The Hindu religion speaks of a kind of ‘tree of life’ sprouting from the most simple and leading to the more complex—from plant life to aquatic creature, then through amphibians and reptiles, moving upward through various animals graduating to ape-like creatures and then through the humanoid species where evolution becomes a spiritual matter through the principle of yoga. The theory of evolution is quite old and seems to sprout from ancient Hinduism.
“…20,000 species of non-mobile plants (Sthvara); 900,000 species of aquatic creatures; 900,000 species of amphibians and reptiles; 1,000,000 species of birds; 3,000,000 species of other creatures such as animals; 400,000 species of anthropoids (Vanaras), after which the human species (Manushya) of 200,000 varieties come into being, and Man then engages in purposeful activity to attain perfection.” (Padma Purana)
In a work estimated to have been written cir. 200 BCE, the ancient Hindu priests describe the progress and cycle of life called transmigration or reincarnation:
“they [plants] have internal consciousness… in this terrible cycle of transmigration, which moves relentlessly on and on, the levels of existence are said to begin with Brahma and to end with them.” (Laws of Manu 1:48-50). – brackets mine
Notice how the cycle of transmigration (reincarnation) is described as an upward push moved on by desire:
“Whatever creation is born is resolved once more… and is moved again and the merits and demerits acquired in that life (and) enters into another body resulting from its deeds. His habitation always resulting from nascience, desire and acts, he migrates from body to body, leaving off one another repeatedly, urged on by Time, like a person leaving house (one) after (another) in succession.” (Mahabharata, Mokshadharma Prava 275:298-299).
In the Rig Vedas (c. 1400 – 1000 BC) as the process of “evolution” graduated to the humanoid species, a ‘cast’ system was developed to explain the spiritual part of “evolution”. First, there was the Shudras which were slaves and unskilled laborers. Next, comes the Vaisyas or the merchant class where we find craftsmen, skillful artisans, farmers and the like. Next in the cast system would be the Kshatriyas or the born administrators (nobles, rajahs, and warriors). Finally, atop it all we have the Brahmin, who are the seers, the reflective ones, the priests (great spiritual and intellectual leaders). There would be no intermarrying between members of the cast system. One ‘evolves’ upward by means of reincarnation, but cannot move upward through the cast during one’s own lifetime.
It is not difficult to see how this system was used as an excuse by the West to implement its own ‘cast’ system with the white Europeans on top of the racial ladder with the darker skinned races regarded as not well advanced humanoids. This kind of thing found its supreme error in Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution.”
The Swami Vivekanda, a famous 19th century Hindu scholar, represented India at the Parliament of World religions held in America in the 1893. He conducted hundreds of public and private lectures articulating the Hindu religion both in America and Britain. He had this to say while at London:
“What is the cause of evolution? Desire. The animal wants to do something, but it does not find the environment favorable and therefore develops a new body. Who develops it? The animal itself, its will. You have developed from the lowest amoeba. Continue to exercise your will and it will take you higher still. The will is almighty. If it is almighty, you say, why cannot I do everything? But you are thinking only of your little self. Look back on yourselves from the state of the amoeba to the human being; who made all that? Your own will. Can you deny then that it is almighty? That which has made you come up so high can make you go higher still” (London speech in 1895)
Here we have a very clear allusion to the Theory of Evolution expressed in the Hindu religion. Darwin’s theory had been gaining popularity in western social circles, and the swami had taken full advantage of this in order to legitimatize the dubious wisdom of his own philosophical religious tradition.