“Evolution is an ascent toward consciousness.” -– Teilhard de Chardin
In this time of growing reactionary fundamentalist religion, the words “evolution” and “spirituality” seldom are heard in combination and may well evoke an emphatic rebuke, yet within ancient traditions of spiritual practice, while the word “evolution” may not be employed, it is precisely this modern concept which is at the heart of what was taught. The problem with fundamentalist religion is that it is a static thing, holding tradition – historical writings, teachings, practices, rules, and rituals – to be sacrosanct, not to be questioned or to evolve. But Life is not static. It is wild and free and always changing. Life is always evolving, meaning that it is constantly moving towards higher and more complex organizations of form and consciousness. In the human community this means a consciousness which can hold in its sense of self, ever more complex, abstract, diverse, and expansive ideas and identifications.
Consciousness evolution happens in individuals, in groups, and in the species. As the brilliant twentieth-century French Catholic mystic theologian and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin noted, it is an ascent, and it cannot be stopped, no matter how hard some may attempt to – it is inevitable destiny. Evolution is Life expressing itself in ever more complex organizations of diversity within unity, and this puts any dogmatic religion or political movement which attempts to hold to outdated ideas and identity as inviolable is at odds with Life. On the other hand, spirituality IS Life. It is the celebration of Life, every bit as open and free and evolving as Life, and I capitalize the word “Life” to emphasize that the Sacred Source which religions call God by many names and expressions IS Life. God is not outside of Life. For all true spiritual traditions, God is IN Life. Mystics of all religious orientations have always understood this and taught that dogma which attempts to crystalize some idea of God is the real heresy.
Teilhard de Chardin lived and taught a true spirituality which was a completely undogmatic, yet disciplined, submersion into Life and its mysteries. As a scientist, he looked at Life and saw within it evolution, and he understood evolution to encompass not only the forms of the world, but also of the Sacred Source, of God before form, and on through God’s expression as form in the atoms and stars and planets and into the galaxies. He saw it in the emergence of conscious lifeforms, of lifeforms in conscious interaction, in emerging sentience, into Life’s ability to examine itself, to know itself, and imagine beyond itself. He could see in his very disciplined study of evolution that it is a continuing integration of the myriad and ever-more complex manifestations of conscious Life and states of consciousness into harmonious unities.
And what is consciousness? Mystics have always understood it as the primal intelligence of the Universe expressing itself and knowing itself through Creation. De Chardin could see that consciousness permeated all material forms, and that as the forms of Creation complexified in the process called evolution, so did the consciousness within the forms, ever complexifying up and into humans. His was a completely thorough understanding of matter, consciousness, and Spirit evolving in the dynamic integrated processes of Life. As applied to the human species, he saw that its successful physical, mental, and social evolution is reliant upon ascending into a very complex sense of evolving spiritual consciousness which could guide human development. He saw this process moving toward an integrated world consciousness which held all expressions of humanity, along with the Natural World, in a harmonious unity, and so too with all the Universe.
Ancient, Nature-based cultures understood the need to honor the spirit/consciousness which pervaded all Life, and they did so within their primitive technological development, maintaining a balanced and enduring relationship with Nature for millennia. They understood that humans represented a quantum leap in the world’s unfolding yet saw this advance as a gift and a responsibility, not, as modern humans have, as a privilege without responsibility. There is a Native American creation myth which I love which tells us that the world was created when Spirit became the world, and this is very important in that it is not the dualistic vision Western religions teach of God making the world. God making the world means that there is a separation between creator and creation, and gives the impression, like a potter making a pot, that the product is fixed in its mold and purpose. So it is with religionists who insist that a dynamic world process such as evolution is heretical.
The Native American myth goes on to say, that though Spirit became the world, meaning that Spirit was IN the world, the world was unable to know itself as Spirit, and so, “one more creature was needed that walked in both worlds, and Spirit became human beings.” This myth recognizes that humans have the necessary mental development, possessing intuition of Divine origin and destiny, to bring forth consciousness into creative and unifying process with the physical world. To tragic consequence, such an intimate sense of Divinity behind and within the world’s unfolding has been absent in human civilization’s unfolding. Spiritual mystics, such as once comprised entire indigenous cultures, have been banished to the fringe, and so have had little influence on the conduct or design of modern societies. This is the obstacle to manifesting human fulfillment which must be overcome, embracing further evolution into fully ego-transcended consciousness.
Conservative religionists, currently again in the ascendency in their cultural and political influence, stand firmly against such evolution, and this is a catastrophe. Religionists pursue, worship, and think they own the Divine and despite the emphasis on the IDEA of God as an object of worship and dispenser of moral judgment, there is very little sense of visceral unifying presence of the Divine in the day-to-day lives or social/political/economic conduct of modern humans. In a manner of speaking, this makes our society essentially atheistic, worshipping the material over the spiritual. To a spiritual mystic, God is not an idea or a giver of moralistic rules and certainly not the sole property of some group of “believers.” Spiritual mystics live IN and through, feeling owned by the Divine, experiencing the Divine manifesting everywhere.
As religions are the vessel of a culture’s spiritual experience, humans as civilization builders need true spiritual religion, lest they fall into egoistic, materialistic decadence, as has our own society. Those who resist the notion of an evolving universe through which the Divine is seeking to know and express itself were referred to by de Chardin as “immobilists,” those dedicated to a view of existence in which nothing is supposed to change despite all evidence that Life is nothing but change. De Chardin went on to point out that it is not only in progressively more complex life-forms that evolution occurs, but that it is occurring through human consciousness, which continues to expand in ever-increasing complexity, inexorably shown through the capacity to integrate new concepts and identifications into a coherent sense of self, overcoming ignorance, prejudice, and superstition. This has been shown as the species progressed beyond tribalism, nationalism, and regionalism, toward internationalism, out of monarchies and feudalism into democracies struggling against backsliding into authoritarianism. Humanity continues to evolve out of racism, sexism, and is even beginning to break free of anthropocentricism, glimmerings of seeing all life as worthy of our empathy and compassion. Even in the realm of religion, we see those who believe in and function within a growing interdenominational consciousness, leaving behind sectarianism. Most importantly, it is shown in the advance of science and information into ever-increasing capacities for global communication, a world-wide network of dynamic thought, what de Chardian termed “The Noosphere.”
We must recognize human evolution as necessary if we are to meet the environmental, social, psychological, and political challenges created by our present level of consciousness. To believe and act as if humanity in its present manifestation represents the end-product of the evolutionary dynamic is self-fulfilling suicide. While it is true that civilization and invention have been the evolutionary mark of post-indigenous humanity and there is no turning back into the simple harmony of indigenous forest-life, what now becomes necessary is an evolutionary synthesis of this human inventiveness with trans-egoic spiritual consciousness. As our ego-centricism and inventions have taken us out of Nature and harmony with Creation, our successful continuance as a species requires bringing together the Spirit/Nature-centric consciousness of indigenous people which holds Life as an unbreakable interconnected web with the celebration of individuality and inventiveness of modern human technological society into harmonious embrace and protection of Nature and all Life. A new cosmology is being born out of the evolutionary synthesis of science and spirituality which brings with it a new myth, a myth of the evolution of spirit-consciousness-matter through humanity which can embrace its true harmonious place within Creation. As de Chardin put it: “There is neither spirit nor matter in the world; the stuff of the universe is spirit-matter. No other substance but this could produce the human molecule.” I believe it is clear – only in recognition of the wisdom of de Chardin and others who share a similar vision and through turning toward dynamic evolutionary spirituality can humanity successfully navigate away from the precipice of self-inflicted disaster which now looms. We must enter into our third major evolutionary period, synthesizing our capacity for invention with the wisdom and spiritual instinct of the ancients. We possess the canon of wisdom from ancient cultures and non-dual spiritual traditions which can take us beyond the current egocentric stage of evolution toward rediscovery of our own true nature in Nature. We must now generate the will to save ourselves and our beautiful planet-home by embracing the challenge of evolving our culture and our spirituality into a dynamic religious expression of scientific and spiritual harmony which excludes no person or any aspect of Nature. We must experience and express ourselves as children of the Cosmos finding our way home.