Earth and its solar system started to form around five billion years ago. Life came into existence soon after, first in the form of plants. The earliest living creature on Earth was a single-celled organism. Then more complex aquatic and land animals appeared. The Indian subcontinent was formed from glaciers about forty million years ago. Where there are now the mighty Himalayas, there once were oceans—there is evidence of fish fossils on the rocks of the Himalayas.
Man descended from apes around six million years ago (proto-human-orrorin tugenensis species). This is the time he started to walk on his two hind limbs; that is, he became a biped. The first appearance of man was in the Sahara region of the African continent. From there, man moved to the east, west, north, and south. Modern human (Homo sapiens-thinking man) originated about 200,000 years ago, reaching full maturity around 50,000 years ago.
Man is superior to other beings because of his highly developed brain. This organ has billions of specialized neurons and neurological pathways with which we think and can use our free will. Before this development, beings functioned only through instinct. The main feature that differentiates the modern brain from that of our early ancestors is its capacity to restrain the instinctive behavior—the activity of the lower brain—by its voluminous gray matter, which is much less developed in lower animals. The modern human brain has over hundred billion nerve cells, called neurons, mainly in the grey matter cortex. It is believed that only 10 to 20 percent of these are ever used. This in itself offers a great potential for further human development.
Hindu Rishis seem to have acquired an intuitive knowledge of this evolutionary process. Many of God’s emissaries, or devtas, also have been depicted in other animal forms, such as cow (gaoo-mata), bull (nandi), cobra (naag), bird (garud), and monkey (Hanuman), etc. When understood in context, although it might have looked comical to an outsider, worshiping these animal gods is, in fact, pertinent and even rational. They are all our ancestors and forefathers in a way! A Hindu is taught to see God in all beings. As a symbolic gesture, he is asked to keep a portion of his food aside to be served to animals and birds every time he sits for his meals. Millions of Hindus perform this ritual religiously, even today. What appeared to be so awkward—to bow before a passing cow—now has earned a grand dignity. Hindu thought recognizes that all creatures have a divine connection.
Hindu scriptures have many sacred hymns in which God is worshipped for showering His bounty on all the beings of the universe. One such hymn reads:
Om Sarve Bhavanthu Sukhina- May all be happy
Sarve Santhu Nira Maya- May all people be healthy
Sarve Bhadrani Pashyanthu- May all see only auspicious
Ma Kashchith Dukkha Bhaag Bhaveth- May none suffer
Hindu Rishis recognized the concept of evolution in a spiritual way by understanding lower animals as the virtual ancestors of human beings and propounding the awareness of cosmic unity at the highest level. Hindu theology believes in the celestial unity of all beings. Recent scientific report of University of Cambridge U.K. produced “The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness”. It basically states that humans and animals are conscious and aware to the same degree. The evidence calls for a new paradigm in our relationship with other creatures, one that is rooted in Hindu values of ahimsa and karunya-compassion.