Some say Brahmā created the world, others that he is the world. It is a complex issue that, somewhere along the unravelling skein of things, will have to be sorted out. But there are many who have spoken of his abode as all-encompassing and the parts of his body as descriptive of all that exists. Even Narada, in one of his instructive discussions with Yudhishthira, depicted Brahmā's sabha (assembly hall) in vastly inclusive terms, saying that "whatever is found in the three worlds . . . I have seen in that hall". The Puranas tell of his four heads, and of his mouths bespeaking the four corners of the universe, the quartering of hymns and metres, the measuring of periods of time and the seasons. Floating upon the cosmic sea, Brahmā created the earth, atmosphere and sky by uttering their names. Singing with his mouth, he emitted the gods, and with his downbreath the demons emerged. This downbreathing became for him and in him darkness, the basis for night, played against the day of deities. He is Vishvakarman, architect and builder, earth-shaper and arranger of relationships. To him people give credit for laying down human duties and norms, establishing the four varnas and ashrama stages as a basis for spiritual development and social interaction. Indicating the various parts of his body, even a child of Aryavarta could readily point out how the Word associated with Brahmins (Brahmanas) and their duties comes from the mouth of Brahmā, the might and righteousness of the Kshatriya from his arm, the provision of the Vaishya from his stomach and the services of the Shudra from his feet – a well-organized world within the order of an omnipresent ruler.
In the great cosmological myths Brahmā is best known as creator and organizer of the universe. But he also plays the role of progenitor, creator of death, preserver of dharma, granter of boons to demons and dispenser of individual fate. To trace the common thread linking these qualities together in one central character requires penetration into the very beginnings of things, exploration of the many progressively embellished legends about his exploits, and an attempt to lay one's cognitive fingers upon the pulse-beat of his cyclic Days and Nights. The notions of creator or preserver are enveloped in the vast rhythm of Brahmā's periods of manifestation and pralaya, and yet they are seemingly carried from one age to the next. During a Day of two billion, one hundred and sixty million years he emerges out of the golden hiranyagarbha, creates and fashions the cosmos, upholds its laws and, when it is destroyed by fire and water, vanishes with the whole of objective Nature, ushering in the Night of equal duration which follows. After an alternating series of such Days and Nights have added up to a period of one hundred Years, an Age of Brahmā is reached, only to be followed by a mahapralaya of the same duration, stretching like a vast immeasurable emptiness. Brahmā, absorbed back into his unmanifesting Source, is no more. The qualities assigned to his cosmogonic being have been synthesized into each other on increasingly unformed and rarefied levels of expression, until the echo of the world itself has been swallowed in oblivion.
Unborn, beginningless, endless and immaterial, brahman is the unconditioned, genderless Source from which the masculine Brahmā ultimately emanates. Cradled on the lap of Aditi, anticipated in the potential ideation of Mahavishnu's watery sleep, Brahmā is Theos evolving out of Chaos to shape a world from his self-conscious thought. The power of brahman is thus Brahmā, who renders the silent Word flesh, the stress of his name accentuating the potency of the Word rather than the balance within the spiritual source behind it. Brahman is self-contained, resolving itself within itself. Brahmā is open-ended, thrusting thought forward towards an aggressive suggestion of new birth concurrent with the male-female aspect of the manifesting Logos, Brahma Vach, whose voice intones the basic sound of the manvantara. But though this union of opposing principles in one being is necessary for the expression of energy, Brahmā as creator or progenitor is most certainly masculine, his shakti merely having been created out of his own body. As progenitor, he is Brahmā Prajapati (literally, lord of creatures'), synthesizer of all creative forces. His creations are either by meditation or progeneration, described by such various terms as srij ('to emit'), sambhu ('to arise'), jan ('to be born'), vinima ('to measure out'), utsrij ('to abandon', that is, to abandon a particular body which then becomes something). When creating through meditation, it is said that Brahmā "controls his self in order to make his desire to create manifest". According to tradition, from Brahmā's meditation, mind-born offspring emerged, "together with obligatory actions and instruments which were produced from his body". But they would not carry on the work of creation. They abstained from the tumult of involvement, causing their father to produce more of their kind, whose reluctant ways infuriated him. His anger resulted in the creation of Rudra and, it has been suggested, the seeds of divisiveness that were to become the breeding ground of evil. He then manifested himself as the androgynous Purusha, whom he commanded to divide as male and female and then divide again.
Various sources describe how Brahmā overcame the resistances to creation. The Markandeya Purana details his frustration in attempting to produce through meditation that which even in its incipient nature could only increase through progeneration. It pinpoints Purusha's inherent bisexual nature as the beginning of a manifestation wherein Brahmā appears as the first Manu, unites with his shakti and produces offspring. In the Mahabharata, one of the mind-born sons (Prajapati) himself is said to have produced a son (Kashyapa), who married thirteen daughters of a form of Brahmā known as Daksha and fathered the various lineages that eventually populated the world. Ten other of his daughters who were given to Dharma (another of the Prajapati) were the embodiments of specific mental states and produced offspring imbued with those qualities. The cosmogonical complexities abounding in the ancient mythical stories dealing with this theme have in common the general process whereby, for the purposes of progeneration, Brahmā assumes a body which, as its lord, he makes his consort and impregnates.
In the prakritasarga, the Primary Creation, the entire universe unfolds to persist throughout the life of Brahmā. It is a vast and ultimately untraceable development which begins with the unmodified and ubiquitous veil of primordial matter and ends with the appearance of Brahmā's Egg. This means that prakritasarga exists as a backdrop, foundation and witness for the comings and goings of the Days and Nights of Brahmā. All the great efforts and frustrations in the creative process resulting in the outer world of forms have to do with pratisarga, the secondary and subsequent creations. There is a great deal of crossover and confusion between analogous stages of manifestation in the Primary and subsequent creations. This is to be expected as they, like the stages of development found in the microcosmic level, endlessly recapitulate a vast geometrical pattern, from abstract to very concrete planes of expression. Analogy and correspondence is the key to every phase of the process, and it is not surprising that a guise like that of Brahmā's boar manifestation, when he lifted the earth (gave it form) out of the ocean (of Chaos), should be vividly echoed in one of Vishnu's early avataras recorded in the later myths. The worlds of gods and men, however, unfold after the appearance of hiranyagarbha, the vast embryo which symbolically delimits and lends the qualities of eternal becoming to that which lies beyond all space and time.
The Absolute does not create or evolve the Golden Egg. It thus does not pass into infinity, or into the duration of something. The aspect of the Absolute that shoots forth as an effulgent ray does not disturb or alter its unmanifest Reality in any way. It simply carries forth its principle of Oneness into a homogeneous matrix in whose ovule its reflected Truth resides. The rudimental universe thus symbolically lies submerged in water, reposed in the bosom of Mahavishnu, from whose vastness Brahmā arose to sit alone in darkness. He asked, "Who am I", and heard a voice telling him to direct his thoughts to Bhagavan, whereupon the darkness dispersed and his understanding was opened. He then issued from the Egg of Chaos and began to move as light upon its waters, performing the work of Narayana and becoming the perfect quadrant of the infinite circle, the four-faced architect of the manifesting world. Another way of expressing this involution from the Primary to the Secondary Creation is in terms of power, since the power of brahman is Brahmā. Brahman is nirguna. Affecting maya, it becomes saguna brahman, the immanent cause, "the reflection-of-consciousness deposited within the passive non-evolved Nature" (Mahavishnu). As the first individual being, Mahavishnu, or Svayambhu Brahmā, dwells in the "unmanifest city", the abstract design of the universe, and it is through his maya that the powers inherent in his being begin to differentiate and assume forms. The Word takes on the limits of uttered sound. The motion of becoming assumes the rhythm of prescribed cycles, lending to superconsciousness the ebb and flow and perimeters of self-consciousness. The sound of hiranyagarbha, of akasha, is thus identical with the embryo arising in pralaya, containing within its layers the power of illusion capable of separating thought from its source, speaker from the Word. Brahmā arises embracing this maya and asks, "Who am I?" The objectifying Word expresses through Vach his sense of self-consciousness and even instructs him to look to God for the answer. Significantly, in so doing, he receives the light of understanding – a light dependent upon darkness for its definition.
References to Brahmā first appeared in what is known as the Brahmanas during the latter part of the Vedic period of Indian history. His popularity is richly attested to in the Mahabharata and in the oldest parts of the Ramayana. Reference is frequently made to him in the Buddhist Pali canon, but in the Puranas, apart from the Padma Purana compiled by Brahmā worshippers, he is generally eclipsed by an increasing focus upon Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti. The Shatapatha Brahmana dates back to around 800 B.C.E., and there is ample archaeological evidence of early Brahmā worship in the north and west of the subcontinent. Many sites in Gujarat and Rajasthan attest to this, with a major centre of sustained worship located at Pushkar hearkening back to ancient times. In the Mahabharata it was asserted of this place that "when one with folded hands calls Pushkara to mind in the morning and the evening, it is the equivalent of bathing at all fords; and in the seat of Brahmā he earns worlds without end". The legend goes that whilst travelling to find a suitable spot for sacrifice, Brahmā dropped there a lotus (pushkara) he was carrying. As a tirtha, Pushkar is said to be famous in all the three worlds, for it is believed to have the power to destroy evil and give the dead access to new life.
This and other sites bear witness to a time when Brahmā was widely worshipped, an idea of interest especially in the light of the fact that in modern times he is the focus of worship in almost no temple throughout the land. Perhaps this is because he was more important when orthodox Hindus predominated and great sacrificial rituals demanded his example as father of the gods and their priest. One has only to note in early Vedic literature the many terms derived from brih (meaning 'to expand') to make the connection. In those sources the word brahmā originally referred to the supervisory priest at the shranta sacrifice. The brahmā watched over and saw to the perfect continuity of the sacrificial rituals. Sitting to the south, he presided in silence and without moving. He oversaw all the separate parts of the ritual being enacted simultaneously and repaired any error with an expiatory rite. In the Rig Veda, brahmā refers to a hymn or something chanted in formula, "a kind of energy which uses the word to express itself". The word was also used to describe the Vedas in their entirety, the philosophical essence of the Upanishads or that which is possessed by the brahmana (priest).
Some scholars have seen Brihaspati as a forerunner of Brahmā because he seems to be an apotheosis of the brahmana. In early Vedic writings his name is associated with concepts related to brih, and he is even called Brahmā, referring to one who possesses the brahmā or the power of the brahmanas. Thus his alternative name is Brahmanaspati and his role as master of prayers and invocations, as well as brahmana of the gods, clearly marks his identification with Brahmā. But though it is interesting to contemplate whether a planetary deity eventually gave way to an all-inclusive cosmic creator, the central ideas associated with the names derived from brih are of greater relevance, for in the organization of the unfolding universe the process of expansion through differentiation and progeneration involves the Word, uttered and brought forth in incantation and hymn by priests of every level. The simple story of how the Brahmins came from the mouth of Brahmā reflects this perfectly and explains the reverence in which the highest of the varnas has been held for so long. Theirs was believed to be the power of the creative Word and the knowledge of the mysteries of right sacrifice. Amongst mortals as amongst the gods, the priest was supposed to act as the upholder of dharma and the conductor of the great sacrificial rituals, the organization of the ritual itself a reflection of the Great Sacrifice that flows through every aspect of the cosmos as organized by Brahmā. Just as all creatures are born of an offering of life, the cosmos too is a product of sacrifice. All that comes into existence lives by sacrificing life and is, in the end, itself sacrificed. Through Brahmā's limitation the world came into being, from his meditative austerities the Prajapati were created, and from his tapas the Vedas manifested. Cosmic order is thus built upon sacrifice and made up of its substance and laws.
Once manifest, the preservation of righteousness in the cosmos requires continued sacrifice, a continual opening of the dams of selfishness to enable the stream of spiritual life to flow freely and nurture the fields of the whole. In accordance with rita, the rising upward, the attendance of right or divine Law, all creatures fulfil their dharma. Those who fail to do this join the ranks of the demons who, though created by Brahmā, sacrificed into their own mouths. They were arrogant in their refusal to participate in the interdependent sacrificial order of the world. They threatened ruin to themselves and to the three worlds, a threat which Brahmā met and resolved time and again in scores of mythical tales.
One may well ask why demons were created at all, but, setting that aside for a moment, the more immediate need might be to ponder the omnipresent reciprocity pointed to in so many of these stories. The unfoldment of Reality (one of the definitions of rita or dharma) seems to be based upon reciprocity, the same interdependent action that one sees operating at every level of physical Nature. Dharma is the Law of Sacrifice and Reciprocity. It is the basis of self-discovery through a creature's fulfilment of its own unique potential for participation in universal sacrifice. With minerals, plants and animals, the species potential is thus fulfilled and in increasing degrees is experienced consciously. Amongst humans, dharma is self-consciously pursued and realized through individually unique modes of service to the whole. But a demonic nature is one that lusts always for more, continually disrupting the balanced reciprocal flow, defying the basis of cosmic order. Brahmā gave birth to dharma from his right breast. Expressed in the teachings of the Vedas, it determines the nature of cosmos within the restrictions of karma. Demons, who by nature are committed to adharma, have their rightful place in the scheme of dharma because there can be no world without duality, no manifestation without Brahmā's light inevitably defined by shadow.
When some of the Prajapati refused to create, they committed themselves to a path of nivritti dharma, adhering to that which, at their level of being, is the strongest force tending towards withdrawal from the threshold of manifestation. Brahmā, embodying the will to expand and the desire to express the Word existentially, was profoundly angered by this. His explosions gave rise to the creation of other beings, ferocious ones as well as those who would populate the realm of a world only to act in opposition to that of the gods. In this way, in the heat of tension and friction aroused in a creative being whose nature would not be denied, there emanated a world. When purely meditative efforts were not able to spark the proliferation of lower forms, Brahmā adopted a more distinct duality, manifesting in himself the female energies which he then fertilized with his own immortal seed. As the three worlds became populated with the myriad lineages produced by this seed, Brahmā took as consort Vach, or Sarasvati, on many levels of generation. Driven by the powerful engine of rajasic desire which enabled him to break the barrier-shell between relative non-manifestation and creation, he is often depicted as lusting foolishly and without discrimination after the wives of sages and gods alike. But in this he is ashamed, never being able to forget the strictures of dharma which he must uphold.
It is said that tapas was originally performed in order to render one pure enough to participate in the central aspects of the sacrifice. But it became identified with the power it released, which became an end in itself, something frequently sought after by demons who attempted to assert themselves into positions of unlawful influence in the middle and upper worlds. A common theme describes how a demon, performing great austerities over an immensity of time, approaches Brahmā to demand a boon from him. Brahmā grants the boon, thus permitting the demon to threaten the order of the three worlds. The gods then rush to Brahmā seeking a solution to the problem, and he readily proposes an often cunning plan of action which will, nonetheless, uphold the law of dharma. Because he embodies dharma, Brahmā is impartial to all beings, including demons. But he will not tolerate adharma, and it is this impartiality and commitment that make him the absolute reference for action to which the gods (with their varying potentialities) turn in times of universal threat. So Brahmā impartially grants the demon a boon, but, cleverly, the very granting of it puts a stop to the demon's tapas, thus assisting the gods in limiting their adversary's power. He will never grant immortality to them because demons, by their very inability to understand the universality and necessity of reciprocal sacrifice, are bound by mortality. Thus, Brahmā will grant the requested boon (making it law), while using any and every means to rectify a situation threatening rightness, except that actually in opposition to rightness. The cunning employed in these solutions is well illustrated in a story concerning the god Agni.
It seems that, while absent from his home, the Sage Bhrigu's pregnant wife was spotted by a demon who lusted after her. This interloper cornered Agni and placed an oath on him to speak out the truth. He then asked the god if it were not true that this woman had once been promised to him but then given to Bhrigu (this refers to a crafty ploy attempted earlier by the demon). Agni was tongue-tied, afraid to speak an untruth, and the demon, taking this for assent, abducted the poor woman. In their flight she aborted, and her child, falling to the ground, reduced the demon to ashes with a glance from his just-opened eye. When Bhrigu returned, she told him what had happened and accused Agni of betrayal. Bhrigu cursed him to become omnivorous, whereupon Agni said, "I am always striving after rightness and speak in accordance with truth. I could curse you, Bhrigu, but I must respect the brahmanas. I am the mouth of the gods and of the ancestors through which the gods are given offerings. How can I become omnivorous?" Then Agni withdrew from all sacrifices, creatures became miserable and the three worlds lost their way. The gods went to Brahmā seeking advice, and he spoke to Agni, saying, "You are the maker of all these worlds and their end. You will not become omnivorous in the whole of your body. 0 Flame-Created, these flames of yours will devour all that is acceptable. Just as everything touched by the sun's rays is considered to be pure, so everything that will be burnt up by your flame will be pure. Through your own fiery energy, make the sage's curse come true! Accept your own share and those of the gods which are offered into your mouth." Agni agreed to this and went back into the sacrifices, causing everything to return to normal. Brahmā's solution enabled Bhrigu's curse to run its course – as boons and curses must in a world where the power of thought produces speech and the effects of both must work themselves out in the karmic scales of cosmic Law. To interpose a manipulative deity, capable of sweeping loose ends under some sort of heavenly rug, is philosophically unacceptable, especially in myths springing from a reservoir of teachings as metaphysically sound as those inspired by the Vedas.
When one considers the roles of Brahmā involving the creation and organization of the universe, creation by progeneration, the creation of death, granting of boons and preservation of dharma, it is clear that they all manifest the centrifugal activity of pravritti as opposed to the centripetal energy of nivritti, readily identifiable with aspects of Vishnu or Shiva. The sacrificial force ushering in creation strongly characterizes pravritti, opening the way to a world wherein a continual conflict and intertwining between what is called pravritti dharma and nivritti dharma occurs. In the Mahabharata especially one sees a constant tension between duty to caste, to vows and to the world, in addition to the duty to stand aloof and to withdraw. Pravritti means 'rolling outward', becoming involved in the three worlds, while nivritti means 'turning back' to the unmanifest and eternal. In manifestation an interdependent symbiosis based upon dharma holds the three worlds together, utilizing the pivot of sacrifice. This is expressed centrifugally in the organization of the four varnas, the jajmani system and the grihastha stage of the ashrama system. In the latter we see an interesting balance in the interplay of nivritti dharma and pravritti dharma. The brahmacharya postpones his entrance into the world while strengthening his link with the unmanifest. The householder stage that follows usually goes on to consume the bulk of such a one's sojourn on earth, deeply involving him in worldly desires and acquisitions. But it is followed by further nivritti stages of withdrawal, culminating for a few in the abandonment of all worldly identification and possessions. Such a life reflects the rhythmical breathing out and breathing in of the universe itself – Brahmā as Narayana not yet caught in maya or entrapped in sense-desires. Unfortunately, all over the world many who enter the pravritti system are rapidly carried into its most turbulent currents and remain floating or frolicking or struggling there for the remainder of their incarnation. Some, sad to say, never even experience the soul-awakening of a brahmacharya stage, but are born to be flung headlong into the rush of the stream.
Embodying pravritti characteristics, Brahmā must create all aspects of the duality of manifest life. In the very process he becomes ensnared in action, creating good and evil equally as part of his condition. Even as he arbitrates on behalf of cosmic righteousness, he is caught in illusion and forced to deal with the relative reality of deeds and contracts conceived and evolved in the bonds of maya. Awakening to self-consciousness, Brahmā becomes conscious of his desire to create. When this consciousness finds an object for its desire, it becomes "the possessor of maya" and is ensnared by the very power of that which it possesses. Maya, arising as a result of polarized duality, comes to life only when this cosmic consciousness is thus awakened, seeing itself mirrored in the great ocean of becoming. This gives birth to the self-conscious, separative sense of 'I', the 'I-ness' of ahankara, linked up with obligatory action (karya) and central to the perspective of separative self-identity. Above all others, this quality distinguishes the path of pravritti dharma from that of nivritti dharma. Characterizing Brahmā even in the ethereal throes of the Primary Creation, ahankara is the product of his individualizing agency, resulting in the manifestation of the Golden Egg. Even at this abstract level he thus embodies the projection out of the One of the separative state when mahat begins to assume limitation. This self-recognition gives way to the Secondary Creation, where the assertive cry of 1' begins to echo from every point in the unfolding fabric of manifestation, ever begetting the generation of its reflection. In this sense, the whole world is the offspring of ahankara as surely as it is of Brahmā, and the two are very nearly one and the same.
As a prototype of all embodied things, Brahmi is ahankara. But as the manifesting Logos, Brahmā is the parent of mahat, the universal mind, and becomes identified with its limitation only through self-reflection. Thus the Secondary Creation begins with the lotus (mahat) projected from its umbilical stem growing from Mahavishnu's navel. Out of this Brahmā springs as ahankara, symbolically breaking through the shell of his embryo as individuality characterized by name and form (namarupa), from whose elemental 'body' the world takes its differentiating substance. The progression moves from avyakta (the unmanifest realm of Mahavishnu), to mahat (the unmanifest universal consciousness of the golden womb of buddhi-akasha)^ to ahankara (Brahmā's manifest realm of the three gunas, the elements and senses). The opposition of the centripetal and centrifugal forces on the threshold of creation results in rajas, the possibility of existence coming from the union of opposites. Manifesting as time and space through revolution, rajas is the basis of measure and direction, of form in motion, and of all the rhythms that create the divisions of relative time. It functions as a fiery energy (taijasa) setting in motion the two parts of ahankara (vaikarika and bhutadi), which are the source of the elements and senses. Thus rajas corresponds with the energies and tendencies of pravritti dharma and stimulates the development of the other two gunas which (prior to the sequence suggested in the Markandeya Purana) follow after it. Functionally, rajas is very much like ahankara and opposes sattva, which tends more towards the path of nivritti dharma and its lack of desire for the world. In this sense it could be said that Brahmā is opposed to Mahavishnu and that this opposition generates the friction necessary to engender heat, motion and differentiation.
The progress of cosmic creation sets the stage whereon the twelve causes of existence (nidanas) unfold over and over again: unawareness followed by sanskaric conditions for new birth, arising consciousness of name and form, mental objects, impressions of the six senses, sensation, craving for excitement, grasping attachment, karmic rebirth, decay, death and sorrow. All these cycle through Brahmā's Days, resting during his Nights, but only disappearing at the great Elemental Pralaya marking the end of his life. Then the earth is swallowed by water, water is evaporated by fire, fire is extinguished by wind, which, as an air of darkness, is devoured by sound, and sound in turn is disintegrated into mahat. Thus the Egg of Brahmā is dissolved in the 'waters' surrounding it, the elements and their corresponding senses are swallowed up, withdrawn into the Primary Creation, where mahat is itself seized upon by prakriti, and both prakriti and purusha are resolved into Parabrahm. In the Elemental Pralaya, Brahmā is no more, and the immeasurable night of mahapralaya reigns supreme, the dream of Mahavishnu itself having run its course, and darkness envelops all.
Beings are created as a result of their former actions – thus karma rules the allocations of Brahmā. But are the vast cycles of Brahmā affected by human karma? Or are they moving forward on their own schedule towards a predetermined end? How can the latter be so when the idea of an end is itself mayavic? Such questions raise very difficult problems concerning free will and various notions of determinism. If the world is Brahmā, if this projected ahankara is encased in his 'body' substance, it is also informed by that Logoic light which generated the very consciousness which he then harnessed and by which he became driven. This highest light is an unconditioned aspect of that which ever is. It does not alter or disappear with Brahmā's Days or Nights, nor is it different from the Atmic ray that gives life to every living thing in the cosmos. The rajas of mankind becomes "the morning twilight, ending the night and beginning the day", because man, in spite of being largely caught in the maya of his own imagination, has the potential to usher in the day. Having this potential, man can indeed affect the cycles of the world. Just as on the physical plane the sun affects the wind, creating waves and great currents in the sea, which influence climate and all the fluctuations in life-forms that follow, so too a human being's conception of himself or herself can soar to act as a solar mover upon the mirror of being and affect life upon all levels of existence. In this sense, Brahmā is a paradigm for Man, stirring up the waters of space, giving rise to all manifest forms of consciousness. In the myths, the designs of Brahmā seem to establish an absolutely determined fate, but the boon ordained must always be put forth by the individual asking for it, and the earning of it rests upon his will to act. Thus karma is the basis of all acts, and there will be karmic unfoldment whether or not humans see the connections between causes and effects. This does not negate choice, which remains with man, who must exercise it by acting in accordance with his perceived dharma.
Does Brahmā, then, merely serve to help karma work? This depends very much upon whether one considers him in his guise of ruler and upholder of dharma or merely as name and form embroiled in the may a of the world. Like man himself, he is both, but as ruler he works with karma in support of universal reciprocity – the sacrificial righteousness we call cosmic Law. If man limits himself to an identification with manifested aspects of his being, then surely he is a pawn in the great cycles of going and coming and has no more effect upon the conditions of cyclic evolution than a trilobite sleeping in frozen stone at the centre of the earth. To transcend the determinism wrought by these great forms and cycles set in motion, one necessarily must secede from identification with all that is bound up with pravritti. Of all the creatures of Brahmā's worlds, only humans are sadhaka – capable of realizing themselves. Plants and animals are dominated by tamas, and the gods who are pervaded by sattva live in a sort of spiritual limbo. Only man possesses all three qualities: the brightness and the darkness and the rajasic desire to transcend the oscillation that continually takes place between them. A profound sense of discontent, ugly and soul-killing when it partakes only of the darker side of rajas, can be made divine when encouraged to rise up into the higher, totally selfless regions of the heart.
In creation, the first vague desire engendered by the latent traces of unresolved activity in previous manvantaras became a particularized desire to act. It arose as an imbalance in the perfect, karmaless balance of the non-manifest, leading to an unending series of imbalanced conditions that ceaselessly struggle for rebalance. Man's desires arise and quickly galvanize the will, which leads just as rapidly to acquisitions, problems arising out of acquisitions, adjustments, additions, rearrangements and, before one knows it, to a whole world filled with balances, imbalances and accumulated karma. The question is whether individuals will simply possess maya only to be possessed by it, or whether they will possess it, see it for what it is and then remain separate from it. When Krishna advised Arjuna to act and renounce the fruits of action, he was teaching him that it is the three gunas that act, not the immortal soul, and whilst man must dwell in the realm of maya and learn to fulfil his dharma there, he must also come to distinguish between his real identity and that part of him which, because of karma, has a responsibility to act in the world. The Sage Shaunaka poignantly described the results of man's failure to do this when he told Yudhishthira how, in the run-around of samsara, man falls, deluded by his senses, into womb after womb: "Spun around like a wheel by ignorance, karma and thirst, he rolls about in creatures from Brahmā down to a blade of grass, born over and over again, in water, on land or in the air."
In moving towards his divine Source man must, as the elements swallow one another in the process of pralaya, utilize the engine of pravritti to withdraw self-consciously from mayavic enthralment and to seize upon the very desire that arose with creation in order to focus it, not upon a proliferation of conquests, but upon union with the Oneness shared by all that lives. Knowing this Oneness, one reaches Brahmā's beginning, stands upon the threshold of creation and sees, like the archetypal brahmana, the intricate, interdependent and simultaneous workings of the Great Sacrifice which is the world. From such a perspective, how could one desire something, how could one experience oneself as separated from any part of that whole? One would, instead, experience a sense of 'I-ness' that encompasses the manifested whole and stretches beyond to float with Mahavishnu in his dream of becoming. That individuals, sages and heroes have reached this threshold and sacrificed their well-earned rest to help others reach it is the abiding hope of mankind. For they are the true upholders of dharma, bearing witness to Brahmā's highest potential and lending unforetold nobility to his desire for the world.