Buddhism and Organic Evolution.
Posted on July 30th, 2012

R Chandrasoma

Unlike the clear metaphysical stance of the Monotheists (Christians, Jews Muslims etc.), Buddhism does not endorse a definitive background ontology on what may be called the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Cosmic HabitatƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” the grand stage on which the events of the world as we know it are enacted. The Monotheists have a very direct description of the how the world ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” the cosmos ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” came into being. There was a Creation Event and the Divine Lord made things to fit a Plan that reflected his his Omniscience. Living species were immutable products of of this Grand Design. In Indian religions generally ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” this includes Buddhism ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” a very different approach is seen in regard to these fundamentally important matters. There was no Creation Event and the cosmos was thought to extend without limit both forwards and backwards in time. How this ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”open systemƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ of doubly infinite extent sprang into existence is not explained. The Buddha famously refused to answer or explain metaphysical conundrums arising from the concept of an infinitely extended past and a future that has no boundary either way. The subtle difficulties involved in infinite extension was partly resolved by introducing the notion of Cosmic Cycles (Kalpa) which again is rooted in Indian speculations and was adopted by Buddhist thinkers ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” in much the same way as the ancient notion of trans-generational retributive justiceƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  (karma) was made a core part of Buddhism. We must discuss ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” before proceding further ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” the notion of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”cyclicityƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ in a model world system. Modern Cosmologists speak of a Cyclic or Oscillatory Model of the Cosmos if each cycle has a beginning and an end but the sequence as a whole is doubly endless ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” that is, it has no true beginning or end. In Ancient India this linked system of cycles was thought to be the true structure of reality. Notice carefully thatƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  in the system as a whole nothing can be truly original ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” any appearance of novelty within a cycle is a deception. All events within the cycle are mirrored exactly in cycles preceding or following it, Thus the Buddhas are not unique ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” that there is an infinite succession of them becomes clear if we use our intuition to visualize the whole catenation of cosmic cycles.

Let us now look at the meaning of the word ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”evolutionƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ in the context of the grand flux of cosmic cycles. As noted above austere Buddhism has no need for cosmological speculations of this kind ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” it is the commentarial literature that delves into these matters and we cannot be sure whether the historical Buddha expressed well-defined views on these arcane subjects. According to the speculative forays of the Abhidharma Schools each cycle commences as an undifferentiated ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”pabulumƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. Due to the greed (tanha) of God-like beings flying over this ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”initiatorƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ primitive life appeared. It is important to add that karmic lines can cross cycles and this past karma shapes the transformation of life in the current cycle. While in a very general sense we can say that life ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”evolvesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” progressively becomes more complex ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” within the time-span of the kalpa, this can hardly be called organic evolution. Suppose we have an organic kind ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” a species ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” this archetype has existed in previous cycles and its appearance in the current cycle is the repetition of a standard archetype due to a karmic connection between beings. To the naƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚¯ve, the fact that a monkey can be ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”rebornƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ as a human being seems to warrant the notion that a monkey has ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”evolvedƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ into a human being. This is a foolish supposition. In Buddhism ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…”as in the theistic religions ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” archetypes or organic kinds do not change. Both humans and monkeys are unchanging kinds across cosmic cycles ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” what changes is the expression of the karmic force that connects lives. Thus, successive shifts in the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”incorporationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ of the bhavanga or linking consciousness is a religious thesis that has no recognizable scientific basis. Organic evolution rests on the fact that there is a hereditary process that involves the passage of mutable physical units called genes from paremt to offspring. In Buddhist metaphysics the essential relation is between a karmic predecessor and a karmic successor. The relation between this pair is fundamentally non-biological and to think of this as the foundation of a novel kind of evolution is entirely misguided.

In the Folk-Buddhism currently practiced in Sri Lanka there are many strange tales about Hells, fiendish punishment of wrong-doers, Heavens of Delight etc. These are crude metaphors for the delectation of humble and unlettered people who find the esoteric spirituality of pure Buddhism quite beyond their competence. The notion of a cyclic evolution of phantasmagoric world-systems is another kind of speculative ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”adventureƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ of the learned of ancient times. As the famous philosopher Thomas Metzinger puts it, the essence of religion is a spirituality that mocks the reality presented to us by our senses. In this profound sense all sensory presentations are illusions to the truly enlightened.

2 Responses to “Buddhism and Organic Evolution.”

  1. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    In Brahmajaala sutta, Buddha explains clearly how contraction(destruction) and expansion(evolution) of universe takes place on a cyclic basis, based on Thanhaa (Greed, Hate and Delusion) and how beings appear in the world. Many ‘Big bangs’ did occur and the beginnings of these events even Buddha could not explain.
    ‘..Indian speculations and was adopted by Buddhist thinkers – in much the same way as the ancient notion of trans-generational retributive justice (karma) was made a core part of Buddhism’ This statement implies some sought of a dilution of what Buddha expounded. True Buddha learnt Brahmanian doctrines, before he gained his unimpeded knowledge called ‘direct knowledge’ through emperical means. Buddha’s doctrine is not based on rational, philosophical thinking hammered out through reasoning(as in the case of Brahmins, heretics during his time and western philosophers and thinkers) but on his own pragmatic observations through Samatha and Vipassana, which ended up with the purest mind(enlighenment) to come up with a thesis(?) (I like to call), especially Dependant Origination and four Noble Truths.
    ‘To the naïve, the fact that a monkey can be ‘reborn’ as a human being seems to warrant the notion that a monkey has ‘evolved’ into a human being. This is a foolish supposition’ (If I understand this correctly) To accept this position is to deny Cause and Effect, the core of Buddha’s dispensation. The actions of the present life determines the next Bhava in different planes of existence, be it animal or deva jaathi(birth), through Prathisandhi Vinyaana or Re-birth linking Conciousness (which I like to call New Birth linking consciousness) which continues as the Bhavanga Citta. Most Buddhists believe that there is a ‘continuation’ of conciousness, which is totally denied by Buddha as explained in the Mahaatanhasankhaya Sutta. Everything comes to an end with Chuthi Vinyaana (death consciousness), both in the case of a Puthajjana and an Arahant. However in the case of an Arahant there is no Kamma left to bring about a Vipaaka hence a new Bhava, but in the case of a Puthajjana, the left over kamma will condition a new beginning to bring about a new Bhava as a monkey or a deva or whatever.
    Just on a lighter note, it would be wise if you would come down from your pedastal of using high powered convoluted English, which does not impress most people and make an attempt to explain things in simple, plain English(please do not take this personally). Buddha chose the Maghadan language or Prakrit(common man’s language) to Sanskrit as the latter was the language of the few learned people at that time in India.

  2. Dham Says:

    “Just on a lighter note, it would be wise if you would come down from your pedastal of using high powered convoluted English, which does not impress most people and make an attempt to explain things in simple, plain English”

    Really true ! This man is a show-off at the same time ignorant to the bone.

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