Sri Aurobindo translates Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter One, Section Two, Verse 1: “Formerly there was nothing here; this was concealed by Death — by Hunger, for it is Hunger that is Death. That created mind, and he said, ‘Let me have substance.’ He moved about working and as he worked the waters were born and he said, ‘Felicity was born to me as I worked.’ This verily is the activity in action. Therefore felicity cometh to him who thus knoweth this soul of activity in action.”
Can existence arise out of “nothing”? The Upanishad here states that while there may not have been a manifested universe that was perceptible, it existed in some form as it was “concealed by Death”. The Eternal exists eternally. The description of the creation of the manifestation is one example of a theme that recurs not only in other Upanishads but also in the Rig Veda: “That One lived without breath by his self-law, there was nothing else nor aught beyond it. In the beginning Darkness was hidden by darkness, all this was an ocean of inconscience.” (R.V. X.129)
The Upanishad equates Death with Hunger. Hunger in this instance is not a physical experience, but a metaphysical principle which we call desire. It is at the level of the undifferentiated Absolute that the One Existent “desired” to create forms of differentiation, which we call the universal creation. The Rig Veda: “That moved at first as desire within, which was the primal seed of mind.” (R.V. X.129) In this case, it is the universal principle of creation that is put into motion through the arising of desire. The sages consistently equate desire with death, and overcoming desire with the attainment of immortality, such as in the Taittiriya Upanishad. Here however we are focused on the creation of the universal action, put forth through the arising of the divine intention manifested as desire, which provokes the development of mind (not the human mind, but the “mind” that creates differentiation and manifestation, which Sri Aurobindo would call the Supermind), which then works to create water (a principle of the movement and flow of energy), out of which the further concentration of energy into matter then takes place. This follows the principle that the universe was condensed from the more subtle energetic forms to the gross material forms.
The Upanishads frequently remind us that the inherent quality of the Brahman is a triple status of Sat-Chit-Ananda, Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. This Sat-Chit-Ananda rolled out the creation through the mechanisms of Time-Space-Causality and this was an action of joy. For as the Taittiriya Upanishad states: “In the beginning all this Universe was Non-Existent and Unmanifest, from which this manifest Existence was born. Itself created itself; none other created it. Therefore they say of it the well and beautifully made. Lo, this that is well and beautifully made, verily it is no other than the delight behind existence.” (T.U. Brahmanandavalli, Ch. 7)
We experience the joy of creating something. This is a reflex of the joy of the Brahman in manifesting the universal creation. The process of creation as we experience it as human beings arises from a sense of lack, a “hunger”, and out of that we engage the mind to work on “solving” that lack, thus tracking the description provided by the Rishi of the Upanishad. We act out of a sense of separation or fragmentation, and our hunger then is bound in our mortality. This is a process for rolling out the universe through Time and Space. Why is this important? If we understand the actual processes, new ways of action and progress open before us.