Evolutionary, spiritual conceptions of life - Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin and Ken Wilber in comparison

Essay, 2006
43 Pages

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- Theories of Evolution

- Spiritual Evolution

- Theories of Existence

- Idealism and Theories of Causality

- Ken Wilber’s Integral Vision – A Holarchy

- The Pattern that Connects the Web of Life

- The Depths of the Divine

- Wilber’s Synthesis of Stages of Moral Development

- To Close with Wilber – Wilber and Aurobindo in Comparison

- Kant, Aurobindo and In Between

- Critique of Superstitious Illuminations (Continued) and Alternatives

- The Big Picture – The Evolutionary Process according to Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin

- Sri Aurobindo - Basic Tenets

- Some Important Differences

- An Alternative View of Holism and Integral Thinking – Elmar Holenstein

- Teilhard de Chardin – Basic Tenets

- A Critical Assesment of Teilhard de Chardin’s and Sri Aurobindo’s Theories of Evolution

- Literature

Perhaps the greatest and the most universal of the problems which have infrigued the mind of man are those which deal with his own place in the world in which he lives. The greatest, vastest, and most difficult of all cosmic problems is that of the origin and development of the world – the ‘question of creation’, in a word (Reddy, 2004: 28). Central for a present-day cosmogony is the theory of evolution. The special stress of this paper lies on theories of evolution, which are spiritual, too. Like this, they distinguish themselves from standard evolutionary theories, which are materialistic and mostly mechanistic, and seen from an integral perspective – reductionistic and thus have lost the spiritual candle.

But what is important, too, is that we keep some rules of thumb in mind about intercultural communication. This since our three ‘heroes of evolution’ come from different cultures (East and West) and are imbedded in different religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity). Most important for a modern enlightenment philosophical approach in this matter is the ‘agnosticism rule’. Of course, it sounds a little bit like a contradiction: the aim of this paper is to try to shed some light on the question of origin (and destiny) of this world. But ultimately, we think, it is best to stay with methodological agnosticism. This approach to truth, aiming for it, but knowing that man does never find absolute truth, has become the master approach in philosophy (i.e. ‘love of wisdom - philosophy’ in contrast to ‘theosophy – knowledge about God’). We stress this so explicitly at the beginning, since all three have not done that! Those following the Eastern approach (Aurobindo and Wilber) think that they have direct mystical revelations about ultimate truth. And Teilhard is to closed in his limited Christian framework. But I keep with them nevertheless, since they are originators of important impulses in thinking evolution spiritually. – But let the mystery of this world be a mystery. If the following thoughts can stimulate thinking and show some light into the right direction, that would be already more then can be expected.

There are mysteries that remain mysteries in all cultures and across cultures, transculturally. Of course, proofs of indeterminacy or undecidability can be based on false presuppositions and thus deceive. Still, one must be prepared for the fact that a satisfactory answer to Leibniz's question (‘Principes de la nature et de la grâce’, 1714, §7/8) will not be found in any culture: “Why is there something and not nothing?” The same holds of Locke's question as to how it is possible that “bare incognitative matter should produce a thinking intelligent being” (Holenstein, 2003).

Theories of Evolution

The world evolution comes from Latin ‘evolvere’, which means to process and to develop. Evolution is based on three requirements. (1) A replicable information complex, which must be able to reproduce its-self - the medium. (2) A copy-process which does not work totally correct/ or has as aim directly a reshuffling of the merging information (e.g. heterosexuality). There is variation generated along with the duplication process. (3) There is selection. Not every new unit will have the change to reproduce its-self once more. (1) to (3) is leading to adaptation and higher development. In philosophy, the development of the universe and of consciousness through time is referred to as evolution, too.

The modern evolutionary synthesis (often referred to simply as the new synthesis, the modern synthesis, the evolutionary synthesis, neo-Darwinian synthesis or neo-Darwinism), generally denotes the integration of Charles Darwin's theory of the evolution of species by natural selection (the mechanism of evolution), with Gregor Mendel's theory of genetics as the basis for biological inheritance (the unit of evolution), together with random genetic mutation as the source of variation, and mathematical population genetics (Wkipedia, en/de, ‘Evolution’, ‘Modern Evolutionary Synthesis’, ‘Evolution (philosophy)’).

The theory of evolution has become the central organising principle of modern biology.

Because of its potential implications for the origins of humankind, evolutionary theory has been at the centre of many social and religious controversies since its inception. But by spiritual in connection with evolution we mean, that evolution theory does not erase the claim for life being divine. But there are some views according to which evolution theory makes a divine origin of life obsolete. Thus, first a look at these:

(1) The theory of evolution makes as such other stories about the genesis of life redundant. The most prominent example is the ‘Genesis Story of Adam and Eve’ of the Abrahamitic religions. Where it was supposed that a ‘god-power’ has created earth, plants, animals and men. And this story of creation was later written down, together with the incident of ‘the Fall’, in the book of Genesis of the Bible. The Bible text is assumed to be a correct account of god’s work as a creator. Thus, this school of thought is called ‘creationists’.
(2) In the simplistic manner variation, based on mutation and selection, leading to adaptation is seen as completely random. Science and the modern mind seem to claim that the universe just occurs. There is nothing behind it. It is all ultimately accidental or random. It just is, it just happens – oops (Reynodls, 2004: 222). There is no divine power anymore behind the evolutionary process and no teleology left. There is no fitness for a purpose anymore. Only mechanistical selection is left. This is the standard modern, secular so called ‘scientific’ theory of evolution.
(3) The believe in god is an illusion. This because the promise of eternal bliss can be seen as being only an evolutionary advantage for a thoughtful, doubting man. This is the ‘advanced atheistic evolutionary theory’ with two subtypes – the cultural and the genetic one.

We want to go into more detail in the following concerning proposition (3). The first question in this evolutionary theory about god is, whether the concept of ‘god’ is only a cultural product? In that case proposition (3) is the result of cultural evolution. Or if proposition (3) is based on some spiritual experiences, which have their basis in the genes. Thus the theory would be at the same time cultural and genetic.

This theory is based on the assumption that man is able to conceive god. For that, he must have first of all the cognitive capacities to think about god. In the following we will assume that this capacty is not only based on some general cognitive capacities of the brain. We assume rather that there could be even some genes responsible for our possibility to ‘think about god’. Genes function in making possible certain states of consciousness, which build the basis for spiritual experiences. In this extended theory spirituality would not only be something you learn from your cultural environment. No, it is assumed that there are some ‘god genes’ which build the basis for spirituality. We will follow this assumption, because spirituality means that you can get some ‘higher’, ‘mystical’ experiences, which are quiet different from everyday experiences. But by saying this, we don’t mean the ‘great mystical experiences’ of the Eastern Hindu or Buddhist traditions, which lead you far beyond what a conventional brain normally can conceive. Also by claiming a spiritual approach, we will never forget, that all states of the brain have their neuronal correlative. Thus, no ‘Buddha-enlightenment’ or for our paper important: no ‘Aurobindo-enlightenment’ is possible.

Important for this approach of ‘god genes’ is the distinction of spirituality from religiosity. Religiosity is related with certain imaginations (images of god, dogmas, histories of salvation, etc.) and practices (prayers and rituals). Religiosity is something, which is conveyed culturally in all its richness. Spirituality on the other hand, is something, which has to do with feeling related to the bigger whole. Spirituality has a strong genetic component. However religious spirituality can be enhanced, like moral virtues, through practice. We can rise in faith - to believe, to love and to hope. We have – most likely – a genetic predisposition for spiritual faith. This faith is formed through individual experiences and cultural environment. The genes act in influencing the different states of consciousness, which build the basis for spiritual experiences. It is important to distinguish the question ‘Why do we believe in god?’ from the question ‘Is there a god at all?’. How thoughts and emotions are generated in the brain is something science can research. But science can not tell whether these convictions are true or not? – Spirituality is ultimately a question of believe, not of genetics! (Gehirn und Geist, 2005:?).

The ‚advanced atheistic evolutionary theory’ is something, which is at the moment hotly debated in Western academic circles. Most prominent are people like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. I don’t want to go into too much detail here. Just one more elaborated sociobiological theory might be quoted here. It is the one of Richard Dawkins from his famous book ‘The Selfish Gene’ (Löw, 1998: 129/130). How did the concept of ‘God’ develop? – Once the idea of a higher or highest being appeared to early man. This being can have totally different attributes, since it is a random product. [But don’t forget the innate moral sense, like Dawkins is doing in the following!] ‘God’ can be benevolent or cruel, omniscient or cheatable, mild or envious, etc. In the struggle for existence there is a premium for certain attributes of god. There will be more brave men, defending their families and villages, if faith is promising the brave warrior, with the sword in his breast, an eternal heaven. On the other hand there will be more cowardliness if there is the prospect of a cruel god of the dead. This is the reason why step by step, from battle to battle, the believe in eternity and rewarding and punishing gods is gaining, leading ultimately to Christianity. (Sorry, I don’t know Hinduism not good enough to develop this pattern at the example of it, too. But it reminds me to the famous battle in the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna is instructing Arjuna. And it doesn’t surprise me that the message to battle, too, is kept in Hindu religion. Even though Gandhi sees in the Gita a spiritual battle; see below.) Dawkings conclusion is: earlier it was said that God has created man, later it was said man has created god. But in sociobiological thinking the truth is that none has created anything. ‘It’ is just left over something.

Spiritual Evolution

Next we will try a fresh look and think about philosophical theories of spiritual evolution. Trying to leave the camp of materialistic reductionism and nihilism. “Evolution is not a mechanical movement without any purpose. It is a movement towards a goal. If evolution means merely the adaptation of the organism to a rigid physical universe, then there can be no talk of any moral or social evolution.” (Reddy, 2004: 153/154). When science can not explain the ‘how’ of the evolutionary process, it calls all growth and evolution of new forms ‘accidental’. And when spirituality explains the ‘why’, it calls all evolution as ‘conscious’ evolution. It is the involved spirit that makes sense to the evolutionary process. And it is spirit which makes evolution meaningful and not accidental (Reddy, 2006a). “The realm of consciousness in the long run necessarily becomes manifest in the material world, indeed creates the material world in its own image. Consciousness is cause and not effect, and can develop autonomously from the material world.” (Fukuyama, 1989: 6).

Our starting point will be the assumption of a ‘spiritual sense’. This in analogy to the famous ‘moral sense’ of the Scottish Enlightenment; or following Ananda Reddy’s (2006a) description: “It is the innate sense of the Infinite that is in man’s soul that is behind all religious seekings for the higher and the beyond.” “[The] emergence of the Divine in the creature must be that high-uplifted goal and that supreme significance.” (Aurobindo, 1920/1990: 280). The presence of ‘god-genes’ and a ‘spiritual sense’ should be seen first of all as a positive sign and not as a deceptive illusion. And these ‘god-genes’ can be seen as being responsible for our predisposition of spirituality. But we can increase this spirituality, too, through training (like muscles). A spiritual sense might be understood as a hint that the normally so quiet nature is talking to us. A spiritual sense has developed most likely during the process of evolution to get a better understanding of the world we live in, like sight helps us to orient in our environment. An indication for the ‘spiritual-sense-theory’ is the essential identity of all great religions. A famous topic of Ramakrishna. Man could most likely never experience something as senseless if he had not the certainty that life is not meaningless. “Thus unto you, you have created us. And impatience is our heart, until it will find calmness in you.” Augustine, ‘Confessions’, first page (my translation from a German edition, 1989: 33).

Having ruled out the reductionist camp of evolution theories, we will now look at more spiritual ones. A very prominent try is Alfred Whitehead. He sees reality not as mechanistic. Biology means more ‘becoming’, the ‘principle of creativity’. His goal is a rationalisation of mystics. That does not mean to explain away, rather to introduce new linguistic characterisations, which are rationally ordered (Höffe, 2001: 289). Who knows how new is emerging, gets a feeling for the surprise of becoming out of nothing. The evolutionary process gets a deep-dimension. The emergence of new is the creative trace of god. It is less about why new is developing the explained way. It is more about the weight of the emergence of new. It opens up a room for believe in, that the natural process of creation of new gives hope for a transient human being (Weder, 2006: 31).

But the only stress on creativity leaves me dissatisfied. And rationalised mystics is missing the emotional part, which is so important for the ‘spiritual-sense-theory’. I think there is much left to learn from the ‘heroes of spiritual evolution’, i.e. Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin and Ken Wilber. Each of them is complementing the others. Aurobindo writes from a Hindu perspective – with an all-consciousness Brahman at the base. For Ken Wilber the Buddhist emptiness is at the core. And Teilhard writes from a Christian perspective, with the stress on the Jesus figure. But to get the best of all, I am convinced, it is necessary to reinterpret them all. Taking just one of them literally, leads astray. Aurobindo and Wilber have unbelievable mystic visions. And Teilhard has a quirk with Jesus. I know, there is no possibility in this realm to get ‘secure’ knowledge. The best we can get, is good speculative philosophy. And for this reason they are all good inspirational material! So let’s start with the deconstucting and reconstructing.

Spiritual evolution is the idea that nature and human beings and/or human culture evolve along patterns or ascend in accordance with certain potentials, pre-determined or not. Theories of spiritual evolution are very diverse. They can be holistic, holding that higher realities emerge from and are not reducible to the lower, idealist, holding that reality is primarily mental or spiritual, or nondual, holding that there is no ultimate distinction between mental and physical reality. All of them can be considered to be teleological to a greater or lesser degree. Just not to forget, we will at this place remind to the simple fact that spiritualisation is also a material process. More wealth allows for more education and for more creative liberties.

With spiritual evolution goes often the idea of progression and development of the individual along, either after death or through successive reincarnations. Often ideas of a cyclical cosmos go along with spiritual evolution. There is the concept of progressive deterioration of the universe, sometimes also of the Fall. But which might be balanced by a corresponding ascent to more spiritual stages and a return to paradisical conditions. Common is also the concept of emanation. Creation proceeds as an outpouring or even a transformation in the original Absolute or Godhead. Then higher levels of Enlightenment or God-realisation lead to a progressive evolution towards Godhead. The common theme is the evolution or the transcendence of the human or collective planetary consciousness in a higher state. In ‘New Age’ it is a ‘New Heaven and a new Earth’ and a divinisation of man. Humanity is on the verge of undergoing a change in consciousness (Wikipedia, ‘Spiritual evolution’, 3.6.06).

Theories of Existence

According to Aurobindo there are three types of theories of existence: (1) the supracosmic, (2) the supraterrestrial, and (3) the cosmic-terrestrial theory. (I have change the order and switched the content of the two theories: the cosmic-terrestrial theory with the supraterrestrial theory. So I will present you at place (2) the supraterrestrial theory instead of the cosmic-terrestrial theory. But on the level of content I present you the description for the cosmic-terrestrial theory instead of the supraterrestrial theory. You will better understand the reasons for this, when you are going to read the explanations in more details.)

(1) The supracosmic theory of existence: The reality is beyond our universe, whether it is real or illusory. The Western philosophers term it the Absolute, the Ultimate, beyond which you cannot conceive anything, which you cannot describe, either, much less grasp it. This reality is beyond the universe. All else is not real. We are not related to the supracosmic. One striking result of this movement of conviction of things here of unreality and the assertion of the sole reality beyond, was the doctrine of Buddhism, leading to self-extinction. As you know, Buddha came to say that there is no creator, there is no beginning. Each individual is a product of a movement which starts with desire. One desire leads to another. And this continuity of desire leads to an illusion of permanence. Cut out the root of desire, the movement comes to a stop and on day you find things extinguished. In this whole operation the individual loses his significance. This is the supracosmic theory.

(2) The supraterrestrial theory of existence: Oposed to the supracosmic theory is the supraterrestrial theory. It is about earth-based creation. The supraterrestrial theory holds that the reality is here. All else is imagination, speculation, to find a way of escape from the challenges and the problems of life. The ideal is in making most of life.

And in-between – between the theory that the reality is elsewhere and the opposite theory that the reality is here – is the cosmic-terrestrial theory.

(3) The cosmic-terrestrial theory of existence: To start with, this material cosmic creation is true, but there are other worlds, more permanent and eternal in their duration and it is they that form the link between the reality above and the reality here. There is also the claim of immortality of the soul. Death is not the end. Man dies, but he does not cease to exist. He lives in other worlds. His soul continues its life on other planes. And the true home of man is beyond. This world is a preparatory stage, the destination is there. Earth-life is meant to qualify yourself for a berth in heaven. From this point of view, the earth-life is an episode. Some philosophers say it is a deviation. A soul comes to birth here because it has deviated from the law (cf. e.g. eating the forbidden fruit in Christianity). Another view is that this whole creation is a Lila of Divine Being. It is a sport of God. Whether he likes the sufferings, pains and the groans of his creatures is another matter.

All of us have origin in the supracosmic reality - the Brahman. But we are also part of the cosmic and the terrestrial. The journey of life is not concluded in one birth. Earth cannot be perfect unless the heavenly dimension is added to it. But also Heaven itself is not perfect without the earth. There is a constant interaction from both ends, from there to here and from here to there. Sachchidananda (Existence, Consciousness and Bliss) is the highest formulation of the Absolute when it moves into manifestation. And also all the self-revelation: we come to know because something reveals itself. In our egoism we pride ourselves on our intellect, but we can know, we can see, we can feel only that which reveals itself (Pandit, 2000: 16-28)

Idealism and Theories of Causality

Spiritual development includes the aim to achieve a closer connection to God and remove illusions or false ideas at the sensory, feeling and thinking aspect of a person. The ‘Plato cave’ analogy (book VII of The Republic) is one of the best examples of what spiritual development can entail. It is the story about men who first see only the shadows of things, but which manage - with difficulties - to turn around and to see things as they are in sunlight. Other conceptualisations see spirituality as a two-stroke process: the ‘upward-stroke’ is inner growth in the physical reality around oneself as a result of the inward change and the ‘downward stroke’ that is manifesting improvements, changing oneself as one changes his relationship with the external universe. One reason for such change might be the realisation that all is oneself (Wikipedia, ‘Spirituality’).

Hindu idealism is a precursor of western idealism and the philosophical opposite of materialism. To remember, by German idealism we understand the philosophies of Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer. Hindu idealism is the basis of most religions of India and the far east. The debate about the true nature of the world typically boils down to materialism or idealism? Idealism espouses the view that consciousness, which at its root emanates from god, is the essence or meaning of the phenomenal reality. Idealism is superior to materialism in explaining the creation because whereas the mind is able to judge matter, matter is unable to judge the mind (Wikipedia, ‘Hindu idealism’). In Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, and in the approach of all spiritual philosophies of the evolution of conscious life, it is the consciousness that is prior and the form comes later. That is where we differ from the western philosophy of evolution and also of existentialism (“L’éxistence précède essence”, “Existence is preceding essence.”, Sartre). To put it simply, the coat is cut according to the wearer, the wearer is not cut according to the coat (Pandit, 2000:49). Materialism treats consciousness as a by-product of material existence, which has no purpose other than what we imbue the life with. For materialists, there is no continuum of existence or conscious experience beyond this life, and certainly no god. Morality becomes a matter of subjective reasoning.

Idealism sees on the other hand that the existence has a purpose that transcends any particular life. Even if each expressed living entity holds itself to be unique, it is an expression of an immortal soul on an evolutionary journey towards the God-consciousness. The driving force of evolution is the desire for love and the pain of separation from Gods love. The most evolved form of consciousness on this planet, is a reflection of the God-consciousness. (So there is some support for the Christian believe, that man is built according to the image of god). The more developed the soul, the more clearly reflected the consciousness. For this reason, the moral judgement and wisdom of actions for any person will depend on their spiritual development, their god-realisation. Through spiritual practices and righteous conduct, the development of the reflected consciousness is believed to be accelerated towards unity with the infinite love of the God-consciousness. In Hindu idealism, as in most religious thought, the attunement to the divine is seen to reconnect the moral judgement with a higher law.

(Wikipedia, ‘Hindu idealism’).

Theories of causality are so important, since they are junctions in the creation of new. Decisive for Aurobindo’s theory is ancient Indian theory of Samkhya ‘pre-existent effect theory’ (Sat Karya-vada). (For Aurobindo is the spirit unfolding in evolution). It states that everything that emerges must pre-exist in the cause. Löw (1998: 137) terms this type of causality ‘reductionist’ since the new can be totally infered from the old. This is akin to the Aristotelian ‘theory of causation’ that advocates actualisation of potentiality, which is built on an internal perfecting principle. That which realises or makes actual what is otherwise merely potential. A form-giving cause is a specific forming immaterial entity – e.g. entelchy, élan vital, super mind, etc. And a final, but very important aspect of Samkhy’s theory of pre-existing cause is, that nothing can really be created from or destroyed into nothingness. All evolution is simply the transformation of primal nature form one form to another (Reddy, 2006b, Wikipedia, ‘Samkhya’). The other extreme is, that ultimately there is nothing inherent. There is only emptiness. This is the Buddhist version. We want to clarify this statement at the following example of a seedling. The seedling has grown out of a seed. We can realise that the seedling can not be grown out of causes which are like it (problem of change of being). Neither can it be grown out of causes which are inherently different from it (problem of change of becoming). Nor can it have been caused by causes which are both, or which are none – without causes. Something non-existent can not be cause. And something that can exist inherently out of its own powers does not need to be generated by causes. If you analyse things like this, you understand the reason why becoming can not be understood (Dalai Lama, 1992). This is the Buddhist problem of emptiness of becoming. Hume’s critique is something in between. It can be seen as another reason why we have wrong conceptions of reality. The ‘causal’ succession of two things is only appearing to us, as if there would be something causally reacting. But in reality we are not able to say if there is a necessary cause-effect relation between two things? Causality can also be seen as being only a habit. Finally, there is the possibility that in each case of causality there is new creation – a strong form of theism (Löw, 1998: 142). This type of causality would be involved in emergent development. But to sum up we will point at a (partial) reversal of causality: teleology. Teleology is about why things develop towards the realisation of ends internal to their own nature. Where as causality is a push-factor, teleology is a pull-factor. And somehow they complement each other, too.

Ken Wilber’s Integral Vision – A Holarchy

Wilber alludes that there is something else going on behind the happenstance drama. It is a deeper or higher or wider pattern or order or intelligence, at least the possibility of a deeper order. What becomes a pradox in Wilbers work, is his ultimate Buddhist stance of Emptiness. What more does he tell than the modern atheist project? – Atheism normally goes along with agnosticism. Modern reductionism, Wilber maintains, has not only “lost the Light and the Height; but more frightening, we have lost the Mystery and the Deep, the Emptiness and the Abyss.”

Wilber’s goal is an overall, new integral vision, a new synthesis of these various holarchies – the sciences, value judgements, and the great wisdom traditions (cf. ‘Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution’, 1995). Therefor he is first distinguishing all three ‘Great Realms’ of evolution: the physioshere (matter, material, physical, cosmic); the bioshpere (life, biologcial, biosocial); and the noosphere (mind, psychological, historical, sociocultural). These nested domains are seen as one continuous and interrelated manifestation of Spirit, one Great Chain of Being, that reaches from matter to life to mind to soul to spirit.

Wilber suggests that in order to get rid of the problem of hierarchy we should use instead Koestler’s more holistic term holarchy (rooted in the ancient Greek word holos or ‘wholeness’; But we should also not forget Leibniz’s Monade which has many similarities with a holon). In fact, hierarchy and wholeness are two names for the same thing, and if you destroy one, you destroy the other. In other words, holarchy actually reflects a natural hierarchy. A heterarchy, on the other hand, is the horizontal arrangement of holons existing within a given level of any hierarchical pattern. In brief: within each level, heterarchy; between each level, hierarchy. So far Wilber. – But it looks to me as if holarchy would better go together with hetearchy. Hetearchy is about mutual dependence. There are no higher levels without the lower ones. And lower level can give ‘birth’ to higher levels!

A holarchy itself is composed of holons (another Koesterian term) meaning ‘whole/parts,’ which Wilber uses to mean that which, being a whole in one context, is simultaneously a part in another. But he is stressing that holons are something different from things or processes. The whole, in other words, is more than the sum of its parts. An important point Wilber always emphasizes is the fact that these hierarchical networks necessarily unfold in a sequential or stage-like fashion. In other words, growth occurs in stages, and stages, of course, are ranked in both a logical and chronological order. The more holistic pattern appear later in development, because they have to await the emergence of the parts that they will then integrate or unify. The value of the concept of ‘higher’ is that it adds something extra relative to the previous (and less encompassing) stage. Indeed, the only way to get to holism is via a holarchy (Reynolds, 2004: 223-225, 227). – One important limitation of Wilber’s conception of holon is his neglect of the process-character of the world. He only stipulates a development towards the ‘higher’. Aurobindo, in contrast, gives with his involution-evolution-approach a much more dynamic picture. And the spiritual part behind evolution is in Aurobindo’s conception much stronger present. Comparable with this long-term dynamic approach is only Teilhard de Chardin’s conception. But more on that later.

Wilber argues that the within of things, the interiority of individual holons, is in essence the same as consciousness. The without of things is form. The within of things is depth, the without is surface. But all surfaces are surfaces of depth, which means, all forms are forms of consciousness. The greater the depth of evolution, the greater the degree of consciousness. Importantly, he notes that it really doesn’t matter how far down you wish to push consciousness, since the lowest or most primitive holons have the least depth, the least consciousness, yet, (in agreement with Whithead) even they posses a form of prehension. Having made the distinction between interiority and exteriority, he points out that interior holons have nothing to do with size or spatial extension, but instead each new and emergent interior holon transcends but includes, and thus operates upon, the information presented by its junior holons, and thus it fashions something novel in the ongoing cognitive or interior stream. Wilber is expressing, in other words, Teilhard de Chardin’s law of complexity and consciousness, which in essence means Depth = Consciousness or, again, greater depth, greater interiority, greater consciousness (Reynolds, 2004: 235). But the same is true for the vedantic approach of Aurobindo. He does not only emphasises that all reality is consciousness, but he goes further and says that the measure of reality of anything is determined by the nature of consciousness that is revealed in it. The higher the position of anything on the scale of reality, the deeper and more unified is the consciousness that is revealed in it (Reddy, 2004: 146/147).

Wilber has developed the ‘four quadrant approach’ to define the inside and the outside of a holon, in both its individual and collectively forms. The upper left quadrant covers the inner-individual aspect of human consciousness, as studied by developmental psychology, in both it’s conventional and contemplative forms. The upper right quadrant covers the outer-individual aspects of human consciousness, as studied by neurology and cognitive science. The lower left quadrant covers the inner-collective aspects of human consciousness, as studied by the sciences of culture: cultural psychology and anthropology. The lower right quadrant covers the outer-collective aspects of human consciousness, as studied by sociology. One way to make sense of the four quadrants model is to see the upper left quadrant as primary, and the other three quadrants as the various ways individual human consciousness is conditioned, by the material brain, cultural influences and social structures. A more radical view is to see the four quadrants as the four ways in which universal spirit is expressed simultaneously. All of the quadrants mutually interact with each other. A given stage of individual development (e.g. abstract mind) will be reflected in a stage o neurological development (e.g. the neocortex), a stage of cultural development (e.g. rationalisation) and a stage of societal development (e.g. industrialisation). Each quadrant consists of nine levels/stages. Combining quadrants with levels gives the ‘all quadrants, all levels’ approach of Wilber’s Integral philosophy (Integralworld, ‘Core Concepts: The Four Quadrants’).

The Pattern that Connects the Web of Life

1. Reality as a whole is not composed of things or processes, but of holons (wholes that are part of other wholes).

2. Holons display four fundamental capacities:

a) self-preservation (or agency);
b) self-adaptation (or communion);
c) self-transcendence or self-transformation (or Eros);
d) self-dissolution (or Thanatos).

3. Holons emerge.

4. Holons emerge holarchically.

5. Each emergent holon transends but includes its predecessor(s).

6. The lower sets the possibilities of the higher. The higher sets the probabilities of the lower.

7. The number of levels that a holarchy comprises determines whether it is ‘shallow’ or ‘deep’. And the number of holons on any given level we shall call it ‘span’.

8. Each successive level or evolution produces greater depth and less span.

9. The greater the depth of a holon, the greater its degree of consciousness.

10. Destroy any holon, and you will destroy all of the holons above it but none of the holons below it.

11. Holarchies coevolve.

12. The micro is in relational exchange with the macro at all levels of its depth.

13. Evolution has directionality.

14. Evolution has increasing complexity

15. Evolution has increasing differentiation/integration.

16. Evolution has increasing organisation/structuration.

17. Evolution has increasing relative autonomy.

18. Evolution has increasing telos.

19. Every holon issues an ‘Incomplete or Uncertain’ (IOU) to the Kosmos

20. All ‘Inomplete or Uncertain’ (IOU) are redeemed in Emptiness.

(Reynolds, 2004: 226/227)

And this whole pattern is involved in an involutionary/evolutionary movement of Nondual Spirit.

The Depths of the Divine

Wilber is constructing a developmental stage model in order to rationally reconstruct the higher stages of transpersonal or contemplative development - stages that continue naturally or normally beyond the ego. He points out four stages:

(1) The psychic stage is associated with Nature Mysticism and the Worldsoul and Worldprocess. Nature is an expression of the spirit, e.g. Ralph Waldo Emerson.
(2) The subtle stage with deity mysticism, nature mysticism gives way to Deity Mysticism – the union of the whole soul with God, e.g. St. Teresa of Avila.
(3) The causal stage with Formless Mysticism or Emptiness, e.g. Meister Eckhard. In the subtle level, the Soul and God unite. In the causal level, the Soul and God are both transcended in the prior identity of Godhead. Or pure formless awareness, pure consciousness as such, the pure Self as pure Spirit (Atman = Brahman). This pure formless Spirit is said to be the Goal and Summit and Source of all manifestations. And that is the causal. Wilber cites also Ramana Maharishi as example. He explains the Advaita position rather succinctly. He suggests that Sankara makes three major statements: 1. Brahman is real. 2. The universe is unreal. 3. The universe is brahman. The third statement is meant to explain the significance of the first two. This world is unreal as such, that is, as the world, but is real in so far as it is seen as non-different from brahman – the ground of existence.
(4) The nondual presence with Nondual Mysticism, which is impossible to describe, therefore Wilber reflects upon and repeats the essential wisdom of the nondual traditions: Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form. Prior to the split between inside and outside, prior to seer and seen, prior to the rise of the worlds, everpresent as pure Presence, the simple feeling of being: emty awareness in which all worlds arise, ceaselessly. The All is Emptiness. Emptiness is freely manifesting. Freely manifesting is self-liberating. Abide as Emptiness, emprace all Form. The liberation is in the Emptiness, never finally in the Form. Nagarjuna thinks every possible conceivable category to its ultimate end. And always reaches the same conclusion. They contradict each other. And when you insist further, they fall apart. What remains is Emptiness, formless Infinite. When Wilber is asked if there is an absolute omega point, towards which history and cosmogenesis are leading, Wilber’s answers become paradoxical. And that is god so. Ultimately we can enter only a tiny little bit into the realm of paradoxical logic. Wilber’s try to fusion Advaita Vedanta non-dualism with Buddhist Emptiness in this way is an innovative way. But it is also typically Indian: the dialectic of atman and anatman. Or is this insight not so new? – “Only, the positive and synthetic teaching of the Upanishads beheld Sat [being] and Asat [not-being] not as opposites destructive of each other, but as the last antinomy through which we look up to the Unowable.” (Aurobindo, 1920/1990: 41). (But this is of course strictly against classical European thought, like for instance Leibniz: Something can not be and be-not at the same time!) N.B. In Buddhism there is no first cause - just emptiness. All is constantly changing. In Advaita Vedanta Hinduism there is a first cause – Brahman. And nothing is really changing. Both speak of maya-illusion. The question is only what is behind the veil of maya? – Eternal emptiness or eternal Brahman?

Indeed the integral psychologist clarifies, to truly understand this paradoxical truth a person must practice and experience enlightenment for oneself (Höffe, 2001: 171, King, 1999: 215, Reynolds, 2004: 253-257, 270/271, Wilber, 1996: 581). N.B. We will give some chapters further down a quiet profound critique of superstitious illuminations.

Wilber’s Synthesis of Stages of Moral Development.

Starting point is an autistic, symbolic, self-only attitude, followed by impulsive, magical, narcissism and hedonism. (1.) On this preconventional level of egocentric ‘me’ is the focus on bodily self. Safety, power and mythicism are important. (2.) On the conventional level of sociocentric ‘us’ of family, group, tribe and nation the focus is on mythic-membership. Membership, conformism, and rational-reflection are important. (3.) On the postconventional level of worldcentric ‘all of us’, all humans without exception, the focus is on rational, universal pluralism. Universality and globality are important. (4.) On the post-post conventional level (valid for this level and all subsequent levels) of shamanic ‘all earthly beings without exception’. The focus is on Worldsoul. Panentheisticism is important. (5.) A bodhisattvic ‘all sentinent beings in all realms without exception’. The focus is on Brahma-lokas in an panentheistic way. (6.) A Buddhic always already of all manifest and unmanifest reality. The focus is on self-liberation in primordial awareness (Reynolds, 2004: 389).

To Close with Wilber – Wilber and Aurobindo in Comparison

After having developed in length Wilber’s theory of spiritual development, we will next give a look at Ken Wilber in Comparison with Sri Aurobindo. To begin with, a simple list of correlative structures (Reynolds, 2004: 394).

Wilber: Aurobindo:

Matter, sensation, perception Physical

Impulse/emotion, image, symbol Vital-emotional

Concept Lower mind

Rule/role Concrete mind

Formal Logical mind, reasoning

Vision-logic Higher mind, systems

Psychic Illumined mind

Subtle Intuitive mind

Causal Overmind

Nondual Supermind

Satchitananda: Existence – Consciousness – Bliss

But there is also an agreement on the level of essences between Wilber and Aurobindo. Wilber’s view is that there are gaps in scientific knowledge of biological evolution. He points to these gaps by asking: ‘How can dirt get up and start writing poetry?’ and ‘How do we get from atoms to Shakespear?’ (If I remember right, Aurobindo makes somewhere an analogous simile about how mud can become a lotus?). Like Aurobindo he thinks that this can only be explained by positing immanent Spirit as a ‘drive’ within evolution itself. Eros is one of the terms Wilber uses to refer to the ‘drive’ he posits. Wilber believes that science cannot explain how we go from atoms to Shakespeare, unless we say that ‘Spirit’ is ‘within’ evolution as a causal force, i.e., a ‘drive’ (Chamberlain, 2006). The ‘effect pre-exist in the cause’ theory is also assumed by Teilhard de Chardin. All there ‘heroes of evolution’ – Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin and Ken Wilber agree on the common statement that spirit had to be present already in matter to become later realised in man. And all three develop hopeful, spiritual future scenarios based on this. Hence, I am asking me, if we can not speak about an ‘axial age’ in theories of evolution? – But this theory relies on assumptions (cf. critique of different theories of causality, above). Life in the lifeless can not be perceived. But it can be imagined. Thus, an example for an intelligible theory, and time to include Kant in our thinking.

Kant, Aurobindo and In Between

Kant has set new the limits of human cognition with his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’. The shape of our senses and the fonctioning of our mind is limiting our epistemological potential. ‘The thing as such’ is not apprehendable. The maximum possible, is the intelligible, i.e. things that we can think of, but of which we don’t have any sense experiences! Like, for instance, the free will. In a closed materialistic and machanistic world we wouldn’t have a free will. But Kant sees man as having a double nature: body and soul, materialism and idealism. And the free will is something intelligible of the immaterial soul. In Hindu tradition is the ‘inteligible Welt’ not just of importance for free-will. But this spiritual world is rather decisive for the process of karmic rebirth. It is in this spiritual world where the impressions and the psychic personality remain as latent tendencies (vasana). Another example could be Descartes ontological proof of god (Höffe, 2001: 157). Since such an incomplete being, like man, can think the concept of a perfect being, he thinks, that this is reason enough for, that such a being must exists (3e Méditation métaphysique, Roche, 1985: 100). Intelligiblity allows to think beyond the realm of the sensational world, but then it becomes a question of faith. So far the concept of ‘intelligible’. But from the standpoint of spiritual sense we must add, that Kant and other Enlightenment philosopher’s strict rigor with reason has lead supsequently to movement of romanticism and idealism as a reaction.

Aurobindo (1920/1990: 72/73) aludes to the concept of intelligible, when he cites the Bhagavad Gita (VI, 21): “beyond perception by the sense, but seizable by the perceptions of the reason”, buddhigrahyam atindriyam. But Aurobindo (1920/1990: 73) then goes on to pledge “to go beyond the mind and the reason.” And that is where I see clear limits of cognition. I agree with Aurobindo as long as he speaks of the value of intiution. But he is understanding intuition in a much larger and stronger sense – than I am ready to accept in the form of a ‘spiritual sense’ (see above). Aurobindo would agree with Kant, that all statements about the ultimate reality are bound to be inadequate. The ultimate has to be realised through identity of the knower and the known, i.e. in deep meditation. This is how a bridge can be built between intellect and intuition (Goswami, 1976: 99)!?

Following the Kantian and modern subjectivist Enlightenment tradtion I am convinced that never someone made the experience of identiy of self/Atman with the worldsoul/Brahman as no one can grasp the ‘thing-as-such’ neither. We can’t apprehend reality directly. There are our senses and the reason pre-forming reality. We can’t make this shift in apprehension undone. And there are epistemological limits, because the brain has developed during evolution in interaction with the environment. Thus, it can handle everyday problems, but has the largest difficulties with ‘last questions’. But Kant’s theory of the ‘thing as such’ can be challenged, too. If there is a ‘thing-as-such’ and an appearance of it, than there is a relation of causality between them. But causality is (maybe) only valid in the world of appearance! Considering also this case, maybe the advaita vedanta approach of stipulating that the whole world is illusion and maya is not so wrong. The real, however, will be there without the appearance, too. But will we ever get there?

I think, what is written in the Bhagavad Gita after the above first quote is something of the most beautifull and mysticaly inspiring what human culture has created! Even if you don’t believe in the yoga-way – as I do, the goal of it, describing in poetic words the uniting of individual consciousness with the Ultimate Consciousness is inspiring the spiritual sense very much! And I agree, that the spriritual sense can be enhanced through training, but only within human limits. By looking for an English translation of the respective verses VI, 28 to 32 of the Gita, I have started to realise, that there existe quiet different translations of these verses. Comparing some of these translations, I must say, I like most the German translation. (Funny thing or no surprise…) But to quote, I have decided to follow the ‘Gandhi-Gita’, with some of Gandhi’s comments (Gandhi, 1946/2004: 237/238):

“28. The yogin, cleansed of all stain, unites himself ever thus to Atman, easily enjoys the endless bliss of contact with Brahman. 29. The man equipped with yoga looks on all with an impartial eye, seeing Atman in all beings and all beings in Atman. 30. He who sees Me everywhere and everything in Me, never vanishes from Me nor I from him. (One starts with seeing oneself in his near neighbour, then in his distant neighbours, then in still more distant humanity, and ends in seeing himself in all; and seeing oneself in another is to love the other. That is the same thing as seeing other beings in one’s Self. The next natural step is to see God in everyone and everyone in God. The yogin who worships and loves God worships and loves everyone, for he sees God in everyone; cf. chapter ‘Wilber’s Synthesis of Stages of Moral Development’, above). 31. The yogin who, anchored in unity, worships Me abiding in all beings, lives and moves in Me, no matter how he lives and moves. 32. He who, by likening himself with others, senses pleasure and pain equally or all as for himself, is deemed to be the highest yogi, O’Arjuna. (As Shankaracharya explains: “By realizing that all creatures feel the same pleasure and pain as he feels, he harms no being.”)”

Critique of Superstitious Illuminations (Continued) and Alternatives

And that is my point of critique - which is valid for Aurobindo as for Wilber as well. Having much more than a well developed spiritual sense, I am convinced, is for man with today’s brains not possible! But having said this, I must admit that some transpersonal thinking is possible. The concepts of Natural Mysticism, Deity Mysticism, Formless Mysticism and Nondual Mysticism have something inspiring.

But what gets quiet easily missing in this subtle conceptions of consciousness – is the moral dimension, the dimension of love! But there is the quiet elaborated theory of Wilber (cf. chapter on ‘Wilber’s Synthesis of Stages of Moral Development’ above). He sees three great passages: life, consciousness and morality! Aurobindo on the other hand distinguishes the following major transformations: matter, life, mind and supermind. Morality has not such a direct, open, high importance as in Wilber’s conception of great passages. But morality is on a middle level, between the infraethical of the animal world and the supraethical of the supermind one-wholeness, for Aurobindo of importance, too (cf. below, too). Wilber has developed a bodhisatva ethics for the time as long as there is sentient life. Whereas Aurobindo has the vision of no need for ethics anymore when all has become one.

But coming back on this chapter’s main topic – the critique of superstitious illuminations, we will present now three alternatives of spiritual thinking. More important, than doubtful illumination, is the religious psychology of Kierkegaard, Martin Buber and J.W. Fowler. In Wilber’s stages of spirituality (as well as in Aurobindo’s) Fowler’s ‘stages of faith’ reach with ‘universalising’ as highest stage only the frontier to transpersonal thinking (Reynolds, 2004: 401). But which is only consequent, since Fowler is not advocating superstitious illuminations, but sees realistically faith as the ultimate condition of consciousness. You can say that he follows here the Kierkegaard tradition, where the ‘leap of faith’ is the highest development of religious thought. Fowler’s second highest level of faith, the 2nd naiveté or the conjunctive faith opens the problem of the pre-/transpersonal fallacy of Wilber, and the general claim of enlightenment philosophy to demystification. But our neurons in the brain should have something to think about. And the difference between 1st naiveté and 2nd is, that in the case of the latter, we are completely aware of the naiveté. But naïve histories, expressing dramatically some of the central elements of humane faith in a simplified, but stylised manner, can be good analogies and similies. Mythic histories can help man in his struggle with faith. Sometimes child histories can be better, than the most sophisticated philosophic theories. And seen from this point of view church rituals can gain again in significance. But we won’t deny that 2nd naiveté is partly a regression to pre-personal thinking, since the transpersonal way is only very limited viable. And in enlightenment terms, we must speak of a (postmodern) re-mystification. But this is maybe the quintessence of faith, having childlike faith and having trust in good. Didn’t Jesus say, become like the children?!

Wilbers early work was still strongly influenced by the Brahman-Atman source. It was showing pre-personal and trans-personal thinking highlights of a life cycle in a circle formation. Pre-personl thinking started form the Brahman-Atman source leading to ‘normality’ and than going over into Trans-personal thinking, which leads again into the Brahman-Atman source (cf. Reynolds, 2004: 108; Figure 3). But that was maybe not such a bad idea, as he was later stressing by warning before the pre-/trans- fallacy.

Last but not least, there is Martin Buber with his dialogic approach. The absolute can not be found by simply looking deep into oneself (-> Eastern meditation), but rather through a relationship with other man. This other self might be as limited and conditioned as oneself, but it is in the together that unlimited and unconditioned becomes possible as an experience (Buber, 1971: 101/102). Gandhi has a quiet similar opinion: “The only way to find God is to see him in his creation and be one with it. I know, that I can not find him apart from humanity.” (Gandhi, 1999). But to close, I will clearly state that – under condition of all limitations – I can not other than to support Aurobindo’s pledge for a greater future spiritualisation!

The Big Picture – The Evolutionary Process according to Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin

Although contemporaries, Sri Aurobindo and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin did not meet, or even seem to have been aware of each other’s work. Nevertheless there are amazing similarities between the two in their respective evolutionary philosophies. Both describe a progression from inanimate matter through life and mind to a future state of Divine consciousness on Earth. Teilhard refers to this as the Omega Point, and Aurobindo as the Supermind. But to be precise, there is, of course, a distinction between Aurobindo and Teilhard in this important point. Whereas Aurobindo’s theory is about becoming Godhead on earth, Teilhard’s theory is about joining God. But important for the understanding of both, and surprising, neither Teilhard nor Aurobindo have a problem with Darwinism. For them this material process is merely part of a larger picture. Teilhard presents a teleological view of planetary and cosmic evolution culminating in the Omega point, which he identifies with Christ. Aurobindo describes how the original Divine consciousness or Supermind descends into the inertia and total non-consciousness of matter (the inconscient) to become the physical universe. But later, supermind is working for unity in its ascending form. From there, life emerges. Life, like all higher levels, remained veiled or hidden, but was still present. Man as a mental being passes both individually (through spiritual effort) and collectively (through social evolution) through successive levels of spiritual development, culminating in the individual and collective realisation of Supermind. The ultimate aim of man and the mankind is the ‘divinisation of the of the human race’. This, since evolution is about realisation of the divine, therefore the goal of societal evolution should be divinisation. This last, is a unitary Divine consciousness that constitutes an utterly new state of perfected existence, which will bring about the transformation of matter itself (Wikipedia, ‘Spiritual Evolution’).

Sri Aurobindo - Basic Tenets

On the first sight there seems to be no reason why life should evolve out of material elements or mind out of living forms unless we accept the Vedantic solution that life is already involved in matter and mind in life – form of veiled consciousness. And then there seems to be little objection to a further step in the series and the admission that mental consciousness may itself be only a form and a veil of higher states which are beyond mind! (Aurobindo, 1920/1990: 7). But whether ‘we’ are going to realise and experience these higher states in this world in the future or in an after world beyond death, I don’t know. I think this ‘latent potentiality’ gives hope for both possibilities. Support for my second thesis gives Socrates in Platon’s ‘Phaidon’, which is about the death of this great philosopher. He is not losing cheerfulness, but instead, he is awaiting the liberation of his soul. (Even though he sees the possibility of karmic rebirth).

“God having entirely become Nature, Nature seeks to become progressively God.” – Aurobindo’s world formula! Evolution is the spiritualisation of matter. The creation begins because the ultimate is bliss! (But to remind, this theory can be challenged by assuming another theory of causation other than pre-existence of the effect in the cause, e.g. Buddhist’s emptiness of becoming, etc., cf. chapter ‘Idealism and Theories of Causation’).

According to Aurobindo’s theory of cosmic salvation, the paths to union with Brahman are two-way streets, or channels: enlightenment comes from above (thesis), while the spiritual mind (supermind) strives through yogic illumination to reach upward from below (antithesis). When these two forces blend, a gnostic individual is created (synthesis). This yogic illumination transcends both reason and intuition and eventually leads to the freeing of the individual from the bonds of individuality, and, by extension, all mankind will eventually achieve moksha (liberation). Thus, Aurobindo created a dialectic mode of salvation not only for the individual, but for all mankind (Britannica, 1998a).

Aurobindo tells us the aim of life is not the classical Hindu-way of salvation. We have not come to birth to save our souls and escape from this world. We are here to justify ourselves, to affirm ourselves and work for the perfection of life. This world is not a product of Maya, not a product of illusion and falsehood, but an extension, a spreading of the consciousness-force of god. Aurobindo points out very clearly, that Maya in the original conception of Indian classics meant a power of formation – a formation of finites out of the infinite. There are other vistas of knowledge which will open when the human consciousness goes beyond the present formulation. But for this age, it is the message of Life Divine, message of perfectibility of life, the unity of mind, the unity of consciousness. And any philosophy that helps in perfecting your life is welcome. Aurobindo’s philosophy is a practical mysticism. He is relevant to us today because he has given a positive philosphy and an affirmative spirituality (Pandit, 2000: 4/5, 10, 12/13).

“The progressive revelation of a great, a transcendent, a luminous Reality. […] The meaning of the universe, - since meaning and aim it has and is neither a purposeless illusion nor a fortuitous accident.” (Aurobindo, 1920/1990: 49). Evolution is the ascent of physical nature, life, mind, etc., to the Ultimate Reality, made possible by the circumstance that these lower principles are themselves expressions in varying degrees of perfection of the same ultimate Reality. As inadequate expressions of Ultimate Reality, there is an urge in them to complete and perfect themselves. There is a teleological force pulling up to the divine.

But the higher processes are normally all interpreted only in terms of the lower, exactly as is done in the nineteenth century evolutionistic theories of Darwin and Spencer. And Madhusudan Reddy is arguing that it is the same with Whitehead. It is a purely naturalistic theory of evolution. I.E. methodological naturalism is the belief that observable events in nature are explained only by natural causes without assuming the existence of the supernatural. Metaphysical naturalism is the belief that the natural world is all that exists (Wikipedia, ‘Naturalism’).

In striking contrast to this is Aurobindo’s theory of evolution. Here the higher processes are the measuring rod for the lower ones, and not the lower for the higher. The principle of evolution itself is derived from the nature of the highest principle, the ultimate Reality. But we must be careful with stipulating something as the highest principle, because the only things we know are the “bottom-up principles”. The rest is an idealistic, speculative guess, based on some hints an clues that we have found. But on the other hand, I can’t deny, that his vision of a perfected and divinised life, for which earth-nature is seeking as a sign of the Divine Will in nature, has an irresistible attraction. Sri Aurobindo, therefore, like Hegel looks at evolution from the standpoint of the end. But no end, in fact, short of the Absolute, is competent to give an adequate account of the nature of evolution (Reddy, 2004: 155, 156, 162). Nevertheless he gives a try:

The ultimate goal of evolution is linked up by Aurobindo with the question of the origin of the world. As the world has originated from Sachchidananda (Existence, Consciousness, Bliss), so its goal is to return to Him. A true theory of evolution is an emergent one and treats matter, life and mind as successive and distinct stages in the onward march of the world to its original spiritual Source. Aurobindo’s philosophy gives the assurance that the future will not be a mere repetition of the past, but that it will reveal undisclosed possibilities which we cannot dream of. Evolution is a sort of home-sickness of the Spirit.

The highest principle so far evolved is mind. But evolution can not stop with mind, for mind is not its last word. It must move further up and come to the next stage, namely Supermind. Here Hegel comes nearest to him with the onward march of the Absolute Idea through the realms of Nature and History. But despite the foundation of the all-consciousness in Advaita Vedanta of Sankara, there is significant development in Aurobindo’s view. For Sankara salvation would come only to the individual man. Aurobindo extends the Vedanta vision and socialised it. By the ascend to the Supermind, there will be a durable transformation of the human race into the Superman, the Divine Man or the Gnostic Being in a Gnostic Society. Aurobindo believes in the resurgence of man into the glories of a new spiritual existence. A new order of society building upon spiritually oriented beings. And there will be a general uplifting of the whole universe (Reddy, 2004: 155-160).

On this general way of uplifting there will be nevertheless some times and situation where a direct intervention from the godly ‘above’ becomes necessary. I will stay on this topic, because it is one of the oldest dreams of humankind: direct godly intervention when times are the most difficult. The most prominent ‘incarnation’ of this theistic dream is Christianity with its saviour Lord Jesus Christ. But it is also a topic in the Bhagavad Gita. It is the doctrine of Avatar. When there is a deterioration of Dharma god will reincarnate on Earth and help. Thus, in times when the world gropes in darkness, it is idle to expect the traditional God-Man to emerge (Reddy, 2004: 147). Formulating a strong sociological opinion, that man is mostly socially determined. But direct intervention of god will help through its reincarnation on Earth. Other candidates for being an avatar are Buddha, Socrates and, of course, Krishna. (The first two candidates are having their limits, since one is promising the emptiness and the second one ‘knows that he knows nothing’, but the cure is nevertheless ‘knowledge’).

Here now some words on the way forward for every-day people. Aurobindo’s integral yoga – is in my opinion – aiming at too much. It is promising with supramental manifestations too much. I can follow much better the four steps of Wilber’s transpersonal thinking (nature, deity, formless and nondual-emptiness mysticism, cf. chapter ‘The Depths of the Divine’, above). That formulates more or less the maximum mysticism possible for me. But my greatest are Kierkegaard, Buber and Fowler (cf. chapter ‘Critique of Superstitious Illuminations (Continued) and Alternatives’, above). And what is most central – at least at this level of development – is the dimension of love. So central for a Christian, like Teilhard de Chardin. But I am ready to accept Sri Aurobindo’s theory of stages of ethical evolution.

“Ethics is a stage in evolution. That which is common to all stages is the urge of Sachchidananda towards self-expression. This urge is at first non-ethical, then infra-ethical in the animal. […] Man even now is only half-ethical. And just as all below us is infra-ethical, so there may be that above us whither we shall eventually arrive, which is supra-ethical, has no need of ethics. The ethical impulse and attitiude, so all-important to humanity, is a means by which it struggles out of the lower harmony and universality upon inconscience and broken up by Life into individual discords towards a higher harmony and universality, based upon conscient oneness with all existences. Arriving at that goal, this means will no longer be necessary or even possible, since the qualities and oppositions on which it depends will naturally dissolve and disappear in the final reconciliation. […] Man, the individual, has to become and to live as a universal being; his limited mental consciousness has to widen to he superconscient unit in which each embraces all; his narrow heart has to learn the infinite embrace and replace its lusts and discords by universal love. […] His very physical being has to know itself as no separate entity but as one with and sustaining in itself the whole flow of the indivisible Force that is all things; his whole nature has to reproduce in the individual the unity, the harmony, the oneness-in-all of the supreme Existence-Consciousness-Bliss (Aurobindo, 1920/1990: 106, 121). I have the impression that in the integral outlook of morality of Aurobindo the overall importance of love gets (a little bit) lost. Also (Aurobindo, 1920/1990: 104/105), and Reddy (2006a) write about the human dividing and possessive love. Reddy does agree, that our moral qualities have their origin in the soul. And love in its purity is seen in the All Delight as the unifying force. But what I am missing is, that this so called ‘possessive love of the dualistic and divisional world’ can be seen as a first step in the right direction. Also (still) incomplete love can be seen as a first sign of god. And first, but incomplete experiences of love, can lead to the urge to grow in love and to love in a more and more encompassing way. This is also the view of Teilhard: At the centre is love (of Jesus), which is the central unifying force in the unifying process to point omega, the union with god. “Only, his conception of the self-development changes, becomes higher and wider, begins to exceed his limited personality, to embrace others, to embrace all in its scope (Aurobindo, 1920/1990): 106). That is where I start to agree. But I think, we should look up at Wilber’s elaborated theory of moral stages, too (cf. chapter on ‘Wilber’s Synthesis of Stages of Moral Development’, above).

Contrary to the goal of older yoga (karma, bhakti, jnana) Aurobindo’s integral yoga aims at the evolution, liberation and redemption of all mankind. Its ultimate will or goal is to bring Divine life on Earth. What is for me problematic, is Aurobindo’s background in this topic. He is convinced that religious practice and not intellectual advancement could reform a man and put him on the spiritual path. This anti-Enlightenment philosophy stance is for me very problematic. And most paramount is the development of moral virtues. But as a promoter of a spiritual 2nd naiveté, I don’t have anything against some emotional spirituality, including religious stories, music and rituals, prayers, mandalas, mantras, etc. And I am definitely in support of his goal to bring Divine Life on Earth. An old longing. In Christian tradition it reminds me to the Apocalypse and the Endtimes afterwards, where God and man are living together peacefully on earth. Augustinus has developed and promoted this concept of ‘civitas dei’. Finally, we won’t forget Teilhard de Chardin. He, too, is dreaming of a higher type of human existence. Starting point for him is the Noosphere – an integrated sphere of human thought and its ever greater integration and deepening. But to be precise, Teilhard’s vision is about joining god and not directly becoming and fusioning into godhead. But more on that in later chapters below.

Some Important Differences

By a process of involution descends god to the level of matter. While doing so, the reality covers itself veil by veil until it is totally masked and becomes inconscient. The dynamic one thus becomes static. In its reversal role, the unconscious matter ascends or evolves, unveiling itself step by step until it becomes pure consciousness. Things are formed according to the lord’s divine play or dance: ‘Shiva-Lila’. Creation and destruction are a divine play. “World existence is the ecstatic dance of Shiva, which multiplies the body of god numberless to the view. The one becomes the many. Its sole object is the joy of dancing” (Aurobindo, 1920/1990: 87). The absolute creates maya/illusion just to wonder itself about it and the world afterwards (self-maya). The absolute has self imposed limitations. They are part of the process of self-concealment. But it is done only to have the pleasure thereafter of overcoming the obstacles. It’s like at Easter, when you first hide the chocolates and the eggs, just for the fun searching them later. During the transition of the one-godness towards the many-godness there has been added, besides the hard facts of life, an irrisistible attraction of the unknown, danger, adventure, the will to do impossible things and the fascination of contradictory things and their difficult harmonisation (Aurobindo, 2003).

But what disturbs me in Aurobindo’s conception, is the prime role given to Shiva – the destroyer and replacing Brahman as world soul, like in Advaita Vedanta. It reminds me to a similar exchange done by Nitzsche. He is in favour of Dionysus - the god of wine and intoxication, instead of Apollo - the god of light and music. In literary contexts Apollo represents harmony, order, and reasons—characteristics contrasted with those of Dionysus who represents ecstasy and disorder. The contrast between the roles of these gods is reflected in the adjectives Apollonian and Dionysian. It seems to me that as Nietzsche shifts the stress form Apollonina harmony and reason to Dionysian ecstasy and disorder Aurobindo has made a similar shift by worshipping the destructive Shiva instead of the creative Brahman! Madhusudan Reddy writes (2004: 157): “It was Nietzsche who brought back something of the old dynamism and practical force into philosophy.” But not to forget: I like the analogy of life being a play, a divine play very much! But for me the centre is Brahman not Shiva.

Important is to compare the two stories of god and god-realisation: In Christianity the wish to become like god, was hybris and has led to the Fall. Aurobindo, on the other hand, is convinced that this world is to realise God in-this-world. And keeping the Advaita Vedanta background of Atman is Brahman in mind, it might be not such a bad idea. Man is god in a world which is not different from him and his godly figure. But part and parcel also god (Brahman). This is a totally different context than Christianity with the birth of the devil out of his rebellion against god and the will to become like god.

Aurobindo’s (1920/1990: 95) ‘total consciousness’ sounds like this: “The capacity of our total consciousness far exceed that of our organs, the senses, the nerves, the brain, but that even for our ordinary thought and consciousness these organs are only their habitual instruments and not their generators. Consciousness uses the brain which its upward strivings have produced, brain has not produced nor does it use the consciousness.” And in deep meditation the spirit is supposed to affect wilfully the neural system. But this is quiet the opposite from the view of modern cognitive science. Mental experiences have their neural correlatives. It was the brain which developed and with it our consciousness. Along with this goes the position of ‘epiphenomenalism’. Consciousness is influenced by the brain, but does not influence the brain. Consciousness has no power to cause anything. It is simply a reflection of biology. Nevertheless it is the starting point of modern philosophy since Descartes, even though consciousness can not be detected by any scientific means. Nevertheless partly we agree with Aurobindo. In the Kantian tradition there is the ‘intelligible world’, which is supernatural (cf. chapter on ‘Kant, Aurobindo and In Between’, above). But this intelligible world’ is by far not so encompassing like Aurobindo’s total consciousness of the supermind.

In a way, Aurobindo’s theory of evolution resembles Lyod Morgan and Samuel Alexander’s theory of emergent evolution. A creationist view of causation can go together with that theory. The pre-existent is not totally determining as cause the effect. But Aurobino also uses the term ‘emergent’ in place of ‘evolutionary’. His is an integral philosophy, that accepts the pre-existence of divine qualities, running through matter, life and mind. No new qualities are acquired in the process of evolution as opined by Morgan and Alexander. Instead, divinity runs through all living and non-living. The outwardly ‘different’ are inwardly the same. Higher qualities are not devoid of organic connection with their substructure as supposed by Alexander. They evolve from the substructure. Yet there is an element of leap in it. Due mainly to the descent from above and also due to integration that follows (Goswami, 1976: 9).

The following analogy might help to better understand what is meant: A poem cannot be explained by the phonemes. A finite number of phonemes combine and repeat themselves and there surge up meaning, emotion, thought, beauty, joy and knowledge. Nothing of these can be deduced from the phonemes. The sonnet is more than the sum of the phonemes. The organisation has somehow led to the expression of realities not suspected in the state of phonemes. Now the question is, was the meaning of the poem already present in the phonemes, or has there been something infused from outside? One answer could be that the creator-god – the poet – has infused meaning which was not there. Another answer could be that the meaning was already latent in it (Sarkar, 2002: 165/166).

Hegel’s views on evolution appear to be close to Aurobindo’s. By a harmonious blending of the opposites, we can know the truth of the reality by reason, according to Hegel. For him antitheses exist for the sake of a higher synthesis, negation for the purpose of establishing a higher affirmation (Reddy, 2004 . Aurobindo does not give much importance to reason. And that is way he stands outside the classical Enlightenment movement! He feels that it is only an aspect or function of the mind. According to Aurobindo the Super-Mind plays a vital role in linking the physical with the spiritual (transmitted by the overmind). Aurobindo in dealing with the ascent of matter and the descent of god (as evolution and involution) dwells upon another idea that god incarnates. The incarnation of god is to reveal the potentiality of man and matter and not necessarily to restore dharma (as in classical Hindu thought). Just as god takes birth as man, man also takes birth in godhood (Reddy, 2006b). But to what extent is Brahman identical with supermind?

In one sense Aurobindo contradicts standard Western, Christian prejudices. They stipulate that you risk losing contact with reality, if you follow the Indian traditions of Advaita (one-wholeness) or Anatta (emptiness)! They fear the breakup of one’s personality to reach the one-whole or emptiness, and warn of getting lost, instead, in dependence on a master or guru (Schmid, 2006: 6). But the position of Aurobindo is quiet different. It is not by removing himself from his body, mind and even his consciousness, that the individual can reach the highest state. But it is by the fullest development of the body, mind and consciousness. Moreover, it is only in an enlightened and ennobled world that the highest type of individual can dwell. The divinised man is a citizen of a divinised world (Reddy, 2004: 147). Here Aurobindo gets quiet sociological.

In the following I want to correct one misunderstanding of Madhusudan Reddy of Whitehead’s theory: He assumes that Whitehead’s philosophy has no final goal of evolution (Reddy, 2004: 156). But Whitehead writes in the last chapter of his book ‘Process and reality: An Essay in Cosmology’ (1979: 622): “Creation reaches conciliation of being and becoming when she has arrived at her last goal – the allways being – the world becoming god.” (my translation from a German edition). Does that not sound like a supramental transformation “the world becoming god”? - But I have realised that there are other important differences between Aurobindo and Whitehead. Whitehead writes on the next page, that god and the world are moving concerning their processes in every sense in contrary directions. Aurobindo knows involution which is opposed to evolution. Here the opposition is being temporal, whereas in Whitehead’s conception unity and diversity are processing complimentary. First, unity in God and plurality of the world. Then, later, the world is moving towards unity and thus god must be thought as a plurality. I don’t really get this logic. For me it sounds confuse, just an arbitrary game of metaphysical thinking … But, maybe, I should read more about him.

Up to what level is Darwin’s theory relevant to Aurobindo’s evolutionary theory? – Darwin explains the part from small and simple organism to large and complex organism by ways of evolution, i.e. ‘survival of the fittest’. Matter does not play a role in his theory. Darwin does not explain how matter evolved and creates life in the first place. There is no spiritual part in dead matter for Darwin. But Aurobindo shows that ascent is possible because god descends (or involves) towards matter. The idea of involution-evolution is something new for the Western setting of the debate. But we must ask, whether the spirit has really reached its zenith in Aurobindo in its process of increased self-awareness? - Aurobindo has conceptualised his theory as a view in motion. He speaks of much more and higher to come – up to the superman with supermind. But is this really the pattern of future development? Or aren’t there surprises and totally new, unforeseen developments going to occur? What about the necessity for an ‘open society’?

An Alternative View of Holism and Integral Thinking - Elmar Holenstein

An alternative view summarised in a few key words:

Network vs. Holism

Fiddling around Planed pattern

Heterarchy, i.e. mutal dependency Hierarchy

Modularity Uniformity

Dynamic Static

Revolutionary Metamorphosis Unfolding of Utopia

Value Polytheism Order of Values

Ambivalent Development Perfection

Order is important on elementary levels, but decreases with increasing complexity. Then mutual dependency of the different parts becomes important (heterarchie). As an example, a look in linguistics. A language might have either an elaborated grammar (e.g. like German) or has a rich vocabulary (e.g. like English). A strong occurrence of both characteristic is not happening at the same time. Thus, this leads to the thesis, that not everything which belongs to the whole can be realised at the same time. Realisation of some characteristics is excluding the realisation of others. The ‘whole’ is just partially and fragmentarily realisable. There are breaks in symmetry and partial incompatibilities.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – Basic Tenets

Another philosopher of the future is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He can be seen as the theological version of personalism (Wikipedia, ‘Personnalisme’). He is against individualism. Personality – in contrast to individuality – can only be found through unification. And it is personalism which is the right base for further unification. Personalism means neither individualism nor collectivism. Rather it is about a person being embedded in a community (cf. thoughts of Martin Buber, chapter ‘Critique of Superstitious Illuminations (Continued) and Alternatives’, above). And he is opposed to radical existentialism of the Sartre-Camus-school of thinking. That human thinking, the consequence of millions of years of evolution, should be ultimately absurd, can not be. For him evolution and consciousness have a direction – point omega. Otherwise this process would be senseless. And there is a teleological centre – love – which is pulling. Love is the motor and the ultimate goal of evolution. Love is the trace of god in the universe. Love is the heart of matter (Sounds a little bit like Satchitananda, doesn’t it?) (Wikipedia, ‘Omegapunkt’). And this love is exemplarily fulfilled perfectly in Jesus Christ. Thus, the endpoint is named omega point, inspired by the bible citation Revelation 22,13 “I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Teilhard aimes at a metaphysic of evolution, holding that it is a process of converging towards a final unity that he calls the omega point. And matter and spirit are united in a double structure: The material is the outside of substance, whereas consciousness is the inside of substance (somehow taking up Descartes dualism of res extensa and res cogitans ). But he knew also of his limits. Hence he just wants to show some scenarios and some stylised facts. The tendencies of material things are directed towards the production of higher, more complex, more perfectly unified beings. The cell, for instance, shows a higher degree of unity, thus a higher degree of complexity and hence a higher degree of interiority and consciousness. This process led to the increasingly complex entities of atoms, molecules, cells, and organisms, until finally the human body evolved with a nervous system sufficiently sophisticated to permit rational reflection, self-awareness, and moral responsibility. He argues that the appearance of man brought an added dimension into the world. This he defines as the birth of reflection: animals know, but man knows that he knows (-> self-awareness). Another great advance in Teilhard’s scheme of evolution is the socialisation of mankind. This is not the triumph of herd instinct but a cultural convergence of humanity towards a single, world society (whereas more legitimate and social societies prevail -> social evolution). Through technology, urbanisation, transportation and modern communication (especially the internet), more and more links are being established between different people. That is the advent of the noosphere, a sphere of ever more integrated and deepened human thought. When humanity and the material world have reached their final state of evolution and exhausted all potential for further development, a new convergence between them and the supernatural order would be initiated by the second coming of Christ. The work of Christ is primarily to lead the material world to this cosmic redemption (Britannica, 1998b, Haag, 1998).

A glorious ‘second coming’ of Jesus, when mankind has reached perfect spirituality, is prophesied. Teilhard is stipulating a different version of the end, as opposed to the dramatic one of the Revelation of John. Jesus is seen as an attractor of highest love. The omega point should describe the ultimate maximum level of complexity-consciousness and maximal love, considered by him the aim towards which consciousness evolves.

A Critical Assesment of Teilhard de Chardin’s and Sri Aurobindo’s Theories of Evolution

What lies at the heart of the evolutionary process?

a) A process of increases in consciousness, spiritual evolution -> Aurobindo: stressing spiritual evolution and individual religious transformation. Very important! But where Aurobindo becomes for me dangerous, is when he dreams about his superman with supermind which is beyond good and bad! But he sees, like Teilhard, the law of love, too. The individual and the aggregates who develop most the law of association and the law of love, who harmonise most successfully survival and mutual self-giving, will be the fittest for survival! (Reddy, 2004: 236).
b) A process of coming together, increased cooperation and love -> Teilhard: a qualitatively better description of what is going on, instead of this always ‘consciousness’. But for him, too, matter has a ‘heart’. But Teilhard does not relay on supernatural illuminations. The backbone of his process is the noosphere – an ever more integrated and deepened sphere of human thought (quiet hegelian!).

What is god and what is bad or dangerous in these theories?

a) Teilhard: Basic dualism of creator and creation. Childish, antropomorphic story, where there must be found a place for the Jesus figure. -> Aurobindo: superior modelling; consciousness as the basis, this miraculous dimension of life.
b) Aurobindo: Monism of Advaita Vedanta. The one worldsoul beyond creator and creation. The omnipresent reality of identity of Brahman and Atman. -> Integral philosophy and holism! The web of life and the view from within. Dangerous is in my opinion all this spiritual and consciousness raising far above of the mental states of normal persons and the possibility for superstitious enlightenment. Faith, reason and emotions – love - are the ultimate categories of consciousness. -> There exists a long tradition in Christianity to ‘proof’ the tenets of the revelation by the use of reason. An there is natural religion – spiritually ‘touching’ experiences of nature and its harmony. (Aurobindo would agree with this statement, too).

How is the ‘goal’ called of the evolutionary process?

a) Aurobindo: Divine life when the supramental is manifesting on earth; oceanic-oneness of identification. (In classical Hindu tradtion: Maya, this world being is an illusion, endless cycle of creation and destruction [Aurobindo: involution and evolution]).
b) Teilhard: Point omega; centre-god of unification; Teilhard is explicitly against oceanic-oneness (Schiwy, 2005: 5). (In classical Christian tradition is world history seen as salvific history leading ultimately to the ‘kingdom of God upon earth’).

Problems connected with the ‘final state’?

a) Aurobindo: the goal of evolution: the supramental being and gnostic society -> Can be missunderstood, especially when I think about the big cleavage between the prevailing lower orders and the aryans – the spiritual noble ones or the ones from the ‘spiritual apartheid’?

b) According to Teilhard:

When humanity has reached perfect spirituality (omega point) the entry into the super-human will open only to an advance of all together. No one is left behind.

‘Kingdom of God’ must be understood symbolically, not literally; or cf. Bible with its rich, but very fantastic images in the Book of Revelation. Danger of fundamentalistic Christianity: you must accept Jesus as your personal saviour, or otherwise you are doomed! -> The St. John’s Apocalypse or Revelation seen as a prophecy of the evolutionary leap forward towards the supramental consciousness (P. Norelli-Bachelet). But following this view, the ascent to the supramental consciousness would go along with terrible violence (‘Spiritual evolution’, 28.8.06).

Finally, to close we want to cite Shakespear’s ‘The Tempest’, Act V, Scene I (1610-1612):

“Oh wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beautious mankind is!

O brave new world,

That has such people in’t!”


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Evolutionary, spiritual conceptions of life - Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin and Ken Wilber in comparison
Advanced Course in Integral Philosophy
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Evolutionary Spirituality, Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin, Ken Wilber, Integral Thinking, Philosophy of Religion
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Dr. phil. Michael Leicht (Author), 2006, Evolutionary, spiritual conceptions of life - Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin and Ken Wilber in comparison, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/111307


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