Buddhism and Evolution

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Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Luke » Mon Mar 22, 2010 11:14 pm

There have been no shortage of books written about the connections between modern physics and Buddhism, but I find the discussion of the interrelation between evolutionary theory and Buddhism to be more rare. I have created this thread for this purpose.

So many Christians feel the need to fight the theory of evolution, but, like most scientific theories, I think it can fit quite well with Buddhism.

I don't think Buddhism has any problem with humans evolving from apes, but it does seem to me that Buddhism does require the Six Realms of Existence to have distinct boundaries (i.e. a being can only be in one realm at a time). Although humans evolved gradually from apes, I think there needs to be a definite point at which these beings could be labeled as human (a "sort-of human" being would still have to be considered a member of the animal realm).

When it comes to genetics, I think that useful mutations can be thought of as the result of good karma and that harmful mutations can be thought of as the result of bad karma.

The interrelation of rebirth and evolution could be quite interesting, but I have no opinions about that yet.

My other thought is that evolution doesn't have to support amorality in the way that Christians fear it will. In western cultures in which animals were simply thought of as being resources to be exploited, the proposition that humans were more closely related to animals was horrifying because this seemed to imply that humans were then also simply resources to be exploited. In other cultures in which animals were seen as conscious beings with intrinsic value (such as in Hindu and Buddhist cultures), I think that this proposition was much less shocking, because there was already a belief in the interconnection of all forms of life.

Like many other things, I think the ethical value of the theory of evolution depends on how it's used. But I do think that evolution, when viewed from certain perspectives, can promote morality.

When scientists use their understanding of evolution to fight infectious diseases, this is obviously a good thing. Also, I think that the theory of evolution, like many of the greatest theories of physics, gives scientists some sense of wonder about the natural world, which can be a precursor to spirituality and Buddhism. And when viewed from a certain perspective, evolution emphasizes the interconnection of all living organisms, and therefore, can make people appreciate the intrinsic value (Buddha-nature) of all forms of life.

What do you think?

If you want to get in the mood for a discussion of evolution, here is a great documentary by PBS "Evolution-Episode 6: The Mind's Big Bang."
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid ... en&view=3#

All the videos in this PBS series are quite beautiful and interesting.
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Indrajala » Tue Mar 23, 2010 5:41 am

Luke wrote:I don't think Buddhism has any problem with humans evolving from apes, but it does seem to me that Buddhism does require the Six Realms of Existence to have distinct boundaries (i.e. a being can only be in one realm at a time). Although humans evolved gradually from apes, I think there needs to be a definite point at which these beings could be labeled as human (a "sort-of human" being would still have to be considered a member of the animal realm).



We not only evolved from apes, but we were those apes. :smile:



My other thought is that evolution doesn't have to support amorality in the way that Christians fear it will. In western cultures in which animals were simply thought of as being resources to be exploited, the proposition that humans were more closely related to animals was horrifying because this seemed to imply that humans were then also simply resources to be exploited. In other cultures in which animals were seen as conscious beings with intrinsic value (such as in Hindu and Buddhist cultures), I think that this proposition was much less shocking, because there was already a belief in the interconnection of all forms of life.


From the general materialist perspective, there are no past lives and no future lives, so their model of morality, if they should even propose one, falls short on a few points. One is that if you have no future existence in which to experience the fruits of your actions in this life, there isn't really much of a stake in the well-being of the world you live in. Just live it up, don't mind the pollution and damage, and at death oblivion will swallow you up and maybe your genes will carry on down the road. I think materialism leads to amorality rather than evolution itself.

Now, evolutionary rebirth encourages morality more than anything else because you are personally responsible for and will experience any and all advancement and regression on the evolutionary hierarchy. From a Buddhist perspective, you were in the animal realms many innumerable times before and that destiny is still a possibility if you act unwisely.

Karma and rebirth (the later a kind of evolution) are an ultimate accounting system for ethics and it not only encourages morality, but makes it mandatory. If you are immoral, you suffer. If you don't want to suffer, you must act in a moral and reasonable way.
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Huifeng » Tue Mar 23, 2010 7:21 am

I tend to think of it in two streams:

Material evolution, through species.
Mental development, which can cut across species.

Any given being is their own mental stream so to speak, but what material form they are in would be a match to that mental stream at the given time.
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Tue Mar 23, 2010 7:52 am

Huifeng wrote:Any given being is their own mental stream so to speak, but what material form they are in would be a match to that mental stream at the given time.


I appreciate very much how succinct this statement is.

Best wishes,
Laura
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby muni » Tue Mar 23, 2010 10:01 am

Luke: "Like many other things, I think the ethical value of the theory of evolution depends on how it's used. But I do think that evolution, when viewed from certain perspectives, can promote morality."

Yes. When through the Buddhist Phylosophy, observing ego-concept is seen; than indeed intelligence can be used without duality which should automatically promote morality and welfare.

It is very good proved that meditation is giving benefits and control in the human brain (no strong reactions in the brain visible by different stimuli=>being a mountain and not a grass in the wind on the mountain pass), which is showing interaction possibilities between the human evolution and meditation. _/\_
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Luke » Tue Mar 23, 2010 2:05 pm

Huifeng wrote:Any given being is their own mental stream so to speak, but what material form they are in would be a match to that mental stream at the given time.

But Ven. Huifeng, what is the "gate keeper" ensuring this match between mental streams and material forms? What is it that ensures that a human mindstream will not inhabit a frog's body or vice versa?

muni wrote:...interaction possibilities between the human evolution and meditation.

Now you've got me curious about genetic predispositions to meditation. I wonder if Buddhist meditation masters would share any genetic similarities (some kind of "deep concentration gene" switched on, etc.) to each other?

Huseng wrote:We not only evolved from apes, but we were those apes. :smile:

Yeah, Buddhism certainly puts a cool twist on evolution! I know what you're saying, although I some people alive today may never have been apes; they might have only been other types of animals like birds or fish in past lives.

Or would the fact that "samsara is without a measurable beginning" imply that we have been every species of animal (including presently extinct ones) at some point in the past? (I hope I was a kind dinosaur...)
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Astus » Tue Mar 23, 2010 3:00 pm

I think this brings up an apparent contradiction between scientific and Buddhist view. I mean, according to Buddhist cosmology there have been great empires and highly developed civilizations on Earth before. No scientific evidence for that. In Buddhism karma defines birth, so in case there were no humans here it must have been on a different world humans were born.

Or, it is possible to reinterpret religious cosmology as if it were somewhat metaphoric, for instance about the four continents and Mount Meru. I wonder what could be a solution here.

One simple and easy answer could be that there is a scientific and there is a religious world view, no need to match them. But this is hardly acceptible for those who see science as the source of really real truth about life, the world and everything.
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Indrajala » Tue Mar 23, 2010 3:54 pm

Astus wrote:I think this brings up an apparent contradiction between scientific and Buddhist view. I mean, according to Buddhist cosmology there have been great empires and highly developed civilizations on Earth before. No scientific evidence for that. In Buddhism karma defines birth, so in case there were no humans here it must have been on a different world humans were born.

Or, it is possible to reinterpret religious cosmology as if it were somewhat metaphoric, for instance about the four continents and Mount Meru. I wonder what could be a solution here.

One simple and easy answer could be that there is a scientific and there is a religious world view, no need to match them. But this is hardly acceptible for those who see science as the source of really real truth about life, the world and everything.


Astus, I think if you approach reality with a realist view -- that is to say that the physical world really does exist as it appears and will continue to exist as such regardless of the mental mediums (aka us sentient beings) perceiving it -- then inevitably the scientific view becomes more realistic, solid and decided. However, if you look at things from an idealist view -- that the physical universe is produced from the collective mental activity of beings (Master Sheng Yen incidentally employs the term "consciousness field" 識田 to describe reality which I find useful) -- then the religious view of reality becomes far more credible.

The planet, the geological history of it, the solar system and so on appear to conform to certain predictable and datable patterns that do not correspond well with Buddhist cosmology, but then one might analyse what exactly are perceptions of geological events, the formation of the solar system, physical matter, etc..., and come to a conclusion where evidence supports a theory, but the evidence itself, being perceptions, sits on somewhat uncertain ground.

One first formulates a theory (a desired perception in a sense) and then gathers evidence (seeking more desired perceptions) to support that theory. One does not first have evidence and then formulate a theory.

Basically, even if we perceive rock solid geological formations, what is the quality of those perceptions? Can we be certain they are not illusory?

Real as it may seem, our perception of a planet in a solar system in a galaxy may be based entirely on illusions.
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby meindzai » Tue Mar 23, 2010 4:49 pm

Ngawang Drolma wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Any given being is their own mental stream so to speak, but what material form they are in would be a match to that mental stream at the given time.


I appreciate very much how succinct this statement is.

Best wishes,
Laura


Me too. I've said the same thing, but it takes me 7 paragraphs.

-M
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby meindzai » Tue Mar 23, 2010 4:51 pm

Luke wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Any given being is their own mental stream so to speak, but what material form they are in would be a match to that mental stream at the given time.

But Ven. Huifeng, what is the "gate keeper" ensuring this match between mental streams and material forms? What is it that ensures that a human mindstream will not inhabit a frog's body or vice versa?


Who says it won't?

-M
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby muni » Tue Mar 23, 2010 6:34 pm

"Now you've got me curious about genetic predispositions to meditation. I wonder if Buddhist meditation masters would share any genetic similarities (some kind of "deep concentration gene" switched on, etc.) to each other?"

In case of apprehended is the evolution not directly genetic but results in a behaviour through wisdom and compassion for all those around the person - making contact with him-her. This behaviour can interact and improve quality of human life. In case the meditation should be apprehended there is no genetic inheritance possible.

Those who show strong interesse and ability in spirituality from childhood on, just like musicians, those are not really showing apprehended qualities. As there is possibility among the children of musicians to have a little musician or little artist. At that way regarding spirituality, are there spiritual families with more than one child with these qualities.

Some scientists are talking about "Positive" mutation. Looking to our evolution through times, is there mutation, transformation.

Then thinking at Tibetan examples of embriology, in which a mind stream is moved toward certain people. Keeping in mind that mind is non obstructed, not physical.

By the evolutions of scientific investigations, like dissection of brain, came there an aggreement: no captain who is the boss of our compounded being, form is detected. There are more investigations with open interess toward Buddhism.
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby teebee » Tue Mar 23, 2010 8:53 pm

Luke wrote:
I don't think Buddhism has any problem with humans evolving from apes,


With all due respect, Darwin
never said or wrote that we
evolved from apes. That is
the Fundamental Christian
misinterpretation of Darwin.

However, we are part of the
same evolutionary stream as
apes.

To your original question, I
think that Buddhism in
general should have no
problem with evolution.

Terry Beresford
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Belief systems are like lovely stepping stones over the quicksand of ignorance and amnesia.
Each may be useful, but if you stand too long upon one, it will sink into the quicksand and
you may be trapped. So the wise course is to skip over each stone, appreciate its
usefulness and beauty, and find your way over the quicksand without getting mired in it.
(Anon)

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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Astus » Tue Mar 23, 2010 9:40 pm

Huseng,

Thanks for giving a broader explanation of what I called separating scientific from religious. Your description was what I had in mind. :twothumbsup:
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Indrajala » Wed Mar 24, 2010 3:55 am

Astus wrote:Huseng,

Thanks for giving a broader explanation of what I called separating scientific from religious. Your description was what I had in mind. :twothumbsup:


I think some philosophers could come to similar conclusions.

For example if you're agnostic about the existence of a physical reality, then how real is a planet revolving around the sun in a galaxy?

I think such a perspective -- where the mind becomes more dominant and real than the physical universe -- is quite profound, but also comes with a long list of consequences. The world becomes far less solid. Everything boils down to perceptions that are hallow, dream-like and transient. No tree falls down in the forest if no being is there to perceive it. The physical world is only what we mutually concur it to be.

The whole universe becomes the cumulative creation of sentient beings' mental activities.
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Mar 24, 2010 4:09 am

Luke wrote:When scientists use their understanding of evolution to fight infectious diseases, this is obviously a good thing. Also, I think that the theory of evolution, like many of the greatest theories of physics, gives scientists some sense of wonder about the natural world, which can be a precursor to spirituality and Buddhism. And when viewed from a certain perspective, evolution emphasizes the interconnection of all living organisms, and therefore, can make people appreciate the intrinsic value (Buddha-nature) of all forms of life.

What do you think?


I agree.

Michael Shermer, the founder of The Skeptic Society and Skeptic magazine has written about the importance of the acceptance of biological evolution and ranks Darwin‘s work as the single most important contribution in history. I concur with him that Darwin‘s research is the greatest finding in history for its potential at changing world views. It changed (or eventually will change) the world view that there is a complete separation between humans and animals. As time goes on, people will realize that it is not even just a biological connection. If we are animals as evolution shows us, then animals must also have a soul if humans do (or Buddha-nature or capacity for enlightenment or any other spiritual terminology). There is no way around it since we all evolved from the same source.
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby muni » Wed Mar 24, 2010 8:34 am

Oh well, regarding the last posts here, I should separate nothing. As how to put Dharma in daily life in that way?

A quote of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche: "True positive action consists in the cultivation of virtue, never separate from the thought that its essence is dreamlike, illusory, and by nature void. By thus combining the two truths, our virtuous actions are free from clinging and attachment."

Edit for adding this: "Due to the degeneration of time, human beings' minds have become more complex and deluded in their attachment to the external world. So, this age of extreme confusion demands a teaching of comparably extreme power and clarity. " Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche.

Like that scientifical investigation of evolution and Buddhism must not counteract, rather clarify.
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Mar 24, 2010 12:36 pm

Astus wrote:I think this brings up an apparent contradiction between scientific and Buddhist view. I mean, according to Buddhist cosmology there have been great empires and highly developed civilizations on Earth before. No scientific evidence for that. In Buddhism karma defines birth, so in case there were no humans here it must have been on a different world humans were born.

Or, it is possible to reinterpret religious cosmology as if it were somewhat metaphoric, for instance about the four continents and Mount Meru. I wonder what could be a solution here.

One simple and easy answer could be that there is a scientific and there is a religious world view, no need to match them. But this is hardly acceptible for those who see science as the source of really real truth about life, the world and everything.


Astus,

While reading Hakuin some time ago, I was interested to see that he addresses this issue directly. Apparently during his time Buddhism was coming under attack for being non-scientific.

The particular example he discusses concerns the titan Rahula blocking the sun -- said to be the cause of solar eclipses. According to the tale, the titans defeated the gods in battle, and then, flush with newly-gained power, Rahula stood up and grabbed the sun and moon.

Hakuin rejects the idea that any of this should be taken literally and instead advises that we interpret such passages "contemplatively", that is, with an eye to their deeper meaning.

Buddha originally had three kinds of discourse: discourse on principle, metaphorical discourse, and explanation of causality. The doctrine in question here is a metaphorical discourse, in which illusory things of the world are used to illustrate true reality. You folks with the eyes of goats and sheep and the intelligence of foxes and badgers merely see the illusory things of the world and cannot understand the truth as it really is. Then you arbitrarily slight the words of the enlightened.


He then goes on to explain that the titan Rahula symbolizes ignorance, while the sun and moon stand for the light of intelligence inherent in everyone, and the king of the gods stands for alaya-vijnana. Thus there is no need to read the passage as an actual explanation of solar eclipses, and indeed if we do so, we are simply showing we have the eyes of goats and sheep.

As for idealism, I'm all for it personally; however, it's not simply a "get out of reality free" card that allows us to win any argument no matter how untenable the propositions. While we can be alert to the illusory nature of "reality", this doesn't necessarily solve the problems posed by specific cosmological doctrines.

John: The world rests on the back of an elephant!
Joe: Prove it.
John: I don't have to. I'm an idealist!
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Indrajala » Wed Mar 24, 2010 1:10 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:As for idealism, I'm all for it personally; however, it's not simply a "get out of reality free" card that allows us to win any argument no matter how untenable the propositions. While we can be alert to the illusory nature of "reality", this doesn't necessarily solve the problems posed by specific cosmological doctrines.

John: The world rests on the back of an elephant!
Joe: Prove it.
John: I don't have to. I'm an idealist!


I never said it was a "get out of reality free" card.

It only makes the realist picture of reality less solid and immutable.

Buddhist cosmology, I think, in regard to the deva and hell realms especially, can be verified through meditation. This I at least gather after reading so much literature written by yogis who spent years and years in dedicated meditation.
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Luke » Wed Mar 24, 2010 1:17 pm

teebee wrote:
Luke wrote:I don't think Buddhism has any problem with humans evolving from apes,


With all due respect, Darwin
never said or wrote that we
evolved from apes. That is
the Fundamental Christian
misinterpretation of Darwin.

Okay, my apologies if I used some terms incorrectly. I have great respect for Darwin, but I studied math in college, so I'm just groping about like a blind monkey when it comes to life sciences. I just meant that evolution implies that apes are our ancestors (as are the first vertebrates and the first living cells), although there were many intermediate stages of early hominids in between.


meindzai wrote:
Luke wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Any given being is their own mental stream so to speak, but what material form they are in would be a match to that mental stream at the given time.

But Ven. Huifeng, what is the "gate keeper" ensuring this match between mental streams and material forms? What is it that ensures that a human mindstream will not inhabit a frog's body or vice versa?


Who says it won't?

-M

Well clearly frogs can be humans in their next lives and vice versa. I guess what I was really asking was "
Why doesn't a human mind (with all its intelligence) ever inhabit a frog's body?" And "Why doesn't a frog's mind (with all its limitations) ever inhabit a human's body?" Scientists will say this is obviously because a frog has a much simpler nervous system than a human. I guess I need to understand better exactly which aspects of the mind are reborn in a new body.

Would the Buddhist explanation be that a human's mind is already reduced to the intelligence of a frog before it enters the frogs body (in the bardo of becoming)? And that the frog's mind increases in intelligence before it enters a human body?
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Re: Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Astus » Wed Mar 24, 2010 2:45 pm

It is a known trick to re-interpret ancient passages in a metaphorical way even if it was meant to be literal back then. However, that is accepting the validity of the other's position thus being forced to change one's own. Every religion did the same to other faiths when they conquered a land, just think about making saints, angels and demons from local spirits and gods in case of Christianity, and in Buddhism turning Indian gods to mortal beings and taming the demons of Tibet. When science can force other views to submit themselves to it, that is its victory, spreading scientific ideas (in this sense it is not a bit different from religions). But we can use instead of this "war" metaphor other forms, like the meme theory, to describe how one view infects another view.

Among the many options to choose from about how to look at the relationship between Buddhism and science, to take a Buddhist position we should rather look at the relevance and effectiveness of scientific ideas on the Way. There are many aspects to investigate for sure.
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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