Question: Did the Buddha teach about how life was prior to the first humans?
Answer: This was taught by the Buddha in the Agganna Sutta. (See Related Article below.) However, it was not a major focus, because there is not much need to focus on countless past lives going up and down various realms of existence. The key focus is not to return to any imperfect past as beings still trapped in the rounds of rebirth, but to go towards a perfect future of becoming fully enlightened. As an example, it makes no sense to reminisce how one was once young, rich, healthy… if one is now old, poor and sick. What matters is what to do now, to break free from rebirth, to be liberated from these repetitive problems.
We did not all fall from a heaven in the immediate past life to be humans now. We could have also been hell-beings, hungry ghosts, animals, asuras and humans. We should not mistake the Buddha’s teaching on the first batch of gods who devolved over time to become humans as being ourselves directly in our immediate past lives. The fall was an extremely long time ago. We might not be among these first humans. Even if we were, being Abhassara beings (mentioned in the Agganna Sutta) is still an imperfect state – which is why they fell when their positive karma (from their past lives’ good deeds done) to sustain their heavenly rebirth depleted due to spiritual complacency, thus having remnant negative karma deserving lower rebirth bearing fruit.
Prior to that life as heavenly beings, they also could have been hell-beings, hungry ghosts, animals, asuras and humans. Beings rise and fall continuously due to positive and negative karma – all of whom are still trapped in rebirth. These beginningless cycles of rebirths are Samsara itself. The Buddha did not teach of a state prior to Samsara; only of the state of breaking free from it. If there was a perfect state in the beginning, there would be no fall to imperfection. The Buddha’s teachings are to attain liberation from such cyclical suffering. The fastest way is via Pure Land.
Question: Should we ‘rediscover’ our ‘original self’ before we became humans?
Answer: As above, any of the six realms of rebirth mentioned is not our original state, while we all have Buddha-nature, wherever we are – the potential to work towards Buddhahood. The state of hell-beings is predominated by anger, fear and hatred. The state of hungry ghosts is predominated by greed. The state of animals is predominated by ignorance. The state of human beings is predominated by all of the above and below defilements mixed. The state of asuras is predominated by jealousy. The state of gods (including Abhassara gods) is predominated by spiritual complacency. None are perfect.
Question: How were we like? Did we fly? What did we eat, communicate and feel?
Answer: Within all realms of rebirth, we used to boil in cauldrons in the hells, starve as hungry ghosts, crawl, swim and fly as animals (who eat all kinds of food, communicating with all kinds of sounds, scents and body language, feeling the entire range of emotions), learn but also make mistakes as humans, fight with gods as asuras, and rest on our laurels due to spiritual complacency as gods… All these were experienced in countless rounds of rebirths. There is no sense to be attached to a certain plane of existence of our ancestors – as they might not had been us, and we are not them now, and that state was impermanent anyway, just like life in the other realms.
How Were The ‘First’ Humans ‘Created’?