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The modern theory of evolution became popular in the 1800s as a result of the work of Charles Darwin and others to understand the diversity of species on earth. Evolution has become the standard way to explain how all life came into existence and gradually evolved from simple to complex forms.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam, composed over five thousand years ago, also contains detailed explanations of how evolution takes place, describing the gradual development—from subtle to gross—of the material elements, the planets, the bodies of all living creatures, and how conscious beings (atmas, or souls) enter the material world to inhabit the specific material bodies suited to their particular consciousness.

There are some significant differences between the Vedic view and today's many variations on evolutionary theory. One is that the Vedas take consciousness into account as the basis of all varieties of bodily forms. Every material body is animated by a spiritual spark—atma—who is placed into a particular type of body according to his qualification, or karma. The atma gradually evolves, or transmigrates from less conscious to more conscious species through a succession of bodily changes—births and deaths—on the way to eventual emancipation from the cycle of rebirth.

The Vedas also say the whole evolutionary process happens neither blindly nor by chance nor by a random series of events originating in chaos. Rather, everything occurs intentionally. Instead of postulating that the universe and everything within it sprang forth from a void (or a void containing an inexplicably handy assortment of organic chemicals), Vedic literature again and again ascribes the creation and development of the cosmos and all its inhabitants to a profoundly intelligent consciousness.

Whatever version of evolution we ultimately choose to accept will be based on a certain amount of faith. This is true of all events occurring outside our direct experience. Modern theories of evolution and of the origin of life, while certainly the products of many years of study by relatively well-informed and brilliant men of considerable intellect, are still theories after all. Just as previous theories fell out of favor, it is the nature of all theories to be cast aside over time.

The Vedas are described as apauruseya, "not created by man." The Vedic tradition teaches that perfect knowledge can only come from a perfect source, and the Vedas have the same source as the cosmos itself. Since the time of universal manifestation, perfect knowledge of how and why it came into being has been passed down from teacher to student. That system is known as parampara, "one after another," and even considering such a system's potential for error, it is considered the most reliable of all methods of acquiring knowledge.

"Although Westerners accept that Darwin first expounded the doctrine of evolution, the science of anthropology is not new. The development of the evolutionary process was known long before from the Bhagavatam, which was written five thousand years ago. There are records of the statements of Kapila Muni, who was present almost in the beginning of the creation. This knowledge has existed since the Vedic time, and all these sequences are disclosed in Vedic literature; the theory of gradual evolution or anthropology is not new to the Vedas." ( Srimad-Bhagavatam, 3.29.29, Purport)

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