The Beginning – Or

Beginning; origin; start; source; foundation; basis…

     Is there a Beginning on its own? Is there ever a beginning from ‘nothing’? Is there an origin or a start of anything from nothing? Has anyone seen, observed or felt anything new, anything original born out of nothing, without a previous form or feeling? To our common understanding, there always exists a substance or substrate or experience for anything to originate from; be it another substance or be it a sensation. Always it is a transformation, a modification, or an alteration of something pre-existing for anything to evolve; anything at all. For water, it is either ice or steam or Hydrogen and Oxygen; for a plant, there is a seed, for a creature it is an ovum or a cell; for a sculpture, it may be a block of wood or clump of clay. For Life, essentially, there must be something vital as its origin. For an inanimate object, there usually has a precursor form. For a feeling, there always is a reason; for hunger, it is the empty stomach, for fear, there has to be a scare; for love, there will be an objective reason, a focus.

In the case of ‘the Universe’, is it any different?

     For the beginning of the Universe, for the Galaxy, for the enormity of all that exists, there is bound to be a previous state or perhaps at least a valid explanation, which we may or may not be able to comprehend; yet, it has to be there. It is very unlikely, at least from the perception of human experience that Cosmos originated out of Nothing. If we can figure out a definition for that ‘Nothing’ or if we can come up with an explanation that there was ‘Something’ prior to ‘Everything’, then the process can be understood as a phenomenon without a real beginning or an end. For one to assimilate the concept of origin there has to be a substantial faith convincing to that conscience or a logical theory postulated and accepted by the scientific circle. For the former group, those who approach it through sheer belief, or accept it as an act of faith, every religion has their account of creation revealing their belief how everything began. For the scientific mind, inquisitive of proof, volumes are available explaining the various theories about the origin of cosmos and that of evolution. Often most of us come up with our own comfortable conclusion depending on our upbringing and the extent of information we are exposed to which make a meaningful inference to our probing minds.
     While dealing with a subject which is understood in a variety of ways and the details of which are so obscure, hard to be explained or be proved, it makes reasonable sense to look at it with an inquiring mind and with a broad attitude. Another option is to be dogmatic and deceive one’s own judgment.
     As an interesting, educational exercise let us journey through the various ways the different religions approach the concept of the ‘very beginning’ and how they compare or conflict with the truly scientific findings that are on record.

     Hindu belief is that the universe is essentially without beginning or end, life being in the midst of an infinite cycle of cosmic deaths and births, dictated and controlled by an enormous concept, God. Hindus consider that the creator is transcendent, ruling beyond the dimensional limits of the universe, beyond time and space. In that context, the Hindu view differs from the “big-bang” theory, which proposes that the entire universe, all the matter and energy and the dimensions of time and space, exploded into existence from an infinite density, approximately 15 billion years ago. Accommodating into the Hindu belief, perhaps such big-bang explosions can just be the ‘beginning’ of every cycle in the ongoing cosmic evolutions. Such a theory would give credence to the notion of a steady state of affairs rather than of a one-time occurrence, even if such an event were to repeat once every few billions of years.

     The ancient Hindu scriptures, like the Rigveda, Manusmriti, Upanishads, and others, devised by sages of antiquity, describes the universe as going through a continuous, cyclical process. God creates and destroys this universe in a cycle of eras, named Krita Yuga (1,728,000 years), Treta Yuga (1,296,000 years), Dwapara Yuga (864,000 years) and Kali Yuga (432,000 years). Our present universe is considered to be in the Kali-yuga for the last 5,000 years. After each cycle, there is a transitional period where the universe is deluged by huge flooding. One combined unit of the four yugas makes one cycle and 71 such cycles comprise one ‘Manu’. Since this creation, it has been six different Manus and the current period is the 28th cycle of the seventh Manu, which has 43 more four-yuga cycles remaining. Then there will be seven more Manus before the universe will come to an end and will be recreated again. A thousand four-yuga periods (Mahayuga) comprise one day of the Creator Brahma and another thousand such periods make one night for him. The universe lasts for the duration of the creator’s one day (4,320 Billion years) and it stays unmanifest for the duration of his night. When He wakes up, the universe is in motion again. The day and night of Brahma are called a Kalpa, which is equal to 2000 Mahayugas. It is said that when Brahma starts his day, all entities become manifest from the un-manifest state and when his night starts, they all go back to the un-manifest state. The 15 billion years as stated in the big-bang theory is only two days to Lord Brahma, the God of creation. When modern astronomy deals with billions of years, Hindu creation concepts deal with trillions of years, yet with no beginning or end, but going in an everlasting circle. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna states, “At the beginning of time or Kalpa, I create everything and at the end of time Kalpa, the whole creation 217 merges in me; the whole universe is created and annihilated by my will”. “I am life, cause of all life and I am death, devoure of all”.

     The Biblical understanding about the Beginning of the Universe is very clear, according to Genesis 1: 1-4; that God created the universe in six days, thousands of years ago. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth and the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
     The Bible informs us that time is a dimension that God created, into which man was subjected to. God exists in eternity outside the dimension He created (2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2) and He is not subject to time. Because we live in the dimension of time, it is impossible for us to understand anything without a beginning or an end. Believing in the concept of God’s eternal nature, we believe the concept of space having no beginning or end.
     Even though there are differences of understanding between various fundamentalists and liberal groups among Christians as to the actual length of days mentioned in the Genesis, essentially the belief attributes God as the creator. Also accommodating scientific theories especially of evolution versus creation is a topic of controversy, with varying degrees of opinion among different groups. The belief is driven purely by the love of God and not by an objection to science.

     As per Quran, the divine revelation of Islam, Allah created the universe from nothing and brought into existence all the creatures. It makes unmistakable reference to the fact that Allah created it from a single entity, and He is All-capable over all things. Allah then ordered the ‘single entity’ to split, which it did, and turned into a cloud of smoke. From this cloud, Allah created the heavens and earth. (2:117, 21:30)
     The descriptions in the Quran are not intended as dry historical accounts, but rather to engage the reader in contemplating the lessons to be learned from. The act of creation is thus frequently spoken of as a way of drawing the reader into thinking about the All-knowing Creator Who is behind it all.
     When describing the creation of the ‘heavens and earth’, the Quran does not discount the theory of a “Big Bang” explosion at the start of it all. In fact, the Quran says that “the heavens and earth were joined together as one unit before we clove them asunder” (21:30). The elements and what were to become the planets and stars began to cool, come together and form into shape, following the natural laws that Allah established in the universe. The Quran further states that Allah created the sun, the moon, the planets and the rest, each with their own individual courses or orbit (21:33).

     According to Jewish legend: “In the beginning – before the beginning – God’s light filled the entire universe. When God decided to create the world, He had to withdraw some of His light from the universe, so that there would be space for the land and the seas, the trees and the corn stalks, the butterflies and the lions, the ladybugs and the sea otters. So God breathed in some of the Divine light so that there would be room for all the things He wanted to create.
     And then God began to create: the sky and the earth, the drylands and the waters, the fiery sun, the shimmering moon and the twinkling stars, the forests and the deserts, the creepy crawly things and the birds of the air, the fish of the seas and the animals roaming from here to there. Each of the little shards of light, the sparks of God, became the soul of a human being. God declared that the crowning works of creation were these humans, created in His image, created with a spark of His Divine Being. And to man and woman, God assigned a divine task and a sacred mission.
     ”The traditional Jewish interpretation of Biblical creation differs from that of Christian creationism. The more science discovers, there may be more of a convergence of science and that of Jewish interpretation of Genesis. The controversy between the six days of creation according to Genesis when compared to the 15 billion cited by science may have some compromise if the ‘day’ as mentioned in Genesis is a ‘divine day’, which is actually 365,250 years long. “A thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday” (Psalm 90:4), since each year contains 364 ¼ days, the calculation may put the two figures approximate each other.

     At the very beginning, what existed was void; Chaos, according to Greeks. A void is emptiness, a dark emptiness where nothing is visible, endless, and bottomless. Then earth appears; Gaia as the Greeks calls it, the floor of the world. Earth rises up in the very heart of the void and then shapes up like mountains and oceans and the rest. Primordial love is the next to appear, Eros. Then two offspring Uranus and Pontus, Sky and Sea are born from where the rest is born.

     According to “Egyptian cosmology” by Moustafa Gadalla, they have monotheistic mysticism, go along with the Big Bang theory that started the universe and applies it to a concept of cosmic consciousness. The Big Crunch would end the universe and the Big Bounce would start creation all over again.

     The Chinese concept of the origin of the universe is from that of space and time, reflected by the term yu-zhou, meaning a continuum without bounds and limits. The concept is compatible with the modern theory of the universe. Before the existence of heaven and earth, there was complete chaos. Silent! Empty! From the chaotic state, the universe entered a state of order in which all things were produced in accordance with the spontaneous dao, the ‘mother’ of all things.

Then there are numerous thoughts about the Beginning and about creation from many corners of the earth as believed by different tribes like the Zulus, Efics, Apaches, Aztecs, Mayans, Australian Aborigines, and others.

     Based on the findings of modern research, most scientists at the moment favor the Big Bang theory as the beginning of the Universe. It states that the Universe in its current shape is only a phase of a process that started with a gigantic explosion about 15 million years ago. The entire matter and energy were condensed into an infinitely small volume, which blasted into the matter, energy, space and time. The period ‘Before’ the explosion does not exist because, ‘time’ and ‘space’ did not exist before that.
     After the explosion, the ‘space’ created was filled with ‘energy’ and had an extremely high temperature. Instantaneously, ‘elementary matter’ came into existence, followed by protons, neutrons, and electrons which all started expanding. Since the beginning, it is said that the universe is constantly cooling and expanding simultaneously. This era is called the ‘radiation’ era since electromagnetic radiation was the most important phenomenon in the universe. After several thousand years, the temperature was cool enough for atoms to develop from elementary particles, especially hydrogen and helium; the era was called that of ‘matter’. After more thousands of years of cooling, the galaxies arose.
     The evidence of Big Bang theory came with the observation of Edwin Hubble and his space telescope, which could monitor activities in the space and follow the behavior of the planets and stars. It is observed that as the universe is expanding, the galaxies are drifting farther away from each other. There seem to be two possibilities to follow: either an Infinite Universe, if the expansion continues forever until all the galaxies form isolated islands in an infinite space-ocean, or, an Oscillating Universe which after the expansion stops, begin to shrink again and end in a thick mass of ‘singularity’, the opposite of Big Bang which can be called the Big Crunch.
     It will be relevant to make mention of Newton’s Laws, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Quantum Dynamics and the concept of Black Holes in the context of the Big Bang theory. Newton’s Law states that there needs a force acting on the mass to change its velocity. The General Theory of Relativity changed the basic concepts and showed that gravity is a property of space and not just a force between masses. It says that time is not a constant feature but will be expanded at high velocities like the speed of light or areas with intense gravity. It calculates the relationship between the dimensions of space and time. Quantum theory is the new branch of theoretical physics evolved to understand the properties of matter, which could not be explained, by classical mechanics or electromagnetic theory. It deals with the nature of sub-atomic particles and the heat radiation or the energy emitted by them, which are called quanta. Electrons revolve around the nucleus of the atoms, just as planets revolve around the sun. A Black Hole is an object whose gravity is so strong that the escape velocity exceeds the speed of light; the matter, which spirals into it, disappears extremely compressed and heated to extreme temperatures.
     The interesting findings of modern-day Physics seem to explain the cosmological events in many ways similar to those mentioned in eastern scriptures; that all observable and describable realities are manifestations of the same underlying ‘divine’ principle. In the multiplicity of things, there is unity; matter is many things and one thing at the same time.

     It is impossible to enumerate all the different viewpoints about the ‘beginning’ fostered by the numerous groups of believers around the world, from major religions to small tribal establishments, only a few of which could possibly be mentioned here. Faith is something very precious and personal to every individual, no matter how it may appear to others with an entirely different conviction. On issues with no concrete finality about the accuracy and assuming civility in our approach, such matters are best left at the discretion of the believers.
     Scientific theories are based on observations, analysis, and inference from data collected using systematic methodology, accepted by the scientific circle. Even though their findings may all be reasonably acceptable as facts, using the same examples of Newton’s Law is proved to be not all the truth and the Relativity theory being influenced by the Quantum Dynamics, scientific information will remain ‘true’ until the next ‘truth’ is invented in due course of time. Science also may remain elusive to understand and explain matters beyond a certain sphere of ‘time and space’. It will be prudent and sensible for any student who is honestly curious about knowing the truth without bias or preconceived notions to give scientific findings the respect they deserve. Perhaps much more complex, is for anyone seriously inquisitive yet accommodative, to respect the postulates put forward by the various religious circles, purely on the basis of faith. It is likely that the majority may be content and even comfortable to live with the limited understanding of the dictations of the faith they are brought up without doubting or questioning the authority of such teachings. When one is devotionally loyal to the ultimate submission to the concept of divinity they have subscribed to, all other explanations and pieces of evidence will automatically cease to impress them. After all, since no one has claimed for an ultimate truth unequivocally based on proof, scientific or otherwise, it will remain to be the call of the individual to believe whatever he feels comfortable to live with. Applying the same sentiments, it will be desirable for all of us to honor the others option on such preferences and respect their freedom to choose the way every individual feels at ease with. Arguments to establish the superiority of a certain philosophy and animosity over others who prefer to follow a different path is perhaps the basis of most of the turmoil that we face in today’s world.

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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