The absence of chaos

Devdutt PattanaikIn Greek mythology, the world begins as chaos and order comes into the world through the rise and fall of various beings — first giants, then titans, then Olympians and finally humans, who find liberation through reason and science. In many ways, the modern trend of being liberal, secular, scientific and democratic owes its origin to this mythic thought, which rejects all notions of authority.

In biblical mythology, the world begins out of nothingness until God appears and he creates the perfect world with perfect rules until Eve and Adam break the rules and through that act of transgression create all the problems of life. Through prophets who communicate his laws, God tries to get his prodigal children back to his perfect paradise. In many ways, the modern trend to value institutions and the collective, over individuals, stems from this mythic thought.

Thus, Greek thought proposed that human intervention removes chaos while biblical thought proposed that human intervention is the cause of chaos. These two thoughts are at loggerheads with each other and make up what we now call Western thought.

In China, nature is harmony and society is in order provided the people respect the Mandate of Heaven and follow the rituals initiated by the Emperor. When the rituals are forgotten, order collapses and chaos reigns. But this applies only to human organisation not nature where harmony always prevails by the interaction of the two complementary energy forces — yin and yang.

In India, the concept of chaos does not exist. There are two kinds of order — natural order or prakriti and social order or sanskriti. Sanskriti comes into being when Vishnu awakens and prakriti resurfaces when Vishnu sleeps. Natural order is composed of the inorganic and the organic world.

The inorganic world is governed by rules of Newtonian physics. The law of the jungle governs the organic world. Of course, words like ‘rules’ and ‘laws’ are deceptive — as there is no authority enforcing them. In social order, there are the rules of man. Different communities have different rules and these either complement each other, collaborate with each other, or even are often in conflict with each other.

Indian thought did not value central authority; it valued multiple authority located in various communities that were spread out and scattered across various villages and cities. So the rules criss-crossed each other and made those on the outside feel there was no order.

For the Greeks, absence of human reason and control created chaos. For those who followed the Bible, chaos follows the failure to uphold the laws of God or the institution or authority. In China, chaos happens when the Mandate of Heaven is not respected. In all three cases, humans play a key role in maintaining order.

But all three refer to social order. In Indian thought, nature is not chaotic. In the absence of human control, natural order takes over and we behave like animals, respecting power and authority and force rather than rules. While anarchy is seen as collapse of order in most cultures, in India it would be seen as the fall of humanity but the restoration of animal nature. Thus the approach to the universe was very different. Man was not in the centre of the universe.

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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