Origin of the universe and the life process
A Buddhist’s point of viewBy Daya Sirisena
Today human beings, particularly Buddhists, can be happy that the knowledge they have acquired provides beyond doubt that life arises as the consequence of certain natural process with the properties inherent in the cosmos. To prove it, scientists are trying to reproduce the right conditions by which these processes are brought into operation. Let me tell you, scientists are not creating life, they are mostly bringing about artificially the situations in which all the factors being present, living organism inevitably come into being.
They are not created out of nothing. They are the results of nature’s chemistry. They grow and develop in accordance with nature’s laws and tsunami itself is one proof of causality.
Here it may seem that there is a loophole for the omnipotent God. If God did not create life in the sense hitherto believed, can it not be said that, He created laws by which life comes into being; if God did not, who did? This puts the question right back at its starting point, for if God himself is a living, willing and acting being, there must be laws by which He himself lives, and those laws must have been in existence prior to God. He could not have created and established the laws of nature before he existed himself.
If God is stripped off all personality he becomes nothing but natural law, a mere abstraction. It is only anthropomorphic God, a God in the likeness of man that can be loved worshipped and endowed with moral qualities. Only a god who has personality can have love, pity and concern for human beings. These are mental qualities. In the language of psychology, they are personality traits. One cannot love the law of gravity or the force fields of nuclear physics. As H.G. Wells pointed out, unless God is a person, he is nothing at all.
If the scientist is able to produce living cells in a test tube it might be supposed by some people that the scientist has become God. There is in fact growing tendency to look upon the science laboratory as a temple, but to follow out the analogy, we must regard the scientist not as God but as High priest of what? Of natural law.
Can it indeed be said that the universe and the life process had any beginning, or are we constrained to think in terms of beginnings only because of the limitations of our own mind?
No origin out of nothingness
A beginning is an event which has to take place at a specific point of space and time. It cannot occur in a timeless void because the three conditions of time - past, present and future which are necessary for the occurrence of any event cannot obtain in a timeless state. For any event to take place, there must be the time before its occurrence (past) the time of its occurrence (present) and the time after its occurrence (future). But time is an altogether relative concept. There must be events taking place to enable time to exist and it is by the regular occurrence of certain events such as the rotation of the earth and seasonal changes that it can be known and measured. The occurrence of events necessitates objects that occupy space.
Thereby, their movements in relation to another mark, not only divisions in time but also measurable areas in space. Space and time therefore are a unity; a qualitative whole with quantitative parts or relationships. We may consider them separately, but we cannot make any statement concerning the one which do not involve the other. This is stated broadly in the basis of the theory of relativity. The knowledge of space and time depends upon consciousness and position without any fixed point of observation spatial and temporal.
Movement is common to both the observer and the object observed, so that what can be known is not a thing but merely a relationship.
When this is understood it follows that there could never have been a beginning or origin out of nothingness of the universe or the life process.
It is known that, the universe as we know evolved out of dispersed matter of a previous universe, and when it passes away its remains in the form of active forces, will in time give rise to another universe in exactly the same way, the process is cyclic and continuous.
The space and time complex is curved and in a curved construction of inter-relationships there can be no point of origin of departure, so that in this series of related causes it is useless to look for any first causes. And think them to be necessary only because our minds are conditioned to spatial and temporal relativity; the mind by its very nature, must operate within the mechanism of which it is itself a part. It can deal only with relationships.
This is why it is said in Buddhist texts “the origin of phenomena is not discoverable, beginning of the beings obstructed by ignorance and ensnared in craving not to be found.”
The Buddha’s teaching was for those who could practice it here and now. Many are the ways the Buddha explains the true nature of things.
(The writer is a serious student of Buddhist Abhidhamma and serves as a Trustee of the Sirisena Dhamma Mandiraya, Moratuwa)