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The Christian and Vedntic Theories of Originative Causality: A Study in Transcendence and

Author(s): J. J. Lipner
Source: Philosophy East and West, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Jan., 1978), pp. 53-68
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
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J. J. Lipner TheChristianandVedintictheoriesof originativecausality:
A studyin transcendenceandimmanence

The purposeof this articleis to exploretentativelya particularaspect of the

principleof causalityin traditionalChristianandHinduphilosophicaltheology.
This aspect concerns the relationshipobtaining between the deity and the
finiteorderof being, which in Christianthoughthas been developedin terms
of the doctrineof creatioex nihiloand in VedanticHinduismin ostensiblyquite
differentconceptual categories.The issue becomes all the more interesting
becauseit can be seen to provide,in the appropriatecontextsin both religious
traditions,a metaphysicalfoundation for subsequentspeculation.Thus the
traditionalChristianunderstandingof creationexertseven today a basic pre-
suppositionalinfluenceon all seriousChristianphilosophyand theology,while
the Hindu counterpartof this doctrine continuesto function as an integral
partof the Hinduview of life. It is importantto note that in the Indiancontext
I shall confinemyselfchieflyto the teachingsof Vedanticthoughtwith special
referenceto Safikaraand Ramanuja.We cannot stresstoo stronglythe obser-
vation that "Hinduism"is not a monolithictraditionabout which generaliz-
ations can be made with impunity,but rathera convenientabbreviationfor a
varied collection of beliefs, practices, sects, and philosophies,which range
from subtleand numerousshadesof monism,agnosticism,and theisticteach-
ings to rathercrude forms of polytheism.It is well then to define our terms
of referenceat the outset. On the other hand, though it is true that Christian
belief is becomingmore and more diversified,I think it cannot be gainsaid
that the traditionaldoctrine of creation continues to play a central role in
Christianthinking,andis a universallyacceptedfeatureof the Westernreligious
heritage.I also wish to point out that in the ensuing discussionI shall not
attempta critiqueof the doctrinesof originativecausalityanalyzed:my primary
concern will be to draw out from both traditionsthe implicationsof these
theories,payingdue attention,in the process,to some of the problemsraised
for the coherenceof each systemfrom withinits own framework.
Now in the West, creationhas traditionallybeen discussedin a theological
settingand only makessensewhenunderstoodwith referenceto an all-power-
ful, omniscientcreator-deity.In recent usage, we do come across fringe or
derivativeconnotationsof "creation,"for example,in the modern scientific
notion of "spontaneouscreation"or in artisticand literaryactivity,whichdo
not entail any direct referenceto an omnipotentbeing. Not so long ago too,
a conceptof continuouscreationhas come into forcethroughwhat is knownas
processtheology, a theory which tends to explainthe divine being as itself a
continuously,self-creativeprocess,but therecan be no doubt I think that this
idea has not been incorporatedas such into mainstreamChristianspeculative
theology,and I shall confinethis discussionto "creation"'soriginalmeaning.

J. J. Lipner is a Lecturer in Religious Studies, Divinity Faculty, at the University of Cambridge in

Philosophy East and West 28, no. 1, January 1978. ? by The University Press of Hawaii. All rights reserved.

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54 Lipner

There is current another sense in which "creation" stands for the universe
about us, comprising distant galaxies, the planets, sun, mountains and rivers
as well as such microscopic things as bacteria, viruses, and infraatomic par-
ticles. This meaning need not be understood as entailing a reference to an
all-powerful being as the originative cause, but we also have here, I think, a
derivative meaning, one shorn of the theistic connotations it had earlier. (And
the same applies when we use the word in relating "creation accounts" or
"stories" as accounts describing the beginning of the world, and so on.)
Western thought then has usually associated the doctrine of creation with
the idea of a creator-God and has developed this very ancient and central
concept in the strongly monotheistic context of Christian faith. This teaching
maintains that an infinite deity has brought into existence out of nothingness
(and conserves in being) the universe of finite reality, whether spiritual or
material, personal or nonpersonal, immortal or transient. The world is not
self-existent: only God is such, and it is an essential part of the definition of
God for him to have or rather to be, existence, by his very nature, and to be
able to create or bring into existence from nonbeing, finite, limited, things.
Of course, the words "nothingness" and "nonbeing" (and their equivalents)
as just used must not be understood to mean, even covertly, a subtle preexisting
matrix out of which and upon which God either bestows order or educes some-
thing new. We might well be unable to imagine a pure nothingness preceding
God's creative act, but as philosophy has always been quick to point out, the
power for imaginative pictures must not be conflated with the power to ideate
or think. To put it in scholastic terminology, which through its own growth
and refinement especially as influenced by the brilliant thought of Thomas
Aquinas brought the doctrine of creation to a full maturity, creation is a
productio rei ex nihilo sui et subjecti (that is, the production of a thing from
the nothingness of its own preexistent, individual base) or as Scotus Erigena
put it, the production of a thing de omnino nihilo. More positively, creation is
the production of the whole thing by God insofar as he is the efficient cause
of its being (Creare autem est dare esse). I shall take some time to elaborate
this, because, as we shall see, its points bear close reference to the traditional
Vedantic understanding of the origin and maintenance of the world.
It is important to note, first, that creation is a thrusting into being, so to'
speak, of a reality not existing qua being, hitherto. It is not the production of
an illusion or the mere appearance of something. It is furthermore, the actual-
izing of new being; of being that had not preexisted or remained hidden qua
being before the creative act (except in the loose and related senses of being
objectively possible to God and existing in him as seminal ideas). Thus crea-
tion, in this understanding, is not an emanation or transformation of pre-
existing reality, but, by the power of God, the emergence of something real
from the void. Carefully considered, this is a breathtaking piece of speculation,
and its importance can be clearly realized from the intimate relationship it

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bears to a specific vision of God and the world. Only a deity which is omniscient
(the intentional possibility of all creatable beings must exist in the "mind" of
God) and omnipotent (He and only He can create all objectively possible
creatable being)-the self-existent causa universalis et totalis-can so create.
Thus there cannot be more than one creator, and a great divide is established
between the infinite and the finite realms, between self-existent and contingent
being, between the creator-God and the creature.
Now there are two aspects to be marked in this doctrine of creation. Logically
speaking, a distinction can be drawn between creatio originansor the originative
creative act, and creatio conservans or creation as conserving-in-being. Under
the first aspect, any particular being at the instant of its existence as that par-
ticular being (for example, the production of a drop of water from a propor-
tionate quantity of hydrogen and oxygen, the generation of a cat or dog at
the moment of its generation as such) insofar as this individual existent depends
qua being, that is, totally and absolutely, on God, enjoys an ontological novelty.
In this sense we can speak of God's creative act as a creatio originans.Traditional
Christian philosophy has been careful to distinguish this facet of creation
from ordinary generative production or eduction. Originative creation is not
normally viewed as a special act of divine intervention erupting into the nat-
ural order of things but merely as a logical way of marking out the complete
entitative dependence on God of a particular being the moment it is first
produced. In ordinary circumstances, this presupposes a normal means of
production and generation, whether in the organic or inorganic realms. For in
the case of normal generative processes, say, Christian thought would attribute
dependence of the generatum on the generans insofar as it is generated and
not for its coming into existence as being. Generating causes can thus be re-
garded as causes of being only in a secondary sense; only, that is, insofar as
God wills to countenance ordinary generative processes and sees through, so
to speak, the generatum into being. If however, we were to consider creation
on a universal scale, namely, with respect to the world itself as having a begin-
ning in time, then the first moment of its existence qua being, whatever its
nature at that instant, bespeaks a creatio originans that is a divine act of special
and unprecedented suddenness. But more about this later.
Under the second aspect, creatio insofar as it focuses on God's maintaining
the creatum in existence after its first moment of arising, no longer marks the
ontological novelty of the created thing, but highlights its continued main-
tenance in being by the creator. This then is the creative act as creatio conservans.
It is not difficult to see that the distinction between these two aspects is a logical
one only, and abstracts from a real temporal division or progression corre-
sponding to these initial phases.' It is in this second sense that we can speak
of God being creatively aware of us at every moment of our lives, and not
only of us as personal existents but also of the whole order of finite being.
We can speak of ontological conservation in the created order too, of course.

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56 Lipner

Some finite beings (such as a mother) can maintain other beings in existence
(such as the child in the womb), but this is a derivative meaning of conservatio
and implies dependence on God's primary act of conservation. As St. Thomas
notes (we must bear in mind that for him God is the causa prima): "Invenitur
etiam quod ab aliqua creaturadependetaliquis effectus secundumsuum esse. Cum
enim sunt multae causae ordinatae, necesse est quod effectus dependeatprimo
quidemet principaliter a causa prima, secundario vero ab omnibuscausis mediis.
Et ideo principaliter quidem prima causa est effectus conservativa; secundario
vero omnes mediae causae, et tanto magis quanto causa fuerit altior et primae
causae proximior".2 From the philosophico-theological point of view, both
these aspects of the creative act continue to emphasize the world's utter con-
tingency and dependence on God's efficient causality and to reinforce His
overwhelming transcendence over us. But while this doctrine extols the trans-
cendence and otherness of the deity, it appears to be compatible with what
can only be described as a limited form of divine immanence.
Now I am well aware that the word "immanence" (from the Latin manere
in.' to remain in, stay within), and its correlative "transcendence" are notor-
iously slippery words to pin down, and the variety of their contexts and
meanings is great indeed. However given this wide-ranging application, I pro-
pose to draw a broad distinction concerning God's immanence, which I think
shows two senses of the term that clearly remain apart. In the first instance,
we can use the word on the spatial analogy of a flame in a lamp. We can speak
of God dwelling within the creature, not indeed as constitutive of its being
but as the concept of conservatio implies, as keeping it in existence, as being
present to it or rather as causing the creature to be existentially present to him;
and in the case of human beings at least, as lighting up their lives and directing
their ends with special providential care and love. This is one sense in which
God can be immanent to human (and other) creatures, and it is the sort of
immanence, I submit, that the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is most
appropriately able to countenance philosophically. It brings out the fact that
for the Christian, creation in its fullest sense is an ongoing, dynamic process,
at all times and in all circumstances, notwithstanding sin and evil, under the
aegis of the creator. This meaning of immanence incorporates an understand-
ing of God in sharp contrast to the God of the Deists who remains an aloof,
distant figure unconcerned with the created world and the destiny of his crea-
tures therein. I shall call this sort of immanence, from its emphasis on the
ontological otherness of the creator, "de-entitative immanence."
Now God's providential concern for the world is expressed in an overall
purpose that has received its richest development in a primarily theological
context in which eschatological considerations are seen to be pervasive. The
religious extension of this sort of immanence leads us to another important
use of the term. For from earliest times (the New Testament not infrequently
refers to it) Christians (as well as Hindu thinkers) have spoken of God's in-

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dwelling in a different sense. In this usage, another image illustrating God's

relationship with his creatures becomes appropriate. It is the image of the vine
and its branches, or, as in Hindu thought, of sparks thrown off from a fire
or of earthen vessels fashioned from clay, that comes closer to depicting the
underlying reality. Here God's being enters into an extraordinarily close rela-
tionship with that of his creatures, it becomes.almost existentially united to
it, one may say, for in the Christian context (where this usage appears to be
almost exclusively confined to persons "justified in Christ") we are spoken of
as sharing in the life and being of God, to quote a striking instance, as being
"partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1.4).3 It is clear that this sort of
divine immanence, which I shall call "entitative immanence" in contradistinc-
tion to the already described de-entitative one, goes far beyond the latter and
in the Christian tradition has found its deepest significance in terms of con-
cepts that belong to revelative theology proper, such as those of the Logos,
the "mystical body" of Christ, sonship in Jesus, and eschatological consid-
erations. It is one of the secondary purposes of this article to indicate that
the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo introduces a tension between its
philosophical implications and this aspect of its theological superstructureand
that it seems to set, at mutual variance, the descriptions of what I have called
the de-entitative and entitative immanences of the deity. For in the context of
creation ex nihilo, even if it is accepted that God keeps us and the world in
existence at every moment of our being by a conscious process of actualizing
conservation, he yet remains so totally the Other by the transcendence and
explosiveness of the creative act that beyond a mere statement of the fact, we
find it difficult to conceive of him, within this philosophical setting, as in the
words of St. Augustine: intimior intimo meo (more close to me than I am to
myself). It is true, that on the level of speculative theology, Christian thinkers
have made valiant attempts to prepare the ground for a reconciliation of the
implications of the doctrine of creation with considerations, applied in a more
theological context, on the sort of ontological immanence mentioned earlier.
We have such statements as these from Aquinas, who exerted much influence
in this regard on subsequent Christian thought: "aperte colligitur quod Deus
est unicuiqueintimus,sicut essepropriumrei est intimumipsi rei, quae nec incipere
nec durareposset, nisi per operationem Dei, per quam suo operi conjungiturut
in eo sit."4 And again: "Quandiu ... res habet esse, tandiu oportet quod Deus
adsit ei, secundum modum quo esse habet ... unde oportet quod Deus sit in
omnibusrebus, et intime."5
Now I fail to see here in the context of the natural order of things, as
opposed to the theological or supernatural order, the precise force of such
expressions as intimus, Deus sit in omnibus rebus ... intime, and so on. Such
terminology apparently cannot be taken quite literally (understood literally the
first quotation here says something quite remarkable, that it is a truth of natural
theology that God's presence to each being is as immanent as the existential

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58 Lipner

act of the thing itself-sicut esseproprium rei est intimumipsi rei-which points
to a constitutive presence in terms of Thomas' ontology). We are assured by
Aquinas,6 and most Christian thinkers would make the same point, that the
theory of creation allows for no entitative union whatsoever between the divine
being and the created order. Indeed, and this is the case in Christian philosophy;
God can be regarded as working quite closely in and through a being, can
totally possess and indwell a creature without ceasing to be the focal point
of a theory of being which emphasizes him as the wholly other, the com-
pletely transcendent reality.7 Thus, I submit that language describing creation
ex nihilo militates against the sort of language Christians use to denote a more
intense, existentially continuous immanence of the deity (whether through
"grace" or whatever) when describing their spiritual life or when reflecting
on their religious experience. In other words, in the philosophical stance dis-
cussed hitherto, the accent remains on God's presence within and to his crea-
ture, rather than on his being its very ground of existence, the wellspring of
its reality. The overriding emphasis in the Christian teaching on creation is on
the impassable gulf between the infinite and the finite. This does not mean
to deny that the doctrine is compatible with a view expressing God's loving
involvement with and responsible concern for the world: but loving concern
does not entail by itself the sort of foundational divine indwelling referred to
above, and which in much Christian thought is the outcome of an evolved
Christology, as we shall have occasion to note later on.
At this juncture, the following suggestion may be made. It may be said that
this radical cleavage between God's being and our own may be successfully
bridged (by way of philosophical underpinning for Christian spirituality) by
an appeal to another Christian theory-that of analogy. For, we are told, the
basic structure of the finite order is patterned on God's own mode of being,
and (especially in the case of humankind where added considerations on the
analogy of personhood are introduced) the created realm bears an intelligible
relationship to the creator which closes the gap between the two orders of
But to offer this suggestion would be to miss the crux of the issue. For, even
granting that analogy is a coherent doctrine (as I have said earlier I am not
attempting a critique of the philosophical views analyzed in this article), its
implications do not meet our present difficulty. The doctrine of analogy,
whether of proportionality or of attribution, seems better fitted to help us
bridge the epistemic distance between our knowledge of the world and our
knowledge of an infinite deity, rather than the entitative gulf Christian thought
places between our own and the divine being. In short, I do not think that the
fact that we may be able to speak intelligibly of God in any way logically
predetermines the intensity of his ontological relationship with us.
At this point, we can sharpen the whole discussion by making explicit an
aspect which has remained latent hitherto. I am referring to the part that

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"time" plays in the Christian picture of the creative process. This is an impor-
tant consideration, because it frequently confuses the issue and has a quite
central place in both the Western and Indian positions on the status of finite
reality. With respect to the Christian stance, there seems to be a popular
misunderstanding that for the creation hypothesis to be viable, universal crea-
tion must be thought to have had a temporal beginning. In other words,
regarding the original creation of the world-as-a-whole, there must have been
a first moment of created being (whatever the physical nature of such being),
and this instant acted as a temporal boundary to the whole creative process,
before which being was not and after which being was. However, a little re-
flection will show that logically speaking it is quite possible for the creative
act to have occurred beginninglessly, that is, without having entailed a first
moment in time. This St. Thomas saw very well (cf. Summa Contra Gentiles,
IIa, cap. 38; Summa Theologica, I, q. 46) though St. Augustine himself failed
to note the difference between dogmatic and philosophical considerations in
this regard (there has been much recent discussion on this particular aspect
of the creation theory). The point to be made is that the crux of the doctrine
is the total ontological dependence of the creatum on the Creator, not any
initial temporal or determinative dependence of the former on the latter. How-
ever, insofar as the question is posed as to what actually happened, the matter
is usually settled in favor of creation in time (or more precisely "with time"),
and this is how the canonical texts continue to be interpreted by most Christian
Finally it is worth spelling out that the theory of creation abstracts entirely,
as hinted earlier, from what precisely was created "in the beginning." So,
evolutionary theories of the world's development (including the emergence of
organic life and so on) can be worked quite harmoniously into the Christian
view of the creative process. God might well have created initially a deposit
of energy or gaseous matter which, in some manner science might one day
inform us definitely, then developed into the sort of universe we perceive
today. Regarding the formation of organic life on our planet the doctrine does
not inhibit evolutionary theories too, provided God's providential concern be
maintained; though in the case of human life a further complication is intro-
duced because it is still believed by many Christians, I think, that however
the origin and development of man's animality, his rational capacities (his
so-called "soul") is actualized by a special divine act of creation. So much
then for the Christian doctrine of creation-a teaching which, at least in its
essentials, is so universally accepted by believers as to be an unquestioned
datum for further religious speculation and experience. The experiential reper-
cussions of belief in creation ex nihilo is an important point, for its acceptance
is so deeply rooted in the psychology of the Christian that it has resulted in a
dominant feature of his religious experience: the feeling of complete depen-
dence, indeed a "self-naughting" (invested with the theological overtones of

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60 Lipner

a sinful and abject state) in his encounter with God. It is this aspect of the
teaching which allows D. J. Ehr to write: "The work of the Creator is in no
way indispensable to Him. It is so trifling that if it did not exist, He would
still be entirely Himself."9
Let us now turn to the Indian side of the picture. I have already indicated
that the term "Hinduism" does not represent a single current of thought but
a widely varying cluster of schools of belief. Yet it is true to say, I think, that
an explicit doctrine of creation corresponding to that of the foregoing discus-
sion is not to be found in any one of them. Whatever the view about the final
status of God and the world in the Hindu tradition, whether this be an agnostic
one as in Purva-Mimamrsa,or nontheistic as in Advaita, or theistic as in
Ramanuja's and Madhva's systems, the existence of individual selves and the
universe is, in principle, both beginningless and endless on the one hand, and
ontologically not a fully "new being" in a sense acceptable to the traditional
Christian outlook, on the other.
Now we have just pointed out that even for the Christian, creation need
not logically entail a beginning in time. Yet because a universe originated with
time is part of the religious heritage of the West, it will be profitable to dwell
a while on the difference between Hindu and Christian beliefs on this point.
Hindus have never conceived of an absolute temporal beginning of finite
reality, and this outlook is closely bound up with the cyclical conception they
have of physical time. To simplify many variations on the same theme, on a
mythological level (and for all Hindus the mythological has always acted as a
more or less transparent veil of underlying truths), time is viewed as a vast
cyclic dispensation of kalpas (aeons) comprising relatively shorter periods called
yugas. There are four of these mythical time-spans or yugas. The first is the
satya or krta yuga, or the age of goodness and completion, a sort of golden age
where adherence to dharma (moral law, righteousness), and the psychological
and physical qualities of personal life, are characterized by their excellence
and perfection. The satya yuga, because of the overwhelming pervasiveness of
dharma among gods and men, is the longest of the four eras. However, as the
cycle turns, righteousness progressively declines and so too does the perfection
of human nature with its capacities, and the next age or treta yuga duly begins.
With a progressive (and temporally proportionate) deterioration in virtue the
tretd yuga gives way to the dvapara yuga-that age marked by a precarious
balance between dharma and adharma, righteousness and unrighteousness.
Finally, in the last and most evil age, the kali yuga, in which incidentally Hindu
belief places most of the recorded history of human civilization, adharma is
preponderant, the evils with which we are all too familiar in the daily running
of our lives become overwhelming, and one full cycle or mahdyuga is drawing
to a close to be followed again by the golden age of another revolution.10
One thousand such mahayugas, which is computed to span many millions of
human years, make one kalpa or aeon, often mythologically identified with

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but one day of the great god Brahma (not to be confused with the Absolute
or Brahman). The overall period of srsti-sthiti (or creation as it is usually, but
inaccurately, translated as far as the Christian position is concerned) lasts for
a hundred divine years-the life cycle of a particular Brahma. At the end of a
complete kalpic dispensation a great dissolution of the universe or mahapralaya
occurs, often picturesquely depicted as being brought about by a world con-
flagration, wherein the creator-god, or more correctly the demiurge Brahma
himself is eventually absorbed into the bosom of the Absolute, the supreme
spirit, Brahman. In due course the reigning Brahma-god and then the universe
is again spun out from Brahman, and the whole cyclic process is repeated
indefinitely. There is a passage to this effect in the first book of the Mahdbharata.
All this which is seen, whatever is immobile or mobile is repeatedly thrown
together-the whole world when the Era comes to an end. As with the turn
of the season, the various signs of the season occur, so also at the start of the
Era various beings make their appearance. Thus this beginningless and endless
wheel, causing existence and destruction, revolves in the world, without
beginning and without end.11
The mythological picture just outlined while presenting some interesting
points of its own, has an important bearing on the discussion at hand. For
notwithstanding the distinction between philosophy and mythology, there are
two features of this picture which have been accepted in general by those
Vedantin thinkers (for example, Safikara, Ramanuja) who have provided theo-
retical bases for living traditions of Hinduism today. They are (1) the overall
beginninglessness and endlessness of empirical reality in all its great diversity ;12
and (ii) the emanative character of the universe. We are already somewhat
familiar with the first point; let us now deal with the second in some detail.
Now the term "emanation," which I have used very comprehensively here,
must be made to do service for a wide spectrum of meanings. Thus the use of
this word in the (ultimately) nontheistic advaitavada (theory of nonduality) of
Safikara is quite different from the use I see it having in the theology of
Ramanuja or the theism of Madhvacarya.
In Safikara's case, where God, in the sense of a supreme, worshipful entity
distinct in his own essence from man, has no final standing, the world and
God or Isvara are in the last resort Brahman's m5ay (illusion), derive whatever
reality and support they have from the Absolute, and when viewed in the light
of discriminative wisdom totally coincide in the one, nondual, inexpressible
reality that is Brahman-Atman. This can be illustrated with respect to the
individual self in the following statement about the enlightened sage: "Just as
milk poured into milk, oil into oil, and water into water become a mingled
oneness, so does the sage, knower of the self, in the Atman."13 Concerning
the world in general Sankara writes: "Brahman is quite different from the
world; other than Brahman there is nothing. If anything appears as other than
Brahman, it is unreal (mithyai) like a mirage."14

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62 Lipner

In Ramanuja's case however, the deep-set plurality in the world as we

experience it, both among individual jivas or selves and among other things is
no long-standing illusion, and the whole in its essential reality is not to be
identified with the absolute Brahman whom he personalizes under the name
of Visnu-Narayana. Compare the following statements with those of Sankara
quoted above: "When ... differentiations of god, man, etc.-which have been
brought about by the karman of the soul-have vanished there persists a differ-
entiation in its proper form (svarupabheda);it is beyond the power of expression
and can only be known by the soul itself."15 The world is real, it has its own
substantial existence (sadravyatia):this world is "an activity, that has the nature
of being a real occurrence and it has its own substantiality."16
Yet Ramanuja is as anxious as Safikarato stress, in language that is decidedly
neither monistic nor pantheistic, the intimate, entitative pervasiveness of
Brahman in the whole of the finite order (to which Sankara grants empirical
validity17), as in some way united with it in being. With the most notable
exception perhaps, of Madhvacarya (AnandatTrtha),Vedantins generally con-
cur in designating Brahman as both the upaddnakarana (that is, the material
cause) of the universe as well as its nimitta karana (or efficient cause), and
though Brahman produces the whole world and continues to support it in
existence by Its very being, It is not the world nor does It share the moral
and physical shortcomings associated with finite existents. It is to express this
intimate ontological link between Brahman and the universe of dependent con-
scious and nonconscious being (samasta-cid-acid-vastu-jita) that I use the word
"emanation" in the rather broad and comprehensive meaning indicated. This
word then becomes explicative of a Sanskrit expression applicable to the
thought not only of Sankara and Ramanuja but of all Vedantin thinkers,
though it must be stressed with a differing interpretation in each instance. The
word I have in mind is satkdryavada. the doctrine that the effect (karya) is
somehow preexistent (sat) in its material cause, though I wish to include in
the meaning of "emanation" the Absolute's free efficient causality in initiating
and continuing the process of world production. In our context, this means
that the finite order, in the variety of its being, when considered insofar as it is
being is an effect that has an ontological nexus with Brahman, which acts freely
as its material cause ("material cause" must be understood here in the technical
sense of 'substratum out of which something originates'). The exact nature of
this existential relationship, and consequently the degree of reality of the effect,
as already indicated, is differently explained in each philosophical system. But
in the main, the underlying emphasis is the same. The Absolute (Brahman,
God) is the ground of all reality as we know it, we exist in It, and this intrinsic
pervasiveness in everything by Brahman on the one hand, and the total entita-
tive dependence of the world (in some schools the final reality of the latter
being denied) on the other, is the essence of the meaning of satkaryavada in
our discussion. Indeed, I submit that the satkarya idea, with Brahman as

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upadina-karana (material cause) and the world as Its effect (karya), is a

cornerstone in Vedanta metaphysics.18 Even Madhvacarya did not reject the
concept; but the peculiar emphasis he laid on the absolute ontic distinction
between Brahman and the world led him to regard not Brahman but the eternal
principle of Prakrti or basal matter as the upadana-karanaof the finite order.
Now it is important to note that in general the Vedantin does not apply
the satkarya idea in a way that can neatly be labeled as "pantheistic." For so
long as the world has at least empirical reality (whatever the final verdict), he
is as concerned as the Christian to maintain a transcendent difference between
Brahman and the conditioned realm with regard to both entitative and moral
perfection. The inner essence of Brahman cannot be identified with the limiting
conditions of the finite universe. The Westerner has been imprisoned in the
cast-iron cage of his own conceptual tradition; and accustomed to the rather
superficial generalizations and unrigorous analyses of comparative theologies
hitherto, for the most part missionary in origin and apologetical in tone, he
is all too ready to dispense neat labels to categories of thinking often so alien
to his own. This is how Ramanuja, a satkdryavadinhimself, eschews pantheism:
In truth, all declarations of the Vedanta are meant to set forth the knowledge
of... the proper form and nature of the Supreme Spirit who is the inner Ruler
of the soul. .... The proper form of the inner Ruler is as follows: He is the sole
cause of the cessation of sahmsra, which itself consists in the origination,
subsistence and dissolution of the phenomenal world constituted by the above
spiritual and non-spiritual entities. His proper form is therefore distinct from
all entities other than Himself (svetara-samasta-vastu-vilaksanasvarupa),since
He is absolutely opposed to all evil (samasta-heya-pratyanTkataya)and com-
prises solely infinite perfection (ananta-kalyanatayi). His beautiful qualities
are immeasurable, perfect and innumerable.19
And we have already seen that for Sankara, Brahman is jagad-vilaksana,
namely, quite other than the world. Thus satkaryavada does not seem to be
logically incompatible with one interpretation of taddtmyavadafor these Hindu
thinkers, that is, the doctrine that there is an asymmetrical relation between
Brahman and the world. Brahman is the dtman, the inner entifying principle
of the world insofar as it is viewed as having any reality, but the world is not
the itman of Brahman. Consequent upon all this, it is not hard to see that
Brahman as God is, par excellence, the antaryamin (the inner Ruler) of the
individual, to which he is ever present, in which he dwells as the source of
being. This is an important facet of Vedanta thought, for coupled with the
notion of karman, it allows ideas of providence and finality to be given full
The attempt to preserve Brahman's transcendence over the realm of limited
being, while at the same time seeking to emphasize its immanence by satkarya-
vada, has given rise in Hindu speculative theology to a number of conceptual
devices not always successfully deployed. The unique relationship between
Brahman and miyia in Safikara's thought, where miay has a reality status

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64 Lipner

that is neither being nor nonbeing (sadasadvilaksana),Ramanuja's remarkable

attempt to work out a philosophy of the world as God's "body," in which the
term "body" (sardram)is used in a highly technical sense, are illustrations of
some of these metaphysical devices. But notwithstanding the often brilliant
application of these techniques, the satkirya theory and the characteristically
Vedantin tension between Brahman's transcendence and immanence with
regard to the world, remain an intractable problem for Hindu thought, thus
reflecting the difficulties of the Christian counterparts in this regard. At this
point the following difficulty may well be put to us. You have just shown, it
would say, that in both Christian and Vedantic thought on the relation between
the Absolute and the world as effect, there is a convergence in two central
areas, that is: (i) that the existence of the finite order, whatever its final degree
of reality, does not necessarily entail a temporal beginning since God's creative
act is entirely free, and (ii) that is does entail a total ontological dependence of
the former on God (Brahman), thereby permitting speculation on. the overall
purpose for the world's existence. For both stances agree that logically the
Absolute is compelled by no internal or external necessity either to initiate or
to maintain the production of the world. God's sovereign freedom in the act
of creation has been an important aspect of the Christian position, while the
Hindu notion of svalTlatva(or world production as God's own play, namely,
as an entirely unnecessitated activity) is well known. And both stances agree
that the absolute contingency of the universe accommodates speculation on
God's providential concern for the results of his originative activity. Is there
then any significant confrontation or divergence between the two positions?
Now no answer to this question can fail to take account of the following
observation: that while the Christian doctrine stresses the enduring and
intrinsic reality of the created order from a metaphysical point of view, it is
a salient feature of Vedantic thought to minimize, even in the more realistic
systems such as Ramanuja's (Madhva's case seems to be no exception here20),
the inner substantiality and being of limited things. Further, the Christian
looks to the perennial "newness" of being that is the mark of the creature, its
entitative otherness from God, while the Vedantin dwells rather, through
satkiryavada, on the entitative continuum between the world and its ultimate
foundation, the Absolute, which is not only the world's efficient cause, but
uniquely simultaneously, its material cause too.21 There is also an important
difference in religious experience stemming from these two perspectives which
we have touched upon before: a difference that is reflected in the religious
temper of both traditions. For Hindu faith tends to express itself in what
Zaehner has called "mystical" religion, while the Christian approach would
fall under his so-called "prophetic" faith-response. He writes:

Mystical religion is concerned with discovering eternity within you: it cannot

be communicated directly to others... it is not and cannot be a public affair
... the mystic ... is concerned ... in transcending the world and entering into

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a totally different and unconditioned form of existence beyond the whole

realm of time and space. Prophecy, on the other hand, claims to be a direct
communication from a highly personal God who is experienced as an outside
power who has a direct and pressing message to deliver to a religious com-
munity or indeed to all mankind...22

Theoretically speaking, it appears that our analysis has pointed to a difference

of kind rather than of emphasis only between the Christian and the more
realistic Vedantic positions on divine immanence and transcendence con-
cerning originative causality. However, we have seen that there is a marked
tendency in Christian (revelative) theology which offsets the transcendentist
emphasis in its doctrine of creation. For here we find a continued insistence
on God's genuine immanence in "justified" persons, in terms of being. Already
present in the New Testament, where references to this idea occur in such
statements as John 15.5 and 17.11; 1 Cor. 15.28; 2 Pet.1.4, and subsequently
developed in the related doctrines of the mystical body of Christ, sonship in
Jesus, sanctifying grace, and so on, this teaching stresses the profound oneness
of the redeemed and God (within the framework of a definite kind of Chris-
tology) in life and being. Do the Vedantins have a theory of natural divine
immanence with respect to the Absolute and the empirical order, while Chris-
tians only speak of such intense indwelling as occurring on the supernatural
plane? This must remain a problem for the theologians. The point that must
be made is that from the Christian side, the more literally such unitive language
is taken, the less compatible does it become with the doctrine of creation ex

To clarify the satkarya idea and place it in context, it might be helpful to

refer to two other schools of Indian thought: Sankhya and Nyaya-Vaisesika.
Safikhya philosophy, as described by ITvarakrsna in his Sankhya Kdriki is
dualistic and nontheistic in outlook and affirms the real existence of the effect
in proximate potency in its material cause. The effect preexists in the upaddna
in an unmanifest form (avyakta), and its entitative manifestation or actual-
ization is identified with the causal process, just as the growth of a tree is the
natural manifestation of the potency of its own seed. This is the real force of
satkaryavada, though as we have seen it was qualified in the Vedantin positions
discussed to allow for Brahman's transcendence and sovereignty over the
"creative-emanative" process. In Sfikhya, the universal material cause is a
single, nonconscious, evolutive substratecalledprakrti. In brief,prakrti, through
association with an indefinite number of unchanging, simple, principles of pure
consciousness (purusas), evolves gradually into the world of diversity in which
we live. Though Sanikhyacategories played an indispensable part in traditional
Vedantic thought, there is nothing in the classical atheistic system itself remotely
approaching a conception of creation as discussed earlier, and subsequent

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66 Lipner

Vedantins worked Sankhya concepts into their own speculative frameworks.

The central ingredients of Sanikhyathought, including the satkirya idea, have
a very ancient pedigree and occur in germ in the classical Upanishads as well
as in the Bhagavadgita, both of which were seminal sources for traditional
But more interesting perhaps, from our point of view, is Nyaya Vaisesika,
which taught asatkaryavada or the doctrine that the effect is not in any way
preexistent in its material cause. This looks a promising setting for a doctrine
of creation, at least with respect to the ontological novelty of the newly arisen
effect. Indeed, in the Nyaya-Vaisesika theory of causal production called
arambhavada,there appear to be glimpses of such a view. According to aram-
bhavada, when the upadina kirana gives rise to an effect, such as cloth from
woven threads, or a jar from prepared clay, not only the jar qua jar, but also
the jar qua being is a totally new product. Hence the effect is neither a mani-
festation nor a transformation of its material cause: it is defined as the
"counterpositive of its own prior nonexistence" (pragabhivapratiyogin). The
real difference between satkiryavada and arambhavadaseems to be that while
in both positions it is agreed that the effect is new formally, in the latter it is
regarded as also new qua being; satkdryavida on the other hand, seeks to
retain an ontological continuity, if not one of formal determination, between
an effect and its material cause. The satkaryavadins criticize the Nyaya-
Vaisesika position by pointing out that from nonbeing only nonbeing results.
Thus Ramanuja argues: "there is no ground at all for an entity that did not
exist before... whatever has arisen from nonbeing remains essentially non-
existent."23 There is no need to analyze arambhavada(literally, the doctrine
of a new beginning) any further, since, for all the promise it contains it was
never developed in any theological context similar to the Christian theory of
creation. Nyaya-Vaisesika subscribes explicitly to the eternity not only of
Isvara or God, but also of the atoms constitutive of the material universe, of
individual itmans, and of other substances, all of which, by virtue of the
rejection of satkaryavada, have no entitative dependence on the deity. In this
school God fulfills, among other functions, the role of the initiator of the
production of the world as we know it; in this sense He is a sort of efficient
cause of the empirical order, but is neither its material cause nor its creator.
Isvara then, while not a deistic God, lacked the sovereignty and omnipotence
to act as the dynamic center of a living religion; and Nyaya-Vaisesika never
inspired a religious movement in India, in any significant sense. Arguably, its
main contribution to Indian thought and practice came through the insights
of its logic and epistemology.

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1. For, it is not the case that God first brings the object of his activity into being in an instant
of time, and then conserves it in existence. This is because the first moment of originative creation
however infinitesimal could then logically be split up into smaller mathematical units, each pro-
gressively smaller unit becoming a candidate for the first instant of originative creation. Thus
logically there is no absolute minimal instant of time, though I am prepared to see that this can
become a useful theoretical construct.
2. Cf. Sum.Th., Ia.104.2.corp., Blackfriars ed., vol. 14, p. 44f.
"We do find that a certain effect depends according to its being upon another created thing.
When there are many causes in ordered sequence, it is necessary that the effect depends first and
principally on the first cause, secondarily only on all mediate causes. And so the first cause is the
principal conserver of the effect, secondarily only all the mediate causes, and the more perfect and
close to the first cause they are, the greater their power of conservation" (My English translation).
3. Though an important theme of Western Christian theology, especially as developed in the
Roman Catholic doctrine of sanctifying grace, it was carried furthest by the Eastern (Orthodox)
churches and gave rise to the doctrine of deification. Whatever the provenance of 2 Pet. 1.4, and
it must be admitted its explictness makes it an extreme instance of a peculiar and relatively uncom-
mon style of biblical language, subsequent speculation developed the deification idea. However
even in Eastern Christianity deification never became identity or equality with or total absorption
into the godhead.
4. "We may clearly gather that God is intimately present to each thing, in the same way as
the act of being proper to each thing is intimately present to it; for the thing cannot begin to be
or endure without the action of God, through which God is joined to what He does so as to be
present in it." Text and translation from E. Gilson The Elements of Christian Philosophy (Mentor-
Omega Books, 1963), p. 344.
5. "So long as a thing has being God must be present to it according to the way it has being
... whence it is that God is in all things, and intimately." Text from Sum. Th., 1.8. art 1, corp.
Blackfriars edition.
6. Thus St. Thomas prefaces his discussions containing both these quotations with admonitions
that we are not to understand God's presence in all things "in such a way that He is mixed with
them as a part of anything" (cf. Gilson, Elements of Christian Philosophy, p. 343); in the Summa
he says later: "Things are said to be distant from God by the dissimilitude (to him) of nature or
grace, just as he is above all by the excellence of his own nature." Confer, Blackfriars ed., vol. 2,
p. 112.
7. In The New Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Creation (theology of) by D. J. Ehr (vol. 4)
we have: "Between Creator and creature there is the most profound distinction possible. God is
not part of the world. He is not just the peak of reality. Between God and the world there is an
abyss ... He is absolutely apart, totally different from all reality, which exists only by the active
presence of the transcendent God" (p. 420a).
8. It is significant that Ehr, in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, hedges on this point. He asks:
"Did the world have a first moment? Did it begin? ... Philosophical arguments do not seem to
offer much of a definite solution. Moreover, it also seems difficult to assert that revelation gives
the answer with the certitude of faith ..." p. 423a.
9. New Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 420a.
10. We can illustrate this progressive decay in human perfection and virtue by an expanded
renderingof the following extract quoted in J. N. Banerjea's The Developmentof Hindu Iconography,
2d ed. (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1956), p. 229: satyayuge devanamrpratyaksapfijanarh-
tretadvdparayohpratyaksapiij pratimisu ca-tatrapi tretiyuge grhe dvdpare caranye-kalau ca
deviyatananirmitirnagaresu samarabdhd... (taken from the Visnudharmottara):"In the satya yuga
the gods are worshipped in their visible forms and need not be worshipped as either unseen entities
or in places set apart for the purpose. In the treti and dvipara ages the gods are perceptible with
difficulty and are worshipped through icons as well; however, in the tretayuga such worship occurs
in the homes of devotees while in the dvdparait is also conducted in secluded places such as forests.
Finally in the kaliyuga the gods must be worshipped within such secularized zones as cities and
towns in specially consecrated temples, and so on (and are no longer visible)."

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68 Lipner

11. yad-idamhdrsyate kiticid bhutamh sthivara-jahgamam,punah satmkipyate sarvah jagat prapte

yuga-ksaye; yathartav rtulihg5ni nind-ruipaniparyaye, dr.syantetani tiny eva tatha bhdvdyug1disu.
evam etad anady-antam bhfitasathhira-karakamanadinidhanathloke cakramrsathparivartate. Cr.
ed., Adi, 1.36-38.
12. While the world is potentially endless, it appears it need not be so in fact. It is theoretically
possible that all individual itman might eventually attain to final liberation, and the Absolute may
then freely desire not to manifest the empirical realm.
13. kslramrksire yatha ksiptam tailah tailejalarhjale satiyuktam ekatdihyiti tatha'tmanyatmavin
munih. From the Vivekacudiamani(hereafter V), Swami Madhavananda's ed., Advaita Ashrama,
6th ed., 1957, vr. 566; confer also the Atmabodhaprakarana(hereafter A), vr. 53 of D. C. Bhat-
tacharya's ed., Calcutta 1961, where the state of final nonduality is compared to "water in water,
space in space and light in light." The point being made here is that there is no ultimate intrinsic
principle of division between the individual and the Absolute.
14. Jagad-vilaksanamtbrahma brahmano'nyanna kithcana; brahmanyadbhati cen mithya yathi
marumarTcika.A, vr. 63.
15. jTivtmanah ... karmakrtadevidibhede'padhvastesvarfipa-bhedovicdm-agocarah svasarmved-
yah: confer, Rmiinuja's Vedirthasathgraha(hereafter VS) by J. A. B. van Buitenen, (Poona, 1956),
p. 74 (English translation, p. 186).
16. ".. . sadapattiriipdihkriydamsadravyatmirca ..." VS, p. 90.
17. After all even a mirage must have some metaphysical reality; it is not nonexistent as "the
son of a barren woman" to use an illustration quoted by Safikara himself. The main point here is
that the existence of the finite realm is so completely a received one that (unlike in Ramanuja's
thought) it lacks any intrinsic substantiality of its own.
18. This causal view is also central to Sankhya thought, though Vedantic thinkers reinterpreted
the classical Sankhya theory to meet their own perspectives.
19. VS; Sanskrit text, pp. 73-75; English translation, pp. 184-87.
20. Confer, for example, I. Puthiadam, '"Svatantro visnuh". an analysis of the Dvaita Vedanta
Concept of Divine Independence', in God's Word among Men, ed. G. Gispert-Sauch, (Delhi:
Vidyajyoti, 1973).
21. Is there not in the whole Western theological tradition arising from the gospel experience
a preoccupation with "new being" in whatever context this be discussed? Thus in his Theology of
Hope, J. Moltman writes: "The Christian hope is directed towards a novum ultimum, towards a
new creation of all things..." (p. 33, SCM, English ed., 1967). And is not the element of "novelty"
or "originality" the defining characteristic in nontheological connotations of "creation," "crea-
tivity," whether in the fields of artistic or of scientific endeavor?
22. Confer, R. C. Zaehner, "Religious Truth," in Truth and Dialogue, ed. J. Hick (London,
1974), p. 2.
23. pragasata utpattir ahetukety arthah ... asata utpannamasaditmakam eva bhavatity arthah
...; VS: sanskr. p. 91; English edition, p. 208.

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