Marc Gafni on Unique Self 2012 – Part 11. Unique Self and evolutionary spirituality

Evolutionary Spirituality is making an important contribution. My teachers are all evolutionary mystics, a term that’s been used in the academic scholarship of Hebrew mysticism. Evolutionary mysticism is the sense that I am participating in the evolving All, the evolving process.

It might be fair to say—and we actually coined this term in a beautiful phone conversation between myself, Ken Wilber, and Andrew Cohen—we were talking about the relationship between the earlier evolutionary thinking in Kabbalah and evolutionary spirituality, and we called Kabbalah a kind of proto-evolutionary spirituality. At the time when the great Kabbalists were writing the key evolutionary tracts—the later phases of the Zohar in the 13th cenury, the key teachings of Luria in the Renaissance, the notion of the evolving biosphere wasn’t in play. There are glimmers of the idea in the most esoteric of texts, but there was no empirical evidence for it and it wasn’t really in consciousness at all. It came into consciousness in the hundred years before Darwin, and Darwin crystallizes it and it explodes into public culture as one of the four great ideas of the last 200 years. So clearly evolution itself is evolving. We are understanding that all levels of reality are evolving.

The notion that there is an evolution of divinity itself is a core feature of Lurianic thought. My colleague in Jerusalem, who wrote a fantastic doctorate on Luria, quotes Nikos Kazanzakas to summarize Luria’s doctrine of the evolution of God: “We are the saviors of God.” What he means is that God is evolving. There’s something new that is being created that didn’t exist before. There’s an evolution of divinity.

From a non-dual, Lurianic, Kabbalistic perspective, from the interior face of essential reality – the human being is an inextricable part of the divine. There is no separation. The human being participates through his or her own evolving in evolving the divine consciousness. That idea is a core idea. As a trained Kabbalist who has received and drunk from the lineage of Kabbalah, the notion of an evolutionary context is core to what you might call my mental furniture. It’s an absolute given.

And clearly evolution evolved through Darwin—and people like Aurobindo and de Chardin and Abraham Kuk—write extensively on this notion of the evolving nature of reality, the evolving nature of Spirit. Kuk and Aurobindo are parallel figures, one in Kabbalah and the other in Hinduism. De Chardin emerges in their wake. They deepen the idea. Once you have the evolution of the biosphere at play, the game changes.

Having said that, having recognized the evolutionary moment, let me point out the limitation of some of the ways that Evolutionary spirituality has expressed itself in the world.

First: in its initial expression in Fichte, Schelling, Hegel— that school of German Idealism—actually produced vision of the world which in some sense became a kernel of the worst forms of oppression that were ever created. The dialectical materialism which comes out of Hegel becomes in distorted form a kernel of both communism and Nazism, and the two manage to kill hundreds of millions of non-combatants in the most brutal of ways. They elevated the process above the person. The impersonal evolutionary process—awakening to it—became the essential movement in a human being’s awakening, and, that is to say, the least problematic.

The second we lose the irreducible dignity of every individual human dignity, and it is sourced in their uniqueness, we’re in trouble. It’s a slippery slope into the most brutal forms of human depravity. So I’m hesitant when I hear ways in which evolutionary spirituality is championed in the world in ways in which the impersonal seems to trump the personal, where the process seems to trump the individual human being. My lineage tradition that I am sourced in is wary. There always needs to be a dialectical tension between the infinite value, dignity, and adequacy of the individual and the infinite adequacy and dignity of the community. They need to be in play with each other.

Part of the dharma of Unique Self is to realize that you can never lose sight of that unique human being. Of course let’s be clear. The same way that the doctrine of Unique Self can’t take responsibility for the hyper-narcissism of the Western world, the hyper greed of certain capitalistic expressions (not genuine capitalism, but what John Mackie has called crony capitalism, which is run on greed, which is run on insane hyper-narcissistic inflation), because it’s a distortion … obviously you can’t hold Evolutionary Spirituality responsible for its own distortions. Each one needs to be wary of its own shadows.

[Concludes with a story.]

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