Western scientists and philosophers of the past started generally from the premise that Matter existed first, and that consciousness somehow arose as a derivative function of matter, through some chance combination of chemicals and electro-magnetic spectrum activity.
Some religious traditions go further to try to address the “first cause” by indicating that Matter and all life-forms are created by an external, all-powerful God.
The Vedic tradition, starting with the sages and seers of the Rig Veda, and continuing through the spiritual philosophical reflections of the Upanishads, look at existence from a somewhat different standpoint. This tradition examines the manifested world closely and has determined that Matter does not have the ability to create itself out of nothing or to manifest powers of consciousness not already involved therein. At the same time, the Vedic tradition does not see an extra-cosmic God as the solution either.
Characteristically, the Vedic sages start from the primacy of the spiritual consciousness, which exceeds, contains and constitutes all manifested forms. The forms are therefore derivative, not primary in their existence. Sri Aurobindo explains: “Therefore all things are initially, ultimately and in the principle of their continuance too the Spirit. The fundamental nature of all is nature of the Spirit, and only in their lower differential phenomena do they seem to be something else, to be nature of body, life, mind, reason, ego and the senses. But these are phenomenal derivatives, they are not the essential truth of our nature and our existence.”
What we experience here is based on the creation of the Jiva, the individual Soul. “But in the manifestation which is thus put forth in the Spirit, upheld in its action, withdrawn in its periodical rest from action, the Jiva is the basis of the multiple existence; it is the multiple soul, if we may so call it, or, if we prefer, the soul of the multiplicity we experience here. It is one always with the Divine in its being, different from it only in the power of its being,–different not in the sense that it is not at all the same power, but in this sense that it only supports the one power in a partial multiply individualised action.”
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 1, The Two Natures, pg. 258