Theosophical Encyclopedia

Evolution and Involution

EVOLUTION. The changes in the properties of organisms or systems in time. The word is commonly associated with biological evolution, based on the theory proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859 regarding the observed mutation of living organisms due to “natural selection.” The theory was simultaneously propounded by Alfred Russel WALLACE after years of investigation on the flora and fauna of Indonesia.

TE 4 Evolution and Involution

Theosophical literature uses the word to refer to a process that refers not only to biological development but also to cosmic systems such as galaxies or solar systems, as well as to the progressive unfoldment of consciousness in organisms.

Biological Evolution. Darwin formulated the theory of evolution as a result of his observations of the apparent mutation of animals and plants in adapting to different environments mainly through a process that he termed natural selection. In each succeeding generation of any species, there are genetic variations that result in different characteristics from the previous generation. Some of these variations survive, others do not, depending upon their ability to cope with the environment as a result of these changes. For example, some moths whose coloration changed that enabled them to look similar to their environment are able to elude their predators better. Thus, according to Darwin, evolution follows the principle of “survival of the fittest.”

Darwin’s epoch-making work in 1859, On the Origin of Species, became a controversial work that was both vehemently praised and condemned. His subsequent work, The Descent of Man, even went further by propounding the animal origin of human beings by comparing the latter’s similarity with the biological structure of apes. This was diametrically opposed to the commonly accepted view that humanity descended from Adam and Eve who were directly created by God. Christian churches were particularly vociferous in their rejection of the theory of evolution such that in some places they even successfully moved for the prohibition of the teaching of evolution in schools through legislation. As late as 1925, it was still illegal in some parts of the United States to teach evolution in schools. In that year, a biology teacher in Tennessee was arrested for teaching evolution in school. This sparked the famous Scopes trial where the well-known lawyer, Clarence Darrow, defended the teacher, John Scopes, and was pitted against William Jennings Bryan who was in the prosecution. It became famous on account of the debate between the two protagonists in assailing and defending the biblical view of human origin.

Since the time of Darwin, several theories have been advanced to further account for mutations in organisms. These theories synthesize new insights derived from observations in microbiology, plant genetic modification, fossil studies, population genetics, etc. Certain factors, for example, contribute to rapid evolution, such as small populations, which quickly result in a “genetic drift” towards the preponderance of certain traits after a few generations. Major environmental changes can result in dramatic changes in organismic adaption within a short period. This is the theory of punctuated equilibrium, as opposed to the previously assumed constant and gradual evolution of species or phyletic gradualism. Migration of organisms also result in new patterns of mutations, or “gene flow.” Whereas Darwin simply based his theory on natural selection, modern theories of evolution have refined Darwin’s thesis to account for many other sources of mutations in organisms.

Theosophical View. In theosophy, evolution has a much profounder meaning than the Darwinian theory. Evolution is a process in nature arising from an innate impulse in all things in nature to unfold their potential. It is similar to the Hindu concept of svabhvah (Sk. For “innate disposition,” etc.). The concept is therefore closer to the idea of EMANATION since the impulse and the pattern is essentially coming from within, although external factors do play a part in its material aspects. The energy behind this impulse is FOHAT.

The impulse comes from the spiritual MONAD in its two aspects: the universal monad, and the individualized monad. The primordial or universal monad or spirit descends into matter — an “involutionary” process, that is, spirit involving itself into grosser material form. This results in the individualized monad. Thereafter the immersed monad re-ascends to its former universal state.

In any single cosmic epoch (such as a GLOBE period, or a CHAIN period) there are many waves of life that are descending or ascending. Those that are descending into matter are growing towards greater material density and complexity, while those ascending are becoming more spiritual. These are the two simultaneous streams of evolution. They go in opposite directions, also called the descending arc and the ascending arc, involution and evolution. These two streams are called pravritti and nivritti in Hindu philosophy.

Human Evolution. The evolution of humanity is not simply a chance result of natural selection and survival of the fittest. It is, according to esoteric philosophy, guided by advanced intelligences, the various Dhyanis or Pitris of eastern esotericism. Physical nature cannot produce intelligence without aid. Mutation due to environmental adaptation applies only to the physical body of human beings. In this connection, it is noteworthy that Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of the biological evolution, acknowledges that there are higher intelligences who govern the material universe.

Helena P. BLAVATSKY distinguishes three levels in the evolution of human beings:

  1. The monadic — the growth and development of the monad.

  1. The intellectual — connected with the Manasa-Dhyanis or the Agnishvatta Pitris, the advanced beings who are involved in the intellectual development of humanity

  1. The physical — connected with shadows or chhayas of the LUNAR PITRIS, who are responsible for the physical body of humanity.

This same guidance is found in the production of new species. Blavatsky writes that “there are centres of creative power for every ROOT or parent species of the host of forms of vegetable and animal life. . . . In the creation of new species, departing sometimes very widely from the Parent stock, as in the great variety of the genus Felis — like the lynx, the tiger, the cat, etc. — it is the “designers” who direct the new evolution by adding to, or depriving the species of certain appendages, either needed or becoming useless in the new environments” (SD II:732).

Blavatsky remarked that “natural selection” is a non-entity as a factor for evolution. It is just a convenient phrase to describe the mode in which survival takes place. It does not describe the cause of the genetic variations.

Blavatsky advances three propositions as regards human evolution: (a) the simultaneous evolution of seven human groups in our globe; (b) the birth of the astral body or LINGA-SHARIRA, before the physical body; and (c) that human beings, in this Round period (see ROUND), preceded the appearance of the mammals, including apes.

  1. The seven groups are the seven primordial types of human beings that are to evolve in our globe, the earth.

  1. The astral body or linga-sarira serves as the form or model of the physical body. Hence the physical form is essentially determined not by external or environmental factors, but by inner factors that manifest through this etheric double.

(c) Blavatsky stated that the esoteric doctrine completely disagrees with the Darwinist theory regarding the origin of human beings, but acknowledges its partial correctness as to other species (SD II:653). Human beings did not originate from the primates or their ancestors. In fact, the apes came later than human beings as a result of procreation between “senseless” human beings and animals. These ANTHROPOIDS will eventually become extinct when their monads will pass into human forms in the 6th and 7th root races. Apart from these, no new human beings will individualize during this MANVANTARA.

Esoteric evolutionary doctrine differs from the Darwinian in that the former traces the beginning of humanity not from any pre-human animal but from pre-physical humans, that is, human beings with etherial bodies, not having solid bones and flesh, which were provided by beings of another chain period, the Lunar Pitis. These humans with non-solid physical bodies developed in two stages or Root Races. The first were those that were born into “The Imperishable Sacred Land,” while the second were called Hyperboreans. It was in the middle of the third Root Race, 18,000,000 years ago, that the human body acquired solidity. This is called the Lemurian race, while the fourth is the Atlantean. Present humanity has already reached the fifth Root Race, with its fifth sub-race, although the representatives of the third and fourth Root Races still exist up to this day. The fifth race began one million years ago. Each Root Race develops one sense in the following order: hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell.

Evolution as a doctrine is not new. In Hinduism, it is contained in the Laws of Manu written about two thousand years ago. It is also found in the KABBALAH of the Jews. In Islamic SUFISM, Rumi has written: “I died as a mineral and became a plant, I died as plant and rose to animal, I died as animal and I was man.” In BUDDHISM, the same view is espoused from both the cosmic and biological aspect of evolution, and exemplified in the Jataka tales about the Buddha when he was still an animal. Many of the Greek philosophers also taught concepts that were evolutionary in essence. Anaximander (6th century BCE), for example, wrote that fish evolved into dry land animals when the continents appeared. Empedocles (5th century BCE) similarly saw the variations to be due to competition and the inheritance of traits in later generations.

Involution.The converse of EVOLUTION. It is used in Theosophy to denote the descent of the MONAD into matter. The Sanskrit words used in connection with the Esoteric Doctrine of Evolution and Involution are pravrtti and nivrtti. The literal meaning of which are “coming forth” and “returning.”

Pravritti designates the DESCENDING ARC or the descent of spirit into matter, being part of that great “cycle of evolution” which is central to the Ancient Wisdom teaching. When the “lowest” (remotest) point is reached and matter has evolved into its greatest effectiveness, then the reverse process occurs (nivrtti), and the ASCENDING ARC begins, matter involving and spirit evolving. It should be kept in mind that according to theosophical understanding, neither spirit or matter completely “shuts out” the other; it is a question of gradual change of dominance.

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