Evolution is defined as "a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state." This definition is accepted by Theosophical writers, although it is seen as incomplete. Theosophy proposes the existence of planes higher or subtler than the physical one and, therefore, the Theosophical view of evolution includes a previous stage where the spiritual nature "descends" into the physical, becoming denser and denser.
At the time when H. P. Blavatsky began her public writings, European interpretations about the course of time and the past had taken a materialistic turn. Darwin's theory of evolution led to the emergence of ideological materialism, which defended a view of matter as intrinsically capable of producing its own evolutionary possibilities. This meant that the development of life and human society happened "mechanically," that is, without the need of divine intervention or any other non-material influence. Humanity had slowly evolved from "ape-conditions" and lived in pitiful stone-age savagery until civilizations arose. As a response to this, H. P. Blavatsky proposed the existence (and primacy) of intellectual and spiritual aspects of evolution, beyond what is observable on the physical plane:
Modern, or so-called exact science, holds but to a one-sided physical evolution, prudently avoiding and ignoring the higher or spiritual evolution, which would force our contemporaries to confess the superiority of the ancient philosophers and psychologists over themselves. The ancient sages, ascending to the UNKNOWABLE, made their starting-point from the first manifestation of the unseen, the unavoidable, and from a strict logical reasoning, the absolutely necessary creative Being, the Demiurgos of the universe. Evolution began with them from pure spirit, which descending lower and lower down, assumed at last a visible and comprehensible form, and became matter. Arrived at this point, they speculated in the Darwinian method, but on a far more large and comprehensive basis.
This first stage of "materialization of spirit" is sometimes called involution and it is related to the "Doctrine of Emanation":
In its metaphysical meaning, it is opposed to Evolution, yet one with it. Science teaches that evolution is physiologically a mode of generation in which the germ that develops the foetus pre-exists already in the parent, the development and final form and characteristics of that germ being accomplished in nature; and that in cosmology the process takes place blindly through the correlation of the elements, and their various compounds. Occultism answers that this is only the apparent mode, the real process being Emanation, guided by intelligent Forces under an immutable LAW. Therefore, while the Occultists and Theosophists believe thoroughly in the doctrine of Evolution as given out by Kapila and Manu, they are Emanationists rather than Evolutionists. . . The controversy between the followers of this school and the Emanationists may he briefly stated thus: The Evolutionist stops all inquiry at the borders of "the Unknowable"; the Emanationist believes that nothing can be evolved--or, as the word means, unwombed or born--except it has first been involved, thus indicating that life is from a spiritual potency above the whole.
This idea of a spiritual evolution was very original at the time. Although many Hindus today may support it and regard it as part of their traditional teachings, this was not the case then. As scholar Meera Nanda wrote:
The entire repertoire of intellectual arguments used to dress up traditional Hindu cosmology in the scientistic costume of progressive evolutionism was created and popularized originally by Madame Blavatsky and her fellow the Theosophists. Hindu reformers of the so-called Indian Renaissance of the 19th century used the template provided by the Theosophists to trim and refashion traditional Hindu doctrines to meet the challenge of the modern world.
In fact, when Blavatsky first wrote about the idea of spiritual evolution as being part of the ancient wisdom-religion, she was criticized by the Hindus of the time, and had to defend her ideas by claiming that these teachings were present in Hinduism, but in a veiled and symbolic way.
Triple evolutionary scheme
Theosophy postulates that the process of evolution takes place at three different levels:
It now becomes plain that there exists in Nature a triple evolutionary scheme, for the formation of the three periodical Upadhis; or rather three separate schemes of evolution, which in our system are inextricably interwoven and interblended at every point. These are the Monadic (or spiritual), the intellectual, and the physical evolutions. These three are the finite aspects or the reflections on the field of Cosmic Illusion of atma, the seventh, the one reality.
1. The Monadic is, as the name implies, concerned with the growth and development into still higher phases of activity of the Monad in conjunction with:
2. The Intellectual, represented by the Manasa-Dhyanis (the Solar Devas, or the Agnishwatta Pitris) the “givers of intelligence and consciousness”* to man and:
3. The Physical, represented by the Chhayas of the lunar Pitris, round which Nature has concreted the present physical body. This body serves as the vehicle for the “growth” (to use a misleading word) and the transformations through Manas and — owing to the accumulation of experiences — of the finite into the infinite, of the transient into the Eternal and Absolute.
Each of these three systems has its own laws, and is ruled and guided by different sets of the highest Dhyanis or "Logoi". Each is represented in the constitution of man, the Microcosm of the great Macrocosm; and it is the union of these three streams in him which makes him the complex being he now is.
This process of evolution does not proceed in a straight line (as modern science proposes) but according to a Law of Cycles:
As the Theosophist has no desire to play at being a squirrel upon its revolving wheel, he must refuse to follow the lead of the materialists. He, at any rate, knows that the revolutions of the physical world are, according to the ancient doctrine, attended by like revolutions in the world of intellect, for the spiritual evolution in the universe proceeds in cycles, like the physical one. Do we not see in history a regular alternation of ebb and flow in the tide of human progress? Do we not see in history, and even find this within our own experience, that the great kingdoms of the world, after reaching the culmination of their greatness, descend again, in accordance with the same law by which they ascended? till, having reached the lowest point, humanity reasserts itself and mounts up once more, the height of its attainment being, by this law of ascending progression by cycles, somewhat higher than the point from which it had before descended. Kingdoms and empires are under the same cyclic laws as planets, races, and everything else in Kosmos.
Descending and ascending arcs
Now it is universally admitted that the whole system of Nature is moving in a particular direction, and this direction, we are taught, is determined by the composition of two forces, namely, the one acting from that pole of existence ordinarily called “matter” towards the other pole called “spirit,” and the other in the opposite direction. The very fact that Nature is moving shows that these two forces are not equal in magnitude. The plane on which the activity of the first force predominates is called in occult treatises the “ascending arc,” and the corresponding plane of the activity of the other force is styled the “descending arc.” A little reflection will show that the work of evolution begins on the descending arc and works its way upwards through the ascending arc. From this it follows that the force directed towards spirit is the one which must, though not without hard struggle, ultimately prevail.
In the evolution of man there is a topmost point, a bottom point, a descending arc, and an ascending arc. As it is “Spirit” which transforms itself into “matter” and (not “matter” which ascends — but) matter which resolves once more into spirit.
Pravṛtti and Nivṛtti Mārgas
In Hinduism there is the concept of two paths: the path of outgoing and desire and the path of return and renunciation:
Those on the path of desire (pravṛtti mārga) seek it through the enjoyments of this world (bhukti) or in the more durable, though still impermanent delights of heaven (svarga). He who is on the path of return (nivṛtti-mārga) seeks happiness, not in the created worlds, but in everlasting union with their primal source (mukti); and thus it is said that man can never be truly happy until he seeks shelter with Brahman, which is Itself the great Bliss (rasam hi vayam labdhvā ānandī bhavati).
The eternal rhythm of the Divine Breath is outwards from spirit to matter and inwards from matter to spirit. Devī as Māyā evolves the world. As Mahāmāyā She recalls it to Herself. The path of outgoing is the way of pravṛ tti; that of return nivṛ tti. Each of these movements is divine. Enjoyment (bhukti) and liberation (mukti) are each Her gifts.
Mahatma M. wrote: "Nothing in nature springs into existence suddenly, all being subjected to the same law of gradual evolution." Also, in his Cosmological Notes he says that "Evolution means unfolding of the evolute from the involute, a process of gradual growth."
The axiom "A stone becomes a plant; a plant, a beast; a beast, a man; a man, a spirit; and the spirit, a god" refers to this gradual evolution in two ways. First, it shows how the Monad gradually passes from one kingdom to the other. The second interpretation refers to the idea that every human being recapitulates this evolution during the pre-natal life. Mme. Blavatsky explained it as follows:
What is the primitive shape of the future man? A grain, a corpuscle, say some physiologists; a molecule, an ovum of the ovum, say others. If it could be analysed—by the microscope or otherwise—of what ought we to expect to find it composed? Analogically, we should say, of a nucleus of inorganic matter, deposited from the circulation at the germinating point, and united with a deposit of organic matter. In other words, this infinitesimal nucleus of the future man is composed of the same elements as a stone—of the same elements as the Earth, which the man is destined to inhabit. Moses is cited by the Kabalists as authority for the remark that it required earth and water to make a living being, and thus it may be said that man first appears as a stone.
At the end of three or four weeks the ovum has assumed a plant-like appearance, one extremity having become spheroidal and the other tapering like a carrot. Upon dissection it is found to be composed, like an onion, of very delicate laminæ or coats, enclosing a liquid. The laminæ approach each other at the lower end, and the embryo hangs from the root of the umbilicus almost like the fruit from the bough. The stone has now become changed, by “metempsychosis,” into a plant. Then the embryonic creature begins to shoot out, from the inside outward, its limbs, and develops its features. The eyes are visible as two black dots; the ears, nose, and mouth form depressions, like the points of a pineapple, before they begin to project. The embryo develops into an animal-like fœtus—the shape of a tadpole—and, like an amphibious reptile, lives in water and develops from it. Its Monad has not yet become either human or immortal, for the Kabalists tells us that this only occurs at the “fourth hour.” One by one the fœtus assumes the characteristics of the human being, the first flutter of the immortal breath passes through its being; it moves; and the divine essence settles in the infant frame, which it will inhabit until the moment of physical death, when man becomes a spirit.
Acceleration and retardation
Mme. Blavatsky wrote: "The Occultists believe in an inherent law of progressive development" and in a footnote she adds: "Checked and modified, however, by the Law of Retardation, which imposes; restriction on the advance of all species when a Higher Type makes its appearance". This law is "operative alike in the case of human races, animal species, etc."
This law of retardation, which operates from the beginning of the ascending arc, counterbalances the "law of acceleration" that is dominant in the descending arc. As Master K.H. explains, these two laws work together to ensure that the new higher types overcome the old and more prominent ones:
The principle of acceleration and retardation applies itself in such a way, as to eliminate all the inferior stocks and leave but a single superior one to make the last ring.
Man comes on globe “A” after the other kingdoms have gone on. . . . When all kingdoms have reached globe Z they will not move forward to re-enter A in precedence of man, but under a law of retardation operative from the central point — or earth — to Z and which equilibrates a principle of acceleration in the descending arc — they will have just finished their respective evolution of genera and species when man reaches his highest development on globe Z — in this or any round. The reason for it is found in the enormously greater time required by them to develop their infinite varieties as compared with man; the relative speed of development in the rings therefore naturally increases as we go up the scale from the mineral. But these different rates are so adjusted by man stopping longer in the inter-planetary spheres of rest, for weal or woe — that all kingdoms finish their work simultaneously on the planet Z.
- Evolution at Theosophy World
- Involution in Theosophy World
- Descending Arc in Theosophy World
- Ascending Arc in Theosophy World
- Humans, Apes, and the Felix Culpa by John Algeo
- Beyond Creationism and Darwinism at Blavatsky Net
- Blavatsky on Darwinism at Blavatsky.Net
- Life Evolves in Cycles by Clara Codd
- The Next Stages in Human Spiritual Evolution - Part One and Part Two by Robert Ellwood
- On Evolution by William Q. Judge
- Thinking Aloud: Blavatsky on Evolution by Anna Lemkow
- There is No Psychological Evolution by Pablo Sender
- From the Editor’s Desk: Evolution by Richard Smoley
- On Order and Purpose in Evolution by C. R. Groves.
- If Consciousness Is Evolving, Why Aren’t Things Getting Better? by Gary Lachman
- The Pedigree of Man by Annie Besant
- From Man to Superman by Geoffrey Hodson
- The Sublime Purpose of Human Existence by Geoffrey Hodson
- Man: The Radical Element in Evolution by Joy Mills
- The Human Journey, Quest for Self-Transformation by Joy Mills
- The Pulse of the Universe: The Laws of Change and Growth by Emily B. Sellon
- Evolution of Consciousness by N. Sri Ram
- Man's Origin and Evolution by Adam Warcup
- The Next Stage in Human Spiritual Evolution by Robert Ellwood
- The Obligatory Pilgrimage by C. V. K. Maithreya
- Cosmic Evolution by Pablo Sender
- The Human Pilgrimage by Pablo Sender
- The Processes of Evolution by Pablo Sender
- Evolution--The Unfolding of Consciousness by Theosophical Society in America
- Creative Evolution by Amit Goswami
- Design or Darwin Collection of articles at Blavatsky Net
- Evolution Merrian Webster Online Dictionary.
- Garry W. Trompf, "Imagining Macrohistory? Madame Blavatsky from Isis Unveiled (1877) to The Secret Doctrine (1888), Literature & Aesthetics 21 (1) (June, 2011), 48.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), xxx-xxxi
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- Jim R. Lewis and Olav Hammer (eds.), Handbook of Religion and the Authority of Science vol. 3 (2010), 279–344.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 181
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- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 66 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1998), 178.
- Four aims of Being at Hindu Online
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- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 188.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 260.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. II, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 172.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 67 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 66 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
- Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 67 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.