Sunday, October 25, 2009

Spiritual Evolution

Looking back at yesterday's post, I have to admit it's a strange collection of thoughts. Going from climate change to environmentalism to religious prophecy to reincarnation to the problem of evil in one fell swoop is perhaps a bit overambitious. But I guess not writing for a while here makes a lot of thoughts fall out at once, and I hope not so entirely disconnected as to be insensible. So maybe I'll try to break it down.

The basic notion I'd like to get across is that the viewpoint from which we approach most of the world's problems is essentially a materialistic one rooted in the notion that we are physical beings grappling with a world that is essentially material in nature, and that if we are to speak of "spiritual" matters, it's as some kind of add-on that only matters in some sort of peripheral way. I'd like to point out that this viewpoint is simply false, that it doesn't properly understand even on a basic level the actual situation we are in, even in the practical dimension of our own mind's struggle to understand and deal with the various material problems of this world.

Spirituality has been conceived of by most of the world, and even by most spiritual movements, as something we might aspire to, but which is not fundamental to our basic existential born condition. I'd like to point out how false this notion is, and how trying to build a workable model for even the most practical political and social solutions to our various forms of suffering and struggle here without recognizing the real nature of our existential situation is futile and self-defeating. 

As I've pointed out, the basic existential reality for human beings is that we are not of this world. We are not, primarily, physical beings. We are spirit-beings who live in a spirit realm, who develop a symbiotic experiential relationship with a physical body in the physical world, without actual leaving our spirit realm. We do not "incarnate" in the sense of actually entering into a physical body, somehow actually becoming physical bodies in the process. There's the classic image in movies of how we are somehow like spirit-ghosts who actually enter into physical bodies and then walk around in them. This is simply a false image that misleads us into thinking we are actually "here", when we are not.

The true mechanism of incarnation is much more "electronic" in nature. It resembles the notion of a virtual reality machine, in which we plug ourselves into an electronic network and experience the world through a simulated experience of an electronic "body" in an electronic "world". This physical world is of that nature, it is a complex electronic phenomena, made to appear solid and real, as if we are actually "in" it, when in fact we are not. Our connection to this world is simply a series of wires and neural implants that create a simulated experience for us to undergo. This experience is overwhelmingly "real" to us, and it consumes our attention almost entirely, such that we are hardly aware of where our spirit-reality is, but all the while we are never actually in the world we experience, we are in a spirit realm undergoing this virtual reality experience that is complex beyond description. 

The physical world is a "creation" in the same sense that a virtual reality world is a created world. Those who play online role-playing games understand this principle quite well. We can already create crude forms of virtual reality that are deeply consuming, and that continue on even when we leave the game, because thousands of other people are still playing along, and when we return, the game is still going strong. When we sleep at night, the world seems to have gone away, but when we wake in the morning, it is still going strong, so we imagine this makes it "real". It doesn't. It just means that it's a larger game than our individual ego's experience might lead us to think. 

I'm not a fan of Teilhard de Chardin, but he once said something very profound about the nature of spiritual experiences. He pointed out that "we are not human beings having spiritual experiences, we are spiritual beings having human experiences." And this summarizes the human existential situation. We are spiritual beings, first and foremost, not material entities, as much as science and the modern world would like us to think we are. The sooner we come to accept that reality, the sooner we will begin to handle the business of this world responsibly and intelligently. 

It's important to realize this about our experience of the world: we are not here. You might well ask, what evidence is there that we are somewhere else, and where exactly would that be? To answer that question, I'd suggest that we merely have to turn our attention to our own minds, because it is our mind, our attention, that dwells in the spirit realms. If we pay attention to our minds, we will see that our own minds are not "in" this world. We observe this world from a distance, from a subtle space of awareness that is not of this physical world. Yes, the body and brain are of this world, and we use these as connection points to it, but our basic awareness is not physical in nature, and it is not rooted in the physical world. 

Science might tell us that our brain "thinks", and that the entire process of thinking and observing is something that occurs in the bio-chemistry of brain function. I have no doubt that if you were able to analyze the brain, you might be able to decipher every thought we have. But this is of no more consequence than analyzing the electronic signals passing through a television set, and concluding that the picture was created inside the TV. We all know, of course, that TVs do not originate the images they display, they merely receive transmissions from remote locations and then process those signals and display them on the screen. In the same way, our bodies are like complex two-way television sets, sending and receiving signals from a remote location. 

Of course, even that analogy is not quite accurate, because our physical bodies are actually alive in their own right. They could, at least theoretically, live perfectly well on their own, without any connection to us spirits. At one point in their evolutionary process they did, just as most living things on this planet still do. But in the course of time, our lineage of apes became subject to a spiritual "invasion" so to speak. We began to form symbiotic spiritual relationships with these intelligent apes, growing literal spiritual connections from the astral to the etheric bodies of these apes, and thereby becoming able to experience what these apes experience, and even slowly learning to control and "operate" these bodies. In some sense, then, we are the original "body snatchers". It's not an evil act, of course, it's a perfectly natural thing. In fact, it's what this world was created for in the first place. This entire physical universe was created specifically to develop intelligent species suitable for this kind of reincarnational exercise. And let's be clear - the ape in us quite enjoys it. It's been a good deal all around. They get intelligent spiritual guidance, and we get sensual, material enjoyment and experiences that teaches us many things that as spirits we would have a much harder time learning.

Even so, it's important for us to recognize our situation and not become confused about our purposes here. We are not here for the things of this world, we are here to develop a spiritual understanding that can transcend even the limitations of this world. This means, broken down to its most basic form, learning to love even in this deeply limited material realm. 

It's relatively easy to love in the spirit realms. The spirit realms don't have the kind of limitations we experience here. Love is much more obvious, and much more attainable. The material realms, however, represent a much more challenging experience. Creatures here don't know much about love, they are so involved in the basic quest for survival. They do know how to commune with their own nature to some degree, but that is not a deeply conscious affair for them, and they lack the ability to make it meaningful in the context of life itself. As Adi Da used to point out, animals commune with their spiritual nature by "dropping out", by putting themselves in a state of deep relaxation such that they can let go of the world around them. However, when they are not "dropping out", they lose this spiritual awareness, and become consumed with the necessities of physical survival. 

This is due in part to the simple fact that most animals lack souls. By souls I mean spirits who reincarnate in association with their physical bodies. Most animals are certainly conscious and alive and to some degree aware of the deeper consciousness that is the world's source and nature, but almost unconsciously so, in an almost sleepy manner. Human beings, on the other hand, have a much greater spiritual consciousness simply because we are spirits already, coming from the subtler spirit realms, and are not merely physical creatures on our own here. If we were, our awareness would be entirely different than it now is. We would not think about life after death, for example, and we would not form religious views about God, spirits, other worlds, heavens, hells, etc. 

Scientific atheists are not wrong to suggest that nature, all by itself, through the biology of evolution and natural selection, could product intelligent creatures and technologically advanced societies. In fact, I'd suggest that it has done just that in many worlds in our universe. There are a great number of intelligent species in the universe who do not have reincarnating souls, and they don't have a concept of God or the afterlife as we do. Our own species has certainly got an evolutionary lineage that has nothing to do with souls and spirits, but the fact is, for some time now even our bodies have evolved in conjunction with these spirits that reincarnate through them, and it is the spirits who are in charge, so to speak, not the animal body-brains. Even our nervous system has evolved in a manner which makes soul-incarnation and all its subtle connections to the spirit world more and more efficient and powerful. So the process of human evolution is much more complex and powerful than it would be in the course of purely "natural" selection. 

Our spiritual nature therefore gives us a different relationship to the natural world than is to be found in nature itself. We are "external" to the natural material world and its creatures. In some sense, the material world, like our material bodies, is actually intended to be subserviant to us.. It was created not for its own sake, but to serve us, just as an online role-playing world is not created for its own sake, but for the players who connect to it and play within it. The difference, of course, is that even the physical world and everything in it is grounded in consciousness, in the sacred space of its Divine Source. And our purpose here is not merely to play some meaningless game for entertainment's sake, but to take up the challenge of bringing real love into this world, and transforming it through our own spiritual intervention here. By bringing real love into this world, by loving not only one another, but the physical world itself in all its manifestations, living and otherwise, we fulfill our spiritual purpose here.

Of course, bringing real love into this world has been a difficult struggle, as human history well shows. It has involved overcoming a great many very gross limitations in the biology of our own bodies and brains, and evolving mechanisms in these which can facilitate our growth. If we are to speak of "raising consciousness", this has been a gradual process over time of growing more and more stable conduits for our spirit-selves to enter into association with this world, through our own bodies and brains. Not all of those mechanisms are evident in the material physical body and world, of course. Much of it occurs in dimensions of our experience that are not physically observable, but which require introspection and spiritual awareness. Our "sciences" are simply not advanced enough to comprehend them, but our awareness is. Therefore, it's important to let our awareness take the lead in these matters, rather than be subservient to materialist science - just it's important to let our awareness guide our own material bodies, rather than the other way around. If we let the material body and world guide us, we are in for a great deal of trouble. There is an order of hierarchy which must be followed, or disaster may result. The material world is simply not sophisticated or intelligent enough to guide the spirit, and if we allow it to, we are abdicating our own responsibility.

So where does this leave the environmental movement? Well, first off, it restores the proper role for human beings in our world to our natural position at the top of the hierarchy. I don't just mean at the top of the food chain, but at the position of greatest responsibility for this world. It also rather demolishes the notion that human beings are some kind of "cancer" here, or that we have no greater rights than any other species on this planet. The simple fact is that we do have greater rights, but with those rights come greater responsibilities. On the practical level, of course we need to find ways to be less destructive of this world. But we also need to recognize that the way to do this is to put our spirit in charge of ourselves, and thus of the world, not to diminish our leading role in it. The problems we as human beings face in this world are the result of not enough recognition of ourselves as the spiritual beings who are meant to rule this world through love. Instead, we have allowed our purely material selves to have too much say in what we do here, and those material selves are, like all animals, obsessed with survival and consumption and territorial dominance and competition with others. When that obsession is in charge of our living, and is also combined with our own unique conceptual gifts and sensual desire for experience, it can lead to ruin. But we should not exaggerate the degree to which we are near such a point.

The world is a remarkably resilient place, and it is here to serve us. That should both empower and humble us. We have certainly abused it, but it is the kind of abuse that children take out on their mothers when they are young and stupid. The loving mother forgives them, and lovingly tries to teach us better. Gaia is not an angry, vengeful mother out to punish us. She does not see us as a virus or a cancer, but as her beloved children, and she is trying to raise us right. Considering how difficult we are to raise, she has done a very good job, and we are indeed growing up finally. Humanity is learning its lessons, and is, I think, on the verge of embarking on a new stage of its growth, a more mature stage, one that is not without its own challenges and struggles, but which has the capacity to put behind us some of our more immature habits and delusions, and the  strong capacity to actually activate and embrace our spiritual purposes in a much more conscious, intentional, and loving way. These things don't happen overnight, but the signs are there already, and rather than dwelling upon the negative possibilities, it is time for those who care about such transformations to contemplate and encourage the spirit in us, rather than the shadows which can take over in its absence.