Buddha and the theory of evolution

I was reading a Wikipedia about Buddhism being the most acceptable to the theory of evolution among the major world religions. It also pointed to the Aggañña Sutta as a resource to this idea. I find it interesting. Any thoughts or ideas???


I generally agree with the Dalai Lama’s view on this which he explains in The Universe in a Single Atom (2005). While biological theories provide a true and coherent account of the physical dimension of life on earth, it is a strictly material account and thus misses out on explaining the workings of consciousness, which is where the Buddhist explanation begins.


Isn’t the buddhas teaching based on the ending of suffering? Not consciousness. Not trying to be a smarty pants I’m seriously asking… thanx friend

Consciousness doesn’t have a special status in the suttas, it’s just another aggregate.

A close reading of DN 27 looks to take the listener through a description of the Brahmin tradition and then culminates in a description of the Dhamma, which goes even further. It does not seem to be reliable source for the Buddha’s views on evolution.

A great description of diversity in the animal realm can be found on SN 22.100:

Bhikkhus, I do not see any other order of living beings so diversified as those in the animal realm. Even those beings in the animal realm have been diversified by the mind, yet the mind is even more diverse than those beings in the animal realm.

I don’t have access to Ven Bodhi’s translation notes at the moment, but he seems to agree that action - with this diversity of mind as it’s basis - is the reason for the diversity found in the animal realm, but that even that diversity can still expand further. In my opinion, this is one of the cleanest descriptions of the reason why we find the expansive changes in animals.

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I have wondered whether aspects of tanha are comparable to evolutionary instincts, like survival instinct. In that sense, you could look at Buddhist practice as a means of transcending instinctual behaviours.

For the record, @ekocare is not wrong in this summary above. The flaging is unjustified.

A bit of correction, Ape is more like cousin, not ancestors of humans. We got a common ancestors.

And it’s most likely deva, rather than Brahma.

So to make sense of Evolution and DN27, one needs to know the nature of deva in scientific terms. Read this for devas as biological aliens: Is Buddhism consistent with Science? - #8 by NgXinZhao

PS. I see that I read it too fast. Sorry. Flagging justified. Buddha and the theory of evolution - #12 by NgXinZhao

To expand on my post above, which I wrote in haste, it does seem as though that is precisely what SN 22.100 is describing. That action on account a mind long-defiled sets the groundwork for manifestation in the animal realm with a physical form most suitable for the proliferation developed previously.

Suffering which arises due to our conscious mind, so to understand one, you must understand the other.

Who said it has a “special status”?

the flagging is perfectly justified, suggesting that only those people who believe in evolution are subject to it while people who believe in a piece of religious literature are subject to it is the absolute pinnacle of delusional foolishness, not to mention the height of irony in that claiming the inherent superiority of their own in-group is exactly what the sutta itself condemns:

Both these things occur like this, mixed up in these four castes—the dark and the bright, that which is praised and that which is criticized by sensible people. Yet of this the brahmins say: ‘Only brahmins are the first caste; other castes are inferior. Only brahmins are the light caste; other castes are dark. Only brahmins are purified, not others. Only brahmins are Brahmā’s rightful sons, born of his mouth, born of Brahmā, created by Brahmā, heirs of Brahmā.’

Sensible people don’t acknowledge this. Why is that? Because any mendicant from these four castes who is perfected—with defilements ended, who has completed the spiritual journey, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, achieved their own true goal, utterly ended the fetters of rebirth, and is rightly freed through enlightenment—is said to be foremost by virtue of principle, not without principle. For principle, Vāseṭṭha, is the first thing for people in both this life and the next.

There are four options here; either evolution is true and Aggaññasutta is false, evolution is false and Aggaññasutta is true, evolution is false and Aggaññasutta is false or evolution is true and Aggaññasutta is true.

@ekocare assertion that the humans who believe in evolution are evolved from apes while the humans who believe in Aggaññasutta are descended from the gods is incoherent gibberish and has been rightly flagged. It is both offensive and foolish.


Oh, sorry. Thanks for clearing it up. I didn’t read properly.

I thought he said that evolution believes people came from apes, and DN27 believes people came from Brahma.

Is believed by… that’s a different meaning due to different grammar. Thanks for the clarification!


No worries! I am in something of a bad mood today, I should try to get less ruffled about these things :slight_smile: I personally think that there is no incompatibility, and that evolution can account for how rupa develops into such things as vinnana can latch onto, so we can come both from atoms and from gods all at once.


To me Buddhist cosmology looks more “steady state” than “big bang”. It’s always been that way, according to Buddhism, and there is no discernible starting point, or an evolution from simple to complex.

Physics and Buddhism: The Beginning (with some updates to be friendly to all)

Steady state contradicts cosmos expands and contracts. And it’s old. There’s so many cyclic cosmology in Physics nowadays.

Yes, I’m familiar with cosmological theories. One of the first books I read was by Fred Hoyle, a champion of the steady state theory. And generally, I don’t think it’s advisable to compare religious beliefs with scientific theories, it’s trying to compare apples with oranges.

Anyway, what do you think of the observation I made, that Buddhist cosmology looks more steady state than big bang? Agree? Disagree?

Disagree of course, due to the existence of cyclic cosmology which fits into Buddhist cosmological requirements better. Do read the article of my blog. Detailed explanation there, as well as addressing how to compare physics with Buddhism.

I don’t think there is much empirical support for the cyclical model of cosmology, and it remains speculative.
Currently most observations support the “big bang” theory, which sounds more like the creation story in the Old Testament than anything in the Buddhist suttas.

But as I said, trying to validate religious beliefs with scientific theories seems like a pointless exercise.

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Perhaps I need to explain more.

The steady state model is refuted much worse then non-evidence for cyclic cosmology in favour of the universe being vastly different in characteristics (density, opaqueness, temperature etc) in the far past.

Big Bang theory is the first model on the scene, but it hits a problem at the singularity. The various cyclic cosmology would naturally be designed to fit in the existing cosmological data and avoid the problematic singularity where physical laws breaks down. The current observational data has as much support for Big bang as the various cyclic cosmology which is well modelled. The cyclic cosmology having advantage of not having theoretical difficulty of an initial singularity.

It’s not validating.

Buddhism is concerned a lot about liberation from samsara, mind, dependent origination, so Buddha wasn’t interested in Physics. However, he did from time to time, drop some hints related to the physical world and it would be interesting to see how well does current physics fit or contradicts with the few physics clues from the suttas.

For cosmology, unless samsara is limited to the formless realms for all previous time before this cycle of universe, there must be at least one physical universe before this cycle required by Buddhism. And thus, physics can say something about that. Matching the current best model which is compatible with Buddhist cosmological needs is just a natural comparison. Buddhism is by no means validated by that, as that doesn’t validate 4 Noble truths. We can just say that Buddhism doesn’t have to be inconsistent with current science. And that current science on this issue doesn’t invalidate Buddhist cosmology.

PS. Pointless exercise it is not. It’s especially useful and helpful to total beginners who see the disappointment of fundamental Christians openly being anti-science, that there’s some alternative religion which is not contradicting scientific findings.

And to dispel the common potential misunderstanding of: Buddhism requires no beginning, Physics has Big Bang theory, there’s beginning, therefore Buddhism is wrong. I show that physics doesn’t have Big Bang pinned down, there’s cyclic cosmology, thus one cannot use current Physics cosmology to say that Buddhism is wrong.

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I’d recommend you have at look at this article about the history of cosmological theories.

The Buddha’s contemporaries in iron-age India had their own ideas about cosmology, and these were closely tied to religious beliefs. But I don’t see the relevance of this stuff to modern Buddhist practice.

Yeah I don’t really like the Aganna Sutta.
The argument that he was telling the story in order to convince Brahmins using their own cosmology I also don’t buy because after all the Buddha is not supposed to lie/deceive and the creation myth he is expounding manages to be more ridiculous than the Abrahamic one.

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