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Buddhism as the Path of the Higher Evolution

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by Sangharakshita

The Higher Evolution of Man

Tape 79: Buddhism as the Path of the Higher Evolution I think nearly everybody knows by this time that, so far as possible, I prefer to give complete courses of lectures, that is to say not just one single odd isolated lecture on one particular occasion but a whole complete course of, say, 6 or 8 or even 10 lectures. There is a reason for this, a very definite reason: the reason being that a course of lectures enables one to explore any given subject systematically, to cover all its aspects, to look at it from all possible, or at least many different, angles. It also affords one the opportunity of exploring that particular subject in depth. Not only that, we find as we go on from week to week, exploring now this aspect, now that aspect, penetrating a little more deeply, a little more deeply still, we find proceeding in this way that interest builds up, concentration even builds up from week to week; because each week we see just a few more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, as it were, fitting into place. We see gradually, before our eyes as it were, chaos reduced to some sort of order, some sort even of harmony. Not only that, but each week adds to our information on that particular subject and not only adds to our information but deepens perhaps, we hope, our understanding of it. As the weeks go by, as we gather information, as we understand more deeply, we feel perhaps that we are getting somewhere, that we are beginning to see, beginning to understand. One might say, in fact, that following a course of lectures in this way is very much like going on a journey. Some of you may remember that last winter I spoke, in the course of the lectures, very much in these terms.

In fact, I may even say that I rather overworked this particular metaphor and this is why I haven't been using it this year, this metaphor of the journey, even the pilgrimage.

But tonight I am afraid I am tempted rather to revert to this particular metaphor just at least for this week. And there is a special reason for so doing. That is that tonight we find ourselves half- way through our present journey, that is to say half-way through our current course. We have had four lectures. Four more, including tonight, are yet to come. Now when we are travelling to a certain place, when we are on a journey and when we find ourselves half-way there, what is it that we usually do? When we find ourselves half-way there, what we usually do, or would like to do, is to stop for a little refreshment. We like to stop and find, perhaps, a nice comfortable half-way house. But I am afraid that tonight I've no refreshment to offer. There is no half-way house here. In fact, I am going to offer, instead, a short recapitulation of ground covered so far, which some people find - far from being refreshment - rather hard, not to say unpalatable fare.

Others, however, find a recapitulation of this sort rather useful, especially if they have been obliged to miss a lecture or if, even, they have come in as it were half-way through the course.

Recapitulation Now we know that at present we are concerned with the Higher Evolution of Man. We have already understood, I hope, week by week more deeply, that this is the most important subject with which we could possibly occupy ourselves - the subject of the Higher Evolution of Man, our own potential higher evolution and development. We began, in the first lecture, by distinguishing what we now call the Lower Evolution and the Higher Evolution. And we saw first, before going into this distinction, that the whole of existence at all levels consists of one gigantic process of development, a development from lower to higher levels of being, of existence, of consciousness, even of organisation.

And we saw further, most importantly, that Man himself is included in this great process and that we can study Man, study ourselves, in two different ways, from two different points of view. We can study Man in terms of what he has developed out of, what he had grown up from, and this constitutes the Lower Evolution. We can study him, too, in terms of what he will develop into, at least what he can develop into, and this, this whole tremendous range of possibilities and potentialities lying now before us, above us, ahead of us, is what we call the Higher Evolution.

The first, the Lower Evolution, we saw is covered by physics, chemistry, biology, whereas the second is covered by what, borrowing a term from Middleton Murry, we call the metabiological sciences, that is to say covered by psychology, `religion', philosophy, by even the Fine Arts.

And we saw on our chart that the whole process of the Lower Evolution is covered by the section of the hypotenuse Point 1 up to Point 2. We saw that Point Zero represents the beginning, the start, the commencement of the whole evolutionary process. Then we saw that Point 1 represents the point of the emergence of human consciousness in the distinctively human sense. Then we saw that point 3 is the point at which the awareness of reality begins to dawn, and then we saw that the Point of Infinity is the culmination of the evolutionary process, that point of what, in Buddhism, we call Nirvana, the point of what we call Buddhahood, and so on.

We saw further that these points divide the whole evolutionary process into four distinct sections.

These we called the Infra-human, the Human (primitive and civilised), the Ultra-human, and the Trans-human or even the Supra-human. In this way we saw that the whole process of evolution, from the bottom right up to the top, is covered, is comprehended. This means that we ourselves can see exactly where we stand. We saw that Man at the best at which we usually know him stands right in the middle of this great evolutionary process. Man stands, we may say, at the watershed dividing the Lower from the Higher Evolution, that is to say that Man stands, fairly and squarely, on Point 2. Most of us, we also saw, regrettably come considerably below this point, many being perhaps not very much above Point 1. This reminded us of the fact that, for the majority of people, humanity, the true human status, in the sense of development of a distinctively human consciousness and awareness, humanity is very much something still to be achieved. So much, then, for the first lecture which laid as it were the foundation, the basis, for the whole course, the whole series. And this is why I have recapitulated this first lecture in some detail.

Now let us proceed, much more briefly, to the next three lectures. In the second lecture we studied the Axial Age. That is to say we studied that very rich, very productive, very glorious 600-year period from 800 to 200 BC. We saw that this was the period of human history when the Higher Evolution really began. We saw that it was a period of intense spiritual awakening, intense spiritual creativity, practically over the entire civilised world. We saw, for instance, that in China it was the age of Confucius and Lao Tzu; in India, of the Buddha, Mahavira, and the Upanishadic sages; in Persia, of the great prophet Zarathustra; and in Palestine, of the Hebrew prophets. In Greece again it was the period, the age, of Socrates, Plato, their followers, friends and contemporaries. We saw further that all these figures, whether of China, India, Persia, Palestine, Greece, all these towering personalities had certain things in common, certain great characteristics in common. We saw that above all they were and are all individuals. We saw that they stood out and still stand out from the mass, not just members of the mass, not just members of the herd. We saw that they stood out, that they all were in fact what we called New Men. We saw that all had started, have started, in greater or lesser degree on the Higher Evolution of Man.

And we saw, therefore, further that the Axial Age is of importance as the age of the emergence of the New Man. We closed this particular lecture by studying in some detail some of the characteristics of the New Man. We saw that the New Man is characterised by self-consciousness or awareness, by true individuality, by creativity, by aloneness and, only too frequently, also by unpopularity.

Then in the third lecture we dealt with another great phase of this whole subject of the Higher Evolution of Man. We dealt with Art and the Spiritual Life and by `Art' we meant all the Fine Arts; spiritual life, of course, corresponding to the Higher Evolution itself. We tried to illustrate, in the course of this lecture, that the true artist, too, was a species of New Man and that he shared the characteristics of the New Man. We studied, too, the nature of art itself. We saw that art could be defined as `the organisation of sensuous impressions that expresses the artist's sensibility and communicates to his audience a sense of values that can transform their lives'. The greater part of that lecture was an exposition, in fact, of this definition. We saw, for instance, that the true artist has access to higher states of consciousness, higher modes of being than the ordinary man.

And we saw, too, how this all worked out in terms of our chart. We tried to see just where the artist stands. We were concerned, in this connection, with the two middle sections of our chart, that is to say from Point 1 to Point 3. In other words we were concerned with the higher section of the Lower Evolution and with the lower section of the Higher Evolution; and for the sake of clarity we transferred this particular section to a separate chart.

On this separate chart we saw that the line 1 to 3 represents, within the general evolutionary process, the scale of artistic development. Like the previous chart, the hypotenuse on this chart is divided by point 2; in other words, the point of the emergence of self-consciousness, ...

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