Sri Aurobindo translates Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter One (second part): “This is the Self, the Spirit, and from the Spirit ether was born; and from the ether, air; and from the air, fire; and from the fire, the waters; and from the waters, earth; ”
In the West, the idea has widely taken root that existence arises out of Matter. All of the more subtle aspects of existence somehow are created from this initial material existence. The seers of the Upanishads took a different view. They understood that the more dense material forms were results, not causes, and that existence starts with the more subtle field of vibration and extension in space. Modern day science is beginning to understand and adopt the Upanishadic view, using different terminology. Even Christian theology has appreciated this with its dictum “In the beginning was the Word…” Just as we have recognized now that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way round, we are beginning to accept the fact that Matter is the result of a concentration of energy, through the expansion and contraction of vibratory force.
Sri M. P. Pandit notes: “This Supreme Reality is no absolute self-Being that exists only in transcendence of the universe. Brahman is not the Beyond alone. It is here, says the Upanishad, the Self of all existence and around this Self is the whole creation centred. Brahman is Atman — the Self. From the Brahman-Atman have issued all the existences in this Creation. … From the most subtle to the utmost gross state of existence all are the modifications of this Self. The Manifestation of Brahman proceeds through an extension in graded self-modification of its Being. Describing this process in regard to the creation of the physical universe, as viewed by the old Indian seers, Sri Aurobindo (n.b. in The Life Divine, Ch. 10) writes:
‘The elementary state … is a condition of pure material extension in Space of which the peculiar property is vibration typified to us by the phenomenon of sound. But vibration in this state of ether is not sufficient to create forms. There must first be some obstruction in the flow of the Force Ocean, some contraction and expansion, some interplays of vibrations, some impinging of force upon force so as to create a beginning of fixed relations and mutual effects. Material Force modifying its first ethereal status assumes a second, called in the old language the aerial, of which the special property is contact between force and force, contact that is the basis of all material relations. Still we have not as yet real forms but only varying forces. A sustaining principle is needed. This is provided by a third self-modification of the primitive Force of which the principle of light, electricity, fire and heat is for us the characteristic manifestation. Even then, we can have forms of force preserving their own character and peculiar action, but not stable forms of Matter. A fourth state characterised by diffusion and a first medium of permanent attractions and repulsions, termed picturesquely water or the liquid state, a fifth of cohesion, termed earth or the solid state, complete the necessary elements.’ ”