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Global Philosophical Perspectives of Evolution

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<Biology – Table of Contents>

There is at the moment, especially in North America, some kind of animosity between the creationists, who regard the Christian Bible as the ultimate touchstone of truth, and the evolutionist scientists who do not adhere to fundamentalistic Christian ideas. Creationists usually take at least part of the creation story of the Bible literally (i.e. physically); this means they view, rather un-intuitively, only the superficial meanings of the words in their holy scripture. I think that if the creationists would read and understand their own Bible well and without cultural prejudices, they would be in harmony with scientific findings, though not their interpretation and explanation of the facts. The Bible was written some 2000 years ago, and when words like “God “ and “creation” were then used to explain the course of events in cosmogenesis and anthropogenesis for the common people of those days, these were only general terms which inherently were open to refined interpretation by intellect and intuition by later, more knowledgeable and subtle minds. We can hardly suspect such altruistic, wise and self-sacrificing personalities as Jesus Christ and the inspirers of the fundamental passages of the Old Testament to have talked out of ignorant fantasy and then labeled it as “Truth”. The same can be said of Kṛṣṇa, Buddha, Mahāvīra and very many others – or more correctly, the avatāras, buddhas and tīrthaṅkaras, bodhisattvas, nirmāṇakāyas – who had a great influence on the spirituality and ethics of humankind.

It seems that modern science has thrown away “God” – the  symbol of highest spirituality – and has embraced physical matter. The God of the popular Bible interpretation of the last centuries has become philosophically untenable. But physical matter and its (supposed) qualities as only truly fundamental fact in the universe also raises many questions which can not be satisfactorily answered. But why not turn to the wisdom, exposed or hidden, in the many wisdom scriptures of the world written throughout the ages when the human mind was expanding, which were, according to their adherents, all given to humankind by divine beings? The only thing that is true about the becoming and evolution of the cosmos is how it actually happened. I would grasp any handle that has been provided to humankind to gain a deeper understanding of the facts we perceive – and the facts we do not yet perceive.

Mainstream scientists have rejected the Biblical God. But is that a reason to reject intelligence, consciousness, or a direction in the universe? If we use the more refined and subtle possibilities of our mind, without any fear of losing the ideas we are attached to, ever ready to leave them behind and move onward, and accept the help of the great thoughts of cultures other than those we have been embedded in during the last few millennia, we can make great leaps ahead in our understandings of nature, and perhaps nurture our minds with a real “theory of everything” which includes the phenomena of intelligence, thought, feeling, intuition, beauty, and goodness and even the “inexplicable,” the paranormal, mystical and occult phenomena in ourselves and nature.

When Darwin expounded his ideas on evolution, he built his argument on a number of assumptions which naturally were products of the culture in which he was raised. One of them is survival of the fittest, another struggle for life; still another, competition. This is very understandable within the context of nineteenth century England with its economic competition, its hardships and individual struggles for existence of almost every family. But we may ask ourselves whether the scientific facts that Darwin gathered and knew from earlier research, would have been combined into the same evolutionary theory if he had been born in another cultural context or time period.

Let us first investigate what is the common denominator of each of these three concepts, and then look at them individually. All three are regarded as the motivating forces behind evolution, and all look upon the matter from the individual point of view. That means that it is assumed that the forces of evolution are to be found within the individual. Each individual strives for its own success. This may be done either in competition, or in cooperation with others. But cooperation is within the Darwinist framework only a strategy of the individual for its own good. If the cooperation is no longer useful, it might drop it as well, without consideration for the other party. Thus the forces behind evolution are regarded as self-oriented, or selfish. In modern Darwinism this idea has been taken to its limit: Richard Dawkins, as we saw, postulates that the evolutionary force exists even beyond the selfish individual, in the genes. An individual in all its complexity is no more than a servant to the survival strategy of its genes, which he calls “the selfish gene.”

But even with Dawkins’ theory we can not answer the question why the gene wishes to survive, and what is the actual nature of the survival force. We will come back to this later.

If Darwin would have been born into another culture, and would have had the same intelligence, opportunities and knowledge of scientific fact without the prejudices of occidental culture, things might have worked out differently. Imagine that he would have been a Native American. Oneness, unity, brotherhood in nature and cooperation might have been the first things to think of when composing a theory. He might have seen cooperation for the benefit of all beings as the driving force behind evolution. If he would have been a Mahāyāna Buddhist, uninfluenced by western ways of thinking, or a theosophist, he would have started from the axiom that compassion or unselfishness is the most fundamental force in nature. He could never have built a theory based on concepts of selfishness. Had he been a Jain, he would have seen the omnipresent force of the soul, its omniscience and omnipotence, as well as the law of karma behind all processes of nature. As a Christian – without any dogmas – he might have seen creative intelligence and love as driving forces. Darwin was however a child of an age of materialism and dogmatized occidental religion, and hardly a more pessimistic standpoint could have been taken than he did. Let us investigate the philosophical soundness of each of his concepts.

Modern occidental science tries to explain all phenomena from the properties of matter and its supposed blindness, which finds expression in processes as chance. Nevertheless evolutionary theory has to accept one metaphysical concept: the desire to survive. Desire is a property that seems to belong uniquely to consciousness. But usually we would not in the west assign consciousness to the simplest organisms, let alone genes. One may question why the very first organisms or DNA molecules would want to survive. Was this “given” to them as an instinct? Did they have fear of death, so that they wished to avoid that? Why would they fear death, and how would they have acquired that? Fear seems to be an emotion of a more highly evolved kind, linked to a distinction of what is pleasant and unpleasant. And again, was it given to them? And if we want to believe that it was given to them by God or gods, who created God or the gods, where did He or they get the intelligence from? Postulating a god would lead us to the question of how this god was created or by which chance processes he (or she) had come into existence. This leads to a regressus ad infinitum.

If we wish to assign desire or selfishness to the earliest organisms on earth from which all others are supposed to have evolved, and at the same time wish to avoid the belief in a greater conscious cosmic mind or minds preceding the coming into existence of life on earth, we might postulate a gene that has the urge to survival as its very character. This gene might have come into existence by chance. It must be so powerful that it overrides all other tendencies and guides life from the beginning into the development of strategies to survive. None of the other genes would naturally have the policy to survive, so they might mutate in any direction. I am not aware that such a “survival-gene” has ever been discovered.

We could however do, as many scientists believe, without such metaphysical conceptions as desire or selfishness or compassion. The first self-reproducing gene just happened to come into existence. Since that moment, nature may have mutated in all possible ways, and have failed millions or billions or trillions of times to produce viable offspring. Because many products failed immediately we know nothing of them. Only the few successes survived, and formed the basis on which the rest of evolution was built. But there were no driving forces such as selfishness, struggle, competition and so on. We must then conclude that nature has no wish to survive, compete, struggle, cooperate or help others at all. Nature just is. Ethical concepts are then just later productions of human self-consciousness, after the moment when this self-consciousness happened to be produced. Ethical concepts may be useful in maintaining life and furthering evolution, but would have no reality in themselves.

The alternative is that ethical concepts do have reality in themselves, and that metaphysical facts do form the basis and drive behind the phenomena of nature. In that case all the things that we see in ourselves are there because they are reflections within ourselves of universal principles. We are conscious because consciousness is inherent in the universe. We are intelligent, compassionate or the opposite, because these things are inherent possibilities of the use of mind, universal as well as personal. So it is a matter of choice whether we go for a blind nature or an all-conscious nature. As stated many times, the western tradition is almost unique in its materialistic and chance-directed approach. With physical senses and instruments we may not be able to perceive things outside the realm of physical matter, but that does not prove that they do not exist. We can not perceive thoughts – except our own – in a direct way. No sense faculty of an average person can perceive directly the thoughts of others. I can not even directly perceive that any being besides myself has consciousness at all. I can perceive the material expressions of others, and conclude that they have consciousness like myself, but this is an indirect way of knowing. If I see the rich expressions of nature I may as well conclude that nature is highly conscious throughout, but this too is indirect knowledge.

All things considered, it seems from a philosophical point of view equally legitimate to either reject or accept metaphysical forces behind life and evolution. It is a matter of choice. If we make the right choice, the other view is wrong. We must investigate thoroughly before we come to a conclusion. The consequences for our view of life and our psychology are huge. This is not to be taken lightly.

 

The origin of life

Life, when it came into existence, was a novelty for our planet, perhaps for our solar system, perhaps even for the entire universe. The probability that the first molecule that is indispensable for life is ever formed by chance is so small that it may have been a one time event in the universe. But it is generally supposed that life developed in many other places besides earth. Many stars have been found to have planets around them, and it is plausible to suppose that there are millions of planets in the universe which meet, like our early earth did, the conditions for life to exist. But so far there is no conclusive proof that anything that meets the scientific definition of life does in fact exist outside our own globe.

The presumed condition for the formation of life is a chemical and physical environment in which chemical reactions could take place, within the boundaries of the given properties of the chemical elements, which would lead to some composition that was viable and self-reproductive. The first living creature thus formed must have had the “luck” not to perish immediately in the presumably hostile chemical environment – though locally the chemical milieu may have been more friendly – and must have been able to procreate speedily into such quantities that at least a little bit of this living matter would survive any environmental hazards. This first living “creature” or piece of matter must at once have had a quite complex economy. If we can imagine a simple self-reproducing DNA molecule being formed by chance, we must at the same time imagine a protective and suitable environment, and a kind of membrane surrounding it or another way of isolating it. DNA cannot reproduce on its own. It needs all kinds of enzymes (which are proteins) to bring about the complex chemistry of reproduction. That means that this first DNA molecule was not only self-reproductive, but already carried the information to make proteins. For proteins to be built on the basis of the information present in DNA, a considerable number of amino acids (nowadays we need about 20 different ones) must have been available in the direct environment. Amino acids can indeed be formed in vitro where hypothetical primordial atmospheres and meteorological circumstances are imitated, as appears from experiences by Miller and others. But proteins are complex sequences of amino acids, and proteins suitable for life to be formed this way would be highly improbable. In cells, proteins are formed in “factories,” ribosomes, and not directly, but via DNA related RNA carrying the message. So it seems that this first DNA must also have carried the information on which to build ribosomes or functionally comparable structures. Not only the information about the composition of the ribosomes etc., but also the information on all the steps in the process and to guide the process in the right order.

RNA has been found to have catalytic properties (Hirao, 1995),[2] but they are far less suitable for the task than proteins. It has been suggested that in the first period, when DNA and RNA had been “invented,” but suitable proteins were not yet available, RNA could have carried out the needed catalization (Denton 1998 [3] p. 186). Because it can carry information and at the same time function as an enzyme, RNA could have worked on its own, both reproducing, catalyzing and carrying information. But even if it were efficient enough to do so and maintain itself, we remain with the same question: how did it come into existence for the first time, and how did it get its complex apparently goal-directed information?

To imagine that even the simplest form of living matter or the simplest organism came about by chance boggles the minds of a mathematician who wishes to calculate the probability of it. Chemist Robert Shapiro in his Origins ((Shapiro, Robert, Origins: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life, Summit Books,New York, 1986.)) calculated that in the extremely oversimplified case that life started not with DNA, but with only ten very small hypothetical “primitive enzymes” – proteins built of no more than 25 amino acids of four types (instead of the usual 20) – in an environment that would be absurdly favorable, the chance of formation of this set of molecules would be about 1 in 10150 (p. 296). The chance that this would happen once in a billion years would be no more than 1 in 1090. Others calculated that the chance of DNA being formed would be even much smaller, even in the order of 1 in 10100,000 or less. These calculations are of course speculative in themselves, because we do not know everything about the chemistry in those circumstances. But chemistry alone has never shown the ability to rise very far above the level of order in which it finds itself in the beginning, even under the stressed conditions described by Ilya Prigogine et al.

The simplest complete organisms we know, are still very much more complex than a mere DNA molecule and the chemical processes surrounding it. François Jacob, in his The Logic of Life,[4] mentioned that the bacterial cell “carries out some two thousand distinct reactions with incomparable skill, in the smallest space imaginable … without ever becoming tangled” (p. 272).

One may object that however small the chance, the chance is always there, and that such an event would happen today is as great as it would be on a day trillions of years ago or in the future. Nevertheless it seems to me in every sense reasonable to conclude that even the simplest form of life being formed by chance may safely be ruled out. There must have been a natural factor greatly enhancing the processes of the formation of life. Even if there were a catalyzing agent at hand, speeding things up thousands or millions of times, this would make little difference to the overall probability. Not only should this agent be catalyzing, it should also be steering. What this agent might be, and how this factor itself would have been formed if it existed, remains a mystery for science.

Let us summarize some of the points that could be brought in from the non-occidental traditions discussed in this work.

 

A Buddhist approach

As we have discussed earlier, for example in the General Introduction, most traditions do not recognize a beginning of life. This is true of the Buddhist view. The universe is beginningless, and has always been the stage of living beings running their cyclic courses. Mind is regarded as more essential than physical matter, and is not limited to physical matter. Every living being, as long as it has not accomplished its own liberation, continually dies and reincarnates. Between incarnations the experiences of the mind continue, as is clear, for example, from the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thödol). Death is an apparent state of rest, but it is also digestion and the reaping of the mental results of the past life, and preparation for the next birth. A chain of cause and effect, expressed as the twelve nidānas, leads to rebirth again and again. If evolution theory would have germinated in Buddhist soil, then what we call the beginning of life would have been regarded as a new rebirth of living beings after their period of digestion and gestation outside the world of physical matter. Before the first forms of life manifested in a material form for the first time on this earth, they already existed on the inner planes, and were experiencing a “thirst” (tṛṣṇā or tanhā) to manifest on the planes of matter.

The twelve-link chain of cause and effect which perpetually maintains the cycle of birth and death was amply discussed in Chapter II.4. It is the cycle of processes which guide life to each new cycle of physical manifestation as long as ignorance remains. If we consider this for the whole cycle of manifestation of life on earth, this can teach us how to regard the origin of life. Here follows a summary of the relevant points from that chapter.

Ignorance, then, is only ignorance relative to the knowledge to be gained in the coming life cycle or cycle of evolution. It impels all life to involve itself in the cycle of experience. The second step is the first mental awakening (in the cosmic mind – i.e., in theosophical terms, the mind of the host of dhyāni chohans, in this case those involved in the manifestation of life on our physical earth globe), which gives rise to the first aggregation or combination of properties along karmic lines brought over from former cycles of manifestation. This process can also be described as “karmic formations,” referring to reawakening karmic seeds from the past. These seeds, when germinating, bring about the sequential collecting together of the other groups of properties which lie waiting to be reinvolved in the newly awakening cosmos.

We are still speaking of the period before the first physical manifestation of life on earth. It is still the preparatory period. The third nidāna is vijñāna or discerning mind. In the scope of evolution it is the totality

of divine intelligence, which arises before the other properties, the mentalities, subtle forms, senses and feelings become involved.

The fourth nidāna is nāmarûpa, literally name and form. It has been described as factors intervening in the forthcoming mental and sensorial organs. Thus we see that intelligence is involved in the constitution of atoms of subtle matters. It is the stage in which the elements are arranged to compose the as yet intangible form of the organic being to be. Thus the organs are already formed on the invisible plane before any manifestation of life appears on the physical plane.

The fifth phase in this Buddhist teaching is the formation, from within without, of the sense organs (the five senses and the mind). We are still talking about subtle matter, the model for the material form which will appear later. The senses, including those of the first beings ever to appear in the Paleozoic age, develop before contact with the physical outer world is established.

The sixth phase is that in which contact is established with the world in which experience is to be gained and where awareness of the environment penetrates into the individual consciousness. The mutual interaction between conscious beings is established.

The seventh phase is the establishment of conscious perception of objects. From this arises the eighth phase: tṛṣṇā or craving for experience in the phenomenal world, which will lead to birth and fear of death. Every living being thus falls victim to this illusion. It seems that in this way the Darwinist idea of the compelling urge to survival is supported by the Buddhist teaching. This craving for physical existence is the propelling force which keeps the cycle going.

Next comes the actual grasping of matter which leads to becoming and finally birth, followed by death or disappearance from the physical plane. So this means that after all the mental preparations and preparations of forms and organs on the plane of subtle matter, physical matter is finally grasped and put in its right place to form the bodies in which organs are born.

What in the West is called “the origin of life” is only a phase of a long process. As this teaching applies universally, it also applies to every new phase which subsequently manifests in evolution, and it explains the “miraculous” appearance of life itself as well as the sudden arising of new taxa and of novel organs and patterns of behavior during the history of evolution. The aggregates of features which together form a complex organ are, in the Buddhist view, prepared by mind on the basis of causes or memory from a past cycle of life’s manifestation, and then formed within subtle matter, and finally in physical matter. Nothing exists for the first time, and new causes for further development are continuously added.

 

A Native American approach

Cycles are so prominent in the mind of all Native Americans that they could hardly conceive of an absolute beginning. The Kogui said that before the life forms we know manifested themselves together as the living cosmos, there was thought, and memory of what was to come. Memory can only exist of what already has been, but it links the past with the future, because the past is the cause of the future. In the Mayan Popol Vuh we found that before the creation of the earth, the plants, animal and men, the gods (Tepeü and Gucumatz) awoke as the dual aspects of cosmic mind. They imagined and planned the forms of life to come. In other words, mind came first, and the ideas came before the forms in which they expressed themselves. The gods, the cosmic mind, had the power to manifest in physical matter the ideas that were first mentally conceived. The first forms of life on earth were thus also first mentally conceived and then projected into matter. The Popol Vuh only suggests that the knowledge and wisdom of the gods were great and that they had the power to create and be master over life and death. The hero twins, representing the higher aspects of humanity which humankind will manifest in the far future, have in the last part of the Popol Vuh the power of dematerializing and rematerializing, and to bring the dead back to life, because they have the divine properties of the original god within them. But the original creative gods, Tepeü and Gucumatz, who woke up in the primordial sea (and therefore were active before) were not perfect in their thinking. They made several efforts to create ever higher forms of life, first plants, then primitive animals, then what we call higher animals, and then there were several failed efforts to create a humanity. So in the Popol Vuh, the evolution of forms is a reflection of the development of mind. Had Darwin been a Maya, he would have studied the processes of mind to understand the processes of evolution. To the occidental scientist, mind is imperceptible as a material thing, and he tends to link mind to the structure of physical matter, but to a Maya as well as a Buddhist, mind is something of a more subtle nature than physical matter. Mind can however not be entirely different from matter, because how could it otherwise influence physical matter? Mind and matter must therefore be different phases of the same thing. So is life. Thoughts are living things as they are perceived by our mind. If there was thought before there were physical earthly life-forms, there was also life before physical earthly life-forms. Indeed the term “life-forms” suggests that these are only the forms that living things take.

 

A Jain approach

The Jains state that there has not been a beginning to life-forms in this universe (loka), and that there always was an infinite supply of nigodas all over the universe, the least developed very small life-forms with no more than one sense faculty. I have not found a teaching concerning where the nigodas come from, if there was anything before them, or how they came into being. So this would not solve our problem of the origin of life. But because life has always existed, Jains would probably never have asked the question of how life began, but with a scientific mind and modern equipment might have tried to ponder the most essential nature of the simplest beings. They would have done so on a soul level, a consciousness level, rather than on a physical level. They would never equate the soul with a DNA molecule or other physical structure, because all physical matter is only attracted to the soul as a result of the soul’s vibrations, something of a more subtle nature than physical matter. The primary interest of the Jains has always been to ponder the nature of the soul, to tackle the limitations to the freedom of our own soul, and a moral attitude of friendliness and tolerance toward every living being.

As we have seen in the foregoing chapters, the Jains recognize a jīva to everything we can perceive, and to everything that we can not perceive with our normal senses. This includes, in the visible world, all minerals or earth-bodied entities, small units of water or water-bodied entities, sparks and all other forms of fire or fire-bodied lives, and the air-bodied beings. Each of them has the potential to develop into a higher form of life, that is, a form with more than one sense faculty and eventually a mental faculty. Everything that an entity can become – ultimately an omniscient liberated human being – is from the beginning inherent in the jīva.

 

A Hindu approach

As we have seen in the discussion of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, the development of life runs in gigantic cycles, in which planets are built and destroyed time after time. The whole existence of the earth, more than four billion years, is only one kalpa or Day of Brahmā, and Brahmā is supposed to live 100 x 360 days, but that which is beyond Brahmā is eternal. The manifestation of life, resulting in the present earth with all on it, started with the activity of mahat, cosmic mind, after which the elements were first formed, which represent the more subtle forms of matter than the physical – physical matter being represented by the element earth. Then the vegetable, animal and human kingdoms awakened, each form having its own progenitor.

We see therefore that in the Hindu view, too, mind existed first, that is divine, cosmic mind. Mind, the creative force, expressed as the divinity Brahmā, the creator, awoke after his Night in the early dawn of a grand new cycle. Therefore mind is inherent in every facet of the universe, and this may well explain the intelligence of structures and processes we see around us in nature. The living beings were however not created, as in Christianity, out of nothing, or out of God, but their jīvas were merely reawakened after a long period of rest (a bhaumika or planetary pralaya, also referred to as a Night of Brahmā), in which they had had their evolution in another aspect of their being. The universe expanded from within without, from the spiritual into the material, from the subtle into the denser forms of matter, contrary to the western idea of a big bang of ultra dense matter. Life worked from the subtle toward the gross level, and when the first forms of life manifested on earth, the mental idea had preceded it, and it carried within itself the experience of former kalpas. Every form of life, even the most primitive, was the result of its own cause in former kalpas. Before it became manifest in the first part of the present kalpa, or in what the West calls the Precambrian (or even Azoic Age), mind brought it forth, and projected it into more subtle matter before it built its own suitable physical vehicle around itself. This might explain why even the most primitive life-forms on our earth were from the beginning already so complex and so intelligent in construction that they could maintain themselves. They were born with a purpose: to continue their evolution after a “Night” of rest, and evolve their innate powers step by step, incarnation after incarnation, until the end of the Day, when the earth will die, and every form of life will rest again (pralaya). It will have evolved all that can be evolved in this kalpa.

Life is an energy that exists everywhere in the universe, and is the essence of every jīva or life-atom, every indivisible life-unit, and when it has a vehicle of expression or body as an earthly life-form, it manifests itself, and we say that a being is alive. Life is thus not something that comes into existence after certain molecules have formed by chance, but existed within the first living creature which ever lived on earth even before it took form.

A more poetic way in which the Hindus have pictured the force behind evolution is to express it as the līla, the joyful game of Brahmā who wished to know himself and therefore projected himself in the form of all nature. This adds the element of joy and playfulness of higher consciousness to the expression of universal forces. An occidental scientist would not accept such emotions as real forces in evolution. But if consciousness, not blind chance, is at the basis of evolution, would not such consciousness be able to experience joy, the very motivation for existence? There seems no reason to reject the idea. It would indeed throw light on some of the expressiveness of nature where it can hardly be explained from mere utility. Scientists may enjoy their subject matter, but this is rather a private emotion. If joy is really a force in nature, enjoying becomes a legitimate aspect of the scientific approach.

 

A Theosophical approach

The period before the manifestation of life-forms is referred to in theosophical literature as “Kosmos in Eternity, before the re-awakening of still slumbering Energy …” (SD I:1). In the Universal Soul slumbers, during pralaya, the Divine Thought, “wherein lies concealed the plan of every future Cosmogony” (SD I:1). “It is the ONE LIFE, eternal, invisible, yet Omnipresent, without beginning or end, yet periodical in its regular manifestations” (SD I:2). It is “unconscious, yet absolute Consciousness “ (SD I:2). The first translated stanza in The Secret Doctrine, referring to the period before any evolution – whether it be the evolution “of our tiny earth, [or] … of the chain of planets of which the earth forms one [the seven globes or dvīpas], to the solar Universe … and so on, in an ascending scale, till the mind reels and is exhausted in its effort” (SD I:20-1) – runs: “The eternal parent wrapped in her ever invisible robes had slumbered once again for seven eternities” (SD I: 27). These few sentences indicate that evolution never takes place for the first time. Whenever there is a renewed awakening there is “still slumbering Energy” and Divine Thought, and the One Life. So neither mind, nor life, nor the energies of all living processes were products of material evolution: they were before even the earth, the solar system, our galaxy, or whatever larger structure took form. The same would apply to the small: an atom or anything smaller than that.

The phrase “seven eternities” seems a contradiction in terms: how can eternity be in the plural? Yet it conveys the idea that even between the periods of life’s outer activity, something is going on on the inner planes of consciousness, and that there is differentiation between one eternity and another. The earth may have died, but the spirit is immortal, and goes through its periods of preparation for renewed manifestation.

Stanza VII reports: “Behold the beginning of sentient formless life. First the Divine … then the Spiritual. … Life precedes form and life survives the last atom of form” (Stanza VII:1,2, SD I 33,34).

In the theosophical view, evolution is definitely guided, and this is done by conscious divine powers (dhyāni chohans). The theosophical system is extended in its views as compared with those systems which speak about a creative god or gods in the sense that much attention is given to the hierarchical structure of consciousness and conscious beings. The “germ” of the universe differentiates into a septenary hierarchy of conscious divine powers, which are the active manifestation of the “one supreme energy.” These dhyāni chohans, which consist of various groups, “are the framers, shapers, and ultimately the creators of all the manifested Universe. … They inform and guide it; they are the intelligent Beings who adjust the One Law, which we know as ‘The Laws of Nature’” (SD I:22).

Thus the theosophical view has the added value of explaining why we see intelligence in the manifestation of life on various levels. The “personal intelligence” of simple beings such as cyanobacteria may not be very great, and they may not be aware of their purpose and destiny, nevertheless there is great intelligence in the physical processes inside their bodies. There are also levels of divine intelligence which oversee the whole planet, so that individual beings without knowing it, fit into the picture of Gaia, serving a larger purpose.

In the sections on theosophy as well as those on Jainism, spontaneous generation has been mentioned as a possibility. Blavatsky suggested that this may have occurred frequently in the past. I do not think we should consider this in the obviously nonsensical interpretation as mice arising from old cloth and meal or the spontaneous coming into existence of bacteria from broth. But if we rule out that living matter and the simplest life-forms have come about by chance, the only remaining possibility is that these appeared as a projection into matter from a plane akin to physical matter, but too subtle to be visible. In theosophical terms, an entity first existed in all details as a liṅga śarīra, consisting of a more subtle, etheric, side of matter, which then attracted the atoms of physical matter around itself. Thus a physical body was formed. The liṅga śarīra is more pliable, by nature, and can receive a direct formative influence from mind. This process may have occurred many times, thus vivifying the first physical life-forms on earth, setting the stage for various classes of beings to evolve from these early life-forms.

Another theosophical teaching that comes into play here is that of the śiṣṭas: the living remainders of a former cycle, containing the “memory” or information from a previous cycle. The life-forms coming into use in a new cycle continue on from what was left from a former cycle. In the case of the “beginning of life” on the young earth, such śiṣṭas can only have existed as not yet physical forms. The combination of this information, mind and intelligence thus existed before the first physical living being on earth. It gives an explanation for the manifestation of life in the shape of already well defined forms in the Precambrian era.

Creation of the first or later life-forms by merely an external God or gods is ruled out by the fact that the inventions of living nature differ from the way human inventions are done: a machine is created by outsiders, but living beings create themselves from within. The only legitimate explanation seems to be that every living being is God or a god (or jīva, monad) in its heart, from which all forces flow.

– Rudi Jansma

Prepared for a lecture at the

Department of Philosophy,

Madras Christian College

Chennai 23-01-2008

 

  1. From: Global Philosophical and Ecological Concepts – Cycles, Causality, Ecology, and Evolution by Rudi Jansma; Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 2010, ISBN: 978-81-208-3198-8. [<<]
  2. Hirao, I, & Ellington, A.D., “Re-creating the RNA World,” Current Biology 1995, 5: 1017-22. [<<]
  3. Denton, Michael J., Nature’s Destiny; How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe, The Free Press,New York, 1998. [<<]
  4. Jacob, François, The Logic of Life: A History of Heredity, transl. Spillman, B.E., Pantheon Books, NY, 1973. [<<]