I remember the moment clearly. One afternoon last September,
deep in an editorial discussion about the subject of this issue, our spiritual
teacher suddenly remarked, "It seems that we're talking about a different
kind of enlightenment."
"A different kind of enlightenment?" All of us on the editorial team looked
at each other, puzzled and intrigued by the unexpected idea. What could that possibly
mean? Enlightenment, by traditional definition, is understood to be the realization
of the timeless, the unborn, the eternal—the recognition of that which always
was, always is, and always will be. How could such a realization ever change?
How could there possibly be a "different" kind of enlightenment? Yet,
we had to admit, the evidence was compelling. Something new was emerging in the
spiritual world, a new perspective, a new vision based on a passion for evolution
that definitely seemed to be changing the way we—wait a minute. Did I just
? Hasn't the theory of evolution long been the number one
of the spirit in most religious circles? Isn't evolution the atheist's
answer to religious faith, the "blind watchmaker" who has slowly fashioned
life out of inanimate matter without any Divine help, Darwin's paradigm-shattering
revolution of natural selection and random mutation that explained away God with
one momentous insight into the workings of Mother Nature?
Yes, that is the story as it is often told. But what is perhaps not so well known is
that something critical happened on the way to Darwin's revolution. Before materialism
could muscle out God and crown itself undisputed king of the natural world, its
key ally—that is, the notion of evolution—was hijacked by a few forward-looking
spiritual thinkers, and the world may have been forever changed. They declared
that the emerging evolutionary perspective on human life was, in fact, the perfect
complement to spirituality—not its enemy but its greatest friend. Indeed,
they shouted to all who would listen that, taken as a whole, our new understanding
of the evolutionary dynamics of the cosmos in which we live represented one of
the most significant spiritual
events in human history.
So as we began last fall to take a closer look at the new visions that have arisen
from the intersecting worlds of evolution and spirituality, the possibility that
we were witnessing the birth of "a different kind of enlightenment"
began to take on very real dimensions. And it was a possibility that had implications
that were, for us, not merely theoretical. Indeed, in the collective spiritual
life of our own community of practitioners, we had recently experienced the emergence
of an intense spiritual power that had lifted everyone who was present into a
radically different state of consciousness. It was a collective, volcanic surge
of spiritual passion and potential that carried with it an overwhelming sense
of evolutionary urgency. While it could hardly have been called "enlightenment"
in the traditional sense, it contained the freedom, bliss, and release we normally
associate with that term. Could this event, we wondered, have something to do
with the emerging evolutionary spirituality that is capturing the attention of
more and more in today's spiritual world?
For answers to this question, and others regarding our evolutionary future, the first
place we began to look was in the past. Some contemporary thinkers, such as Ken
Wilber and Michael Murphy, trace the beginnings of evolutionary spirituality back
to the late eighteenth century, when the German idealists such as Hegel, Fichte,
and Schelling began speaking about human history as the greater and greater unfolding
of spirit in this world. Inspired by the burgeoning Industrial Revolution, the
notion of progress was then all the rage in the West, a notion that would, over
the next few decades, provide the underpinnings for the development of evolutionary
theory and be applied, by Darwin and others, to much more than cultural history.
And when a few courageous thinkers started exploring the connections between evolution
and spirituality toward the end of the 1800s, sparks began to fly. But it wasn't
until the early twentieth century that things really exploded. It was then, in
the pioneering work of India's great philosopher-sage Sri Aurobindo and the inspired
writings of Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, that
a new evolutionary vision was born, a vision that saw a spiritual unfolding in
the natural processes of cosmic evolution. And perhaps even more importantly,
both of these great men perceived a powerful evolutionary impulse at work in nature
that was none other than the God principle itself surging upwards, urging us on
to ever-greater heights of consciousness. Indeed, writing with the passion and
conviction of those who have glimpsed a glorious future and feel its urgency in
the present, they turned traditional ideas of the religious life on their head
and called for a new spirituality. Adopting those long-neglected orphans of enlightenment's
past—time, progress, change—they saw the true purpose of spiritual life not as
the transcendence of the world nor even the compassionate embrace of the world
but as the further evolution of consciousness on earth.
So for this issue of WIE,
we set out to explore the impact that the evolution revolution
is having on the world of the spirit, one that may ultimately prove to be even
more profound than the impact that it has already had on the world of science.
Indeed, though the contributors in the following pages hail from very different
philosophical backgrounds, they have all been intellectually and spiritually captivated
by the notion of evolution. And they are, each in their own way, from their own
perspective, and within their own field, asking us to consider some bold, surprising,
and awe-inspiring visions of spiritual enlightenment and the future of God.