What is Evolutionary Spirituality?

Excellent resource: the Wikipedia article.

The term “Evolutionary Spirituality” was coined (as far as I know) by Andrew Cohen in this article, but the concepts go back to the early 1900s from Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin. Cohen has developed his own version and he calls it Evolutionary Enlightenment. Evolutionary Enlightenment is, to my mind, the most powerful and practical philosophy for human development and cultural change to hit the Western streets since the 60s “counter-culture” and since Victor Baranco started teaching. While Victor Baranco is still relatively unknown, Andrew Cohen has become quite well-known (although not quite yet a “superstar” – his committed students worldwide only number about 300 currently). Note that although Cohen himself is reputed a spiritual genius and gifted teacher, there is controversy around him. See EnlightenNixt.

I am just at the beginning of this inquiry but here is what I have found to be intensely exciting about the teachings:

1) The fundamental idea of evolutionary spirituality is that both mind and matter are a manifestation of a universal consciousness (God for short, although Cohen avoids the word due to cultural associations), that we are an inseparable part of (both cause and effect), and that this consciousness (us) is evolving at an ever-accelerating pace. So for example, that this force of consciousness made a decision to “embody” (take form) 14 billion years ago, its been only about 3,000 years that people started reflecting on it (a tiny blip on the time scale), and its been just a few decades that we are starting to seriously look at the implications, for us and for the world, of this decision (of consciousness to take form) and our responsibilities inherent in that, as the only organism capable of reflecting on ourselves.

2)This is not mere abstract philosophy, there are immediate profound and practical consequences. To begin with, once we truly “get” (and this “getting” has to be experiential, not intellectual) that we are all One consciousness – that we are all, so to speak, cells in the body of God – the existential despair that we all carry so long as we think of ourselves as separate and independent individuals simply vanishes. Our obsessive / narcissistic preoccupation with ourselves simply goes away, and we are liberated to live lives of much deeper meaning, passion, contribution and love. In particular, our lives gain a sense of urgency and a global significance as we start to work effectively and creatively to undo the damages done to our world and our society by so-called “progress”. Our lives no longer become only ours to live – they become part of the collective, and our engagement with the collective is what gives our lives meaning and pleasure.

3)That this freedom from self-consciousness (or ego) and this creative, joyful and passionate engagement with the world IS the very process of “Enlightenment” (consciousness reflecting on itself). In other words, “Enlightenment” in the 21st century can no longer be about removing oneself from the world (meditating in a cave for 10 years), or seeking connection with the Absolute in a way that is not engaged with our care for the world. Care for the world, within an “enlightened” context, IS our enlightenment. “Enlightened context” means that are not motivated by ego but by higher values (such as an individual’s passion for growth and self-transcendence). Cohen refers to this connection as the “Authentic Self” (as opposed to the “Ego”).

4)Along the same lines as the the above, that enlightenment in the 21st century is basically going to come about through people coming together and communicating in deeper ways.

There are currently active EE communities in about two dozen cities (I am guessing) in the US and worldwide. Groups get together and attempt to connect and dialogue in a way where personality (or ego-consciousness) is absent.

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4 comments to What is Evolutionary Spirituality?

  • marc

    [As I had migrated the post from another blog, I am copying comments. Note comments from integral philosopher Alan Kazlez, and observations of Pete Bramptom, who run an integral center in Europe now.]

    # Marc:
    October 14th, 2008 at 11:46 pm edit

    Alan Kazlev, author of the “Wilberian paradigm” article quoted on http://manifesting.net/2008/09/andrew-cohen-evolutionary-enlightenment-and-enlightennext-is-it-a-cult/ , wrote me the following interesting letter (excerpted here with his permission)
    The concept of Evolutionary consciousness or evolutionary enlightenment (as oppossed to static enlightenment) can also be found in various ways and aspects in Madame Blavatsky (Theosophy), Rudolf Steiner (Anthroposophy), Henri Bergson (who influenced Teilhard and process philoosophy), Alfred North Whitehead (Process Philosophy/Process Theology), Jean Gebser (Mutations of Consciousness), and no doubt others as well.

    Cohen certainly plagiarised Sri Aurobindo, but even more so people like Briane Swimme (Great Story or Cosmic Story) and probably also Peter Russell (The Global Brain), both the latter in turn inspired by Teilhard. More recently it seems (from the Guru & Pandit dialogues in WIE) he’s imitating Ken Wilber (Integral Theory) as well (Wilber in turn being inspired by Sri Aurobindo and many others). Unfortunately, unlike what you said on your
    blog I have to confess I do not consider him a spiritual genius, just the opposite, he seems pretty insipid from what i have read of his stuff online. Perhaps if i had to read an entire book of his i would feel different, but more likely i wouldn’t. If he does have some neat ideas all you need to do is look at the above sources to see where he gets them from ;-)

    Like you i find his followers (from the quality of the magazine WIE, also i dialogued with one online) are of a high calibre.

    And while I am not saying this applies to all followers, it does seem to be that abusive gurus often tend to
    attract a very high (but perhaps psychological dysfunctional/masoichistic?) class of devotees, as shown for example in the WhatEnlightenment?? blog archives. This is the case with Adi Da as well. However Adi Da is light years above Cohen, an altogether more complex and (unlike Cohen) genuinely brilliant figure. I have written on him on my website but always feel the need to revise what i wrote, he is not easy to pin down, and is demonised by detractors and idealised by devotees.
    October 1st, 2009 at 4:32 pm edit

    Andrew Cohen has incited extreme responses from the moment he spontaneously began teaching. All the noise about Andrew being an abusive meglomaniac has been made by former students. However there are far more former students (myself included) who are deeply grateful for their time with Andrew, have been transformed in profound ways, and many are now doing very positive work in different spheres out in the world. Check out http://www.guru-talk.com for some very different perspectives. While Andrew may not be flawless and beyond legitimate critique most of the published complaints of “abuse” are taken out of context and issue from wounded pride. Play with fire and you will get burned! One does not bring a higher stage of evolutionary potential into manifestation by pandering to peoples egos, in fact one has to fight like hell, eat plenty of humble pie and consistently reach for the highest despite all the whimpering of ones egoic “sensitive self”. And the arrows in ones back that issue from those who seek to destroy your dauntless passion and inspiration are to be expected.

  • marc


    Thanks for this, and also for your article on guru-talk which I enjoyed. As I wrote in my article, I don’t think there is any simple answer to the question of Andrew Cohen, and I consider all viewpoints important. I am glad that his teachings affected you positively and wish you all the best.
    I respect what you are doing.


  • Chuck R

    I suggest that anyone affected by Andrew Cohen, whether positively or negatively, or any other “guru”, or therapy, or anything that might possibly be construed as a “cult”, read the following book.

    “Therapy Gone Mad” by Carol Mithers
    Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Therapy-Gone-Mad-Hundreds-Generation/dp/0201570718

    Published in 1994, it’s about the Center for Feeling, an offshoot of the Primal Institute, which was located in Los Angeles until it spun out of control and self-destructed in a couple of days.

    It’s an excellent blow-by-blow description of how a cult can form, despite the best intentions of those who are responsible for building it brick by brick. Anyone who has ever been involved in a cult will recognize the symptoms. Anyone who is certain that their particular “spiritual path” is NOT a cult ought to read this book as well. You might be surprised to find yourself in error.

    I have no connection to the book, the author or the Center for Feeling. I just know a useful book when I read one.

  • [...] and do a global search-and-replace of a few key terms and you will have a perfect textbook of Evolutionary Enlightenment)…My point not being to knock evolutionary enlightenment or any other integrally-inspired [...]

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