By Andrew Cohen
Evolution, the cornerstone of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, is a dynamic process that all human beings are part of. Are we wholeheartedly participating in this process? How can we become co-partners in evolution?
Evolutionary enlightenment is a path to enlightenment with evolution as its purpose. The goal is liberation from ego, just as in traditional enlightenment, but no longer as a means of escape from the world. In this new vision of enlightenment, one seeks liberation from ego and narcissistic self-concern so that one will be able to participate wholeheartedly in the unfolding of evolution. When we look at the human experience in an evolutionary context, the entire picture begins to change.
It has taken 14 billion years of evolution for matter to develop to the point where you can even begin to understand and appreciate this fact. We’ve only known about evolution for about 150 years. When the great traditions emerged, the fact that we were part of an evolving universe was not yet known. But now we’re beginning to understand the extraordinary developmental process that’s brought us to this point. This changes everything. Suddenly your own experience will no longer be seen as a personal melodrama that you are trapped in, but will be recognised to be a tiny part of an infinitely vast symphony of creation. This context demands from you a completely different relationship to life.
Recognising this vast evolutionary context, we begin to appreciate how fortunate we are to be here. And we awaken to the fact that we have the extraordinary opportunity to choose to give all our energy to the evolutionary process we are already a part of. Most of us are not conscious of the big context in which our life is occurring. But when we awaken to it and recognise that in the power of choice itself we can not only free ourselves from ignorance but simultaneously, become one with the very force of creation, our enlightenment has begun. Everything lies in the freedom of choice we possess as human beings. Our liberation and our bondage. No other species has the power to choose to evolve. In light of this, you have to ask yourself—what am I doing with the gift of choice that is my birthright as a human being? Am I wholeheartedly participating in the life process for the sake of evolution of consciousness?
You may wonder, how can our individual choices affect evolution? The point is, we already are affecting evolution. Cosmologist Brian Swimme recently said that at this point in development, natural selection has been superseded by human choice. This means that for the first time in history, the choices we humans are making have become the primary force directing our planet’s future. For the most part, these choices are unconscious. As long as we’re lost in self-concern, we’ll never be able to appreciate what the gift of choice actually means. That’s why it’s so urgent that we wake up now, that we liberate the power of choice from our compulsive addiction to the fears and desires of the ego.
This is the purpose of enlightenment in a nutshell—to liberate human choice from the grip of ego. It means the survival and evolution of our species. Practically, it demands that more of us be able to recognise the vast evolutionary context, and be willing to take responsibility for its implications. We must begin to use the gift of human choice for the sake of evolution itself.
There is only one obstacle to enlightenment: ego. If we want to be free, enlightened, we have to pay the price—ego death. If evolution is actually going to unfold through us, then our attachment to ego has to be transcended. That is what the path is all about.
Ego is defined in different ways. Psychologically, ego is the self-organising principle in the psyche. Obviously, this is not the ego we want to transcend, or we’re going to be in big trouble! In the spiritual sense, ego can be defined as narcissism, a deeply compulsive fascination with one’s own image and sense of oneself as a unique individual. This translates into enslavement to a profoundly self-centred relationship to life. As long as we are lost in narcissism, we will be unavailable, unable to truly respond to the spiritual impulse and its imperative to evolve.
Indeed, we are so concerned with the image we have of ourselves that it makes it difficult to have any authentic relationship with the extraordinary life-process we are part of. Because of this, too many of us end up spending our lives just treading water, not evolving at all. So ego is seen in a different light: as literally an anti-evolutionary force. If we have recognised how important our own liberated participation in this whole process is, then we see how essential it is to keep this part of our self under our own control. Why? So that it won’t inhibit our availability to the evolutionary process.
What is the self beyond ego? There are different levels of who you are, of what the self is. The deepest part of you is the Self Absolute, which abides in and as the unmanifest realm beyond time and form. It can be consciously experienced in meditation and in moments of spontaneous peace and ecstasy. The Self Absolute is that part of you that has never been born and will never die. It is the Ground of Being, the void out of which this whole evolving mass of energy, matter and consciousness emerged. But this ground, while it is the source of ultimate peace, bliss, and fullness, is not involved in the life process, because it has never become anything, including you.
Then there is the Authentic Self, which abides between the Ground of Being and the Ego. It is the manifestation and expression of the first cause, the creative principle, in the awakening human. It is the part of your manifest self that is already free from ego. It’s the most wholesome, life-embracing dimension of who you are. It doesn’t need therapy or spiritual practice to enable it to let go of unwholesome conditioning. It is a part of the self that has never been hurt or traumatised. Why? Because it emanates from a more subtle level of manifestation, a level that can be seen in this world but is not of this world. It cares passionately about life and truth and evolution. Its manifestation is spontaneous. While the ego is an expression of the personal and historical dimension of the self, the Authentic Self is an expression of the evolutionary impulse in consciousness. When awareness is trapped by the ego’s fears and desires, it is impossible to experience the peace and bliss of the Self Absolute or the life-affirming passion of the Authentic Self.
We can go beyond the ego through the experiential discovery of the Authentic Self. It’s only through the experience of the Authentic Self that you can begin to see what an obstruction ego is and find the strength and inspiration to transcend it. When you taste that part of yourself in which ego has never existed, and experience the untainted love of life and passion for its evolution, you will want to free your self-sense from any attachment to ego and its endless distractions. So the only way to go beyond ego is to want to go beyond ego more than anything else.
What’s so important about the awakening of the Authentic Self is that through it you spontaneously experience an emotional connection with the vast evolutionary context. You discover what could be called a ‘moral imperative’ to the need to evolve. It arises from the depths of your own soul—I must evolve for the sake of evolution itself. Consciousness can only evolve through me, and it won’t happen unless I wholeheartedly and unconditionally give myself to that process. What is significant here is that this is not imposed on you from anywhere outside yourself; you actually awaken to it. When the awakening human discovers this moral imperative to evolve, then a new path has been found. Why? Because one has literally discovered within oneself the very reason for being a human being.
Copyright by Moksha Press, 2004
Andrew Cohen has been a teacher of enlightenment since 1986. He is author of numerous books on spiritual life including Living Enlightenment and Embracing Heaven & Earth, and is founder of the award-winning magazine What Is Enlightenment? For more information, please visit www.andrewcohen.org or contact Andrew Cohen’s centre in Rishikesh at (0135) 2435303, email: email@example.com
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