A man regards the universe, and wonders. What is it? Where did it come from? Who am I, and why am I in the world? If he takes his questions to his elders, or to the spiritual leaders or great intellects of his community, he may receive an answer in the form of a story – a story of the creation of the universe, and the beginnings of a man very much like himself. Creation stories exist in every civilization. One culture may tell of a God who forms the earth; another people may speak of an endless cycle of evolution that knows no God at all. Although the stories can be strikingly different or even opposed to one another, they all perform the same function: they give the listener solid ground to stand on, and offer him direction. They hold a mirror before the man, revealing it to be a window into eternity.
The way that can be told Is not the constant way; The name that can be named Is not the constant name. The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth; The named was the mother of the myriad creatures. Hence always rid yourself of desires In order to observe its myriad secrets; But always allow yourself to have desires In order to observe its manifestations. These two are the same But diverge in names as they issue forth. Being the same they are called mysteries. Mystery upon mystery – The gateway of the manifold secrets.
In this poem from chapter one of the Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese philosopher known as Lao Tzu offers a Taoist story that examines all of reality in a few brief verses. He begins with an understanding of the structure of reality/the universe, called “The Way”, and explains why this structure is entirely ineffable. For one thing, language is relative by nature, springing as it has from a need to label, or objectify. Reality, however, cannot be objectified without stepping outside of it, which man is powerless to do. Secondly, reality is never static, a condition that is required for accurate description: description falls short each time it approaches the mark, because the target has moved on.
All things in existence are collectively referred to by Lao Tzu as “heaven and earth,” a term that underscores the duality that yielded the universe: light cannot exist without darkness, male without female, life without death. What was before duality is “nameless”, the unknown Creator (what Lao Tzu does not call God). There is a suggestion here that all things depend upon their opposites (as well as upon some creative energy) for their existence.
Lao Tzu advises man to lose the relative consciousness that objectifies the world and subjectifies the self, and see reality in terms of the truth that all things are manifestations of that which is nameless. With this understanding, man can return to the relative world with the wisdom that he, his desires and the objects of his desires are expressions of The Way, and not of the self. Absolute consciousness proclaims that the named and the Nameless are one.
Another creation story contained within a Hindu text called the Lawbook of Manu communicates an understanding similar to that of Lao Tzu, but focuses on the moment when duality (the universe) is born. In this myth, Manu speaks of “He (that is the Self-existent)” as the Nameless Creator of the universe, who was himself independently originated. Manu writes that this Creator, “desiring to produce beings of many kinds from his own body, first with a thought created the waters and placed his seed in them.”
Manu has the Creator place the seed of his desire within the water of thought, which becomes a golden egg. Inside this egg, the Creator himself (Brahman) is born to a form that can produce other forms (Narayana). From this “cause, which is indiscernible, eternal, and both real and unreal,” was produced the Creator’s eternal cosmic spirit, the primal man called Purusha. By thought alone, Purusha divides the egg into two halves, from which the universe is formed. Duality is born; the Nameless begets the named.
Manu’s story of the Creator’s creation of himself and the universe echoes Lao Tzu’s cosmology and theology, although Manu thinks of the creative force in more anthropomorphic, God-like terms than Lao Tzu. Manu’s work draws a separation between the Creator and the created, although there is still a universal union in that all existence traces its origins to Brahman, the egg and the waters of creation. This union implies the same type of ethic inherent in Lao Tzu’s story – that man must view the world not from a false perspective of independence or separation, but with the true understanding that all things (including his own being) are manifestations of the One.
In these creation myths, answers to the great questions of life are addressed by placing humanity squarely within a story that establishes a direct relationship with eternal, absolute powers. Somewhere in the tale, the listener identifies with the “first man”, and recognizes (consciously or subliminally) that the story is his own. In establishing this connection between himself and his beginnings, he begins to grasp his true place in the universe, and the bond he shares with everything in it.