THE NATURE OF MATTER
Evolution of Living Matter
S. R. N. Murthy
A Study of the geological record indicates that the grand march of life on the earth is from almost the beginning of the earth. The micro fossils of bacteria and algae found in rocks of more than three billion years old occurring in Africa, Australia and Canada provide evidence on the earliest evolution of life on the earth. According to Barghoorn, the Precambrian interval began when the earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago and ended about 600 million years ago, when the Palaeozoic era commenced. The geological record shows that there was a great spurt of life in the Palaeozoic rocks. Though there is no geological record to show the gradual development of life from the unicellular organism to the multicellular ones in the Precambrian, it is presumed with good reason for the rocks of the Precambrian have undergone total metamorphism. From the Palaeozoic to the present history of the earth, the grand march of life is recorded with all its details, of course with punctuation. The trilobites and graptolites of the early Palaeozoic gave rise to fishes in the Devonian followed by reptiles in the Mesozoic, mammals in the Tertiary and the human beings in the Recent; on animal side and firns in the carboniferous giving rise to flowering plants in the Tertiary on the vegetative side.
According to Kummel ‘The idea of evolution had been known long before Darwin, but he was the first to demonstrate convincingly the general principle of evolution . . .’. Thus it can be surmised that man on the earth is a product of evolution of life from the unicellular organism to the crown creation.
Further Kummel observed that "Two men — the Chevalier de Lamarck (1744-1829) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) — removed the study of the evolution of life from a theological and metaphysical frame to its proper place in biological philosophy. Lamarck was the first really scientific student of evolution. His book Zoological Philosophy published in 1809, aroused a controversy that is still not completely resolved. Lamarck recognised, in the successive organisms he studied, a progressive complication of organisation, and to him that meant evolution; he saw however, that living organisms could not be classified into a simple continuous series of ever increasing complexity. Environment, he believed, was a factor in, but not a cause of, evolution."
Either the concept of disuse or use of organs influenced by environment according to Lamarck or the concept of natural selection by Darwin in advancing organic evolution though brought a kind of revolution in scientific thinking on the grand march of life did not stand the factual criticism and gave way to the modern discipline of genetics which actually originated with Gregor Johann Mendel. From the beginning of the present century this field is being elaborated and it is now known that the chromosomes in the nuclei of the cells contain genes — the paired hereditary factors of Mendel and the spontaneous change in them give rise to new hereditary forms, which is called mutations. It is noted that the cause of mutation is still uncertain.
From the geological record many kinds of evolutionary changes have been known. According to Kummel "Evolutionary changes in animals can be convergent, divergent or parallel. If unrelated groups come to have a similar appearance, we say that their evolution is convergent. Certain genera of fossil brachiopods and pelecypods, for e.g., had a cone-shaped shell that was cemented to the sea bottom like that of the solitary corals — the explanation being that the brachiopods and the pelecypods became adopted to an environmental niche that was similar to that of the corals. If closely related groups become less similar as they evolve, their evolution is said to be divergent. Evolution that is neither convergent nor divergent is said to be parallel. Parallelism is common to the fossil record."
This explains the influence of environment on animals in the fossil record. Also trends like orthogenetic with oriented trends and radiation type are also known from the fossil records. Thus data from the geological record has given us valuable evidence to understand the evolution of life on the earth. While evolution of the living matter as found in the geological record is a product of modern science of the earth, without entering into such details the ancient Indian texts of philosophy and Ayurveda deal with the origin of life in a different manner. In the final both the concepts are mutually complementary but not contradictory. The ancient Indian texts do not trace the evolution of life on the earth with such details as the geological sciences do. The entire facts of the geological record can only be considered as only supplementing the ancient Indian thoughts. The ancient Indian thinkers have made a thorough study of the life that is obtained on the earth in its present stage of its long history. Ray and Gupta state that "Man, according to Caraka, is an epitome of the macrocosm. Following the philosophical doctrines of Samkhya and Vedanta, Caraka holds that the individual is a replica of the universal; both the external world and the individual man are the manifestations of one and the same eternal spirit (Brahman). In other words, spirit and matter are not two separate entities but one integral whole. Both man and the visible world are composed of six elements. Prthivi (earth), ap (water or liquid), tejas (fire), vayu (air) and akasa (ether) are common to both. The sixth element, the spirit or self in the individual, is equivalent to Brahman in the universe." Further they observed that "Conception occurs inside the womb by the union of semen, ovum and the spirit. By the physical act of mating union takes place between the semen (sperm cell) and the female ovum (germ cell); then the spirit, associated with the mind, descends and enters into the zygote formed, and a new embryonic life is created. If the spirit does not descend, no life is created and conception fails to occur." and "It is the mind which yokes the living organism to the spirit and holds the senses together. With the departure of mind, the organism becomes a lifeless matter."
They also deliberate further on the concepts of Caraka on heredity and environ-ment. These factors indicate that in spite of large gaps in their knowledge about the modern scientific data on the evolution of life, the ancient Indians succeeded in understanding the origin and evolution of life in its broad outline. The modern science is trying hard to unravel the origin of life. Experiments on amino-acids etc. have only indicated the frame that would be necessary to hold life but not its cause, i.e., the spirit. The identification of the spirit and its role in the origin of life is the prime contribution of ancient Indian thought, which fact is to be recognised by modern science. Hence, there is need for a close collaboration of modern science and ancient Indian thought to fully understand the evolution of living matter in the universe in general and on the earth in special. The earth being a representative of the universe, and in dynamic equilibrium with the universal bodies, its evolution to catch the spirit to manifest life is a matter of deep reflect from both the occident and the orient.
The Unique Earth
That the earth is a representative of the whole universe and is set in dynamic motion is realised both in the East as well as in the Western thinking, is not a matter for deep deliberation. Both the occident and the orient have influenced each other in arriving at the idea. But advancement in modern earthscience has something more to contri-bute in giving us details of the earth which made its frame aminable for life to enter. The primary geochemcial differentiation of the earth dividing it into an external shell of crust, middle shell of mentle and inner shell of core is something salutary. This has not happened in any other member of the solar family or if it had happened it is not complete in all respect to have produced a geomagnetic field as has been done by the earth. As a result of the generation of a geomagnetic field by the virtue of which the surface of the earth is having solar light filtered of all harmful types of rays like x-rays, a protective field for life to manifest on the earth was created. In this sense the importance of the generation of the electromagnetic field of the earth is something superb.
Soon after the primary geochemical differentiation of the earth, it may be taken that the sedimentary cycle started functioning on the earth with the origin of oceans in between the land masses. This was a second fact which fecilitated the life to manifest on the earth. Without the appearance of water sheet on the surface of the earth, the mere mineral or chemical frame would have hardly held life within it. Even if such a structure had been encased life, its activity having been limited and perceptions quelled, would hardly been realised that life did exist.
The above two stages can be deciphered from the modern geological point of view in tracing evolution of living matter. So far no life is reported on other members of the solar family. Also it is uncertain that life exists in other galaxies of the universe. As much as that the earth is the only planet to give birth and protect life in its numerous forms make it really fit to be addressed as ‘Mother Earth’.
Why only that the earth has undergone primary differentiation of its matter and not others is a matter of deep research. The facts may be related to its early faster motion, its chemistry and other factors. The factors defining the developments of the physico-chemical condition of the earth to encase life is therefore unique and this uniqueness is difficult to be satisfactorily answered. The chemistry of the earth generally represented by that of its mantle which makes up a major portion possesses a chemistry comparable to that of the solar chormosphere and the meteorites. This chemistry of the earth set in such a dynamic motion has slowly acquired shell structure with different composition during the course of its history. All these factors need be taken into consideration when we are discussing the optimum conditions for the chemical material structure to hold life in it.
The Life Force of Field of Life
Matter can exist without life but life to manifest matter is essential. That does not mean that the matter will, on attaining optimum condition should automatically contain life. It may also mean life that. But that may mean that until such conditioning life force will not be able to be held by matter. Or life may be in gross form in the inanimate things and gradually transform into living form when the matter gets conditioned to hold it.
Life is equated with prana in Sanskrit. Prana is a kind of air or vayu. Along with other kinds of air namely apana, samana, udana, vyana, naga, kurma, krakara, devadatta and dhananjaya, it resides in the human body. Life is between the first and the last breath. Thus the life force is the kind of air which enters the body and makes it living. Therefore the body or shareera which is parthiva or made of earth and also water becomes living on the application of air. Thus the body is of earth, water and air and can exist only under certain condition of heat or temperature accounting for the four bhutas of the Pancamahabhutas. Prthivi confers hardness; ap confers fluid constitutents; tejas the body heat; vayu the vital breath and akasa the bodily orifices.
It is also noted that the various kinds of air reside in the following parts of the body:
and it is also mentioned that the air dhananjaya will not leave the body even after death. That means that one kind of air exists in the dead or non-living body also. This indicates that the life force exists in different form from the non-living to the living in more than one form. Even after the body is capable of breathing it may not be epitheted to be ‘living’ but for the spirit of life enters the body. The spirit of life charges the body with mind and holds senses together.
Therefore the case made by the pancamahabhutas alone cannot make it live. The most important thing is the spirit of life. The spirit of life can be separated from the body by yogic practice when the body can only be said as a case of pancabhutas. It is motionless and static. No life for that matter. But soon spirit descends into it, it electrifies the mind and senses. The body can be held for long period by yogic practices. This is clear evidence of the relationship that spirit holds with the body which is only parthiva.
Analyses through Modern Science
Developments in genetics about the detailed and elaborate researches in the DNA and RNA and the tremendous scope for the field of study has taken us to much advanced areas. However, the study of these complex molecules have not been able to help ascertain the role of spirit in the induction of life. One of the leading research laboratories in the U.S.A. has this as the Director’s introduction to a department of embryology, one of the most advanced fields in genetics. It states that "Consider the window to developmental biology presented just by this small department alone. We are asking about how genes are regulated, i.e., "Differential gene action". What is the basis of tissue specificity, of developmental specificity on a time axis? What molecules instruct cells to specialise? How do cells migrate to a precise position during embryogenesis? What is the role of harmones in development? etc. etc." All these researches belong to the parthiva field only as has been described earlier. Though a knowledge of the material world is essential, it is not the be all and end all. The importance of spirit underlying life must be realised after the research and the differences between life with spirit and life without spirit must be brought out.
The Wisdom of Taittiriya Upanisad
The Taittiriya Upanisad, one of the ten most important Upanisads of Indian philosophy, has made important observations in the evolution of life. It traces the life evolution to space. Accordingly, space is noted to evolve into air, air into fire, fire into water and water into the earth. Earth generates the vegetative kingdom which gives rise to food. From food is life on the earth, it contends. The life or purusa is constituted by anna-rasa. Subtle is this annamaya-kosa which is the field of food and subtler is pranamaya-kosa the field of life. Also the manomaya-kosa or the field of mind (cetana or spirit) is still subtler and the field of science still subtler — vijnanamaya-kosa. The final and the subtlest of all these fields is the anandamaya-kosa, i.e., the field of bliss-eternal bliss.
This text very briefly traces the evolution of living matter from space. But then it also advances and traces the steps to realise the underlying truth of the universe, true to a research oriented philosophy. Infusing all the pancabhutas in certain proportions, life has evolved through various stages of the geological history and has been becoming more refined and subtle. The coarser frames of early eological ages has given rise to more advanced and refined kind of life as time has advanced. This has been made clear by the geological record.
The geological record shows the various stages of the evolution of living matter from the time of the origin of the earth to the present. This is unique of the earth. Though these individual stages were not known to ancient Indian seers, they have been able realise the truth underlying the evolution from a philosophical point of view and have brought out in very brief outline the essence of the modern scientific results.
©1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi