Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

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Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Claire » Wed Jun 16, 2010 12:19 pm

Hi again... I have another question. Im starting an evolution module on my uni course soon and it got me thinking. What is the Buddhist view on evolution? We have some close family members who are Jehovah Witnesses and they don’t believe in evolution, they say it is simply adaption. It’s something that comes up time and time again when we see them and on occasion we can spend long into the night talking about this topic. I was a Roman Catholic when I was a very young child and I think I remember a similar train of thought from then... although I could be completely wrong. Both myself and my partner are very 'science' minded and we have been looking at various religions on and off for the last couple of years so we find this topic very interesting. :thinking:

Claire

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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Kare » Wed Jun 16, 2010 1:03 pm

Claire wrote:Hi again... I have another question. Im starting an evolution module on my uni course soon and it got me thinking. What is the Buddhist view on evolution? We have some close family members who are Jehovah Witnesses and they don’t believe in evolution, they say it is simply adaption. It’s something that comes up time and time again when we see them and on occasion we can spend long into the night talking about this topic. I was a Roman Catholic when I was a very young child and I think I remember a similar train of thought from then... although I could be completely wrong. Both myself and my partner are very 'science' minded and we have been looking at various religions on and off for the last couple of years so we find this topic very interesting. :thinking:

Claire

:namaste:


You might be interested in reading Wes Nisker, "Buddha's Nature". It seems different editions has different subtitles ... I like this one: "Evolution as a Practical Guide to Enlightenment".

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Buddhas-Nature- ... 264&sr=8-8
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Guy » Wed Jun 16, 2010 1:27 pm

Hi Claire,

If you want my personal opinion, evolution seems like a perfectly valid way of explaining where the human race came from on planet Earth. If the evidence seems to strongly suggest this then I am fine with that. Frankly, it doesn't matter to me one way or another.

It seems to be a big deal to theistic religions, such as Catholicism, because there is the assumption that if evolution is true then God is false. Since the entire religion hinges upon the existence of God, it all falls apart if evolution is true (although there is a third, less popular, option where God created man BY evolution).

This is not a problem in Buddhism since we don't have a creator god to defend, all Buddhists are interested in is happiness (aka freedom from suffering). The Buddha said that he only teaches suffering and the end of suffering. Whether there is a god or isn't a god seems to make no difference to our human suffering. Whether we evolved or not, the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path remains the same.

But if you want to know the "Buddhist view on evolution" or "Buddhist view on [anything]" it is impossible to give an answer that all Buddhists are going to agree upon. Pretty much the only thing that Buddhists agree on (at least theoretically) is that they accept the Buddha was fully Awakened, that he realized the Four Noble Truths and that he taught others how to they can liberate themselves from suffering. But even the details of the Four Noble Truths are debated today.

If you are interested in evolution you are better off asking a scientist than a Buddhist. But if you are interesting in the Four Noble Truths then you've come to the right forum. :smile:

With Metta,

Guy
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1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby sukhamanveti » Wed Jun 16, 2010 1:28 pm

The Pew Research Center did a poll asking adherents of various religions if they "agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on Earth." Eighty-one percent of Buddhist respondents replied "yes." The link below will take you to an article with a table near the end that displays the breakdown of the percentage of each religious group that agreed.

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1105/darwin ... -evolution
Sīlaṃ balaṃ appaṭimaṃ.
Sīlaṃ āvudhamuttamaṃ.
Sīlamābharaṇaṃ seṭṭhaṃ.
Sīlaṃ kavacamabbhutaṃ.


Virtue is a matchless power.
Virtue is the greatest weapon.
Virtue is the best adornment.
Virtue is a wonderful armor.

Theragatha 614


Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṃ,
kusalassa upasampadā,
Sacittapariyodapanaṃ,
etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.


Refraining from all wrong-doing,
Undertaking the good,
Purifying the mind,
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Dhammapada v. 183/14.5
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Modus.Ponens » Wed Jun 16, 2010 1:52 pm

There is a sutta somewhere that tells a myth of creation, where humans descend from devas. But I think it's just it, a myth. So I believe in evolution.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Agent » Wed Jun 16, 2010 2:14 pm

As a huge Dawkins fan, I don't have any problem whatsoever with evolution. I find it absolutely fascinating. However it's really only intellectually interesting. As much as I love it, there's just some things I don't feel science is able to address (at least not in it's current state). Because of that I'm an even bigger fan of the Buddha.

I would agree with what others have said that the general Buddhist attitude towards evolution would be "it doesn't matter." Whether or not we evolved from single celled organisms over countless generations or a god created us 5000 years ago, there is still suffering; the Dhamma still applies. In the end that's what really matters to me as a Buddhist.

All that said, if you are scientifically minded I think Buddhism is a very compatible religion in that regard as it strongly encourages investigation as a means to cultivate improved knowledge and understanding.
Vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā.
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Ben » Wed Jun 16, 2010 2:26 pm

Hi Claire

My advice to you is to follow the evidence. Also, you might want to take a peek into Dawkins recent publication "The greatest show on earth"
kind regards

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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Nibbida » Wed Jun 16, 2010 3:22 pm

Evolution by natural selection is just a matter of dependent origination. Given heritability, variation, and selection of traits, then evolution is just a natural consequence of cause and effect. It can't not happen. Susan Blackmore gives a nice summary of this in her TED talk:

http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_blackmor ... temes.html

Another interesting organization of this idea is by Eve Jablonka, which she calls "Evolution in Four Dimenstions," basically saying that we inherit things in 4 ways:
1. Genetic
2. Epigenetic
3. Behavioral (i.e. shaping behavior by reward & punishment)
4. Symbolic (i.e. language, information, ideas, culture, etc.)
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Stuart » Wed Jun 16, 2010 3:23 pm

:anjali: Hi Claire,

Do you mean "evolution by natural selection" as taught in some schools today which has itself evolved from the "evolution by natural selection" that Charles Darwin stated in The Origin of the Species? ... ;) ....

... just kidding ....

.... but the serious point is that all things (perceptions and conceptions) are impermanent, and much has been refined and changed in the concept of evolution by natural selection since the time of Darwin, and I am sure that our understanding of this useful concept will change in the future ....

... because all things are impermanent is such a fundamental part of Buddhism, a theory like evolution by natural selection which shows a part of the mechanism of this very change is fully in keeping with Buddhism - in my (very changeable) opinion, at least ... :) ....

.... I believe that the current official Roman Catholic Church stance is to accept the theory of evolution by natural selection ....

Stuart
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Rui Sousa » Wed Jun 16, 2010 5:51 pm

I find this subject interesting and have given some attention from time to time, so I have a few ideas about it. First I will clarify my understanding of evolution, to avoid misunderstandings.

The idea of evolution, as I understand it, is that in every new being that is formed there are slight differences in body and mind that create diversity. This diversity allows for two types of selection: Sexual and natural.

- Sexual selection is a process by which one specimen selects the best partner for sexual intercourse and procreation. In animals this is considered to be a process with static parameters, that is, a female deer will always chose the male with the bigger horns (or nay other kind of rule). But in the human species the rules for selecting sexual partners have changed a lot since Darwin's age, and I have heard some researchers complaining that existing theories are insufficient to explain what is observed.

- Natural selections is a process by which specimens die of diseases, or environmental changes, earlier or later on their life, specially important if they die before their first sexual intercourse. If all bald humans got skin cancer from sun burns before they would have any children, the human species would not have any bald people, and I would have all my hair.

From these assumptions I looked at the two processes and tried to compare them to my limited understanding of the Dhamma.

The first thing I see in common is the notion of conditionality, the genes with which one is born conditions our sexual and overall success as a being. These genes are, in turn, conditioned by our parents genes, and the variability in the replication process of the genes. I equate this variability with impermanence. Then we have desire playing a huge role in both fields. In Buddhism desire is a condition for clinging, which is a condition for becoming, which is a condition for birth. In the sexual selection process desire leads to sexual intercourse, that leads to birth.

The main difference I see is the concept of kamma. In Buddhism our base physical and mental characteristics are determined by kamma, a process of cause and consequence that transposes existences, while in mainstream evolution theory only the genetic material determines these characteristics, failing to explain many phenomena.

Dependent origination, conditionality, impermanence and kamma, in my opinion, encompass other theories that try to explain diversity and the processes by which success and failure of beings and groups of beings comes to be. And in some areas where these theories are incomplete or inconsistent, Buddhism has a comprehensive explanation for phenomena.

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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Zom » Wed Jun 16, 2010 6:12 pm

What is the Buddhist view on evolution?


Yes, evolution as a general process fits well in buddhist theory.

In Digha Nikaya texts Buddha said, that there are periods when people are bad-natured, they respect no moral laws, behave like animals, hunting on each other, having sex with relatives and they live only about 10 years. That coincides with that ancient wild people (Neanderthals and all that stuff). These, as the latest scientific researches showed, lived very short life, about 20 years. So further, as buddhist texts say, people will behave themselves better, and so their "common" kamma will make it so that their life span will increase. And we can see it right now - we live much longer than 10 or 20 years. And there is a big chance that our science will find clues how to remove deadly deseases and so in the distant future we can expect very long life (some say even about immortality but from the buddhist point of view that is an impossibility). In the suttas it is said that the maximum life span will be 80.000 years, and during that future period next Buddha - named Metteya - will come. And after that, after very very very long time, people will start doing some nasty things again, and life span will decrease.. to 60.000 ... 40.000.. 20.000 .. and so on up to 10 years again. Right now several such huge cycles already passed. And in the very end it is said that "7 suns" will appear by turns, and Earth will dry up and then even burnt down totally. And this coincedes with the theory that our sun will start growing into Red Giant, Earth will be consumed by it, and after that sun will decrease and turn into white dwarf star.

So as I see it, everything in buddhist texts is on good terms with scientific theories and discoveries.
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Jason » Thu Jun 17, 2010 3:03 am

Claire wrote:What is the Buddhist view on evolution?


There really isn't one. In DN 27, the Buddha does give what can be interpreted as a rough theory of evolution to a pair of brahmins in that the physical characteristics of the mythological beings in question change due to environmental changes and interactions. That being said, I agree with Prof. Gombrich that, taking the context of DN 27 into account, this sutta is a lively and ingenious parody that was actually meant to make fun of the very need for a cosmology as a foundation for religious development.

Personally, I think you're much better off asking an evolutionary biologist about this as Buddhism deals exclusively with mental stress and its cessation (i.e., psychology), not biology, or physics, etc.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Anicca » Thu Jun 17, 2010 3:53 am

:goodpost:

:thumbsup:
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Jun 17, 2010 3:54 am

Greetings

:goodpost:

Well said, Jason.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Zom » Sat Jun 19, 2010 9:59 am

That being said, I agree with Prof. Gombrich that, taking the context of DN 27 into account, this sutta is a lively and ingenious parody that was actually meant to make fun of the very need for a cosmology as a foundation for religious development.


So you think this sutta (and other DN suttas about distant past and futute) is a lie?
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby dhammapal » Sat Jun 19, 2010 11:05 am

Hi Claire,
M O'C Walshe, the translator of the Digha Nikaya, wrote:
To put it crudely, many educated people now feel able to admit openly that after all, Darwin, Marx and Freud did not know all the answers. For some, this is a new exhilarating experience, and perhaps rather frightening. But the inevitable question arises: What now?

What the new knowledge actually does, in the first place, is to disprove once and for all that basic and yet so improbable assumption of materialistic science (or ’scientism’ as it has been called): inanimate matter by pure chance, by some incredible series of flukes, ’contrived’ to teach itself to think. We now have proof, or as near proof as makes no difference, that what we call ’mind’ is autonomous, and that if either member of the pair we call mind-and-matter is subordinate or illusory, it is matter and not mind. So far, so good. The worrying thing is that this recognition seems at one fell swoop to bring back chaos in the place of science’s carefully-ordered cosmos. The attraction of materialism to the scientific mind was that it produced a neat and tidy, ultimately finite system. Actually it still does—as far as it goes. The difference is merely that the mind (whatever ’mind’ may be) that can grasp such a system is itself outside of that system—which ought logically to have been obvious all along. A stone cannot perceive itself, though a dog can perceive it, while a man can not only perceive the stone but—to some extent at least—’understand’ it.

The chaos which this recognition brings can look at first sight almost total. It is like a dream-world in which anything can happen, in which what we yesterday dismissed as superstition can easily turn out to be fact, in which the very criteria of what is probable and improbable cease to be clearly discernible. Once we accept spoon-bending, the result is mind-bending! The temptation to retreat even into the bleak orderliness of materialism may be strong, and what before looked so unbearable may seem comforting by comparison. If we resist this temptation we may find it necessary to come to terms with what used to be called the ’supernatural’ (and is better termed the paranormal)—though that does not mean becoming obsessed with it. But some modern Christians may well find that, ’blinded by science,’ they have perhaps rejected too much of their traditional beliefs, without being too sure of how to find the way back.

The traditional Buddhist view of the ’three worlds’ may be helpful here.
http://www.bps.lk/olib/wh/wh275-p.html

With metta / dhammapal.
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Agent » Sat Jun 19, 2010 1:42 pm

Zom wrote:
That being said, I agree with Prof. Gombrich that, taking the context of DN 27 into account, this sutta is a lively and ingenious parody that was actually meant to make fun of the very need for a cosmology as a foundation for religious development.


So you think this sutta (and other DN suttas about distant past and futute) is a lie?


If someone attempts to make a point by means of parody, how is that a "lie"?
Vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā.
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Zom » Sat Jun 19, 2010 5:06 pm

If someone attempts to make a point by means of parody, how is that a "lie"?


Too huge and too detailed sutta for a parody, especially if we take other same ("this topic") passages from other suttas. And what is more, when Buddha uses analogies, even "funny" ones, he usually make it clear that this is an analogy.

Too dangerous to consider it this way - because all suttas can be easily called "a parody", especially that on rebirth, kamma, nibbana, supernatural powers, and other aspects that can't be seen here and now.
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby Lazy_eye » Sat Jun 19, 2010 10:11 pm

Maybe there are some small but not insignificant differences between a Buddhist view and a Darwinian view when it comes to our instincts and desires, aka the kilesas?

Buddhism regards these as defilements, afflictions or poisons -- implying that they are unnatural, a deviation from some purer state. For something to be defiled, it must have once been clean. That view, I'd think, is in accordance with the creation story outlined in DN 27. Same goes for the practice of contemplating the human body as something foul and disgusting. When Buddhism speaks of "reality", it means clearing away these impurities and deviant perceptions -- the same ones which led to our fall from the deva realm.

An evolutionary point of view, by contrast, would see the "defilements" as natural, the default state. That is, they simply represent the biological imperatives of survival and reproduction common to animal life, including us. When scientists refer to "reality",they mean clearing away anthropocentric bias and/or metaphysical conceits in favor of empiricism and naturalism.

Perhaps a Darwin-influenced Buddhist view would see things in terms of the evolution of consciousness toward some higher state, rather than a devolution from same as DN 27 implies.

Just a thought...

LE
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Re: Another question... Buddhism and Evolution

Postby EricJ » Sun Jun 20, 2010 12:07 am

How does the theory of evolution relate to the mention of twenty-eight previous Buddhas within this world system, if we can prove that humans evolved and that civilization only emerged a few thousand years before the Buddha taught? Does this mean that the other Buddhas existed in other places within the world-system? Or does is this question contingent upon how "world system" is defined?
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With persistence aroused for the highest goal's attainment, with mind unsmeared, not lazy in action, firm in effort, with steadfastness & strength arisen, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Not neglecting seclusion, absorption, constantly living the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, comprehending the danger in states of becoming, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
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