Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 04 Jul 2012 08:25 and updated at 07 Jul 2012 10:19

Consciousness is the sense of awareness about existence, existence of the self and that of perceived external entities. It has been defined as subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood. It deals with subjective experience or qualia. It is also a topic discussed as part of Quantum Physics, and goes by the name of Quantum Consciousness. It manifests as internal phenomena such as mind, intellect and pure existence.

Consciousness is a prominent topic discussed in Indic texts including Vedas, Epics, Puranas and Upanishads. Upanishads are usually considered as Vedanta, that which has emerged after the Vedas. Epics and Puranas too emerged after the Vedas. Hence they too contains Vedanta and hence contain the ancient discussions about the concept of Consciousness.

Consciousness as per Mahabharata

Source Text: English, Sanskrit. All references in Mahabharata: mind

Mahabharata contains a famous dialog between Yudhisthira and Bhishma where they discuss a wide range of topics including consciousness. These are found in the 12th book of Mahabharata called Shanti Parva.

Introduction to Adhyatma (Meta-Physics)

Adhyatma is meta-physics or the study of that is beyond material-nature (ie matter, energy and space). Matter is considered as having three states, viz. solid, liquid and gas - represented by the three out of the five Vedic elements viz. Earth (prthvi), Water (aapa, jala) and Air (vaayu). Energy is represented by one element viz Fire (agni) or Light (teja, jyotis). Space is represented by one element viz. space (aakasa).


"adhyātmaṃ nāma yad idaṃ puruṣasyeha cintyate
yad adhyātmaṃ yataś caitat tan me brūhi pitāmaha"

Yudhishthira said, Tell me, O grandsire, what and of what nature is that which is called by the name of Adhyatma and which is laid down for every person. O thou that art acquainted with Brahma, whence has this universe consisting of mobile and immobile things, been created? When universal destruction sets in, to whom does it go?

"adhyātmam iti māṃ pārtha yad etad anupṛcchasi
tad vyākhyāsyāmi te tāta śreyaskarataraṃ sukham"

Bhishma said This, Adhyatma, O son of Pritha, that thou askest me about, I will presently discourse upon. It is highly agreeable and productive of great felicity.

pṛthivī vāyur ākāśam āpo jyotiś ca pañcamam
mahābhūtāni bhūtānāṃ sarveṣāṃ prabhavāpyayau

Earth (pṛthivī), air (vāyu), space (ākāśam), water (āpa), and light (jyotiś) numbered as the fifth, are regarded as Great Creatures (mahābhūta) (or the primal elements).

Space as the fifth element

Did you note that space is here counted as an element? This is beyond the knowledge horizon of the ancient Greeks who considered only four elements viz. earth, water, air and fire. They did conceive space as 'ether' but did not fully understood its significance when they got all these knowledge from Vedic gurus.

Space as elemental in nature is vividly described by Quantum Theory where space-time is considered as made of distinct quanta emerging out of the Big Bang. Space is being created as the universe expands continuously. Yes, like matter and energy, space has to be created into existence.

The five elements of energy-matter and space

Indic texts narrates the sequence of the five elements in the order of increasing grossness as space, fire, air, water and earth (space, energy, gas, liquid and solid) or as space, air, fire, water and earth. Thus there is a discrepancy on the sequential position of air and fire. Some versions give precedence to fire over air and others to air over fire.

Space has one property viz. sound (vibrations like electromagnetic waves). Air has two properties (sound and touch), Fire / Light has three properties (sound, touch and form). Water has four properties (sound, touch, form and taste). Earth has five properties (sound, touch, form, taste and smell). This is the basis for the second sequence (space, air, fire, water, earth). In this sequence the element of energy (Fire) comes in between the elements of matter (air and water). However the equivalence of energy and matter is now an established fact.

The five properties (sound, touch, form / color, taste and smell) are what gives subjective experience. In other words it is the qualia, discussed in modern consciousness studies. The Indic texts usually holds the position that these Qualia are more fundamental than the elements themselves. According to them, Qualia emerges first from the primal consciousness or one of its derivative viz. Ahamkara (ego), then the elements (where the qualia gets established) and then the sense organs to experience them.

Creation is a Projection

The word used for 'creation' in Indic texts is 'srsti' which means 'projection' even though it is erroneously translated as 'creation'. The elements constituting the world emerges into existence and then disappear back into the source. Thus all the objects in the world (made of these elements) emerges out and then disappear back into the source.

tataḥ sṛṣṭāni tatraiva tāni yānti punaḥ punaḥ
mahābhūtāni bhūteṣu sāgarasyormayo yathā
prasārya ca yathāṅgāni kūrmaḥ saṃharate punaḥ
tadvad bhūtāni bhūtātmā sṛṣṭvā saṃharate punaḥ

Unto that from which these great primal elements take their origin, they return repeatedly, severing themselves from all creatures into whose compositions they enter, even like the waves of the ocean (sāgara) subsiding into that from which they seem to take their rise. As the tortoise (kūrmaḥ) stretches its limbs and withdraws them again, even so the soul of elements (bhūtātmā) projects (sṛṣṭvā) all objects and again withdraws into itself.

Mind is the Sixth Element

mahābhūtāni pañcaiva sasthaṃ tu mana ucyate
The great primal elements (mahābhūta) are five (pañca). The mind (mana) is the sixth (sasthaṃ).

An interesting point worth to be noted here is that, in Indic texts, mind is not considered as an emergent property of matter or energy or space. Mind is considered independent of the five elements constituting matter, energy and space and is thus considered as the sixth element. Here the Indic texts agrees with the Quantum Consciousness studies of Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff. It disagrees with the position of neuroscience that mind is an emergent property of the configuration and dynamics of matter.

indriyāṇi manaś caiva vijñānāny asya bhārata
The senses (indriya) and the mind (manas), O Bharata, are the sources of all the perceptions of a living creature.

Intellect is the Seventh Element, Atman the Eighth

saptamī buddhir ity āhuḥ kṣetrajñaḥ punar astamaḥ
The seventh (saptamī) is called the understanding (intellect, buddhi); and the eighth is the soul (kṣetrajña).

Intellect (buddhi) is considered as the seventh element. This means intellect is independent of the mind or that no kind of combination of mind, space, energy and matter can produce intellect (buddhi). The soul (kṣetrajña), 'the knower of the field' or simply 'the knower' is considered as the eighth element. This again means that the soul is independent of intellect, mind, space, energy and matter. No kind of combination of these entities can generate the soul. This position is in disagreement with the notion that we can one day produce a computing device equipped with soul.

In this article the three words intellect, intelligence and understanding are used to mean the same thing, viz. Buddhi.

The purpose of senses, mind, intellect and soul

cakṣur ālokanāyaiva saṃśayaṃ kurute manaḥ
buddhir adhyavasāyāya kṣetrajñaḥ sākṣivat sthitaḥ

The senses (cakṣu) are for perceiving; the mind (manaḥ) unable to deal with those perceptions produces uncertainty (saṃśayaṃ). The understanding (buddhi) reduces all perceptions to certainty. The Soul (kṣetrajñaḥ) exists as a witness (sākṣi) without acting.

The wordings of the above passage do look like as if it is talking about the reduction of quantum uncertainty into certainties through the act of observation. But here it is talking about the doubtfulness of the mind and the resolution capability of the intellect. In this drama enacted by the senses, mind and intellect, the Soul acts as pure witness, inert, as pure existence.

The connecting link

The connecting link between intellect, mind, space, energy and matter is the three qualities called Darkness, Passion, and Goodness ( tamo rajaś ca sattvaṃ). The three states or qualities called Darkness, Passion, and Goodness, exist, dependent on the senses, the mind, and the understanding. The three qualities already mentioned, viz, Darkness, Passion, and Goodness, lead the understanding (buddhi) to worldly attachments.

guṇān nenīyate buddhir buddhir evendriyāṇy api
manaḥṣaṣṭhāni sarvāṇi buddhyabhāve kuto guṇāḥ

In this respect, the Understanding or Intelligence is associated with the Senses and the Mind. The Understanding, therefore, is associated with the six:- the five senses and the mind, and also with the objects comprehended by it. The three qualities cannot exist without intellect.

In other words, these three qualities of darkness (tama), passion (rajas) and goodness (satvam) - that the intellect shares with mind and other five elements is what help it to interact with the mind, the senses and sensory world composed of the five elements. This is also what enables the mind to interact with the senses and the sensory world as well as with the intellect.

The three qualities viz. darkness, passion and goodness or tama, rajas and satva reminds me of the three color charges described in Quantum Chromo Dynamics (QCD). In QCD, a quark's color can take one of three values, called blue, red and green. But I do not want to take this analogy too far.

Universe as the projection of Intellect

iti tanmayam evaitat sarvaṃ sthāvarajaṅgamam
pralīyate codbhavati tasmān nirdiśyate tathā

This universe of immobile and mobile things consists of that (iti) intelligence. It is from that Intelligence that everything arises and it is into it that everything subsides. For this reason, the scriptures indicate that everything is a manifestation of Intelligence.

Intellect and the senses

Though intelligence is not made of matter, energy or space, intelligence is present in the senses. The intelligence project itself as the senses as it is inherent in them, much like the classical world of reality emerges from the quantum world that exist within it and independent of it.

yena paśyati tac cakṣuḥ śṛṇoti śrotram ucyate
jighrati ghrāṇam ity āhū rasaṃ jānāti jihvayā
tvacā spṛśati ca sparśān buddhir vikriyate 'sakṛt

That by which one hears is the ear. That by which one smells is called the organ of smell, and that by which one distinguishes the tastes is called the tongue. By the coat that covers the body one acquires perception of touch. That which is called the Intelligence undergoes modifications in this way.

Intellect and Mind

yena saṃkalpayaty arthaṃ kiṃ cid bhavati tan manaḥ
When the Intelligence desires anything it comes to be called Mind.

We have seen that intellect is independent of mind. Here these words shows the mind is generated from the intellect due to desire. When intellect desires anything it becomes Mind.

The role of Yoga (meditation)

The foundations upon which the Intelligence rests are five in number, each serving a different purpose. They are called the senses. The invisible principle, viz, Intelligence rests on them. The Intelligence that exists in a living creature concerns itself with the three states called Passion, Darkness, and Goodness. Sometimes it obtains joy and sometimes misery. Sometimes it becomes divested of both joy and misery. Even thus the Intelligence exists in the minds of all humans. Sometimes the Intelligence which is made up of the triple states already mentioned, transcends those three states by Yoga (meditation), like the lord of rivers, viz, the Ocean, with his surges, transgressing his high continents That Intelligence which transcends the three qualities exist in the mind in a pure state of unmodified existence: alone.

The quality of Darkness, however, that impels to action, soon pursues it. At that time, the Intelligence sets all the senses to action. The properties of the three are even thus: joy dwells in Goodness; sorrow in Passion; delusion in Darkness. Three kinds of intelligence also are noticeable in every creature, viz, that which depends upon Goodness, that upon Passion, and that upon Darkness, O Bharata. The quality of Goodness brings happiness; the quality of Passion produces sorrow; and if these two combine with the quality of Darkness, then neither happiness nor sorrow is produced but, instead, only delusion or error.

Soul and Intellect

sattvakṣetrajñayor etad antaraṃ paśya sūkṣmayoḥ
sṛjate tu guṇān eka eko na sṛjate guṇāḥ

Mark the distinction between these two subtile things, viz, Intelligence (sattva) and Soul (kṣetrajña). One of these viz, intelligence, puts forth the qualities. The other viz, the Soul, does not puts forth the qualities.

Here the intellect is called sattva, because, the rajas (passion) quality of intellect give rise to mind and the tamas (darkness or delusional quality) of intellect give rise to the senses, thus leaving the pure intellect to be full of sattva (goodness) quality.

pṛthag bhūtau prakṛtyā tau saṃprayuktau ca sarvadā
yathāmatsyo jalaṃ caiva saṃprayuktau tathaiva tau

Intelligence and Soul, though distinguished from each other, by their respective natures, yet they may always be seen to exist in a state of union. A fish and water exist in a state of union, Each, however, is different from the other. The same is the case with Intelligence and Soul.

Soul generates the three qualities

na guṇā vidur ātmānaṃ sa guṇān vetti sarvaśaḥ
paridrastā guṇānāṃ ca saṃsrastā manyate sadā

The qualities (guṇā) do not know the Soul (ātmā), but the Soul knows them all. The Soul is the spectator of the qualities and regards them all as proceeding from itself.

We have already seen that intellect, mind and the senses (consisting of the five other elements) are linked up through the three qualities. Now we know the source of these qualities. These are emanating from the soul.

Soul as the source of consciousness

indriyais tu pradīpārthaṃ kurute buddhisaptamaiḥ
nirviceṣṭair ajānadbhiḥ paramātmā pradīpavat

The soul (paramātmā), acting through the senses (indriya), the mind, and the understanding (buddhi) numbering as the seventh (saptamaiḥ), all of which are inactive (nirviceṣṭa) (have no self-consciousness), discovers the objects amid which it exists like a covered lamp showing all objects around it by shedding its rays through an aperture in the covering.

sṛjate hi guṇān sattvaṃ kṣetrajñaḥ paripaśyati
saṃprayogas tayor eṣa sattvakṣetrajñayor dhruvaḥ

The understanding or Intelligence (sattvaṃ) projects (sṛjate) all the qualities. The Soul (kṣetrajñaḥ) only beholds (paripaśyati) them as a witness. Even such is certainly the connection between the intelligence and the Soul.

āśrayo nāsti sattvasya kṣetrajñasya ca kaś cana
There is no refuge on which either Intelligence or Soul depends.

sattvaṃ manaḥ saṃsṛjati na guṇān vai kadā cana
The Understanding creates the mind, but never the qualities.

raśmīṃs teṣāṃ sa manasā yadā samyaṅ niyacchati
tadā prakāśate 'syātmā ghate dīpo jvalann iva

When the soul, by means of the mind, sufficiently restrains the rays that emanate from the senses, it is then that it becomes manifest to the Understanding like a lamp burning within a vessel that covers it.

Understanding soul

na cātmā śakyate draṣṭum indriyeṣu vibhāgaśaḥ
tatra tatra visṛṣṭeṣu durjayeṣv akṛtātmabhiḥ

The Soul is incapable of being seen unless the senses, which are employed on diverse objects and are difficult of being controlled, be all duly restrained.

Creatures and Mind

prajāḥ sṛṣṭā manasā karmaṇā ca skt
Creatures have all been created by Mind and Act. Mbh.13.200

The nature of Supreme Soul

na strī pumān vāpi napuṃsakaṃ ca; na san na cāsat sad asac ca tan na
paśyanti yad brahmavido manuṣyās; tad akṣaraṃ na kṣaratīti viddhi

It is neither female, nor male, nor of the neuter sex. It is neither existent, nor non-existent, nor existent-nonexistent Only those that are acquainted with the knowledge of Brahman behold it.

View of Manu

This model of the projection of Universe is different from the standard Vedantic model discussed above. (source English, Sanskrit)

akṣarāt khaṃ tato vāyur vāyor jyotis tato jalam
jalāt prasūtā jagatī jagatyāṃ jāyate jagat

Manu said, From that eternal and undeteriorating One first sprang Space; from space came Wind; from wind came Light; from light came Water; from water sprang the Universe; and from the universe, all things that occur in it.

The hierarchy

Source: English Sanskrit

indriyebhyo manaḥ pūrvaṃ buddhiḥ paratarā tataḥ
buddheḥ parataraṃ jñānaṃ jñānāt parataraṃ param

Above the senses is the mind; above the mind is the understanding; above the understanding is the Soul; above the Soul is the Supreme or Great.

avyaktāt prasṛtaṃ jñānaṃ tato buddhis tato manaḥ
manaḥ śrotrādibhir yuktaṃ śabdādīn sādhu paśyati

From the Unmanifest (avyaktā) hath sprung the Soul (jñānaṃ); from the Soul hath sprung the Understanding (buddhi); from the Understanding hath sprung the Mind (manaḥ). When the Mind becomes associated with the senses, then it apprehends sound and the other objects of the senses.

Brahma as a String

source: English Sanskrit

yadā te pañcabhiḥ pañca vimuktā manasā saha
atha tad drakṣyase brahma manau sūtram ivārpitam

Manu said, When the fivefold attributes are united with the five senses and the mind, then is Brahma seen by the individual like a string passing through a gem.

Hierarchy as per Vaishnava interpretation

pṛthivī rūpato rūpam apām iha mahattaram
adbhyo mahattaraṃ tejas tejasaḥ pavano mahān
pavanāc ca mahad vyoma tasmāt parataraṃ manaḥ
manaso mahatī buddhir buddheḥ kālo mahān smṛtaḥ
kālāt sa bhagavān viṣṇur yasya sarvam idaṃ jagat

Water is superior to the Earth in extension; Light is superior to Water; Wind is superior to Light; Space is superior to Wind; Mind is superior to Space; Understanding is superior to Mind; Time is superior to Understanding. The divine Vishnu, whose is this universe, is superior to Time.

Consciousness, Vaishnava interpretation

source English Sanskrit

Here is the Vaishnava interpretation of the emergence of consciousness.

sarvatejomayas tasmiñ śayānaḥ śayane śubhe
so 'grajaṃ sarvabhūtānāṃ saṃkarṣaṇam acintayat
āśrayaṃ sarvabhūtānāṃ manaseti viśuśruma
sa dhārayati bhūtātmā ubhe bhūtabhaviṣyatī

While thus floating upon the waters, that foremost of all beings, that refuge of every kind of energy and splendour, created Consciousness, the first-born of beings in the universe. We have heard that He created Consciousness along with the Mind, Consciousness which is the refuge of all created things. That Consciousness upholds all creatures and both the past and the future.

Consciousness and Prakrti (Nature)

avyaktakarmajā buddhir ahaṃkāraṃ prasūyate
ākāśaṃ cāpy ahaṃkārād vāyur ākāśasaṃbhavaḥ
vāyos tejas tataś cāpas tv adbhyo hi vasudhodgatā
mūlaprakṛtayo 'stau tā jagad etāsv avasthitam

From the Unmanifest (avyakta) flows the Understanding (buddhi) determined by acts (karma). The Understanding produces Consciousness (ahaṃkāraṃ). From Consciousness proceeds Space (ākāśaṃ). From Space proceeds Wind (vāyu). From the Wind proceeds Heat (tejas). From Heat proceeds Water (āpa), and from Water is produced the Earth (vasudho). These eight constitute primordial Prakriti (mūla prakṛti).

The universe rests on them. From those Eight have originated the five organs of knowledge, the five organs of action, the five objects of the first five organs, and the one, viz, the Mind, forming the sixteenth, which is the result of their modification. The ear, the skin, the two eyes, the tongue, and the nose are the five organs of knowledge. The two feet, the lower duct, the organ of generation, the two arms, and speech, are the five organs of action. Sound, touch, form, taste, and smell are the five objects of the senses, covering all the things.

The Mind dwells upon all the senses and their objects. In the perception of taste, it is the Mind that becomes the tongue, and in speech it is the Mind that becomes words. Endued with the different senses, it is the Mind that becomes all the objects that exist in its apprehension.

These sixteen, existing in their respective forms, should be known as deities. These worship Him who creates all knowledge and dwells within the body. Taste is the attribute of water; scent is the attribute of earth; hearing is the attribute of space; vision is the attribute of fire or light; and touch should be known as the attribute of the wind. This is the case with all creatures at all times. The Mind, it has been said, is the attribute of existence. Existence springs from the Unmanifest of Prakriti which, every intelligent person should know, rests in That which is the Soul of all existent beings. These existences, resting upon the supreme Divinity that is above Prakriti and that is without any inclination for action, uphold the entire universe of mobiles and immobiles. This sacred edifice of nine doors is endued with all these existences. That which is high above them, viz, the Soul, dwells within it, pervading it all over. For this reason, it is called Purusha.

Characteristics of Mind

Existing only in the unmanifest Soul, the Mind is said to possess the attributes of the unmanifest (Mbh.12.210). The Mind exists unobstructedly in all things (Mbh.12.215). The uniting together of Intellect and Mind, and all the Senses, and the all-pervading Soul is said to be Knowledge of the foremost kind (Mbh.12.239). The sixth sense is the Mind (Mbh.12.285). The Mind has doubt for its function (Mbh.12.285). Mind has thought for its characteristic. (Mbh.14.36). The Mind roveth over all things, led on by the Senses (Mbh.12.311). The Eye sees forms when aided by the Mind but never by itself. When the Mind is distracted, the Eye fails to perceive with even the objects fully before it. When the cessation takes place of the activity of the Mind, the cessation of the activity of the Senses follows. One should thus regard the Senses to be under the domination of the Mind. Indeed, the Mind is said to be the Lord of all the Senses. (Mbh.12.311).

Earth, Wind, Ether, Water, and Light numbering as the fifth, Mind, and Understanding, these seven are called wombs of all things (Mbh.14.20). All objects of knowledge are Mind (Mbh.14.21). Mind is the Ahavaniya fire. (Mbh.14.21). Encompassed by eleven including Mind which distinguishes objects, and having Understanding for the ruler, this is an aggregate of eleven (Mbh.14.36).

Emergence of Mind from Intellect

When the understanding, of its own motion, forms ideas of objects within itself, it then comes to be called Mind (Mbh.12.247). When the Understanding desires for anything, it comes to be called by the name of Mind (Mbh.12.247). When the Understanding (buddhi) desires anything, she becomes Mind (Mbh.12.285). The five senses with the Mind, which separately constitute the foundations of the Understanding, are the creations of the Understanding (Mbh.12.285).

Emergence of Mind from Consciousness

He then causes Consciousness to spring up, whence proceeds Mind which is identical with the Manifest (Mbh.12.230). That Mahat is speedily transformed into Mind which is the soul of the Manifest (Mbh.12.231). From Consciousness hath sprung the Mind which is the essence of sound and the others that are the attributes of space and the rest. (Mbh.12.310).

Mind as the source of creation

It is the Mind that takes the form of all things. (Mbh.12.213). Urged by the desire of creating, Mind, which is far-reaching, which has many courses, and which has desire and doubt for its principal indications, begins to create diverse kinds of objects by modifications of itself (Mbh.12.231).

Withdrawal of the mind

Thus Mind which in itself is unmanifest withdraws all that is manifested by Mind (Mbh.12.232). This withdrawal of Mind as displayed into Mind as undisplayed or subtile, is called the destruction of the vast external universe (Mbh.12.232).


Mind, Understanding, and Nature, these three, spring from their own previous states, and attaining at each rebirth to a position higher than the attributes which form their respective objects, do not transcend those attributes (Mbh.12.246).


Having comprehended the seven subtile entities viz, the senses, the objects of the mind, Mind, Understanding, Mahat, Unmanifest or Prakriti, and Purusha, having comprehended also the Supreme cause of the universe with the six attributes viz, omniscience, contentment, unlimited comprehension, independence, eternal wakefulness, and omnipotence, and lastly having understood that the universe is only a modification of Avidya endued with the three qualities, one succeeds in beholding guided by the scriptures, high Brahma. (Mbh.12.252).

End of Universe

Urged by the unmanifest, that Being, Rudra assuming the form of Surya of hundreds of thousands of rays, divides himself into a dozen portions each resembling a blazing fire. He then consumes with his energy, O monarch, without any loss of time, the four kinds of created beings, viz, viviparous, oviparous, filth-born, and vegetable. Within the twinkling of the eye all mobile and immobile creatures being thus destroyed, the Earth becomes on every side as bare as a tortoise shell. Having burnt everything on the face of the Earth, Rudra, of immeasurable might, then quickly fills the bare Earth with Water possessed of great force.

He then creates the Yuga-fire which dries up that Water into which the bare Earth has been dissolved. The Water disappearing, the great element of Fire continues to blaze fiercely. Then comes the mighty Wind of immeasurable force, in his eight forms, who swallows up quickly that blazing fire of transcendent force, possessed of seven flames, and identifiable with the heat existing every creature. Having swallowed up that fire, the Wind courses in every direction, upwards, downwards, and transversely. Then space of immeasurable existent swallowed up that Wind of transcendent energy. Then Mind cheerfully swallows up that immeasurable Space. Then that Lord of all creatures, viz, Consciousness, who is the Soul of every-thing, swallows up the Mind. Consciousness, in his turn, is swallowed up by the Mahat-soul who is conversant with the Past, the Present, and the Future. The incomparable Mahat-soul or Universe is then swallowed up by Sambhu. (Mbh.12.312).

The Earth, which is the refuge of the universe, disappears when the hour for universal dissolution comes into water, Water disappears into Light, and Light into Wind, Wind disappears into Space, and Space into Mind. Mind is a great creature, and it disappears into Unmanifest Prakriti.(Mbh.12.339)

Wind then merges into Space, which in its turn, merges into Mind. Mind merges into the Manifest otherwise called Consciousness or Ego. (Mbh.12.347).

The notion of a creator

The meta-physical concepts and their origin is attributed to a creator god. This is a later development.

Who else than that Supreme Lord could be creator of Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, Space, Mind, and that which is called Mahat? Tell me, O Sakra, who else than Siva could create Mind, Understanding, Consciousness or Ego, the Tanmatras, and the senses? (Mbh.13.14).

The concept of elements as deities

Vrihaspati said, The food that these deities, O king, who dwell in the body, viz, Earth, Wind, Ether, Water, Light, and Mind eat, gratifies them. When those five elements become gratified, O monarch, with Mind numbering as their sixth, their vital seed then becomes generated (Mbh.13.111).

Word and Mind

From that was produced the Veda or Word; then was born Mind; Mind desirous of creation sets itself on the Veda or the Word (Mbh.14.21). Why did Word first arise and why did Mind arise afterwards, seeing that Word starts into existence after having been thought upon by Mind? Why, again, in dreamless slumber, though separated from Mind, does not Prana apprehend all objects? (Mbh.14.21).

Consciousness as per Vishnu Purana

The Puranas emerged subsequent to the epics like Mahabharata. Vishnu Purana is the foremost among the 18 great Puranas. Puranas like the Vedas, Upanishads and Epics has discussed the issue of consciousness and the terminologies associated with the study of consciousness.

Vishnu Purana is a Purana about Vishnu, the expanding principle inherent in the Cosmos. In Hindu traditions this expanding principle is deified and considered as one among the Trinity Gods and as the primordial substance.



The concept of pradhaana is similar to the quantum level structure of the universe with its weird vacuum bubbling with particles and anti-particles continuously created and annihilated. Pradhana is described as the crude matter from which Vyaktha or visible matter emerges. Here Pradhana can be likened to quantum superposition from which classical matter emerges. Pradhana is also described as 'discrete substance', akin to the quantized discontinuous structure at the quantum level (Planck level).

That chief principle Pradhana, which is the indiscrete cause, is called by the sages also Prakriti (nature): it is subtile, uniform, and comprehends what is and what is not (or both causes and effects); is durable, self sustained, illimitable, undecaying, and stable; devoid of sound or touch, and possessing neither colour nor form; endowed with the three qualities (in equilibrium); the mother of the world; without beginning; and that into which all that is produced is resolved. By that principle all things were invested in the period subsequent to the last dissolution of the universe, and prior to creation.

These four:- Pradhana (primary or crude matter), Purusha (spirit), Vyakta (visible substance), and Kaala (time) are the causes of the production of the phenomena of creation, preservation, and destruction.

"There was neither day nor night, nor sky nor earth, nor darkness nor light, nor any other thing, save only One, unapprehensible by intellect, That which is Brahma and Puman (spirit) and Pradhana (matter)."

When this discrete substance is aggregated in crude nature, as in a foregone dissolution, that dissolution is termed elemental Prakrita.

Initial state of equilibrium

Vishnu Purana speaks about an initial state of equilibrium, that existed before creation. This is amazingly resemble the physicist's notion of an equilibrium (or symmetry) which was broken during Big Bang.

The deity Time is without beginning, and his end is not known; and from him the revolutions of creation, continuance, and dissolution unintermittingly succeed: for when, in the latter season, the equilibrium of the qualities (Pradhana) exists, and spirit (Puman) is detached from matter, then, the form of Vishnu viz. Time, abides.

Contraction and Expansion

Then the supreme Brahma, the supreme soul, the substance of the world, the lord of all creatures, the universal soul, the supreme ruler, Vishnu, of his own will having entered into matter and spirit, agitates the mutable and immutable principles, the season of creation being arrived, in the same manner as fragrance affects the mind from its proximity merely, and not from any immediate operation upon mind itself: so the Supreme influenced the elements of creation. Vishnu is both the agitator and the thing to be agitated; being present in the essence of matter, both when it is contracted and expanded. Vishnu is of the nature of discrete, forms in the atomic productions, Brahma and the rest (gods, men, etc.)

Here Vishnu is described as having a discrete (quantized) nature. The activity of creation is amazingly described as 'agitation' akin to the quantum fluctuations giving rise to Universes in the endless ocean of the foaming, frothing multiverse. The contraction and expansion of the essence of matter seems to be the emergence and disappearance of the classical world from the quantum world. This is also the reason for the expanding Universe which is nothing but the classical phenomenon of Universe expanding from a quantum state at the Big Bang.

Emergence of Mahat (Intellect) from Pradhaana

Here the emergence of intellect is associated with the breaking of symmetry or equilibrium. Symmetry breaking was an event described as occurred in quantum cosmological models. Intellect also called Mahat emerges from Pradhana (the primordial matter or the quantum superposition).

Then from that equilibrium of the qualities (Pradhana), presided over by soul, proceeds the unequal developement of those qualities (constituting the principle Mahat or Intellect) at the time of creation

Emergence of Ahamkaara (Ego) from Mahat (Intellect)

The Chief principle (Pradhaana) then invests that Great principle (Mahat or Intellect), and it becomes threefold, as affected by the quality of Sattva (goodness), Rajas (passion) and Tamas (inertia) invested by the Chief principle (subtle matter or Pradhaana) as seed is by its skin. From the Great principle Mahat (Intellect), threefold Egotism, (Ahankara) denominated Vaikarika (pure), Taijasa (passionate) and Bhutadi (rudimental) is produced.

Emergence of Qualia and Elements from Ahamkara

Vishnu Purana considers the Qualia, like the sense of sound, touch, form (color) and taste to be independent of the senses and elements. It is this qualia inherently present in the Consciousness that resulted in the creation of elements and from these elements the sense-organs. It is, as if, to experience the five types of qualia, the five types of elements emerged and the five sense organs emerged to receive them. This is the view of Vishnu Purana. The view point of neuroscience is the opposite, where the Qualia emerge as an emergent property perceived by the brain with the help of sense organs:-

Elementary Egotism (Ahamkara) then becoming productive, as the rudiment of sound, produced from it Space (Ether), of which sound is the characteristic, investing it with its rudiment of sound. Space (Ether) becoming productive, engendered the rudiment of touch; whence originated strong wind, the property of which is touch; and Space (Ether), with the rudiment of sound, enveloped the rudiment of touch. Then wind becoming productive, produced the rudiment of form (colour); whence light (or fire) proceeded, of which, form (colour) is the attribute; and the rudiment of touch enveloped the wind with the rudiment of colour. Light becoming productive, produced the rudiment of taste; whence proceed all juices in which flavour resides; and the rudiment of colour invested the juices with the rudiment of taste. The waters becoming productive, engendered the rudiment of smell; whence an aggregate (earth) originates, of which smell is the property. In each several element resides its peculiar rudiment; thence the property of tanmatrata (molecule), (type or rudiment) is ascribed to these elements. Rudimental elements are not endowed with qualities, and therefore they are neither soothing, nor terrific, nor stupifying. This is the elemental creation, proceeding from the principle of egotism affected by the property of darkness (Tamas). The organs of sense are said to be the passionate (Rajasic) products of the same principle, affected by foulness (Rajas); and the ten divinities proceed from egotism affected by the principle of goodness; as does Mind, which is the eleventh.

The Expanding Universe

Then, ether, air, light, water, and earth, severally united with the properties of sound and the rest, existed as distinguishable according to their qualities, as soothing, terrific, or stupifying; but possessing various energies, and being unconnected, they could not, without combination, create living beings, not having blended with each other. Having combined, therefore, with one another, they assumed, through their mutual association, the character of one mass of entire unity; and from the direction of spirit, with the acquiescence of the indiscrete Principle, Intellect and the rest, to the gross elements inclusive, formed an egg, which gradually expanded like a bubble of water.

This amazing passage in Vishnu Purana describes the expansion of the Universe like an egg, which gradually expanded like a bubble of water. This cosmic egg was formed and expanded in order to create living beings! This is close to the Anthropic principle which says the Universe is formed the way it is formed so that there is life inside it to observe it (which is another way of saying that the Universe is created so that life can emerge inside it). The egg was formed by the qualia, the elements, Intellect etc since they in their independent existence cannot create life, but needs to be blended.

Vishnu Purana says further:- This egg was externally invested by seven natural envelopes, or by water, air, fire, space, and Ahankara (the origin of the elements), the principle of Intelligence and, finally, the whole was surrounded by the indiscrete Principle.

Different types of Creations

Parasara to Maitreya:- "I have thus explained to you, excellent Muni, six creations. The first creation was that of Mahat or Intellect, which is also called the creation of Brahma. The second was that of the rudimental principles (Tanmatras), thence termed the elemental creation Bhuta. The third was the modified form of egotism (Ahamkara), termed the organic creation, or creation of the senses (Aindriyaka). These three were the Prakrita creations, the developements of indiscrete nature, preceded by the indiscrete principle. The fourth or fundamental creation (of perceptible things) was that of inanimate bodies. The fifth, the Tairyag yonya (vaginal) creation, was that of animals. The sixth was the Urddhasrotas creation, or that of the divinities. The creation of the Arvaksrotas beings was the seventh, and was that of man. There is an eighth creation, termed Anugraha, which possesses both the qualities of goodness and darkness. Of these creations, five are secondary, and three are primary. But there is a ninth, the Kaumara creation, which is both primary and secondary. These are the nine creations of the great progenitor of all, and, both as primary and secondary, are the radical causes of the world, proceeding from the sovereign creator.

Billions of Universes

It is amazing to note that Vishnu Purana has its own description of the multiverse!

The Univere is encompassed on every side and above and below by the shell of the egg of Brahma, beyond it is respectively water, fire, air, Mind, Ahankara (from which elements originates) and finally Intellect. This intellect is encircled by the chief Principle, Pradhana, which is infinite, and its extent cannot be enumerated: it is therefore called the boundless and illimitable cause of all existing things, supreme nature, or Prakriti; the cause of all mundane eggs, of which there are thousands and tens of thousands, and millions and thousands of millions, such as has been described.

Universes as bubbles in water

Within Pradhana resides Soul, diffusive, conscious, and self irradiating, as fire is inherent in flint 8, or sesamum oil in its seed. Nature (Pradhana) and soul (Puman) are both of the character of dependants, and are encompassed by the energy of Vishnu, which is one with the soul of the world, and which is the cause of the separation of those two (soul and nature) at the period of dissolution; of their aggregation in the continuance of things; and of their combination at the season of creation. In the same manner as the wind ruffles the surface of the water in a hundred bubbles, which of themselves are inert, so the energy of Vishnu influences the world, consisting of inert nature and soul.

Dissolution (End of the World)

Vishnu Purana describe the dissolution of Universe as a progressive withdrawal of the elements one into other respectively as earth (contains qualia smell), water (contains qualia taste), fire (contains qualia form or vision), air (contains qualia touch), space (contains qualia sound), Ahamkara (egotism, contains qualia consciousness conditioned by Tamas) and Mahat (Intellect, contains qualia intelligence).

First, the waters swallow up the property of earth, which is the rudiment of smell; and earth, deprived of its property, proceeds to destruction. Devoid of the rudiment of odour, the earth becomes one with water. The waters then being much augmented, roaring, and rushing along, fill up all space, whether agitated or still. When the universe is thus pervaded by the waves of the watery element, its rudimental flavour is licked up by the element of fire, and, in consequence of the destruction of their rudiments, the waters themselves are destroyed. Deprived of the essential rudiment of flavour, they become one with fire, and the universe is therefore entirely filled with flame, which drinks up the water on every side, and gradually overspreads the whole of the world. While space is enveloped in flame, above, below, and all around, the element of wind seizes upon the rudimental property, or form, which is the cause of light; and that being withdrawn, all becomes of the nature of air. The rudiment of form being destroyed, and fire deprived of its rudiment, air extinguishes fire, and spreads resistlessly over space, which is deprived of light when fire merges into air. Air then, accompanied by sound, which is the source of ether, extends every where throughout the ten regions of space, until ether seizes upon contact, its rudimental property; by the loss of which, air is destroyed, and ether remains unmodified: devoid of form, flavour, touch, and smell, it exists unembodied and vast, and pervades the whole of space. Ether (space), whose characteristic property and rudiment is sound, exists alone, occupying all the vacuity of space. But then the radical element egotism devours sound, and all the elements and faculties are at once merged into their original. This primary element is consciousness, combined with the property of darkness, and is itself swallowed up by Mahat, whose characteristic property is intelligence.

Earth (solid state, the grossest manifestation) and Mahat (intellect, the subtlest manifestation) are the inner and outer boundaries of the Universe. In this manner, as in the creation were the seven forms of nature (Prakriti), reckoned from Mahat to earth, so, at the time of elemental dissolution, these seven successively reenter into each other.

Dissolution of the Cosmic Egg

The egg of Brahma is dissolved in the waters. The investure of water is drunk up by fire: the stratum of fire is absorbed by that of air: air blends itself with ether (space): the primary element of egotism (ahamkara) devours the ether, and is itself taken up by intellect, which, along with all these, is seized upon by nature (Prakriti).

Equilibrium of the three properties, without excess or deficiency, is called nature (Prakriti), origin (Hetu), the chief principle (Pradhaana), cause (Kaarana), supreme (Param). This Prakriti is essentially the same, whether discrete or indiscrete; only that which is discrete is finally lost or absorbed in the indiscrete.

Spirit also, which is one, pure, imperishable, eternal, all pervading, is a portion of that supreme spirit which is all things. That spirit which is other than (embodied) spirit, in which there are no attributes of name, species, or the like which is one with all wisdom, and is to be understood as sole existence.

Nature (Prakriti), which I have described to you as being essentially both discrete and indiscrete, and spirit (which is united with body), both resolve into supreme spirit. Supreme spirit is the upholder of all things, and the ruler of all things, and is glorified in the Vedas and in the Vedanta by the name of Vishnu.


  1. Quantum Fluctuations - Agitation of the space-time at microscopic quantum level giving rise to virtual particles poping in and out of existence

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