Evolution: East and West

There is a long tradition in the West that does not accept evolution in any form as an acceptable explanation for life on earth. This view is set forth in the creation story in Genesis where God created each form and being of its own kind and created human beings to act as stewards of the natural world. When the individual dies, he eventually goes to heaven, or hell, based on his deeds and in some cases, through a redemptive process, is reunited with his family in heaven.

This view was contradicted by the study of archaeology, paleontology, anthropology and natural science, and more recently by the study of genetics. Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species framed this debate, but focused primarily on evolution of forms without assigning a deeper significance to the evolutionary process. The increasing levels of consciousness and the development of powers of life, powers of perception, powers of mind, were seen as the consequence of the evolution of forms. Some went so far as to claim that the mixing together of the chemical soup of inanimate Matter somehow led to the development of Einstein, Beethoven and others and their achievements, through some kind of random process of chemistry creating awareness and conscious self-reflective ability and mental powers!

In the East, the primary emphasis on the concept of evolution has addressed the growth and development of the soul, its increasing maturity and development across multiple lifetimes of rebirths, with increasing powers of consciousness connected to this process.

Sri Aurobindo has looked at both of these views and applied insight to the cause of the mechanisms that each of these views sets forth. The Upanishads refer to the tree of the universe with its roots above, and its limbs and leaves and flowers below. Sri Aurobindo applies this logic to show that there is an inner cause and significance to both the evolution of forms and the rebirth of souls, and that is the power of Consciousness that is systematically revealing itself more and more and thereby creating forms that are capable of expressing manifestly what is otherwise involved in the subconscious or inanimate forms of Matter. The consciousness that creates atoms, galaxies, universes, and that systematically develops a complex and interactive coexistent and codependent nature in the world, is the secret cause of evolution. As Western science moves from its initial fixation on Matter as being the reality of the universe and now recognizes Energy as the cause of Matter, it is swiftly moving to an understanding that Consciousness is the cause of Energy and Matter.

Sri Aurobindo’s view not only addresses the material and vital processes outlined by Darwin and his successors, but also the question of rebirth as noted by the sages of the East. Both are part of a process created by, conditioned by, and caused by Consciousness evolving through Time in a systematic procession from Matter to Life, from Life to Mind and from Mind to ranges of consciousness above the mind, including the Supramental range.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The Science of the West has discovered evolution as the secret of life and its process in this material world; but it has laid more stress on the growth of form and species than on the growth of consciousness: even, consciousness has been regarded as an incident and not the whole secret of the meaning of the evolution. An evolution has been admitted by certain minds in the East, certain philosophies and Scriptures, but there its sense has been the growth of the soul through developing or successive forms and many lives of the individual to its own highest reality. For if there is a conscious being in the form, that being can hardly be a temporary phenomenon of consciousness; it must be a soul fulfilling itself and this fulfilment can only take place if there is a return of the soul to earth in many successive lives, in many successive bodies.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 43-46

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