Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as Sanatana Dharma (“the eternal law”). Hinduism is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder. A large body of texts is classified as Hindu, divided into Sruti (“revealed”) and Smriti (“remembered”). Among these texts, the Vedas are the foremost in authority, importance and antiquity. Other major scriptures include the Upanishads, Puranas and the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana.
The above and following excerpts are from the Katha Upanishads. The sayings evolve out of a dialogue worth mentioning, for its circumstances are as instructive as its content. The teenage boy Nachiketa inquires of Yama, God of death, whether it is possible to survive the death of the body. Yama reluctantly imparts the age-old wisdom of immortality to the boy, who will not settle for less than that even though the god tempts him with all the riches and pleasures of the world. Yama proceeds to preach about the unified nature of the Self. His descriptions echo the Hermetic principle of as above so below:
And themselves in all creatures know no fear.
Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no grief.
How can the multiplicity of life
Delude the one who sees its unity?
As Above so Below | Unity and Multiplicity
The Hindu teaching also contrasts the one and the many, the unified with the multiple. In order to perceive the reality of ‘as above so below’, one must see the unity in multiplicity, that what seems to the senses as separate and diverse reveals to be singular and alike to the Self.
The Upanishads presents several metaphors to convey the illusion of multiplicity and reality of unity, two of which he quote here:
Who is the One in all? Know One, know all.
The slopes on all sides, so those who see
Only the seeming multiplicity of life
Run after things on every side.
The Upanishads on As Within so Without
The world without alone is real; in night
Darker still, for whom the world within
Alone is real. The first leads to a life
Of action, the second to a life of meditation.
But those who combine action with meditation
Cross the sea of death through action
And enter into immortality
through the practice of meditation.
to turn outward. Thus we look to the world
Without and see not the Self within us.
A sage withdrew his senses from the world
Of change and, seeking immortality,
Looked within and beheld the deathless Self.
As Above so Below expressed in Hindu cosmology
Hinduism gives cosmology a central place in its presentation. It acknowledges the existence of parallel cosmoses, one within another, and repeatedly expresses this unity in mythology, art and architecture. Hindu myths are literary expressions of the interaction between cosmoses, wherein heaven and earth mirror and support each other.
Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, for example, was a Hindu temple that strove to outline the universe on earth. Consequently, it is a visual expression of “as above so below“. The outer moat of Angkor Wat represented the primordial oceans, the inner court represents the earth, and the temple precinct represents the heavens. this theme repeats itself in the frescoes adorning the temple’s inner walls.
The idea behind presenting the unity of cosmoses visually was to enable pilgrims who visited the temple to experience its truth within. “As above so below and as within so without”, and he who explored the temple grounds could meditate upon this truth while it unfolded before him physically. By exploring the temple architecture and art, and contemplating the mythological ideas they portrayed, the trained visitor would be exploring and contemplating himself.
Thus did ancient temples, modeled after cosmological principles, teach the fundamental lesson of know thyself.