“In the Shruti-mantra it is said that only Vishnu, the Supreme Lord, existed before the creation, and there was no Brahma, Shiva or other demigods. Vishnu means the Maha-Vishnu, who is lying on the Causal Ocean. By His breathing only all the universes are generated in seeds and gradually develop into gigantic forms with innumerable planets within each and every universe. The seeds of universes develop into gigantic forms in the way seeds of a banyan tree develop into numberless banyan trees.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.10.21 Purport)
It’s your first visit to a temple. Not that you weren’t religious growing up, but the tradition of spirituality inherited from the parents focused more on avoiding sin. “Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Repent now. Accept the savior or forever be damned.”
Your curiosity goes a little beyond that, so on the recommendation of a friend you’ve decided to visit a house of worship that is Vedic in nature. Though the commonly used term is Hindu, your friend tells you that Vedic is more appropriate since nowhere is the word Hindu mentioned in any of the scriptural texts that form the basis of the tradition. The original tradition is aural and is based on knowledge; hence the name Vedas.
There are several paintings along the side walls, all beautifully done. One in particular catches your eye. Your friend explains that the confusion over creation is explained through this one painting. All the issues borne of speculation can be resolved with a proper understanding of the components to this beautiful depiction.
We know the “what” for today. Conduct basic observation. Add in experimentation and you get the basis of modern science. Extrapolation based on the results is a good way to guess about things beyond sense perception, but the conclusion is never exact. For this reason science is known to be rooted in progress, which by its very nature is flawed. You can only progress from something if there is imperfection at the foundation.
This painting explains that the “what” in the beginning is like empty space. Matter is there, but in the unmanifest form. It is something like entering an art class and the teacher has placed a chunk of clay on each desk. A person entering the same room a few hours later sees something entirely different. They might not believe that the origin was clay were it not for the testimony of the students.
We know there is an origin, as everything comes from something. We have yet to see a tree manifest out of thin air. Powerful yogis can perform tricks like these, but on the large scale we understand that the trees and other objects have origins.
The image says that the what existed in space. Take the aggregate and zoom out. The “where” is the universe itself, something like pinpointing a country on a map instead of worrying about the different cities.
The “when” is prior to the existence of everything. No trees, no mountains, no rivers, no hills, no birds, no beasts, no human beings. Everything in the unmanifest state, with tremendous potential. We know of the output based on what we see at present. The when is prior to what we know exists today.
The image also shows the “how.” Ironically, it is through breathing. An opulently adorned, attractive figure with a bluish complexion lies down in rest. Through exhaling the many universes emerge. To Him they are like bubbles in an ocean. One second they are there, and the next they are not. The time of maintenance is between the two breaths. Exhaling creates and inhaling destroys.
The image is both factual and symbolic. It resolves the different issues the mind speculates on pertaining to creation. It also shows how easily the Supreme Lord creates. Lying down implies sleep, which is the restful state. Breathing is known to be an involuntary activity; that is you don’t have to think about.
The name of the version of God performing these tasks is Vishnu. He is all-pervading, as He expands to enter into each of the bubbles representing universes. He further expands to reside within every living being in those universes. Though God is the most amazing person, having control at the highest aggregate level, He is also smaller than the smallest and easily approachable. The Vedas are for understanding Him, for connecting with Him, and for staying close by in the same manner that He never leaves the individual.
From single image to show,
Creation process to know.
That speculation no more,
An understanding sure.
Prior to everything when,
Vishnu lying and glancing then.
Breathing for creation commanding,
Then into each place expanding.
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