Editor's Choice

Devi recounts the creation of the five basic elements

The Devi Gita
Devi recounts the creation of the five basic elements

[The Goddess explains the initial impulse of the Self, in its aspect as the Unmanifest or Causal Body, to undertake the creation.]

2.22. This Self, however, by its own power of Maya conjoined with desires, actions, and the like,
Through the influence of prior experience ripening in time in accord with the law of karma,
2.23. And by confounding the primal elements, being desirous to create, begins to bring forth.
The resulting creation, devoid of intelligence, will be further described to you, O Mountain King.
2.24. This extraordinary form of mine which I have mentioned
Is unevolved and unmanifest, yet becomes segmented through the power of Maya.
2.25. All the religious treatises declare it to be the cause of all causes,
The primal substance behind the elements, and as having the form of being, consciousness, bliss.
2.26. It is the condensation of all karma; it is the seat of will, knowledge, and action;
It is expressed in the mantra Hrim; it is the primal principle—so it is said.

The creation of the universe in Advaita is seen as an apparent descent from the pure Brahman or Self down to the gross world of physical matter. The process is described using two rather different but overlapping models. One is an evolutionary model, based on the sequential unfolding of primary elements as outlined in the classical Samkhya. Devi Gita 2.22-42ab presents this evolutionary scheme. The other model is one of reflection, whereby the one supreme reality, like an image in a mirror, appears reflected in Maya as the manifold world. The Devi Gita summarizes the reflection model in 2.42cd-49ab. Common to both models is the generation of the three bodies of the self—Causal, Subtle, and Gross.

The above verses describe the first developmental phase in the evolutionary model, the generation of the Causal Body from which the primary elements arise. This process is here interpreted from a Sakta perspective. When the Goddess unites with her own Maya, the latent powers of will, knowledge, and action become activated, and she becomes the Causal Body and unevolved seed of the universe. This seed, referred to as the primal substance or principle (adi-bhuta, adi-tattva), is roughly equivalent to the primary material element Prakrti, of the Samkhya, from which other elements evolve, except that it is not mere insentient matter. It is a supreme spiritual reality as well, that is, Brahman, indicated by its identification as being, consciousness, bliss. And from the Sakta-Tantric perspective, it is also identified with the primary sonic reverberation, Hrim, seed syllable of Bhuvanesvari and source of all manifest creation...

[The Goddess recounts the creation of the five basic elements, the subsequent fivefold generative process known as Pancikarana, and the compounding of the remaining two bodies—Subtle and Gross—of the Self.]

2.27. Out of the primal substance arose ether, endowed with the subtle quality of sound.
Then arose air, characterized by the quality of touch, followed by fire, characterized by visible form.
2.28. Next arose water, characterized by taste; then earth, characterized by smell.
Ether has the single quality of sound; air is endowed with touch and sound.
2.29. Fire has the qualities of sound, touch, and visible form, according to the wise;
Water has the four qualities of sound, touch, visible form, and taste, so they say.
2.30. Earth has five qualities of sound, touch, visible form, taste, and smell.
From those subtle elements came into being the great cosmic thread which is called the Subtle Body.
2.31. It is proclaimed as all-pervading; this is the Subtle Body of the Self.
The Unmanifest is the Causal Body, which I mentioned earlier.
2.32. In that lies the world seed, from which evolves the Subtle Body.
From that, by the process of fivefold generation, the gross elements,
2.33. Five in number, arise, I shall now describe this process.
Each of those elements previously mentioned shall be divided in half.
2.34. One half-part of each element shall be divided into four, O Mountain.
By joining the undivided half of each element with one of the quartered fractions from each of the other four, each element becomes fivefold.
2.35. And they produce the Cosmic Body, or Gross Body, of the Self.

The Goddess now explains the second and third developmental stages of cosmic evolution, namely, the generation of the Self's Subtle Body from the five subtle or uncompounded elements and the Gross Body from the gross or compounded elements. The three stages of evolution as outlined by the Goddess is the preceding two sections may be amplified and schematized as follows:

I. Goddess (Self) → Maya + Will-Knowledge-Action → World Seed or Causal Body

II. World Seed → The Uncompounded Elements:
sound → ether }
sound+touch → air }
sound+touch+form → fire }                                    → Subtle Body
sound+touch+form+taste → water }
sound+touch+form+taste+smell → earth }

III. The Uncompounded Elements + Quintuplication → Gross Elements → Gross Body

C. MacKenzie Brown, The Devi Gita: The Song of the Goddess
State University of New York Press (September 1998) pp. 95-99

The Gnostic Gospels
"Self-ignorance is also a form of self-destruction. According to the Dialogue of the Savior, whoever does not understand the elements of the universe, and of himself, is bound for annihilation:

... If one does not [understand] how the fire came to be, he will burn in it, because he does not know his root. If one does not first understand water, he does not know anything.... If one does not understand how the wind that blows came to be, he will run with it. If one does not understand how the body that he wears came to be, he will perish with it.... Whoever does not understand how he came will not understand how he will go ...

How—or where—is one to seek self-knowledge?"

Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Random House (1989) p. 126

The Song of the Goddess:
The Devi Gita: Spiritual Counsel of the Great Goddess

"Our whole cosmic quest of the world and beyond starts from the point of panchabhuta (five elements) which then manifests in an enjoining manner to form the life force and then, later, those five elements disintegrates to ensue a celestial traverse at the Paramanu (atom) level.

However, we will first try to understand these five elements which are Earth or Prithvi; Water or Jal ; Fire or Agni; Air or Vayu and then Ether or Akasha. Each of these Five elements has its own character and celestial elements which we will gauge in the following lines.

Earth (Prithvi): One can touch earth and smell it too ! However, there are two types of earth one is Eternal or (nitya) which are in the form of atom (Paramanu). The other type is perishable (anitya) which exists in the form of Karya or Work at animate and inanimate levels. Symbolically speaking our body, sense organs are the earth which as a whole get the shape of Jiva or life but those are perishable. But elements or atoms are eternal as after death may we bury, or burn the body, all the atoms get disintegrated to come back to its original eternal form. So our body and its Karya or Work are perishable as the mountain or rock forms but the atom remains which are eternal.

Water or Jal is the second element which again has two characters as in the Earth i.e. eternal in the shape of atom and Karya (Work) be it as river, pond or sea are perishable. As from sea or river water evaporates to be in the sky as cloud then again in the shape of rain it comes down on earth. So the eternal atom is only changing its karya or shape of work and what we see is the perishable form. From the sense organ perspective we can touch it to feel and taste it as well.

The third element is Air or Vayu. Again it has two levels as earth and water i.e. eternal atom and perishable Karya. One can feel air, as we breath in or out. We feel the storm or strong breeze which are temporary but air at atomic level remains around us eternally. In the Purana there is a mention of 49 types of Maruts or winds. Seven are important namely 1. Pravaha; 2. Avaha; 3. Udvaha; 4. Samvaha; 5 Vivaha; 6 Parvaha and 7. Paravaha. The wind which takes the water from the ocean is called Udvaha.

Fire or Agni is the fourth element of Indian Panchabhuta. Again it has eternal and perishable elements as we have seen above. The essential character of Fire is to generate heat. According to Hindu Mythology, Agni is one of the Eight guardians who guards our universe and is known as Asta-dik-palakas (Asta-eight, dik—Zone, Palaka-Guardian). The Fire is posited in the South East of the Universe.

However, in Indian mythology there are mentions of various types of fires. The four important ones are fire of the earth, fire of the sky, fire of the stomach (can mean hunger and digestive power as well) and the fire we commonly use.

Then comes the last of the Panchabhuta or five elements which is sound or ether. Ether is unique as it has only one character i.e. eternal. Ether is the carrier of sound be it man made or otherwise. One can hear it. As ether is the only eternal element of the five elements it attracted the attention of various sages. The concept of Akashvani or Divine sound which is heard by sages of higher order is related to this Ether or Akasha. The primordial mantra AUM then in modern times Raam or Shyaam are to work as linkages between Jivatma (life force—atman or soul) to Paramatman or (Omnipotent of supreme soul).The concept of sound and Mantra will be discussed in the next issue. Now we should concentrate on elements, other than five mentioned above which are very important to Hindu theological perspective. Those are Time (Kala) and Space (Sthan or Dik i.e. place and direction); Soul and Mind.

Like ether Time and Space are eternal. Time or kala is common cause of all actions of all the elements and is eternal link of predetermined actions and happenings. Thus in Hindu astrology the whole world and its course are equated with "time". The Direction or Dik are part of Space and North, South, West and East are eternal no matter the Universe undergoes whatever changes.

Then the other element is Soul which is related with the knowledge system of man as jivatman and the eternal Knowledge of God or Paramatman (omnipotent). The last of the nine main elements is the manas or Mind. Its the sense-organ or path to experience the world eternally and otherwise. These sense organs are in the shape of eternal paramanu or atom and works is combinations to derive pleasure at worldly levels. These are the brief out line of main five elements and other four primary elements. It is said that our universe was created out of the manifestation of five elements. This was described in the Devigita very elaborately.

Devigita proclaims that Shakti went about creating the world with 24 tattvas or elements. The five elements were born out of the primordial principle of unmanifested Sakti. The ether through which sound traverse was first element, which is also known as Sabda-rupa (form of sound). Second was Air or Vayu (Sparsharupa or a form which is felt) The Air or Vayu give rise to Agni so it called Vayoranih. Then sense of taste or 'rasrupa' the water element came. The the gandharupa or the source of smell came—the earth."


Black Hole Drinks 140 Trillion Earths' Worth of Water
By Michael D. Lemonick Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This artist's concept illustrates a quasar, or feeding
black hole, where astronomers discovered huge
amounts of water vapor (NASA)
We don't think of the universe as a terribly wet place, but in fact, there's water out in space pretty much everywhere you look. A few billion years ago, Mars was awash in the stuff, with rivers scouring twisted channels en route to ancient seas. The Solar System from Jupiter outward would be an interplanetary water park if most of the H2O out there weren't frozen. Saturn's rings are made mostly of trillions of chunks of ice. The comets are mostly ice. So is Pluto. Jupiter's moon Europa has a thick shell of ice surrounding a salty ocean, kept warm by the little world's internal heat. Saturn's moon Eceladus spews its own subsurface water into space in titanic geysers that form a ring of vapor that surrounds Saturn itself. Uranus and Neptune are known to planetary scientists simply as"ice giants."

And it doesn't stop in our own solar system. Water — solid, liquid or vaporous — has been turning up for years, all over the cosmos. So it takes a pretty impressive discovery to put space water in the headlines. But"impressive"may be an understatement for what two international teams of astronomers have turned up. Peering out to the very edges of the visible universe, both groups have detected a cloud of water vapor weighing in at a mind-bending 140 trillion times the mass of the world's oceans, swirling around a giant black hole 20 billion times the mass of the Sun. To be precise, the water vapor is mixed with dust and other gases, including carbon monoxide, forming a cloud hundreds of light-years across. (The star closest to Earth, Proxima Centauri, is less than four light-years away.) The cloud is so enormous that while it's incredibly massive, it's also vanishingly sparse: the thinnest morning fog is hundreds of trillions of times denser.

Most surprising of all perhaps, is the fact that finding such an immense reservoir of water, lurking in the cosmos just 1.6 billion years or so after the Big Bang, makes perfect sense. Hydrogen has always been the most common element in the universe. Oxygen is less common, but there's still plenty of it, and the two love to combine whenever they get the chance. And in fact, previous observations had turned up water from only about a billion years later in the life of the cosmos. Earthly astronomers have previously used water vapor swirling around a black hole to try and understand the mysterious dark energy that pervades the cosmos.

The scientists are doing something similar with this new discovery — studying the water to infer what's going on in the black hole itself. They already know it's not just a black hole, but one of a special subclass known as quasars. The body's immense gravity is sucking in gases at a prolific rate, squeezing and heating them until they blaze with a light that can be seen across the universe. Without seeing the water vapor, however, the scientists wouldn't know how much gas lies outside the superheated region, and thus how much potential the black hole has to grow (the answer: it could in theory swell from 20 billion to 120 billion times the mass of our Sun).

For another class of astronomers, meanwhile, water in the universe has a different significance entirely. As far as anyone knows, water is a basic requirement for the emergence of life. For biology to have arisen on other planets, either inside the Solar System or out, the fact that there's plenty of the stuff everywhere you look is reassurance that life may be very common too. Much of the water in the universe comes in the form of ice, lots as water vapor. But it took only a relatively teeny amount in liquid form to nurture life on Earth — and there could easily be plenty of other places in the Milky Way where the very same thing is going on.

Retrieved July 27, 2011

War of the Worldviews: Where Science and Spirituality Meet—and Do Not

How did the Universe emerge?

"The first and greatest mystery is how the universe came to be. For spirituality, the issue seems like a lost cause before discussion even begins. Modern physics has taken over the genesis question, and its answer—the Big Bang and all that followed for the next 13.7 billion years—has succeeded in wiping out the credibility of the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, and every other indigenous versions of creation. Yet today, just at the moment when science seems poised to strike the final blow, it has gotten stuck. Quantum physics has been forced to stop at the edge of the void that preceded creation, with no way forward until that void can be bridged by an explanation. Leonard's position, shared by physics in general, is that the full explanation will be found through mathematics. My position, shared by students of consciousness in general, is that the very meaning of existence is at stake. In modern times we have assigned cosmology to specialists the way we assign genes to genetics. But you can't pin a sign on creation that says 'Keep out; you don't know enough math.' We all have a stake in genesis, and that's fortunate, because a new creation story is trying to be born in our time, and all previous versions are up for radical revision.

The void is the starting point of any creation story, whether scientific or spiritual. The book of Genesis tells us that 'the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.' Assigning God a home in the void doesn't satisfy the scientific mind, however, and spirituality must overcome some strong skeptical objections, which include the following:

- There is no scientific proof that God, or any other creator, exists.
- The universe cannot be proven to have a purpose.
- The preuniverse may be unimaginable. Insofar as our experiences happen in time and space, is it futile to try to explain reality before space and time appeared?
- Randomness seems to be the long-term winner in the universe as stars die and energy approaches absolute zero.

These seem like crushing objections, and Leonard exemplifies the stubborn resistance of science to other ways of regarding the cosmos. Non-scientific explanations he regards with suspicion or worse—as primitive superstition ('white and yellow corn'), or self-delusion. For him, all processes in the cosmos, visible or invisible, can be explained through materialism. But it's fascinating to see just how spirituality has resurged in the debate, and why, in my view, it will gain the upper hand. All of science's objections can be met, and in the process we can lay the groundwork for a new creation story."

War of the Worldviews: Where Science and Spirituality Meet—and Do Not
Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow, Three Rivers Press (October 2, 2012) pp. 32-3

EnlightenmentNext July 2008
The View from the Center of the Universe
An interview with Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams
by Elizabeth Debold

"In the last few decades, the cultural conversation about science and religion has become less a scholarly debate and increasingly like a barroom brawl. Atheists and theists are wrangling on the radio, in print, and on every possible bandwidth. The prize is a big one: Who are we? Where do we come from? Our core identity as humans is at stake. Are we God's children, or are we random accidents in an indifferent universe? In other words, does our existence matter to something larger than ourselves?

In the midst of this polemical slugfest, something quite remarkable is emerging from a growing chorus of scientists whose love for and appreciation of our creative cosmos may eventually lead beyond this polarization. The Hubble and other space probes have brought us stunningly gorgeous pictures that inspire wonder at what we are a part of: incandescent nebulae that are the cradles of stars and glowing supernovae that forge the elements from which we are formed. The universe is far more vast, explosively creative, eerily beautiful, and mysterious than anyone could ever have imagined. The scale of what we are in the midst of—the vast dark expanses of space, the infinitesimally small distances traced by subatomic particles, and the stretch of spacetime that extends back for billions of light-years—is nothing less than awesome. As astronomer Carl Sagan once said: "A religion that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by traditional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.'

But for such a religion to bind itself to the human heart, it has to tell us how to relate to this overwhelming picture that science shows us. Where do we fit in? Are we merely passive witnesses to the unfolding drama of the distant stars? Most materialist scientists demur at this point, believing, as Sagan did, that although the universe can be central to us, we are not central to it."

EnlightenmentNext May-July 2008

Disclaimer: This non-profit site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the education and research provisions of "fair use" in an effort to advance a better comprehension of controversial religious, spiritual and inter-faith issues. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than "fair use" you must request permission from the copyright owner.