Ask the Swami: Dharma vs. Darwin?

If you're bad enough, will you be reincarnated as an amoeba? Vedic perspectives on evolution, dinosaurs, Mars, and the Big Bang.

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This idea may have some merit, as scripture says that souls at the dawn of creation begin at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder and gradually appear over a long period of time until the human form manifests. When humans appear, the world is complete. All these forms of life exist in potential within Maha Visnu and then in the mind of Brahma who puts the world together. But time, as it is conceived of in evolutionary theory, may be a problem here, given the relatively short duration and nature of the yugas (Vedic ages). Therefore, it is difficult to validate or unify both positions in all respects.

How does the theory of evolution coincide with the Vaisnava account of creation?

In brief, here is how creation occurs according to the scripture:

Visnu resides in the "causal ocean," consisting of innumerable jiva souls in seed form, all of whom are under the latent influence of their karmic desires left over from the previous world cycle. At this time, the modes of material nature (gunas) are in a state of equilibrium. At some point, a feeling arises within Visnu, followed by an infinite vibration. This develops into an abstract idea and then into an actual thought, "I shall become many." Thus, the undisturbed equilibrium state of the gunas is activated by Visnu's glance of life, consisting of many jivas. Material nature is then galvanized by time and another world cycle is manifest.


This manifestation of the world is not technically a process of evolution in every sense, because the cause of the world itself (Visnu) never undergoes transformation. As matter develops, the jivas develop from gross to refined subtle expressions through 8,400,000 forms beginning with aquatic life and culminating in human life. At the time in this process that humanity makes its appearance on earth, everything is in order for the jiva souls to meet their maker. At this point, the world consisting of the jivas and matter--the marginal and external saktis of Visnu--becomes conscious of itself.

Unfortunately, this auspicious moment in cosmic history can take a turn for the worse for some souls. These souls think away their chance for liberation with sophisticated theories that deny their ties to a supreme consciousness, as does Darwinian evolution. There may be some truth to Darwin's theory, but it has done at least as much to obscure the nature of the material reality as it has to reveal it.

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