By Swati Chopra October 2005 The next step in our evolutionary journey calls for our conscious participation in it Andrew Cohen is a rare spiritual master who speaks about evolutionary enlightenment, as opposed to enlightenment for oneself, an ‘impersonal enlightenment for the sake of the whole’. In an exclusive interview conducted on email, he spoke to Life Positive about a new paradigm of spiritual realization, ‘post-modern enlightenment’, that links individual spiritual practice to a larger goal of evolution, the reason why ‘our conscious participation in the evolutionary process has literally become essential to the creative unfolding of the cosmos’. As you know, we are trying to explore the need for, and the implications of, the engagement of spirituality in social, political, economic spheres (the ‘mundane’ world, so to speak) in this special issue of Life Positive magazine. You have constantly emphasized the engagement of the spiritually enlightened perspective in these matters that are normally thought to be outside the pale of the spiritual life. Would you agree?Yes. I’ve emphasized from the very beginning of my teaching career, now almost 20 years ago, that the only way to determine the level of inner transformation or enlightenment is by its expression in the world. And enlightenment is expressed not only through the power of Presence, but even more importantly through the spontaneous demonstration of a fiery and fearless passion to uplift, transform, and evolve the human capacity for consciousness at all levels. The enlightened heart lives not for itself but only for the transformation of the world, which means the evolution of consciousness. The world that we’re living in will evolve as quickly as the individuals and institutions that govern it do. It’s all one process. God does not live beyond the world but is the very energy and intelligence that created it, and that is now just beginning to awaken to itself through the evolving human. As individuals develop, so will our capacity to govern ourselves with infinitely greater wisdom, compassion and the awakened understanding that we are all One. Enlightenment is the discovery of that consciousness which is the formless ground of all things. And the Self that recognizes this Mystery is that same Self that chose to create the cosmos so it could know itself through form. So yes, the enlightened Self cares passionately about the world, because it is his or her own creation! You have spoken of evolutionary enlightenment and the ‘next step’ in human evolution. What, according to you, would this be, and what effort would it require from us? Will this spiritualize all aspects of life? And how would it impact the way things are, for instance, greed, corruption, violence, and so on?In the traditional model, enlightenment is attained through the experience of the Ground of Being, the void from which we have all come. If we go very deeply into a state of meditation – beyond the mind, beyond the body, beyond the world, beyond time – we experience pure consciousness, all-pervading, formless Being. No thing exists in that pristine emptiness, and yet it is the very ground from which the whole universe emerged, and is still emerging right now, including you and me. This experience is profoundly liberating, because in that no place we discover the deepest part of our own self, the Self Absolute, which has never entered into the stream of time. In pure consciousness, the burden of existence dissolves completely – there are no conflicts to resolve, no problems to overcome, no goals to attain. It’s the experience of ultimate relief. So enlightenment, in the traditional, pre-modern sense, is about discovering unconditional freedom through awakening to this empty ground of limitless being, this eternal self, and abiding there constantly. And ultimately, it’s not so different from the Western religious model, in which eternal salvation is found in a beatific heavenly realm beyond the world. In both traditional Eastern wisdom and Western religious faith, the ultimate goal is a final state – a transcendent state of consciousness or a heavenly abode – that promises release from this world. But in the pre-modern era, when the great teachings of enlightenment came into being, there was no understanding of the evolutionary context that human beings have emerged within. Indeed, it was believed that time moved in cycles, and so the goal of pre-modern enlightenment was to escape from the process of cyclical existence and the law of karma, and rest in Being itself, never having to return to this world. Post-modern enlightenment, or Evolutionary Enlightenment, is based upon the discovery that time does not move in cycles. Now we know that the cosmos is part and parcel of a deep-time developmental process – which means it is in a constant state of becoming – from nothing to energy to matter to life to you and I being able to have this conversation! it’s taken a very long time – 14 billion years, according to current science – for this conversation to be possible. In light of this, it simply no longer makes sense to see the ultimate spiritual goal as transcendence of this world. God would have to be a cruel trickster to force us to endure 14 billion years of painful and excruciating development only to realize that the point of the journey was escape from the process that gave us the capacity for that realization! So the discovery of an evolutionary context radically reorients our understanding of the spiritual life. And the capacity to look at life in this way is a very new development. It was literally only yesterday in the hundred thousand or so years of the evolution of culture that a few of us human beings began to poke our heads above pre-modern mythical world views and see human emergence in a truly evolutionary context, unencumbered by irrational religious dogma. This discovery of a deep-time developmental context in which matter, as life, has only just gained the capacity for Self-consciousness, is the most spiritually significant event of all. Life is consciousness and all forms of life, to differing degrees, have consciousness. But only human beings have the miraculous capacity to be aware of consciousness itself. This capacity for self-reflective awareness or Self-consciousness, in the context of 14 billion years of development, is a very recent emergence. Now, the First Cause, the creative principle, the evolutionary impulse, the god-impulse is just beginning to become aware of itself directly, as consciousness itself. Indeed, the energy and intelligence that created the universe is only able to know itself directly through the awakening human. This is why it no longer makes sense to seek escape – the universe needs us to be here! The mythical god has fallen out of the sky and is re-emerging in the human self as the light of consciousness, as the creative impulse or the urge to become. Enlightenment redefined in an evolutionary context expresses the dawning revelation that from now on, our conscious participation in the evolutionary process has literally become essential to the creative unfolding of the cosmos. As we awaken, we realize that the continuation of this process is entirely dependent on the choices we make here and now. This kind of knowledge is too much for most people to bear. But I believe our future depends upon more of us being willing to bear the overwhelming implications of this realization and take responsibility for it. This is what I see as the next step in our evolution – the moral, ethical and spiritual leap that desperately needs to be taken by a significant minority of us. What effort will this require? Everything we’ve got – and then some. And yes, this realization spiritualizes every aspect of life, because now we know who we are and why we are here, and that changes everything. Would you say that traditional models of spiritual seeking, by cloistering the spiritual path and making it out to be exclusive, secluded, even secret territory, obstruct the insights gained on the spiritual path from informing and impacting the broader ground of life and society? Then, do we need a new form of this old spirituality, for we really do need the enlightened perspective to become available to dealing with the larger problems of world and society? What can this new spirituality be?I think the problem with traditional models is that they are still too often based on adherence to dogmatic principles and superstitious beliefs which many of us educated, sophisticated, post-modern men and women find hard to reconcile with our own level of development and with what science has taught us about the world. Many of us at the leading edge of development today find that we can no longer look to the traditions to help us make sense of the human experience, because they no longer seem relevant to our time. Indeed, in our pursuit of personal, social, philosophical, and spiritual freedom, many of us have abandoned our spiritual traditions altogether, but we have found nothing to replace them, and as a result have found ourselves spiritually adrift. So I feel that the traditions themselves need to evolve, to find their own post-modern expressions, so that their wisdom is preserved without holding people in the past. And I even believe we need to create together a new form of religion for our time – a rational mysticism for the 21st century. The end of an era, and the beginning of a new one, is literally forcing us to find a new context, a new way to orient ourselves to the experience of being alive. We need to come up with what American philosopher Ken Wilber calls a ‘post-metaphysical spirituality’ – a way of pursuing the evolution of consciousness without havin
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