Purposeful Becoming -The Evolution of Darwinism
Posted on June 1st, 2016
Mahinda Weerasinghe excerpt from his book “Origin of Species According to the Buddha” Godage Publishers
By the time Darwin came to formulate his On the Origin of Species, somewhat similar ideas were already simmering in the Western world. Yet, to confront the believers of the Good Book with such hearsay just a few years before, would have been simply suicidal. Finding the ‘soul’ which had been magically inherited, now all of a sudden missing, was not an easy thing to accept. Indeed to have descended from ‘monkeys’ without any elite status, of which they have been assured again and again, was hard to digest. In fact it was not so much the evolution of species that they reacted so violently against, but this onslaught on their comforting self-centredness, this demotion of their cardinal status, conferred by their architect so lovingly.
I am of course referring to the ‘soul’. Though both camps took up the argument heatedly, they avoided confronting each other on the major issue, indeed in this connection, the vital question.
If we then are supposed to have descended from apes, and have evolved from amoeba upwards, are we to assume that Homo sapiens sapiens are also like any other ‘run of the mill’ creatures, devoid of any ‘eternal life giving’ soul substance? Darwin, for one, would not dare leave his stronghold to confront the true believers with a precarious challenge such as this. For it was a query better left unattended. Fittingly so, as it went deep into the heart of all decent God-fearing citizens!
But a general theory of evolution of things was already taking shape some time before Darwin. The geological theories current is a point of fact. James Hutton’s publication of Theory of the Earth in 1795 was indeed food for thought.
Hutton argued that these so-called ‘eternal hills’ are any thing but eternal. They are continually eroding into fragments and then swept out to sea, where they are deposited into beds and in the course of time get consolidated into rocky layers. Thereby inner movements of the earth’s crust can be thrust up to form new mountains, and the process would go on, ad infinitum.
This kind of thinking did not go down so well with those ‘sudden genesis’ enthusiasts, especially when those notables, Dr. Lightfoot of Cambridge and James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, just a few years before had pinpointed to the hour when this sudden genesis had taken place. Yet the protestations were muted; after all, this man was talking about some rocks and stones. In fact, an evolutionary process of mountains and rivers could easily be stomached, for there was definitely no ‘soul essence’ involved, but evolution through natural selection was another matter. People would rather go on living and enjoying life, possessing a ‘soul’ with all its connected prospects, rather than be related to an orang-utan, who evidently was devoid of such an ‘essence’. Apart from the major possibilities of an eternal life, the very idea of an evolution was condemned simply due to its association with such tasteless ideas of otherwise radicalism, sedation, and a feeling of a ‘non status quo’.
Indeed the word ‘evolution’ does not occur in the first edition of the On The Origin of Species, and Darwin did not use it until some years later. But the ideas it denotes had been put forward and debated in Europe for at least a hundred years prior to 1859. It was partly due to Darwin’s own ambiguity and indecisiveness. Owing to his loose use of words, it was never clear from the outset whether ‘my theory’ meant ‘Natural Selection’ or the gradual change of form in plants and animals, which we now term ‘Evolution’. Hence we are apt to believe that every objection to Darwin’s thesis was an objection to evolution, whereas many of the objections were only to natural selection. Not every reader of the On the Origin of Species mistook the one for the other; though after almost one and a half centuries of confusion it is hard to say exactly what single idea it was that ‘triumphed’ with the On the Origin of Species.
In essence, Darwin was proposing that species were in a process of evolving in order to survive in a competitive surrounding. In the process there was selection of the fittest. Darwin wrote in On the Origin of Species: Chapter IV, Natural selection.
“It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until The hand of time has marked the long lapses of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long past geological ages that we only see that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were.”
We are hardly able to escape the major argument Darwin was striving to promote. Even presently most scientists were unanimous in their agreement about it. The whole necessity of the struggle by individuals of a species is aimed at, bringing forth its offspring, and thus ensure ‘the continuation of its types’.
Thus it is possible to isolate the main principle, or a goal, if you insist. Most creatures are keen to produce their prototypes as an all-embracing urge. On the other hand, their very existence is threatened if not adapted to a changing dynamic situation, the so-called ‘competitive exclusion principle’. What emerge as far as I can see are two separate but important laws: First is the law, that the evolution of species was a direct result of a necessity to survive in a competitive world. Hence, by adapting structural changes, each species evolved to meet the new challenges. The second answers the more central issue: Why this necessity for survival at all? And pat comes the answer, the necessity for the production of its precious prototypes of course, so that the ‘continuation of the species’ is ensured. Yet eventually, the author of On the Origin of Species, had lost all orthodox belief and come to the conclusion, which he retained to the end of his life, those questions of ultimate causes and purposes were an insoluble mystery.
His theory is dominated by the word ‘evolution’, and to any neutral reader, the word conveys the meaning of steady progress. Indeed we think of a chain, joined link by link, a ladder leading on to higher levels of creatures – hence the old missing link concept. Yet the chain metaphor is completely wrong. In the first place, since one species often gives rise to several daughter species, as a result of the sub-divisive process of speciation, the resulting pattern is much similar to that of a tree, a phylogenetic tree with many tiny branches that are terminal (extinct) and do not lead to further species at all. In the second place, the theoretical analysis of the relation of the exclusion principle to the processes of extinction and race amalgamation (an analysis that is supported by the factual studies of modern taxonomists) leads us to believe that the fine structure of the phylogenetic tree is almost everywhere a net of sorts.
But the misdirection was not all of Darwin’s doing. He inherited the word evolution with all its ambiguity and uncertainty, and used it without discrimination to promote his idea. In fact it refers not to a single idea but to a complex of analytically distinguishable ideas that are partly independent of, partly dependent on, each other. The four most essential of these, we may call, are the processes of adaptation, secular change, speciation and extinction.
Though many contest that Darwin, by evolution, did not exactly mean progress but a sense of progress, he has clearly projected an idea of a progressive evolution (anagenesis) of creatures if at all to survive, the ‘competitive exclusion’. This major flaw in Darwin’s theory went mostly uncontested. The results were regrettable, for it was assumed, and rightly so, that if going by Darwin’s theory, there is a steady upward trend, a steady progress, if a species is to survive (for it was assumed, if a species is to survive, it should have bettered itself or be doomed) hence the very necessity in progress.
Aside from such ‘half baked’ and hazy ideas, the ambiguous relation between the individual and the group was confusing. Indeed due to what has been preached since 1859, the race thinking was made possible. In other words Darwinists had shown that the individual did not matter, but what mattered was only the race. But the Darwinians had also shown that races were mutable, not fixed categories. There must therefore exist a struggle or striving, by individuals for a selective process to be in operation so that one or other race ended up tops. This argument extended into society and became rather confusing: should a man give up his life for the common welfare, like a nest of termites or a colony of ants? But if we understood the elementary Darwinism his duty first and foremost was to survive at all cost and further his copies.
In direct conflict to Darwin’s contentions, we have creatures at the grassroots level that have not progressed whatsoever. Amoebas, for one, are holding a ‘status quo’ situation, if looked at from Darwinian principles. In fact, the earliest forms of life adapted to survive in their surrounding media, and many do so to this day. Indeed, taking Darwin’s own argument, the sole objective being to produce living forms that could survive and propagate, they were perfect from the inception. We do not see any need whatsoever for a single cell protoplasm to develop more organs, no need for successive appearance of eyes, fins, legs, wings, or any other embellishments, to the primary form. The original forms were quite sufficient to exist and further their prototypes. It was uncomplicated and easy, functioned well, and adaptive to its surroundings, so why should it diversify and expose itself to harsh environments? In point of fact, here you do not find a struggle for survival; there is plain and simple existence.
From Darwin’s days to the present, the main ideas concerning evolution of creatures have not changed. Sensory status was, as far as Darwin was concerned, a product of blind chance, a hazy grasping to live in a cold insensitive universe. Indeed, he could not ignore what he saw. To him, there were no clues to existence, no direction or, for that reason, purpose. There was no moral prescription, but only a ‘survival of the fittest’!
Though all agreed as to the process and call it ‘evolution’, for want of a better word, many a scientist hold some reservations about Darwin’s theory. How could one put a label to a species and say they are on the ascendancy or on the verge of extinction?
We know all creatures are transforming and not holding a status quo, but science glosses over why this complicated process ever commenced, or, having begun, what guiding impulses transformed it by such a trial and error process over aeons of time from that rudimentary single-cell organism into the highly complex, though still imperfect, creatures called humans.
Yet umpteen varieties of species reached blind alleys of extinction, for all their elaborate bodies and minds, whereas the simple cell amoeba still exists. What is it, in fact, that motivates a group of amoebae to start climbing this hazardous evolutionary ladder? Are we to assume that survival in order to “further their types,” is the primary motive for this fanatic urge to change? Let us, for the sake of argument, assume a group of isolated amoebae had started to change (evolve) due to food or climatic hazards or be doomed to extinction, which is highly unlikely, as any scientist would inform us. Yet by such a concept we are attributing a highly complex behaviour pattern to a primitive amoeba, whose mental mechanism is almost close to zero.
But then we know that, as a species, amoebae are spreading and existing to this day. This, in turn, begs us to assume that these amoebae were egoistic and highly individualistic, because it’s the individuals in the group who were keen to leave behind its individual stamp on history, by leaving behind a copy of itself. Then, in turn, we have to assume that these are complex entities. Was it eating, sleeping, and, more than anything else, opinionated individuals who had been very keen to leave behind their namesake, who would survive and continue their lineage? Granted all this, then we should naturally pose the next and more primary question; so what was the elaborate plan of this primitive amoeba, that he found it necessary to leave behind a copy of itself (by dividing himself)?
Indeed if we are to accept the one and only thinking that exists in scientific circles that all creatures exist to produce their types in order to further the species, then we have to attribute to this species a compelling motive to act, an aim, an ulterior target, a mystical destiny.
If this be the case, then these amoebae are not only highly complex and motivated creatures, but ones with king-size egos, for indeed they must be conceited individuals who reason thus, “Oh, my descendants should live on; they are indeed pieces of myself and very essential.” We could go on in this vein ad infinitum, but we see no logical outcome to this discussion. If we are to embrace the argument that this ‘continuation of the species’ is the all-encompassing force which fired the imagination of individual members of the species, hence struggling to evolve in a harsh, dynamic, environment, then we must also assume that such primitive creatures had an abstract philosophy, a complicated motive, a target, indeed a destiny determined by ‘forces beyond his control’. If this is the case, then it is still a mystery to the world at large. Personally I haven’t got the foggiest idea what that aim could be. We come across no valid reason or principle, based on Darwin’s explanation, or for that matter any scientific theory current, as to what it is that fired the imagination of some individual amoebae that they said to themselves, the time is here when we must seek out and start evolving and acquiring a more elaborate structure, for there is going to be competition for survival millennia ahead.
Acquisition of embellishment to the primary form may be seen by Darwin as a necessity for survival, but there exists another point of view. And, upon closer investigation we cannot help but notice that while the acquisition of superior sensory organs did not contribute materially to the ability to survive, it contributed to its ability, to enjoy.
Apart from the fact that Darwin’s theory does not match reality, it conveys a quality of dense ignorance to the rest of the beings, or to use an expression of a modern author, ‘survival machines’ to do their thing and phase out. They were just pure and simple ‘creatures of chance’. Above all, it ignores the individual in a flock. Future findings will show that creatures are not motivated towards producing their types nor are they keen in furthering their species. Rather all this is subordinated to a more indomitable quest. Each individual creature has a more fundamental and ‘down to earth’ reason for surviving and struggling to do so. Which is, first and foremost to satiate a deep-seated necessity. Hence its actions are geared and motivated by this driving urge.
There is a misunderstanding by the global society that, in our historical past no one has discerned the essential fact that, there exists an evolution of species. Indeed most people are under an illusion that not only no one has penetrated this process, but the causes for it have never been fathomed.
It is in the 2,100 years old Buddhist scriptures we come across, with this unique personality who, to my knowledge, grasped the essentials of this intricately complex process for the first time. Still fantastic, Darwin’s sort of explanations for this evolutionary struggle of creatures looked naive, juvenile and immature, when compared with the Buddha’s ideas. If Darwin was extraordinarily exceptional, then the Buddha must have been super-intelligent millennia ahead of his time.
In fact if the scholars are of the opinion that physical evolution of species is not directly mentioned in the scriptures, then they are in for a surprise. The difficulty lay in connecting these legendary sounding quotes concerning evolution of species to the main philosophical body. Obviously the legendary part of the information is jumbled, as we might have expected.
The usual dilutions, colouring, and editing of the original oral traditions when first penned, sounded obscure and even fanciful to the original editors. The information is certainly millennia ahead of its time. In fact such advanced information was hard to be reconciled with reality, so these editors trimmed and added to the material, and stitched it together to make, what they believed to be palatable to the general public. We are at least able to understand the ancient editors’ reservations, considering the age and the setting, but the present day scientific establishment cannot get away by providing such lame excuses.
Here I would present a more specific and blunt outline from the Buddhist scriptures of a general theory of physical evolution (becoming) of species. This we see in ‘the book of genesis’ of the Pali canon. I have taken the liberty of editing out sentences between specific rational sections. These parts are what I believe to be later commentary, addition, colouring, exaggeration and flourishes of the Hindu legends. Once those are expunged, a spellbinding dialogue of the Buddha emerges. And especially today, with our new found wisdom, we would be in a position to evaluate it critically. In fact it reads like an eyewitness account of this extremely complex physical evolutionary process, starting from the world evolution to how physical evolution of species takes shape. When confronted with parts which begin to be colouring, and which I have expunged, I have dotted to indicate these gaps, as these I assume are later efforts by editors trying to make incomprehensive and abstract material, palatable.
Aggañña Suttanta, No 27 Dīgha Nikāya (D.iii.84); translated from the Pali as (Book of Genesis), The Dialogues of the Buddha Volume III:
There comes also a time, Vāseṭṭha. when sooner or later this world begins to re-evolve. . . .
Now at that time, all had become one world of water, dark, and of darkness that maketh blind.
No moon or sun appeared, no stars were seen, nor day, neither months nor half—months, neither years nor seasons, neither female nor male. Beings were reckoned just as beings only (amoebae?). And to those beings, Vāseṭṭha, sooner or later after a long time, earth with its savour 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. It became endowed with colour with odour, and with taste. Even as well-made ghee or pure butter, so was its colour; even as the flawless honey of the bee, so sweet was it.…
…Thereupon star-shapes and constellations become manifest. Thereupon night and day became manifest, months, too, and half-months, the seasons and the years. Thus far then, Vāseṭṭha, did the world evolve again.
Now those beings. Vāseṭṭha, feasting on the savoury earth feeding on it, nourished by it, continued thus for a long, long while. And in measure as they thus fed, did their bodies become solid, and did variety in their comeliness become manifest. Some beings were well favoured, some were ill favoured. And herein they that were well favoured despised them that were ill favoured,…
Then, Vāseṭṭha, when the savoury earth had vanished for those beings, outgrowth appeared in the soil. The manner of the rising up thereof was as the springing up of the mushroom, it had colour, odour and taste; even as welt-formed ghee or fine butter so was the colour thereof, and even as flawless honeycomb so was the sweetness thereof. Then those beings began to feast on these outgrowths of the soil. And they, feasting on them, finding food and nourishment in them, continued for a long, long while. And in measure as they thus fed and were thus nourished, so did their bodies grow ever more solid, and the difference in their comeliness more manifest, some becoming well favoured, some ill favoured …. Thereupon creeping plants appeared, and the manner of the growth thereof was as that of the bamboo, and they had colour, odour and taste. Even as well-made ghee or fine butter so was the colour thereof even as flawless honeycomb so was the sweetness thereof.
Then, Vāseṭṭha, those beings began to feast on the creepers. And they, feasting on them, feeding on them, nourished by them, continued for a long, long while. And in measure as they thus fed and were nourished did their bodies wax more solid, and the divergence in their comeliness increase…..
Then those beings feasting on this rice in the clearings, feeding on it, nourished by it, so continued for a long, long while. And in measure as they, thus feeding, went on existing so did the bodies of those beings become even more solid, and the divergence in their comeliness more pronounced. In the female appeared the distinctive features of the female, in the male those of the male….
Extraordinary thing is, the scientific establishment disregarded such information, as it went against their own, ‘little’ theory. On the other hand, such information could have been so advanced that it was not possible, they assumed, that any one had ever penetrated the truth of evolution.
In fact by itself the idea was so far-fetched considering the age and the society that it was hard to visualise that someone had really grasped this complex evolutionary process of species at such an early date and given an explanation to it. More fascinating, if detached and taken by itself, this section sounded beyond comprehension, and sounded like a tall story. But just place it in the right setting with the rest of the global philosophy of the Buddha, and an intriguing story emerges.
It is my intention to advance this complex and elusive theory of the Buddha, for it seems even the Buddhists have not grasped its essentials. For this purpose I will mainly utilise the two-millennia old Buddhist scriptures (using mainly the Pali Text Society translations). At this early stage, these might appear abstruse, but it should get clearer as we go along. Let us start with the essentials and ask the basic question, what is birth? We see Sāriputta Thera (the foremost disciple of the Buddha) defining:
And what, your reverences, is birth, what its uprising, what its stopping, what the course leading to its stopping? Whatever is the conception, the production, the descent, the coming forth of various beings in various groups of beings (Species) lie appearance of the groups (of grasping), the acquiring of the sense-bases, this, your reverences, is called birth. From the uprising of becoming is the uprising of birth.
Sammādiṭṭhi Sutta, No 9 Majjhima Nikāya (I: 49-50); translated as ‘Perfect View’, [MLS] (I: 62)
A major analysis of this statement at this early stage is still premature. But the meanings of two words need clarification, as this is of paramount importance to the future progress of the subject. The words are ‘becoming’ (bhava) and ‘sense-base’ (āyatana).
The translator has utilised the word ‘becoming’ for want of a more suitable word, and it implies, in a Buddhist sense, a process of change, for the negative or positive, a ‘non status quo’ situation for living beings. We can at this stage equate this word, ‘becoming’ to that of ‘evolution’ of the scientific establishment, though it would come to mean much, and much more than this, as the future outlining of the work will show.
As we dig deeper into these Buddhist scriptures, we notice that all ‘beings’ were defined as beings who were in a process of ‘becoming’, holding a ‘non status quo’, who are in a process of change. ‘Becoming’ was inherent in all individual creatures. Indeed this change was occurring ‘momentarily’. These ‘momentarily’ transformations may be in a positive and is in a progressive direction, or towards that of a negative or a degenerating one. In fact the word ‘becoming’, gives a more sweeping definition of the individual creatures’ psycho-physical fluctuating status. Interestingly ‘becoming’ not only incorporated the meaning of the word ‘evolution’ but also projected the idea that, change can occur in any direction.
I find that most creeds, science included, have not found it essential to give a lasting definition as to how to differentiate between species. Not so in the Buddhist scriptures. It found it was necessary to give a precise definition how to differentiate between species, i.e. this acquired ‘sensory base’ or sensory apparatus, which helped him in his ‘grasping’. The sensory standing or sensory base was the single most important factor that demarcates one species from another, as we will see.
In the following quote the scriptures give the reason for this acquisition of a sensory apparatus of a being. Spread throughout the scriptures are the following or similar standard statements. Laṭukikopama Sutta, No 66 Majjhima-Nikāya (I: 454), translated as ‘On the Simile of the Quail’ [MLS] (II : 126)
“There are these five strands of sense-pleasure, Udāyin. What five? Material shapes cognisable by the eye, agreeable, pleasant, liked, enticing, connected, with sensual pleasure, alluring. Sounds cognisable by the ear … Smells cognisable by the nose… Tastes cognisable by the tongue. – . – Touches cognisable by the body, agreeable, pleasant, liked, enticing, connected with sensual pleasures, alluring. These, Udāyin, are the five strands of sense-pleasures. Whatever happiness, whatever joy, Udāyin, arises in consequence of these five strands of sense-pleasures, is called a happiness of sense-pleasures.’’
Most creeds, except the Indian ones, bypassed all creatures as nonentities. And we find in their explanations no specification as to how this demarcation of species should take place. The Judeo-Christian and parallel types of dogmas to separate man from beast shaped a theory of a ‘soul’. Each of us owned one and these meaningless and aimless creatures had none. On the other hand, the Science establishment has yet to come up with a fitting definition to a being and how to demarcate one species from another. To them, these creatures are those that are ‘evolved’ and ‘not so evolved’.
The Buddha’ s views were not so obscure, naive or plain. It was the sensory base that defined the evolutionary standing of creatures. What is more, each one within the species was an individual, interested through the use of their acquired (inherited) sensory equipment to bring about their gratification, thereby, reaping the resultant pleasures of body and mind. Indeed we see him explaining this sensory mechanism and the quest for its gratification in the following quote.
Pariyesanānānatta Sutta, Dhātu Saṃyutta, Saṃyutta Nikāya [SN] II: 141/ XIV, 1, §7, translated as ‘Perception’, Kindred Sayings on Elements’, The Kindred Sayings [KS] (II: 103) by C. A. F. Rhys Davids and F. L. Woodward:
“Because of the diversity in elements, brethren, arises diversity in perceptions; because of diversity in perceptions arises diversity in aims; because of diversity in aims arises diversity in yearnings; because of diversity in yearnings arises diversity in quest. The diversity in elements, to wit, in the six aforenamed, ye know, and now ye know the causal connection in the consequences thereof, true in each of the six”.
The translator found this part of the scriptures abstruse and beyond translation. He was concerned especially with the word ‘element’, which he had used for want of something better. He comments:
“ ‘Element’ is by no means a good fit for ‘dhātu’ but it is difficult to find any better single word. In itself it may mean what the commentators say it does (cf S.Z.Aung’s note, Compendium, p.254 f.) ‘That which bears its own intrinsic nature’ – an ultimate – or ‘its own characteristic mark’; something not reducible to simpler terms. But in relation to life and conduct, and Buddhist interest, it was limited to that-it seems to mean the wherewithal, the datum, the sine qua non, given which some given experience can be had; any ‘set of conditions’. In this section we are concerned with those ‘conditions’ without which we can have no sense,- or mundane experience”.
But then, with our current knowledge we can discern what the Buddha has been intending to put across. The meaning of this diversity of elements could be narrowed down to the sensory status. Do we find any connection here between sensory status and existence? We read, in the same work:
Sanidāna Sutta, ibid. II: 146 /XIV, 2, §12, [KS] II:105
With causal basis, brethren, arises thought of sense-desires, not without causal basis. With a causal basis arises ill will, not without causal basis. With a causal basis arises cruelty, not without causal basis. How do they so arise? Because of the element of sense-desire arises sensuous perception, because of sensuous perception arise sensuous aims, because of sensuous aims arises sensuous desire, because of sensuous desire arises sensuous yearning, because of sensuous yearning arises sensuous questing. Pursuing a sensuous quest, the untaught worldling practices wrong conduct in three ways: in deed, word and thought.
What precisely did these Scriptures purport to promote, concerning the sensory-base? To the Buddha, it seems, all creatures were individuals with a specific sensory makeup. And he could only specify and differentiate species from their sensory equipment (status). Indeed, even within a species with parallel and like sensory mechanisms, there still exists a difference in potentiality. What comes across most dramatically is that each individual is unique and independent, though it is hard for us to penetrate his actions, which looks instinctive and routine, hence instinctive action could be a smokescreen.
What becomes clear is, to the Buddha survival is not the sole or chief objective. There is a more central quest for his existence, that of sensory gratification.
Then if we go by the Buddhist scriptures, we see biological evolution is subservient to a pleasure principle; the pleasures of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and savour are such experiences cognised with the aid of the instrumentality of the six sense bases; viz. eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Then it logically follows that activity of stressing and straining the mind body mechanism in order to cater to the sensory needs would result in stretching and extending its sensory apparatus in order to meet those very needs.
Then we arrive at the more vital question; in what particular fashion would such improvements find expression? This again depends on the current biological standing (sensory standing, or body-mind mechanism status), geophysical and ecological situation (opportunity), and also related to its habit formation (conditioned state).
In order to get this complicated concept cast in a proper perspective, and enable us to visualise it easily, I would attempt at a break down of its main individual components.
1) An individual in a species was defined as a ‘sensory being’, possessing a specific sensory apparatus, which helps in ‘grasping’ what defined his species (also called mind-body mechanism).
2) This sensory being is the possessor of desires and urges due to his sensory craving or grasping. These qualities again are relative to his mind-body status (species) and his conditioned state.
3) The sensory base (mind body apparatus) has defined the species (category of beings) he belongs to.
4) He has a geophysical and sociological situation which can be equated to a territorial imperative (of the scientific establishment). Could be equally called a field or opportunity.
5) The sensory mechanism (being) needs to execute actions, this in order to cater to his sensory desires, which would bring about gratification.
6) But such actions are again conditional and depend upon:
Sensory standing (species)
Ecological opportunities (territorial)
Conditioned state of his mind (habit formation)
7) Action entails resultants, and their effect has repercussions on the actor; these can be positive or negative.
8) Hence in order to bring about the desired results of gratification, this individual is in a process of committing acts, which in turn stress and strain his sensory equipment.
9) As a result of the aforesaid activity and repetition of same (as an individual and as a species) there can be stretching and possible extension of the body and mind (evolution of the Darwinian model). This extension can be positive or negative, and in time to come would assure their survival or degeneration and thereby extinction.
The vital fact that should be stressed here and taken note of is, that the individual creature’s actions are not consciously directed towards the extension of its mind and body mechanism but it is an incidental fallout due to his sensory gratification activities. Otherwise we are attributing to these simple species an abstract philosophy which we ourselves don’t have.
In other words, further extension of its sensory apparatus is ‘conditional’ to a whole series of circumstances.
Equipped with the Buddha’s philosophy, we are able to see clearly not only the larger picture but also its minor details. To be sure, numerous subtle things that the scientific community circumvented, can be now revealed. In fact in order to get a clearer picture, what we ought to consider is, to what use were such advanced senses put by their possessors.
As a matter of fact, investigations regarding creatures have suddenly erupted into major scholarship. Indeed, from Descartes’ contentions of ‘beings without feelings’ and that they ‘react mechanically’ like any ‘common clocks’ made of matter, now they have suddenly erupted into beings with superlative senses. Though research is at its infancy concerning animal senses, the current findings are simply dazzling us—magnetic and electronic sense, heat-registering eyes, butterfly antennae, image-pattern detectors, electronic instinct, to name just a few in passing. The haziness is still persisting in the scientific circles, for even such revolutionary findings are explained within a narrow Darwinian framework. If we are to assume that development of such extraordinary sensory equipment was necessitated by a sole aim of survival, they go against all common sense. Are we to consider that a species would suddenly wake up one day and exclaim, “Ah, if we acquire image-pattern detecting equipment such a step will aid our species in its survival, in the far distant future; for then our species would find that it has extended and evolved its mind body mechanism to fulfil the necessary criteria and would be fit for the then existing competition and would survive, thus carrying my name for posterity!”
In reality, what the evolutionist should ask is, what was it that foresaw each need and experimented until the needs were satiated? It is to this question that the scientific establishment has not come round as yet, and it might take a few more generations before it does.
Indeed equipped with the Buddha’s concept that it was the want of gratification that dictated a necessity, thus handing over a mandate for the new sensory improvement, we can find our way through clearly.
We find that, while the sensory mechanism (individual of a species), laboured towards its main goal of sense gratification, all the while it fine-tuned and sharpened its sensory- equipment to make same instrumental for the purpose of survival. In other words, while balancing and catering to its necessities, all the while it experimented and specialised to meet a variety of mounting needs. It is only then we can comprehend the reality of the situation. For the sake argument just consider, man’s visual sense!
How are we to account for the evolution of such a complicated organ such as the eye? “The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder”, wrote Darwin to the American botanist, Asa Gray, in 1860; and long after Darwin ceased to be troubled by this challenge to his theory, his detractors were insisting that it was an unanswerable refutation of his views. Look, they said, if even the slightest thing is wrong, for instance if the retina is missing, or the lens opaque, or the dimensions in error, then the eye fails to form a recognizable image and is consequently rendered useless. Since it must be either perfect, or imperfect and hence useless how could small, successive, Darwinian steps have evolved a perfect eye? The objection is a formidable one, but it no longer looks unanswerable says the scientific establishment. If so, we are still waiting for a logical answer.
As a matter of fact, man can distinguish 7 pure colours, such as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, and about 17,000 mixed colours, plus about 300 shades of grey between white and black. (A bee’s vision comprises only twelve such shades and that of the fruit fly Drosophila a mere three!)
So our optical sense can take in 5 million shades of colour altogether. What emerges from a comparison with other animals is that man’s colour vision, like the way he sees an image, is no matter, a coarse affair, for it requires a sensory and nerve system that is simply short of miraculous.
Still the obvious question is studiously ignored. What is the necessity for such an advanced sense of vision, which is simply marvellous? It is absolutely superfluous in terms of survival. According to Darwin’s thinking, this is indeed an extra attribute, which we naturally can do without and perhaps, has been of some help in our long history of struggle. Many would protest at my rash statement. They would insist that such a superior visual sense is necessary—in fact it would be necessary, but for what?
There is one answer that fits in smoothly, if its usefulness is to be justified. Visual pleasure, and all the related pleasures it brings, and survival are merely incidental to all the joys it will bring. Indeed our ancestors have been able to see the world around them and take pleasure in it. I do not need to explain to any reader how much pleasure our eyes bestow on each of us.
One area that baffles us, to this date, is our sense of taste. Hardly any investigation has been carried out, as its subtle nature is hard to pin down by the scientific mechanist. Yet catering to satisfy our taste buds is a full-blown money making industry.
The amount of pain and labour taken to meet the demands of our palate is simply astonishing. The taste buds of some people are so exclusive, that hours on end are spent on satiating their wishes.
If survival was the paramount aim, then all this activity and money spent in order to give our taste buds such a thrill must be a futile exercise. People should eat anything digestible.
Upon close enquiry, we observe, that simply gratifying our hunger is not an objective in itself. Indeed the restaurants endeavour to cater to each of our senses of aroma and sight and even recreate that special ad hoc atmosphere. All this in aid of what? Just to get its clients to push the food down their gullet? That much energy, care, and time, expended just to appease our hunger is astonishing. Can one find any meaning here concerning ‘survival of the fittest’? Scientific establishment disregards such sensory greed of individuals, because they are still probing into the physics and chemistry of our existence.
The range of possibilities that exist to give our ears a thrill is endless. Soothing of our ears has flowered into a major industry. A house would not be a home without a radio and TV. A variety of paraphernalia produced to aid us in gratifying our auditory sense is flooding the market. And the satisfaction these equipment bring is almost a religion for some enthusiasts.
Then there is a whole world of perfumes. These preparations go to soothe and stimulate our olfactory nerves; oils and soaps to soothe our skin and keep its complexion luxurious, hair oils and shampoos to give lustre and vitality to our hair. Garments of various fashions and enticing materials with matching colours bring glamour to the physique and enchant the seers.
In fact out of all our senses our sense of smell is the most whimsical. It has been said that a characteristic odour envelops each one of us. It is like a personal signature or a fingerprint. Yet the reaction of the members of the human species to each other’s body odour is most peculiar.
Particularly where hygiene facilities allow, body odour is regarded as unpleasant and repulsive, with great efforts being globally exerted to escape it. Not only is soap and water used to lave off the free fatty scented secretions from the skin but also to shave off growths of hair, which grace the most scented regions of the body, as a matter of routine. Man’s liberal use of perfumes, however, would evidence the fact that the human sense of smell is far from defunct. We are especially confused when comparing the role of seminal odour, which accompanies copulation in chimpanzees, with the general disgust expressed by humans when confronted with the same odour. His confusion would mount still higher if he learns that the most sought-after ingredients for man’s perfumes have, since the beginning of recorded history, been the sex attractant odorous secretions from various species of mammals. We might stop to wonder why a primate who seeks out privacy for mating, and consorts with a single female for long periods of time and copulates far more frequently than the chimpanzee, should use sex attractants of deer, civets and beavers and not those of its own species, when it possesses batteries of such scent producing glands. In fact, man has more scent glands upon his body than any other higher primate, and woman has even higher.
I believe that the most curious feature of our sense of smell is that, the scented ape who generally relishes the sweet scents of a summer garden, or a bouquet from a fine wine, abhors the natural scents of his fellows. This intrigues us, for we find the existence of an effective — even highly discriminatory — sensory system, which apparently serves little obvious biological function for its survival. That our recent ancestors used their noses to assist themselves in hunting is acknowledged as a fact, so, why does modern man still retain the vestige of a once useful system, just as he retains an appendix, a coccyx or other vestiges of structures once biologically useful and now redundant? If the human nose is vestigial, with only a fraction of the powers it had in our distant ancestry, why are humans so concerned about odours? Why is it, that the nose is not treated like the appendix — accepted for what it is and left alone? Many poets regularly pay homage to the pleasures gained from the sense of smell, but I know of none who writes moving verses about the coccyx or the appendix. The nose is often regarded as an equivalent to the monkey’s tail, which gradually disappeared when it was no longer useful. The equation is absurd, for we notice, and is apparent that it is ironic that the tail shrank and the nose developed due to a vital human necessity. The fact that the sophisticated women wear perfumes, colognes and fragrances in order to entice every passer-by, while hiding their body odour can be confusing, unless explained using the sensory theory. The sense of smell provides so much stimulation and brings so much pleasure that it has created a vast number of money making industries.
Collectively the senses have offered the human animal a sophisticated sensory apparatus which provided him with myriads of moments of pleasure and pain, throughout his existence.
Every single modern product it seems has been designed to rouse our senses and generate enjoyment. The modern world it seems is fired by a single purpose i. e. to stimulate and bring pleasure to our senses in every imaginable way. Time magazine (June 16, 1980) (excerpted from ‘Men face up to wrinkles’) informs us:
The skin-care products now being sold to men are as varied as anything ever served up to humanity’s traditionally more wrinkle-conscious sex. Estée Lauder, purveyor of expensive creams, lotions, and fragrances for women, offers a gilt-edged line of seventy different men’s products under the Aramis label. Included in the list: pre-shave cleansing soaps to reduce razor drag and facial scrubs for use on the nose, and forehead…… The strongest sign of the new acceptance of male cosmetics is the surge in the male facials. At Georgette Klinger’s. Mirror-and- chrome emporium on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue, men now account for 20 percent of business. All day long a stream of admen, lawyers, and bankers settle back in plush barber chairs to have their faces anointed and cleansed with an exotic array of creams, masks, and steam baths.
Does this mean that we are different from our forefathers? On the contrary they have been as greedy as we are for sensory opportunities, but living in more liberal and open societies, it offers us the means to cater to our every sensory whim.
Can we point out any difference of quality between the modern bare—skinned and sophisticated creature, and his forefathers who had a lot of hair on their body, and who lived in the jungles? Without reservation we can. It was our sensory apparatus that separated us from our forefathers. The incredible variations of our bodily actions are so unique that no other single creature is capable of duplicating its versatility. Indeed all creatures have their senses developed or undeveloped according to their relative level of sensory evolution (grasping). But not this scope and range. Though they too are specialised in a specific direction, they do not have this versatility and sophistication. It is only when we enquire into the specialisation that we get a hint of what direction a sensory mechanism has taken in its additions to its primary form.
There is the bee which can see ultraviolet. The dog’s sense of smell is supposed to be a million times better than ours. The bats and night moths originate ultrasonic nocturnal din in their warfare. To the garden spider, his sense of touch is his passport to prosperity. One may say without exaggeration that the vibrations in the threads of his web are like a telegraph line, by which all sorts of messages are received. It is in the sense of taste we are most fussy and find no equal in other creatures.
We visit the nearest shop to get that special piece of meat and marinate it with special essences and prepare it using subtlest of spices. Then we sit down to dinner with an exciting partner, dressed in all finery, with soothing music to match. Then the food is washed down through the gullet with an expensive wine with candle lights, thus creating that romantic atmosphere. In all of these rituals did we hear anything at all concerning ‘survival’ in order to send our ‘prototypes’ further?
Though most animals have extraordinarily advanced sensory equipment in one or more fields and are specialised, yet they cannot lay claim to the superior sensory sophistication of Homo sapiens sapiens. His is such a sophisticated machine perfectly balanced and fine-tuned for intricate and subtle activities, that it will furnish its owner with a whole world of pleasures.
If only our auditory system could register a small percentage of the noise that the bats hear, we would have to wax our ears in order to get some sleep. If we are as sensitive to smell as some of these creatures, we would find it quite difficult to live in some of our modern cities, because of the horrible pollution.
But then, most creatures, in spite of Descartes and his ‘mechanical beings’ theory, live in a nervous, fear-filled world. A World full of insensitivity, horror, and sudden deaths. Birds sway their heads all the time looking out for danger. Rabbits keep their ears and noses open to detect predators. The deer is so alert that he is ready to gallop away at the drop of a pin, for fear of losing his life.
It is a world where sensory equipment is put to full advantage every moment of the day, both for gratification and survival.
Since the time amoebae came to dominate this planet, they found themselves just aimlessly floating around with limited possibilities. Obviously it needed something more than mere survival. So some picked themselves up and reached out to acquire the necessary sense base and give themselves a thrill. A world of aimless floating around became a world of sound and taste, of vision and touch, indeed consciousness and odour.
Indeed as the Buddha explained in no uncertain terms to Vāseṭṭha in Aggañña Suttanta op.cit, his almost eye witness account,
“Now those beings. Vāseṭṭha, feasting on the savoury earth feeding on it, nourished by it, continued thus for a long, long while. And in measure as they thus fed, did their bodies become solid, and did variety in their comeliness become manifest. Some beings were well favoured, some were ill favoured. And herein they that were well favoured despised them that were ill favoured.”
Thus appeared strange creatures with extraordinary sensory apparatus. First sluggish, slow, stupid, and somewhat clumsy, which qualities gave way to graceful elegance, deftness and dexterity in the course of time. Species of different aims, taste, and aspirations execute their needs in their own special ways. Some, to us, may seem absurd, even comical, yet the owners of such physical structures are quite satisfied with their current sensory status. More interesting is the fact that the dense complexities of the sensory status lead to a maze of shadowy fears and even more shadowy alliances. Thus we find in the animal world strange interdependencies and associations. It is here we should pose that important question, why some creatures came to meet the Waterloo of their struggles, and slipped into extinction consequently.
Is it purely due to the so-called unfitness, as Darwin has been preaching? It is not that simple, if we go by the Buddha. The answer may lie in the limited priorities in a changing ecological situation.
We would simply be horrified to lose just one of our sensory functions—excepting the olfactory sense. To be without one could be a great handicap. To live in a world without sight or without sound, would not only make us helpless, but also cause us to miss a whole world of pleasures in life. We tend to sympathise with one who is blind, not because he is helpless and not ‘survive’ in order to send his prototypes, but mainly because of the pleasures he is missing. Any one of us, obviously, would be appalled if we were to lose our eyesight suddenly.
By basing our analysis upon the Buddha’s explanation of evolution as a sensory becoming, most pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into place and evolution projects an extraordinary meaning. Take a simple question like why did we shed our bodily hair when we left the trees to become the so-called naked apes? This problem seems to have puzzled experts for a long time, and many an amusing theory has been put forward. What then could be the reason for our naked skins?
One of the theories have us believe that it was to get rid of the skin parasites. The use of a constant sleeping place created a rich breeding ground for a variety of ticks, mites, fleas, and other bugs, and by dropping his hair, this ape would be able to cope with this problem better. If so, why keep back hair on the head and the private parts?
There are numerous other interesting theories. Desmond Morris informs us in The Naked Ape that it was a necessity for the hunting ape to cool off; hence the absence of a hairy coat would have been of considerable relief. But what about the rest of the hunters, especially those who inhabit and operate in the warm tropical regions, such as the leopards and the tigers? Surely, it would be helpful if they dropped their hairy coats too, so they could also cool off, after sweating at their work. In no way can I reconcile these theories with facts. To me, this whole riddle can be answered, and effortlessly at that, with this sensory becoming (evolution) theory.
This ape differed from others, because he had enhanced ideas concerning sensory possibilities if he had a naked body. I am especially speaking of the added sense of touch and sight, among a host of other ‘craving and grasping’ refinements.
If earlier it left one cold when caressing a hairy coat, now a skin minus its hair brought a new dimension in sensory experience and joy for the mutual satisfaction of both partners. In fact, apart from its basic sensual stimulation, it was a pleasant sight to see a bare-skinned mate and touch each other, and it aroused untold passions. ‘Playboy’ and other such erotic magazines are all about this. The dropping of the hairy coat by our forefathers was a step, and a fundamental one at that, in the direction of furthering the sensory capabilities of touch, visual, and sensual beauty, and numerous other sensory possibilities. Obviously, this sensory extension (bare skin) was also instrumental in solving many other in-between practical problems too. As for those who speak of big-game hunting apes and ask why aren’t they growing their hair back now; after all they do not need to run after big game with our high-powered rifles and exploding bullets. As for any parasite problems, modern personal hygienic possibilities would allow us to keep a well-groomed coat of hair, thus eliminating the parasites with ease. However fine a coat of bodily hair we may acquire, such a suggestion would not appeal to any one of us, even if it would cut down on clothing and conserve our energy, thus our pocketbooks, too. On the other hand, many chic modern women of today seem to shave just the few bodily hairs left on them as a matter of vogue, when there is not a single parasite to bother them, nor are they known to run after big game, other than the obvious biped type. Evidently, the body-heating theory should be eliminated from the probable reasons for these strange shaving habits. Darwinians as usual did not have a clue as to why we dropped the hairs. With the Buddha’s explanation we can find a way out of this perplexity. What we have here, unquestionably, is an urge at furthering our sensory frontiers (by shedding our hair); a sensory evolution in the true sense of the word, a more obvious case for sensory becoming (evolution) of creatures cannot be presented.
Though this advanced theory of sensory evolution has not penetrated the thick skull of the scientific establishment, as they are still groping in the dark to discover it, the message is millennia old. But then not surprisingly, this ‘becoming process’ of beings (call it ‘evolution’ if you wish) is just a minor cog of a more intricately complex theory of becoming of creatures.
On the one hand, a general theory of evolution (becoming) was proclaimed over 2,500 years ago, and its essence is still to be found in the Buddhist Scriptures, if one cares to leaf through the Pali canon intelligently and bind it together. On the other hand, Darwinian explanation with hindsight was a narrow, unclear, hazy and a crude mechanistic one, which left out the true links why such an evolution of species should take place at all. Most of the important mechanisms were overlooked in Darwin’s conjecture. Creatures do not exist merely to spread their types, nor do they do so just for the hell of it. If on the other hand, if this is some sort of magical fiat marvellously produced out of thin air, by that warm-hearted personality called God, then we have got our adjectives mixed up. We do not see any love, or anything near it, in nature, but we do find pure misery, cruelty, pain, and untimely death. And as for that simple proposition, viz, the furthering of their species, we could take one species – Homo sapiens sapiens whose general aim is obvious to us, and analyse to see whether their activity is directed with the sole motive of furthering their own types.
In the good old days our forefathers produced offspring because it was thought that the latter:
1) helped ease their burden by sharing in the work;
2) would look after and comfort the former when they were old;
3) would carry the former’s name further.
Then there were those unwanted births through what is called a miscalculation. These were supposed to be for obvious reasons. But currently in modern industrial society, each couple is supposed to have only two children. And query what was this necessity to have children? We would be informed that, it was nice to have children, to give us companionship, would get pleasure from their company, feel a kind of security and strength, and nice to watch them grow. But in all this, not once did we hear of the ‘continuity of their name and type’. For good reasons, people today produce children whereas they could live without any, not due to any hazy obscure aim for a continuation of their prototype, but purely motivated by their immediate ‘here and now’ sensory gains.
It is not hard to recognise the facts for what they are. We tend to have children because it is nice to have them and to see them at play and see them grow. It is a pleasure to have their company. More than anything we hope that, in our old age, they will look after our welfare. But this last reason also has become superfluous, for most old people on retirement and reaching the winter of their lives must while away their time in a home for the old and disabled. As for the continuation of one’s name and lineage, this is certainly ‘old hat’. Out of sight is out of mind and everyone knows it. Besides, what is so important about the memory of a dead man unless of course, he has achieved something quite remarkable?
Age after age, generation after generation, century after century, people deceived themselves by what they believed to be sound reasons to have children. Either God willed it or for this ‘primary’ continuation of the name through lineage were the more obvious of such rationalization. People produce offspring simply because they are an advantage, a pleasure, and they provide hopes for future life, and have security in numbers, but not for any other obscure reasons. Having said that, we can infer an important principle. Creatures are not in the habit of producing their types because they have some hazy, abstract goal, such as ‘continuation of their prototypes’ and evolving their mind body structure in order to survive so that their species can continue unhindered. On the contrary, ‘survival of itself’ is the all encompassing aim, and this may be realised more advantageously in a group, colony or as a loner, depending on the sensory mechanism and his conditioned state as a species.
What comes across most dramatically is that the individual’s selfish sensory interests are at stake, and, in order to procure same, the individual’s actions must be focused so that it reaps maximum mileage, as each individual is in a conditioned state of mind.
No wonder some species, such as ants and bees, are labouring rabidly for the welfare of the colony. Others fight to safeguard their territory from intruders for the greater gain of the pack. But there are others such as spiders who are loners by volition. They are loners to the degree that even the mate is killed once having been exploited for the act of procreation. I guess these loners have missed the point and have not read Darwin.
Wolves from the same pack meet each other even after a short separation by greeting each other like long-lost relatives, with an extravagant display of affection. The essential thing which we should not lose sight of is, why individual wolves always act in packs. Superficially, this is the most advantageous thing. According to the Darwinian theory, as a loner, the wolf is inefficient and perhaps would have been extinct today. Upon closer investigation, it would not be hard for us to penetrate the mystery. The hunt by a pack is not exclusively directed towards appeasing of hunger. It is much more intricate than that. Living and hunting as a pack bring to the solitary wolf a sense of security, the pleasure of comradeship, the thrill of the hunt, and a sense of being somebody in a group. And it also dispels the wolves’ loneliness, not to mention a host of other sensory rewards. All these can easily be seen by their habits of kissing, sniffing, and running around each other. Farley Mowat believes that wolves even have a highly developed sense of humour and play practical jokes on each other and often tease each other.
Richard Fiennes wrote in the The Order of Wolves:
When the pack leaves for the hunt at dusk, it invariably sets up a howling session. The howling of wolves is generally regarded as something awesome, to strike a chill into the hearts of those that hear it. To the wolves it appears to be a kind of music, like perhaps a regimental march to inspire them and put courage in their hearts. All the wolves of the pack howl in chorus, their heads thrown back and their mouths wide open, each adopting a different key. If two wolves of the pack are howling on the same note, one quickly changes, so that the different sounds together produce the sound which humans find so fearsome. One wolf starts the howl only, but the other wolves of the pack quickly join in.
The commonest become apparent even, before the eyes are open. When raised in captivity, some are kindly and affectionate, others sulky and vicious and cannot be tamed. This spread of ability is comparable to that found in human beings, and is an essential feature of a highly organised group of animals that require a spread of abilities to obtain their prey and to live in the inhospitable Arctic terrain. Those wolves destined to become dominant members and leaders of the pack, clearly show their qualities of leadership when they are still cubs, and exact obedience from their littermates.
There is no glossing over the individualistic nature of the wolf. Though we are unable to discern this, yet be sure it exists. And if there were no such qualitative individual difference, where would evolution be? For most people, scientists not excluded, creatures act purely by instinct, almost mechanically, with a single aim, mainly directed at appeasing their hunger for survival and reproduction in order to assure ‘the continuation of the species’. What is supporting such a view is, what obviously meets our eyes. For creatures seem to be acting instinctively by habit. In this there is the special quality common to all creatures, including man, viz, the so-called habit formation.
The Buddhist scriptures point to this important ingredient, which plays a major role in our sensory becoming. Creatures are given to this conditioning process by the direct influence of their circumstances, environment, and social pressures.
When certain action is performed, a tendency is set up to repeat it, for now it is backed by experience. And by repetition there is a conditioning process. And when repeated a number of times, it becomes a habit, a ritual, a part of the being’s very nature. In the lower forms of life, evolution of volition is only manifested slightly; it is more pronounced in man. Such obvious behavioural patterns led Darwin and his followers to ignore the individuality of the creatures they investigated, and alleged that they act instinctively. This force of habit built into all beings to various degrees specified the species they belonged to, it was assumed. But habit has no ‘status-quo’.
If their actions do not pay off, such actions are invariably dropped. Indeed, with the change in tides in their affairs, their habits too float along. This is hardly noticeable in the lower biological forms. Every current action we daily perform is practically the father of a long series of actions of a parallel nature. No wonder there is difficulty in breaking away from rituals grounded on traditions. Instinctive behavioural patterns or those of a traditional nature are elusive, without ‘status-quo’ and in a state of flux. Whether we like it or not, we, are like the rest, perhaps to a lesser degree creatures of habit. And when we hear of cultural habits of a race, affiliated to their group, unconsciously we assume that these are as fixed ‘run of the mill’ things. This is simply an ignorant truth.
Concerning habit formation, it may be said that Buddhism is the only system that gives them their due place of importance in the scheme of personal evolution. It is by habit formation that we are asked to eliminate bad tendencies and promote positive ones and thus mould our own psychology through accumulated acts of strenuous effort. Now habit formation and the association of ideas are closely linked as modern psychology tells us. Pavlov, in his experiments on conditioned reflexes, established the relationship between associated ideas and physical reactions. There is no such thing as ‘accident’ in natural laws, but more of an operation of unknown causes or the ‘uncertainty principle’ of physics. In the case of an individual, it may be possible to predict fairly accurately how the person will behave in a given situation when his characteristic tendencies are known, but we cannot guarantee with absolute certainty. An honest man under pressure of certain circumstances can act dishonestly. A brave man may become a coward, and vice versa. We can never be absolutely certain that persons we believe we know so well will act strictly ‘in character’. But then personality is a fluid indeterminate phenomenon altering momentarily. Two guiding principles could be shown, according to the Buddhist scriptures: Ignorance of things as they really are (due to limited or distorted sensory perception) and the second, craving potential or its sensory greed.
To put it in another way, a current act of an individual is proportionate on the one hand to his psycho-physical standing or evolutionary status, (species, in the Darwinian sense). This again is a result of past trials and errors due to ignorance and, on the other hand, its craving potential. For example, the needs of human creature that has acquired an elevated position due to his sensory mechanism are clear and his individuality is pronounced to a great degree. Today, with the United Nations setting the tune, we speak of personal freedom and of the individuals’ right (or human rights), though somewhat theoretically. Reading history, we are apt to believe this is entirely a modern invention. In the good old days, masses were coerced to fight for king and country, and before that it was God and faith.
But those standard ingredients have not lost their power totally.
Woe unto him, who did not take seriously a declaration of a holy war by a medieval pope. The general masses, like a herd of buffaloes, were at the mercy of every whim and fancy of a pope, a king, or a feudal lord that we tend to believe that they had minds of their own. So are we to assume that these human masses, like any other Darwinian type of creatures, are given to no other interest than furthering their overlords’ will? Didn’t self-interest play any part in all this? It is through a process of conditioning by society, traditions, and narrow and crude self-interest that they seem to be chained together like any other lesser creatures, thus acting in unison or, it seems to us, instinctively. Indeed, this conditioned, human species was not any different from any other of the species.
Most investigators of ant colonies do not give an individual ant any credit whatsoever. To them, an ant is a very small wheel in a vast machinery. The ant heap may be a vast and a complex machinery, but the individual ant’s life, like ours, must be full of decisions. It should direct his relative analytical powers and evaluate whether this or that act be positive to the well -being of the ant heap and, logically, through the well-being of his community, the ant’s own well-being is assured. To say that an ant is no individual, for his actions seem mechanical, and we feel it is destined to play a given minor part in a vastly complex ant colony is absurd, however habitually driven it may look. For, if not, it would mean there is no evolution itself. But, like all others, an ant’s life is in a state of flux and his instincts tell him that he is alone in the world, cast adrift, he is nobody but is prey to every passing ant eater. But place him in a well-organised ant heap, and his life takes meaning. He becomes somebody with a status, with possibilities of survival, by hiding within the numbers. All of this is subservient to that more fundamental objective, sensory gratification.
In a larger perspective, we can observe that Darwin’s theory is a miniature of a more intricate theory of becoming. I have here only scratched the surface of an intricate sensory-becoming theory by the Buddha. And to, wrap up this abstract process he has revealed a specific causal law called the Dependent Origination (Paṭiccasamuppāda) of Beings. As it is still premature, I would not dwell upon this here but would return to it at the appropriate moment and introduce it.
Yet, even with the limited material I have introduced, the evolutionary process becomes more than a group (species) effort, an individual effort. It is the individual within the group (species) who co-operates or breaks out according to his necessities and possibilities. This evolution is tuned towards one main direction, conditioned by habit formation and controlled by circumstances and is proportionate to the sensory status, and to the sensor’s gratification. But in order to achieve more improved sensory concessions, they need to further their sensory horizons. The net result of all such urges and its resultant striving is an extended sensory status. Once we are armed with this explanation, we can with ease explain this dynamic becoming process.
Thus we have species with strange sensory equipment. There are those who look comical, some weird and yet some absurd. On the other hand, some species with elaborate body and mind simply vanished without a trace, whereas the cruder forms still survive. In fact, their existence is assured over those ones with a more elaborate make-up. We can detect one motive in these higher echelons of creatures, and the production of its prototype was not the one. By stretching and extending their round of gratification, they had developed a body-mind mechanism in a specific direction, depending on circumstances. But such modifications have brought hazardous repercussions in its wake, for they, it seems, ended up in blind alleys, where extinction was the only exit.
It is time to drop that crude and limited ‘survival’ theory and investigate with the more sophisticated explanation of the Buddha. Creatures are not machines. They do not live to produce their types and fade away as maintained by the scientific establishment. These, by their very narrowness of views, have reduced the beings to mere ‘propagating machines’. The net result of such half-baked ideas was not second to those of the instant-creation people. To both these deterministic groups, creatures became material consumer products, heritage, and expendable commodities. Both the promoters of the magical theories and those of ‘survival machines’ are leading us along paths where many other species ended up – in blind alleys. Parallel mechanistic and fatalistic ideas were rampant at the Buddha’s time too, as he discloses in Apaṇṇaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya (No 60), (I. 407-408), translated as ‘On the Sure’ [MLS] (II: 76-78):
There are, householders, some recluses and brahmans who speak thus and are of these views: “There is no cause, no reason for the defilement of creatures, creatures are defiled without cause, without reason. There is no cause, no reason, for the purification of creatures, creatures are purified without cause, without reason. There is not strength, there is not energy, there is not human vigour, there is not human effort; all creatures, all breathing things, all beings, all living things are without power, without strength, without energy, bent by fate, chance, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain amid the classes.” But, householders, there are some recluses and brahmans who speak in direct opposition to these recluses and brahmans, and who say this:
“There is cause, there is reason for the defilement of creatures, creatures are defiled with cause, with reason. There is strength, there is energy, there is human vigour, there is human effort: all creatures, all breathing things. all beings, all living things are not (so) without power, without strength, without energy that they are bent by fate, chance and nature, that they experience pleasure and pain amid the six classes.’’ “What do you think about this, householders? Do not these recluses and brahmans speak in direct opposition to one another?”
An important moment should be noted here. The Buddha does not speak specifically of humans but of all ‘creatures’ and agrees with the latter:
And because there is indeed cause, the view of anyone that there is not cause is a false view of his. As there is indeed cause, if anyone has the conception that there is not cause it is a false conception of his. As there is indeed cause, if anyone utters the speech: ‘There is not cause,’’ it is a false speech of his. As there is indeed cause, if anyone says there is not cause, he makes mock of those perfected ones who profess that there is cause. As there is indeed cause, if he convinces others that there is not cause, this convincing of his is against true dhamma, and because of this convincing which is against true dhamma, he is exalting himself and disparaging others. Indeed, before his good morality is got rid of, bad morality is set up. And this false view, false conception, false speech, the mocking of the aryans, the convincing which is against true dhamma, the exalting of oneself, the disparaging of others- these are a variety of evil, wrong states that arise thus because of false view.
These hazy concepts, such as fate, chance, and creation as if by magic, according to the Buddha, not only would be hazardous to other creatures, but would lead us towards a state of homocentric imbecility. Such concepts would help promote self-centred delusions of ‘grander concepts’ such as that we are with a soul but they are not, we are worthy but they are not, thus inflating our egos like balloons. According to the Buddha ‘cause and effect’ extended to all ‘creatures’.
All creatures are more down to earth, and their goals are not so hazy and abstruse as to be motivated by an ideal such as the preservation of their species. For them, there is a more straightforward goal, which they are keen to attain. Just like you and I, they wish to enjoy the good things of life, in their own limited way, by exploiting their acquired body and mind.
What comes across unequivocally is that the lesser creatures are, first and foremost, individuals. And as individuals go, they are directed toward survival, in order to get the possibilities of sensory gratification.
Take the eating habits of snakes. Most of us are under the impression that they would swallow any meat product small enough to pass through their throats. This is not the case in actuality. Investigations show that food habits of each species are very specialised. Indeed, many snakes, particularly the larger ones are very catholic in their choice of food, and some are rather fussy. One sea snake is specialised in fish eggs, while another eats crabs and that too a little. Among the terrestrial species there are those that specialise in eating termites, frogs, lizards, other snakes, birds’ eggs, and snails. The snail-eaters have very narrow lower jaws, which they push right into the shells, and the backward-pointing teeth catch hold of the soft tissue, and the snake then pulls out the snail from its home. Egg-eaters take whole eggs into their mouths and then pierce the shells with a row of bones in the throat. Muscular pressure squashes the eggs and forces the fluids down into the stomach, and the flattened shells are then spat out.
The remarkable thing is that such narrow-minded food preferences mainly cater to their taste buds instead of their hunger. Survival it seems is of secondary importance in their scheme of necessities. The more developed the sensory equipment, the fussier the animals become in their eating habits. Taste is a very essential sensory attribute, and we see that most individuals are conditioned in their likes and dislikes from childhood.
Though the scientific establishment is incapable of explaining such inconspicuous truths, we can explain such subtle necessities of creatures with ease with the aid of the sensory becoming theory. Indeed with this wisdom we can easily point to what fired this evolutionary struggle of creatures. But this becoming of beings (evolution of species to scientist) was not a simple tentative result of a mechanical process such as Darwin’s. It went into detailed physical birth connection of a being, which projected a concept that had an incredible dimension, more multifaceted than the absolutism of genetics. I would return to this astounding explanation in the next chapter when we compare genetics contra the Buddha’s explanation as to why this diversity of species and individuals in each species.
No escaping of the fact that it was fired by lust and levelled by ignorance, a trial-and-error effort to survive and experience the good things in life, as they knew how. A constant becoming, influenced and conditioned by circumstances. It is at the peak of such deliberations we meet that extra-sensory creature with his extra-ordinarily sophisticated sensory equipment. He is commonly known as man or Homo sapiens sapiens. Whether he is able to maintain this privileged sensory status for long is highly questionable. For in our long search for sensory gratification, our greed has reached limits never imagined. And in order to cater to these ever-spiralling needs, we have at the same time produced a whole array of products, which will make it possible to provide pleasure. All this has brought home to us a sinister reality. We can effortlessly recognise the philosophies that laid the groundwork for our ecological crisis. It was through our addictions to such dubious dogmas of determinism through homocentrism. Aided and abetted by our hollow claims of indispensability, we seem to be writing off the existence of lesser creatures, as lacking any purpose or aim, but just food for our table. Such comforting egoism would in time help dispatch ourselves to where many other species found themselves in – oblivion!