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Art and the Spiritual Life

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by Sangharakshita

The Higher Evolution of Man

Tape 77: Art and the Spiritual Life Our subject tonight is `Art and the Spiritual Life', that is to say we are concerned on this occasion with art within the context of the Higher Evolution of Man. We can also say that we are concerned with that Higher Evolution of Man itself in terms specifically of art. And by `art' one means not just painting, not just the visual arts. One means all the Fine Arts whatsoever.

We shall also be considering the subject not just in terms of Art, as it were in the abstract, not even the Fine Arts, but also more concretely in terms of the artist.

Recapitulation Now in order to make all this clear, let us just refer back to the two lectures which we have already had. That is, the lecture on Evolution - Lower and Higher and the lecture on The Axial Age and the Emergence of the New Man. There is no time for a detailed recapitulation of what was said on those two occasions, but it is important that we should see the subject matter of tonight's lecture in full and complete perspective and context. As, by this time, most of you will have gathered, we are concerned in this whole series with a subject of supreme, of far-reaching, of all-inclusive importance, that is to say the Higher Evolution of Man. And when we say `Man' we mean not some other being, some other entity, we mean quite definitely ourselves; ourselves as living, growing, evolving beings, beings capable, we may say, of an infinite development, a development that culminates, in Buddhist terms, only with our awakening to the One True Mind.

Now in our first lecture we saw that evolution in general is the most important concept in the whole field of modern thought. It is a concept which enables us to understand the whole of existence, cosmic existence as one gigantic process of development, a process of development from lower to higher levels of existence and of organisation. And we tried in our first lecture to understand something at least of the nature of that development, tried to understand, to penetrate into what evolution really and truly and essentially is. We examined the mechanistic and the vitalist views. We found both of them unsatisfactory, especially the former, and we saw that one could best think of evolution, of this gigantic process of development, in terms of a progressive manifestation in time of an absolute reality; an absolute reality the presence of which [at the] back of the evolutionary process explains, and can alone account for, the emergence in the course of that evolutionary process of new and ever newer qualities. We saw, to use a poetic phrase or expression, that that reality back of the evolutionary process was like a great reservoir on which evolution, especially human evolution, increasingly and ever more abundantly draws.

We went on then to distinguish the lower evolution and the higher evolution. We saw to begin with that Man himself was included in this great evolutionary process and that we could study him in two different ways: in terms, first of all, of what he had developed out of; and this we saw was the Lower Evolution, dealt with by sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology.

Secondly, that we could study Man in terms of what he will develop into in the future, what in fact he already is developing into here and now. And this future, this present evolution even, we saw constitutes the Higher Evolution and this is covered again by psychology, philosophy, religion in all its forms, and by the various Fine Arts.

On our chart, [which is reproduced in larger format on the second page of this volume] which we worked out in some detail, we saw the Lower Evolution corresponds to the section from 0 to 2 on the hypotenuse of that triangle, whereas the Higher Evolution corresponds to the section from 2 to infinity.

The Zero point we may say represents the starting point of the entire evolutionary process.

Lecture 77 - Art and the Spiritual Life - Page 1 - Point 1 represents the point at which human consciousness emerges.

Point 2, the middle point, is the point at which self-consciousness or awareness emerges.

Point 3 is the point at which transcendental awareness emerges, i.e. awareness of reality.

Infinity, at the top of the chart, is, of course, the point of Nirvana or Buddhahood in Buddhist terms.

These points, we saw, divide the whole evolutionary process from top to bottom into four great sections or stages: (a) representing the Infra-human, that is to say the mineral, the animal and the vegetable kingdoms.

(b) representing the Human, both primitive and civilised.

(c) representing what we called the Ultra-Human.

(d) representing the Trans-Human or Supra-Human.

And in this way we saw, with the help of the chart, that the whole process of evolution was covered. And we could also see just where we ourselves stand. We saw that Man, at the best we usually know him, stands in the middle as it were of this whole great evolutionary process, stands at the watershed dividing the Lower from the Higher Evolution. In other words, stands at point 2; and most of us, we saw, we had to admit rather regrettably are considerably below point 2, and many unfortunately barely above point 1. And this gave rise of course to various reflections and considerations, the chief of which was that humanity was something yet to be achieved.

So much for the first lecture. In the second lecture, we studied The Axial Age and the Emergence of the New Man. We saw at once that we were dealing with a greatly reduced time-scale. In the first lecture we were concerned with the whole of the evolutionary process, that is to say with a period lasting hundreds of millions of years, something staggering, inconceivable, which we could hardly imagine. But in the second lecture we were concerned with only a mere, miserable, half-million or so years. That is the length of that period, the period of the history of Man. In terms of our chart, we were concerned with the whole section from point 1 onwards and upwards to point Infinity. And we saw that the whole history of Man falls into four segments of very unequal length: Firstly, there is what has been called the Promethean Age or the Age of Primitive Man, the period during which human consciousness emerged, the period of the discovery of fire, the creation of language, the production of flint tools. The period which saw, also, the first crude beginning of art and of religion. And this period we further saw, and this was emphasised, has lasted for practically the whole period of human history, in fact for the whole period of human history minus the last 10,000 years or at most the last 15,000 to 20,000 years; which means that Man for the greater part of his history has been in fact simply primitive.

Secondly, we saw the Age of Divine Kingship or the River Valley Age or the Age of Agriculture. During this period, as its name suggests, agriculture developed, Man started settling in towns and in villages, the alphabet was invented, literature and so on, states and empires came into existence, and with them war and peace, and the whole fabric, the whole warp and woof of civilisation as we know it even today, minus modern technology. And during this period, art and religion further developed, and this period lasted just 10,000 years or so.

Thirdly, we came to the Axial Age, and this we saw was the 600-year period centring roughly on the year 500 BC. And it's this Axial Age during which begins the Higher Evolution of Man, the period of the emergence of self-consciousness, of awareness, the period of the emergence Lecture 77 - Art and the Spiritual Life - Page 2 - of individuality, of True Man, or individuality in the true sense, the period of the emergence of the New Man.

Fourthly and lastly, came the Age of Science and Technology, the age in which we are at present living, which began, we may say, from some 500 years ago.

Now in the last lecture we were concerned, out of these four Ages, mainly with the Axial Age, and we saw that this term `axial' derives from Hegel through Jaspers, and denotes the idea of an axis running through the whole of human history. And for Jaspers this axis is the whole spiritual process which took place in the world between the years 800 and 200 BC. Jaspers, we saw, like many other scholars and students of history and human culture before him, was struck by the intense spiritual ferment which characterised this whole period, practically throughout the world: In China, it was the period of Confucius and Lao-Tzu.

In India, of the Buddha, Mahavira, and the Upanishadic sages.

In Persia, the period of Zoroaster.

In Palestine, of the Hebrew prophets.

In Greece, of Socrates, Plato, and a whole galaxy of other great outstanding geniuses.

And we saw further that all these figures in different parts of the world, arising during this Axial Age, had something in common: all were individuals, all stood out and still stand out from the mass of humanity. All are New Men, all had started, to a greater or lesser degree or extent, on that process of the Higher Evolution of Man. So that the Axial Age is in fact the age of the Emergence of the New Man. And we closed by covering some of the characteristics of that New Man. We saw that he was distinguished from the Old Man, the man of the lower evolution, by five characteristics, principally: By self-consciousness or awareness By true individuality By creativity By aloneness By frequent unpopularity.

And these characteristics we examined in some detail.

---oOo--- Now we come tonight to the subject of Art and the Spiritual Life. And I must apologise for the length of ...

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