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Evolution - Lower and Higher Reprised

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by Sangharakshita

... we shall see that along the hypotenuse there are various numbers and figures.

First of all, there is point 2, right in the middle, representing our aware human being, Man at the best that we know him. This whole section of the hypotenuse from 0 - 2 represents the process of the lower evolution. This is the distance that Man has come and this is where he stands now. And from 2 onwards represents the higher evolution, the distance that man, we ourselves, have yet to traverse.

Now we see that each of these two sections can be in turn divided.

Point 1 represents the point at which consciousness emerges, the point at which the animal becomes human. Animals do possess a sort of rudimentary consciousness, especially some of the higher animals.

But we are thinking here of consciousness in its distinctively human form. But human consciousness emerges here.

Point 3, at the middle of the section representing the higher evolution, is the point at which transcendental awareness, or awareness of absolute reality, emerges in a decisive manner, when it starts to be a permanent faculty of a being, or when it starts to be a directive principle of one's life.

Sometimes called `the point of no return', because it is the point beyond which retrogression of the individual becomes impossible.

So these 3 points divide the hypotenuse of our triangle into 4 sections. With the points Zero and Infinity (4), we now have 5 distinct points. Zero obviously represents the starting point of the whole evolutionary process. If one thinks in terms of physics, this is the sub-atomic unit. If one thinks in terms of biology, it is the amoeba. Point 1, as I have explained, is the point at which human consciousness emerges. Point 2 is the point at which self-consciousness or awareness emerges; and we may say that the majority of us are a bit below this point. This is the human being as you know him at his best at present. But most of us fall considerably below that point, we may say. In fact in the case of some people, we may say they are not very much above this point 1, in fact sometimes you feel they're hardly there at all. One can't help feeling this sometimes, that quite a number of people are not in fact very much more than animals. I was reading not so very long ago an article in which it was stated that someone had recently claimed in a very positive manner (I think he had done some scientific investigation) that all human beings facially definitely resembled either pigs or birds.

According to this person, it is possible to look around at one's friends and immediately classify them as either pigs or birds as regards their facial appearance. This is indeed quite a thought, that we do have still, whether facially or otherwise, so much of the animal nature still clinging about us. For the majority of people, we may go so far as to say, humanity is something yet to be achieved. We usually take it for granted that we are human, we refer to the human race, as if every statistical individual were a fully-fledged human being. But this is not really so much to be taken for granted as one might have thought. The vast majority are still living very much at the animal level, preoccupied with purely animal needs and interests, and comparatively few succeed in rising to any extent above that. It is all very well for people to talk about leading a religious life or a spiritual life as though we could go straight off and do that. So for the vast majority of people the first preoccupation is that they should make quite sure they are leading a truly human life. Then after that you can think in terms of a life that is higher than the human. So for most people, this is the immediate duty, one may say - to achieve humanity, to become human; and we have to ask ourselves this also, we have to apply it to ourselves, are we yet really and truly and fully human, not to speak of anything more than human? Have we yet reached really the human level? Have we really established ourselves on the human level? Do we all the time function on the human level? Do we really behave like human beings? Or are we not only too often just animals, whose marvellous brains have placed at their disposal a little bit of technology and not very much more than that? So this is something about which we should think and ponder indeed very seriously. Because, as I have said, very few of us come up to point 2 most of the time, and many of us are not above point 1.

Then point 3, the point at which transcendental awareness emerges, awareness of reality which begins to carry us above the human; and this point, infinity (4), is of course the point of what in Buddhism we call Nirvana or Full Enlightenment or Buddhahood, the state of a fully perfected or enlightened human being.

Now these five points divide the hypotenuse representing the evolutionary process into four distinct sections or stages. Stage A is what we may call the infra-human, the sub-human, i.e. the mineral, vegetable and the animal kingdoms.

Then Stage B that is the human, both primitive and civilised.

Then Stage C which we may describe as the Ultra-human, and D which is the Supra-human or even the Trans-human. So in this way, with the help of this diagram, we can cover the whole process of evolution, that begins with the amoeba, continues through unenlightened Man, and culminates in the Buddha or the Enlightened Man, the man who is fully awoken to absolute reality and identifies himself with it. So in this way we see that with the help of this conception of evolution in this extended sense, science and religion, the lower and the higher evolution, biology and metabiology, are combined, are embraced in a single vast sweep which comprehends the whole of life in all its manifestations, at every possible, conceivable level. And this is surely a most inspiring and in a way even consoling prospect, because it enables us to understand ourselves, by understanding Man, by understanding Life or Evolution, better than ever before. It makes sense of human existence. We can begin to see just where we stand. We can see that man occupies the middle point in the whole evolutionary process. He has come up very far and he has so much farther still to go. But far as he or we yet have to go, we can nonetheless advance joyfully because the path is clear beneath and before our feet.

Now just one final point before we pass onto the third and last section of this lecture. As illustrated by this diagram, the lower and the higher evolution are in a sense continuous. One, we may say, grows out of, follows upon, springs from the other. The higher, of course, from the lower. But at the same time, there are very important, very radical differences between the two. The biggest difference is that the lower evolution proceeds collectively whereas the higher evolution is an individual matter. In the case of the higher evolution, it is one organism at a time, one organism separately, by itself, alone. And this is why the development of self-consciousness, of awareness, of mindfulness, upon which Buddhism places so much emphasis, is so supremely important. It is this mindfulness or awareness, this consciousness of one's own being, of oneself as an individual in the true sense, which constitutes the growing point of the higher evolution. Amongst vegetables, amongst animals of the same species, we find that members of the same species cannot outstrip one another in the evolutionary process. One individual may be bigger, may be stronger, but not essentially different from any other individual member of the same species. There is no difference of kind. But one man can outstrip all other men, can become different in kind, can become what is sometimes called a New Man, a Buddha, an Enlightened or Awakened One. Which means not just the old man, the original man, re-issued, in a slightly improved edition; but an altogether new species of Man, or an altogether new species of Being.

One could even speak in terms of a fresh biological or even metabiological mutation. So what we call Religion, or spiritual life, is or should be concerned with the production of this New Man.

Unfortunately it isn't often so. Only too often religions are concerned with other things - enlisting converts, or putting up great buildings, or proving or demonstrating something. But what they should all really be concerned with is producing this New Man, what Buddhism calls the Enlightened Being, the Buddha. This is what any true religion or spiritual movement should be concerned with: contributing to this process of the higher evolution; not wasting time and energy on inessentials.

---oOo-- Aspects of the Higher Evolution There are very many of these indeed. One can speak of various historical aspects, artistic aspects, aspects concerned with comparative religion, etc., and in subsequent lectures in this series we shall be examining some of these.

Next week we shall be concerned with the Axial Age, a term coined by the existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers,9 representing that very crucial period of human history 800 - 300 BCE, when the higher evolution really got under way so far as the human race is concerned, that is to say that period in the course of which the New Man started to emerge. Also we shall be trying to understand the nature of this New Man - in what way is he new? We shall also be trying to understand the nature of true individuality. Individuality sometimes has rather a bad odour in religious circles, but what is true individuality? We shall try to understand this.

In the third lecture, we shall go off at a bit of a tangent and deal with the New Man as Artist, as artistic genius, and we shall try to see where he stands in the evolutionary process. We shall try to ascertain the place of art itself in the whole spiritual life, the whole process of ...

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