The Vedic view on primordial evolution (as for example expressed in Bhāgavata Purana, 2.5) is that time enters the material energy (which itself is a threefold energy reflecting the original threefold energy of Godhead). When time enters, things can proceed, things can evolve. The force driving the evolution is the svabhāva, which is the psychological disposition of the living entities who wish to project themselves into that material energy. This interaction between svabhāva and the tri-guṇa (threefold material energy) causes the universe to acquire a primordial collective destiny (karma) - which I conceptualize as a “DNA code” for the entire universe.
All this happens, by the way, before creation – while the universe is lying as a “bubble” in the “ocean of causality” aka “ocean of possibility.”
This primordial evolutionary state of the universe is ahaṁkāra - the primeval, collective universal sense that “I will act, I will accomplish my desires.” See, the catalyst of evolution was svabhāva, which is composed of desire. So when it progresses slightly in evolution it becomes the sense that “I can accomplish my desire.”
The three guṇa then interact with that ahaṁkāra and evolution continues by producing three primordial powers: the power to create material (dravya-śakti, created by tamo-guṇa), the power to perceive material (jñāna-śakti, created by sattva-guṇa), and the power to manipulate and interact with material (kriyā-śakti, created by rajo-guṇa).
Each power then evolves along its own line. This evolution is interconnected: Each material that evolves produces a sense object, which requires the evolution of a specific perceptual power, and a specific power of manipulation.
Dravya-śakti (the power to create material) eventually evolves into the primordial template of all perceivable objects. First it evolves into space – which is not just the stuff astronauts walk around in, it literally means space, like, “Hey, give me some space, buddy.” Space is the stuff that everything else fits inside. So the first material element has to be space – a place for everything else to exist within.
The sensual object generated by space is sound.
Some people think this is silly, saying, “There is no sound in space!”
But they are being silly. In space there is no sound that the human ear can percieve. But soundwaves do travel in outerspace, as the transmissions broadcast by our satellites and spacecraft attest to. Space does transmit waves. Sound is a wave.
Waves are differentiated from one another maily by their size – the amount of space they take up. Low pitched sound, for example is a wave that takes lots of space. High pitched sound waves take very little space. Every sound engineer knows that space, not air, produces sound. If you want to improve the sound of your stereo system, or your recording studio you don’t buy an air freshener, you change the space - you adjust the spatial relationship between the sources of sound and your ear.
But air also can transmit sound – and so can fire, water, and earth. One reason is because those elements are vibrated by the waves in space, and our ear interprets those vibrations as sounds. Another reason is that all other elements – air, fire and so on – exist within space and have space within them.
Next to evolve are airs. The vibration of space produces movement. Moving space = wind. When the sky moves, it is wind. Wind introduces the sensation of touch – which is essentially a perception of the friction induced by movement.
Next to evolve are fires, the element that illuminates. Friction causes heat, and heat generates light – that’s how I think of it. Since fire produces light, it introduces the sensation of sight. (note it’s not just “fire” but all radiant, energetic things, like electricity for example)
Next to evolve are waters. Perhaps we can conceptualize this as precipitation caused by heat. Water allows substances to mix, and it is the mixture of substances which produces the sensation we call “taste” (rasa).
Finally, earths evolve. Somehow the water carries elements that it releases as sediments to create solid earth – I conceive of it that way. Earth introduces the sensation of smell. Smell is a type of touch without friction. When particles of a substance physically contact the nose, we smell them. These are usually tiny airborne particles. Nonetheless smell requires particles, which is the essence of the earth element.
One principle of Vedic proto-evolution is that the elements which evolve contain the qualities of the elments they evolved from. So you can hear space, but you can’t feel, see, taste, or smell it. You can hear air and you can feel it too, but you can’t see, taste or smell it. You can hear, feel and see fires and other radiants, but you can’t taste or smell them (you can smell smoke or other charged particles / solids they emit). You can hear, feel, see and taste waters, but you can’t smell it (you can only smell its effect on solids). Earth, the final element, contains all five qualities: you can hear, feel, see, taste, and smell it.
That was the evolutionary path of the dravya-śakti. Alongside this the jñāna-śakti has to evolve substances that can percieve the sensations available from the five objects. So first and foremost it evolves into “mind” – the substance that interprets sensual data. Then it evolves into ten divinities or semi-sentient powers that facilitate the five specific sense perceptions and the five specific ways of manipulating the sense objects. These ten are like the conduits, or “wires” from the mind to the physical sense organs of living beings.
Alongside this, kriyā-śakti has to evolve the actual instruments that will perceive five types of sensual data and transmit them into the jñāna-śakti conduit. So it evolves into the prototypical instruments of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting, and smelling, as well as the prototypical means of speaking, manipulating, mobilizing, generating, and evacuating.
I think of this whole thing as being essentially the same as a video game! The world of the game exists within the Xbox – it is the dravya-śakti creating all the objects you can see and interact with in the game. Then there is the TV screen – that’s the jñāna-śakti - its the thing that actually shows you the world inside the Xbox computer code. Through it you can percieve the objects available for you to experience and manipulate in the game. Finally, there is the game controller – that’s the kriyā-śakti. It allows you to interact with and manipulate the game world you see on the screen.
The universe, then, is more or less a huge game of ego-based desires.
This evolution takes thousands of thousands of “years.” Finally, when it has come to this point it is ready to become a universe inhabited by living, active beings. Godhead then enters into it, becomes the Supersoul and enters into the Jīvas (individual motes of projected consciousness) lying dormant within it, rousing them to life – granting them the ability to realize the destiny they began to form by their initial svabhāva left over from the previous universe.
Now, if that’s not DAMN COOL, I don’t know WHAT is!