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In Hinduism, is there a concept of evolution? If so, how it it portrayed? I seen a YouTube video that I am unable to find again that says that the Vedic text says that beings evolve from most complex being to the simplest being(backwards from scientific conception), but also states that consciousness evolves from the simplest to the most complex. Is this true?

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    What the Vedas describe is unrelated to the scientific theory of evolution. They do describe changes in the forms of beings, but calling that evolution is kind of a stretch. (Don't know enough about this to write an answer, but hopefully someone will.) – senshin Jun 19 '14 at 16:44
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    I am not sure whether you are asking about this, the avatars of Vishnu is often compared with the evolution theory. See the link en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dashavatara – user11 Jun 19 '14 at 18:20
  • @A_runningMind This popular notion of the dasavatara portraying evolution is incorrect and one retro-fitted to "modern scientific inclination". According to bhagavata puranam, the very first avatara was Yagnya varaha avatara not matsya. – user1195 Feb 10 '15 at 15:09
  • As far as I know, the Vedas themselves don't mention any of the avatars of Vishnu (although I recently learned that "Rudra" in some scriptures can sometimes refer to Narasimha). – AdityaS Feb 10 '15 at 20:59
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    @KeshavSrinivasan I understand the context in which evolution is being talked about here. I am saying it may not be limited to animal kingdom alone and is much more expansive. Second, there are some roundabout sources for the evolution I mention. Vedas mention para, pasyanti, madhya and vaikhari and the turiya (i.e.vaikhari) is said to be limited to the human form. Panini in his Ashtadhyay has apparently expounded on this and stated the sound present in stone is para, in vegetation it is pasyanti, in animals madhyama and has evolved into vaikhari in humans. – user1195 Mar 6 '15 at 14:34
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Evolution can be seen from 2 different aspects, the cosmic and the particular. From a particular standpoint I mean evolution as it occurs in man and in nature. Patanjali is his Yoga Aphorisms (IV. 2-3.) says that evolution is caused by the infilling of nature. Here are the two verses with the translation and commentary of Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works, V1 pp 291-292, and here under the title of Raja Yoga - http://cwsv.belurmath.org/volume_1/vol_1_frame.htm)

  1. The change into another species is by the filling in of nature.

Patanjali has advanced the proposition that these powers come by birth, sometimes by chemical means, or through mortification. He also admits that this body can be kept for any length of time. Now he goes on to state what is the cause of the change of the body into another species. He says this is done by the filling in of nature, which he explains in the next aphorism.

  1. Good and bad deeds are not the direct causes in the transformations of nature, but they act as breakers of obstacles to the evolutions of nature: as a farmer breaks the obstacles to the course of water, which then runs down by its own nature.

The water for irrigation of fields is already in the canal, only shut in by gates. The farmer opens these gates, and the water flows in by itself, by the law of gravitation. So all progress and power are already in every man; perfection is man's nature, only it is barred in and prevented from taking its proper course. If anyone can take the bar off, in rushes nature. Then the man attains the powers which are his already. Those we call wicked become saints, as soon as the bar is broken and nature rushes in. It is nature that is driving us towards perfection, and eventually she will bring everyone there. All these practices and struggles to become religious are only negative work, to take off the bars, and open the doors to that perfection which is our birthright, our nature.

Today the evolution theory of the ancient Yogis will be better understood in the light of modern research. And yet the theory of the Yogis is a better explanation. The two causes of evolution advanced by the moderns, viz sexual selection and survival of the fittest, are inadequate. Suppose human knowledge to have advanced so much as to eliminate competition, both from the function of acquiring physical sustenance and of acquiring a mate. Then, according to the moderns, human progress will stop and the race will die. The result of this theory is to furnish every oppressor with an argument to calm the qualms of conscience. Men are not lacking, who, posing as philosophers, want to kill out all wicked and incompetent persons (they are, of course, the only judges of competency) and thus preserve the human race! But the great ancient evolutionist, Patanjali, declares that the true secret of evolution is the manifestation of the perfection which is already in every being; that this perfection has been barred and the infinite tide behind is struggling to express itself. These struggles and competitions are but the results of our ignorance, because we do not know the proper way to unlock the gate and let the water in. This infinite tide behind must express itself; it is the cause of all manifestation. Competitions for life or sex-gratification are only momentary, unnecessary, extraneous effects, caused by ignorance. Even when all competition has ceased, this perfect nature behind will make us go forward until everyone has become perfect. Therefore there is no reason to believe that competition is necessary to progress. In the animal the man was suppressed, but as soon as the door was opened, out rushed man. So in man there is the potential god, kept in by the locks and bars of ignorance. When knowledge breaks these bars, the god becomes manifest.

The other evolution that is occurring is on the cosmic scale. Did intelligence evolve from non-intelligence or did intelligence come first? This is the classical chicken and egg problem - what came first the chicken or the egg? If you think in a straight line, then you are always going back infinitum. There were an infinite number of universes before our universe, adn there will be an infinite number after this universe is destroyed. Who can then say which is first? Swami Vivekananda comments on this (Complete Works, V1 pp 252-253) in his lengthy commentary to another verse in Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms (II. 19.) He says:

Next "the indicated only" means the Buddhi, the intellect. "The indicated only" is the first manifestation of nature; from it all other manifestations proceed. The last is "the signless". There seems to be a great difference between modern science and all religions at this point. Every religion has the idea that the universe comes out of intelligence. The theory of God, taking it in its psychological significance, apart from all ideas of personality, is that intelligence is first in the order of creation, and that out of intelligence comes what we call gross matter. Modern philosophers say that intelligence is the last to come. They say that unintelligent things slowly evolve into animals, and from animals into men. They claim that instead of everything coming out of intelligence, intelligence itself is the last to come. Both the religious and the scientific statements, though seeming directly opposed to each other are true. Take an infinite series, A—B—A—B —A—B. etc. The question is — which is first, A or B? If you take the series as A—B. you will say that A is first, but if you take it as B—A, you will say that B is first. It depends upon the way we look at it. Intelligence undergoes modification and becomes the gross matter, this again merges into intelligence, and thus the process goes on. The Sankhyas, and other religionists, put intelligence first, and the series becomes intelligence, then matter. The scientific man puts his finger on matter, and says matter, then intelligence. They both indicate the same chain. Indian philosophy, however, goes beyond both intelligence and matter, and finds a Purusha, or Self, which is beyond intelligence, of which intelligence is but the borrowed light.

Neither intelligence nor non-intelligence came first, Brahman came first.

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Yes it is true. (Some cynics might dismiss it as co-incidence.)

Matsya

First avatar is a fish, one which is creature living in water. If we compare it with biological evolution on different Geological Time Scale first developed life was also in the form of fish which originated during Cambrian period.

Kurma

Second avatar was in the form of Tortoise (reptiles). In geology also first reptiles comes as second important evolution which originated in Mississippian period just after Amphibians. Varaha

Third avatar was in the form of Boar. Evolution of the amphibean to the land animal.

Narasimha

The Man-Lion (Nara= man, simha=lion) was the fourth avatar. But in geology no such evidences are mentioned. It may have been related with Ape Man The term may sometimes refer to extinct early human ancestors, such as the undiscovered missing link between apes and humans.

Vamana

Fifth Avatar is the dwarf man. It may be related with the first man originated during Pliocene.

Parashurama

The man with an axe was the sixth avatar. It has the similarities with the first modern man originated during Quaternary period or the man of Iron Age.

Lord Rama, Lord Krishna and Lord Buddha were the seventh, eighth and ninth other avatars of Lord Vishnu. It indicates the physical and mental changes and evolution in the man from its time of appearance.

Taken from here: http://theepicworld.blogspot.com/2010/04/similarity-between-darwinism-and.html

This is not only physical evolution but also evolution of consciousness at each stage of evolution of species.

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    i am a medical doctor, AFAIK the first living organism was unicellular bacteria (phytoplankton) and fish came into existence much later – agha rehan abbas Dec 3 '14 at 18:02
  • @agha rehan abbas, evolution is complicated & not linear. 10 Avatar's can't fit the whole evolution of species. The 10 avatars is a symbolic approximation of the evolution of consciousness. – Bharat Dec 6 '14 at 1:20
  • but i think many verses of vedas suggest that during every age, god has sent some one to guide others???, what about those invertebrates?? was their no guidance for them? – agha rehan abbas Jan 1 '15 at 7:14
  • @agharehanabbas, in hindu metaphysics God doesn't send someone but it itself incarnates. This is different from prophetism where a human is chosen as a messenger. The messenger is human but not god but an exclusive agaent of God. Avatar doesn't guide anyone. It merely upholds Dharma. Invertebrates have their own Dharma. Avatars are not exclusive, there can be many at different point of times and places and in the future too. Not final, perfect and complete messenger. – Bharat Jan 1 '15 at 15:31
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    @moonstar2001 Can you elaborate on this? What's the relation between the order of the Avataras and astrology? – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 12 '15 at 16:03
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Matsya Aquatic lifeform.

Koorma Semi-Aquatic lifeform.

Varaha First Mammal

Narashimha Half man-Half Human.

Vamana Dwarf. The act of stepping on MahaBali(Asura) and burying him in the ground signifies suppression of animal tendencies.

ParashuRama The Parashu(axe) signifies Hunter-Gatherer.

BhargavaRama The Plough signifies Agriculture and of man settling down after the nomadic phase of Hunter-Gatherer's life.

Rama A ruler or King and able administrator of a Kingdom.

Krishna Complete evolution of "Buddhi" aspect and strategist of war.

Buddha/Ayyapa/Christ Depending on whom people choose to believe as the ninth avatar - a Tapasi, Renunciate, Healer, Preacher of Love(Love thy enemy as you would love your friend).

Kalki Final stage of evolution with the white horse signifying purity.

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    You should cite sources. – Keshav Srinivasan May 2 '15 at 4:51
  • @Keshav Unfortunately, Don't have any. This is one question which has a lot to do with informed inference or speculative interpretation rather than definitive knowledge. As you mentioned in a previous thread Vishnu has innumerable avatars and the Dasavathara concept does not have any solid grounding. I completely understand the relevance of citations in a community like stackexchange, but in Hinduism knowledge is also transmitted/inherited through Oral acharya-shisya Upanasa as it through cited sources. – Naveen May 2 '15 at 4:58
  • Well, speculation-based answers are not allowed on this site. As far as oral traditions go, if a user on this site happens to be part of some established Guru-Parampara, then it might be acceptable for them to quote something from that Guru or Acharya. But just engaging in speculation of your own isn't allowed here. – Keshav Srinivasan May 2 '15 at 5:02
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    Yeah, the other answer isn't really well-sourced either, but it's from the site's early days before standards were enforced, so it's "grandfathered in". As far as the Dashavataram goes, it doesn't have a basis in scripture; it's just different lists people make of what they consider the top ten, as I discuss here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/935/36. So I don't think there's any reason to believe that the order of the incarnations is related to evolution. Besides, the conventional order isn't even chronological; in real life Varaha came in the beginning of the Kalpa, long before Kurma. – Keshav Srinivasan May 2 '15 at 5:20
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    Varaha took place in the Swayambhuva Manvantara (although he is still alive on the Earth today, as I discuss in this answer). As far as Matsya goes, Vishnu incarnated as Matsya twice: once in the last Pralaya, to retrieve the Vedas which has been stolen by Hayagrivasura, and again in the Chakshusha Manvantara, to save the king Satyavrata from the flood; see this chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatam: vedabase.com/en/sb/8/24 And Prasuti was the daughter of Swayambhuva Manu; see this chapter of the Bhagavatam: vedabase.com/en/sb/4/1 – Keshav Srinivasan May 2 '15 at 5:41
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The Linga Purana explains some sort of evolution on a macroscopic scale:

अतीतानि च कल्पानि सोदर्काणि सहान्वयैः ।
अनागतेषु तद्वच्च तर्कः कार्यो विजानता ॥ १४ ॥

atītāni ca kalpāni sodarkāṇi sahānvayaiḥ |
anāgateṣu tadvacca tarkaḥ kāryo vijānatā || 114 ||

“The past kalpas are such that they leave their consequences on the future ones along with (or including) the dynasties of Kings etc. and the same reasoning should be applied to future kalpas by the knowing man (i.e., the past has left its marks on the present and in the same way the future will carry the marks of the present).” verse 1.70.114

A kalpa represents a day (or night) of Brahma and amounts to 4.32 billion human years. Then 30 * 12 * 100 of these kalpas represent the life cycle of the universe so that leaves plenty of time for evolution to occur between those transitions.

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