Evolutionary Enlightenment

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Evolutionary Enlightenment is a philosophy that mixes teachings about Enlightenment from Eastern traditions with a Western scientific understanding of evolution.

Evolutionary Enlightenment is inspired, on one hand, by the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and the Buddhist tradition. On the other hand, it also follows in the tradition of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Sri Aurobindo, Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead, and the German Idealist philosophers. In contemporary culture, it is associated with the work of Andrew Cohen, founder of EnlightenNext, and Ken Wilber, a leading figure in the Integral movement. The ideas of Evolutionary Enlightenment have been discussed and elucidated over the past five years by Cohen and Wilber in the pages of EnlightenNext magazine,[1] as well as in Wilber's recent book Integral Spirituality.[2] An evolutionary approach to Enlightenment or self-realization is also outlined in the work of Beatrice Bruteau,[3] a Teilhardian scholar and theologian, and mentioned in the recent bestseller A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.[4] The cultural relevance of this approach to spirituality has been recognized by those studying broader cultural change, such as Spiral Dynamics author Don Beck,[5] who has called it "a map or model for personal emergence, showing the qualities that individuals must embody to become the leaders we now need."

Core ideas[edit]


The philosophical idea of Evolutionary Enlightenment is discussed by Ken Wilber in his 2006 book Integral Spirituality. He points out that enlightenment is often defined as being "one with everything," and raises the question, "if evolution occurs, how can enlightenment have any meaning? … if everything is evolving, and I get enlightened today, then won't my enlightenment be partial with the sun's dawn?" [6] Wilber suggests redefining an evolutionary enlightenment to mean "the realization of oneness with all states and all stages that have evolved so far and that are in existence at any given time." [7]

Spiritual practice[edit]

The idea of Evolutionary Enlightenment as a spiritual practice has been put forward by Andrew Cohen. He emphasizes the need for individuals to recognize that their own spiritual transformation is essential for cultural evolution. Building on this principle, he offers a set of tenets that can be practiced by individuals to transcend egoism and express a deeper creativity and spiritual energy that Cohen calls the Authentic Self. In this approach, the problem raised by Wilber is resolved through redefining Enlightenment as being "One with the timeless Ground of all Being and with the evolutionary impulse that is driving the entire cosmos." Through identifying the evolutionary impulse as their own Authentic Self, individuals can transcend ego and find a deeper self-sense without needing to live a life of asceticism or solitude, as was often required in traditional Enlightenment teachings. Evolutionary Enlightenment as a spiritual practice also emphasizes the need for human beings to learn how to come together in a way that brings out the highest creativity in each individual and simultaneously releases their potential for collective intelligence.

Integral theory[edit]

Evolutionary Enlightenment shares important principles of, and is often associated with, Integral Theory, in that both combine spiritual and scientific insights to create a comprehensive understanding of humanity and the universe. These shared insights include a recognition that contemporary human beings are at the leading edge of a 13.8 billion year[8] evolutionary process originating with the Big Bang, and that humanity's emerging awareness of this process has profound philosophical and spiritual implications.

Evolutionary Enlightenment and Integral Theory share an understanding that ultimate reality consists of a non-dual union of emptiness and form—with form being subject to development over time—and that the interior realm of consciousness and the exterior realm of matter evolve together.[9] One outcome of this insight, which Integral thinkers have codified and mapped, is that there are hierarchical stages of development along a deep-time evolutionary continuum, and that the interdependence between interior and exterior development directly manifests itself in human consciousness and culture: from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to kosmocentric. Furthermore, each successive stage of development transcends and includes its predecessors, and exhibits a greater awareness, sense of belonging, and capacity for consciousness, cognition, and care.[10]

While Evolutionary Enlightenment and Integral Theory share important epistemological roots in Evolutionary Spirituality [6], the two emerged independent of one another. Cohen pioneered Evolutionary Enlightenment in the mid-1980s and encountered Integral Theory in roughly 2000. Since then, EnlightenNext magazine has become a leading forum for discourse and inquiry into Integral Theory, including a running dialogue between Cohen and Wilber entitled "The Guru and the Pandit" series.

Discussing the limitations of the contemporary post-modern stage of human development in this series, Wilber describes the relationship between Integral Theory and Evolutionary Enlightenment as follows:

″They (post-modern beliefs) inhibit an integral evolution. They did wonderfully up to their stage and they were very important in overcoming some of the problems with traditional values and scientific materialism. All of those were handled beautifully by the pluralistic post-modern stage. But now we're ready for the next stage, we're fighting for an integral awareness to blossom . . . and to blossom, of course, in the form of an evolutionary enlightenment.″ [11]

This description positions Integral Theory as an important philosophical framework (the map) for Evolutionary Enlightenment. It also suggests that contemporary culture cannot progress without evolving individual and collective consciousness (the terrain), which is the goal of Evolutionary Enlightenment.


  • Evolutionary Enlightenment by Andrew Cohen
  • Living Enlightenment by Andrew Cohen
  • Integral Spirituality by Ken Wilber
  • The Integral Vision by Ken Wilber
  • 11 Days at the Edge by Michael Wombacher
  • The Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo
  • The Human Phenomenon by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
  • Creative Evolution by Henri Bergson
  • Evolution Toward Divinity by Beatrice Bruteau


  1. ^ [1] Collection of articles about Evolutionary Spirituality
  2. ^ [2] Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality
  3. ^ [3] Beatrice Bruteau interview
  4. ^ [4] Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
  5. ^ [5] Spiral Dynamics Integral website
  6. ^ Wilber, Ken, Integral Spirituality (Integral Books 2007) p94
  7. ^ Wilber, Ken, Integral Spirituality (Integral Books 2007) p.95
  8. ^ "Cosmic Detectives". The European Space Agency (ESA). 2013-04-02. Retrieved 2013-04-15. 
  9. ^ Wilber, Ken. The Integral Vision (Shambala Publications, Inc. 2007) p57
  10. ^ Wilber, Ken. The Integral Vision (Shambala Publications, Inc. 2007) p116
  11. ^ Cohen, Andrew and Ken Wilber. Live internet broadcast by EnlightenNext, 30 May 2008.

External links[edit]