The GaiamTV interview series features in-depth conversations with some of the nation’s top yoga instructors and wellness experts. GaiamTV is a lifestyle media website that features thousands of online videos and yoga classes designed “to nourish your mind, body, and soul.” Our first interview this week is with Andrew Cohen about his video on Evolutionary Enlightenment.
Hi Andrew. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. We wanted to begin by asking you about this concept of evolutionary enlightenment — What is it, and how does it differ from the traditional concept of enlightenment put forth in many Buddhist and Hindu texts?
Evolutionary Enlightenment is a new spiritual path and practice that brings together the perennial mystical insight that the ultimate nature of reality is Oneness and the scientific discovery that we’re part of an evolutionary process that is going somewhere. In Evolutionary Enlightenment, we win our spiritual liberation through the experiential recognition that who we really are is not separate from the primordial energy and intelligence that created the universe. We experience that energy and intelligence as what I call the evolutionary impulse—the life-positive, perpetually creative inspiration that compels human beings to strive to give rise to new potentials. The realization that “I am the energy and intelligence that created the universe and not merely a psychological ego” is the fundamental insight that liberates the self in the new evolutionary spirituality.
Traditional mysticism, in contrast, is fundamentally about the experience of transcendence. Enlightenment, as the great traditions teach it, is about cultivating the experience of freedom from the body, freedom from the mind and emotions, freedom from the world. In the new evolutionary mysticism, we no longer seek freedom from this incarnate existence. Because the source of spiritual liberation is the realization that “I am the energy and intelligence that created the universe,” we find that we want to be here, as ourselves, in the world so we can consciously create the future as an agent of that impulse itself. When we awaken to the evolutionary impulse, as the urge toward higher creativity, it becomes apparent to us that the energy that is driving the process as a whole is inherently spiritual or divine. Spirit created and is creating the universe. What is this ceaseless creative striving in matter, nature, and culture? And where does it come from? What is it that mysteriously compels the universe to exist, life to emerge, and mind to appear? That which compels this complex and singular process to exist and develop is Spirit as the creative impulse. And now that we, as human beings, have developed the extraordinary capacity to be aware of the entire process and that which gave rise to it, it makes no sense for our mysticism to be one of escape. We need a new spirituality that embraces our new knowledge and all of its implications.
How does the concept of evolutionary enlightenment fit in with modern scientific notions about how the brain works?
Evolutionary Enlightenment is a new culturally relevant expression of what I call the “new mysticism.” It’s culturally relevant because it is very much in alignment with science’s most significant breakthroughs in the fields of cosmology, biology, and also the latest insights into how culture is created and how it evolves. It was only very recently that science discovered that the universe is 14 billion years old and that it burst into being in a flash of light and energy. It’s only recently that we are beginning to understand the relationships between cosmic evolution, biological evolution, and cultural evolution. It is the great breakthrough of the western enlightenment and the liberation of our rational investigation into our origins that has made it possible for us to now have this Big Picture perspective on who we are and how we arrived here and now in the present moment. Science is now observing the neural correlates of consciousness in our biological brain. They will never find the deepest and most fundamental dimension of who we are—consciousness—through the lens of a microscope, but it is consciousness that makes it possible for us to make the profound and significant breakthroughs that science is making in so many arenas, including neuroscience.
What is your intent in sharing the 5 fundamental tenets for evolutionary enlightenment with viewers? What do you hope people will come away with?
The five fundamental tenets of Evolutionary Enlightenment clearly describe how we can live our human experience in this and every moment from the perspective of one who is deeply and profoundly spiritually enlightened. They are a pathway that makes it possible to understand the liberated position that the greatest and most realized mystics throughout history, like Shakyamuni Buddha, Adi Shankara, Jesus Christ, Rumi, Padmasambhava, and Sri Ramana Maharshi, were taking in relationship to their own biological, emotional, and psychological experience. The path and the goal are one. That means the position we take in relationship to our experience through the exertion of will power as spiritual seekers and practitioners is the same position we finally manifest spontaneously and effortlessly when we come to the end of our search.
Andrew Cohen is an internationally respected spiritual teacher, cultural visionary, and founder of the global nonprofit organization EnlightenNext. Through his writings, teachings and ongoing dialogues with leading philosophers, scientists and mystics, he has become known as one of the defining voices of the new evolutionary spirituality.
In addition to his work as a teacher, Cohen is also dedicated to changing the cultural conversation about the purpose and significance of spiritual enlightenment in our time. In a sparkling conversation webcast live on May 30, 2012, he spoke with Lisa Garr about the challenges of modern life and how we might achieve enlightenment in the midst of chaos.
Watch Andrew’s video on Evolutionary Enlightenment for FREE here:
Check out the other interviews in this series: