Kamma and Evolution - two explanations for the same thing?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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AyyaSobhana
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Kamma and Evolution - two explanations for the same thing?

Post by AyyaSobhana » Sun Dec 25, 2011 6:03 pm

I have long had the impression that the modern scientific story known as evolutionary psychology is, in certain respects, pointing to the same phenomenon as the theory of Kamma, both the Buddhist and previous Indian traditions.

Evolution has a deeply tragic, pathetic aspect, similar to the wheel of samsara. There is a blind force of natural selection, which is basically amoral, continuously favoring more life, which then appears and is experienced by beings as our free will choices although mostly conditioned.

Evolution does have a "moral" aspect insofar as what supports life is experienced as valuable, good, pali attha = prosperity, welfare, blessing. The *feelings* that makes us turn towards our welfare and away from danger are nature's conditioned programs to evoke behaviors. Within the pandora's box of self seeking programs are also the programs for altruism. Possibly our natural endowment for wisdom and transcendence is an evolutionary "sport" ... a side effect of the programs that otherwise support human survival and dominance.

Some of the peculiarities of the individual's genetic inheritance have a nice similarity to the particularity of kammic fruits, especially as told in the Jatakas and commentarial stories. Think of the two twin brothers, separated at birth, who both hold their teacup with pinky finger held out; both experience major depression at the same age; both choose similar appearing wives; both have similar intellectual gifts; etc.

I admit in advance that this is post hoc rationalization! However, science is the local religion around here in the sense of deeply determining what we experience and accept as "real." Somehow using the lens of science makes it much easier to teach the Dhamma to Westerners, and also makes it more meaningful in my own experience, something I can appropriate into my own way of thinking, and not just a catechism.

I am not saying that the ancient texts should not be fully mastered in their own terms.

Friends, can you either challenge or bolster this line of thinking? :?:

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cooran
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Re: Kamma and Evolution - two explanations for the same thing?

Post by cooran » Sun Dec 25, 2011 7:51 pm

Hello ayyasobhanna,
Some of the peculiarities of the individual's genetic inheritance have a nice similarity to the particularity of kammic fruits, especially as told in the Jatakas and commentarial stories. Think of the two twin brothers, separated at birth, who both hold their teacup with pinky finger held out; both experience major depression at the same age; both choose similar appearing wives; both have similar intellectual gifts; etc
.

Hello Ayya,

You may be interested in this post from quite a few years ago, where highly respected scholars state that the Jataka Verses only are Buddhavacana – not the Jataka Tales.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dhammastu ... sage/23011" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Kim OHara
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Re: Kamma and Evolution - two explanations for the same thing?

Post by Kim OHara » Sun Dec 25, 2011 11:34 pm

Hello AyyaSobhanna,
Kamma is the results of intentional action and may operate within an individual's life as well as (according to some interpretations) between lives which may be widely separated in space and species. Evolution operates only between successive generations in one species, so it is not a particularly good match for kamma.
However, both are examples of cause and effect, which is a perfectly respectable concept in both science and Buddhism and, I think, a much better way of teaching kamma to scientifically-minded enquirers.

Also ...
(1) The fact that two things are very similar does not mean that they have a common origin (look up 'convergent evolution', if you are not familiar with it). Evolutionary psychology and the dhamma should have features in common because they both attempt to describe why people are the way they are, but they are are as different under the skin as bats and birds.
(2) You call evolution 'blind' and say it has a 'has a deeply tragic, pathetic aspect', but these emotive terms are personal reactions you have painted on to processes which have nothing emotional or intentional of their own. Saying this sort of thing is like saying that the egg you drop 'continues blindly towards its imminent doom on the tiled floor,' or something like that. Is that really sensible?

:namaste:
Kim

chownah
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Re: Kamma and Evolution - two explanations for the same thing?

Post by chownah » Mon Dec 26, 2011 3:09 am

I'm going to amplify what Kim O'Hara posted in his item #2.

Evolution is not a force....evolution is the name given to what biologists have observed about the possibilities for changes in living things. It goes something like this:

1.Living things procreate and that is why when old ones die there are still some others alive.
2.For procreation to happen you need a suitable environment and a living thing capable of living and reproducing in that environment.
3.Environments have a limited amount of resources for living things to utilize and so the amount or number of living things is limited by environmental constraints.
4.If there are two different kinds of living things in an environment and they both utilize the same resources then the one which is better at utilizing the resources will produce more offspring and thus they will tend to increase in number but this causes a decrease in number of the other type of living thing.
5.Living things change through genetic mutations randomly. Sometimes the mutation makes the living thing weaker or less able to reproduce and less able to utilize resources....but...sometimes it will make the living thing stronger or more able to reproduce and more able to utilize resources. Those individuals with beneficial mutations will dominate in an environment because they are more able to compete for resources....and a key point here is that these beneficial mutations might be passed on to their offspring. In effect what has happened is that a new generation of slightly different beings will displace the other less well adapted individuals....and after many generations and multiple cycles of beneficial mutations happening by chance and being passed on to offspring will result in a new species of animal.

Of course this is not the full blown version of evolution but just a brief sketch to show that it is just a matter of practicality which arises because of the particular conditions of the environment and the individuals that populate it.....there is no "force" of evolution....it results from random mutations......it's just the way things work.....I guess.....
chownah

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rowboat
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Re: Kamma and Evolution - two explanations for the same thing?

Post by rowboat » Mon Dec 26, 2011 4:07 am

Kim O'hara: You call evolution 'blind' and say it has a 'has a deeply tragic, pathetic aspect', but these emotive terms are personal reactions you have painted on to processes which have nothing emotional or intentional of their own. Saying this sort of thing is like saying that the egg you drop 'continues blindly towards its imminent doom on the tiled floor,' or something like that. Is that really sensible?
Perceiving the "deeply tragic, pathetic aspect" of living isn't necessarily an unskilful reaction of aversion. It may also be the other side of compassion which may arise while contemplating e.g., the rather sad state of affairs for those born out of the animal womb, and into our cold rough hands as it were.
Rain soddens what is covered up,
It does not sodden what is open.
Therefore uncover what is covered
That the rain will not sodden it.
Ud 5.5

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Kim OHara
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Re: Kamma and Evolution - two explanations for the same thing?

Post by Kim OHara » Mon Dec 26, 2011 4:22 am

rowboat wrote:
Kim O'hara: You call evolution 'blind' and say it has a 'has a deeply tragic, pathetic aspect', but these emotive terms are personal reactions you have painted on to processes which have nothing emotional or intentional of their own. Saying this sort of thing is like saying that the egg you drop 'continues blindly towards its imminent doom on the tiled floor,' or something like that. Is that really sensible?
Perceiving the "deeply tragic, pathetic aspect" of living isn't necessarily an unskilful reaction of aversion. It may also be the other side of compassion which may arise while contemplating e.g., the rather sad state of affairs for those born out of the animal womb, and into our cold rough hands as it were.
The point I was trying to make is that such reactions are ours. They do not in any way 'belong' to evolution (or life in general) but are our feelings, projected on to it. Once we realise that, we have some control over them.

:namaste:
Kim

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rowboat
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Re: Kamma and Evolution - two explanations for the same thing?

Post by rowboat » Mon Dec 26, 2011 5:01 am

Ah, I see.

:anjali:
Rain soddens what is covered up,
It does not sodden what is open.
Therefore uncover what is covered
That the rain will not sodden it.
Ud 5.5

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