15 May 2005, 2:16am

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Prajapati was alone. He didn’t even know whether he existed or not. “So to speak,” iva. (As soon as one touches on something crucial, it’s as well to qualify what one has said with the particle iva, which doesn’t tie us down.) There was only the mind, manas. And what is peculiar about the mind is that it doesn’t know whether it exists or not. But it comes before everything else. “There is nothing before the mind.” Then, even prior to establishing whether it existed or not, the mind desired. It was continuous, diffuse, undefined. Yet, as though drawn to something exotic, something belonging to another species of life, it desired what was definite and separate, what had shape. A Self, atman–that was the name it used. And the mind imagined that Self as having consistency. Thinking, the mind grew red hot. It saw thirty-six thousand fires flare up, made of mind, made with mind. Suspended above the fires were thirty-six thousand cups, and these too were made of mind.

Prajapati lay with his eyes closed. Between head and breast an ardor burned within him, like water seething in silence. It was constantly transforming something: it was tapas. But what was it transforming? The mind. The mind was what transformed and what was transformed. It was the warmth, the hidden flame behind the bones, the succession and dissolution of shapes sketched on darkness–and the sensation of knowing what was happening. Everything resembled something else. Everything was connected to something else. Only the sensation of consciousness resembled nothing at all. And yet all resemblances flowed back and forth within it. It was the “indistinct wave.” Each resemblance was a crest of that wave. At the time, “this world was nothing but water.” And then? “In the midst of the waves a single seer.” Already the waters were the mind. But why that eye? Within the mind came the split that precedes all others, that implies all others. There was consciousness and there was an eye watching consciousness. In the same mind were two beings. Who might become three, thirty, three thousand. Eyes that watched eyes that watched eyes. But that first step was enough in itself. All the other eyes were there in that “one seer” and in the waters.

The waters yearned. Alone, they burned. “They burned their heat.” A golden shell took shape in the wave.” This, the one, was born from the strength of the heat.” And inside the shell, over the arc of a year, the body of Prajapati took shape. But “the year didn’t exist” then. Time appeared as the organ of a single being, nesting inside that being, who drifted on the waters, with no support. After a year the being began to emit syllables, which were the earth, the air, the distant sky. Already he knew he was Father Time. Prajapati was granted a life of a thousand years: he looked out before him, beyond the cresting waves, and far, far away glimpsed a strip of earth, the faint line of a distant shore. His death.

Prajapati was the one “self-existing” being, svayambhu. But this did not make him any less vulnerable than any creature born. He had no knowledge, didn’t have qualities. He was the first self-made divinity. He didn’t know the meters, not in the beginning. Then he felt a simmering somewhere inside. He saw a chant–and finally let it out. Where from? From the suture in his skull.

. . .

Born of the waters’ desiring, Prajapati begat “all this,” idam sarvam, but he was the only one who couldn’t claim to have a progenitor–not even a mother. If anything he had many mothers, for the waters are an irreducible feminine plural. The waters were his daughters too, as though from the beginning it was important to show that in every essential relationship generation is reciprocal.

from Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India, by Roberto Calasso