Chapter 206 — The Story of King Prajnapti Asking How Immaterial Can Create Material — (the Great Buddhist Inquiry)
1 Vasishta resumed:—
The appearance of the uncreated phenomenon of creation is nothing in reality. Only the transcendental principle of supreme Brahman is the true reality. 2 Once someone asked me about this subject. Now I will share with you how I answered that question so that you, O high-minded Rama, may have a strengthened understanding.
3 The great island of Kushadwipa is surrounded by seas on all sides like a watery belt. This land is renowned for its beauty all over the three regions of the world. 4 On its northeastern side there is a city called Ilavati surrounded by a series of pillars gilded all over with gold, glittering with radiant beams reaching from earth to the skies. 5 There formerly reigned a king called Prajnapti who ruled on earth like the god Indra in heaven and to whom this land paid homage.
6 On one occasion I happened to encounter this king, as the sun descends on earth on the last day of desolation. 7 The king hailed and adored me with offerings of flowers and presents and made me sit by him with due reverence. Then in the course of my conversation with him, he fondly asked me as follows.
King Prajnapti speaking:—
8 Tell me sage, what becomes of the world after the destruction of all things, when the causalities of recreation are all extinct and annihilated in the indefinable vacuum of desolation? 9 What becomes the prime cause of things at the recreation of the world? What are the accompanying elements to reproduce objects? How and from where do they arise?
10 What is the world and what was the beginning of its creation? What was the primeval chaos and whence is this earth? What is the air, the support of the seas, and the hell filled with worms and insects? 11 What are the creatures contained in the womb of air and what creatures live in the bosom of mountains? What are the elementary bodies and their productions? How have understanding and its faculties come into existence? 12 Who is the maker of all these and who is their witness? What is the support of the universe and what are the things it contains? I am quite certain that the world can never have its ultimate destruction.
13 All the Vedas and scriptures are opposed to one another in their different views and interpretations. Each one makes a hypothesis according to its own particular view. 14 From our knowledge of the world, we do not know whether it is indestructible or an unreality.
15 Tell me, O chief of sages, what is the form and cause of those bodies that are doomed to dwell in hell after men die on this earth and their bodies are cremated and destroyed? 16 What causes bodies to regenerate after they are destroyed upon death? The virtues and vices of departed souls, all being immaterial things, cannot cause the formation of their material bodies. 17 It is absurd to reason that something that is immaterial could possibly produce a material body, just as it is impossible to believe that there can be a child without the original cause of its parents.
18 Tell me sage, what could possibly cause the production of material bodies? For lack of any such cause, it is also improper to deny the existence of a future state. 19 It is contrary to the dictates of Vedas and scriptures, and also to the conviction and common sense of mankind, to deny the future state of our existence. The resurrection of our bodies is as unavoidable as exile to a distant land by decree of law, though it be against our wish or will.
20 How are beings born and put into action over the course of their lives by invisible causes that are quite unconnected? Pillars of stone were converted to gold, not just gilded, by the word of the brahmin. How did the brahmin suddenly obtain this vast treasure? 21 Why call something great which lasts only for a moment? What is the need to frame strict laws for the present to reap a harvest in future when all that is not based on sound reasoning?
22 Tell me sage, how do you reconcile such disagreements in the Vedas which mention the existence of being and not-being in the beginning? Tell me also how that not-being existed before creation, and then the being or creation was born of the not-being. 23 How could the primeval nonentity become Brahman? How could Brahma be produced or born from a mighty emptiness? Then tell also me sage, how come there are no other Brahmas born of its spacious womb?
24 Tell me how plant and other creations are produced without their different sources. How do they derive their nature of being able to propagate their own kinds by their own seeds? 25 Tell me why the life and death of a man are contemporaneous with those of his friend or adversary. How do people happen to obtain their wishes in their next lives by dying in holy places such as Prayaga? 26 Should the wishes of men be crowned with success in their next lives, then tell me sage, why isn’t the sky filled with multitudes of moons? The worshippers of the moon are seen dying each day with the expectation of becoming a brilliant moon in the next state of their existence in heaven. 27 How can men attain their wishes for the future when most of them desire the same object? It necessarily falls to the lot of only one of them, just as a maid expected to be wedded by many is destined to be married only by one man.
28 Again, how can a woman be called a wife who is either unchaste or leads a life of celibacy even when dwelling in her husband’s house? 29 What is the difference between the blessing and curse pronounced on the brahmin brothers for their sovereignty over the seven continents on the one hand, and having no such thing on the other, when they remained thinking themselves as monarchs of the world in their own house?
30 The acts of piety, whether charities, austerities or subservient ceremonies, which are supposed to produce some unknown reward in the next world, are of no benefit on this earth to those who practice them. So what is the good derived if they afford no earthly benefit to the earthly body, but to a future body with which no one here has any concern? 31 Should it be said that the soul of the pious observer reaps the reward in its future state, then this also is impossible because the disembodied soul is incapable of enjoyment. Should it have another body to enjoy hereafter, of what use is that distant body to the body of the present observer (of the pious acts)? 32 Should these acts be accompanied with any reward, either in this life or in the next, they should be known to the actor. Lacking this knowledge, their observance appears to be an irreconcilable inconsistency.
33 These are my doubts which I beg you will kindly remove by your cool and clear reasoning, like moonlight disperses evening twilight. 34 Now sage, please dispel my doubts in my inquiry after transcendental truth so that it may lead to my good in both worlds. The company of the righteous is ever filled with very great blessings to all people.