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According to the Agganna Sutta we humans beings from Abbhassara Brahma world. They are mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the air, glorious. So basically a much more advance species than humans. Because of desire they deteriorated to what we are right now.

But evolution on the other hand basically talks about the reverse of this. That out ancestors were primates/chimps who had less developed intelligence. While the evidence to support the theory of evolution has been compelling still it remains unproven, however, still is widely expected as the most plausible explanation for the beginning of man kind.

Is there anyway that both of these can mean the same although it seems to contradict on the surface?

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I have not yet read the sutta you are referring to but i'm aware of both teaching (biological & Buddhist evolutions). So i am going to answer the last part of your question.


Evolution vs Buddhism

Sometime ago i had the same question as Buddhism does not explain animal evolution along with the human evolution. It took me sometime to understand a certain point that i have been missing from the beginning.....

As we all know that biology treats Humans and animals in the same manner while Buddhism does it very differently.

As Buddhism understand the world the animal realm is not a part of human realm. So in English, animals are not a Non-matured kind of humans. Animals are animals according to Buddhism.

As science suggest Evolution happens because of some beings being able to adapt to the environment and being able to reach good enough supply of nutritious foods & being able to hold on to that particular conditions for a long time.

But

As Buddhism teach Human birth is caused By good Karma and Animal birth is caused by bad karma. And when humans first started in earth there were no animals.

This statement make sense because as the universe is new there is no animal form left to give birth to beings in bad realms. But when Humans are born the circle is set.

You might want to know what Lord Buddha said about the life expectancy of early humans.

As to Lord Buddha......

  • Early humans had no health problems (The earth is new so it makes sense).
  • Early humans were so healthy they called Hunger a disease
  • Early humans live 65,000+ years

(This is not the collective lifetime.This is the life expectancy of a single one like we live 65 years now)


So it is wrong to think that Darvin's Evolution is the same with Buddhism's Evolution. But it is clear that Buddhism is the only religion that actually proposed Evolution among all other faiths (2600 + years ago). Buddhism has its own version of evolution and i doubt that we will live long enough to see either one of these evolutions get proven by physical facts.

May the triple gems bless you!

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When you say "evolution", I take you mean the current accepted biological theory sprung from Darwin.

As far as I understand, this theory is an explanation for the origin of species: that is, what accounts for the regularities that are found over generations of a certain specie (the regularities that define the category -- the specie) to mutate over time.

With only that theory in mind, we can't talk about species being more advanced than others. The characteristics of a specie simply "are": some are reinforced and become stronger (e.g. tolerance to higher or lower temperatures), some are weakened and deteriorate over generations (e.g. ability to digest certain elements) according to the inherited characteristics of the ancestors and environment.

On the other hand, in Buddhism, there's the notion of impermanence, which seems to subsume mutation, and a theory of karma, which targets the explanation of the process of mutation of "a single person": how a being "becomes" and to what environment his becoming eventually inclines to.

Furthermore, the theory of evolution above targets mutation over generations of populations -- it's interested in characteristics shared by many beings. Buddhism is not interested in how species (categories of beings) mutate, but shows concerns with the rise and fall of perceived experience and the becoming of aggregates subject to birth and decay, linked by karma.

Finally, genetics can explain how a person's body inherits her ancestor's characteristics and has features considered "pretty". Buddhism, however, talks about why "that particular person took that place" of being that person whose body features are pretty.

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According to the reference in this answer, the Agganna Sutta is a parable which suggests that Brahmins shouldn't feel pleased about how holy they are, that their current life is relatively degenerate.

It starts as a reply to the brahmins' saying,

Bhante, the brahmins say, ‘The brahmin is the best class; any other class is inferior. The brahmin is the fair class; any other class is dark. Only brahmins are pure, not the non-brahmins. Brahmins are Brahma‘s own sons, the offspring from his mouth, born of Brahma, created by Brahma, the heirs of Brahma. You have here left the best class and gone over to an inferior class, since you have become wretched baldheads, false ascetics, dark menial, born of the feet of our Kinsman [Brahma]!

Contrast that with other teachings attributed to the Buddha: that a 'true' Brahmin isn't a Brahmin because they're born as such (into that caste), but rather only if and because they are (because they behave and think and live like) a holy man. Consider becoming degenerate as a result of unbridled sense-desires, and compare that with a more Buddhist definition of a 'holy man'.


In contrast, Darwin's theory of evolution (on the origin of species) isn't saying that, nor really anything like that.

I don't think it's "contradictory" -- it's talking about something different.

  • So the Agganna Sutta is sort of a metaphor? Or an analogy? – Donald Edwards Feb 15 '16 at 14:37
  • I don't know whether (I even doubt whether) everyone teaches that, but it seems like a parable to me. The reference which I linked to calls it a Buddhist myth and references other scholars who say the same. IMO there are other parables in Buddhism: the arrow, the burning house, the blind men and the elephant, it's not important whether these events really happened, the stories are meaningful regardless. – ChrisW Feb 15 '16 at 14:49
  • If you're interested in Christianity at all, I learned that the Catholic Church is kind of non-committal about whether Genesis should be taken literally: i.e. the Church permits the faithful to take it literally or as a metaphor (the only thing they're required to believe is that Man was created by God in some way). – ChrisW Feb 15 '16 at 14:55
  • Thanks for the info. Maybe under the new pope they are :D but where I come from they take it literally and believes that the earth is 6000 years old. I am just confused as to why an enlightened person would preach in a cryptic/ metaphorical manner when they can be quite straightforward because a Buddha I someone who has figured out possibly everything – Donald Edwards Feb 15 '16 at 16:52

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