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Higher Evolution of Man - Unchecked

by Sangharakshita

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked, and may contain mistakes and mishearings.

Men Study Leaders Seminar based on

the Higher Evolution of Man Lecture Series
HEM (M) 1/1 1 Subhuti:
I've got a list of questions organized under subjects and I'll just ask the
speakers to read their questions. We're going to start with Kulamitra, who's got a question on
the theory of the Higher Evolution as science.
Is your view of evolution tied to scientific facts, and could it be an acceptable
alternative to mech- anist or vitalist theories as far as scientists are con- cerned?
I did look through my original notes of this lecture this afternoon it did occur to me
that that particular question did need, I wouldn't say, clarification, but perhaps in a way,
enlargement - of placing within a wider context. In fact, I was thinking about this very
question some weeks ago. What occurred to me was this: one has got on the one hand, the
scientific theory for - some people insist on calling 'hypothesis' - evolution; that is a strictly
scientific theory or hypothesis which relates mainly to the field of biology, but which has
been ex- tended or extrapolated to other spheres of knowledge - some scientific, some not so
scientific. So one has got evolution as a scientific theory or hypothesis on the one hand, on
the other, one has got the purely spiritual and especially the traditional Buddhist conception
of a sort of hierarchy, a spiritual hierarchy - a hierarchy of levels of being and consciousness
and especially a hier- archy of degrees or levels of spiritual attainment. Do you see what I
In the case of Buddhism, you've got the dhyanas: the rupa dhyanas, the arupa
dhyanas and their respective corresponding lokas. You've also got the different stages of
transcendental (lokas) as represented by stream entry, once returner, non-returner and so on.
So in the second place, one has got that spiritual hierarchy of states and persons. Now the
important point I want to make is this: the scientific hypothesis or facts - if one regards it as a
fact - does not prove the spiritual fact. You see what I mean? This is a quite important point.
Science does not prove religion, in other words. So the question arises, 'well, does religion
prove science'? (Laughs) Well, not quite, because it isn't a matter in a sense of proof at all.
Cert- ainly not of scientific proof, so the point I wanted to make really clear or enlarged on,
was that personally, I did not start from science and work my way to religion. I did not start
with the concept of evolution and work my way to the conception of spiritual hierarchy, but
the other way around. Do you see what I mean? In other words, I saw in the realm of biology
and confirmed by the theory of or hypothesis of evolution, what I already saw and
experienced to some extent, in the spiritual hierarchy according to Buddhism. So there- fore,
one might say that for me, the higher evolution was an already established fact and that seems
to be reflected in, or as it were anticipated by, the whole process of the lower evolution. And
it seems to make sense therefore, to regard them as being respectively in their different
spheres, exemplifications of a single law or principle. But it is as though the lower derives
from the higher and not vice versa.
HEM (M) 1/2 2 Whether this will satisfy the scientist is quite another matter; whether one should always be
concerned to satisfy the scientist, as scientist, is quite another matter. Is science the supreme
criterion? Is it the yardstick, so to speak? So that was what I was thinking a little while ago.
But I was also following it up because this leads to what is in a way, a broader issue. And in
a way this is the issue of knowledge as such.
Does knowledge derive, so to speak,
solely from sense exper- ience? Scientific knowledge of course, does. The knowledge
which one has, say, of things like spiritual hierarchies, doesn't derive from the senses. It
derives from some other source. So one has got, as it were, two kinds of knowledge: one has
got knowledge which derives from the senses and knowledge which does not derive from the
senses. I'm using the word 'knowledge' in a quite provisional sort of a way.
So when
one looks even at the senses, and the knowledge which derives from the senses, one is
looking at the senses and looking at that knowledge derived from the senses in the light of a
knowledge that does not derive from the senses. In other words, the knowledge that one
derives from the senses or the knowledge that is derived from the senses, fits into or is part of
a much larger pattern - that is to say, a pattern of a knowledge that is not derived from the
senses. Do you see what I mean? One could call of course, this knowledge that does not
derive from the senses, archetypal knowledge or you can call it 'imagination'. So that it's not
a question of justifying, say, imagination in terms of sense-derived knowledge, but rather of
understanding the sense-derived knowledge itself, in terms of or by means of, the knowledge
not derived from the senses; that is to say, the imagination. In fact you cannot but do that,
because in as much as you have an imagination, even though it may not be very consciously
operative, you are all the time observing even knowledge derived from the senses, in the light
of a knowledge which is not derived from the senses. So you can see how this ties up with
our question of science and religion, lower evolution and higher evolution. See what I mean?
I think it's very important perhaps to try to get this, other- wise a comparatively
unsophisticated person, already impressed by the great prestige of science, would think that
we're trying to say - or we're maintaining that - the scientific theory or hypothesis of evolution
proves or tends to prove, the truth of Buddhism. But actually it is simply that it illustrates
within its sphere a more general proof of which we're already convinced, within the wider
sphere of the spir- itual life especially the spiritually hierarchy. To put it maybe para-
doxically, you find it possible to believe in men because you believe in angels. (Chuckles)
G. K. Chesterson says in a little essay I was reading the other day, that it's because
men no longer believe in the gods that they find it difficult to believe in man himself.
Anyway, I've expressed it all very sort of broadly, very sort of approximately, but I hope what
I'm trying to get at, as it were, communicated - it does require a much more refined and
detailed and comprehensive expression, but I thought I'd better try and get this point across,
however inadequately. (Pause)
Sagaramati has a question on the subject of mechanism.
Sa aramati:
I've got another question - they're not real questions; teyre more like . . ..
(inaudible) You say that the mechanistic view of evolution says that nothing new comes into
existence. They're the same elements in a more complex pattern. Surely this isn't a
mechanistic view but a reductionist view. A mechanistic view does allow - the modern
mechanistic view does allow new qualities to come into existence, but says that such qualities
HEM (M) 1/3 3 be explained without reference to any unobservable force at work behind what is observed.
Evolution can be fully accounted for by the interplay of genetic mutations and natural
selection; nothing else is needed. So new qualities in different species do come into being but
without any purpose.
I think it comes from the same thing. I think the word 'new' is being used in two
different senses.
Sa aramati:
Under the title of a book the other day, it said that teme c anistic view is not
the view of a machine. The mechanistic view is one that says that - well, it takes into
consideration caus- ality: that things don't come into being without a cause. And this was in
a book on philosophy of science. This point said that the mechanistic view is like a machine.
They're saying 'No, it's not like that'. It's just that they don't look for any cause that they can't
actually observe. And some people say that evolution can be explained purely in terms of
what they observe without calling on any other cause.
I must say, I don't really see any difference between the two views. I certainly accept
the term'reductionist'- perhaps that is even a more appropriate term, because if one uses the
term 'mechan- istic', well one might have a vision of something like a motorcar whereas one
is concerned actually with much more tcomplex phenomena. But even when dealing with
more complex phenomena or more, as it were, complex development one does still not want
to adopt a reductionist position. So perhaps it would be advisable to substitute reductionist
for mechanistic, even though I don't see any difference between the two in principle.
Because to go back to the question of t'new'. 'New' as a quality is 'new' within a particular
context. Something can be 'new' within a particular context which is not absolutely new. So
even when one is speaking df the emergence of new qualities, one means 'new' for that
particular level of existence. One doesn't necessarily mean new in the sense of never having
previously existed anywhere before in any sense.
Sa aramati:
A mechanistic view would say that it doesn't exist anywere in any sense prior
to the introduction of an at' tribute. ...

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