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Spiritual Evolution
A Primary Error of the New Age Movement

"Spiritual Evolution" is one of the primary doctrines of the "New Age" Movement – it is, indeed, probably one of the few things upon which this disparate congeries of assorted tendencies can agree.

A recent correspondent, commenting on our article on Kali Yuga, sent the following communication, predicated on one version of the "spiritual evolution" doctrine.

First let me say how gratifying it is to have found your website with the wealth of historical and philosophical knowledge contained within, and I feel certain I have found abundant waters to sate my thirst for spirit. However, when I first read your page on the Kali Yuga I felt you must be misinformed. I am not a particularly religious person but respond to truth where I find it, and in my opinion we have past the Kali age. Just the fact that we are all connected now through the ether in a 'web' is very inspiring to me and proof of the opportunity for spiritual progress. Please see the excerpt below and I would appreciate your consideration.

From the Wikipedia page:

"Swami Kriyananda, known also as J. Donald Walters, is a follower and supporter of Sri Yukteswar's claim that the present age is Dwapara Yuga and not Kali Yuga, as is widely believed in Hindu orthodoxy. He gives five clues as an indication:

1. A revolution toward the use of labor-saving machinery, and toward private enterprise, which replaced a basically agrarian and landholding, or so-called aristocratic, society;

2. The discovery, and the increasingly widespread use, of electricity;

3. The growing use of atomic power;

4. A complete revolution in man's ways of thinking, and a perception of the universe as no longer earth-centered, but far, far vaster than even a single star system, as well as a perception of reality that is, essentially, non-personal.

5. Countless revolutionary discoveries, previously unimaginable, including radio, television, electronics, laser surgery, and other breakthroughs in every field – so many, indeed, that it would be impossible to list them all.

Now before proceeding to examine the wider question of "spiritual evolution", let us take a brief look at this supposed "Swami", Mr. Walters, also from Wikipedia:

In 1997–98, Anne-Marie Bertolucci, a former resident of Ananda, filed suit against Ananda, Ananda minister Danny Levin, and Swami Kriyananda. In the course of the trial, eight women testified under oath that Kriyananda had used his power as the leader of Ananda to obtain sexual gratification from them when they were in their 20s.

Mr Walters's response to this accusation was to claim that while the alleged sexual contact had indeed taken place, it was consensual. This is, of course, a valid legal defense, but even if true it constitutes a complete repudiation of any claim to be a valid Swami. Indeed Mr. Walters formally renounced his monastic vows.

We do not wish to lay too much weight on an argumentum ad hominem, but since this particular (and highly peculiar) version of the "spiritual evolution" argument seems to originate with Mr. Walters, it is worth considering the nature of its source.

We are classifying this particular theory with the theories of "spiritual evolution" in general, since, while it purports to be a theory based on the traditional Cycle of the Ages (or Yugas), it clearly postulates an "evolution" or "upward movement" over the course of centuries which is the precise inverse of the traditional doctrine (at least in spiritual terms – there may of course be, as there have been, material advances). In any case, the Dwpara Yuga is the third or Bronze Age, meaning we should have passed through not the Kali Yuga (or Age of Iron) to get to it, but the Silver Age or Treta Yuga. What lies beyond the Kali Yuga is the complete cataclysmic breakdown of human society and an eventual renewal in a new Golden Age. Surely no one could call the present era a literal Golden Age? And in any case Mr. Walters does not attempt to do so, claiming that somehow we have passed backward from the Kali Yuga to the Dwpara Yuga.

But to examine the argument on its merits as a fairly standard spiritual evolution theory (leaving aside its complete confusion about the doctrine of the Yugas): it mostly consists of a recitation of the many achievements of modern technology. No one has attempted to deny those achievements. Indeed they are the very point. In the last and most material age, there is a huge expansion ("evolution", if you will) on the "horizontal", material plane, and a corresponding diminution on the spiritual plane, ending in an almost complete loss of connection with the "vertical" or spiritual pole of being.

The entire doctrine of "evolution" on the purely biological level was indeed so successful precisely because it allows the mythos of the modern world to postulate that forms somehow came purely and "accidentally" out of matter without the intervention of the form-bearing Spirit. Every flower, we are supposed to believe, is a mere accident of the "struggle for survival" and has its ultimate origin in the primordial slime (a notion sufficiently vague in most people's minds as to mask the fundamental question of how form can come from nothing), rather than being the expression in matter of a Divine Idea.

This is what, on the cultural level, the theory of evolution is. It has indeed transformed the thinking of modern western humanity. It has allowed a level of pure materialism never before conceived of in the human mind. To wish to transpose this idea to the level of a supposed "spiritual evolution" – which is, indeed, a contradiction in terms – is to be completely embedded in the inverted mentality of modern materialism.

One of the few points made in the above summary that is not a mere recitation of the "wonders of modern technology" (which no one would wish to deny in any case) is this:

4. A complete revolution in man's ways of thinking, and a perception of the universe as no longer earth-centered, but far, far vaster than even a single star system, as well as a perception of reality that is, essentially, non-personal.

Now the notion that the universe is not centered on the earth – while it is true as a physical fact and certainly has a valid spiritual meaning – has had a devastating effect on the spiritual understanding of Western humanity, precisely because these outward facts were learned in a purely material context at a time when the West no longer had the ability to see such things in their true metaphysical light.

This is a large subject, and rather than try to summarize it here, we would direct the reader to the chapter of The Feminine Universe entitled The Image of the Cosmos, which is available online. This explains in depth how our image of a sacred cosmos has been displaced by a purely physical view that ignores and denies the metaphysical structure of creation – and how this has happened precisely because of the changes in outlook that Mr. Walters so lauds.

Of course the "facts" are true on a purely physical level, and of course, like everything true, even when we are dealing with lesser and purely material truths, they can be understood in their true metaphysical light. Nevertheless, the "revolution in human consciousness" caused by these facts, understood on a purely material level, has been nothing short of a disaster. As it says in The Feminine Universe:

Copernicus, in arguing for a heliocentric cosmos, was putting forward an essentially theological or metaphysical view based on a Renaissance revival of the philosophic Solar Theism of the Classical world. He was by no means the prototype of the material scientist that modern popular mythology has attempted to make of him. Nor did he for one moment suppose that he was putting forward something new, but cited authoritative references from the ancient world for the heliocentric view. It is one of the ironies of history that his work should have served ends so far from his intentions and, in breaking down the traditional view of the cosmos, should have paved the way for the very antithesis of all that he believed in. A century later [in the time of Galileo], the Church could only reply to the rising tide of cosmic demythologization with a short-lived attempt to suppress heliocentrism, for it (and Europe as a whole) had lost the intellectual foundation necessary to integrate it into the spiritual economy of the West.

But please read the entire chapter to understand this issue more fully.

On the closely related question of humanity's developing "a perception of reality that is, essentially, non-personal": There are indeed, in the more rarefied areas of traditional doctrine, some perspectives that support a kind of "impersonalism", but for people as a whole, spiritual life has centered on the personal, loving aspects of the Divine. In the context of modern materialist society the "scientific impersonalism" of the universe has only created in the minds of most people an essentially empty, unintelligent cosmos that, in its mindless vastness, has no relation at all to the human soul.

Indeed, in this age of unprecedented technical advance and unprecedented decline in true spiritual intellectuality, we have never been in so much need of the kindness and compassion of our loving and wholly "personal" Mother God.

"Spiritual evolution", like most of the New Age ideology, began in fact with the Theosophical Society and the theories of the arch-charlatan Mme. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Essentially the whole notion of spiritual evolution is a contradiction in terms. Not only does it contradict all traditional teaching, but it takes a doctrine from the modern scientific mythos, whose precise purpose is to explain the world as a purely material phenomenon without reference to its spiritual, or formal, essence. To project this materialist story-picture onto the realm of the "spirit" is nothing short of a confusion and an absurdity.

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This section:

Ancient Truth and Modern Thought

  • The Traditional World View vs the Modern World View

  • Science, Truth, and Logic

  • Christianity and Science: the Western Worldview

  • The Theory of Evolution

  • Evolution vs Creationism

  • Would Jesus Believe in Evolution?

  • Notes on Descartes, Imagination and Reality

  • Julian Jaynes and the Bicameral Mind

  • Stephen Hawking: Fairy Tales and the Faith of the Faithless

  • George Lakoff, Metaphor and Metaphysics

  • On New Age Thought: Science, Spirituality, and Screwdrivers

  • Spiritual Evolution: A New Age Error

  • What's Wrong with Wicca?

  • Astrology and Traditional Cosmology

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