Comparing Hindu Cosmology with the Big Bang Theory

In the modern times when science has made so much progress, one might argue why to think about the Hindu Cosmology when we already know that the universe started from big bang. But hold on; do not hastily disregard the wisdom of old times. In this article we will discuss the Hindu Cosmology and see if it is of no consequence in the age of the Big Bang theory.

Humans are curious beings and the question on how this world came into being and what is it’s future has always been on our minds. All the cultures have come up with their cosmology to deal with such questions. In the modern times we believe in a universe, which is more than 93 billion light years in diameter and contains billions of galaxies with each galaxy containing billions of stars and the sun is one of them. We have the big bang theory to describe the origin of the universe, where we estimate that the universe come into existence 13.77 billion years ago after a big bang event. We believe this theory because it is consistent with our observations of the expanding universe, which when run back in time will lead us to a infinitesimally small point containing everything that is now present in the universe.

Now keep in mind that big bang is a theory, which is consistent with our current scientific observation. This does not mean that it is an absolute truth, there are still many open mysteries associated with this theory. As an example, we know that not only are the galaxies moving far and far from each other, but also that this movement is accelerating over time and we have no direct explanation for it. Dark energy and dark matter have been included in the theory to deal with these inconsistencies. These are rational assumptions that the scientists have brought forward to explain things that they do not completely understand. So as you can see there are speculations in our current theory also

Now if we think about our ancestors who did not have any of the modern scientific equipment to explain the origin of this universe. The amount of data that they had was limited. Therefore, we should not judge the cosmology of the ancients too harshly as they were also making rational assumptions based on their limited observational capability. We should judge Hindu cosmology the same way.

Traditionally the cosmological events were presented in the form of a mythical story and Hindus were no exception. However, there is a specialty with the Hindus, there is no one defined mythical story describing the creation of this universe in Hinduism indicating that Hindus have always been open to change their theory based on new ideas and empirical observations. This is the reason why we have absolutely no issue with the theory of evolution while other religions have not been so receptive of it.

In the modern times being so confident in our present theory of creation we disregard these mythical stories as superstition. This is a mistake and mostly happens because we take the story literally. Taken literally these stories do not make any sense, however if you go a level deeper than you can make sense of the philosophy behind it. Let us look at the most popular creation myth of the Hindus, which mentions that initially there was nothing and everything was beneath the ocean and Vishnu, was sleeping on the Ananta Shesh Naga. Vishnu then dreamt of creating this universe and a lotus sprouted out of his navel. When it blossomed out came from it Brahma, who then created this universe.

If you are thinking that there is a real Vishnu in human form sleeping on a serpent and a Brahma with four heads then you have missed the point. In this story Vishnu signifies the consciousness of this universe, while the ocean signifies the un-manifested universe, Shesh Nag represent that which will be left when there is no space, time and matter in which the universal consciousness can rest, and Brahma is the process through which the universe came into existence from its un-manifested form. If we look at this story that way, then the whole story becomes logical and scientific.

Before the big bang there was no space, time or matter. There was just singularity where the entire un-manifested universe existed. This is very similar to the Hindus creation myth saying in the beginning nothing existed and the world was beneath the ocean in an un-manifested form. Instead of singularity we have an ocean here. Big bang theory then says something happened and the singularity manifested into this universe. Hindu myth describes this something as the universal consciousness desiring to manifest the world, again not much difference from the big bang. Out springs the Brahma from the lotus sprouting from Vishnu’s navel and creates the world, which is similar to the laws of this universe coming into existence in the big bang theory and this world is created. Just a side note: Lotus signifies birth in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions and therefore it is mentioned in the story as a metaphor for birth of the universe.

As you can see the bare bones of the story we hear today about creation of the universe and what was told by the ancients remain the same, it is just that in the modern times since we have better understanding of the laws of nature, we have more details on the process itself. The underlying philosophy remains the same. Considering the openness of Hinduism to include new information into its tradition, we can easily include the big bang theory into Hindu tradition, it blends very well. However, there is just one problem with the big bang theory. It does not tell us about what was there before the big bang and what will happen to the expanding universe.

This brings us into the world of speculation and logic and there is no reason for us to discard the traditional Hindu view of the cyclical universe where it is repeatedly created and destroyed. In fact if we follow this path then we have an explanation for what was there before the Big Bang, it was a different manifested universe. Going by this then the universe, which is right now expanding will then go back to singularity and a new universe will then be created.

What will happen to the universe in future, we don’t know as we do not have much information, similarly we have no way of knowing what was there before the big bang. So here we have mostly use logic. Now let me introduce to you three logical concepts to arrive at the cyclical universe theory of the Hindus

1. Whatever has a beginning has an end

2. Any material thing cannot stay in its one form forever; it can only change from one form to the other.

3. For a thing to exist forever it has to go through a cyclical of changes.

If you agree with me on these three assumptions then let us consider how it applies to the universe. We believe that the universe has a beginning at Big Bang, therefore it must have an end also. The universe is changing all the time it is right now expanding, however this expansion cannot go on forever as this expansion also had a beginning. The process of the creation of the universe is part of another process which must be eternal because if it was not eternal then there must have been something before that process started, in other words it had a beginning and therefore it must have an end also. But if that process has a beginning and an end then there must be some other process which must be going on before that, because something cannot come out of nothing. So logically thinking there must exist a process which does not have a beginning or an end, in other words it must be an eternal process. And that process can be eternal only if it is cyclical. Therefore the creation and destruction of this universe must be cyclical.

As you can see the Hindu theory of cyclical universe is quite logical. Therefore if it is only left to speculation I will go with the Hindu conception of the cyclical universe. Of course if the scientific evidence indicates otherwise then I will change opinion.

Discover Indian Heritage: Arts, Science, Religion and Philosophy of India