Is Buddha A Creator?
By John Meas
Lord Buddha was a human being; a super human being who attained enlightenment. His teaching on the origination of life, with the aim of finding the cause of suffering, is based entirely on the Law of Dependent Origination or Paticca Samuppada. This Law may be called a Consequential Law or Karma Vipaka. It may also be called the Law of Causation, linking action in past lives with the present life. Therefore, Lord Buddha regarded life as not being created, but rather as an assembly of elements activated consequentially; which may be termed an evolutionary process.
Buddhism does not accept creationism. Buddhist theory on the origination of Life and the Universe is analogous to scientific evolutionism in that Buddhism does not accept any authority or miraculous superpower to create any living beings or anything out of nothing, as creationists believe. To say that something is created out of nothing is illogical, unreasonable, and not appealing to common sense. Lord Buddha said that everything is caused by something. So, origination is causation. To say that at the beginning there was a Creator, it must necessarily entail another Creator and then a third, fourth, and fifth Creator, and so on, to create each other. Logically this falls into the fallacy of infinitesimal induction.
To produce a table requires wood, nails, and tools. Likewise, to plant rice we need rice seeds. In the same way, to originate a person inevitably requires a pair of ancestors, a man and a woman, without which our life is not possible. The Buddhist Theory of Causation concurs with modern science. However, Lord Buddha's Law of Dependent Origination, Paticca Samuppada, was promulgated long before the age of scientific discovery. Science postulates that biological life is a product of causation. The immediate ancestors of modern humans were Homo sapiens sapiens (sic). Their body forms were gradually changed from earlier ancestors, Australopithecus, which first existed about 5 million years ago.
According to the science of paleoanthropology, the first life forms on earth were unicellular and existed about 4 billion years ago. They originated by combinations of basic chemical matter called ribonucleic acid (RNA). This was discovered by a group of biologists led by Dr. Walter Gilbert of Harvard University. The components that make up RNA are called nucleotides, which themselves are composed of simple primitive elements, the primordial soup, consisting of three basic elements - base, ribose, and phosphate. A base can be formed by two common chemicals, ammonia and hydrogen cyanide; it is a side chain ring of atoms. Ribose is a kind of sugar. Phosphate is the organic salt, or ester, of phosphoric acid. RNA makes copies of itself and acquires a cell membrane. This process continues through the creation of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and then on to the creation of proteins. RNA, DNA, and Proteins are the troika that run and evolve all living cells till today. If creationists advocate that these primary matter - RNA, DNA and Proteins - were first created by God, their ideas completely contradict modern scientific discoveries.
Creationists believe that, according to The Last Revelation, at the beginning there was nothing, and at God's merest wish he began creating man, animals, living things, the earth, the air, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the whole universe about ten thousand years ago. This is completely contradictory to the findings published by the National Academy of Sciences. They undertook comparative research under the guidance of the Committee on Science and Creationism, established by the US Government to direct the curriculum for the US national educational system. The Committee, which published its findings called Science and Creationism in 1984, said that scientific experiments prove that mankind, animals, other living things, the earth, the sun, the moon, and the whole solar system were made up of clouds of dust and gases about 4.5 billion years ago.
Buddhism considers the origin of mankind, the world, and the universe, as the work of the law of nature; that everything evolves, mutates, and slowly changes and becomes another species. This is the Theory of Impermanence, Aniccata; wherein Lord Buddha said that everything exists momentarily.
The National Academy of Sciences says that Creationism reverses the scientific method; that the tenets of Creationism are not supported by scientific evidence. And that Creationism has no place in the science curriculum at any level of teaching in public schools.
Science and Creationism, page 23, on Human Evolution, says, "... today, there is no significant scientific doubt about the close evolutionary relationship among all primates or between apes and humans (Andrews and Cronin, 1982; Simons, 1980, 1981)". The "missing link" that troubled Charles Darwin and his followers is no longer missing. Today, not just one but many such connecting links, intermediate between various branches of the primate family tree, have been found as fossils. These fossils are intermediate in form and occur in geological deposits of intermediate age.
The following table summarizes the history of life on earth.
||Millions of years
[prokaryotic cells: unicellular animals]
||2 billion 700 million
||1 billion 400 million
|First multicellular animals
[snails, mollusks, oysters]
[crawling and creeping animals]
[vertebrates, including man, that feed milk to their young]
[monkeys and lemurs]
[gorillas and chimpanzees]
[man living in caves]
|Homo sapiens sapiens
[modern humans in the Stone Age]
Quoting Science and Creationism on page 14, "... creationists, while referring to the Old Testament, say that the earth, including its magnetic field, is only a few thousand years old; just more than 10,000 years old. This tenet of creationists can be scientifically tested but has not withstood scrutiny. Current scientific data support the theory that the earth's magnetic field is a product of the motion of its fluid core, and that the age of the earth and the solar system, according to geochronological evidence, indicates to be 4.5 billion years."
Law of Dependent Origination, Paticca Samuppada
Lord Buddha found the Law of Dependent Origination not by experimenting in the same way as a scientist does, but by transcendental reasoning about causation. This doctrine was first preached by Lord Buddha after he attained enlightenment. One of his two chief disciples, Sariputta, asked Lord Buddha, "What doctrine do you teach?" The Lord Buddha replied, "Ye dhamma hetupapphava tesam hetung tathagato"; meaning "All elements have causes; that is my teaching". Sariputta then began penetrating into the deepness of this truth and offered himself to be Lord Buddha's disciple. Lord Buddha himself ordained Sariputta as his first chief disciple.
Lord Buddha reasoned about the existence of human life - how it originates; how it gets born, how it grows old and sick and then it dies. He found that rebirth is the cause of old age, sickness, and death. His supramundane insight was that human life is composed of two distinct parts: Nama (Mentality), and Rupa (Corporeality). These two distinct parts are themselves made up of five aggregates - Rupa (Corporeality); and the four aggregates of Nama, namely Vedana (Feeling), Sanna (Perception), Sankhara (Coefficients of Consciousness), and Vinnana (Consciousness). All these are parts of twelve links of Dependent Origination.
Lord Buddha found rebirth as the condition causing decay and death and then followed by sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. He then reasoned deeper into the cause of rebirth. He discovered Paticca Samuppada (Interdependent Cause and Effect). Jati (Rebirth) is the last of the twelve chains of Dependent Origination, ultimately caused by Avijja (Ignorance):
1-2. Jati (Rebirth), is conditioned by Bhava (Becoming).
2-3. Bhava (Becoming) is conditioned by Upadana (Clinging).
3-4. Upadana (Clinging) is conditioned by Tanha (Craving).
4-5. Tanha (Craving) is conditioned by Vedana (Feeling).
5-6. Vedana (Feeling) is conditioned by Phassa (Sense-Impression).
6-7. Phassa (Sense-Impression) is conditioned by Salayatana (the six Sense-Bases).
7-8. Salayatana (the six Sense-Bases) are conditioned by Nama-Rupa (Mentality-and-Corporeality).
8-9. Nama-Rupa (Mentality-and-Corporeality) are conditioned by Vinnana (Consciousness).
9-10. Vinnana (Consciousness) is conditioned by Sankhara (Karma-Formations).
10-11. Sankhara (Karma-Formations) is conditioned by Avijja (Ignorance).
11-12. Avijja (Ignorance) is the final cause.
Why is Avijja (Ignorance) the root cause of everything? This question has very rarely been asked by Buddhist scholars. Avijja is defined in the Sutta-pitaka as not understanding the 4 Noble Truths, which are: Suffering; the Origin of Suffering; the Extinction of Suffering; and the Path leading to the Extinction of Suffering. In the Abhidhamma-pitaka, Ignorance is explained as not understanding the Past, the Future, and both the Past and the Future existence; and as not understanding the Dependent Origination of all the phenomena of existence.
The answer may be contained in the Central Philosophy of Buddhism by Dr. T. R. V. Murti, the late Professor of Philosophy, Benares Hindu University, India. Avijja is described as worldly colorful appearance. It is a material world that appears in a variety of forms; which two Buddhist sects (Theravada and Mahayana) accept as Maya (Illusion). It is the view of the Madhyamika School of Philosophy that Avijja gives rise to Maya.
Therefore, Maya belongs to the world of appearance. It can be asserted that any appearance cannot be real and what is unreal must be momentary or impermanent. This is the Theory of Momentariness. There are three fundamental concepts in this Theory: Aniccam (Impermanence), Dukkham (Suffering), and Anatta (Soullessness).
In this sense, Avijja is the Realm of Material Appearance; as opposed to Vijja (Knowledge) which is the Realm of Absolute, or Pure, Consciousness. This is asserted by another two sects of Buddhism, Vaibhasika and Sautrantika, who explain that Avijja is the appearance of an object as an entity existing independently of consciousness with which it is really identical.
Taking into consideration Avijja as the final cause and as the Material Appearance, it is readily understood that the above definition of Avijja can be said to be pointing to the primeval
cause of all things. All that in spite of the Lord Buddha's repeated and definite declaration that an absolute first beginning of existence is something unthinkable (Anamatagga Samyutta) and that all such speculation may lead to insanity (Anguttara Nikaya IV,77). Visuddhi Magga and Milinda Panha say that no one can imagine a time when there was no Ignorance and no craving for Existence.
This indicates that Avijja is beginningless, the causeless first cause. As explained in the Paticca Samuppada, this is primary matter, out of which, in the course of time, all conscious and physical life evolved.
If Avijja is a material cause, it is also true that any pure material is devoid of consciousness or life. Vaibhasika and Sautrantika assert that Avijja is the appearance of an object as an entity existing independently of consciousness with which it is really identical. This means that Avijja and Vijja are two entities. If so, mindless Avijja can never possess any knowledge. Only part of the entities that have consciousness can possess Vijja. To know implies that there is a knower and the known. Here, the knower must be our mind or consciousness, which exists together with the known, which may be matter or material appearance. The two parts are identical and at the same time distinct; the dual aspects of human life.
On the other hand, Avijja is referred to, in the Visuddhi Magga, as the 4 basic elements: Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, collectively called Mahabhutarupa. These were the rudimentary elements accepted by all religious leaders, in the West as well as in the East, before modern physics was established. The 4 basic elements were not scientifically discovered. They are the common sense understanding of the material world by the ancient religious scholars. Nowadays, Scientists have found more than one hundred and two chemical elements, or atoms. These are the ingredients of matter. They are the components of all life forms and all material forms including the sun, the moon and the stars.
Scientists have found that some of these elements can transmute from one to the other through various physical processes. People in ancient times believed that the 4 basic elements of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air were not only unchangeable but also inert, dead, and motionless; whereas atoms are active and the source of energy, as postulated in Albert Einstein's famous equation linking matter with energy,
Atoms can combine by themselves and among themselves into molecules and can form countless objects in the universe because energy is the inherent property that regulates atoms into molecules. The center of atoms, called the nucleus, is the mass possessing two parts, positively charged PROTONS and neutral particles called NEUTRONS. The clouds around the nucleus are negatively charged ELECTRONS.
In the next article, I shall elucidate in more detail how matter can create living forms and non-living forms, from the standpoint of scientific theory. This brief description may be enough to show the identity between Avijja and Primary Matter as the originator of the whole universe. Lord Buddha proposed this more than two thousand years ago.
John Meas became a monk at the age of 15. He received a Shastri degree in Buddhist philosophy from the Nalanda Institute of Bihar University, India, in 1958. He received another Shastri degree in General Philosophy from Benares Hindu University, India, in 1960. The Shastri degree is equivalent to a Masters degree. He studied the Synthetic Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo at Pondicherry, India, in 1961. He became a Professor of Philosophy at the Buddhist University in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After that he was a Professor of Philosophy and Cambodian Literature at the University of Phnom Penh from 1964-1967. He is currently at the Voice of America in the United States, broadcasting in the Khmer language.