Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thomas Huxley

I was in an online discussion with my freshie back in school and what he mentioned struck me.

"In evolutionary biology, dawkins once said that, altrusim is an evolutionary advantage, it makes a species survive better because they help each other. Buddhism teaches tt compassion makes a better world too."

It never struck me before till now how it makes perfect sense about compassion and evolution. Buddhism has always been supportive of evolution, in fact, the Buddha was the earliest teacher to introduce a concept of evolution behind our existence. Though he has on many occassions chose to remain silent on this question, the Buddha, in the Aganna Sutta, gave an account of life on this earth as an evolutionary process.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Thomas Huxley, Darwin's bulldog may have initiated an interest in Buddhism amongst the philosophers and scientists of the Victorian age.

A Buddhist researcher wrote:

"Buddhism. . . is quite happy with the theory of evolution. In fact, Buddhist philosophy actually requires evolution to take place-all things are seen as being transient, constantly becoming, existing for a while, and then fading. The idea of unchanging species would not be compatible with Buddhist ontology.

For this reason, Darwinists have felt sympathetic toward Buddhism and promoted it ever since the 19th century.

The first to express Darwinist admiration for Buddhism was Thomas H. Huxley who, after Darwin himself proposed his theory, played the next most important role in the spread of Darwinism. Huxley appeared on the scene as Darwin's most passionate supporter and became known as "Darwin's bulldog." His debates with scientists and clergy defending the idea of creation, and the passion of his writings and speeches have made him the 19th century's most famous Darwinist.

One little-known fact about Huxley was his keen interest in Buddhism. Even while struggling with representatives of revealed religions like Judaism and Christianity, he regarded Buddhism as appropriate to the kind of secular civilization that he wanted to see established in the West. This is elaborated in the Philosophy East and West article, "Buddhism in Huxley's Evolution and Ethics," which includes the following description of Buddhism from Huxley's book of that name:

[Buddhism is] a system which knows no God in the Western sense; which denies a soul to man; which counts the belief in immortality a blunder and hope of it a sin; which refuses any efficacy to prayer and sacrifice; which bids men look to nothing but their own effortsfor salvation . . . . yet [it] spread over a considerable moiety of the Old World with marvelous rapidity and is still, with whatever base admixture of foreign superstitions, the dominant creed of a large fraction of mankind."

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