The ancient Hindus have evolved a number of schemes of thought relating to the origin, manifestation and end of life. They are various in forms and complex in detail and not unoften appear to contradict one another. But they all claim the Vedas for their authority; yet no one has been able to point out in what way the Vedas may be regarded as the foundation of the various systems of Hindu thought.
Is it possible to conceive of a common basis for the different, conflicting systems of Hindu thought? They all relate to one fundamental problem in many forms, the problem of creation and life and death continued in an endless cycle of existence. What is the original cause of life? What was there in the beginning? Whence did it arise? What was its form, its name, its essence, its character? By what power did it create? Was it male or female or both? Was it spirit or matter or both? or was it neither? How did life become manifest, how evolve, develop, and become complete? How does it continue to exist, how act, how grow, and how does it cease to be? What is Death, and why and whence does it arise? Is there life after death? Is there a rebirth, and why? Is there a freedom from the bonds of birth, and how? What is life, and whence and why and where?
These and other questions arise in connection with the problem of Life and Death, and the following pages will show that an attempt has been made to answer them in the sacred books of the Hindus: in the Vedas in a peculiar form of hymns; in the Brahmanas in the form of creative Action conceived as Sacrifice; in the Upanishads more directly; in the Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata in "story" form.
The original cause of Life: the Unknowable: The ancients believed that the Original Cause of life, the Eternal, the Infinite, can never be known by the limited human mind; neither can the Devas nor the great Rishis know the origin of what is the source of the Devas and the great Rishis themselves. Indeed, from the point of view of limited human reason, it may be argued that perhaps even the great Creator himself does not know his own origin: for all knowledge implies a difference and a duality, a distinction between the Knower and the thing known, and the existence of a medium of knowledge. But in the case of the Supreme Creator there is only one without a second, and no difference or distinction between the knower and the thing known, for the two are identical; and so there can be no knowledge as men understand it. Accordingly it is said in the Rig Veda that verily he, the great Creator, knows his own origin, or perhaps even he does not know.
A few simple principles: Knowledge is from Known to Unknown: Purusha and Prakrti: All Hindu systems of thought proceed from a few simple principles in regard to the origin, manifestation and end of life. If the great Cause of life cannot be discovered, the human mind can argue only from the Known to the Unknown.
The ancient Hindus regarded each created being in general and Man in particular to be an epitome of the Universe, containing all the life principles, energies and characteristics of the whole creation. They also believed that each object of life is made in the form and forces of the parent stock, even as the Seed contains within itself the essential characteristics of the whole Tree.
A study of the following pages will show that it is impossible to resist the conclusion that they found from observation that the first form of life, male or female, is the Cell, even as modern science understands; and that it is out of the union of the two that a creature is born. From their study of the Cell, its processes of development, maturation and multiplication, they constructed their great idea of Universal Life and its manifestation, pervaded by a single Law throughout, culminating in the conception of Hiranya garbha or the Golden Ovum, or Brahmana or the Egg of Brahma, the great Creator of Life. On this they founded their great systems of philosophy and religion, ideal and practical, and constructed a great language, Sanskrt, to be a picture of their scheme of thought, so that science and philosophy and religion, theory and practice, might be united into one, and each word of a sentence and each letter of a word might be the image of an idea, and the expression of the Law of Life and the Law of Truth.
But if their ideas were correctly formed, and if they understood the Law of Life pervading the universe from the atom to the star, it cannot conflict with the observations of Science today; and if they built their whole conception of life on that of the Cell, applicable to all that is made manifest in the world, it is necessary for the reader to have an elementary idea of the essential constituents of a cell, and the course of its development; for the ancients must have had a complete knowledge of its origin, development and death to be able to found on it their ideas of universal life. It is necessary, therefore, to have an idea of the Cell, male and female, and the process of their development, conjugation and differentiation in order to understand the foundation and fabric of Hindu philosophy and Hindu religion.
The Cell: All forms of life, both of plants and animals, are composed of a vast number of vital units called Cells.
A Cell may be defined as a region of a minute mass of Protoplasm or jelly-like substance, containing within it another region of finer fluid substance, called its Nucleus. It is the smallest particle of living matter. The cell-body is called Cytoplasm.
Chromatin: The nucleus contains a fibrillar and a more fluid part. The former consists of two parts, one of which does not take a stain and the other which does: the latter is called Chromatin.
Centrosome: The Centrosome is a clear spherical substance which is found to lie sometimes in the nucleus and sometimes in the protoplasm, in the neighbourhood of the nucleus. In a large number of cases, however, it is found in the Protoplasm, outside but in the neighbourhood of the nucleus.
Nucleolus: The Nucleolus is a spherical vesicle which lies in the fluid part of the nucleus during the resting periods of the cell. It disappears during the periods of division.
Action of the Centrosome: The Centrosome plays a most important part in cell multiplication. It is the dynamic centre of the cell, and around it the small grains of the cytoplasm are arranged in radial lines. It divides into two before the division of the cell takes place, and its two divisions become the centre of attractive force, and their action may be compared to the lines of force in a magnetic field. The action of the Centrosomes on the Chromatin (chromatic or staining part of the nucleus) is most important in the development and division of the cell. The centrosomes are often seen to appear, disappear and reappear in the process of cell development.
The Formation of a Cell: Direct Division: Every cell is formed by the division of a pre-existing cell, called the Mother Cell. The mother-cell divides into two equal parts, the Daughter Cells, each of which possesses all the characteristics of the mother-cell. Each of the daughter-cells then subdivides into two halves, and then the granddaughter-cells, and so on, till they form a mesh work of cells, from which arise the differentiated parts of an organism. This is called direct division of the cell.
Indirect Division: But there is also an indirect division which is a more complicated as well as a more important form of cell division. The process is characterised by a series of complex changes in the nucleus, in which the Centrosomes, acting on the Chromatin particles of the nucleus, play a most important part. This leads to a subdivision of the nucleus, followed by the cleavage of the cell protoplasm.
Stages of Cell Development: Starting with the cell in a resting condition, the changes leading to its division occur in four phases sometimes the changes are grouped under three stages. If the resting stage be regarded as the first, there are four stages in the division of a Cell, and the division takes place in the last or fourth stage.
The Course of Development: In the first or resting stage the Centrosomes appear like two points, one over the other; thus, like Visarga in the Sanskrt alphabet. Then they separate, and pass to the two opposite sides or poles of the nucleus, and, with their radial lines of force, form a spindle that rotates. They act on the Chromatin (colouring substance of the nucleus), till the latter forms, first, a continuous thread, and is then divided into segments, called Chromosomes. The chromosomes are arranged round the centrosomes at either end, thus, forming the figure of an Anusvara in the Sanskrit alphabet. Then the cell divides into two, each daughter-cell possessing all the characteristics of the mother-cell.