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Dr. Ravi Ravindra, PhD
Among the central tenets of the vast and varied Hindu tradition, from the earliest recorded hymns of the Rig Veda to the sayings of the contemporary great sages such as Ramana Maharishi and Sri Aurobindo, is the insight of the oneness of all there is, based on the direct experience of the sages. Not only all living beings but everything is derived from Brahman, the AbsoluteReality beyond any description and material or conceptual form. Brahman is not only in everything but is everything. Therefore, there are noinsurmountable boundaries among different expressions of existence atdifferent levels of consciousness and with different possibilities, from the simplest unicellular creatures to the highest God.
Human beings are unique and have special responsibilities in the vast cosmos, but they are neither radically different from other creatures nor are they the end product of evolution. Each creature emerges from Brahmanand is evolving towards the realization of oneness with Brahman. Physical and biological evolution represents only the most obvious aspect of the general evolution of being, in precisely the same manner as the physical andbiological aspects of the universe represent only one level of subtlety in themulti-leveled cosmos. There is an isomorphism between a human being andthe cosmos: humans are regarded as potentially able to mirror the entire cosmos in all its many levels, and just as a human being has physical, biological, emotional and spiritual aspects, so does the cosmos. Furthermore, only the corresponding levels—within us and outside us—can comprehend each other.
For millennia, the Hindu cosmology has had a sense of a vast scale ofcyclical time. In traditional Hindu cosmology, in each cycle of creation, the manifested universe endures for one day of Brahma, the personalized aspectof Brahman, who is responsible for creation. This is calculated to be equal to 4,320,000,000 human years. And the universe is then quiescent for one night of Brahma of equal duration. This process repeats for a 100 Brahma years (315 trillion human years). In this large scale of time, any time-span requirements of scientific cosmology and theory of evolution can be easily accommodated.
The Hindu tradition, especially in its folk aspects, places a fair amount of emphasis on faith, but its main call is to direct knowledge (jñana, gnosis, insight) based on a free inquiry without the restrictions of organized religious institutions or of the scriptures, and the tradition cannot in principle be opposed to knowledge at any level, including scientific knowledge. The tradition is very large and exceptions may be found, but in general, instancesof conflict between educated Hindus and any scientific idea, including the theory of biological evolution, are historically absent.
At a personal level, as a scientist I have faith in the existence of order in the cosmos and the usefulness of scientific research in discovering that order; and as someone nourished by the Hindu tradition I have faith in what the sages have enunciated about the many levels of being within myself and in the cosmos, in the oneness of all there is and at the same time the uniqueness of each blade of grass. However, the real task, and the persistent call of the Hindu tradition, is not to rest on this faith, but to accept the specifically human responsibility for the direct realization of this oneness, and to work towards the discovery and the maintenance of order in the psyche, on the planet and in the cosmos.