Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

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Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Mr. G » Sun Mar 27, 2011 12:29 pm

http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/rel ... ists-.html

Stephen Asma, author, Why I Am a Buddhist

Turns out, many American biology teachers like Beau Schaefer are sneaking creationism into their classrooms. Buddhism, like every philosophy, has many problems, but thankfully it doesn’t have this one. In fact, Buddhists are all about the evolution.

Buddhism doesn’t have a creator God, like we find in the book of Genesis, nor does Buddhism have the Fundamentalist problem of a literal interpretation of scripture. As a result, it’s never had a war with science, unlike the science-religion skirmishes that plague Christianity and Islam.

According to a 2009 poll in the Christian Science Monitor, Buddhism was the religion most comfortable with evolution theory. When people were asked if evolution was the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth, 81 percent of Buddhists agreed, compared with only 51 percent of mainline Protestants and 45 percent of Muslims.

Buddhism is not hostile to biology, psychology, physics, or cosmology. And more than just tolerating each other, Buddhism and science can actually learn from each other (e.g., neuroscientists and monks are collaboratively researching ways that conscious discipline can influence subcortical brain processes).

Sadly, there’s a lot of New-Age nonsense, trying to link Buddhism with quantum-mystical healing and other embarrasing forms of supernaturalism. But the historical Buddha shunned metaphysical speculations. He refrained from spooky conjectures generally, and thought that origin-stories about how the universe started were avyakata (unanswerable), given our empirical constraints. Most Buddhists take all this as an invitation to embrace the sciences.

Buddhism and science also share some deep convictions about nature. The Buddha’s teachings of anicca (impermanence) and paticca samuppada (dependent causation), augur many of our 20th century ideas about an ever-changing, evolving, and ecologically connected nature.

Buddhism also has less anxiety about technology. Ever since Mary Shelley gave us the Frankenstein monster, we have been employing it as a cautionary metaphor for every technological advance. In 2008, for example, a survey found that religious countries were much more opposed to nanotechnology than secular countries. In the survey, published in Nature Nanotechnology, the United States was found to be the most religious country and the most hostile and wary of nanotechnology.

Western religion, with its idea of a creator God, permeates our culture and sanctifies life in such a way that any technological manipulation of life seems arrogant and offensive. Buddhism on the contrary has no belief in a creator God and therefore feels none of the anxiety about scientists using technology to “play God.” There might be very good reasons not to pursue certain technological moves, like cloning and other biotechnology, but for Buddhists those reasons will appeal to the dangerous and unforeseen consequences. Buddhists do not rule out certain kinds of technology on the grounds that God will be angered by our hubris.

In Western religions, however, there is usually a yawning chasm that separates we humans from the non-human creatures. We are made in God’s image. They are not. There is something miraculous about life, and something even more miraculous about we humans.

Buddhism does not share this species elitism, nor do they believe that life can only happen miraculously. We were not made better than everything else, by a loving God, at the beginning of creation. Rather, all living beings according to Buddhism are trying to make themselves better, by their own powers and abilities. We are all trying to work out our enlightenment and liberation.

There are gods and spirits in the cultures of Buddhism, but they are more like superheroes or super villains. They are not omnipotent, omniscient, nor omnibenevolent. And these other intelligent beings (devas, ghosts, animistic spirits, etc.) are, like us, trying to work out their own enlightenment. They might be more powerful or live longer than us, but that does not mean that they are free or awakened.

So, for Buddhism, life is defined more by function –by physiology, rather than by religious metaphysics. If, in our near future, technology produces smart robots, and clones, and nano-beings, and artificial intelligence, and even artificial life, then Buddhism will simply offer its usual advice: Let us help these new beings also, as they pursue their enlightenment with diligence.
    How foolish you are,
    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
    - Vasubandhu
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Astus » Sun Mar 27, 2011 10:14 pm

A good example of how when people don't know enough fill out the blank areas with their own ideas. Or it's more than just that. There is this argument, this myth, that the Buddha said nothing about "metaphysical questions" so people like to use it to adjust things to their ideas whether they believe there is a God - of whom the Buddha said nothing about according to them - or it is evolution. In fact, if we look at Buddhist cosmology we find that there humans devolved from higher, heavenly beings into their current state, and this is quite contrary to the evolutionary concept of evolving from lower beings. Even the idea of natural selection is questioned by the teaching of karma where it is not the environment forming beings but the other way around, beings creating the world. So those who take evolution as if it were in agreement with the Buddha's teachings should take an elementary course in Buddhism. Although it might happen that this part of the Dharma is missing from many teachers' curriculum.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sun Mar 27, 2011 11:04 pm

I'd like to offer a quote from the Dalai Lama that seems appropriate when looking to such matters:

“Ancient Buddhist treatises describe the universe in conformity with the popular theory of the universe at that time. Consequently, the descriptions differ from those found in modern cosmology...after all, the basic approach of the Buddhist is to subject concepts to rigorous logical pocesses, and if anything contradicts direct observation and logic, it should not be accepted just because it is taught in the sutras or the texts. The earth of scientific experimentation and observation–its size and relative position in the solar system–is the earth we live in, and its appearance is common to the beings living in this world...scientific observations on this matter are beyond dispute...”

Now, I don't see any contradiction between the theory of evolution and the core teachings of the Buddhadharma. Even at the level of fundamental provisional teachings, I don't seem many problems in reconciling both. The fact that sentient beings evolve has nothing to do with karma. In the next life I may take rebirth in the form of a dog, for instance. That doesn't mean evolution went backwards. It means simply that the result of my karma lead me to such rebirth, while perhaps a dog may gain rebirth in the human real (keeping in mind the provisional aspect regarding teachings about karma and rebirth, since there's no real me transmigrating from one body to another, or from a moment to next in fact).

Regarding mind forming environments... it doesn't contradict the theory of evolution either, but I can't discuss that right now. Gotta go! I would like your feedback though, Astus.
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Kyosan » Mon Mar 28, 2011 12:19 am

Dechen Norbu wrote:I'd like to offer a quote from the Dalai Lama that seems appropriate when looking to such matters:

“Ancient Buddhist treatises describe the universe in conformity with the popular theory of the universe at that time. Consequently, the descriptions differ from those found in modern cosmology...after all, the basic approach of the Buddhist is to subject concepts to rigorous logical pocesses, and if anything contradicts direct observation and logic, it should not be accepted just because it is taught in the sutras or the texts. The earth of scientific experimentation and observation–its size and relative position in the solar system–is the earth we live in, and its appearance is common to the beings living in this world...scientific observations on this matter are beyond dispute...”

Now, I don't see any contradiction between the theory of evolution and the core teachings of the Buddhadharma. Even at the level of fundamental provisional teachings, I don't seem many problems in reconciling both. The fact that sentient beings evolve has nothing to do with karma. In the next life I may take rebirth in the form of a dog, for instance. That doesn't mean evolution went backwards. It means simply that the result of my karma lead me to such rebirth, while perhaps a dog may gain rebirth in the human real (keeping in mind the provisional aspect regarding teachings about karma and rebirth, since there's no real me transmigrating from one body to another, or from a moment to next in fact).

Regarding mind forming environments... it doesn't contradict the theory of evolution either, but I can't discuss that right now. Gotta go! I would like your feedback though, Astus.

Thanks for posting that Dechen Norbu and welcome to the board.

The Dalia Lama's explanation makes perfect sense to me. The Buddhist cosmology if taken literally does not agree with science. But we shouldn't let that bother us. Through modern science we have learned a lot about the universe. If modern science irrefutably proves something we should accept it even if it proves Buddhism wrong about certain things. The purpose of Buddhism is to find the truth and we should accept it whatever it is.

What is really important in Buddhism, I think, is the core Buddhist teaching, not side issues like cosmology or cultural practices.
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Dechen Norbu » Mon Mar 28, 2011 3:16 am

Thank you.

The point is, it's irrelevant to one's practice knowing or being unaware of the theory of evolution. Perhaps that is why it doesn't bother most Buddhists.
Skillful means are used to help us cutting through illusion. If at a certain time a specific cosmogony or whatever was a way of helping beings realizing enlightenment, it would surely be used by those teaching the way of the Awakened One. If right now it seems absurd thinking about Mount Meru standing at the middle of the universe, there were times when such theory was acceptable and perhaps a completely different explanation would be so shocking that disciples would be led astray instead of focusing in the soteriological aspect of the doctrine. Perhaps saying the Earth is round is loka samvritti satya while saying it is not is asatya. Today we know this. However, none are paramartha satya. Nevertheless, when we talk about the relative teachings, we always talk about appearances, even if trying to point beyond them. A few centuries back Earth seemed flat, that was how it looked, and in fact it being round was of little consequence for the activities of the people living then. From the dwellers of such times point of view, in fact Earth was flat. They were wrong as we are probably wrong about many theories we now accept. Today Earth appears round, and there would be dire consequences of thinking about it as being flat (forget satcom, hehe) but in fact we can't even say Earth exists (or doesn't, both and neither). What I mean is that it doesn't bother me much as a Buddhist if the theory of evolution is correct or not as the knowledge I gain from such proposition has no consequence to my practice. Ultimately, as stated in the doctrine, the Tathagata never taught any truth. Buddhadharma is simply the knowledge to abolish all knowledge, going beyond conceptualizations. But as we need a path (gradual or not), we need working formulas, concepts and what matters is not as much their accuracy when representing maya, but their efficacy to remove its veils. That's the way I see it, honestly.
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Heruka » Mon Mar 28, 2011 4:16 am

this bothers me a great deal, the theory of evolution was used by eugenics movement to destroy many people based upon their unfit genes and human impurity, as buddhists we must be wide awake to such destruction and not appluad such junk social control in the name of.......
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby KeithBC » Mon Mar 28, 2011 5:30 am

Heruka wrote:this bothers me a great deal, the theory of evolution was used by eugenics movement to destroy many people based upon their unfit genes and human impurity, as buddhists we must be wide awake to such destruction and not appluad such junk social control in the name of.......

Well, yes, the theory of evolution has been abused for unwholesome purposes. I doubt if any thinking Buddhist would applaud the abuse you mention. That doesn't make the theory wrong though.

Om mani padme hum
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Astus » Mon Mar 28, 2011 8:47 am

It is more the usefulness in terms of education in Buddhism of the traditional view of the becoming and destruction of the worlds that should be considered when comparing it with modern views. When it's said that karma defines environment the way of acts and results is quite evident. On the other hand, if we take the evolutionary view, it teaches that there is valid basis for oppressing others and living for wealth, power and enjoyments. In that sense it's similar to the teaching of a Creator who can simply take the responsibility for everything that happens to someone and for the whole state of the world.

As for being bothered by evolution, that's another thing. It's a well known way to categorise different views into a gradual scheme. Evolution is a materialism-based concept with little or no moral value, consequently it doesn't guarantee birth into the human or heavenly realms, in fact, it's quite animal-centred. Other teachings, like Humanism, involve a moral perspective that can provide a good birth. So from a Buddhist perspective evolution is a view below what is called the path of humans and gods. Note that I'm not talking about truths but views.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon Mar 28, 2011 11:51 am

It seems to me we're left with various possibilities.

1) Science has no authority or validity, and tells us nothing meaningful about the world. Wherever it contradicts Buddhist teaching, then Buddhist teaching is (literally) correct and Darwin was wrong.

2) Science does have authority but evolutionary theory is not valid science (in other words, it's incorrect on scientific grounds).

3) Evolutionary theory is valid, and therefore certain passages in the scriptures cannot be literally true.

4) Religion and science are "non-overlapping magisteria" -- i.e. about different things. Apples and oranges.

5) Religion has no authority or validity.

The first and fifth are extreme positions, while the second is demonstrably untrue. Three and four strike me as the most workable, though both have pros and cons. Only a Buddha would be able to see the complete picture.
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Dechen Norbu » Mon Mar 28, 2011 7:00 pm

I agree, however when we talk about science and religion, mainly western religions, we talk of world views quite different from the ultimate teaching of the Buddhadharma. Science and western religions assume a reality created (by chance or a Creator), composed by selfs, meaning existent identities, a reality made of dualities and we simply observe while part of it. This creates a tremendous gap between Buddhism and the western though of Hellenic influence. It's not that Aristoteles was unaware of the Tetralema used by Nagarjuna. He simply considered it unworkable or unfit to study reality. From then on (more or less so), although knowing we use representations, taking processes, mobility, as being things, static, we've approached reality as composed by things that did exist independently. The roots of science come from this paradigm: there is something independent out there. First the objective was knowing the Creator through his creation. Eventually God ended up excluded from the equation, but the paradigm of realism remained.
In a certain way, regarding the problems of language and how it bewitches the mind, modern science and western religions are more alike than Buddhadharma and both of them. Yet, in terms of inquiry, we can compare science and Buddhadharma with some degree of success, I gess.
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Adamantine » Mon Mar 28, 2011 7:48 pm

Most modern science still is based on a view we can label 'scientific materialism' which is actually a type of nihilism, --at least as the term nihilism is translated/defined by Buddhist thought. This includes notions that the universe was created by chance, and that there is no continuity of mind after the death of sentient beings. Evolutionary theory functions largely within this view. The virulent opponents to this theory are theistic believers in a 'creator god, which is actually a type of eternalism-- as the term is translated/defined by Buddhist thought. Buddhism itself functions beyond the extremes of nihilism and eternalism. Any difference there is between Buddhism and evolutionary theory has nothing to do with why eternalists oppose it. It is because it only functions within a nihilistic framework, and leaves no space for continuity of mind or karmic consequence. Evolutionary theory functions largely according to gross observable phenomenon of cause and effect, according to inverted relative truth. There is certainly some reasonable functionality to the observations, and the theory, but it's very basis is faulty from an ultimate point of view, so it can never be helpful for beings in any profound way.
Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha
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Re: Article: Evolution doesn't bother Buddhists

Postby Kyosan » Mon Mar 28, 2011 9:03 pm

Among the Christians, I think it's mainly the fundamentalists that are against evolution. They tend have a literal interpretation of the Bible and interpret the creation story in the Bible literally. It's understandable that evolution upsets them because it contradicts their creation story and creation is important to them.

Creation/creator isn't what Buddhism is about so it's not surprising that Buddhists generally don't have a problem with evolution. Regardless of what happens in the world the Buddha dharma always holds true because the Buddha dharma is about the fundamental nature of everything. Once we gain insight into the fundamental nature of everything, faith can not be easily shaken.
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