Existence and Buddha   Leave a comment

Darwin sought to explain the splendid multiformity of the living world—thousands of organisms of the most diverse kinds, from lowly worms to spectacular birds of paradise, from yeasts and molds to oaks and orchids. His On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) is a sustained argument showing that the diversity of organisms and their characteristics can be explained as the result of natural processes.

Speciation, the formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution. Speciation involves the splitting of a single evolutionary lineage into two or more genetically independent lineages. Species come about as the result of gradual change prompted by natural selection. Environments are continuously changing in time, and they differ from place to place. Natural selection therefore favours different characteristics in different situations. The accumulation of differences eventually yields different species.

Everyday experience teaches that there are different kinds of organisms and also teaches how to identify them. Everyone knows that people belong to the human species and are different from cats and dogs, which in turn are different from each other. There are differences between people, as well as between cats and dogs, but individuals of the same species are considerably more similar among themselves than they are to individuals of other species.

Individuals of a species share a common gene pool that is not shared by individuals of other species. Different species have independently evolving gene pools because they are reproductively isolated. The ability to interbreed is of great evolutionary importance, because it determines that species are independent evolutionary units. Evolutionary trees are models that seek to reconstruct the evolutionary history of taxa—i.e., species or other groups of organisms, such as genera, families, or orders. The trees embrace two kinds of information related to evolutionary change, cladogenesis and anagenesis.

The branching relationships of the trees reflect the relative relationships of ancestry, or cladogenesis. Thus, in the right side of the figure, humans and rhesus monkeys are seen to be more closely related to each other than either is to the horse. Stated another way, this tree shows that the last common ancestor to all three species lived in a more remote past than the last common ancestor to humans and monkeys.

Evolutionary trees may also indicate the changes that have occurred along each lineage, or anagenesis. Thus, in the evolution of cytochrome c since the last common ancestor of humans and rhesus monkeys (again, the right side of the figure), one amino acid changed in the lineage going to humans but none in the lineage going to rhesus monkeys.

DNA is thus especially important in the study of evolution. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the molecule that makes up an organism’s genome in the nucleus of every cell. It consists of genes, which are the molecular codes for proteins – the building blocks of our tissues and their functions.  It also consists of the molecular codes that regulate the output of genes – that is, the timing and degree of protein-making. DNA shapes how an organism grows up and the physiology of its blood, bone, and brains. The amount of difference in DNA is a test of the difference between one species and another – and thus how closely or distantly related they are.

While the genetic difference between individual humans today is minuscule – about 0.1%, on average – study of the same aspects of the chimpanzee genome indicates a difference of about 1.2%. The bonobo (Pan paniscus), which is the close cousin of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), differs from humans to the same degree. The DNA difference with gorillas, another of the African apes, is about 1.6%. Most importantly, chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans all show this same amount of difference from gorillas. A difference of 3.1% distinguishes us and the African apes from the Asian great ape, the orangutan. How do the monkeys stack up?  All of the great apes and humans differ from rhesus monkeys, for example, by about 7% in their DNA.

Geneticists have come up with a variety of ways of calculating the percentages, which give different impressions about how similar chimpanzees and humans are. The 1.2% chimp-human distinction, for example, involves a measurement of only substitutions in the base building blocks of those genes that chimpanzees and humans share. A comparison of the entire genome, however, indicates that segments of DNA have also been deleted, duplicated over and over, or inserted from one part of the genome into another. When these differences are counted, there is an additional 4 to 5% distinction between the human and chimpanzee genomes.

No matter how the calculation is done, the big point still holds: humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos are more closely related to one another than either is to gorillas or any other primate. From the perspective of this powerful test of biological kinship, humans are not only related to the great apes – we are one. The DNA evidence leaves us with one of the greatest surprises in biology: the wall between human, on the one hand, and ape or animal, on the other, has been breached. The human evolutionary tree is embedded within the great apes.

The strong similarities between humans and the African great apes led Charles Darwin in 1871 to predict that Africa was the likely place where the human lineage branched off from other animals – that is, the place where the common ancestor of chimpanzees, humans, and gorillas once lived. The DNA evidence shows an amazing confirmation of this daring prediction. The African great apes, including humans, have a closer kinship bond with one another than the African apes have with orangutans or other primates.

The number of genetic differences between humans and chimps is ten times smaller than that between mice and rats. Scientists also discovered that some classes of genes are changing unusually quickly in both humans and chimpanzees, as compared with other mammals. These classes include genes involved in the perception of sound, transmission of nerve signals, and the production of sperm.

Despite the similarities in human and chimp genomes, the scientists identified some 40 million differences among the three billion DNA molecules, or nucleotides, in each genome. By comparing human and chimpanzee genomes, the researchers have identified several sequences of genetic code that differ between human and chimp. These sequences may hold the most promise for determining what creates human-specific traits such as speech. The vast majority of those differences are not biologically significant, but researchers were able to identify a couple thousand differences that are potentially important to the evolution of the human lineage.

“If you look at two species of frogs over 10 million years, you probably won’t see a lot of the morphological or behavioral differences that you see between humans and chimps,” said Li, who wrote an accompanying commentary on the chimp genome sequencing for Nature. Eichler and his colleagues found that the human and chimp sequences differ by only 1.2 percent in terms of single-nucleotide changes to the genetic code. Humans and chimps originate from a common ancestor, and scientists believe they diverged some six million years ago.

“The goal is to answer the basic question: What makes us humans?” said Eichler.

There are several hypotheses that account for the evolution of human traits.  However, Scientists agree that many questions remain unanswered but the chimp genome provides important clues to understanding what makes us human. Yet that tiny portion of unshared DNA makes a world of difference: it gives us, for instance, our bipedal stance and the ability to plan missions to Mars. Scientists do not yet know how most of the DNA that is uniquely ours affects gene function. But they can conduct whole-genome analyses—with intriguing results. For example, comparing the 33 percent of our genome that codes for proteins with our relatives’ genomes reveals that although the sum total of our genetic differences is small, the individual differences pervade the genome, affecting each of our chromosomes in numerous ways.

If human beings or higher vertebrates have genesis from prior stages of the primates as all linked and delinked in evolutionary process, then, why animals do not metamorphosis from apes to human in this life time. Now, as most people know, caterpillars are short, stubby and have no wings at all. To become a butterfly, a caterpillar first digests itself. But certain groups of cells survive, turning the soup into eyes, wings, antennae and other adult structures. Within the chrysalis the old body parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a remarkable transformation, called ‘metamorphosis,’ to become the beautiful parts that make up the butterfly that will emerge. Tissue, limbs and organs of a caterpillar have all been changed by the time the pupa is finished, and is now ready for the final stage of a butterfly’s life cycle.

The realms

Buddhism has six realms into which a soul can be reborn. From most to least pleasant, these are:

  1. Heaven, the home of the gods (devas): this is a realm of enjoyment inhabited by blissful, longer-lived beings. It is subdivided by later sources into 26 levels of increasing happiness.
  2. The realm of humanity: although humans suffer, this is considered the most fortunate state because humans have the greatest chance of enlightenment
  3. The realm of the Titans or angry gods (asuras): these are warlike beings who are at the mercy of angry impulses
  4. The realm of the hungry ghosts (pretas): these unhappy beings are bound to the fringes of human existence, unable to leave because of particularly strong attachments. They are unable to satisfy their craving, symbolised by their depiction with huge bellies and tiny mouths
  5. The animal realm: this is undesirable because animals are exploited by human beings, and do not have the necessary self-awareness to achieve liberation
  6. Hell realms: people here are horribly tortured in many creative ways, but not for ever – only until their bad karma is worked off.

The first two levels are good places to be born. These are not all separate realms, but are interlinked in keeping with the Buddhist philosophy that mind and reality are linked. Thus, although humans and animals live together in the same world, the implications of being born as a human and as an animal are very different, and they are represented as two separate realms. And a human being can experience touches of heaven when happy, or the lower states when hateful, greedy, ignorant or in pain. Someone adept at meditation will experience progressively higher heaven realms. These realms are known as the Bhavachakra, the Wheel of Life or Wheel of Becoming. The wheel itself is a circle, symbolising the endless cycle of existence and suffering. All sentient beings ascend or descend between realms according to their karma (action) and fala (result). The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.

There are three schools of thought regarding the origin of the world. The first school of thought claims that this world came into existence by nature and that nature is not an intelligent force. However, nature works no its own accord and goes on changing.

The second school of thought says that the world was created by an almighty God who is responsible for everything.

The third school of thought says that the beginning of this world and of life is inconceivable since they have neither beginning nor end. Buddhism is in accordance with this third school of thought. Bertrand Russell supports this school of thought by saying, ‘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.’

Modern science says that some millions of years ago, the newly cooled earth was lifeless and that life originated in the ocean. Buddhism never claimed that the world, sun, moon, stars, wind, water, days and nights were created by a powerful god or by a Buddha. Buddhists believe that the world was not created once upon a time, but that the world has been created millions of times every second and will continue to do so by itself and will break away by itself. According to Buddhism, world systems always appear and disappear in the universe. As to the nature of the universe, the Buddha said that the beginning and ending of the universe is inconceivable.

Why should the planet earth be the only planet to contain life forms? Earth is a tiny speck in a huge universe. Sir James Jeans, the distinguished astrophysicist, estimates the whole universe to be about one thousand million times as big as the area of space that is visible through the telescope. In his book, The Mysterious Universe, he states that the total number of universes is probably something like the total number of grains of sand on all the sea shores of the world. The Buddha has mentioned that there are thirty-one planes of existence within the universes. They are:

  • 4 States of unhappiness or sub human realms: (life in hells, animal life, ghost-worlds and demon-worlds)
  • 1 Human world.
  • 6 Develokas or heavenly realms.
  • 16 Rupalokas or Realms of Fine-Material Forms.
  • 4 Arupalokas or Formless Realms.

The existence of these other-world systems is yet to be confirmed by modern science. However, modern scientists are now working with the hypothesis that there is a possibility of other forms of life existing on other planets. As a result of today’s rapid scientific progress, we may soon find some living beings on other planets in the remotest parts of the galaxy system.

In the eyes of the Buddha, the world is nothing but Samsara — the cycle of repeated births and deaths. To Him, the beginning of the world and the end of the world is within this Samsara.  One day a man called Malunkyaputta approached the Master and demanded that He explain the origin of the Universe to him. He even threatened to cease to be His follow if the Buddha’s answer was not satisfactory. The Buddha calmly retorted that it was of no consequence to Him whether or not Malunkyaputta followed Him, because the Truth did not need anyone’s support. Then the Buddha said that He would not go into a discussion of the origin of the Universe. To Him, gaining knowledge about such matters was a waste of time because a man’s task was to liberate himself from the present, not the past or the future. To illustrate this, the Enlightened One related the parable of a man who was shot by a poisoned arrow. This foolish man refused to have the arrow removed until he found out all about the person who shot the arrow. By the time his attendants discovered these unnecessary details, the man was dead. Similarly, our immediate task is to attain Nibbana, not to worry about our beginnings.  The Buddha was not interested in this kind of metaphysical speculation that did not lead to the higher spiritual development.

However, in the language of the Buddha, the world is nothing more than the combination, existence, disappearance, and recombination of mind and matter(nama-rupa).

In the final analysis, in physical science, the knowledge of the universe is to enable man to master it for his material comfort and personal safety. But the Buddha teaches that no amount of factual knowledge will ultimately free man from the pain of existence. He must strive alone and diligently until he arrives at a true understanding of his own nature and of the changeable nature of the cosmos. To be truly free a man must seek to tame one’s mind, to destroy one’s craving for sensual pleasure.  With this Right View, one will spend his time and energy wisely conquering own mind and destroying all illusion of self without wasting effort on unimportant and unnecessary issues.

Posted January 14, 2020 by arjunlimbu in Uncategorized

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