By the editors of Lucifer – the Netherlands
[This is a reprint from Lucifer – the Messenger of Light, an original publication of I.S.I.S. Foundation, i.e. International Study-centre for Independent Search for truth. The editor is grateful for the permission given to make this important paper available for all readers of Theosophy Forward.]
Evolution (Pravritti and Nivritti)
The fifth Jewel of Wisdom consists in Sanskrit of two words: pravritti and nivritti. Pravritti means ’to turn
around’, ‘to roll’ also ‘to unfurl’ or ‘to unfold’. Nivritti means the opposite, i.e.: to roll-back, ‘wrapping’ or ‘to involute. So, the concept of evolution is linked to involution. Hence, the unfolding and the wrapping take place simultaneously.
The idea is that life first descends into matter. It wraps itself in, in a manner of speaking. It involutes. At the deepest point of this ‘wrapping in’, which is the peak of the physical development, the process turns around and matter enwraps itself and life unfolds itself.
As a vision you can imagine: a being is located at the top of the hierarchy and descends, through various in-between phases, down into matter in order to gather experience and then it returns back to the spiritual level, enriched with the experience gained in the manifestation.
This grand process is the background of the huge Indian epic the Mahâbhârata, where the Bhagavad-Gîtâ takes a central place. In this epic the ups and downs of a royal family come to life. Initially one branch of the family rises to power. The blind King Dhritarashtra sits on the throne, but hands over the scepter to his son. The more noble branch of the family, the Pandavas, is exiled.
For one who actually understands the symbolism, it is clear what is described here. It is the wrapping of the spirit, which goes hand in hand with the development of the material side. Dhritarashtra is not depicted as being blind by coincidence. He represents matter or the physical body and his son, Duryodhana, and their family, the Kauravas, represent the materially oriented aspects of consciousness.
Half way through the Mahâbhârata, however, the Pandavas decide to claim their rightful place in the Kingdom. At this place in the great epic the Bhagavad-Gîtâ is situated. Arjuna, one of the Pandavas, receives tuition from Krishna, his teacher and symbol of the inner god.
Then there is a great fight. Of course this is meant figuratively. The mental development goes hand in hand with the physical wrapping. The more matter-oriented aspects in man will need to be governed by spirit.
“At the end of a Kalpa all things return unto my Prakriti [nature], and then again at the beginning of another Kalpa I cause them to evolve again.” (23)
The doctrine of progressive evolution can never be understood correctly, if you don’t involve the teachings of the hierarchies. A being descends from the divine level – that of Krishna – through different links (Lokas and Talas) to the physical world and then climbs up again. In the Buddhist temple Borobudur on Java this whole process is portrayed in stone. It is assumed that man has already descended into matter. Now he must once again return to the Top via the different stages. Buddhism is based on the learning that each person is his own inner Buddha and that he can realize perfection by his own
The goal of the whole process of involution and evolution is to get to a relative state of perfection. Man – let us conveniently restrict ourselves to mankind – has developed physical vehicles, with which he can build up experiences, in order that he may – enriched with those experiences – return to the state of unity, from which he once descended. Is this not the message of the whole Bible? Is the story of Genesis not the beginning of the physical development? Man develops self-awareness (he eats of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil), loses the paradisiacal state, but must return to that state of unity, but now as a self-conscious being. Man can only do so if he wakes the Christos in himself and lives therein. That message is very clearly reflected in the Gnostic scriptures. But also in the Bible we read this:
“ So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”(24)
The Koran (71:14) also describes how humans have developed through various stages from a spiritual being into a material being:
“While he has created you in (diverse) stages.”
In each stage one becomes himself, until one grows out of his stage. Even more obvious is that in another verse:
Verily, We created man of the best stature (mould),Then We reduced him to the lowest of the low.
“Save those who believe and do righteous deeds, then they shall have a reward without end.”(25)
Koran verses cannot be explained unambiguously, but as we conceive it, it seems that the reward of beneficial works is that you return to the spiritual state, albeit now self-conscious. To Him we return, is the popular saying that you encounter everywhere in the Koran.
The great human evolutionary path is symbolically exemplified in the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, one
of the five pillars of Islam. During this pilgrimage the pilgrims have to walk seven times around the Kaaba. The first three times they should do that by running. During that seven circulations they should come ever closer to the black stone in the Kaaba and, if possible, ultimately touch it.
This whole trip symbolizes the seven evolutionary phases or Rounds, in which people develop more and more of themselves. Because we are now in the fourth Round and having already passed three Rounds, we can cover those first three more quickly. Touching the Kaaba symbolizes reaching the divinity, which, if we have succeeded, is the case after seven Rounds.
Also here the picture is displayed of a human being who constantly evolves, makes progress and eventually reaches the divine. That is the general Islamic thought. Hence devout Muslims never experienced the poem of the Sufi Jalal ad-Din Rumi as contrary to Islam:
“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.
Yet once more I shall die as Man,
To soar with angels blest … “(26)
- Bhagavad-Gîtâ, ch. 9, verse 7.
- Matthew, 5:48.
- Koran, 95:4-6. Translation: Mohsin Khan.
- E.g. English Wikipedia, Rumi’.
To be continued