered to be the worst of times because there is conflict everywhere, which is why it is called Kali, which means quarrel. There is quarrel everywhere in this particular time of our life in this world. This period of Kali is supposed to rage for about four lakhs twenty thousand years (420,000). Double that time is the duration of Dvapara Yuga. Treble that time is the duration of Treta Yuga. Four times the duration of Kali Yuga is the duration of Krita Yuga. When these fourfold cycles of such long duration revolve one thousand times, it is one day of Brahma; and that length of one thousand cycles of similar duration is also the night of Brahma. These cycles constituting the days and nights of Brahma make one full day of Brahma, and Brahma lives for one hundred years. Calculating Brahma’s lifespan is like calculating the distance of stars – so many light years – and much more than that.
This creation lasts as long as the life of Brahma continues. When the hundred years of Brahma are over, there is cosmic dissolution. All the world will become liquid, as it were; there will be cosmic waters. But the question will arise, what happens to the individuals, people like us, when everything in creation is dissolved during dissolution? Do we attain liberation? No, we do not attain liberation even if the whole world is dissolved, because liberation is freedom from desires of every kind. A mere physical dissolution of things does not mean the dissolution of mental desires. Just as sleep is not the end of the day and is only a commencement of the next day, in a similar manner, this cosmic sleep at the time of dissolution is a universal cessation of all activity but not a liberation of the forces of individuality. They will all be dissolved into a seed form of subtle potentiality when the universe dissolves after such a lengthy period of time – namely, the one hundred years of Brahma, the Creator. And then there is creation once again.
The process starts in a similar pattern as it was in the earlier creation. The pattern is the same, but the details are different. The mould is cast forever, but the souls inhabiting these moulds vary according to the various stages of evolution in which they find themselves. That is to say, everyone has to pass through every species of creation. One has to be a mosquito, a frog, a snake, a boar, a lion, an elephant, a cow, a bull, and every blessed thing. They are moulds or patterns of individualities into which the mental construct – or the souls, we may say – are cast, so that the moulds permanently stay as they are, but the contents inside, the rulers there, differ at different stages of evolution, just as a particular house can be occupied by different people. The house is the same, it does not change; but today someone occupies it, and tomorrow another person occupies it. In the same way is the yatha purvam akalpayat (Rg. 10.190.3), says the Veda: As before, so creation starts once again.
The reason why there is such a degree in the process of evolution is that every species is given a chance to assert itself. No one can be considered as superior or inferior in this process; everybody is good enough. A tree is as good as a lion for its own purpose. We cannot say that a lion is superior to a tree; that comparison is not allowed anywhere in the scheme of creation. Even an insect has its own soul, and the ant’s insistence on the right to survive is as important as the elephant’s right to survive. We cannot say an elephant is better than an ant. No such comparison can be made. There are supposedly eighty-four lakhs of species (8,400,000) through which every soul has to pass. And we may say, as human beings, we have passed through these and become human beings, which is a great achievement. Manushyatvam durlabham is always the adage of ancient masters: It is difficult to be born as a human being, because we have to cross these stages of all the lower species in order to be endowed with the prerogative of being born a human. If we read the Jataka stories of Buddha’s previous lives, we will find this interesting account of what Buddha was in his earlier times. He was everything – every kind of animal, a cannibal, a thief and robber, a lecherous man. Buddha was everything at one time or the other, and there was nothing that he was not. He passed through all these stages of human nature until he assumed a position of human attainment, which is Buddhahood. Likewise is the case with all individuals who are going to be Buddhas – who are on the way to achieving it, in some degree or the other.
There is no double promotion in the process of evolution; every stage has to be passed through. Everyone has to work hard, and everyone has to work in the same way as everyone else and achieve it by effort. This is the rigidity of the law of the universe, where everybody is just, and justice is meted out to every person without any kind of partiality. A tree has to be a tree, a snake has to be a snake, a frog has to be a frog, and an elephant has to be an elephant. Whatever one is, has a right to exist. The right to exist is the prerogative given by God’s ordinance that no one can destroy another living being, because each one has a right to exist. That is the important point in the evolutionary process. In every stage, we find that all stages are equally important; and every stage is a level of reality – a kingdom, we may say, a kind of principality or empire which is inhabited by citizens of that particular stage, and all those citizens are as valid as citizens of any other realm.
We consider human beings as everything. We think of peace in the world – world peace. Generally, as human beings, we think of peace of humanity only, and not of lions and snakes. We do not think of their peace, as it is not our intention. We do not want peace for any animal or insect in the world; our attitude is that they can take care of themselves. We have roundtable conferences only for the peace of mankind because man can think only as man, and he cannot think as any other species.
We are to give justice to everybody, but that is not possible because of the insistence of the personality of each individual. A snake cares only for itself, and it can strike anyone who comes near it. It does not think that all are equal. It is not possible for even a human being to think that all are equal, because the insistence of the body and the survival instinct of the particular personality – the shape into which one is born – is so strong. But justice is meted out by the judiciary of the cosmos, and that judiciary has an eye everywhere and knows all things that are taking place. It respects a snake in the same way that it respects a saint; there is no difference.
But for us it is horrible to hear all these things. Is God as affectionate towards a snake as He is towards a saint or sage? The point is, there is no comparison of one level with another level. We have passed through that level, and we were snakes once upon a time. Would we have liked to be killed when we were snakes? We loved ourselves so much that we would have liked to continue as cobras because it is ‘me’, it is ‘myself’, it is ‘I’. The snake does not say that it is a snake; it says it is ‘me’. Similarly, the human being does not say “I am a human being”. The human being says, “I am ‘me’, and you cannot interfere with me.” The insect also says, “You cannot interfere with me.”