The Origin of Life in the Universe: Buddhist Perspective
Posted on January 27th, 2010
Dr Ruwan M JayatungeM.D.
The origin of life has been a subject of speculation in all known cultures. In the modern era, this question has been considered in terms of a scientific framework. Lord Buddha’s’ explanation of the origin of the Universe, compatible with the modern scientific explanation. Buddha described the origin of the Universe and life in the Aganna Sutta 2500 years ago. According to Buddha’s explanation the universe being destroyed and then re-evolving into its present form over a period of millions of years. The Buddha did not believe in the existence of a supreme god or creator of the universe. The Lord
Buddha presented a model of cosmology wherein the universe expands
and contracts over extremely long periods of time, this description has been found by some to be consistent with the expanding universe model and Big Bang. The Buddha explained that the universe expands outward, reaches a stabilizing point, and then reverts its motion back toward a central point resulting in its destruction, this process again to be repeated infinitely.
The Big Bang Theory
Sir Fred Hoyle – a renowned British astronomer coined the term “Big
Bang. Big Bang Theory explains the beginning of the universe. The big bang theory proposes that the universe was once extremely compact, dense, and hot. Some original event, a cosmic explosion called the big bang, occurred about 13.7 billion years ago, and the universe has since been expanding and cooling. The theory is based on the mathematical equations, known as the field equations, of the general
theory of relativity set forth in 1915 by Albert Einstein.
The AggaƒÆ’†’±ƒÆ’†’±a Sutta, found in the Pali Canon, in which the Buddha, speaking to the monk Vasettha, a former Brahmin, states the following:
“Now there comes a time, Vasettha, when after a long period of time this world expands.
In this stanza the term world has a wider understanding. Here the Buddha refers to the Universe. The Buddha said “Space has no end, and there are endless numbers of worlds.” This means that the universe has no limit, and has an endless number of stars and planets.
The big bang was initially suggested because it explains why distant galaxies are traveling away from us at great speeds. The theory also predicts the existence of cosmic background radiation. The Big Bang Theory received its strongest confirmation when this radiation was discovered in 1964 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, who later won the Nobel Prize for this discovery.
Origin of Species
AggaƒÆ’†’±ƒÆ’†’±a Sutta is in complete agreement with scientific evolution. The AggaƒÆ’†’±ƒÆ’†’±a Sutta presents water as pre-existent to earthlike planets, with the planet forming with water and the life moving from the water onto the earth. The first life formed on the surface of the water and again, over countless millions of years, evolved from simple into complex organisms. . According to Buddhism, world systems always appear and disappear in the universe.
The Buddha further says,
There comes a time, Vasettha, when, after the lapse of a long, long period, this world died. And when this happens, beings have mostly been reborn into the Realm of Radiance [as devas]; and there they dwell, made of mind, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, traversing the air, continuing in glory; and thus they remain for a long, long period of time. There comes also a time, Vasettha, when sooner or later this world begins to re-evolve. When this happens, beings who had deceased from the World of Radiance usually come to life as humans…now at that time, all had become one world of water, dark, and of darkness that makes blind. No moon nor sun appeared, no stars were seen, nor constellations, neither was night manifest nor day, neither months nor half-months, neither years nor seasons, neither female nor male.
Beings were reckoned just as beings only. And to those beings, Vasettha, sooner or later after a long time, earth with its savours was spread out in the waters, even as a scum forms on the surface of boiled milky rice that is cooling, so did the earth appear.”
“Now there comes a time, Vasettha, when after a long period of time this world expands. When the world expands beings for the most part fall from the realm of Radiance and come here; and they exist made of mind, feeding on joy, self-luminous, moving through the air, constantly beautiful; thus they remain for a long, long time. Now at that time, all had become one world of water dark, and of darkness that makes blind. No moon nor sun appeared no stars were seen, nor constellations, neither was night manifest nor day, neither months nor half-months, neither years nor seasons, neither female nor male.
Beings were reckoned just as beings only. And to those beings, Vasettha, sooner or later after a long time, earth with its savors was spread out in the waters. Even as a scum forms on the surface of boiled milky rice that is cooling, so did the earth appear. ~
The “beings” that The Buddha he described in this sutra are attached
to an earthlike planet, get reborn there, and remain there for the duration of the life. As a result of this, physical characteristics change and evolutionary changes take place. This is could be interpreted as a form of evolution.
Modern science says that some millions of years ago, life originated
in the ocean which evolved from simple into complex organisms. All these processes are without beginning or end, and are set in motion by natural causes. World came into existence by nature and that nature is not an intelligent force.
For centuries the origin of Life was thought to be the result of Abiogenesis .The doctrine of Spontaneous Generation holds that organic life could and does arise from inorganic matter. Louis Pasteur disproved Spontaneous Generation. Buddhism never claimed that the world, life, sun, moon, stars, wind, water, days and nights were created by a powerful god.
The Theory of Evolution
Darwin believed all the life on Earth developed gradually over millions of years from a few common ancestors. Darwin’s general theory presumes the development of life from non-life and stresses a purely naturalistic (undirected) “descent with modification”. That is, complex creatures evolve from more simplistic ancestors naturally over time. In a nutshell, as random genetic mutations occur within an organism’s genetic code, the beneficial mutations are preserved because they aid survival — a process known as “natural selection.”
These beneficial mutations are passed on to the next generation.
Primordial Soup Theory
Aleksandr Ivanovich Oparin developed one of the first modern theories about the origin of life on Earth .The theory which in 1924 made Oparin famous concerns abiogenesis, the spontaneous generation of life from non-living chemical substances. Oparin believed that conditions on primitive Earth were different to those of the present. He suggested that the ancient seas were like a ‘primeval soup’ which contained many organic compounds. These were created when sunlight, a virtually limitless source of energy, reacted with chemicals in the water. These organic compounds formed the basis of life. They combined, becoming increasingly complex, until living cells were formed. The Primordial Soup Theory suggest that life began in a pond or ocean as a result of the combination of chemicals from the atmosphere and some form of energy to make amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which would then evolve into all the species. The Primordial Soup Theory states that Life began in a warm pond/ocean from a combination of chemicals that forms amino acids, which then make proteins. This is supposed to happen at least 3.8 billion to 3.55 billion years ago.
Definition of life
Living beings are protein-made bodies formed by one or more cells that communicate with the environment through information transfer carried out by electric impulses or chemical substances, and capable of morpholigical evolution and metabolism, growth and reproduction.
Life is a chemical system able to replicate itself through autocatalysis and to make mistakes that gradually increase the efficiency of the autocatalysis.
DNA and Life
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus. DNA is the genetic material of all cells, containing coded information about cellular molecules and processes. DNA consists of two polynucleotide strands twisted around each other in a double helix.
Dr. Ponnamperuma’s Research
Dr.Cyril Ponnamperuma, an eminent researcher at the University of
Maryland, whose career focused on explorations into the origin of life
and the “primordial soup” that contained the precursors of life. Dr.
Ponnamperuma began to delve into this primordial soup and set up variations of Miller and Urey’s original experiment.
The classic experiment was conducted in 1953 by Dr. Harold C. Urey and Dr. Stanley L. Miller. They assumed the early atmosphere was rich in hydrogen, as that is the most abundant element in the universe. And so they mixed methane and ammonia, which contain hydrogen atoms, with molecular hydrogen and water vapor in a flask. They introduced a continuous electric spark, to provide the energy that might have come from lightning. Out of the resulting chemical reactions came a residue of more complex molecules, including some amino acids. These molecules collected in the water in a lower flask, which simulated the early oceans, and suggested what might have been the hypothetical primordial soup in which living molecules came together.
Having changed the proportions of the elements from the original Miller-Urey specifications slightly, Ponnamperuma and his team sent first high-energy electrons, then ultraviolet light through the mixture, attempting to recreate the original conditions of the earth before life. They succeeded in creating large amounts of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an amino acid that fuels cells. In later experiments with the same concoction of primordial soup, the team was able to create the nucleotides that make up nucleic acid“”‚
Dr. Chandra Wickramasinghe – Professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy, School of Mathematics, Cardiff University, UK asserted:
“Life did not start here on earth but in space . Theory known as
panspermia- the science that teaches earth and other planets in the universe may have been seeded for life by microorganisms carrying comets. Life did not start in a primordial soup spontaneously here on earth as believed earlier but it started 4000 million years ago on comets and traveled through space to earth and countless other planets. He played a key role in establishing a connection between astronomy and biology. His work in the 1980’s showed for the first time that cosmic dust had properties that resembled the properties of living material and their degradation products. The concept of life
being a cosmic phenomenon supported by space science, geology and
biology. In this context life on Earth resulted from the introduction of bacteria from comets, and the subsequent evolution of life required the continuing input of genes from comets. Viable bacteria are of cosmic origin. They were present already in the material from which the solar system condensed and their number was then topped up substantially by replication in cometary material. Thus the impacts of cometary material would have brought them to Earth.The idea of life being a cosmic phenomenon is fully in tune with Buddhist as well as Vedic philosophy.
Buddhism teaches that every man in the universe is his own lord, controls his own destiny, and is not controlled by any other man or
any supernatural God. In Malunkyaputta’s story the Buddha
explained the debate of origin of the universe is a waste of time.
According to the Lord Buddha man’s instantaneous problem is his own suffering and his task is to liberate himself from the Sansara. To exemplify this, the Buddha explains the tale of a man who was shot by a poisoned arrow. This unwise man refused to have the arrow removed until he was told who shot the arrow, what he looks like, his cast , names of his parents ,the kind of wood the arrow was made of and so forth. The Buddha said that before the man could achieve complete information, he would be dead. Likewise, our immediate mission is to be enlightened, not to speculate about the metaphysical