By Sohail Arshad, New Age Islam
14 Feb 2019
Since ancient times man has tried to understand existence and its cause. Many thinkers and philosophers produced their own views and theories about creation and the power that created the universe. In 500 BC, philosopher Empedocles propounded the theory that the Universe was created with four elements – fire, air, water and earth. He also believed that the space was filled with Ether, a lighter substance. Another Greek philosopher had the view that the Universe was created with some ‘immaterial’ or some ‘primal matter not yet sundered into its individual elements’.
This ‘prmal matter’ is Vedanta’s formless God or Brahman which created out Itself Brahma or Hiranyagarbha that created the material world. This hinted at Vacuum which had the power and energy to create something. Anximander’s teacher Thales believed that the Universe was created out of water. He was also of the view that the entire Universe was the manifestation of one Supreme Being or God. His thought later finds corroboration in Vedanata which says that the Universe is the manifestation of the Supreme Self, Brahman. Some of the views of the Greek philosophers were later corroborated by divine scriptures and later by scientific developments. Buddhism presented the idea of Shunyata which suggests that neither existence nor non-existence had proof and what we feel or observe is only an illusion. So, the state between existence and non-existence is called Shunyata in Buddhism.
Vedanta, one of the oldest divine scriptures that delves deep into the question of existence and creation presents the theory of ‘One in the many’. In Taittiriya Upanishad (2.7.1) it is said:
“In the beginning all this was but the unmanifested (Brahman). From that emerged the manifested. That Brahman created Itself by Itself. Therefore, it is called the self-creator.”
About the process of creation of the Universe, Upanishads present the theory which later was corroborated by the Quran and in the modern era by science. Chhandogya Upanishad sloka 3.19.1 says:
“Aditya is Brahma. In the beginning this world was in a formless, nameless, unmanifest but subtle state. Afterwards as plant grows from its seed, the world gradually came into the manifest state. Firstly, it assumed the form of an egg. It remained in that state for one year. After that, the egg was divided in two parts – one part was silvery and the other was golden.”
This theory of Chhandogya Upanishad is corroborated by the Quran which also speaks of the cosmic egg and Big Bang and the creation of Heavens and the Earth. The verses of the Quran are as follows:
“Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe?” (Al Anbiyaa:30)
Another verse also speaks of parting of Heavens and Earth:
Then He directed Himself to the heaven while it was smoke and said to it and to the earth, "Come [into being], willingly or by compulsion." They said, "We have come willingly." (Ha Meem Sajda:11)
The Big Bang Theory says that the universe came into being as the result of an explosion of the Cosmic Egg spoken about in the Upanishad and suggested in the Quran. The verses in the Quran suggest that the universe was in the beginning in the form of a mass full of energy which came apart at the order of the Creator. This is what is said in Chhandogya Upanishad.
According to the Quran, after the explosion, matter started taking shape and forms and as a result of the explosion, gases and water came into being and entire universe was deluded by water. This theory of the Quran (and also of the Bible) was proved by science recently. Two teams of NASA scientists discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water in the universe. The water was equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water in the world’s ocean which surrounded a Quasar or Black Hole more than twelve billion light years away. Matt Bradford, the scientist at NASA said that it was another demonstration that water was pervasive through the universe even at the very earliest times. Astronomers had expected water vapour to be present in the early distant universe but had not detected it this far away before. The scientists said that there was water vapour in the milky way although the total amount of water was 4000 times in the Quasar because most of the milky way’s water is frozen in ice.
The Vedanta and the Quran are also on the same page when they deal with the repetition of the process of creation and uncreation. The Upanishad says that Brahma creates the Universe and after a certain period He winds it up and then creates it anew and this process of creation continues. In Shwetashwara Upanishad Stotra 5/7, it is said that Creation and destruction, that is, the appearance of the Universe and its disappearance or dissolution is going on for time immemorial.
The Quran also says on a number of occasions that God will repeat the creation.
“The Day when We shall roll up the heavens as a recorder rolleth up a written scroll. As We began the first creation, We shall repeat it.” (Al Anbiyaa: 104)
This negates the belief of the Muslims that this universe has been created for once and after Qayamat, all will live happily everafter. God says that He will roll up the universe; the universe will be sent back in its unmanifest state as it was before the first creation. Scientifically it will be transformed back to a mass of energy as it was before the Big Bang. And the process will be repeated. The same topic has been dealt with in another verse in the Quran:
“And they esteem not Allah as He hath the right to be esteemed, when the whole earth is His handful on the Day of Resurrection, and the heavens are rolled in His right hand.” (Al Zumar: 67)
This verse also speaks of rolling back of the Universe in a condensed form of energy.
Upanishad describe Brahman as formless and attribute-less with infinite power. The Quran also describes the Supreme Power as Lateef, By Lateef, subtle nature of God is suggested. Quran says:
“Vision comprehendeth Him not, but He comprehendeth (all) vision. He is the Subtile, the Aware.”(Al An-am: 103)
God does not have a physical existence but he has a finer and subtle presence in the universe as Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient. Einstein also did not believe in a personal God or God with human attributes but believed in a power that governed the universe.
Vedanta and the Quran both describe the Supreme Being as all pervasive engulfing all the existence. The Upanishads present the philosophy of all pervasiveness and immanence of God. Isavasyam idam sarvam (Everything is engulfed by God). The Quran also says:
Ala innahu bekulle shayim muheet (Ha Meem Sajda: 54)
“Lo! God engulfs everything”
Another two important attributes of God according to the Quran are Zahir and Batin. It means that God is manifest and unmanifest. Whatever appears is a manifestation of God and what is unmanifest is also part of God. Batin means the inner soul of matter. In the beginning we have mentioned that Thales believed that matter cannot be separated from its life or soul. That is, every matter has soul in it. This soul demonstrates that God is present in all its creation. Mundakopanishad calls God “Sarvabhutantaratma” (inner soul of the material world). Upanishad also says, “Tat shristva tadevanupravishat’ (Having created the world He entered into it). Here too the Vedanta and the Quran agree with each other on the subject of the nature of the Supreme Being.
As for the attribute Zahir, the Vedanta has the belief that the entire universe is the manifestation of Brahman. Whatever is manifest is a manifestation of the original Creator, Brahman. The term Batin or Sarvabhutantaratma also explain the philosophy of Advaitavad or Wahdatul Wujud. The reality is One and the universe is its manifestation. Upanishad says ekam sadvipra bahudha vadanti. The reality is One, people call it by different names. Therefore, human beings are also a part of the existence of God. That’s why contemplating on self leads to the realization of the Supreme Self. Brihadaranyak Upanishad (2.4.5) says:
‘Atma re va drastavyah’ (Know thyself). An Arabic saying also says the same thing:
A’rif nafsaka benafsik (Know thyself)
A quote attribute to Hadhrat Ali also echoes this Upanishadic philosophy:
‘Man arafah nafsahu faqad arafah rabbahu’(One who knows his own self knows his God)
Ibn-e-Arabi said, “Nothing is out of the limitless Being”.
Mundakopanishad says, “tamevaikam janatha atmanam” (Ponder on the Supreme Self within you). 2.2.5
One aspect on which the Upanishad and the Quran seem to be disagree rather have different ideas is the nature of the creation or the universe. The creation or the universe is called Maya in the Vedanta. But the Quran said that the universe is not illusory or batil. It is truth. It has its solid existence. Here Maya is described as the power of Brahman, the Akshar Purusha (indestructible Soul). Maya is taken to be illusury world. When we believe that only God has a real existence, then the universe ceases to be having a real existence. This is the requirement of the belief in the Unity of God. But Vedanta says that the universe is the work of Maya which is the power of Brahman. Here the word Maya is misinterpreted. Maya is meant to be taken as illusion, its literal meaning. In reality, Vedanta says that Maya is the power of God to create as power to burn is the attribute of fire. Fire cannot be imagined without its power to burn, in the same way God cannot be imagined without its power to create.
Therefore, the world is not illusory. Maya is not the effect but the cause of the appearance of such effects like time, form, space etc. Shankaracharya also believes that the universe has a real existence. Raja Rammohan Roy also believed that the Universe was real. Logically thinking, matter is also a part of God. The rule of physics says that matter is indestructible. Indestructibility is only the attribute of God alone. So if matter is indestructible, then matter is God. It means the material world is not illusory. It is only a manifestation of God. The Quran also says:
“Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain.(Batil) ”. (Aal-e-Imran: 191)
The Quran also says that the world is not illusory or batil. Therefore, the disagreement in the stance of the Quran and that of the Vedanta is only a result of misinterpretation of a shloka of Upanishad. Otherwise, both speak about the same truth.
Therefore, being divine revealed scriptures, both Quran and Upanishads have many common grounds when dealing with the subject of creation and the nature of the Supreme Power called God or Ishwara. Therefore, a detailed study of the Vedanta or Upanishad leads to a better understanding of the Quran.
Sohail Arshad is a regular columnist for New AgeIslam.com.
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