1, 2, 3 Creation

Posted on 30 January 2009


The creation of the cosmos, or cosmogenesis, may be symbolized as an emanation from a nondual reality (1) into duality (2), trinity (3), and further multiplicity. This archetypal pattern is represented in the universal symbol of the tree of life. At its base, the tree is a single trunk, representing the cosmic axis, or axis mundi. The branching of the tree represents the emanation of multiplicity from the unity. Despite this branching, however, the tree remains a single, living organism. Although apparently divided, the tree is and always remains whole.

The Tree of Eternity has its roots in heaven above and its branches reach down to earth. …The whole universe comes from him [Brahman] and his life burns through the whole universe.
-The Upanishads. Mascaro, Juan, tr. (New York:  Penguin, 1965). p. 65.

The Pythagoreans used a more abstract symbol, the tetraktys, which is an arrangement of ten dots in triangular form:

This symbolizes the development from the single unity (*) into duality (**) then trinity (***) and four-fold multiplicity (****). Although the tetraktys symbol does not have the organic qualities of the tree of life, this mathematical symbol brings out more explicitly the features of harmony and order. For example, the numerical ratio 1/2 between the first and second level correspond to the musical octave. The next two levels give the ratio 2/3, which is the musical interval of the fifth, and the last two levels give the ratio 3/4, which is the musical intervals of the fourth. The levels of cosmic creation thus correspond to musical harmonies. This is the seminal insight at the basis of the “music of the spheres” connecting the structure of the cosmos with music through mathematics.

In Timeaus, Plato describes the cosmos as being built from mathematical archetypes. With only one dot, there is not much structure, but with two dots there is now a line, and with three dots a triangle. With four dots a solid object can be specified. Thus, the basic physical elements are viewed as constructed from the non-physical mathematical patterns. From the simple One, structure emerges first as subtle archetypal forms, but then reaches the point where, mysteriously, it becomes physical. 


Common to most of the most influential worldviews of humanity is the insight that reality is, in its deepest essence, unified. To illustrate:

The universe, therefore, is nothing but Brahman.  It is superimposed upon Him.  It has no separate existence apart from its ground.
-Shankara. Shankara’s Crest-Jewel of Discrimination (Viveka-Chudamani). Isherwood, Christopher, tr. (Hollywood:  Vedanta Press, ). p. 70.


In essence things are not two but one. …All duality is falsely imagined.
-The Lankavatara Sutra 


There is in reality neither truth nor error, neither yes nor no, nor any distinction whatsoever, since all—including contraries—is One.
-Chuang Tzu (A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom, p.979)

This One is a pure nondual unity, transcending even the division between One and Many:

The One … is there before every oneness amid multiplicity, before every part and whole, before the definite and indefinite, before the limited and the unlimited. It is there defining all things that have being, defining being itself … . It is there beyond the one itself, defining this one.
-Pseudo Dionysius (Paul Rorem, Pseudo Dionysius, Paulist Press, 1987, p.129)

Like the symbol of the tree, it is a One that is not exclusively a single trunk or a multiplicity of branches, but somehow both.


The root of all things is difference.
-Ibn Arabi (William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, SUNY, 1989, p.67)

The first departure from this original unity is a single distinction, giving rise to a basic duality expressed variously as one/many, heaven/earth, infinite/finite, subject/object, transcendence/immanence, ultimate/relative, emptiness/form, eternity/time, being/becoming. This distinction, however, is not ultimately real. The different branches of the tree are only apparently separate. But if we forget this, then we fall into delusion and suffering:

“In the beginning God created heaven and earth,” that is, the first fall of all is from the One into two, from unity into number, from what is perfect, undivided and indistinct into imperfection, division and distinction, and from the whole into parts.
-Eckhart, Meister.  Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense. Colledge, Edmund, tr. (Ramsey, N.J.:  Paulist Press, 1981). p. 100.

And, as the Bhagavad Gita reminds us:

There are two spirits in this universe,
The perishable and the unperishable.
The perishable is all things in creation.
The unperishable is that which moves not.
But the highest spirit is another:
It is called the Spirit Supreme.
He is the God of Eternity
Who pervading all sustains all.
-The Bhagavad Gita. Mascaro, Juan, tr. (New York:  Penguin, 1962). p. 107.


When another distinction is made, duality splits into the tree-fold structure of the trinity. This is expressed variously as Father/Son/Holy Spirit, Body/Mind/Spirit, Sat/Chit/Ananda, Dharmakaya/Sambhogakaya/Nirmanakaya, Gross/Subtle/Causal. This more refined structure provides a more explicit expression of the implicit aspects of the original One. And the process continues indefinitely to increasing multiplicity.

Not only is this pattern of cosmogenesis reflected in the traditional metaphysical systems of the world, but it also manifests in modern physics. In the Big Bang cosmological theory, symmetry breaking leads to the manifestations of distinctions between the four fundamental forces of nature. Prior to 10^-43 seconds all the physical forces of nature were unified in perfect symmetry. After 10^-43 seconds, the force of gravity emerged as a distinct interaction. Then, after 10^-35 seconds, another symmetry broke and the strong nuclear force was distinguished. And at 10^-10 seconds, the weak nuclear interaction was distinguished. Although much more sophisticated than the Pythagorean tetraktys, the essential pattern of multiplicity unfolding from unity is the same.

Posted in: Philosophy, Science