Beginning with my first book, “Six Causes“, I have been describing a paradigm of creation that stems from conscious creativity. In this paradigm, the self goes missing in the self, and when this “absence” is created, then creativity occurs to overcome this absence by expanding the self into works of creativity. E.g. in human creativity, the person who desires to know himself expands into products such as art, music, literature, poetry, and science. All those things that expand out of the self, were previously in the self. And once those things have expanded, they are used to define the creator, author, musician, artist, or scientist. The work of an artist is not the artist, but art is used to define the artist. By externalizing himself as art, the artist knows himself. The artist is transcendent to the work of art and yet immanent in the art.
But readers often ask: “Where did you get this idea from?” They are generally looking for a reference from the Purānas, Upaniśads, etc. but this idea is not directly found in these texts, although its implications (e.g., that the creator is transcendent and immanent) are described.
This idea is a core aspect of the Six Systems of Philosophy. For example, in the Vedānta Sutra, the creation is said to be the Lord’s abhivyakti which means “expressing the self”. Similarly, in Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika, the doctrine of “absence” that leads to a “presence” (abhāva and bhāva) is discussed extensively. Here, I will reproduce a few verses from the Sāñkhya Sūtras to illustrate the same idea.
Prakṛti is the Root of Everything in the World
मूले मूलाभावादमूलं मूलं
mūle mūlābhāvādamūlaṃ mūlaṃ
mūle—in the root; mūla—the root; abhāvāt—due to the absence; amūlaṃ—that which is not the root; mūlaṃ—that which is the root.
Due to the absence of the root in the root, that which is not the root is the root.
To understand this sūtra, which describes the process of material creation, we can visualize how creativity works in us. We exist, but everybody asks: Who am I? This is because we are incomplete. We want to define and know ourselves better because the self is missing within the self. When this need to define the self is produced within us, then from the self we create numerous products—e.g., works of art, poetry, literature, music, and science—which are all creations out of the self, and yet, by creating them we define ourselves: “I am the creator of such creations, and therefore, now, I am well-defined by my creation”.
Thus, creation is created by the process of creativity, and in that process, there is a need for someone to know themselves, because the self is missing in the self. When the self creates some products, then those products are distinct from the self, and yet, those products are used to define the self. For instance, a poet’s poetry is not the poet; and yet, the poetry defines the poet. Hence, that which is not the self (i.e., the poetry) becomes the defining trait of the self.
We can extend this idea to concepts such as a mammal and a cow. The mammal is the root, from which the cow is manifest. But why should a cow manifest from the mammal? The answer is that mammal is not well-defined unless all the types of mammals—e.g., cow, horse, dog, cat, etc.—are defined. The mammal is an abstract idea, and it is well-defined by presenting the details. These details can include the fact that mammals can be two-legged or four-legged; that they can be tall or short; that they can have various colors and sizes, etc. Thus, the cow manifests from the mammal in an attempt to completely define the mammal. And after the manifestation, the mammal is not the cow, but the cow is a mammal. Why? Because the mammal still exists as a separate thing, but the definition of cow becomes one of the ways in which the mammal is defined. There are other ways too: E.g., a dog is also a mammal. Thus, the concept mammal cannot be equated either to the dog or the cow; the mammal is separate from them. And yet, both dogs and cows are the ways in which a mammal is defined.
This paradox of the self being absent from the self to produce something which is not the self, and yet defines the self, is the principle of conscious creativity and it is used as the description of creation all over Vedic philosophy. This basic process of absence, which is called abhāva, is also used in Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika. These latter two philosophies delve a great deal deeper into the various kinds of absences, how different kinds of things are created from absence. For example, an object—e.g., a knife—has qualities such as shape and size and activities such as piercing and cutting. However, these qualities and activities are not simultaneously manifest. Their occasional manifestation requires a context of observation and use, which is when the ‘unmanifest’ is ‘manifest’.
Now, the proposal seems relatively straightforward if we say that something external triggers a potentiality. For example, we can say that a table has a mass, which is manifest if we try to measure that mass; here, the procedure of measurement is the trigger, and the quality of heaviness is manifest due to that trigger. The same process seems harder if we say that something is manifest automatically from within the same thing because the question is: What is the trigger? Of course, we could ask the same question even in the case of measuring weight. Why should we measure weight? And the answer is that we don’t know something’s weight, and therefore, a measurement is performed to overcome that incompleteness. The same principle is then applied even in the case of self-manifestation—we don’t know who we are, and we create products such as art, music, literature, poetry, and science, merely to define who we are. Or, that the mammal is not well-defined so it manifests a cow to define itself.
Once the created product has manifest, then each piece of art, each poem, each theory of science, each musical composition, and each essay, contains the author’s personality: We say that this is the author’s work because there is a unique trait or aspect of the author embedded in the art, poem, music, science, or essay. And yet, because there are so many works of art, poetry, music, etc., therefore, the author of these works is not identical to the works. Hence, we are compelled to say that “the art is the artist, but the artist is not the art”. We could also say the opposite: “the artist is the art, but the art is not the artist”. This is because there is an artist separate from the art, but the artist is defined by the art, and without the art, the artist remains incomplete or undefined.
These twin premises are commonly used to say that a dog is a mammal, but a mammal is not a dog. The property of being a mammal is immanent in the dog, but the property of the mammal is also transcendent to the dog, cow, cat, horse, etc. The paradox, therefore, is that the mammal is both immanent and transcendent; the artist is immanent in the work of art, and yet, transcendent to the work of art. That work of art came out since the artist missed himself, and when the work of art was produced, then the artist was embedded in the art. By embedding himself in the art, the artist defines himself through the art.
पारम्पयैऽपि एकत्र परिनिष्ठेति संज्ञामात्रं
pārampayai’pi ekatra pariniṣṭheti saṃjñāmātraṃ
pārampaya—subsequently; api—even; ekatra—all these together; pariniṣṭh—joined together, iti—thus; saṃjñāmātraṃ—merely nouns.
Subsequently, even all these together which are joined (to the root) are thus merely nouns or ways of knowing (by which the root is called or known).
All the mammals, such cows, horses, dogs, etc. are merely ways of understanding the mammal, and by knowing these species, we know the nature of the mammal. In the same way, when the root has expanded, all the expansions are different ways of knowing the root. The term saṃjñā means a name, a noun, or the way of knowing the thing. All these meanings are easily understood when we realize that cows, dogs, horses, etc. are just varieties of mammals.
Similarly, all the works of art, poetry, literature, science, and music, are merely the ways of knowing a person. Those things came out of the person; therefore, they were previously embedded within the person and were subsequently externalized. It is impossible to know the person unless he externalizes himself in the form of some art, literature, poetry, science, or music. But if those creations are externalized, then the artist is known through those creations. Those creations are not the creator, but they are methods of knowing him. Since they define the creator, therefore, they are the various aspects of the creator, and yet, the creator—as the collection of all those aspects—is distinct from them. Hence, this sutra states that these creations are merely nouns to know the creator. By the creation, the creator gets many names, but those names are the creator in one sense, and yet, the creator is distinct from all those names.
samājaḥ—the same unborn; prakṛti—the prakṛti; dvayoḥ—the duality.
The same unborn prakṛti is the duality (of the various names).
All the elements of Sāñkhya are produced as the various manifestations of prakṛti, by the process of defining the prakṛti. Thus, in the primordial state called pradhāna, there is an absence: What do we mean by pradhāna? This leads to the first answer when prakṛti is manifest. Then the next question arises: What do we mean by prakṛti? This is answered when mahattattva is manifest. In this way, through successive questions and answers, there is an expansion, until we come to the point where the questions cease. Thus, in the final element called Earth, the question “What is Earth?” doesn’t arise, and therefore, there is no further manifestation. In the Śrīmad Bhāgavatām, it is stated that all the elements are present in the Earth. Why? This is because the abstract entity is immanent in the contingent entity, just like a mammal (an abstract entity) is immanent in the cow (a contingent entity). Therefore, Water is immanent in Earth, and since Fire is immanent in Water, therefore, Fire is also immanent in the Earth. Likewise, the source of everything—namely, the Supreme Lord—is immanent in everything as Paramātma. Thus, the source of everything expands into numerous things, so long as the question “What is this?” doesn’t end. Since questioning has similarities to the conscious process of creativity, therefore, all the elements other than the Earth are just like conscious beings, although with diminishing power of questioning. The Earth element seems to be totally inert because it doesn’t ask the question underlying creativity: What am I?
All of classical physics was developed based on the study of the Earth element, without actually studying its true properties—i.e., smell, taste, sight, touch, and sound. Rather, all these properties were reduced to a simple concept of ‘particle’ with ‘mass’. We can ask: Why does classical physics work? And the answer is: Because the property of consciousness—i.e., What am I?—is absent in it. This absence was falsely interpreted to mean that matter is separate from the mind, that it exists eternally, rather than being manifest out of a process of conscious creativity. Thus, a fact about Earth is universalized into a doctrine about all matter, and a false doctrine of material nature is produced. We can also ask: Why does Earth not have the urge to know itself? Surely, if that urge existed, then Earth would further manifest into other elements. And the answer is that this urge is originally from a conscious person—the Lord’s Sakti—and the nature of consciousness defines the nature of matter. That is, there is a limit to the urge in consciousness, and there is no notion of a perceptual quality besides taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. Hence, when all these questions are answered, then, the questioning comes to an end, and Earth seems inert. That inertness is also a property of consciousness—the end of questioning—when all the questions have been satisfied. Hence, if we begin with consciousness, then we can explain inertness; but if we begin with inertness, then we cannot explain consciousness. The method from consciousness to matter, therefore, works to explain the nature of ‘inert’ matter, but the reverse process does not work.
Once we understand this process, then we can understand the meaning of non-duality stated in this sutra. The more abstract element contains all the contingent manifestations that are produced from it, but they are not separated in the abstract element. For instance, if an author produces 5 books, then in his mind, those books don’t exist as separate compartments or boxes of information. What exists instead is knowledge from which the books were previously manifest as aspects of that knowledge. Each book is an aspect, which is separate—if you look at them as books—but they were earlier present in the author’s mind in a non-separated form. These books also don’t exist as the precise words which were subsequently encoded in the book’s text. In the author’s mind, there is no separation of ideas into chapters, sections, paragraphs, and sentences. This separation is a byproduct of the process of manifestation. Thereby, a huge amount of information is added. But that information was previously compressed as knowledge in the author. Thus, the expansion of the universe is the expansion of something that was earlier compressed. The difference is just that the compression is semantic, rather than physical. That is, all the books are not zipped as compressed files in the author’s brain (if you think of the brain as a storage disk). They are rather compressed as semantic information, in which only the ideas are stored, and sentences are discarded.
Thus, non-duality is the same as semantic abstraction and compression, and duality is the same as the separation of information into individual aspects by expansion. We just have to understand semantic rather than physical compression and expansion, and the concepts of duality and non-duality will be clear.