What role does evolution play in our spiritual practices, if any at all? As the years go by I've been noticing that more and more of us are talking about the role spirituality and religion play in our rapidly changing times. For better or worse, we now live on a planetary scale. Many of us are asking whether or not spiritual traditions have a place in the 21st century if they do not adapt to a new global perspective. Not to mention, how can spirituality address the crisis our planet is undergoing? This is the first installment in an on-going blog series exploring what evolutionary spirituality means.
A recent podcast on Buddhist Geeks explores the question, "Can Dharma Help us Turn the Corner?" Eastern spiritual traditions had a very different perception of the world.They saw it in a state of flux. Always changing and never still, the world was a story of impermanence. They instructed practitioners to focus instead on the changeless and timeless, beyond the transient "veil" of this world.
Today, we are all about the change! Evolution is an intrinsic concept in all that we do, so it is no surprise that eventually it would begin to influence spiritual attitudes.
What is evolutionary spirituality?
There are many modern spiritual teachers and writers who are calling for an "evolutionary spirituality." From Andrew Cohen's "EnlightenNext,", Robert Wright's "The Evolution of God," to Ken Wilber's "Integral Spirituality," there are broad attempts to create what an evolutionary spiritual path might look like. The theme I gather from all of this is that somehow, spiritual practices must become involved in the world more than ever before. To sit by or to "escape" the world of time and change is not enough. We must learn to get along, engage and transform.
On the other hand, we should give credit where it is due. While many spiritual practices and traditions may be culturally anchored in their past, it does not mean that there hasn't been evolutionary themes latent in spirituality. Alchemy and Hermeticism spoke of "The Great Work," and spiritual mystics of all ages and traditions across the globe shared the perennial theme of a transformation taking place through the world, not away from it. Christ is both human and divine, the Bodhisattva returns back to the marketplace. Spiritual evolution is an ancient story, embedded in human mythology and imagination even before the rise of civilization.
Both Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen have popularized these ideas, but they themselves are not responsible for originating them. Because these themes have begun to really pick up in modern discussion, it might be appropriate to explore their history and their original writers.
In this new blog series, we'll be exploring some of the lesser-known but essential writers and mystics who were talking about spiritual evolution since the beginning of the 20th century. By unearthing these past visionaries, we will be clarifying and shining light on our present times. Eventually we'll get back to recent years, covering Ken Wilber and other contemporaries.
We'll explore authors (many most of us have never heard of) such as Jean Gebser, William Irwin Thompson, Teilhard de Chardin, Sri Aurobindo, in order to understand in depth the vision they had for an emerging renaissance of human consciousness, intricately woven into evolution. To many of these authors, evolution and science did not destroy spirituality, but added infinite depth and complexity to it.
As we'll see, many early visionaries believed evolution was a sacred act of becoming, the missing emphasis in traditional doctrines. Teilhard, for example, believed Christianity could be revitalized if it embraced evolution as an act of the divine.
The view of a static, unchanging universe was a cultural artifact long outdated. If Christianity was to survive, it would have to see something sublime in the process of time and the transformation of species. In other words, the heart of Christianity had to speak to the spirit of the age, or be in danger of becoming a relic of the past.
We'll be able to pick up on some themes and patterns as well as differences in this great tapestry of consciousness. One thing I hope to begin to show is that the two themes, being and becoming, are not so disconnected from each other. As many mystics tell, time and eternity share a center, and the stage it dances on is this world. When we realize this, evolutionary spirituality might be recognized as something that has been going on all along.
Stay tuned for the weekly blog series!