Social & Political Transformation
More sustainable ways of living will require the support of a more conscious democracy and vibrant civil society from which more enlightened leaders will emerge. All individuals should be encouraged to use their gifts to create participatory, responsible and compassionate models of governance.
Part of my work has been to study, collect, and apply a portion of the inventory of human capacities as they have developed around the world under different environmental and social conditions. How Africans walk and think and celebrate spirit, how the Chinese teach and study and paint, how Inuit people experience vivid three dimensional inner imagery, how the Balinese learn to perform any manner of artistic endeavor so rapidly and with such high craft, how a tribe along the Amazon raises happy and non-neurotic children, why certain children in India raised amidst traditional music develop extraordinary skill in mathematics–these are capacities no longer limited to place and culture.
In this new world of hybrid vigor, all these potentials once nurtured in separate societies are now available to the entire family of humankind. In this time of much change and the compounding of complexity, we need to use capacities that we never knew we had–or ones rarely used or even lost, perhaps, since childhood or the childhood of the race. We might refer to these capacities as evolutionary accelerators. They serve to propel us from beneath the surface crust of sleepy consciousness and our own human nature and biology. They serve, too, to help us get beyond the shuttering of our local cultural trance so as to have the courage and capacity to nurture the forms of the possible human and the possible society. For there is no question but that we are patterned and coded with potentials few of which we ever learn to use.
It is as if we had in our body and mind a vast orchestral range of a million keys, and we have learned to play but a small fraction. The journey to discover what these missing keys are and how they can be used is what my life is all about.
I have tried to bring this model to schools throughout the world with varying success. In Asian countries which were once part of the Raj, one must first lift the prison gates of nineteenth- century British education (which the Brits themselves have long abandoned). I have tried to convince both teachers and government administrators that the old medium is no longer adequate to the new messages beaming at us from the world and time.
Now, in the new millennium, we can no longer be educated for the year 1926 or earlier. Yes, we must continue to learn to read and write and cipher, but we also need to embrace an education for liberating the ability to imagine, to dream, and to expand the limits of the possible. We require education at its edges, education that guides us through the munificence of our capacities and inspires us to become stewards of this most critical time in human history. My life has been a search for the education that would nurture this goal and make it happen. And the places where I learn the most about how to do this is in other cultures.
In studying culture, I discover that yes there are basic things you must look at for it is culture that probably defines our humanness, that defines who and what we are and what we care for. It is culture that mediates the cosmos to the community, that mediates the cosmos to the brain, to the soul, to the very depths of who and what we are. Culture–that is, art, religion, poetry, dance, cooking, education, myth, spirituality, games, styles of dress, rituals of passage, sexual preferences, rituals of passage, science, play, courtship, sports, music, language, ways of defining work, storytelling, gesture (as well as inner gesture), and recreation. It is all of these that mediate the great patterns of archetypal evolutionary charge to the human social grid of reality.
Cultures are the organs and enzymes of the body of society. Where there is a culture there is always an open moment, there is always the availability of ourselves to be coded and gifted from the Deep World. How often have you listened to a piece of music, done a dance, stood in awe before a sculpture, and felt the Deep World available to you? Without the grid of culture in society we would have no availability to the Depths, or very little. Where culture is trivialized or leveled, then little can come through unless we go beyond culture into absolute silence and deep listening to the cosmic culture and its music and messages.
A Values System Perspective on Constructive Dialogue and Cooperative Action
In the Beginning. . .
Still fresh in my mind is a story from my youth, one often told by both teachers and clerics to dramatize the importance of people in whatever kind of world we were able to imagine. A youngster was given a puzzle that had a picture of the earth on one side and was asked to put it together as quickly as possible. The teacher was astounded that the young child completed the task in a surprising short amount of time. "How did you get it done so quickly?" asked the teacher, still in the throes of amazement. "Well," said the young child with innocent eyes, "on the back of the puzzle was a portrait of a man and that was easy for me to put together. When I got him right, then the other side was right, too."
I never forgot that simple story because it is just as true today for us, here and now. It explains the theme of this presentation: "Sustainable Cultures, Sustainable Planet." It simply suggests that until we understand the individual states of mind as well as the multiple webs of culture, our attempts at designing and preserving a "sustainable planet" will be virtually impossible.
I need to address the critical question that must be on your mind right now. Why is some character from America telling us anything about environmental protection? Even worse, should you pay any attention to a Texan, given the quality of air in the home state of BIG OIL and George W. Bush? I cannot answer those two questions for you, but all I ask is that you grant me an opportunity to put sustainability in a totally different framework, one that might make sense. One more thing: I firmly believe the once seafaring Dutch who ventured out into the North Sea and, ultimately, to all points on the human compass, must now become explorers once again. I have been around you for a number of years – looked at the results of my testing systems – listened to you talk about the world in many different cafes – and heard many of your government and private sectors project well into the future – and I can tell you that the most complex thinking on the planet is being done in the land of tulips, windmills, and wooden shoes. I am not just saying this to win over your favor long enough for me to get out of town before you bring the tar and feathers, because I believe it to be the truth, whatever "truth" means.
To whom much is given, of them much shall be required.
The Developmental Track
This will not be a exposition on environmental science nor will it list the growing threats to the atmosphere from many different sources. These can be found in both countless scientific as well as popularized forms. Rather, I want to describe the deeper codes, maps, and equations that describe how societies themselves emerge, zigzag through complex conditions, and then construct solutions to problems that seemed impossible at earlier stages in our existence. My intent will be to focus on the human face on the other side of the sustainability puzzle. And, I will apologize ahead of time for bombarding you with more information than you ever thought you wanted or needed.
First, These Assumptions…
Perhaps we should define terms before we launch even further into this exploration. What is it that makes a culture "sustainable?" What are the essential characteristics that display the full range of "sustainability" levels in various cultures? And, might it be possible to develop something of a S-Culture Index to measure various societies and cultures on these dimensions? Here is an initial list of such characteristics:
- Sustainable Cultures develop, propagate and update a compelling vision, a sense of transcendent purpose, and a series of superordinate goals to create common cause for a complex culture.
- Sustainable Cultures focus on systemic health and well-being rather than on one-time initiatives or any magical "quick-fix."
- Sustainable Cultures embrace the evolutionary dynamic and recognize that the center of gravity for the culture will shift as conditions of existence change in the milieu, either progressive or regressive.
- Sustainable Cultures accept that dynamic tension is part of life itself and have learned how to differentiate between destructive and constructive conflict.
- Sustainable Cultures disseminate self-reliance and responsible decision-making at every level, in every function, and on every issue.
- Sustainable Cultures mesh the four bottom-lines – purpose, profit, people, and planet – and realize that to accomplish any one of the four they must also experience success in the other three.
- Sustainable Cultures develop a sense of collective individuality in that the two are seen as cyclical blends and ratios rather than extremes or poles.
- Sustainable Cultures respect the past-present-future timeline and think of each as an element in the seamless flow of nature.
- Sustainable Cultures deal with causes and symptoms in a simultaneous, interdependent fashion.
- Sustainable Cultures possess the capacity to renew themselves whenever the problems of existence create greater complexity than available solutions.
- Sustainable Cultures integrate economic, political, social, environmental, spiritual and educational domains in an integral fashion.
- Sustainable Cultures transmit their codes to the present generation while, at the same time, prepare the youth for different conditions in the near and far future.
- Sustainable Cultures transcend but include previous ways of being while always anticipating what will be next, thus living in open systems.
Challenge to NIDO
Here is a unique challenge and opportunity that you might want to contemplate. Consider turning NIDO into a creative laboratory, a generator and depository of knowledge regarding sustainability, a global resource center for learning how to mesh "clean" energy, human needs, technological sophistication and natural habitats that can be transported elsewhere. So, today – June 18, 2001 – while you are symbolizing the initiation of the renovated monumental NIDO office building – you will also show the same courage, vision, and commitment that so characterized your forebears four centuries ago… and venture out into "The North Sea" once again. And, by the way, this time as compass you might, instead, take along a GPS device.
To make all of the above possible, I wish to offer new insights and procedures within these two areas – Constructive Dialogue and Cooperative Action. I will gently suggest that many of our usual constructive dialogue sessions are limited whenever they drive us into unhealthy and nonproductive circles of consensus-making rather than focus specifically on the nature of problems and their unique solutions. Second, we continue to compromise our capacity to mobilize (cooperative action) quickly and skillfully all of the resources necessary in a given situation, because our decision-making and implementation efforts are clogged by personal ambition, by rigid rule-makers who live in bureaucratic boxes, by cash-in mentalities that cannot see beyond a bank balance, or even by outside predators who bring dangerous viruses into your historic cultural canals and delicate and sensitive meshlands.
Now, the Main Act. .
To create and sustain a S-Culture, one that has the capacity, resilience, and vision to survive and prosper in the 21st Century context, the following four actions should be taken:
- Understand the codes and dynamics that shape cultures and drive change.
- Monitor vital signs and tension zones to track levels of sustainability.
- Implement integral policies to promote cultural health and sustainability.
- Employ skillful means to enhance adaptive intelligences for today and tomorrow.
Since the presentation of these basic concepts will be supported by various media forms, this description will only illustrate the ideas and recommendations. And, since I only speak two languages – American and Texan – you will have to set these concepts into the Dutch culture, people of both the low and high sky.
Understand the codes that shape cultures and drive change
Cultures, as well as countries, are formed by the emergence of value systems (social stages) in response to life conditions. Such complex adaptive intelligences form the glue that bonds a group together, defines who they are as a people, and reflects the place on the planet they inhabit. These cultural waves, much like the Russian dolls (a doll embedded within a doll embedded within a doll), have formed, over time, into unique mixtures and blends of instructional and survival codes, myths of origin, artistic forms, life styles, and senses of community. While they are all legitimate expressions of the human experience, they are not "equal" in their capacities to deal with complex problems in society.
Yet, the detectable social stages within cultures are not Calvinistic scripts that lock us into choices against our will. Nor are they inevitable steps on a predetermined staircase, or magically appearing like crop circle structures in our collective psyche. Cultures should not be seen as rigid types, having permanent traits. Instead, they are core adaptive intelligences that ebb and flow, progress and regress, with the capacity to lay on new levels of complexity (value systems) when conditions warrant. Much like an onion, they form layers on layers on layers. There is no final state, no ultimate destination, no utopian paradise. Each stage is but a prelude to the next, then the next, then the next.
Each emerging social stage or cultural wave contains a more expansive horizon, a more complex organizing principle, with newly calibrated priorities, mindsets, and specific bottom-lines. All of the previously acquired social stages remain in the composite value system to determine the unique texture of a given culture, country, or society. In author/ philosopher Ken Wilber's language, each new social stage transcends but includes" all of those which have come before. Societies with the capacity to change, swing between I:Me:Mine and We:Us:Our poles. Tilts in one direction create the need to self-correct, thus causing a shift toward the opposite pole. "Me" decades become "Us" epochs as we constantly spiral up, or spiral down in response to life conditions. Some social stages stress diversity generators that reward individual initiatives and value human rights. Other social stages impose conformity regulators and reward cooperative, collective actions. Societies will zigzag between these two poles, thus embracing different models at each tilt.
Once a new social stage appears in a culture, it will spread its instructional codes and life-priority messages throughout that culture's surface-level expressions: religion, economic and political arrangements, psychological and anthro-pological theories, and views of human nature, our future destiny, globalization, and even architectural patterns and sports preferences. We all live in flow states; there is always new wine, always old wineskins. We, indeed, find ourselves pursuing a neverending quest.
Here's the key idea. Different societies, cultures and subcultures, as well as entire nations are at different levels of psycho-cultural emergence, as displayed within these evolutionary levels of complexity. Yet, and here is a critical concept, the previously awakened levels do not disappear. Rather, they stay active within the value system stacks, thus impacting the nature of the more complex systems. So, many of the same issues we confront on the West Bank (red to blue) can be found in South Central Los Angeles. One can experience the animistic (purple) worldview on Bourbon Street as well as in Zaire. Matters brought before city council in Minneapolis (orange to green to yellow) are not unlike the debates in front of governing bodies in the Netherlands.
So-called Third World societies are dealing, for the most part, with issues within the beige to purple to red to blue zones, thus higher rates of violence and poverty. Staying alive, finding safety, and dealing with feudal age conditions matter most. Second World societies are characterized by authoritarian (blue) one-party states, whether from the right or the left. Makes no difference. So-called First World nations and groupings have achieved high levels of affluence, with lower birth rates, and more expansive use of technology. While centered in the strategic, free-market driven, and individual liberty focused perspective — all traits of the Stage 5 (orange) worldview — new value systems (green, yellow, and turquoise) are emerging in the "postmodern" age. Yet, we have no language for anything beyond First World, believing that is the final state, the "end of history." Further, there is a serious question as to whether the billions of people who are now exiting Second and Third World life styles can anticipate the same level of affluence as they see on First World television screens. And, what will happen to the environment if every Chinese family had a two-car garage?
The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the GTO, and most multinational corporations reflect the blue-orange worldview codes of cultural discipline, financial accountability, and individual responsibility. Attacks are launched from three directions:
Red zone activists, anarchists, and spoilers who love a good fight, and believe the Big Orange Money Machines are easy targets from which to exact tributes in various forms;
Blue zone ideologies who defend the sacred against the secular and resent the intrusive technology and destruction of the holy orders and extol the purity of the faith, noble cause, and divine calling; and
Green zone humanists and environmentalists who level charges of exploitation, greed, and selfishness, noting the eradication of indigenous cultures and the poisoning of the "pristine' environment by Big Mac golden arches.
The WTO demonstrations were so confounding to so many because they combined these red, blue and green critiques into single anti-orange crusades. Capitalism and materialism were the twin villains; spirituality, sharing, and social equality, along with sustainability, were the noble virtues. There appeared to be no middle ground; no zone of rapprochement; no win:win alternative. Herein lies the global knot: the seemingly irreconcilable conflict between and among the haves, the have nots, the have a little but want more, and the have a lot but are never content. There must be a better way.
In addition to this Spiral Dynamic-based analysis of the shaping codes and changing priorities, author Howard Bloom describes a five process Pentad that encapsulates the "Prime Directive" in operation.
Finally, based on the All Quadrants/All Levels schematic designed by Ken Wilber, note how these core vMeme codes display their themes in the Individual (invisible/interior and visible/exterior) and Collective (invisible/interior and visible/exterior) Quadrants. Any successful sustainability project should constantly search for ways to inculcate the environmental message onto a much larger psychological footprint, one that spreads throughout the cultural "canals."
Monitor vital signs and tension zones to track sustainability indicators
Whenever one seeks after a complete medical check-up, you expect the doctor to construct a vital signs portrait of yourself – your chemical, electrical, psychological and biological indicators – in a search for abnormalities and early signs of serious trouble. Imagine a time in the near future when leaders in the Netherlands could come to a place such as NIDO and see displayed, on floor-to-ceiling video screens, the "vital signs" of the entire society, especially those that reveal the levels of sustainability.
This GIS (geographic information systems) process that overlays data and patterns onto geographic places could be used to search for the relationships between and among these displays. We often see such maps of economic well-being, crime types and patterns, health-care indicators, living conditions, and other critical data flows that simply gather dust on some administrator's desk. Then add in the rich personal and neighborhood profiles based on mass customization marketing strategies. What if we could place these data streams and mosaics on top of each other to look for the early signs of environmental "trouble?" Moreover, we should be able to track issues and adaptive intelligences on the spiral "levels" and among the "quadrants" just as well.
Since GIS technology is very advanced in the Netherlands, and most of the information that we would want to display is already available, all we need to do is bring it together in such a form that we can "see" it all at once, displayed in a single place. And, since our thinking is impacted by chaos/order ratios and self-organizing principles, our task would be to create natural designs that implement these adaptive intelligences on the part of individuals and social groupings. Rather than create a regimented, social control monolith, the intent would be to inform the general public of these "vital signs" so that they can exercise their informed "self-reliance.'
Then, after the Netherlands has taken the lead to create and field-test this powerful technology, just imagine what would happen if a similar effort were launched at the United Nations to design a Vital Signs Monitor for the entire planet. One can already find EarthPulse-type monitors of the physical universe, but what is lacking is the 4Q/8L perspective, especially since the left-handed invisible quadrants are seldom if ever recognized, much less revealed.
We are currently involved in a fresh attempt to monitor these value systems as a counterpart to the World Economic Survey. You can track this effort at www.globalvaluesnetwork.com.
Implement integral policies to promote cultural sustainability
If we are able to read the deeper codes that shape cultures and trigger shifts in the underlying belief systems, and have made some progress in monitoring the vital signs, then we are in a much better position to design effective Constructive Dialogue processes. There are, of course, many different decision-making and problem resolution methods which are especially suited for different situations. To both design and maintain sustainable cultures, a specific technology will be required. I refer to this as a MeshWorks.
A MeshWorks is a form of Constructive Dialogue that deals specifically with the "Humpty Dumpty Effect," a condition created when a Tower of Babel of spokespeople, solution mongers and stakeholders end up making things worse, not better. Even though they are all doing the very best they know how to do, they are unable to deal with the complex problems that need resolution.
MeshWORKS thinking illustrates how to get all of the entities "on the same page" to focus their resources like laser beams on the inevitable steps and stages of development that form healthy cultures. A key component in this process has been described by Dr. Ichak Adizes (www.adizes.com) in what he calls CAPI – Coalescing Authority, Power, and Influence at the same time on the same problem. Authority refers to those who represent the system; Power indicates those who can support or sabotage; and Influence involves those with expert views or insights. Too often we only have one or two of these represented in the Constructive Dialogue. We have all seen this happen before, in spite of our very best intentions…
- The Authorities decide on policy and then drive it down the organization.
- The Wheeler-Dealers construct a win:win for themselves and leave others out in the cold.
- The Consensus-Feelers spend countless hours in dialogic circles insisting that everybody have a say and be included.
- The Majority-Rule Mandaters who believe that a 50% plus one vote should always rule the roost.
MeshWeavers are able to infuse into the Constructive Dialogue an understanding of the deeper value system codes so that efforts can be tailored for specific situations and different levels of thinking in the people involved. Such an effort can provide the cohesive principle that is missing in the age of fragmentation. This approach can generate transpartisan approaches to policy formulation that is vastly superior to either partisan or bipartisan efforts.
The key technology, here, is to place competing values system codes on the ends of the paradox to demonstrate how both/and thinking is superior to either/or ultimatums. This would be a creative way for pro-growth (usually the orange vMeme), and pro-quality of life (combinations of green and yellow) can often find ways to accomplish both in a synergistic fashion.
Employ skillful means to enhance adaptive intelligences throughout
Since a Sustainable Culture has been able to disseminate, in a holistic fashion, the core intelligences throughout the entity rather than gather them all at the top or in elitist centers of influence, it must search for innovative ways and skillful means to convey information and knowledge far and wide.
Here is a case study in Cooperative Action. The issue will be the environment. The challenge is to find better ways – skillful means – to communicate to both the youth and society-at-large through a neutral, universal, and quite attractive set of characters. These characters, along with well written story lines, will be able to carry the message in both the printed word, through electronic transmission media, and in other forms as well. They will be able not only to deal with environmental content, but to couch their messages within the value system codes in order to penetrate more deeply into mass minds.
We will enlist Misty (purple), Breeze (red), Fauna (blue), Pulsar (orange) Geo (green), Synapse (yellow) and Bloom (turquoise) in this endeavor. In their original version, they are all communicating more or less in the deep ecological (green) band. Note how we can get each to express the importance of environmental sustainability – but in the language of the entire spectrum of vMeme codes. By doing so, our intent will be to retreat from vMeme warfare to get all of the codes embracing the commonly held superordinate goal.
A FINAL NOTE
I want to thank Bruce Galbraith and Paul Gerstenberger, owners and developers of the EcoPALS concept, for allowing us to use these seven wonderful spokespersons for Sustainable Cultures. As you might expect, Synapse is now in charge of the Vital Signs Center worldwide. You will find the parent Web site for the EcoPALS at www.theecoisp.com.
An Authoritative Introduction to Evolutionary Enlightenment
My teachings are about spiritual enlightenment—both what we could call traditional enlightenment, and also what I call the new enlightenment, or Evolutionary Enlightenment. Traditional enlightenment is what I learned from my teacher, but Evolutionary Enlightenment is what I have discovered and created in my own work over the last almost quarter of a century. During this time, I have discovered a new source of emotional, psychological, and spiritual liberation that easily exists within anyone’s reach, anyone who has the eyes to recognize it and the heart to desire it. To put it simply, enlightenment is evolving. It is no longer found only in the bliss of timeless Being; it is found also in the ecstatic urgency of evolutionary Becoming.
It was only after many years of deep introspection, dialogue with masters and thinkers from all traditions, and committed work with thousands of spiritual seekers throughout the world that I began to understand what this new enlightenment is all about, why it is so different from what has come before, and why, as I believe, it holds the key not only to our personal development but to our cultural evolution. In the passage that follows, I will briefly share with you the journey I took from the old enlightenment to the new enlightenment.
I became a spiritual teacher in 1986 after a powerful awakening irrevocably transformed my life. My own teacher, H.W.L. Poonja came from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, and it was the timeless simplicity of this ancient teaching that catalyzed my awakening. The essence of my realization was simple: everything IS as it is. It was a classic satori, or enlightenment, experience—seeing through the illusion of time directly into timelessness, awakening to the eternal Now, the mystical, absolute, nondual, nonrelative Ground of Being. My teacher taught me—as he’d been taught by his teacher, the great saint Ramana Maharshi—that the freedom I was looking for was already present as the very ground of my own awareness.
That ground, the deepest dimension of who we all are, always already exists prior to time and the creative process. That is why mystics throughout the ages have told us that there is nowhere to go and nothing to do except to realize THAT. After my own awakening to this timeless truth, I initially taught in the same way that I had been taught. My spontaneous response to those who came to me in the first few years of my teaching career was simply this: Realize and surrender. Realize and discover that mystery that cannot be understood by the mind, and surrender to that and that alone. Realize that you were never born. Surrender to the fact that you were never unfree. Realize that there was never a problem and never back down from that realization. Surrender to that and that alone. I was convinced beyond doubt by my own experience that there was nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one to be or become. In fact, in those days, I was so sure about this view that I questioned the authenticity of any spiritual teaching that implied that there was anything in the future to become other than who we always already are.
This teaching is not new. It has been the precious jewel that has passed from Master to disciple for thousands of years. The perennial goal it points to is essentially transcendence—a dramatic release or escape from time, mind, and world that is found when one awakens to the timeless, formless domain of Being.In most traditional mystical teachings, this other- worldly emphasis on transcendence as the goal of enlightenment hasn’t changed since the Buddha preached the dharma in ancient India twenty-five hundred years ago or since Adi Shankara wrote his Crest-Jewel of Discrimination in the eighth century. And for us postmodernists, it also hasn’t changed since the glory days of the1960s when Harvard psychologist-turned-psychedelic-rebel Richard Alpert, a.k.a Ram Dass, published his groundbreaking spiritual manifesto and call-to-arms Be Here Now. Almost forty years later, spiritual bestsellers are still proclaiming the same message: Transcend the mind and time. Rest in the ―now,‖ in the infinity of the present moment. All else is a temporary illusion.
From this perspective, the world and all of manifestation is a mere ―play‖ of consciousness, or lila as it’s called in Vedanta: What happens here is not ultimately real. Only the Absolute, unchanging, timeless, formless, unmanifest Ground is real. Therefore, nothing needs to change in this manifest world, and true freedom is found in escaping from it altogether. Why entertain an illusion? Why try and improve that which is not real in the first place? But as powerful and as liberating as this perspective was at the time of my own awakening, as a spiritual teaching in our day and age I soon began to find it problematic. I observed that many who came to me in those early years found themselves plunged into the same miraculous state of liberated consciousness that I had discovered, but the effect of this powerful experience was generally not the same. It seemed that, in most individuals, awakening to the bliss of Being did not automatically lead to radical transformation. Many individuals had great difficulty letting go of doubt, even in the face of their own ecstatic flights into enlightened awareness. They were reluctant to accept and stand for the liberating truth of what they had seen with their own minds and hearts. To me it always appeared obvious that the power and significance of that which is Absolute was given validation only through our willingness to stand for and embody its glory as ourselves— through action, through choice, through the way we lived in the world of time and form.
As I began to engage more deeply with those around me, I discovered that the state of the individual’s soul—their capacity for integrity, authenticity, and higher conscience—always played a critical role in determining how ready they were to embody their own deepest realization. So I began to put more and more of my attention on the all-important question: How can we cultivate the ability and readiness to express the beauty, perfection, and wholeness discovered in spiritual revelation? This was the beginning of a radical divergence from the path and perspective I had been taught. Slowly, over a ten-year period, my teaching became more and more about the transformation of the individual and the world; whereas in the traditional teaching the emphasis was really on liberation from self and world.
The differences in the way I was now seeing were based upon an emerging new way of interpreting what enlightenment meant. In the traditional Eastern metaphysical perspective, the world isn’t real, it’s only an ephemeral appearance, an illusion, a mere insubstantial, transient dream in the mind of God. I felt differently. To me, the world was certainly real and in fact, was an inherent and all-important dimension of what God always is. For millennia, this question has been the spark of an ongoing metaphysical argument among sages, seers, and philosophers. And it is a significant one. If the world isn’t real, then nothing needs to be done about the way things are. But if the world is real, then it soon becomes apparent to us that there is real work to be done. This work was what my life was now devoted to. I was wholeheartedly committed to the transformation of the world—to bringing the power of enlightened awareness into the world through rational action, through moral being, and through engaging with the process of time in the most deliberate and creative way.
From the very beginning, since my early days as a seeker, I had always been convinced that enlightenment had to make sense. It gradually dawned on me that I was going to have to figure out for myself how to translate the profound shift of perspective I was experiencing into a form that would make deep sense to the world I was living and working in. I needed new ways to interpret the meaning and purpose of enlightenment as it traveled from its roots in the traditional East to its new home in the postmodern West. I knew that the questions I needed to answer in order to find my way forward were important beyond just my own experience. But I could never have predicted where they would lead me.
As the years passed, my emphasis that enlightenment is an action and not merely a higher state emerged more and more powerfully in my teaching. I remember one particular morning many years ago during a retreat in India—I was giving a talk, and an unbridled passion poured through me spontaneously. I didn’t know where it came from, but it was calling for this miracle, this mystery beyond time, to become manifest in the world of time and form, as ourselves. I found myself imploring those around me not only to awaken to their true Self as timeless Being but to dare to respond to the urgent call to express that liberation in the world of Becoming.
Over time it became clear to me that this awakening passion was really a passion for much more than enlightenment in the traditional sense. The spiritual energy that was running through my veins was calling me to a new, active, and creative expression of enlightenment. It was an enlightenment that by its very nature could never be content with the way things were in the past, no matter how glorious that past may have been. It was an enlightenment that could also never be content with how things were in the present moment, even at those rare instances when everything seems like it couldn’t be more perfect. It was an enlightenment that was defined by a ceaseless and ecstatic reaching forth towards an as yet unborn and unmanifest potential, a constant stretching toward a future perfection that would always lie just beyond one’s fingertips. My inner eye and heart were focused on the freedom of that mysterious place between the immediacy of the present moment and the endless thrill of the possible.
Slowly but surely, in my quest to redefine enlightenment, I began to connect it to the most important emergent narrative of recent cultural history: the discovery of evolution. Seeing our presence in this world from the vantage point of a fourteen-billion-year process powerfully recontextualizes the spiritual impulse in a thrilling, rational, and deeply meaningful framework. In this context, we realize that awakening to timeless Being, the perennial goal of Eastern enlightenment, is only half of the picture—half of the totality of reality. The other half of the picture is the world of form, the process of Becoming—the universal creative impulse, that explosion-in-motion that is the entire evolutionary process that we are all part of. If enlightenment is the discovery of what IS, then it must embrace the ultimate nature of all things—seen and unseen, known and unknown, form and formlessness, both Being and Becoming. Being is that timeless void out of which the cosmos was born, the empty ground from which everything arises and to which everything ultimately returns. Becoming is the something that emerged out of nothing and is still emerging in this moment. Becoming is Eros, the evolutionary impulse, the first cause, that original spark of light and energy that created the entire universe. And I realized that it was that very same creative spark that was now awakening in my own heart and mind as a sense of ecstatic urgency to evolve. This is why I began to reenvision the very goal of the spiritual path, seeing the purpose of enlightenment as not merely to transcend the world, as I had been taught, but to transform the world through becoming an agent of evolution itself. Enlightenment was not the end of the path. It was the beginning.
In the East, they believe that enlightenment is a final endpoint, a monumental attainment that marks the end of becoming for the individual. Someone who is enlightened has liberated him or herself from identification with anything that exists in time. And this conclusion makes sense when you consider the cultural context in which it first emerged. In ancient India, they had not yet discovered evolution. Like most of the world at that point, they had not yet discerned that time had a beginning and moved in a straight line from the past to the present to the future. They believed that time, like life and death, was a repetitive process that was constantly going through the same cycle and would for eternity. As a matter of fact, many Hindus in modern-day India still prefer to see our cosmic origins through the lens of their ancient Vedic science, rather than accepting the findings of Western science and modern cosmology. And if reality is seen through this particular cultural lens, it would make sense that one would soon grow weary of the eternal tedium of cyclical existence and hunger for a final release. That’s why the traditions say that the individual who is ―fully enlightened,‖ who has gone all the way, is that rare one who has finally achieved emancipation from the endless repetition of birth and death on the wheel of endless becoming.
It’s important to remember that up until very recently in human history, we didn’t know what we know today: that we are all part of that developmental process that had a beginning in time and that is going somewhere. It’s only been in the last couple of hundred years that we discovered evolution, and only in the twentieth century that we came upon what is known as ―deep time‖—the incomprehensible span of fourteen billion years since the universe burst into being. When we apply the perspective of evolution to the nature of enlightenment, it changes everything.
From the perspective of the eternal timeless ground, the traditional teachers are right. The highest spiritual truth is that nothing ever happened, you and I were never born, and the big bang never occurred. That’s enlightenment, that’s liberation, that’s samadhi, that’s satori. But from the perspective of evolution, the entire picture changes. Modern science and cosmology have clearly revealed that time doesn’t move in predictable cycles that return again and again to the same point, but is, in fact, a linear process. Fourteen billion years of development have produced all of manifestation—the entire known universe and everything that’s contained within it, including its greatest mystery: the capacity for consciousness itself. The arrow of time is a creative process and that capacity for creativity and novelty is the most extraordinary part of the whole dramatic unfolding—from the big bang to the present moment. This is not just another repetition of an endless cycle. This hasn’t all happened before. Where we are going is not predestined.
The most exciting part of this realization is that we discover, if we look deeply into our own experience, that our own emerging desire for spiritual freedom is not separate from the impulse that is driving the entire process. I call this the Evolutionary Impulse. When we awaken to this impulse, we discover something miraculous: that that dynamic and ever- evolving creative principle is none other than our own Authentic Self. This is the new source of spiritual liberation in the teaching I have come to call Evolutionary Enlightenment. It’s not just about awakening to timeless being—it’s about awakening to eternal, ecstatic Becoming. Evolutionary Enlightenment calls on us to awaken to both the timeless peace of Being and the relentless passion of the Evolutionary Impulse.
The reason that the Evolutionary Impulse is the source of the New Enlightenment is because of its future-oriented directionality. And this is the important distinction: the old traditional enlightenment is not future-oriented; it is not time-oriented at all. Traditional enlightenment points us beyond the world, beyond time and space, towards what has been, at least until now, the perennial source of spiritual freedom and mystical liberation: the Ground of Being. But those of us in the twenty-first century who are looking towards the future, urgently need a mystical spirituality and source of soul liberation that points us not away from the world but to that big next step we need to take in our world. That next step will not emerge by itself—it must be consciously created by human beings who have awakened to the same impulse that is driving the process. As we awaken to this vast perspective, an overwhelming and profound truth becomes clear: At this point in evolution, the process is dependent upon us. The evolutionary process desperately needs our conscious and committed participation. This has become the defining theme and ultimate purpose of Evolutionary Enlightenment over the last ten years. The old enlightenment, with all its power to free the human mind and heart from suffering, can only lift us beyond the world. But when we realize that the world needs our engaged and enlightened action,it becomes urgent that we find a spiritual path, practice, and philosophy that empowers us to courageously and passionately participate in the fast-changing process that we are in the midst of.
This liberating spiritual perspective on the human experience is contemporary and inherently creative. It’s a spiritual teaching for our own time because its central tenet is that a more enlightened future for our world depends on one thing and one thing alone—our higher development. The world around us changes for the better as much as we are willing to change ourselves. The world we occupy and cocreate begins to transform as we do. The old model of enlightenment was one in which the individual was liberated but the world remained the same. In the new enlightenment, the point is no longer merely the liberation of the individual; it’s the evolution of self, culture, and cosmos through the individual. That’s Evolutionary Enlightenment.