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 Self; smaller than the smallest, greater than the greatest.”

These excerpts from the Katha Upanishad evolve out of a dialogue whose context is as instructive as its content. In this legend, 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 when tempted with all the riches and pleasures in the world. Yama proceeds to preach about the unified nature of the Self. His descriptions echo the Hermetic meaning of as above so below:

“Those who see all creatures in themselves

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 connects 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. What initially appears separate and diverse to the senses is singular and alike to the Self.

The Upanishads frequently employ metaphor to convey the illusion of multiplicity and the reality of unity:

“Can there be anything not known to That

Who is the One in all? Know One, know all.

As the rain on a mountain peak runs off

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

“In dark night live those for whom

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.

The self-existent Lord pierced the senses

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 the study of cosmology a central place in its presentation. It acknowledges the existence of self-similar, nested cosmoses and expresses this structural parallelism in mythology, art and architecture. Hindu myths are literary expressions of the interaction between cosmoses, wherein heaven and earth mirror and support each.

The builders of Angkor Wat, a Hindu temple in Cambodia, strove to outline the form of the universe on earth. Consequently, it is a visual expression of “as above so below”. The outer moat of Angkor Wat symbolizes the primordial oceans, the inner court is the earth, and the temple precinct represents the heavens. This triadic 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 internally. “As above so below and as within so without”; he or she who explored the temple grounds could meaningfully contemplate this philosophical truth from within its physical manifestation.

By exploring temple architecture and art and understanding internally the mythological ideas they portrayed, the trained visitor entered a virtual model of his own mind. Thus did ancient temples, constructed with cosmological principles, teach the fundamental lesson of know thyself.