Chapter 2 — Description of the First Cause: Yama Explains Air-born Brahma to Death; Will without Form or Action

Vasishta resumed:—

Rama, now listen as I relate the story of Akasaja, the air-born brahmin, which will be precious to your ears and will enable you to better to understand the drift of this book of creation.

There lived a brahmin named Akasaja who always sat reclined in his meditation and was ever inclined to do good to all creatures. Finding him long-lived, Death thought to himself, “Only I am imperishable, and I devour all things one by one. How is it that I cannot stuff myself with this air-born? I find my teeth as blunt on him as the edge of a sword on solid rock.” So thinking, he proceeded to the home of the brahmin intent upon making an end of him. For who is not so dull in nature that he is not alert in his practice?

But as Death was about to enter Akasaja’s house, he was opposed by a fire as powerful as that in the final destruction of the last day of the world’s dissolution. He passed through the flames and entered the house where, seeing the holy man before him, he greedily stretched out his hand to grab him. Even with his hundred hands, Death was unable to grasp the holy man, just as it is impossible for the strongest to withstand a determined man in his habitual course.

Death then went to his lord, Yama, the god of the underworld, to answer his question why he could not devour the air-born being. 10 Yama explained, “Death, do not overly trust your own strength that enables you to destroy the living. It is the act of the dying person that is the chief cause of his death and nothing else. 11 Therefore, be diligent and find out about the acts of the person you intend to kill, because it is only with their assistance that you are able seize your prey.”

12 Thereupon Death gladly wandered about in all the places under the horizon. He roved over inhabited lands as he did throughout empty and river lands. 13 He traversed forests and jungles, marshy and rocky grounds, and maritime coasts. He traveled to foreign lands and islands and pried through their wildernesses, cities and towns. 14 He searched through kingdoms and countries, villages and deserts. He surveyed the entire earth to find out some act of the brahmin or any part of it.

15 At last Death, despite all his search and efforts, came to find the acts of air-born brahmin to be as nothing as the offspring of a barren woman, and brahmin’s mind as fixed (in meditation) as if it were a rock.

16 Then Death returned from his reconnoitering explorations to his all-knowing master Yama and sought his advice, as servants do in matters of doubt and difficulty. 17 Death addressed Yama saying, “Tell me my lord, where are the acts of the air-born brahmin to be found?”

After much thought, Yama replied as follows. 18 “Know, O Death, that this air-born seer has no act whatever because he is born of empty air. Therefore his doings are all null and void. 19 Whoever is born of air is as pure as air itself and has no combination of cause or actions such as all embodied beings. 20 He has no relationship with acts of his prior existence. He is as nothing as the child of a barren woman, like one unborn, uncreated and un-begotten. 21 Want of causes has made him a pure empty being, and the lack of prior acts has made him as nothing as an ethereal tree.”

22 “Deprived of former acts, his mind is not ruffled like those of others, nor is there any act in his present state whereby he may become a morsel to death. 23 Such is the soul seated in the sheath of void, and remaining forever as the simple form of its own causality, and not guided by any extraneous causation whatever. 24 It has no prior deed, nor does it do anything at present, but continues as something like an intelligence with the form of air.”

25 “Our inference that the soul causes the actions of breathing and motion is a mere supposition because the soul is devoid of every thought or tendency towards action. 26 It sits meditating on itself as inseparable from the Supreme Intelligence, just as images are inseparable from the mind of the painter and sculptor. 27 The self-born Brahma is as intimately connected with the objects of his thought as fluidity is associated with water and the void with the sky. 28 His soul is as immanent in the Supreme as motion is inherent in the wind. It has neither the accumulated acts of past lives nor those of its present state. 29 It is produced without the cooperation of accompanying causes and being free from prior motives, it is not subjected to the sufferings that attend human life. 30 It is found to be nothing other than its own cause, and having no other cause for itself, it is said to be self-produced.”

31 “Say, how can you lay hold of a being who has done no act and is not in the act of doing anything at present? It is only subject to you when it thinks itself mortal. 32 You are easily able to take anyone who believes his soul to be of this earth and thinks himself to be an earthly being. 33 Because this brahmin disowns the material body, he is a formless being. Therefore it is as hard for you to enthrall him as it is to use a rope to tie the air.”

34 Death replied saying, “Tell me my lord, how may the unborn (aja) or the self-born (swayambhu) be produced out of vacuum, and how can an earthly or other elemental body both be and not be?”

35 Yama replied, “This Brahman is neither born nor is nothing at anytime but remains the same forever, like the light of intelligence of which there is no decay. 36 Upon the end of creation, there remains nothing except the tranquil, imperishable and infinite Brahman himself in his spiritual form. 37 This is the nature of the everlasting void, too subtle in its essence and devoid of all attributes, but viewing the present before its mind, the stupendous cosmos in the form of a huge mountain at the beginning of recreation.”

38 “Being of the nature of consciousness it is imperishable, but those who regard spirit to have any material body are liable to perish with it like all embodied beings. 39 Thus in the beginning this Brahman remained in his state of unalterable, empty consciousness in the womb of emptiness. 40 It is purely of the nature of empty understanding, and of the form of a vast expanse of omniscience. It has neither body nor organism, no act or agency, nor desire of any kind in itself.”

41 “That which is simply emptiness and pure light, unlike an embodied being, is never beset by the traps of new desires. 42 It has nothing to know or see without itself. The only conception that we can have of it is that it resembles an extended intelligence. 43 Under these circumstances, how is it susceptible to any earthly or other external form? Therefore, O Death, give up your attempts to lay hold of Brahman.”

44 Hearing these words from Yama, Death thought upon the impracticability of anyone laying hold on empty void and he sorrowfully returned to his own abode.

45 Rama said, “Sage, you said that Brahma is your great father. I think you meant to say that your father is the unborn, self-born Universal Soul and consciousness.”

Vasishta speaking:

46 What I had described to you, Rama, is Brahma, and the previous story about the discussion between Death and Yama also regards Brahma.

47 Again when Death over the course of a manvantara of time had made an end to all living beings, he thought himself strong enough to make an attempt to bear down upon the lotus-born Brahma also. 48 It was then that he was rebuked by Yama, saying, “It is your habit that makes you go on your accustomed course of killing. 49 But the super-ethereal form of Brahma is beyond your reach because it simply has of the nature of the mind, connected only with its thoughts and having no concern with the actual forms of things.”

50 Brahma is wonderfully empty consciousness having the faculty of thought. Thus consciousness, being only emptiness, has neither any cause that created it nor any effect created by it. 51 As the insubstantial principle of will in men manifests itself without being connected with material forms, so the self-born Brahma manifests to all in his own immaterial nature.

52 Like strings of pearl appearing in a clear sky, and like the forms of cities seen in a dream, the self-born Brahma is manifest of himself without relation to external objects. 53 As there is no beholder or anything beholden of the solitary Supreme Spirit which is consciousness itself, so the mind manifests of itself. 54 It is the mind’s capacity to will that is called Brahma. Will being a spiritual faculty, it has no connection with any material substance.

55 As the mind of the painter is filled with images of various things, so the mind of Brahma is full of figures of all created beings. 56 The self-born Brahma is manifest in his own mind as Brahma is manifested in the empty sphere of his consciousness. He is without beginning, middle or end. He is described as having a male figure when, in reality and like the offspring of a barren woman, he has no body.