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The Origin of Life in the Universe: Buddhist Perspective
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Dr Ruwan M JayatungeM.D.
There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all.The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our thoughts.’ Bertrand Russell
The origin of life has been a subject of speculation in all known cultures. In the modern era, this question has been considered in terms of a scientific framework. Lord Buddha’s’ explanation of the origin of the Universe, compatible with the modern scientific explanation. Buddha described the origin of the Universe and life in the Aganna Sutta 2500 years ago. According to Buddha’s explanation the universe being destroyed and then re-evolving into its present form over a period of millions of years. The Buddha did not believe in the existence of a supreme god or creator of the universe. The Lord
Buddha presented a model of cosmology wherein the universe expands
and contracts over extremely long periods of time, this description has been found by some to be consistent with the expanding universe model and Big Bang. The Buddha explained that the universe expands outward, reaches a stabilizing point, and then reverts its motion back toward a central point resulting in its destruction, this process again to be repeated infinitely.
The Big Bang Theory
Sir Fred Hoyle – a renowned British astronomer coined the term “Big
Bang. Big Bang Theory explains the beginning of the universe. The big bang theory proposes that the universe was once extremely compact, dense, and hot. Some original event, a cosmic explosion called the big bang, occurred about 13.7 billion years ago, and the universe has since been expanding and cooling. The theory is based on the mathematical equations, known as the field equations, of the general
theory of relativity set forth in 1915 by Albert Einstein.
The AggaƒÆ’†’±ƒÆ’†’±a Sutta, found in the Pali Canon, in which the Buddha, speaking to the monk Vasettha, a former Brahmin, states the following:
“Now there comes a time, Vasettha, when after a long period of time this world expands.
In this stanza the term world has a wider understanding. Here the Buddha refers to the Universe. The Buddha said “Space has no end, and there are endless numbers of worlds.” This means that the universe has no limit, and has an endless number of stars and planets.
The big bang was initially suggested because it explains why distant galaxies are traveling away from us at great speeds. The theory also predicts the existence of cosmic background radiation. The Big Bang Theory received its strongest confirmation when this radiation was discovered in 1964 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, who later won the Nobel Prize for this discovery.
Origin of Species
AggaƒÆ’†’±ƒÆ’†’±a Sutta is in complete agreement with scientific evolution. The AggaƒÆ’†’±ƒÆ’†’±a Sutta presents water as pre-existent to earthlike planets, with the planet forming with water and the life moving from the water onto the earth. The first life formed on the surface of the water and again, over countless millions of years, evolved from simple into complex organisms. . According to Buddhism, world systems always appear and disappear in the universe.
The Buddha further says,
There comes a time, Vasettha, when, after the lapse of a long, long period, this world died. And when this happens, beings have mostly been reborn into the Realm of Radiance [as devas]; and there they dwell, made of mind, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, traversing the air, continuing in glory; and thus they remain for a long, long period of time. There comes also a time, Vasettha, when sooner or later this world begins to re-evolve. When this happens, beings who had deceased from the World of Radiance usually come to life as humans…now at that time, all had become one world of water, dark, and of darkness that makes blind. No moon nor sun appeared, no stars were seen, nor constellations, neither was night manifest nor day, neither months nor half-months, neither years nor seasons, neither female nor male.
Beings were reckoned just as beings only. And to those beings, Vasettha, sooner or later after a long time, earth with its savours was spread out in the waters, even as a scum forms on the surface of boiled milky rice that is cooling, so did the earth appear.”
“Now there comes a time, Vasettha, when after a long period of time this world expands. When the world expands beings for the most part fall from the realm of Radiance and come here; and they exist made of mind, feeding on joy, self-luminous, moving through the air, constantly beautiful; thus they remain for a long, long time. Now at that time, all had become one world of water dark, and of darkness that makes blind. No moon nor sun appeared no stars were seen, nor constellations, neither was night manifest nor day, neither months nor half-months, neither years nor seasons, neither female nor male.
Beings were reckoned just as beings only. And to those beings, Vasettha, sooner or later after a long time, earth with its savors was spread out in the waters. Even as a scum forms on the surface of boiled milky rice that is cooling, so did the earth appear. ~
The “beings” that The Buddha he described in this sutra are attached
to an earthlike planet, get reborn there, and remain there for the duration of the life. As a result of this, physical characteristics change and evolutionary changes take place. This is could be interpreted as a form of evolution.
Modern science says that some millions of years ago, life originated
in the ocean which evolved from simple into complex organisms. All these processes are without beginning or end, and are set in motion by natural causes. World came into existence by nature and that nature is not an intelligent force.
For centuries the origin of Life was thought to be the result of Abiogenesis .The doctrine of Spontaneous Generation holds that organic life could and does arise from inorganic matter. Louis Pasteur disproved Spontaneous Generation. Buddhism never claimed that the world, life, sun, moon, stars, wind, water, days and nights were created by a powerful god.
The Theory of Evolution
Darwin believed all the life on Earth developed gradually over millions of years from a few common ancestors. Darwin’s general theory presumes the development of life from non-life and stresses a purely naturalistic (undirected) “descent with modification”. That is, complex creatures evolve from more simplistic ancestors naturally over time. In a nutshell, as random genetic mutations occur within an organism’s genetic code, the beneficial mutations are preserved because they aid survival — a process known as “natural selection.”
These beneficial mutations are passed on to the next generation.
Primordial Soup Theory
Aleksandr Ivanovich Oparin developed one of the first modern theories about the origin of life on Earth .The theory which in 1924 made Oparin famous concerns abiogenesis, the spontaneous generation of life from non-living chemical substances. Oparin believed that conditions on primitive Earth were different to those of the present. He suggested that the ancient seas were like a ‘primeval soup’ which contained many organic compounds. These were created when sunlight, a virtually limitless source of energy, reacted with chemicals in the water. These organic compounds formed the basis of life. They combined, becoming increasingly complex, until living cells were formed. The Primordial Soup Theory suggest that life began in a pond or ocean as a result of the combination of chemicals from the atmosphere and some form of energy to make amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which would then evolve into all the species. The Primordial Soup Theory states that Life began in a warm pond/ocean from a combination of chemicals that forms amino acids, which then make proteins. This is supposed to happen at least 3.8 billion to 3.55 billion years ago.
Definition of life
Living beings are protein-made bodies formed by one or more cells that communicate with the environment through information transfer carried out by electric impulses or chemical substances, and capable of morpholigical evolution and metabolism, growth and reproduction.
Life is a chemical system able to replicate itself through autocatalysis and to make mistakes that gradually increase the efficiency of the autocatalysis.
DNA and Life
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus. DNA is the genetic material of all cells, containing coded information about cellular molecules and processes. DNA consists of two polynucleotide strands twisted around each other in a double helix.
Dr. Ponnamperuma’s Research
Dr.Cyril Ponnamperuma, an eminent researcher at the University of
Maryland, whose career focused on explorations into the origin of life
and the “primordial soup” that contained the precursors of life. Dr.
Ponnamperuma began to delve into this primordial soup and set up variations of Miller and Urey’s original experiment.
The classic experiment was conducted in 1953 by Dr. Harold C. Urey and Dr. Stanley L. Miller. They assumed the early atmosphere was rich in hydrogen, as that is the most abundant element in the universe. And so they mixed methane and ammonia, which contain hydrogen atoms, with molecular hydrogen and water vapor in a flask. They introduced a continuous electric spark, to provide the energy that might have come from lightning. Out of the resulting chemical reactions came a residue of more complex molecules, including some amino acids. These molecules collected in the water in a lower flask, which simulated the early oceans, and suggested what might have been the hypothetical primordial soup in which living molecules came together.
Having changed the proportions of the elements from the original Miller-Urey specifications slightly, Ponnamperuma and his team sent first high-energy electrons, then ultraviolet light through the mixture, attempting to recreate the original conditions of the earth before life. They succeeded in creating large amounts of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an amino acid that fuels cells. In later experiments with the same concoction of primordial soup, the team was able to create the nucleotides that make up nucleic acid“”‚
the building blocks of DNA and ribonucleic acid (RNA).Theory of Panspermia Dr. Chandra Wickramasinghe – Professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy, School of Mathematics, Cardiff University, UK asserted:
“Life did not start here on earth but in space . Theory known as
panspermia- the science that teaches earth and other planets in the universe may have been seeded for life by microorganisms carrying comets. Life did not start in a primordial soup spontaneously here on earth as believed earlier but it started 4000 million years ago on comets and traveled through space to earth and countless other planets. He played a key role in establishing a connection between astronomy and biology. His work in the 1980’s showed for the first time that cosmic dust had properties that resembled the properties of living material and their degradation products. The concept of life
being a cosmic phenomenon supported by space science, geology and
biology. In this context life on Earth resulted from the introduction of bacteria from comets, and the subsequent evolution of life required the continuing input of genes from comets. Viable bacteria are of cosmic origin. They were present already in the material from which the solar system condensed and their number was then topped up substantially by replication in cometary material. Thus the impacts of cometary material would have brought them to Earth.The idea of life being a cosmic phenomenon is fully in tune with Buddhist as well as Vedic philosophy.
Buddhism teaches that every man in the universe is his own lord, controls his own destiny, and is not controlled by any other man or
any supernatural God. In Malunkyaputta’s story the Buddha
explained the debate of origin of the universe is a waste of time.
According to the Lord Buddha man’s instantaneous problem is his own suffering and his task is to liberate himself from the Sansara. To exemplify this, the Buddha explains the tale of a man who was shot by a poisoned arrow. This unwise man refused to have the arrow removed until he was told who shot the arrow, what he looks like, his cast , names of his parents ,the kind of wood the arrow was made of and so forth. The Buddha said that before the man could achieve complete information, he would be dead. Likewise, our immediate mission is to be enlightened, not to speculate about the metaphysical
3 Responses to “The Origin of Life in the Universe: Buddhist Perspective”
Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:
January 28th, 2010 at 12:43 am
Dear Editor, this is an interesting article, my reason to visit your site. This is a good opportunity to test Sinhalaness of any migrant with a Sinhala name. I mean if this article and my comment are read without falling asleep in the middle, you have a truly Sinhala brain left to rot. In fact, what we need is the kind of people who challenge themselves and venture into the unknown. Recent elections in Sinhale’ proved that loyalty takes precedence in our judgement. Since such behaviour is common, I thought of going back in history on my comments. Obviously, my comments are neither populist nor towing someone else’s line. I hope there are readers among your clients who would see through my comments as we need such people to face future challenges. For others, please ignore my comment reminding that there was a faithful follower of an article offering renewable energy solutions based on a private visit to Spain, who failed to understand the comments made by someone else who has advanced expertise in Solar and Wind Energy applications including the advanced technology used by ancient Sinhala civilisation for metal manufacturing industry.
It is true that vast majority of Buddhist teachings carry bits and pieces of immensely advanced knowledge. Interestingly, we came across far more advanced knowledge as to the origin of life and those events that decide our existence, when digging deep into ancient Sinhala civilisation. Though it is understandable that our thoughts are driven by our faith in Buddhist teachings, we have found that it was a very narrow version of ancient Sinhala knowledge. When we run the tests of originality of knowledge, there is no evidence to support that Buddha created all the words, the labels of knowledge, used to preach. By my own personal experience, I know how hard to drive home the meaning of a newly created single word. But extension to so many words raises serious questions as to the ownership of knowledge contained in Buddhist preachings. We have found evidence that vast majority of Buddhist teachings were originally of Hindu religious beliefs customised into a different format to suit the desire to end the humanness and attain a state beyond the imaginable that does not create the physical existence, a cyclic version according to Buddhist teachings. But, we came across ancient Sinhala knowledge, the original source of Hindu knowledge base, that provides knowledge so wide and deep, these preachings are minuscule by nature.
When it comes to western knowledge, they are totally based on speculation to suit the circumstances and remain valid as long as an alternative speculation is not convincingly presented. Refer Big bang theory, the light rays reaching earth that took a very long time have shown the picture of events that occurred so long ago. It is pertinent to question whether that happened to planets around our space at the same time. If so, our bodies could have been turned into light particles going through the space now from the same point of view. Isn’t it?
You say “In this stanza the term world has a wider understanding. Here the Buddha refers to the Universe.” I wonder whether such extension of meaning is justifiable. We have found some interesting ancient Sinhala version of this theory that comes with many more elements of knowledge on this matter. Can we assume that what we have today was always there in the past?
Refer theories of relativity, I wonder whether there is someone who could tell our own absolute speed of travel while resting on planet Earth?
We find it interesting to note that we have come across ancient Sinhala thinking on life as much closer to our findings than Buddhist version. Instead of putting Buddha at the top, when we place earlier human knowledge, we find that life has many versions than what is preached in Buddhism. As a concept based on Karma, it has limited itself to a single group of possibilities. But original version of knowledge had many other options than Karma, thus contributing to a multitude of means to create life. We suggest that life has elements that may look like eternal in some respects quite contrary to cyclic nature concluded in Buddhist teachings. Essentially, life is a product of nature that exists in reality in an infinite number of versions with a clear logical formation, quite contrary to the cyclic nature that limits the life to a lesser number.
Some teachings borrowed from Hinduism demands a better understanding of Hinduism. In that faith, pretension is more akin to personal interest than the truth. In other words, if there are people who pretend to know something, what they utter is not the truth , but essentially a set of words designed to outsmart the client. So some beyond the world explanations are as good as fairy tales created to get the attention than to reflect the truth.
Existence of matter in various forms is a result of natural production. For those who can re-create the same processes, there is nothing strange or creative as such. Denial of existence, self interest and self-belief are all elements of individuality that should be taken into account when accepting preachings.
What is essentially a natural event does not necessarily mean different when the original phase is considered. In other words, I wonder whether there is any change in events that occurred through out the time given the repetitive nature of many events. I am suspecting whether westerners used Buddhist preachings to build their speculative concepts as done in many other instances of copying others and taking ownership, a matter of survival for academics in modern day and age.
Obviously there are many theories as to the origin of life, either as religious preachings or scientific speculations. When a natural approach is adopted without imaginative components, there are two concepts that explain the life, a continuously regenerating and adjusting entity to new environments or vice versa, that also explains both Buddhist and Christian versions of observations that led to establish their preachings. One of these natural approach based concepts fails the test of continuity and improvements. So there exists a more natural and down to earth concept left with us, which is very close to ancient Sinhala thinking, but not yet published. This remained valid for all the cases that we know proving its naturalness, an essential quality to explain a natural event.
All western theories of evolution come with speculation to fit the circumstances. But when extended to other circumstances, they miserably fail. There are some built on physical appearance such as humans come from apes. But there are not many who question that there are both apes and humans at the same time. As well, I wonder why they could not take into account such things as internal components to justify this kind of speculation. As an example, a suggestion that humans evolved from rats would be also acceptable given the similarities found in digestive systems. However, our natural concept mentioned above stood tests like these and is fully capable of explaining the spectrum of life reaching to infinite numbers that do change, die out or remain stable according to the time.
Definition of life- Your suggestion is interesting as it recognises life as a chemical system. We have considered it as a very advanced biochemical manufacturing system. However, I wonder whether it could create itself and its purpose. We wonder whether it is more a vehicle than a living being for some reasons. We find it amazing as our own work leads to exactly the same kind of knowledge found in ancient Sinhala civilisation on life.
Many of the western concepts are based on certain speculative ideas that make the foundation. As an example, the notion of basic materials, sub particles, etc. form this basis. If they are not true, everything built on them becomes sand castles. In fact, we have found means to prove that the concepts used are wrong and all these materials are not only changeable, they can be re-created using the same methods that exist in nature, which contributed to create them in the first place. What was essentially a primitive means employed in Alchemy, does not mean that there are not any other ways to realise the same.
Essentially human body is made of what exists in nature. So there is no secret that we can produce them in laboratories as done by many. But can they lead to creation of a life form is the crucial question? As well, there is a big difference in laboratory production and natural production as the nature does not do what we do in laboratories.
There are some theories pointing to life coming from space through various means. But earth itself is part of space and does it need any other planet or part of comets to make life on it. We can keep on speculating on how life originated. The real test is how our theories apply to life that we know in physical form and our ability to create new versions of life.
In fact, we are trying our best to create a form of life to suit our specifications. We have succeeded in defining some of the life specifications. One such research work is out in the public since mid nineties and widely used in technology fields as an essential subject. We have done more work in this area since that time and accidentally came across some ancient Sinhala knowledge to our own surprise. We feel ashamed that we are more like re-inventing wheels and since then we have become ardent defenders of Sinhala civilisation. In fact, the knowledge they amassed is huge and what we talk here may look more like stone age hubris in comparison. Some of their real achievements may exceed even some fairy tales. I hope there are individuals who love digging deep into such knowledge as our future depends on it.
Let me end my comment as follows to complement your wisdom. Life is a virtual entity that merely exist. It neither lives nor dies, but tries to seek a virtual physical presence in this realm. Our physical being may be products, more precisely lab rats, created by life to find such virtual beings. I believe that it is achievable and we must strive to seek virtual presence as we ourselves are represented by life in various forms. Interestingly the Sinhala desire to live longer may be the true reflection of life in its original form. When you come to know ancient Sinhala knowledge, Buddhism may look like the work of a grade one student, and western theories will be more closer to stinking garbage.
anura seneviratna Says:
January 28th, 2010 at 6:38 am
Priyantha A’s response is unique and many thanks.
“When you come to know ancient Sinhala knowledge, Buddhism may look like the work of a grade one student, and western theories will be more closer to stinking garbage”.
It is time to stop looking outward but to look inward. It is apt to ponder why Buddha visited only Heladiva when there were many other countries great and small? Not blowing own trumpet but for a change to search within our heritage after having searched all over including Buddhism!
Dov Henis Says:
August 22nd, 2010 at 7:25 pm
Origin And Nature Of Natural Selection
Update Concepts And Comprehension
Life is another mass format. All mass formats are subject to natural selection. Natural selection is delaying conversion of mass to energy fueling cosmic expansion. Cosmic expansion is reconversion of all mass to energy.
Natural Selection Updated 2010 Beyond Historical Concepts
Natural Selection applies to ALL mass formats. Life is just one of them. Natural Selection Defined:
Natural selection is E (energy) temporarily constrained in an m (mass) format. Period.
Natural selection is a ubiquitous property of each and every and all cosmic mass, spin array, formats. Mass strives to increase its constrained energy content in attempt to postpone its conversion to energy and the addition of its constitutional energy to the totality of the cosmic energy that keeps fueling the cosmic expansion that goes on since the big bang.