[Advaita-l] Species, Evolution and Advaita Vedanta

Michael Shepherd michael at shepherd87.fsnet.co.uk
Fri Oct 2 06:31:45 CDT 2009

I'd like to follow through a specific situation to challenge my own mind :

Take the case of a 'honey-eater' bird who feeds on the nectar in the trumpets of forest flowers. 
The forest is threatened by pollution, and the flowers maintain their shape; but less nectar in produced. The honey-eater needs an even longer beak to reach the decreased nectar. (The flowers too may need to change to maintain their own survival...but put that aside...)

What can we say of the process by which the honey-eater 'mutates its species' ?

A materialist scientist would simply say, oh, natural selection favours the longer-beaked food-providers in matying..

A two-world devotee might say 'Isn't it marvellous how God takes care of the environment despite human folly ?!'

The advaiitist can surely only marvel at 'what' enables this to happen : the will, the laws, the material formation, that impel, allow, form, that longer beak of the honey-eater -- whether over generations or as a process in the continuing moment now.

Maybe there are teachers who teach 'evolution' and 'mutation' as proof of the boundless miracles of the 'advaita' of the Lord, atma brahma, witness of His own Creation... are there ?


-----Original Message-----
From: advaita-l-bounces at lists.advaita-vedanta.org
[mailto:advaita-l-bounces at lists.advaita-vedanta.org]On Behalf Of Michael
Sent: 02 October 2009 11:11
To: A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta
Subject: Re: [Advaita-l] Species, Evolution and Advaita Vedanta

Shrinivasji, namaste.

Thank you for your response. That makes me feel that it takes me further in understanding the 'possibilities' of evolution.

I have been toying with the idea -- in order not to provide 'answers' but simply to contemplate these great matters -- of how evolution might be seen in the three worlds and their different dimensions of time. 

What scientists and archaeologists and suchlike, study is the evidence in the physical world -- where, I suggest, apparent 'evolution' obviously takes place at a slow speed, over generations. And towards what ? Some physical development under prapancha -- for as you say, there are such qualities as the guna and the elements which are beyond our views of 'evolution' and can only be explained by 'Creation'. (That's quite a thought for the scientists for a start !)

Then evolution in the mental or subtle world seems much faster -- perhaps in one lifetime, as experienced in samskara etc. A recent discovery that a species of moth has mutated its 'camouflage' within one generation and ecological situation  is causing some excitement among scientists.

(Whether we can attribute the new skills in technology already 'born into' five-year-olds, to evolution, might or might  not be relevant !)

And then, evolution in the causal world can take place instantly -- and we call it a miracle..how else can we consider the birth of an avatar ? We may say, oh, it's the result of his previous lives...but the fact that it has happened, and lawfully,  is no less a miracle ?!

Since all the worlds are always co-existent, I suspect that theories of evolution and the mutation of species must allow for this.

For instance, 'mutation' itself from one 'form' to another may seem to a physical scientist, to proceed from impulses of physical self-preservation (!) in sex, hunger, environmental change, and camouflage to protect from predators etc : but that requires a causal form to 'mutate' into; and most of all, universal laws that permit 'mutation' of form to take place, anyway ! This is what evolution enthusiasts omit from their view.

I'm not a scientist; but as one who seeks to apply advaita to all situations and events and thinking, I would love to hear what Advaita Vedanta makes of 'evolution' -- since we always have a new generation to share our understanding with..

While at the same time, the atman in me is content to witness the world and its evidence with equanimity, and rest in that timeless world beyond evolution..!

Shrinivasji, thank you for the response. I feel that we share the same understanding, that only a sense of the divine and the universal is going to bring any new thinking to 'science' as it is in materialist terms, in respect of 'evolution' and much else..


-----Original Message-----
From: advaita-l-bounces at lists.advaita-vedanta.org
[mailto:advaita-l-bounces at lists.advaita-vedanta.org]On Behalf Of
Shrinivas Gadkari
Sent: 02 October 2009 02:49
To: advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org
Subject: [Advaita-l] Species, Evolution and Advaita Vedanta

I apologise once again if I raise a question already well chewed over in the
lists :
How do the sages here regard the concepts of the origin of species, and
evolution ?
For most of the rest of the world, the idea of nature driven only by sex and
hunger, and life 'evolving' from primitive forms to homo-sometimes-sapiens,
 I myself am moved by the vision of this 'wider picture' of 'evolution'. But
I seldom if ever read much that inspires me about this issue. It seldom even
gets to the point of 'hmmm, worth thinking about...' !

I had written a small essay related to this topic few years ago and posted it on internet.
I am unable to locate original message sent to this list. Following reply from Jaldhar
however contains the original message. 
The link in geocities is also not functional. However, I have an early draft of the
essay (later version is lost, unless some list members saved a copy - in that case
please email me the saved copy- thanks).
I am copying this draft below. See if you find it useful. 
(My understanding, especially of sAMkhya has changed since then. Also, I now feel the 
deity actively involved in early creation was not hiranyagarbha, but some very
high manifestation of para brahma . But these issues do not dramatically 
change the validity of core ideas in the essay.)
An Interview with Hiranyagarbha
Some time in distant future, there is a researcher studying
medieval civilizations. He decides to dig into the sciences of
20th century. Goes to the central library of historic documents
and heads towards the section devoted to 20th century. He finds
numerous books on physical sciences and starts reading them with
interest. In them he learns about big bang, theories about the origin 
of the solar system, formation of earth, evolution of life, ....
He spends a long time trying to understand the world-view of
the 20th century. Finally he starts forming a clear picture of
how the people of those times saw the world. He cannot but 
notice that this world-view (henceforth called Physical WV)
is dramatically different from  the mainstream Vedic world-view 
(Vedic WV) that is generally accepted. He becomes curious about
how do we reconcile Physical WV and the Vedic WV. Unable to do
it himself, he decides to have a dialogue with Hiranyagarbha. He
boards his pushpak vimana and starts flying towards Brahma-Loka
to meet Hiranyagrabha.
The researcher has explained to Hiranyagarbha the issues that
are bothering him. To resolve his doubts Hiranyagarbha narrates an
account of creation.
Hiranyagarbha: I mastered yoga long time ago. As you know I
am the founder of the yoga school, and this is the oldest 
school and not Samkhya as many people seem to think. By my
yoga sadhana I purified my mind to such an extent that
I only have to think of something and it happens. 
Creation of the world has been a very lengthy task. You may feel with
Creative powers like the ones I have, I should have been able to create
the universe as we see it in a short time. Many people hold this view, but
this is quite far from the truth. What people fail to realize is the fact that
I am limited by my ability to conceive an idea. And I can manifest only 
that what I can conceive.
Thus for a long time  there was only a desire to create and I had no concept of
what to create. The first concept that I conceived was that of
space. Yes space was a concept that I conceived. I conceived 
of a very small amount of space, I was happy at this concept. 
I then I conceived the concept of an amount of space larger than 
what I had conceived earlier. Then I conceived an even larger
space ... Thus the first creation was that of an ever expanding
space. And in this space was filled with my creative potency,
let us call it Prana. For a very long period of time this is
all that there was, expanding space and Prana. The Prana was
immensely dynamic, however. It was not at all homogenous and 
had all sorts of activity with it. Through my tapas I kept
shaping the Prana in a way that I felt was appropriate for
me to proceed with my creation. I kept shaping the Prana for
a very long period of time. 
Researcher: Do you mean you were shaping Prana in physical entities
like stars and planets and galaxies ?
Hiranyagarbha: No and Yes. You have to realize that at that point in
Time I had not yet developed the concept of physical shapes. In fact
I had no concept of a physical existence at all. I was shaping Prana in
an abstract sense, just feeling the arrangement of Prana by mind. In fact
I don’t think I can explain this any better. It was a very abstract process
that I had engaged myself in. So one answer to your question is No, I
was not intentionally creating physical entities like stars and galaxies 
out of Prana. However later when I manifested in a physical body as I
will explain later, and looked around I realized that the abstract arrangement
of Prana that I had done earlier had manifested now as stars, planets, the
Sun, the Moon, the earth, and so on. The concept of expanding space that
I initially conceived of, appears to give impression of big-bang when the
observed physical universe is extrapolated back in time. Note that in 
the physical universe there never was an event like big bang. It was an 
event with in my mind that appears as big-bang when history of the 
physical universe is traced back. 
Continuing my story, I was manipulated Prana in an expanding abstract
space for a long duration of time. Finally I was happy with the state of 
Prana and Space and decided
to move on with creation . This is where I took a big leap. Then I conceived the concept of Five sense objects:
sound, touch, taste, smell and form. This was accompanied my me conceiving the
concept of physical existence, yes, Physical existence was also a concept
that I developed. As I developed these concepts
I found myself encased in a physical "body". It was a very simple, uni-cellular
body, floating on water, part of my body in water and part of it
"feeling" the air. Sound gave me a feeling of space, air the feeling
of touch, water feeling of taste, something in the air feeling of
smell, and sun shinning in the sky the feeling of form. 
I hope I have not confused you. The Prana and space were already
Organized by me. By conceiving the notion of physical existence I
not only encased myself in a (simple) physical body, but also started to view
the organized Prana and space via the body and the same Prana now
was “seen” as the physical universe. Even now there really is no 
Physical universe, only Prana exists. Only when you choose to “look” through
the senses, for a physical universe, the Prana appears to you as the
Physical universe. Understand this point carefully, for this is an important,
and elusive point to grasp in the quest to reconcile Physical-WV and Vedic-WV.
Researcher: Would like to know more about the first body that you
assumed. You mentioned that this first body had five senses, I find
it very difficult to believe that the simple body that you first
manifested had five full blown sense organs. 
Hiranyagarbha: I never said that then I had five full blown sense
organs. All that I am saying is my body then could "feel" the
Vibrations - this ability to feel vibrations was a primitive form of ear.
Taste - my body could feel some taste changes in water, this was the 
primitive form of organ of taste.
Touch - I could feel the difference in touch between water and air,
this was the primitive oragn of touch.
Smell - I could sense some odour changes carried in the air, this was
primitive sense of smell.
Energy - I could sense intense energy be radiated from some object
up there (Sun) this was the primitive sense of sight.
Researcher: Now I see what you are saying. What happened next ?
Hiranyagarbha: I had two principal tasks - 
I. To create other beings with same body as mine.
II. To refine my body - this is what you people call evolution.
What I was actually doing conceiving of higher and higher form of
body. Where in I  could find more fulfillment. For example I
felt the need to have some control over movement - before that
I was completely dependent on movement of water. Thus primitive
organ of motion was born. Similarly I developed other organs of
Researcher: Clearly you were using your powers of mind for evolution
and not some "natural selection among mutations". Why then did it take 
you so long to evolve into say a human being.
Hiranyagarbha: You are again forgetting the important point. I had not
yet conceived the concept of higher life forms. If I had then evolution
would have been instantaneous. I was gradually arriving at the concept of
higher and more capable life forms. The evolution of species more or
less reflects my evolution. 
Reseacher: Were other life forms that you were creating along the line
not capable of evolving themselves ?
Hiranyagarbha: Every single life form is capable of evolving. But depending
on the progress in yoga some are more capable than others. Along the life
I created some beings who were very good at yoga and hence capable of 
assisting in evolution. One such being is Shri Rudra. I created Rudra 
when I was a in an animal body, he too had a animal body. Shri Rudra
evolved into fierce and gigantic bodies creating the age of dinosaurs.
Later I asked him to withdraw himself from active creation and engage in
tapas. Then we brought about an end to these fierce life forms so that
evolution of milder yet more capable life forms could proceed. 
My process of evolution culminated when I assumed the human body. I was 
so content with this body that I felt no need to evolve any more. In this body
I found that all organs of sense and action were super refined and
capable of reaching ultimate perfection. Then I decided to retire
from active creation and watch the play with minimum intervention.

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