Since the beginning of humanity, people have wondered about the origins of the universe and what made existence possible. Was the universe ever created? If so, who created it and what was there before creation? If not, how can something exist without a first cause?
Maybe some of these questions will never be answered by science, but eastern schools of thought taught that in order to understand how the universe came to be, one has to transcend the human need to set a beginning and an end for everything and start to contemplate the eternity.
Eastern Philosophy and the Eternity of the Universe
According to ancient eastern philosophy, the universe has never been created because it has always existed. The non-existence, as the name indicates, does not exist, and therefore, something exists all the time.
Humans cannot conceive eternity, so it’s natural to search for beginnings and ends. But, if one admitted that the universe started to exist at some point, it would mean that before then, there was nothing and nothing, of course, cannot exist.
However, the eastern knowledge says that the universe has cycles in which it manifests and disappears. In poetic language, the universe sleeps and awakes many times.
When it sleeps, all things stay latent, unmanifested, resting and recovering the energy, this state is called “Pralaya” in Sanskrit. When the universe awakens after a long night, it starts a new cycle of manifestation in which all that was sleeping comes to life again.
In scientific language, the eastern cosmology is equivalent to some modern theories that state that the universe expands and condenses many times, creating big bangs when it condenses in a point. Eastern philosophy, however, was based on the idea that expansion and condensations continue ad infinitum.
Planets, stars and celestial bodies may be born and die at a point in time, but the energy that allows the existence is eternally present. A good analogy would be to imagine electricity and light bulbs, even when all lights are off, the electricity still exists.
Light bulbs can break and will be destroyed by time, but the electricity that allows the light to shine does not cease to exist.
The Universal Cycles According to Buddhist and Hindu Cosmology
Buddhist as well as Hindu philosophies stated that there are cycles of manifestation in between the pralayas and such cycles are divided into seven or ten stages.
At first, everything that exists is condensed in a point in a latent state and then, fragmentation starts, manifesting everything that was dormant. The periods of manifestation are called “Manvantara” and the universe is said to eternally oscillate between pralayas and manvantaras.
In the west, Pythagoras was influenced by the eastern cosmology and developed the theory that explains the cycles of the universe through numbers and geometrical forms.
The First Cause and the Uncaused Cause
Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd, known as Averroes in the west, defended the Aristotelian argument in which the universe is viewed as eternal.
He argued that since everything that exists needs a cause to exist, the first cause must be eternal, otherwise, the first cause would have needed a cause, and therefore, wouldn’t have been the first. So, what would this uncaused cause be and why does it not need a cause to exist?
Many eastern thinkers who accepted the theory of an eternal universe have attempted to answer this question and various theories emerged.
Some would call the first cause God, others Unity or Absolute, and although some scholars suggest that such theories oppose to each other, it is possible that the differences are merely a semantic misunderstanding or a problem regarding the concept of what is God.
Sufis as well as Buddhists, believe that God is not separate from the universe, they are the same thing, so God as the first cause is the same as the universe itself as the uncaused cause. Buddhists use the word “unity” or “absolute” to define this force; Sufis had a similar understanding about this. Creator and creation are one, according to these schools of thought.
Other schools understood that God is independent from the universe and therefore, the universe was created by God at some point, which, in this case, would mean that God might be the eternal cause but the universe would be finite.
No matter what theory a person chooses to embrace, mankind will always be fascinated by the greatness of the universe and whatever is the name one calls the first cause, all agree that it is, indeed, eternal.