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I have relapsed out of Buddhism two times in my past. Currently, I am between reconciling and rejecting it yet again. I decided to make this post to ask questions that I feel will help me either reconcile or reject Buddhism. I have categorized my questions into two areas: morality and biology. Before I write my questions below, please note the following information: I was/have been part of the Theravada Mahasi Sayadaw tradition under Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu's teachings and have studied both Buddhism and science in the past as a vigorously dedicated layman in both fields.

Section 1: Morality

  1. How is it possible that those who achieve Nibbana are morally infallible?
  2. How is it that certain mind-states are objectively unskillful (evil) or skillful (good); wouldn't that be subjective to say?

Section 2: Biology

  1. How can there have been past Buddhas if civilization/Homo sapiens evolved recently (archeologically speaking)?
  2. How do the planes of existence and rebirth make sense amid the heavily (as far as I understand) supported theory of evolution?

Thank you for your time and may you be well.

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  • You may want to consider splitting this into 4 separate questions, since they are not related to each other.
    – ruben2020
    Feb 15 at 16:42
  • @ruben2020 Would you be referring to me splitting it into 4 separate posts or just 4 separate areas on this post (taking into mind that I posted them into one post to not create an appearance of spam amid all the other questions being asked on this platform)?
    – user20570
    Feb 15 at 16:48
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    @ruben2020: I'm not sure splitting this up is necessary: this is mainly a question about the compatibility of the Western scientific worldview with Buddhist religious doctrine. There may be two questions here — one archeological (points 1 & 2) and one psychological (points 3 & 4), but even those are not too far apart. Feb 15 at 16:57
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    OK. Then we can leave it as a single question post.
    – ruben2020
    Feb 15 at 17:01
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    It is awesome that you didn't take offense mate. I can only answer in brief as i am not familiar neither with the public discourse nor controversies surrounding archeology and theory of the evolution of species. Feb 15 at 18:43
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Section 1: Morality

  1. How is it possible that those who achieve Nibbana are morally infallible?

It depends on how you are approaching this question.

From an outward perspective, someone fully awakened is not morally infallible, because there will be some people or groups that believe that their actions are not moral.

From an inward perspective, someone fully awakened will be morally infallible, because they will generate no intention/volition to do harm to anyone or anything.

  1. How is it that certain mind-states are objectively unskillful (evil) or skillful (good); wouldn't that be subjective to say?

Again, it has to do with if you are considering the question from an outward perspective (someone making an outward judgement of a person), or from the inward personal perspective (a persons experience of their being).

Looking from an inward perspective, mind-states that lead to greater internal peace as well as greater harmony, less conflict with others and the world, will be considered skillful mind-states.

Mind-states that lead to greater internal pain as well as greater discord and conflict with others and the world, will be considered unskillful mind-states.

Section 2: Biology

  1. How can there have been past Buddhas if civilization/homo sapiens evolved recently (archeologically speaking)?

Buddhist cosmology has beliefs on the universe having endless previous expansions (big bang) and contractions, which could give rise to countless occurrences for "human-like" beings to arise.

Leaving that aside though, homo sapiens have been around for 2-300 thousand years, much of which we are lacking historical insight. This in itself is time in which a Buddha may naturally arise; Before homo sapiens, the human categorical species have been around for millions of years more than that, possibly giving chance for Buddhas to arise.

  1. How do the planes of existence and rebirth make sense amid the heavily (as far as I understand) supported theory of evolution?

Planes of existence & rebirth are constant topics of controversy and conversation in Buddhism and mean different (and multiple) things to many people and organizations around the world. For example, Some believe planes of existence are regarding skillful mind-states as being heavenly and unskillful mind-states as being hell-like; Others believe them to be actual separated planes that beings exist in space; Others believe both to be true simultaneously.

If you are taking the perspective of the scientific theory of evolution, then they probably won't make much sense. If you are going to entertain these kinds of thoughts at all (which is not necessary or even recommended by many for the practice of meditation and virtue development), better to do it in a way that is personable and verifiable by you, not by science.


Buddhism is focused mostly on the actual practice of cultivating skillful mind-states to gradually reduce your own suffering and bring greater peace in your life. Any energy you give towards actual practice is manifoldly more fruitful than energy you give to these theoretical questions regarding Buddhism.

If you give some decent effort to actual practice, you can be like your own scientist and discover for yourself if there's actually any legitimacy behind all this Buddhist stuff!

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    "someone fully awakened will be morally infallible, because they will generate no intention/volition to do harm to anyone or anything." What does a fully awakened person eat?
    – RonJohn
    Feb 16 at 0:57
  • @RonJohn From my understanding, an enlightened individual would eat what they get on alms rounds just as any monastic would.
    – user20570
    Feb 16 at 22:43
  • @Grey1 that looks like a Big Fat Cop-out: you can intentionally/volitionally harm a carrot, and then give it to me, while I stay morally infallible because I didn't do anything to the carrot. This "food laundering".
    – RonJohn
    Feb 16 at 23:09
  • @Grey1 Carrot juice is murder: youtube.com/watch?v=KmK0bZl4ILM
    – RonJohn
    Feb 16 at 23:11
  • @RonJohn Considering the long life and transformation of material, the water from the rain of the clouds was harmed when the carrot plant drank from the earth's water and the dirt of the earth was harmed when the carrot plant ate from the dirt of the earth and the carrot consumed by the human becomes the particles of the earth again when that human dedicates, contributing to the cycle again. From the stance in which you are speaking, most of the material consumed could be considered harmful taking into account the long span of time in which material transforms to compose different forms.
    – Ryan Baker
    Feb 17 at 2:51
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OP: How is it possible that those who achieve Nibbana are morally infallible?

Once ignorance and the rest of the ten fetters have been uprooted, the enlightened are free from mental defilements, causing them to not have any thoughts based on greed/ lust, anger/ aversion or delusion.

Please read the Buddhism part of this answer for more details.

OP: How is it that certain mind-states are objectively unskillful (evil) or skillful (good); wouldn't that be subjective to say?

Objective morality in Buddhism is based on compassion and the notion that you will feel remorse hurting others, because you know how it would feel if others hurt you.

Removal of remorse is needed to brighten the mind, which is needed for the rest of the path to enlightenment.

Please read this answer for details.

OP: How can there have been past Buddhas if civilization/homo sapiens evolved recently (archeologically speaking)?

It's not clearly answerable.

Some texts imply the Big Bounce model of the universe where the universe expands, then contracts and becomes destroyed, then expands again. So, past Buddhas may even have existed in past universes. Please see this answer for details. But this is only a conjecture.

Some people see this only as an exaggeration added to the texts.

Either way, this does not make any difference to the Buddha's message and teachings. It is not important compared to the path to the end of suffering.

OP: How do the planes of existence and rebirth make sense amid the heavily (as far as I understand) supported theory of evolution?

Please read this answer and this answer to understand what rebirth is in Buddhism. It's the rebirth of individuality and not really the rebirth of the individual, since there is no soul or permanent consciousness in Buddhism.

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As to biology you might want to look into Robert Lanza's work, he is a biologist and is also into theoretical physics. Therefore you might want to check out his take on the biology side of things.

I can't vouch for him being the bearer of truth but he comes off as seemingly reasonable.

He tends to give talks at Buddhist assemblies and therefore i mention him.

Section 1: Morality

How is it possible that those who achieve Nibbana are morally infallible?

I will start by defining Nibbana here according to the teacher's message;

Venerable sir, it is said, ‘the removal of lust, the removal of hatred, the removal of delusion.’ Of what now, venerable sir, is this the designation?”

“This, bhikkhu, is a designation for the element of Nibbāna: the removal of lust, the removal of hatred, the removal of delusion. The destruction of the taints is spoken of in that way.” https://suttacentral.net/sn45.7/en/bodhi

Without getting into details and particulars of how the destruction & removal of taints comes about, one can here see that the claim is that the attainment of that however it comes about completely removes delusion and this in & by itself would make such intellect purified & infallible as it would be without any delusion.

Ie if we don't know the goal of life then we are ignorant of it. However we can know that in order to realize the goal we must first know what the goal is, if we know the goal we can aim to achieve it.

Therefore the intermidiate goal to becoming morally infallable is the development of understanding as to see the goal and knowing how to realize the ultimate purpose.

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see. - Arthur Schopenhauer

One who sees the goal can be expected to hit it, not one who is otherwise.

Moral fallibility implies ignorance as being wrong on account of delusion. One who has attained the removal of delusion in the ultimate sense is made infallible in that regard.

How is it that certain mind-states are objectively unskillful (evil) or skillful (good); wouldn't that be subjective to say?

If the intermidiate goal of life is becoming such genius who can see the ultimate goal of life. Then it follows that one can give attention to what is connected with the goal of becoming such; and one can give attention to what isn't connected with the goal of becoming such and is rather connected with becoming otherwise.

What one gives attention that one perceives, what one perceives that one thinks about and it is based on what one thinks about that one is assailed by various mindstates which become the inclination of the mind due to a frequent giving of attention.

Therefore one here can categorically classify the mindstates which are associated with development leading to seeing & realizing the goal of life as states that are good; and one classifies the states that are not conducive to that development as detrimental or bad.

From here one infers the appropriate & inappropriate giving of attention.

The teacher has proclaimed that understanding is to be developed for removal of delusion & attainment of the ultimate goal.

It is a perfectly reasonable proposition.

People generally disagree about how the word consciousness is to be understood & ought to be thought about; but they do agree that the understanding of it is to be developed and that great minds think alike.

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I have relapsed out of Buddhism two times in my past. I was/have been part of the Theravada Mahasi Sayadaw tradition under Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu's teachings...

Yes, the cause for relapse is understandable.

How is it possible that those who achieve Nibbana are morally infallible?

The above applies to very few individuals. They are morally infallible because their minds are super peaceful, calm and free from any type of selfish motive.

How is it that certain mind-states are objectively unskillful (evil) or skillful (good); wouldn't that be subjective to say?

Morality is a very general thing therefore it can only refer to a range of general behaviors rather than to minute individual or Cultural Marxist hyper-sensitives.

In brief, generally all people don't want to be killed or physical abused; don't want their property stolen; don't want to be sexual exploited, used &/or betrayed; don't want to be lied to; and don't want intoxicated people causing trouble for them, such a vomiting on their carpet or smashing into their cars when driving. This shows how morality is objective.

How can there have been past Buddhas if civilization/homo sapiens evolved recently (archeologically speaking)?

The idea of past Buddhas is mostly found in one section of sutta (Digha Nikaya) and is obviously nonsense given the technology found those many eons ago was the same as found in 600BC India.

The Buddha taught the Refuge in the Dhamma is refuge in the teachings that can be verified to end suffering in the here-&-now. This is all that is required to be a real Buddhist.

How do the planes of existence and rebirth make sense amid the heavily (as far as I understand) supported theory of evolution?

Yuttadhammo monk posted in this forum there is no Pali word that means "rebirth". The teachings translated as "rebirth" are simply about the results of kamma (action). In reality, there appears no such thing as reincarnation or rebirth. If we ignore the misinterpretations about 'rebirth', we can focus on the realistic & experienceable teachings of Buddhism.

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  • Could you please elaborate on why my relapse would be understandable? I am curious. :)
    – user20570
    Feb 16 at 4:54
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    i've never read practise resembling Mahasi Sayadaw in the suttas. Feb 16 at 4:58

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