Francisca Cho (Emeritus)
Prof. Francisca Cho, Ph.D.
Department of Theology
Thoughts on Human Origins
Coming from a Buddhist perspective, it is important to be aware that not all religions predicate the dignity of being human on our uniqueness and superiority relative to other species. To be sure, we are clearly more advanced in our cognitive and technological capacities. According to early Buddhist teachings, only humans possess the requisite abilities to attain enlightenment. Therefore, it is rare and special indeed to obtain birth as a human person. But Buddhism emphasizes more the equality of all sentient life. As the present Dalai Lama constantly preaches, all sentient beings want happiness and satisfaction; all sentient beings want to avoid pain and anguish. Humans and animals are fundamentally alike in this manner, and this inter-subjective condition encourages us to feel compassion towards all sentient life.
The idea that humans are basically animals is often seen as a debasement. The term “animal” is used as an epithet to signify savagery and violence, and “human” and “humaneness” their opposites. But Buddhism teaches that words have a way of creating cognitive oppositions that blind us to the deep connections between things. The science of evolution can be used to trumpet the idea that we are "nothing but animals" and that competition and strife are natural and necessary. But it can also be used to emphasize the neurological, cognitive, and emotional continuities between sentient beings and create empathy. Evolutionary science can be used to promote religion and morality just as easily as to negate them. What matters is how we humans choose to interpret it.