Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": INDIAN COSMOGONY

('The Laws of Manu,' 1, 5-16)

The Manavadharmashastra or Manusmriti, known in the West as The Laws of Manu is the most important work regarding dharma, i.e., the principles, laws, and rules governing both the cosmos and human society. The dates assigned by scholars for the composition of the text vary from the second century B.C. to the second century A.D. The cosmogonic fragment reprinted below is known to be a late interpolation.

5. This (universe) existed in the shape of Darkness, 1 unperceived, destitute of distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed, as it were, in deep sleep.

6. Then the divine Self-existent 2 indiscernible, (but) making (all) this, the great elements and the rest, discernible, appeared with irresistible (creative) power, dispelling the darkness.

7. He who can be perceived by the internal organ 3 (alone), who is subtle, indiscernible, and eternal, who contains all created beings and is inconceivable, shone forth of his own (will).4

8. He, desiring to produce beings of many kinds from his own body

, first with a thought created 5 the waters, and placed [his] seed in them.

9. That (seed) became a golden egg,6 in brilliancy equal to the sun;

in that (egg) he himself was born as Brahmin, the progenitor of the whole world.

10. The waters were called naras, (for) the waters are, indeed, the offspring of Nara; as they were his 7 first residence (ayana), he thence is named Narayana .8

11 From that (first) cause, which is indiscernible, eternal, and both real and unreal, 9 was produced that male (Purusha),10 who is famed in this world (under the appellation of) Brahmin.

12. The divine one resided in that egg during a whole year, 11 then he himself by his thought 12 (alone) divided it into two halves;

13. And out of those two halves he formed heaven and earth, between them the middle sphere, the eight points of the horizon, and the eternal abode of the waters.

14. From himself (atmanas) he also drew forth the mind,13 which is both real and unreal, likewise from the mind egoism,14 which possesses the function of self-consciousness (and is) lordly:

15. Moreover, the great one, 15 the soul, 16 and all products affected by the three qualities, 17 and, in their order, the five organs which perceive the objects of sensation.18

16. But, joining minute particles even of those six,19 which possess measureless power, with particles of himself he created all beings.


1 Tamas, a darkness both physical and mental. The Samkhya system finds considerable significance in this stanza: tamas, one of the three twisted strands (gunas) of cosmic substance, represents inertia.

2 Svayambhu, an epithet of Brahmin (masculine), who is the impersonal Absolute (Brahman neuter) personified as manifest god.

3 Atindriya, literally that spirit or mind 'beyond the senses.'

4 i.e., became self-manifest.

5 Or, released.

6 As 'the shape of Darkness' (vs. I) and the environmental 'waters' recall the Rig Vedic creation hymn X, 120, so does this golden 'egg' (anda) and its seed (bija) recall the hiranyagarbha of Rig Veda, X, 121.

7 Brahmin's.

8 An example of popular etymology, nara being primal man or eternal spirit.

9 Literally, having existence (sat) and non-existence (asat) as its nature.

10 See the Purushasukta, Rig Veda, X .90

11 Early commentators disagreed, some saying that the 'year' was a 'year of Brahmin,' others maintaining that a human year is meant, as in the similar version of this selection, Shatapatha- bramana, XI, I, 6, 1 ff.

12 Meditation (dhyana).

13 Manas, mind or intelligence, as distinct from spirit (atman).

14 Ahamkara, literally 'the making of "I" (aham)'; the principle of individuation.

15 Mahat, the 'great'; in Samkhya also called buddhi, consciousness.

16 Atman.

17 Gunas.

18 Tanmatras, subtle elements.

19 Again, the Indian commentators are at variance in their interpretations of these last three lines. Probably 'those six' are classes of tattvas (elements) mentioned in the preceding two verses, in the order: manas, ahamkara, mahat, atman, tattvas affected by the gunas, tanmatras. 'It is interesting to compare the Samkya evolutes of prakriti. Here twenty-five tattvas, a rearrangement of 'those six' above, evolve with greater systematization: (1) purusha; and from prakriti, (2) mahat, (3) ahamkara, (4) manas, (5) five sense organs and five motor organs, (6) five subtle elements (tanmatras) and five gross elements (mahabhutas).

Translation by G. buhler, in Sacred Books of the East, XXV (Oxford,1886), PP. 2-8

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