The innumerable universes emanating from Vishnu

With its cyclical notion of time, Hinduism teaches that the material world is created not once but repeatedly, time and time again. Additionally, this universe is considered to be one of many, all enclosed “like innumerable bubbles floating in space.” Within this universe, there are three main regions: the heavenly planets, the earthly realm and the lower worlds. Scripture goes into some detail as to the nature of these regions and their respective inhabitants.

Hinduism is therefore not predominantly earth-centred, and puts much emphasis on other “planes of existence” – various material abodes and the spiritual realm itself. This

is reflected in Hindu stories and specifically through the concept of lila (divine pastime).These lilas take place in the spiritual world and are replicated at sacred locations on earth.

Brahma creates the material world, which is often called the “one-quarter creation,” expressing that it is far smaller than the spiritual world (the “three-quarters portion”). Most souls are liberated, just as in the state most people are free citizens rather than imprisoned.

There is no one simple account of creation, and there are many detailed and inter-related stories. Central is the narration of the sacrifice of the primal being (purusha), found in the Rig Veda. On the metaphysical level, the universe is created from sound (vak). Sound corresponds to ether, the subtlest of the five material elements. According to such sankhya philosophy, the elements develop progressively from subtle to gross.

The atman, more subtle than any matter, generates his own successive material bodies.This world and its creatures are here to facilitate the soul’s self-centred desires, and ultimately to enable his return to the spiritual world.

Key Points

  • The material world is endlessly created, sustained and destroyed through the agency of the Trimurti (see The Trimurti).
  • It rests in Brahman, from whom it is generated, by whom it is sustained, and into whom it merges upon annihilation.
  • There are many enclosed material universes.
  • There are three main material worlds – lower, middle and upper.

A Useful Analogy

The Prison House

Lord Shiva is called the destroyer and, through his dancing, brings about universal destruction. He is also the male creative principle in the world, injecting the souls into the womb of material nature (shakti).

The material world is but a small portion of God’s kingdom and a place for those who wish to become the centre of enjoyment.

  • The material world and its suffering is not really God’s desire, just as a government would prefer that there were no prisons.
  • Though the government provides and organises the prison service, the criminal is responsible for his or her situation. Similarly, though God creates this world, the soul creates his own happiness and distress.
  • The world is a place where fallen souls attempt to enjoy existence separately from God.
  • The ultimate purpose of the world is reformation of character and attitude, by which the soul can attain liberation. The soul suffers not so much through his location but through his rebellious attitude.

Related Stories

Creation – adapted from the Bhagavat Purana (STO-116)
One of the best books on the subject of creation.

The Sacrifice of the Purusha (STO–118)
A well known story from the Rig-Veda.

The Brahmin and the Cobbler (STO-113)
How God’s creative powers are exhibited in nature.

One Account of Creation

Vishnu, as soul of the entire cosmos, produces countless universes from his breathing and the pores of his skin. He enters each universe, as the universal soul. From his navel springs a lotus flower, upon which is born Brahma. Brahma performs austerity and creates the world from sound, beginning with the Gayatri-mantra.

Before he commenced creation, Brahma wanted to perform yajna (sacrifice) since the universe is created and maintained only through sacrifice. As yet, he had no ingredients. Therefore, the Supreme Lord agreed to become the necessary ingredients. Through that yajna, all species were created, as well as human society, with its places of residence, its languages, and so on. Brahma also created the various occupations and the corresponding system of four varnas. Thus the brahmanas represent the head of the Supreme Lord; the kshatriyas are his arms, the vaishyas his thighs and the shudras his legs (see Varnashrama Dharma).

Related Values/Issues

  • Life on other planets
  • Our role in this world
  • Environmental issues
  • Evolutionary theory
  • Scientific creation theories (e.g. Big Bang)

Personal Reflection

  • How do Hindu ideas of creation compare with others, both religious or secular?
  • Do we consider the earth or our own country the centre of the universe?
  • Is the current moment in history the most important? Why do we sometimes think like this?

Common Misunderstandings

The story of the primeval man is a “naive and pictorial way” of trying to explain creation
Many Hindus do not believe that mythology is simply a poor precursor to the scientific age. Although the word myth can mean “something untrue,” it also refers to an alternative way of mapping reality, with reference to higher planes of existence. Traditional Hinduism does not root its own heritage in a tribal, Darwinian past.

Hindus believe that living beings are all created …
For Hindus, the creation of this world does not include the creation of the spiritual beings (souls), which are eternal. The soul is never created in the real sense, though the word is sometimes used to express how it is dependent on the Supreme. Creation entails the injection of the souls into the material energy.

Scriptural Passage

“After one day of Brahma (the Creator), a partial annihilation occurs and the three planetary systems are destroyed. The universe is therefore not manifest during Brahma’s night, which is of the same duration as his day.”

Bhagavat Purana 12.4.4

Meaning and Purpose

  • What is the purpose of creation?
  • Why are there many species of life?
  • Why is there so much suffering in this world?
  • What is the role of humankind in relation to creation?