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The Axial Age and the Emergence of the New Man

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by Sangharakshita

The Higher Evolution of Man

Tape 76: The Axial Age and the Emergence of the New Man Everybody knows, I think, already that in the present course of lectures we are concerned with the Higher Evolution of Man, which means that we are not concerned with anything merely historical, merely scientific or even merely religious; not in fact concerned with anything outside of ourselves.

We are, in fact, when we concern ourselves with Man, concerning ourselves with ourselves. We are being concerned with ourselves as living, as growing, as continually evolving beings, entities; as beings capable not just of a finite development but even capable of an infinite development.

Capable of a development that one day culminates only with our awakening to what we sometimes call the One Mind, Mind Transcendent, Mind Universal, Cosmic Mind, Cosmic Consciousness, or our own realisation of our oneness with, our non-difference from, Ultimate, Absolute Reality. We made a start last week by distinguishing between what we have come to call the lower evolution and the higher evolution. But before going into that distinction or difference, we had quite a lot to say about evolution in general. And we saw that the concept of evolution is in many ways perhaps, absolutely the most important, the most relevant, the most significant concept in the whole range, the whole sweep of modern thought. And we saw that this concept, this vast general idea of evolution, enabled us to understand the whole of existence, both cosmic, planetary, human, as consisting of one gigantic process of development, a development from lower to higher levels of existence and organisation. We further saw, and this point was emphasised, that Man himself is included in this process of development, in this evolution.

Which means that we ourselves are included, that we ourselves as we sit here are the products of billions of years of cosmic evolution, products of half a million years of human evolution, ten thousand years of cultural evolution, 2,500 years of religious evolution and about half a century of electronic evolution. However, we are going ahead a little too rapidly; we are already in the middle of this week's lecture - which is much too sudden. We are really still concerned with last week's lecture, in which we also tried to understand what evolution really is. We asked ourselves the question: What actually happens when a lower develops into a higher organism? And we saw that there are two views, two explanations, two philosophies of this: the Mechanistic2 and the Vitalist3. We saw that the mechanistic view tries to explain evolution in terms of a more and more complex arrangement or re-arrangement of existing material, particles, elements. We saw also that the vitalist view disagrees with this mechanistic explanation. The vitalist view says that evolution is not completely explicable in terms of physics and chemistry alone. Vitalism maintains that there exists what is sometimes called the Life Force, a force which is not physical or material; a force which obeys its own laws which are not the laws of physics and chemistry.

A life force which is self-determining, which has its own way of doing things, which has its own goal. But we saw that neither of these two views of evolution is satisfactory. We saw that the mechanistic view is entirely unsatisfactory and we saw that even the vitalist view is rather vague, even though it is capable of clarification and enlargement. We tried to see last week that we could perhaps best think of the whole course of evolution, both cosmic and human, as consisting in the progressive manifestation in time and through time of an Absolute, Transcendent Reality, and that it was in fact the presence of such a reality back of the whole evolutionary process which made possible the emergence of new and ever newer qualities and characteristics in that evolutionary process. We saw that that reality, as it were, standing or lying [at the]back of this evolutionary process, this vast process of cosmic development, was like a great reservoir on which evolution, especially human evolution, continually draws.

Having dealt with these considerations which are fundamental to our whole course of lectures, we went on to the special subject matter for the week - to distinguish between the lower evolution and the higher evolution - and we saw that we can study Man, ourselves, in two ways: in terms of what we, Man, has developed out of, and also in terms of what Man will develop into, in fact is already developing into. And the first, we saw, constitutes the lower evolution, and the second constitutes the higher evolution. The lower, we further saw, is dealt with by the sciences, by physics, chemistry and especially biology; and the higher evolution is dealt with by what has been termed by one modern thinker, the metabiological4 sciences, i.e. psychology and what we cannot help calling, even though the term is unsatisfactory, religion.

And we saw, referring to our chart [which can be found in a larger format on the second page of this volume], that the whole process of the lower evolution is covered by the section marked, on the hypotenuse, zero to 2; and we saw that the higher evolution, in the same way, is covered by the section 2 to infinity. We saw also that the zero point represents the starting point of the whole evolutionary process. We saw that Point 1 represents the point at which consciousness, in the sense of specifically human consciousness, emerges. Point 2, we saw, represents the point at which self- consciousness or awareness emerges; whereas Point 3 represents the point at which transcendental awareness emerges, i.e.

awareness of Reality, of the Ultimate, of the Transcendent, of the One Mind. And the last point, of infinity, represents the point of Nirvana, or Full Enlightenment, of what in Buddhism is called Buddhahood. And these points divide the whole evolutionary process into four great segments, sections, or progressive stages which are marked off by letters on the chart. Section A is the Infra-human, i.e. mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. Section B is the Human Stage, both primitive and civilised.

Section C is the Ultra-human and D is the Supra- or Trans-human. And in this way last week we saw that the whole process of evolution is covered. Which means that we can see just where we stand. Man at the best at which we usually know him, aware, responsible, intelligent, sensitive, - man in this sense stands in the middle of the evolutionary process, at or on the watershed dividing the lower from the higher evolution. In other words he stands on point 2. And most of us, as we saw, rather regrettably, are considerably below this point; Many of us are barely above point 1. And when I say `we' and `us' I'm not referring just to people in this room. I'm sure they are quite exceptional - as we always say - present company excepted. Now one of the points that we did emphasise very much last week and which needs to be emphasised so far as most people are concerned, is that humanity is something yet to be achieved. We are not yet by any means fully human. We like to think of ourselves as being human, as human beings, as leading human life, existence, but there is still a very great deal of animality ingrained in our nature, and only too often it is that animality which takes over, which is in control even most of the time, which is most triumphant. Other points were covered but I won't recapitulate them all.

---oOo--- The Axial Age and the Emergence of the New Man We are concerned with that most crucial period of human history in which the whole process of the Higher Evolution of Man begins. We shall also be concerned tonight with some of the special characteristics of that higher evolution. As we approach this subject we are conscious of a very drastic reduction of perspective. Last week we were concerned with the whole evolutionary process, lower and higher. We were concerned with the whole process ranging in terms of our chart from zero to infinity. And that means that in terms of time, if we can even take in this conception, can take in these vast figures, these magnitudes involved, that we were imaginatively concerned with a period covering hundreds upon hundreds of millions of years, right from the beginning to the end of the evolutionary process. This week, by way of contrast, we are concerned essentially with a period lasting a bare few hundred years. So to make the transition less abrupt, less terrible, shocking, we shall deal with the Axial Age as, in a way, the most important part of the general history of Man.

The history of Man, of anything really recognisably human, covers in good round figures a period of half a million years. Scientists of various kinds, anthropologists, geologists, quarrel about the exact figure but plus or minus a few tens of thousands of years, it doesn't matter. Roughly 500,000 years. This is the period of human history with which to begin we shall be concerned.

In terms of our chart, we shall be dealing tonight with the evolutionary process from point 1 upwards, with the human, ultra- and supra-human stages of the evolutionary process, excluding the infra-human. I should point out that our chart is not drawn to scale in terms of time. The whole chart covers a period of hundreds of millions of years; but the period with which we are concerned tonight, comprising three-quarters of the chart (point 1 to infinity) covers only the last half-million years of the evolutionary process. So that if the chart were drawn to scale, this period of human history would be represented by a mere point right at the top of the hypotenuse, just next to the infinity point itself. The half-million years of the history of Man fall into four main segments of very unequal length, and it is ...

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