Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Creation as per Manu Smriti

The subject and the situation compelled me to blog after a long time. Lately, I started reading the much maligned Manu Smriti - the laws of Manu - that governed the social conduct of ancient Hindus. Manu Smriti, recited by Vaivasvata Manu and his descendant Bhrigu, is famous or should I say, notorious, for first encoding the caste system that continues to be a significant part of the Indian society and is the favorite punching bag for the rationalists, the discriminated and the illuminati. While I have no opinion about casteism at this moment, (Edit: I have since formed strong anti-caste opinions) I found Manu Smriti to be very revealing about 'creation' as per Hinduism, which is just an interesting side effect.

Being an avid fan of liberalism, particularly the American version of it, I really never cared for 'creationism', the Christian way or the Hindu way or any other religion's way. While I find the Biblical creationism to be highly creative, my impression of Hindu Creationism too is not a really favorable one. I mean, there's not much clarity in Hindu texts about creation, really. Overzealous religious wonks will always tell you that you are not qualified to ask that question. Thankfully, Rig Veda, the oldest Hindu text leaves it open for you to figure out.

Who really knows, and who can swear,
How creation came, when or where!
Even gods came after creation’s day,
Who really knows, who can truly say
When and how did creation start?
Did He do it? Or did He not?
Only He, up there, knows, maybe;
Or perhaps, not even He.

— Rig Veda 10.129.1-7

And then one gets to hear the story of the supreme creator Brahma being born in a lotus hanging from Vishnu's belly button, raising serious questions about divine hygiene, among other things. Which is why, after they teach you Charles Darwin's Evolution theory in school, pretty much every Hindu moves on to Darwinism and relegates the Brahma story to the children's section. An estimated 77% Hindus unconditionally believe in Darwin's theory of evolution as per studies. The balance, I'm sure, need some elementary schooling.

Creationism in Hinduism isn't a popular concept too. It is not a debated topic at all. Just the subject of idle intellectualisation, such as this blog. It also doesn't help that there are multiple scriptures in Hindusim and each explains Creation with varying detail and sometimes with conflicting interpretation. There's an excellent Wiki article that explains the conflict.

Manu Smriti, the leading authority on Hindu social laws, has some clarity about Creation, and I found it most appealing of all. I'm summarizing what Vaivasvata Manu says about Creation here because I found it to be interesting, and somewhat reconcilable to the evolution theory and the Big Bang. (I'm not well-versed with Sanskrit, so I had to rely on a translation of Manu Smriti by M G Hariharan.)

As with most Hindu texts, Manu says that Universe evolved from nothing. There was nothing before creation, not even God. Some Hindu texts differ on this aspect, but most conform. Rig Veda, as mentioned above, has no theory about it at all. When Manu says nothing, he means literally nothing.

"...unperceived, destitute of distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed, as it were, in deep sleep...."

And from that 'unperceivable state of nothing', all of a sudden, emerged the 'Swambhu' (the self-creating God) with an irresistible power, creating the great elements with its emergence while quickly occupying / dispelling the 'nothingness'. The 'great elements' are the Earth (mass in solid state), Water (liquid state), Air (gaseous state), Fire (energy, a property of mass) and Vacuum (absence of mass).

Does this remind you of the Big Bang theory yet? Although the Big Bang does not and can not explain the initial state - 'what existed before the Big Bang' - the idea that there was nothing, and a self-initiating sequence led to creation isn't in conflict with that theory. For instance, the theory of particle-antiparticle can explain the state of nothingness evolving into what it is today.

Manu then proceeds to explain the creation of life. He says that the God shone forth with self-illumination. Again, my mind can't help associating this with the Big Bang. God then proceeded to create waters to place his seed in it to form a brightly lit golden egg. Brahma is said to have resided in the egg for an year (1 Brahma day/night cycle equals 864,000 human years. So 1 Brahma year = 315.36 million human years) At last, on his own Brahma, the progenitor of the universe, emerged from the egg. This is a significant observation in my opinion. A single cell that gave birth to the Universe as it exists, aided by God or not, is not an observation science would want to dismiss as 'hocus pocus'. The 'single egg in water' as the source of life conforms to Darwin's theory of evolution that life originated from single cell organisms in water.. A different interpretation can be that the egg represents the primeval atom that matter consisted of in the initial phases of Big Bang.

Manu smriti also mentions six minute particles of matter that embed themselves into the consciousness of God to form bodies (matter). This concept, again, can be reconciled to the presence of elementary particles of matter, though the number differs from what science believes today.

After this, Manu smriti launches into Creation schedule headlong, describing how God then proceeded to create the more specific features of the world, like the oceans and the trees etc., along with emotions associated with consciousness. He also created the class of deities that goven action in universe. He also drew forth the Vedas from fire, water and Sun.

It is interesting to note that in Hinduism, all creations of emotions are made in pairs. That is, cancelling emotions - such as pain and pleasure, merit and demerit. This is again, in conformity with the nature of the Universe. Particle and anti-particle, matter and anti-matter, galaxies and the blackholes etc.

The most significant part of the Hindu creationist theory is the division of Brahma into male and female. Though this aspect is given but a scant mention, this forms the base for creation. Just like the pairs of opposites created by the God, He Himself is a composite of the opposite genders - male and female - which He proceeds to reveal to aid Creation. Applying this to the Darwinist theory, binary fission of the single cell organism is the most likely explanation to evolution. Though gender evolved much later in the evolution chain, as per Darwin, the basic principle of a common single-cell ancestor is widely accepted. Creation as per Manu smriti can be interpreted to have strains of similar theory, though not necessarily the same.

The two gender halves of Brahma procreate to produce Viraj, the supreme being who then creates Manu using tapas. Manu is the offspring of Brahma, as per Manu smriti, and is the progenitor of the whole human species. From this point on, Manu smriti differs wildly from the theory of Evolution. Manu smriti talks of all species as evolved beings created in their current form and shape, which as we know now, isn't just true. Manu smriti moves on to other topics quickly from here on, but whatever brief mention to Creation was given, I found things to be interesting enough to stop and ponder.

Frankly speaking, there is no evidence of smiliarity between Manu smriti and the Darwinist theory of evolution except the interpretative opinion about the single cell common ancestor. But hey, it can't be ruled out that this is a valid interpretation and there is a possibility that Manu employed metaphor to speculate about both the Big Bang and Evolution in as few words as possible. Within whatever I read, I found that this theory of creation is much closer to the scientific explanation than any other theory put forward by major religions.

May be it warrants closer inspection and debate?

You can read the entire translated Manu smriti here.

2 comments:

  1. Its an interesting topic 'Manu Smriti' given all the controversy! but one question always confuses me, how can one believe that Manu Smriti is indeed the essence of Hindu way of living or tenents etc...because Hindu religion texts/scriptures in my point of view is written/interpreted by different writers differently given that it is one the oldest religions. Manu Smriti is indeed the core base of our way of living???
    In my point of view Caste system has nothing to do with HINDU religion rather its only to do with the way our forefathers (Indian subcontinent) thought to have a system in place to live.

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  2. Most of these were already covered by the Egyptians and the Babylonians.But what surprises me the most is how the Manu never claimed that there was a creator.

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