By RICHARD SMOLEY
The idea that consciousness is evolving is one of the most important doctrines of the New Age. But is it true?
Over the long term, the answer seems obvious. Even the stupidest of humans is far more intelligent and sophisticated than a trilobite. Although materialists have skirted the conclusion that evolution has a direction – and that this direction is toward greater complexity – they have not managed to shoot it down.
The New Age idea of evolving consciousness is a little different. Many advocates of the new paradigm insist that human consciousness has gotten more sophisticated within historical times, and that it is destined to make another grand leap. It’s a harder case to argue.
It was H.P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, who first introduced the idea of evolving consciousness in the late nineteenth century. The basic theory of evolution as propounded by Darwin was already well known, but it had not been connected with consciousness in any important way.
In her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky made this connection. Indeed she went further. She held that not only humans and all organic life, but everything in the cosmos, down to the smallest atom, was perpetually evolving over the course of boundless eons toward a goal of unimaginable perfection.
Blavatsky was a bit more cautious about the evolution of human consciousness. While she propounded the allegedly ancient and secret doctrine of the Root Races, whereby humans would eventually develop supernatural capacities, she did not see this as coming any time soon. According to Blavatsky, the present, Fifth Root Race – encompassing practically all of humankind currently on earth – was going to be around for a while.
Nevertheless, Blavatsky set the stage, and it is interesting, though difficult, to try to figure out how much she influenced twentieth-century advocates of creative evolution such as Henri Bergson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
The man who may be most responsible for the idea that human consciousness has evolved within historical times, and is making a transition to a new stage, is the Swiss philosopher Jean Gebser. In his masterwork, The Ever-Present Origin, published in 1949, Gebser outlined a development of civilisation in five stages: the archaic; the magic; the mythical; the mental; and the integral. Gebser’s argument is hard to summarise, but he essentially said that the shifts between these phases meant a change in human consciousness, even in how we view spatial dimensions. The “mythical” stage, the age of classical antiquity, was conceptually “spaceless.” The new “integral” consciousness is, by contrast, “space-free” and “time-free.”
Gebser’s arguments do not always hold up well. For example, he said that the dawn of the mental stage of development – which included the discovery of perspective in art – started in medieval times. A crucial moment was the Italian poet Petrarch’s ascent of Mount Ventoux in southern France in 1336. This, Gebser claimed, was the first time that anyone ever climbed a mountain solely to see the view. As such, it was “the discovery of landscape.” Unfortunately for Gebser’s theory, Petrarch himself said he had been inspired by the ascent of a mountain in Greece by King Philip of Macedon in the fourth century BCE. (Gebser tries, unconvincingly, to explain why Petrarch’s climb was so revolutionary and Philip’s was not.) Besides, perspective painting had been practiced in Greco-Roman antiquity.
Gebser is not well-known in the English-speaking world, but he has been very influential, largely through the works of the American philosopher Ken Wilber, whose “integral philosophy” was inspired by Gebser and by such figures as Arthur Koestler, Sri Aurobindo, and the American guru Adi Da (Franklin Jones).
If we want to decide whether consciousness is evolving and has evolved within living memory, it might be good to consider what consciousness is. For Gebser, it was “wakeful presence.” In my work, especially The Dice Game of Shiva, I have defined consciousness as the relation of self to other. To take a simple example, you are in your bedroom. You are awake. You see the furniture, the walls, the pictures. They areother, and you are you. Then you fall into a deep sleep. There is no longer a sense of self and other; you are no longer aware of your surroundings. You are unconscious.
What, then, is higher consciousness? What makes one kind of consciousness higher, or more evolved, than another?
In his book When Beliefs Fail: Toward a Psychology of Hope, Jim Stempel sets out a clear and engaging argument for the evolutionary perspective. He says: “The goal of spiritual growth is actually quite simple. It is complete awareness, the capacity to understand all of reality as well as ourselves…. Thus we enlarge our worldview until it incorporates everything.” To use the language of my theory, consciousness evolves as our view of the other, that is the world, expands.
Thus it would seem that consciousness has evolved. For a medieval peasant, the world was his village. The people in the village five or ten miles away were remote and menacing; they may as well have been extraterrestrials. Today we log into a computer and learn about places on the other side of the world in almost no time. Presto! Our worldview is enlarged. That means our consciousness is higher, more evolved.
But it is not so simple. In the first place, not everybody believes in these great strides in cognitive evolution. The twentieth-century French philosopher René Guénon, for example, argued that, far from evolving, we have devolved from an ancient state of pristine integrity. We are now living, Guénon said, in the “reign of quantity,” the last and most pathetic stage of the Hindu Kali Yuga, the Age of Darkness. Technological advancement, and the materialistic mentality that goes with it, is a symptom of this degeneracy.
Is Guénon wrong? Is it right to equate higher consciousness with technical sophistication and the expanded view of the world that results from it? As desperately as Western civilisation wants to believe this, it is not obvious, and it may not be true.
One counterexample is Tibet. The material culture of Tibet has always been primitive, even barbarous. It has no technological sophistication and has had no interest in developing it. Nevertheless, Tibet developed an extremely sophisticated and profound understanding of the nature of consciousness that the West is only now beginning to grasp. Can we say our consciousness is higher, more evolved, than the consciousness of Tibetans?
The twentieth-century spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff also ridiculed the idea that the consciousness of modern humanity has evolved. His masterwork, All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tale to His Grandson, one of the strangest and greatest books of the twentieth century, has as its stated objective “to destroy, mercilessly, without any compromises whatsoever, in the mentation and feelings of the reader, the beliefs and views, by centuries rooted in him, about everything existing in the world.” And one of the most important of these ideas to be rooted out is the delusory belief in progress. The 1,200 pages of Beelzebub argue that modern humans are not superior, but inferior, to those of ancient times, and material progress has hastened their deterioration.
Gurdjieff taught that modern man is in a state of waking sleep, a low-grade hypnosis. Part of this sleep involves dissociation: the body walks through its daily routines while the mind ponders grievances of the past, and fantasises about the future. We are like Mr. Duffy in one of James Joyce’s stories, who “lived a short distance from his body.”
Practically everything about present-day life helps increase this dissociation. You are well-informed about the latest world crisis, but are you aware of what is going on in your own being? Very likely your body and your emotions do not care in the slightest for all of the momentous events that make your mind so agitated. Probably, in fact, these other parts of you are bored by your fixation on a computer screen and would just as soon be out for a walk, or doing nothing at all.
So the grandiose claims of “evolution,” “integral consciousness,” and so on, do not stand up very well. Of course there are people today who have attained high states of consciousness, just like the mystics of old. But do we have any reason to believe they are any more common today than they ever were?
On the other hand, I myself have as much difficulty with the proclamations of degeneracy as I have with the proclamations of evolution. It is not so simple. It is never so simple. In many ways, humanity has advanced; in other ways it has regressed. While I think it is foolish to praise indigenous peoples as the repository of all wisdom, they often seem to have preserved inner powers and abilities that have been lost to trendy smartphone addicts.
As always, there are currents and countercurrents, and there is no good reason to single out one of these and proclaim it the inevitable wave of the future. We have already had too many inevitable waves of the future, and they have usually been dead ends. It is probably wrong to claim that humanity is retrogressing, but when someone launches into optimistic jabbering about “evolution” and the “new paradigm,” it may be well to think about these lines from the Tao Te Ching: “The ancient masters were subtle, mysterious, profound, responsive. The depth of their knowledge is unfathomable.” It is hard to say that about humans today.
Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, translated by Noel Barstad & Algis Mickunas, Ohio University Press, 1985
G.I. Gurdjieff, All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, Dutton, 1964
Jim Stempel, When Beliefs Fail: A Psychology of Hope, Chrysalis, 2001
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RICHARD SMOLEY has over thirty-five years of experience of studying and practicing esoteric spirituality. He is the author of Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition; The Dice Game of Shiva: How Consciousness Creates the Universe; Conscious Love: Insights from Mystical Christianity; The Essential Nostradamus; Forbidden Faith: The Secret History of Gnosticism; Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History, and Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions (with Jay Kinney). Smoley is also the former editor of Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions. Currently he is editor of Quest: Journal of the Theosophical Society in America and of Quest Books.
Awareness in the 5th DimensionIt was not too long ago that scientists spoke about space and time as two separate things. The contributions of Einstein in the first part of the last century changed that. Increasingly since then, space and time have been referred to by physicists as the ‘space-time continuum’.
Whereas space, prior to this, was considered to have three dimensions, Einstein’s contribution gave rise to a four-dimensional concept that included time1.
This continuum was likened by Einstein and later by others to a sheet of rubber that can expand and contract, curl or lie flat, affected by the displacement of matter in a way that science is still coming to understand.
The nature of space and time or ‘space-time’ is still in a stage of theoretical unfoldment, yet even now, almost a century after Einstein’s revolutionary presentation of the new theory, most people still have difficulty picturing physical reality as four-dimensional, and a five-dimensional reality seems even further away.
As an abstract concept, the ‘space-time continuum’ is more of a mathematical idea than an image – one that does not readily lend itself to easy contemplation, especially when we try to picture ourselves as living within it. For this reason, it is helpful to seek the support of metaphor as we try to do so.
Einstein‘s metaphor for space-time was the ‘rubber sheet’ mentioned above. In trying to locate ourselves within this metaphor, we either have to think of ourselves as part of the rubber sheet itself, or, we can expand the metaphor and think of the rubber sheet as having an inside and an outside with an empty space in between – a layer of space in which we live.
If we picture this layer as containing all the physical universe that we presently know, we will come closer to imagining what most of us conceive of as three-dimensional space, for this space has boundaries of perception that we cannot exceed as three-dimensional beings, except as our evolving consciousness allows us to.
The interior layer of the rubber sheet, then, is where we live. It is a bounded universe of perception, though not a bounded universe in reality.
If we take this bounded layer of the physical and shift from picturing an interior layer of a rubber sheet to, instead, picturing the interior of a sphere, or better yet, of a doughnut that contains a world of small people running around inside, we will have a closer approximation of what three-dimensional space might feel like to someone inside the doughnut, and what this same space might look like to someone outside the doughnut.
To the inhabitants of the doughnut, movement in all directions is possible until you hit the boundary of the doughnut which is the boundary of three-dimensional space and of physical reality.
This is not a real boundary, but a boundary of perception. However, since this is the only world that the inhabitants of the doughnut know, they perceive themselves to be free to move in all directions.
They do not perceive the boundary. From the perspective of someone outside the doughnut, however, life inside the doughnut can be perceived as a doughnut-shaped layer of reality – the inhabitants sealed within that layer, unaware that there is anything beyond it.
To carry the metaphor further, let us picture that inside the doughnut there are three dimensions of space and one dimension of time within which we freely move, thinking that this is all there is.
However, to one outside the doughnut, it appears that the entire doughnut we live in exists within another larger doughnut – a layer of Creation that contains the smaller layer and is five-dimensional rather than four. This five-dimensional layer also exists within other layers that have higher numbers of dimensions.
Each of the doughnut-shaped layers is contained within a higher-dimensional, more inclusive layer. Each layer penetrates the layers within it yet is not perceived as doing so, since to the inhabitants of the three–dimensional doughnut, the three-dimensional-space is all that can normally be seen and felt.
In trying to expand our awareness to this multi–dimensional space in which we actually live, most of us are able to return to early learning, remembering how one, two, and three dimensions operate.
The simple description for this arrangement is that one-dimensional space can be thought of as a line, two-dimensionality as a flat surface, and three-dimensionality as a cube that has length, width, and height.
To imagine four-dimensional space, we might imagine ourselves moving in time through three-dimensional space, though as stated above, this would not be an exact picture of four-dimensional space which joins ‘space-time’ into one larger whole. Within four-dimensional space, we are at a particular location in physical space at a particular time.
To try to imagine five-dimensional space from this three-dimensional perspective is generally not possible. The fifth dimension or layer of Creation is not spatial nor is it temporal.
Rather, it is a dimension that brings space-time into relationship with the timeless and eternal. Fifth-dimensional ‘space’ and the awareness that accompanies it creates a movement of consciousness rather than a movement on the physical plane. This movement allows us to begin to perceive the unity of life and matter because we are moving within a higher plane.
And just as we would if we physically ascended a mountain, as we move into higher dimensions, we have access to a broader view of what reality really is. Within this broader view, things are not as separate as they are within three-dimensional reality. The one who is ‘me’ and the one who is ‘you’ are not so far apart, in fact, they may not be apart at all.
To understand movement within a ‘plane of consciousness’, think of dreaming. In dreams, we can do things that are not normally possible in physical life. We can see the same thing from different perspectives.
We can be two places at the same time. We can move in ways that are not possible in three-dimensional space, and time itself often has an altogether different quality. Dreaming gives us an illustration of what a ‘movement in consciousness’ might be like.
Multi-dimensional space, like dreaming, is a ‘consciousness-space’ – one which we, for the most part, are not accustomed to, unless we have had non-ordinary experiences which have taken us into these other realms. Dreaming, for most, is the closest approximation.
The Kabbalah and its Tree of Life, the ten Sephiroth,2,3 can be a spiritual guide for us within this multi-dimensional space, as can other holistic models of the universe4 and of Creation which serve the same purpose.
Although the Sephiroth do not correspond exactly to dimensions, they do describe a model of the spiritual-physical universe in which Light and energy descend progressively from the Godhead into the world of matter. In doing so, they create pathways through which forces of Creation emanating from the Godhead can direct energy toward lower states of expression and manifestation.
The route or passage of this energetic descent results in the divinization5 and layering of the spiritual-physical universe into gradations of spiritual energy and Light.
We, in our three or four-dimensional doughnut are at the lowest end of the spectrum of Light and energy. We have lived within this frame of reference so long that we are accustomed to thinking that it is all there is.
But it is not all there is. We have access in our consciousness to all that is ‘above’, for what is ‘above’ is also within. The metaphoric doughnut-layers containing higher-order dimensionality penetrate the layer we exist in at all times.
Similarly, the emanations of Divine light coming from the Godhead penetrate every layer of Creation and infuse our life without our knowing it.
And whether there are ten layers as the Kabbalah indicates and as String Theory suggests, or a different number of layers (dimensions) as other theories would have us believe, we, in any case, are evolving in consciousness along with the earth into a greater capacity to experience what has previously been inaccessible to our awareness.
This evolution of consciousness will inevitably take us into five-dimensional awareness and beyond – beyond the confines of our bounded ‘doughnut’. For five-dimensional awareness is nothing less than the loss of the sense of separateness from others and from the universe in which we live.
This loss of separateness takes place in the presence of expanding light and creates an experience of the Divine within all – a perspective in which distinctions between self and other, between matter and spirit, and even between life and death can fade into the background.
Within fifth-dimensional awareness, individualized consciousness still remains, but the sense of estrangement and isolation from life does not.
Linked with this shift in awareness is a movement away from exclusive reliance on our mind and five senses to define reality, toward a new awareness of infused Light linking all within a vibration of love.
It is the physical senses and their biological structure which have supported and made possible the perception of subject and object, self and other.
Fifth-dimensional consciousness is already present for some, and there are many others who are awakening to it even now while the greater shift has not yet occurred. Yet for most, the sense of separation between ‘me’ and ‘you’ and the need to protect ‘me’ from ‘you’ still predominates in an atmosphere where the experience of unity has not yet directly been felt.
Fifth-dimensional awareness will change this situation and the morality that accompanies it. When all is seen to be connected with all, then a morality that is based not on self-preservation but on concern for the welfare of the whole will prevail.
When there is no difference between ‘your’ interest and ‘my’ interest, then the foundation for peace can be laid within each individual consciousness.
The advent of this shift has already arrived, creating a foreshadowing of a way of being on the planet that is based in love, not self-protection – one that seeks to serve the good of all, rather than the desires of self.
Such a movement has God at the center by whatever name God is called, for the movement itself does not belong to any nation, religious tradition, or group.
As we, collectively, move into fifth-dimensional awareness, the possibility for resolving the dire conflicts that have beset the world will, for the first time, become credible, and hope for a peaceful future will, for the first time, become a real hope, based in a foundation of truth.
By Julie, Light Omega; | References:
1. Einstein, Albert. Relativity: The Special and General Theory. New York: Henry Holt, 1920.
2. Scholem, Gershom G. Kabbalah. New York: Quadrangle, 1974.
3. Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi (Warren Kenton). Tree of Life: An Introduction to the Kabbalah. York Beach: Samuel Weiser, Inc. Originally published 1972.
4. Wolf. Joachim. Understanding the Grand Design – Spiritual Reality’s Inner Logic. Also, “Revolution in Common Sense” or “Quantum Metaphysics” at www.quantum-metaphysics.com.
5. ‘Divinisation’ – the infusion of matter with spiritual Light which comes from the single source we call the Godhead or ‘Central Sun’.