Lower and Higher Evolution

Below is a quote from Subhuti's book 'The Buddhist Vision' outlining how the FWBO sees evolution as divided into two phases, the Lower (biological) Evolution, and the Higher (spiritual) Evolution.


It is as though man stands at the point of transition between two different phases of the evolutionary process. On the one hand, man is the product of thousands of millions of years of evolution from tiny single-celled organisms, through fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Over vast periods of time organisms have arisen of ever greater complexity. Man stands at the pinnacle of this process of evolution.

But is man the final product? What will come after man - a creature with more legs, new sense faculties, or strange powers? We could say that the next phase of evolution is, rather, the evolution of individual consciousness.

The 'Lower' or biological phase of evolution does involve an evolution of consciousness in that there is an increasing elaboration of sense consciousness, of perceptual awareness. The more evolved the organism, the more complex its sensory faculties become, and the more elaborate a picture of its environment it is able to build up. With man there is, however, a qualitative leap: man can be aware of himself. It is the development and fulfilment of this reflexive consciousness which marks the beginning of the Higher Evolution.

The first task of human growth is to bring self-awareness to completion. Only when one is fully self-aware is one truly an individual and truly a candidate for the Higher Evolution.

It should be stressed that being self-aware does not mean being self-conscious in the sense of having an intense and awkward self-concern. nor yet does it mean an alienated and abstracted self-censoring. Real self-awareness is healthy and spontaneous and imparts a natural dignity and wholeness to those who possess it. One who is self-aware is fully integrated; his personality functions as a harmonious whole with no repressed or hidden elements to cause psychological conflict. He experiences his individuality as a connected flow of consciousness rather than as a series of often conflicting desires and impulses.

The self-aware individual is only the beginning of the Higher Evolution. Self-awareness can be integrated and refined yet further. Higher states of consciousness may be experienced of far greater lucidity and far more subtle and refined emotion. These higher states may become the basis on which subjective mental conditionings are broken through and the real nature of things - Transcendental Reality - is glimpsed. Finally, these glimpses of Transcendental Reality may be absorbed more and more into consciousness until Absolute Consciousness flowers in which consciousness has become identical with Reality, Reality with consciousness. Here the Dharma as Teaching has merged with the Dharma as Reality and the goal of the whole evolutionary process has been achieved. This goal is known as 'Enlightenment', and one who has attained it is a 'Buddha' - literally 'one who is awake'. Potentially, every human being is a Buddha.

Subhuti, Buddhism for Today, p 10 -11. ISBN 0-904766-34-9

(Subhuti has expressed his/the FWBO's view on the evolutionary process at greater length elsewhere, e.g. in 'The Buddhist Vision', p 26-31. ISBN 0 7126 1084 7)