Origin of Life – There is No Traceable Origin

July 10, 2019; revised July 11, 2019

Why Is This Issue Important?

1. As I explained in my previous post, we CREATE OUR OWN future lives, as described by Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda; “Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda (How We Create Our Own Rebirths)“.

  • Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle starts with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra”. As long as there is avijjā (no comprehension of the Four Noble Truths), one is bound to do (abhi)saṅkhāra — and generate kamma —  there will be bhava and jāti (i.e., rebirth). That cycle will continue forever (just as it had no beginning).
  • All types of births (jāti) lead to suffering, without exception.
  • This cycle ends ONLY WHEN one’s avijjā is removed via comprehension of the real nature of this world of 31 realms and one voluntarily gives craving (taṇhā) for existence in this world of 31 realms. That is the attainment of Nibbāna or Arahanthood.
  • This understanding is the FOUNDATION of Buddha Dhamma.

2. Therefore, the question, “What is the origin of life?” is very much relevant to UNDERSTANDING Buddha Dhamma.

  • Most scientists believe that our universe came to existence only about 14 billion years ago with the “Big Bang”.
  • Furthermore, current scientific theories say that life first formed in a primitive state (single-cell entities) and evolved to more complex life forms. And that humans came into existence less than five hundred thousand years ago.
  • Most scientists do not agree with the “Creation hypothesis” that is the foundation of Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) simply because it is not compatible with the Principle of Causality. It says nothing can come to existence without a cause(s). If a Creator created life, how did that Creator come into existence?
  • The compatibility of a “Big Bang” origin with causality is also not clear. Scientists are exploring possibilities like the “multiverse theory”, but those are still speculative.
  • However, our focus in this series of posts is not the actual origin of the universe, but the origin of life on Earth.
Buddha’s Explanation

3. According to the Buddha, life has no traceable beginning. This is certainly compatible with causality.

  • For example, in the “Gaddulabaddha Sutta (SN 22.99)“: “Anamataggoyaṃ, bhikkhave, saṃsāro” means bhikkhus, there is no discernible beginning to the rebirth process”. It also describes how living beings are bound to samsara, because they do not realize the anicca, dukkha, anatta nature, which we recently discussed: “Sotāpanna Stage and Tilakkhana“.
  • The above verse appears in all suttā in the “Anamatagga Saṃyutta” of the Samyutta Nikāya, where each sutta gives a simile to illustrate how long each of us has been in this rebirth process and how much suffering we have endured.
  • However, it must be noted that Buddha’s message is NOT a depressing one.
  • Whether there is a Buddha in the world or not, this suffering exists. This suffering is real but there is a way to overcome that suffering.
  • Without a Buddha, we will not even be aware of this hidden suffering. Furthermore, a Buddha FOUND A WAY (Noble Eightfold Path) to stop this perpetual suffering. That is the uplifting message.

4. As many of you may have observed, learning deeper aspects of Buddha Dhamma is not easy. It requires one to spend considerable time learning and then contemplating.

  • Without an understanding of how long the saṃsāric journey is and how much suffering is encountered in most births, it is difficult to generate the MOTIVATION to study Buddha Dhamma. Most people turn to Buddha Dhamma only when they come down with harsh suffering, seeking relief. But the best time to learn is when one is healthy with a sharp mind, and I hope I can motivate those people too with this series.
  • In the “Upanisa Sutta (SN 12.23)“, the Buddha discussed the proximate causes/conditions (upanisa) for various factors leading to Nibbāna. Understanding how various births (jāti) arise and how ALL those births give rise to dukkha (suffering) is the key.
  • That understanding cannot be attained until one can clearly see that there has not been a BEGINNING to this rebirth process, and we all have suffered so much in each and every birth. Regarding the perpetual suffering, I will also discuss the “Pathama Niraya Sagga Sutta (AN 10.211)” in the future. It explains the causes of rebirth in good and bad realms, and why most births are in bad realms.

5. Life has always existed, but planetary systems (like our Solar system) are destroyed periodically and re-formed over long times.

  • This is the only explanation that is consistent with the Principle of Causality: There is no “first beginning to life”. Life always existed, and it evolves according to the Principle of Causality, which is Paṭicca Samuppāda; see my previous post: “Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda (How We Create Our Own Rebirths)“.
  • If we go by the Principle of Causality (which is THE basis of modern science), there CANNOT be an origin of life, unless life can start with inert matter.
  • What the video below explains is that it is NOT POSSIBLE to create EVEN A SINGLE CELL (basic building block of life) in the laboratory starting with inter matter. If it cannot be created in a laboratory under controlled conditions, it WILL NOT be possible for life to arise in a natural process starting with inert matter.
  • In a newly-formed Earth, the first cells are created by kammic energy. In other words, it is the “mental energy” in javana citta that is really responsible for a “first cell”. I will discuss this in future posts on Aggañña Sutta.
Evolutionists Versus Creationists

6. Of course, there is an ongoing debate between the evolutionists and creationists. Evolutionists believe that life evolved into complex entities like humans over billions of years. Furthermore, they believe that even the first cell (which is the building block of all life forms) evolved in the early Earth starting with inert molecules. Creationists, on the other hand, believe that a Creator God created life.

  • I am providing a few references at the end of the post for both sides.
  • It is to be noted that most evolutionists do not discuss the origin of a cell that much. They mainly focus on the “evolution of the species” STARTING WITH a fully functioning cell and progressing into more complex species with more and more cells of complex structure. Evolutionists are just speculating that a cell evolved in the primitive Earth due to random events. For example, Dr. Richard Dawkins writes in the reference given below, “How long would we have to wait before random chemical events on a planet, random thermal jostling of atoms and molecules, resulted in a self-replicating molecule? Chemists don’t know the answer to this question” (p. 144).
  • On the other hand, creationists focus on the issue of why it is not possible to “create a cell” via evolution. Many of them agree that complex life possibly evolved starting with simpler life forms.
  • I agree with the creationists that it is not possible for a cell to come to existence “starting with inert molecules” via random events. You can decide for yourself based on the videos below (and the references if you are really interested). Of course, we can discuss at the discussion forum.

7. The video below is by a scientist (Dr. James Tour) who has a different viewpoint than most other scientists. He provides solid evidence that life could not have evolved starting with inert matter. It is too complex to have been evolved by natural processes.

  • At the end of the video, Dr. Tour comes to the conclusion that since life is too complex to evolve, it must have been CREATED by a Creator God. That is the other extreme view.
  • According to Buddha Dhamma, life did not evolve from inert matter, nor it was created by a Creator God. Life always existed and it just takes different forms when a given “lifestream” is reborn a human, animal, deva, etc. We all have been born in most of the 31 realms in our deep past! When the conditions on Earth became suitable cells came to existence via kammic energy.
Mind Is the Creator of (New Forms of) Life! No Beginning to Life

8. Of course, it is very likely that Dr. Tour is not aware of the extensive and scientific explanation by the Buddha in the Aggañña sutta: Life has ALWAYS existed. A given lifestream (you or I) have existed without a traceable beginning.

  • I will not be able to discuss that complex process any time soon. But I have discussed the main points in the Aggañña sutta in the post:”Buddhism and Evolution – Aggañña Sutta (DN 27)“.
  • It is just that we ourselves CREATE OUR OWN future lives, as described via Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda (which I discussed in my previous post).

9. A cell is the building block of life. Setting aside a complex life form like a human (made of trillions of different types of cells), science WILL NOT be able to create even a single cell. In fact, even in any CURRENT living being, individual cells are not formed. Instead, an existing cell divides to make two cells, and that is how more and more living cells come into existence!

  • Each of our bodies started with just a single cell (zygote), and it became alive only when a gandhabba (or patisandhi viññāna) “descended to the womb” and merged with that single cell. It is cell division that led to the current physical body with trillions of cells; see, “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception“.
  • No scientist has been able to CREATE even a primitive single cell. In cloning experiments, they deal only with existing cells; see, “Cloning and Gandhabba“.
  • As explained by Dr. Tour, a living cell is very complex and is like a working factory. He does a good job in his explanations.

10. Here is an introductory video on a living cell (you may need to copy the URL below and paste in a browser window if the video does not show up):


For evolution:

Richard Dawkins, “The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design” (2015).

Jerry A. Coyne, “Why Evolution is True” (2010).

(Note that both these and other books/research papers do not provide ANY evidence for the evolution of a cell)

For creation:

Stephen Meyer, “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design” (2010).

Richard Behe, “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution” (2006).

Both evolution and creation not adequate:

Thomas Nagel, “Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False” (2012).

  • Professor Nagel (who is a philosopher) obviously has had no exposure to Buddha Dhamma. But I am very much impressed that he came to the conclusion that mind MUST play a central role. I will write more on that in future posts.
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