The figures move a bit with the years of research, but on the evidence it is fair to say the universe is a little under fifteen billion years old. The first vestiges of life on earth seemed to appear some one and a half billion years ago. Hominids have been around for less than ten million years. Consciousness, our ability to be aware of our thinking and thus a capacity to produce a theatre of mind, appears to be less than a hundred thousand years old. Indeed some researchers believe consciousness is a very recent development, maybe only a few thousand years old. Humanity as we know it is a very recent development in evolutionary time. We are mere infants evolving into something more complex. Our naivety and inexperience as a race are a sign of our immaturity.
But we are making progress. Despite all the angst about our selfishness, insularity and xenophobia we are surprisingly compassionate. Religion and philosophy are even more recent developments. All the great religions have evolved in less than three thousand years. It is a hopeful sign for the future that all these religions shared the common theme of compassion. (It is a symbol of our immaturity that rather than use these religions as instruments of good, some of us have chosen in our fear and lack of awareness, to use them as cudgels to beat each other with.) [Those wishing to pursue this notion further would be well advised to read the Introduction to the Bhagavad-Gita (Translation of Bhagavad-Gita by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.) by Aldous Huxley. Huxley outlines what he calls “The Perennial Philosophy” which are the four major themes that dominate the major religions.]
It was not so long ago that evolutionists would not have admitted compassion as a driver of human activity. It seemed inimical to the “survival of the fittest”. And yet modern evolutionary psychologists have been able to establish the benefits of compassion and altruism to the survival of the species.
Over the past twenty thousand years or so, the forward march of spiritual development, artistic skill and culturally mandated, unselfish care of the weak, has been inexorable.
In the last few decades there was much scientific argument that our genes were “selfish” and therefore we were only disposed to help ourselves or those closely related to us. This is patently wrong and evolutionary biologists have now shown how altruism is a useful force in propagating the species. It is amazing how the separation cry a baby makes when deprived of mother moves mostly everyone who hears it. Indeed the Dalai Lama has insisted that “Basic human nature is compassionate”.
Even a country like the United States of America, which has more international ambitions than most, still manages to spend twice as much caring for the sick than it does on its defence budget.
As I write this the news is full of earthquakes in Indonesia and a Tsunami in Samoa. Hundreds of caring Australians are being mobilised to help the victims in their hour of need. Fund raising ventures are being initiated to provide support. No doubt many of you will be dipping your hands in your pockets to support people you will never know, of different race in far off countries. Why? – because you have the capacity to empathise with another human being. You know that however different they may appear because of race, nationality, religion, culture or circumstances you share your humanity with them.
Dare we imagine, as Teilhard De Chardin, the French Palaeontologist and Jesuit Priest, believed, that evolution is pulling us toward what he called the “Omega Point”? He talked about the process of complexification which enabled matter to not only attain consciousness of itself but higher levels of consciousness as it evolves. At the Omega Point all consciousness aggregates again, as the One which is God. Obviously the further we approach that point the easier it is to align with others. Love and empathy grow as our degree of separation diminishes.
Well, does it all matter? Shouldn’t I be more concerned with climate change, the prospect of nuclear war or the advance of terrorism than with evolving spirituality? In the end these malaises themselves are manifestation of our inadequate spiritual development and I suspect their solution will only be achieved when more and more of us come to that realisation that at the core of our beings we all are One.
Chapters 3 & 17 of “Augustus Finds Serenity” have more to say on this issue.