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Evolution and Devolution-Chapter 2

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Evolution and Devolution-Chapter 2-On the Plane of Self Consciousness

And in the first place it would be well to get a firm hold of the meaning of the words "Self consciousness," upon the definition of which an excellent writer and most competent thinker [200-255] has these remarks: "Self consciousness is often referred to as a distinguishing characteristic of man. Many, however, fail to gain a clear conception of what this faculty is. Dr. Carpenter confounds it with the 'power of reflecting on their own mental states,' while Mr. Darwin associates it with abstraction and other of the derivative faculties. It is certainly something much simpler than introspection, and has an earlier origin than the highly   derivative speculative faculties.

If it could only be seized and clearly understood, self consciousness would doubtless prove to be the primary and fundamental human attribute. Our language seems to lack the proper word to express it in its simplest form.'Think' approaches this most nearly, and man is sometimes described as a 'thinking being.' The German language has a better word, viz., besinnen, and the substantive Besonnenheit seems to touch the kernel of the problem. Schopenhauer says: 'The animal lives without any Besonnenheit.

It has consciousness i.e., it knows itself and its weal and woe; also the objects which produce these; but its knowledge remains constantly subjective, never becomes objective; everything that it embraces appears to exist in and of itself, and can therefore never become an object of representation nor a problem for meditation. Its consciousness is thus wholly immanent. The consciousness of the savage man is similarly constitutes in that his perceptions of things and of the world remain preponderantly subjective and immanent. He perceives things in the world, but not the world;his own actions and passion, but not himself.'"

Perhaps the simplest definition (and there are a score of them) would be: self consciousness is the faculty by which we realize. or again: without self consciousness a sentient creature can know, but its possession is necessary in order that he may know that he knows. The best treatise so far written on this subject is Romanes' book, already several times referred to [134].

The roots of the tree of life being deep sunk in the organic world, its trunk is made up as follows: Beginning at the earth level we have first of all the lowest forms of life unconscious and insenate. These in their turn give birth to forms endowed with sensation and later to forms endowed with Simple Consciousness. From the last, when the right time comes, springs self consciousness and (as already said) in direct ascent from that Cosmic Consciousness. 


It is only necessary in this place, as clearing the ground for the work to be done, to point out that the doctrine of the unfolding of the human being, regarded from the side of psychology, is strictly in accord with the theory of evolution in general as received and taught to-day by the foremost thinkers. This tree which we call life and its upper part human life  and human mind, has simply grown as grows any other tree, and besides its main stem, as above indicated, it has, as in the case of other trees, thrown off many branches. It will be well to consider some of these. It will be seen that some of them are given off from the lower part of the trunk, as, for instance, contractility, from which great limb, and as a part of it, springs all muscular action from the simple movement of the worm to the marvellously co-ordinated motions made, in the exercise of their art, by a Liszt or a Paderewski.

Another of these large lower limbs is the instinct of Self-preservation and (twin with it) the instinct of the continuance of the species-the preservation of the race. Higher up the special senses shoot out from the main trunk and as they grow and divide and again divide they become large and vitally important branches of the great tree. From all these main-of  shoots spring smaller arms and from these more delicate twigs.Thus from the human intellect whose central fact is Self Consciousness, a section of the main trunk of our tree, spring, judgement, reason, comparison, imiganation, abstraction, reflection, generalization. From the moral or emotional nature, one of the largest and most important of the main limbs, spring love (itself a great branch dividing into many smaller brances), reverence,faith, fear, awe, hope, hate, humor and many more.

The great branch called the sense of sight, which in its beginning was a perception of the difference between light and darkness, sent out twigs which we call sense of form, of distance, and later the color sense. The limb named sense of hearing has for branches and twigs the apprehension of loudness, of pitch, of distance, of direction and as a delicate twig just coming into being, the musical sense.

Reference: Cosmic Consciousness: A study in the Evolution of the Human Mind: Richard Maurice Bucke.

Evolution and Devolution-Chapter 1

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Evolution and Devolution-Chapter 1-To Self Consciousness

It will be necessary, in the first place, for the reader of these pages to have before his/her mind a tolerably complete idea in outline of mental evolution in all its three branches-sensuous, intellectual and emotional -up to and through the status of self consciousness. Without such a mental image as basis for the new conception this last (that is, cosmic consciousness) to most people would seem extravagant and even absurd. With such necessary foundation the new concept will appear to the intelligent reader what it is: A matter of course-an inevitable sequel to what preceded and led up to it.

In attempting to give an idea of this vast evolution of mental phenomena from its beginning in far off geologic ages down to the latest phases reached by our own race anything like an exhaustive treatise could not, of course, be thought of here. The method actually adopted is more or less broken and fragmentary, but enough (it is thought) is given for the present purpose, and those who desire more, will have no difficulty in finding it in other treatises, such as the admirable work of Romanes [134].
 
All the present writer aims at is the exposition of cosmic consciousness and a barely sufficient account of the lower mental phenomena to make that subject fully intelligible; anything further would only burden these pages to no good purpose.The upbuilding or unfolding of the knowable universe presents to our minds a series of gradual ascents each divided from the next by an apparent leap over what seems to be a chasm. . for instance, and to begin not at the beginning, but midway: Between the slow and equable development of the inorganic world which prepared it for the reception and support of living creatures and the more rapid growth and branching of vital forms, these having once appeared, there occurred what seems like the hiatus between the inorganic and organic worlds and the leap by which it was over-passed; within which hiatus or chasm has heretofore resided either the substance or shadow of a god whose hand has been deemed necessary to lift and pass on the elements from the lower to the higher plane.
 
Along the level road of the formation of suns and planets, of earth crust, of rocks and soil, we are carried , by evolutionists, smoothly and safely: but when we reachthis perilous pit stretching interminably to right and left across our path, we pause, and can hardly induce us to attempt the leap with him, so wide and dark frowns the abyss. We feel, that nature who has done all-and much greater things-was competent to cross and did cross the apparent break, although we may not at present be able to place a finger on each of her footprints. For the moment, however, this stands the first and greatest of the so-called  bars to acceptance of the doctrine of the absolute continuity in the evolution of the visible world.
 
Later in the history of creation comes the beginning of Simple Consciousness. Certain individuals in some one leading species in the slowly unfolding life of the planet , some day- for the first time- becomes conscious; know that there exists a world, a something, without them. Less dwelt upon, as it has been, this step from the unconscious to the conscious might well impress us as being as immense, as miraculous and as divine as that from the inorganic to the organic.
 
Again, running parallel with the river of time, we perceive a long, equable and gradual ascent stretching from the dawn of Simple Consciousness to its highest excellence in the best pre-human types-the horse, the dog, the elephant and the ape. At this point confronts us another break comparable to those which in order of time preceded it-the hiatus, namely, or the seeming hiatus between Simple and Self Consciousness: the deep chasm or ravine upon one side of which roams the brute while upon the other dwells man. A chasm into which enough books have been thrown to have sufficed  (could they have been converted into stone of pig iron) to dam or bridge a great river. And which has only now been made safely passable by the lamented G.J. Romanes, by means of his valuable treatise on the "Origin of Human Faculty" [134]. 

Only a very short ime ago (and even yet by most) this break in the line of ascent  (or descent) was supposed to be impassable by ordinary growth. It maybe said to be now known to be so passable, but it still stands out and apart from the even path of Cosmic development before our vision as that broad chasm or gap between the brute and the man. For some hundreds of thousands of years , upon the general plane of Self Consciousness, an ascent, to the human eye gradual, but from the point of view of Cosmic evolution rapid, has been made. In a race, large brained, walking erect, gregarious, brutal, but king of all other brutes, man in appearance, but not in fact, the so-called alalus homo, was, from the highest Simple Consciousness born the basic human faculty Self Consciousness and its twin, language.

From these and what went with these, through suffering, toil and war; through bestiality, savagery, barbarism; through slavery, greed, effort; through conquests infinite, through defeats overwhelming, through struggle unending; through ages of aimless semi-brutal existence; through subsistence on berries and roots; through the use of the casually found stone or stick; through life in a deep forest, with nuts and seeds, and on the shores of waters with mollusks, crustaceans, and fish for food; through that greatest, perhaps, of human victories, the domestication and subjugation of fire; through the invention and art of the bow and arrow; through the taming of animalsand the breaking of them to labor; through the long learning which led to the cultivation of the soil;through the adobe brickand the building of houses therefrom; through the smelting of metals and the slow births of the arts which rest upon these; through the slow making of alphabets and the evolution of the written word; in short, through thousands of centuries of human aspiration, of human growth, sprang the world of men and women as it stands before us and within us to-day with all its achievements and possessions. [124. 10-31].

Is that all? Is that the end? No. As life arose in a world without life; As simple Consciousness came into existence where before was mere vitality without perception; as Self Consciousness leaping wide winged from Simple Consciousness soared forth over land and sea, so shall the race of man which has been thus established, continuing its beginningless and endless ascent, make other steps (the next of which it is now in act of climbing)and attain to a yet higher life than any heretofore experienced or even conceived.
 
And let it be clearly understood that the new step (to explain which this volume is written0 is not simply an expansion of self consciousness but as distinct from it as that is from simple consciousness or as is this last from mere vitality without any consciousness at all, or as is the latter from the world of inorganic matter and force which preceded it and from which it proceeded.
 
Reference: Cosmic Consciousness: Richard Maurice Bucke. 

The Human Condition-Thomas Keating

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The Human Condition-Thomas Keating

In 1997 Father Keating is one of the architects of the Centering Prayer movement and of Contemplat97, Father Thomas Keating became the fifth person to deliver the Harold M. Wit Lecture on living a Spiritual Life in the Contemporary Age at Harvard Divinity School. Born in New York City in 192, Father Keating entered the Cistercian Order in 1944 in Valley Falls, Rhode Island. Fourteen years later he was appointed superior of St.Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, and in 1961 he was elected Abbot of St. Joseph's Abbey, a large Cistercian monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts.

After two decades in Spencer, he returned in 1981 to Snossmass, where he established a program of intensive ten-day retreats in the practice that he calls Centering Prayer, a contemporary form of the Christian contemplative tradition. Father Keating is one of the architects of the Centering Prayer movement and of Contemplative Outreach, a support system for those on the contemplative pathe. He is also a former chairman of Monastiic Inter-religious Dialogue, which sponsors exchanges between monks and nuns of the world's religions; a member of the International committee for Peace Council, which foster dialogue and cooperation among world's religions; and a member of the Snowmass Interreligious Conference, a group of teachers from the world's religions who meet yearly to share their experience of the spiritual journey in their respictive traditions.

He is the author of several best-selling books on the contemplative tradition, including Open Mind Open Heart, The Mystery of Christ, Invitation to Love and Intimacy with God.

When he visited Harvard Divinity School, Father Keating delivered two lectures and led a service of Centering Prayer in the chapel of Andover Hall. In an era when the commodification of spirituality in America seems inescapable, his presence and message were genuinely inspiring and encouraging. Thus he fulfilled the desire of Harold M. Wit, who established the lecture series in 1988, to bring to Harvard "unusual individuals who radiate in their thought, word, and being those spiritual qualities and values that have been so inspiring and encouraging to me along my path." 

The publication of these lectures gives me the chance once again to acknowledge with gratitude Harold Wit, a generous benefactor of Harvard Divinity School, and to thank Thomas Keating for bringing together in these lectures the Christian Contemplative tradition with insights from contemporary psychology. May his lectures serve as a guide to "true peace" sane counsel  and spiritual comfort in God," in the words of The Cloud of Unknowing, the fourteenth-century English spiritual classic on which Centering Prayer is largely based.

Where are you? This is one of the great questions of all time. It is the focus of the first half of the spiritual journey. Biblical scholars and readers will remember that in Genesis 3 it is the question God asked when Adam and Eve had taken off for the underbush after their disobedience. He called out to them and said, "Adam, where are you?" They were hiding in the woods, and God was looking for them. Adam said, "We heard your voice, and were scared because we were naked." So God said, "How did you know you were naked?"

This marvellous story of creation is not just about Adam and Eve. It is really about us. It is a revelation of where we are. The same question is addressed to every generation, time, and person. At every moment of our lives God is asking us, "where are you? Why are you hiding?" all the questions that are fundamental to human happiness arise when we ask ourselves this excruciating question: Where am I? Where am I in relation to God, to myself, and to others/ These are the basic questions of human life.

As soon as we answer honestly, we have began the spiritual search for God, which is also the search for ourselves. God is asking us to face the reality of the human condition, to come out of the woods into the full light of intimacy with him. That is the state of mind that Adam and Eve had, according to the story, before their disobedience. As soon as they became aware of their seperation from God, they headed for the woods. They had to hide from God because the loss of the intimacy and union that they had enjoyed with him in paradise was so painful.
 
 

Reference: The Human Condition: Ronald F Thieman

 

The Human Condition-2-Thomas Keating

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The Human Condition-2-Thomas Keating

Sometimes it helps to turn to a story from another spiritual tradition: in juxtaposing the two stories, we may get a new insight. Here is a Sufi tale that is also about the human condition.

A Sufi master had lost the key to his house and was looking for it in the grass outside. He got down on his hands and knees and started running his fingers through every blad of grass. Along came eight or ten of his disciples . They said, "master, what is wrong?" He said, "I have lost the key to my house." They said, "Can we help you find it?" He said, " I'd be delighted."

So they all got down on their hands and knees and started running their fingers through the grass. As the sun grew hotter, one of the more intelligent disciples said," Master, have you any idea where you might have lost the key?" The Master replied, "Of course. I lost it in the house". To which they all exclaimed, " then why are we looking for it here?" He said, "Isn't it obvious? There is more light here."

We have all lost the key to our house. We don't live there any more. We don't experience the divine indwelling. We dont't live with the kind of intimacy with God that Adam and Eve reportedly enjoyed in the Garden of Eden and the Sufi masters seems to have enjoyed before he lost his key.

The house in the parable represents happiness, and happiness is intimacy with God, the experience of God's loving presence. Without that experience, nothing else quite works; with it, almost anything works. This is the human condition - to be without the true source of happiness, which is the experience of the presence of God, and to have lost the key to happiness, which is the contemplative dimension of life, the path to the increasing assimilation and enjoyment of God's presence. What we experience in our desperate search for happiness where it can not possibly be found . The key is not in the grass; it was not lost outside ourselves. It was lost inside ourselves. That is where we need to look for it.

The chief characteristics of the human condition is that everybody is looking for this key and nobody knows where to find it. The human condition is thus poignant in the extreme. If you want help as you look for the key in the wrong place, you can get plenty of it, because everybody is looking for it in the wrong place too: where there is more light, pleasure, security, power, acceptance by others. We have a sense of solidarity in the search without any possibility of finding what we are looking for.
 
In Roman Catholic theology, original sin is an explanation for why Adam and Eve lost the intimacy they had enjoyed with God. God used to visit them in the cool of the evening. They had an easy relationship with him. As soon as they fell into a discriminating mind by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they became self conscious; they experienced themselves not only as seperate from God but also, because of their sin, as alienated from God.  

Contemporary psychology has a significant contribution to make at this point. Infants do not have self-consciousness, or at least they have a very small amount. it emerges gradually through various stages of a child's development. Full self-reflective consciousness begins around the ages of twelve to fourteen. Prior to that time, we have an innate thirst for happiness but no practical experience of the presence of the divine within us. So we look for happiness somewhere else.

According to St.Augustine's theology, original sin has three consequences: (1) we don't know where happiness is to be found (ignorance); (2) we look for it in the wrong places (concupiscence); and (3) if we ever find out where it might be found, the will is too weak to pursue it anyway. That is the somewhat dismal view that Christianity has offered up to now. If you are a Buddist, you can track the same sort of idea in the teaching about sufferinh and the cessation of suffering.

Contemporary psychology has provided us with a knowledge of the unconscious. The discovery is only a hundred years old, and it casts an enormous light on all spiritual disciplines. In recent years, we have witnessed the development of various psychological theories such as codependency and the dysfunctional family, which assert that more and more people, at least in the Western world, are afflicted by these pathologies (as much as 95 to 98 percent of the population). These theories are getting pretty close to the idea of the universal character of original sin.

But the spiritual journey is more than a psychological process. It is of course primarily a process of grace. God also speaks to us through nature. The more we know about nature, the more we know about the mind of God. Einstein believed that science was directed toward discovering God's thoughts. Quantum physics itself is a kind of spirituality insofar as it is always looking farther into the unknown to see what is beyond the known.It is a search for ultimate reality.God is available through many sources besides the religious quest. I don't mean to imply that psychology replaces the work of religion, but it seems to me that it greatly supports religion and brings a certain clarity to area of the human condition, especially the discovery of the unconscious.

All of us have been through the process of being born and entering the world with three essential biological neeeds: security and survival, power, and control, affection and esteem. Without adequate fulfillment of these biological needs , we probably would not survive infancy. Since the experience of the presence of God is not there at the age we start to develop self-consciousness, these three instinctual needs are all we have with which to build a program for happiness. Without the help of reason to modify them, we build a universe with ourselves at the centre, around which all our human faculties revolve like planets around the sun. As a result, any object entering into our universe -another person or event-is judged on the basis of whether it can provide us with what we believe or demand happiness to be.

Reference: The Human Condition: Thomas Keating-Elaine Pagels

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