Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III: FIRST ATTEMPTS AT THE CONCEPTION OF A UNITARY WORLD-GROUND - The Thirteen Principal Upanishads
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CHAPTER III: FIRST ATTEMPTS AT THE CONCEPTION OF A UNITARY WORLD-GROUND - Misc (Upanishads), The Thirteen Principal Upanishads 
The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, translated from the Sanskrit with an outline of the philosophy of the Upanishads and an annotated bibliography, by Robert Ernest Hume (Oxford University Press, 1921).
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FIRST ATTEMPTS AT THE CONCEPTION OF A UNITARY WORLD-GROUND
Among the early Indians, as among the early Greeks, an explanation of the beginnings of the world, its original substance, and its construction, formed the first and most interesting subject of philosophical speculation. In the Vedas such speculation had gone on to some extent and had produced the famous Creation Hymn, RV. 10. 129, as well as others (such as RV. 10. 121; 10. 81; 10. 72; 10. 90) in which the origin of the world was conjectured under architectural, generative, and sacrificial analogies. In the Brāhmaṇas speculation continued further along the same lines. When the period of the Upanishads arrived, the same theme had not grown old—and when will it? The quotation from Śvet. 1. 1 already cited (page 1) shows how this theme was still discussed and indicates the alternatives that were offered late in the period. But among the early Upanishads these first crude cosmogonic theories had not yet been displaced.
Prominent among these is one which was advanced among the early Greeks by Thales and which was also a widely prevailing Semitic idea, namely, that the original stuff of the world was Water. Thus in Bṛih. 5. 5 we find it stated that ‘in the beginning this world was just Water.’ ‘It is just Water solidified that is this earth, that is the atmosphere, that is the sky, that is gods and men, that is animals and birds, grass and trees, beasts, together with worms, flies, and ants; all these are just Water solidified’ (Chānd. 7. 10. 1). Gārgī in Bṛih. 3. 6. 1 opens a discussion with the philosopher Yājñavalkya by asking for an explanation of the popular theory that ‘all this world is woven, warp and woof, on water.’
In the later Kaṭha a more philosophic theory of the worldground was added on to this older theory that water was the primal entity: ‘[Ātman], who was born of old from the waters’ (4. 6). Somewhat similar combinations of the earlier and later theories are made in Ait. 1. 1. 3, where Ātman, after creating the waters, ‘from the waters drew forth and shaped a person,’ from whose members the different parts of the world and of man emanated; and in Kaush. 1. 7, where Brahma declares ‘the waters, verily, indeed, are my world.’
In a little more philosophic fashion Space also was posited as the ultimate ground of the world. At Chānd. 1. 8-9 three men are represented as having a discussion over the origin (or ‘what it goes to,’ gati) of the Sāman, ‘Chant,’ of the sacrificial ritual. One of the group traced it back to sound, to breath, to food, to water, to yonder world. When pressed as to what ‘yonder world goes back to,’ he replied: ‘One should not lead beyond the heavenly world. We establish the Sāman upon the heavenly world, for the Sāman is praised as heaven.’ The second member of the group taunted the first that his Sāman had no foundation, and when challenged himself to declare the origin of that world, replied ‘this world’; but he was immediately brought to the limit of his knowledge as regards the origin of this world. ‘One should not lead beyond the world-support. We establish the Sāman upon the world as a support, for the Sāman is praised as a support.’ Then the third member put in his taunt: ‘Your Sāman comes to an end,’ said he. It is noticeable that he, who was the only one of the three not a Brahman, or professional philosopher, was able to explain: ‘Verily, all things here arise out of space. They disappear back into space, for space alone is greater than these; space is the final goal.’
With still greater abstraction the origin of the world is traced back, as in the early Greek speculations and as in RV. 10. 72. 2-3 and AV. 17. 1. 19, to Non-being (a-sad).
In Chānd. 3. 19 the same theory is combined with another theory, which is found among the Greeks and which was popular among the Indians, continuing even after the time of Manu, namely, that of the cosmic egg. ‘In the beginning this world was merely non-being (a-sad). It was existent. It developed. It turned into an egg. It lay for the period of a year. It was split asunder. One of the two eggshell-parts became silver, one gold. That which was of silver is this earth. That which was of gold is the sky. What was the outer membrane is the mountains. What was the inner membrane is cloud and mist. What were the veins are the rivers. What was the fluid within is the ocean.’
This theory of the Rig-Veda, of the Atharva-Veda, of the Taittirīya, and of the early part of the Chāndogya is expressly referred to and combated at Chānd. 6. 2. ‘In the beginning, my dear, this world was just Being, one only, without a second. To be sure, some people say: “In the beginning this world was just Non-being, one only, without a second; from that Non-being Being was produced.” But verily, my dear, whence could this be? How from Non-being could Being be produced? On the contrary, my dear, in the beginning this world was Being, one only, without a second. It bethought itself: “Would that I were many! Let me procreate myself!” It emitted heat.’ Similarly the heat procreated water, and the water food. Out of these three elements, after they had been infused by the original existent with name and form (i. e. a principle of individuation), all physical objects and also the organic and psychical nature of man were composed.
Still more abstract than the space-theory, but connected with it, is the cosmological speculation offered by Yājñavalkya to Gārgī, who confronted him with two supposedly unanswerable questions. ‘That which is above the sky, that which is beneath the earth, that which is between these two, sky and earth, that which people call the past and the present and the future—across what is that woven, warp and woof?’ ‘Across space,’ was Yājñavalkya’s reply. ‘Across what then, pray, is space woven?’ ‘That, O Gārgī, Brahmans call the Imperishable,’ answers Yājñavalkya, but he does not attempt to describe this, since it is beyond all earthly distinctions. However, with a directness and a grand simplicity that call to mind the Hebrew account of the creation by the mandatory word of the Divine Being, there follows an account of the governances of the world by that world-ground. ‘Verily, O Gārgī, at the command of that Imperishable the sun and moon stand apart. Verily, O Gārgī, at the command of that Imperishable the earth and the sky stand apart. Verily, O Gārgī, at the command of that Imperishable the moments, the hours, the days, the nights, the fortnights, the months, the seasons, and the years stand apart. Verily, O Gārgī, at the command of that Imperishable some rivers flow from the snowy mountains to the east, others to the west, in whatever direction each flows’ (Bṛih. 3. 8. 3-9).
These searchings for the origin and explanation of the world of phenomena, first in a phenomenal entity like water and space, and then in a super-phenomenal entity like non-being, being, or the Imperishable, had even in the Rig- and Atharva-Vedas reached the conception of a necessarily unitary basis of the world and even the beginnings of monism. Thus:—
Viśvakarman (literally, the ‘All-maker’), the one God, established all things (RV. 10. 81). From the sacrificial dismemberment of Purusha, the World-Person, all things were formed (RV. 10. 90). Again, in RV. 10. 121. 1:—
So also in RV. 10. 129. 1, 2, the Creation Hymn:—
So also RV. 1. 164. 6:—
A glimpse into monism is seen in RV. 1. 164. 46:—
‘Him who is the One existent, sages name variously.’
Various, indeed, were the conjectures regarding the world-ground. Four—Brahmaṇaspati, Viśvakarman, Purusha, and Hiraṇyagarbha—besides the indefinite That One, have just been cited from the Rig-Veda. Another, Prajāpati (literally ‘Lord of creatures’) began to rise towards the end of the Vedic period, increased in prominence through the Brahmanic, and continued on into the Upanishadic. But the conception which is the ground-work of the Vedānta, which overthrew or absorbed into itself all other conceptions of the world-ground, was that of Brahma. Emerging in the Brāhmaṇas, it obtained in the Upanishads a fundamental position which it never lost. Indeed, the philosophy of the Upanishads is sometimes called Brahma-ism from its central concept.