A New World Spirituality, Part Three: The Evolutionary Context

Editor's Note: This article is the third part of a four-part series on the emergence of World Spirituality. Read Part One here and Part Two here.

Why is perennial spirituality no more than a first step? Because the perennialists made one huge mistake. They intentionally ignored the evolutionary context. Schuon and Smith not only ignore it, they identified and rejected evolution as being the enemy of eternity. In their understandable desire to locate modern man in the ground of eternity, they intuitively viewed the dynamic emergence of evolution as a threat.

This is a huge mistake. Evolution and Eternity are not enemies. Rather, Evolution is the nature of Eternity. Evolution, or what Alfred North Whitehead called Becoming, is one taste of Eternity. Evolution is a mechanism of eternity's emergent properties as eternity chooses to manifest in the world of time. Evolution is no less than the chosen mechanism of the mystery.

We now realize that everything is evolving, including consciousness itself.

In the language of Kuk, heavily influenced by the old evolutionary teachings of Luria and the Zohar:

The theory of evolution, which is presently conquering the world, is aligned with the most profound secrets of Spirit, more than with any other philosophical theories.

Evolution, which proceeds on an ascending trajectory, provides an optimistic base for the world, for how is it possible to despair when one sees that everything is evolving and ascending?

And when we penetrate the very center of the principle of ascending evolution, we discover that it is the divine principle, which is enlightened with absolute clarity. For it is Infinity in realization which realized itself through bringing infinity from infinite potentiality to infinite actuality {infinitely}.

Evolution enlightens all dimensions of reality, all of God's manifestations.

All of reality evolves and ascends, as is evident in its parts, and this ascension is general as well as particular.

It rises to the highest peaks of absolute good.

What we now realize, as Kuk, Bergson, Aurobindo, de Chardin, Gebser and so many others have shown, is that "all dimensions of reality" are evolving. We realize that consciousness itself is developing. Evolution is not the enemy of the mystery. Evolution is the mechanism of the mystery. This is the great paradox and lived koan of evolution and eternity.

The enlightened realization of the kabbalists, who realized that consciousness itself evolves through us, dramatically influenced Fichte, Schelling, and the other German Idealists who are the modern founders of Evolutionary Spirituality.

But what was an esoteric realization held by an elite few has itself dramatically evolved. We now realize that evolution takes place in the biosphere itself. And the evolution taking place in the biosphere is an expression of the evolution, which is the very nature of all levels of reality. What Kuk understood, we are now able to ground in empirical cross-cultural research—called structuralism—which reveals the unfolding stages of consciousness through human history. We are able today to identify distinct levels in the evolution of Consciousness as revealed by the cross-cultural research of contemporary developmental theorists including Jean Gebser, Clare Graves, Jean Piaget, Jane Loevinger, Suzanne Cook Greuter, and many more.

Religion and Spirituality are expressions of consciousness. If consciousness is evolving in distinct stages, then it is obvious and readily apparent that religion must be evolving in those very same stages. So it is clear as day that when we say "religion" we need to identify what kind of religion we are talking about. Are we talking about what Jean Gebser called Mythic Religion, or about Rational Religion, Pluralistic Religion, or Integral Religion?

Each one of these levels, or stages of development—mythic, rational, pluralistic, and Integral—refracts the core and profound insights of religion through its own particular level of consciousness. Each one transcends and includes the previous level. What does that mean in practical terms?

For the religions at all of these levels, for example, kindness is a core value. There is a clear spiritual obligation to kindness that is expressed at all four of these evolutionary levels of consciousness. But what kindness means differs substantively at each level. The simplest expression of this distinction is that at the mythic level of religion, the primary obligation to kindness is limited to those of one's faith community. And while it may be extended to others through this or that method of hermeneutic expansion, the core community of concern remains the particular faith community of which one is a part.