Part XXVI – Transformation-less Transformation
In science, we study two types of transformations, a reversible transformation and an irreversible transformation. Ice becoming water and then to steam is an example of a reversible transformation. By cooling, the process can be reversed. Milk becoming curds or yogurt is an example of irreversible transformation. In all these transformations, matter is conserved i.e. the net amount of matter is unchanged. Vedanta explains creation as a transformation-less transformation – like gold becoming ornaments, like mud becoming pots and like iron becoming machine-tools, etc. Three examples are chosen to drive the point across in Chandogya Up. Ch. 6.
In the process of gold becoming ornaments, from the point of the ornaments, a ring is different from a bangle which is different from a necklace, etc. Hence a ring is not a bangle which is not a necklace. Each one is different and has distinguishing characteristics or attributes that differentiate that object from the other ornaments. But they all have one common factor – the material cause for all is Gold. In fact, from the point of view of the gold, there is no transformation but from the points of view of the ring, bangle and necklace, there is creation, existence as well as separateness from other objects in the world. We cannot but admire the precision with which our sages have provided the description of the creation. This is the glory of Vedanta. The transformation is a transformation-less-transformation.
The Upanishad says ‘vAchArambhanam vikAro nAmadheyam’ – It is the creation of a name for a form. A ring is a name for the form in the shape of a ring but the material cause is Gold only. From the Gold point of view, there is no creation: it was gold, it is gold and it will be gold, even if one melts the gold ornaments to make something else. Gold has not become a ring. Yet from the point of view of names and forms, there is a creation of names and forms. If the ring had a mind of its own, it could say that I am only a ring, with a date of birth, different from the bangle and necklace. I am of course in many ways better than those other fellows since I am required for people getting engaged, married, etc. I feel, however, very unhappy when the owner uses his hands for washing the dirty dishes, etc without removing me from his/her fingers. During those times I wish I was a necklace instead, close to the heart of the owner. Of course, the necklace has it own complaints. It may wish to be different from what it is right now for it to be happier. If each one of them realizes that I am nothing but that one entity (tatvam asi – that thou art) which pervades all the golden ornaments - from which they all arose, are sustained and go back into; the very core of their personality, which is beyond all names and forms; that which remains as formless yet pervading all forms in all ornaments; which has no birth, growth, disease, decay or death; that which is the substantive of all ornaments; that I am the gold and gold alone – then all its saMsAra associated with the identification with the name and form would be instantaneously dissolved.
It is not that the ring is going to become gold. The ring is already gold, yet it is different from gold in the sense that they are two different nouns each with a different meaning. Ring has a name (pAda, in Sanskrit) for a form, but there is no substantive of ring as ringly substance (padArtha). That is, there is no ringly material to sustain a ring – no substance called ring for the name and form to support. What is there is only that which it is made up of – the gold. Actually there is no ring at all, if one wants to examine it carefully. It is only gold in that form, which we call ‘ring.’ All the attributes that belong to the ring and that differ from those of the bangle or necklace have nothing to do with gold. Yet for transactional purposes (vyavahAra), a ring is different from a bangle and a necklace and their utilities are different. Vedanta says creation is nothing but name and form, and the substantive of the world is nothing but Brahman. There is really no world to call as worldly substance. It is Brahman only in a variety of names and forms. Existence is the essential ingredient in all objects when we say ‘there IS an object with these attributes’. That ‘IS-ness’ is the existence part. That is-ness is associated with the knowledge of its existence where ‘consciousness as though enters’ – This is the precisely the way Vedanta describes the creation.
The attributes of these worldly objects help to distinguish one object from another but do not help to identify the substantive, Brahman. Vedanta keeps screaming at the top of its voice – there is nothing other than Brahman. All objects, nay the whole world, arise from Brahman, exist in Brahman and go back into Brahman just as the ornaments do from gold. Yet gold has nothing to do with ornaments. In the Gita, Krishna says the same thing in a different form – ‘I pervade this entire universe in unmanifested form; all being arise from me but I have nothing to do with any of them – Look at my glory Arjuna’. Just as it is the glory of gold to be able to exist in varieties of forms with names, so it is the glory of Krishna to be able to exist in different names and forms; but the misconceptions of each form have nothing to do with me. People suffer because of their misconceptions. The only solution to the problem is to recognize their true nature.
Proceed to the next essay.