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What is Spiritual Evolution?

Spiritual evolution, also known as Higher Evolution, is the notion that, similar to biological evolution, the mind or spirit progresses collectively from a basic form ruled by nature to a higher form dominated by the Spiritual or Divine. It is distinguished from “lower” or biological evolution, and is considered to have been predicted by enlightened creatures who have already progressed to this advanced degree.

Spiritual evolution as a concept can also be referred to as the notion of higher evolution in an individual. Spiritual evolution’s understanding is based on the idea that the mind and spirit collectively evolve from a foundational form influenced by nature to a higher form influenced by the Spiritual or Divine. Even though the basis of this ideology is analogous to that of biological evolution, it is still distinguished as a higher form of evolution. Spiritual evolution as a notion is foreshadowed through the existence of enlightened beings, who are beings that have already evolved to an advanced dimension of being.


Many Spiritualists had responded to the theories of evolution with a sense of uncertainty in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The concept of evolution was deemed to fit the progressive development of humanity in spiritualist thought. However, many other spiritualists believed that if one looks at man’s origin in the animal sense, it will most definitely threaten the foundation of the immortality of the spirit.

This theory exists based on the understanding that if a man had not been created, then it was definitely possible that he was endowed with the spirit. This led to the embracement of spiritual evolution by various theorists and scholars.

19th-century Anglo-American spiritualist thought elaborated on the notion of a soul progressing into higher states of existence after death. This notion was in close contrast to spiritism, which emphasises the idea of reincarnation. Spiritualism believes that the spirit is known to progress into new dimensions of existence after death. Accordingly, the evolution that was known to occur in a spiritual state was much more rapid and dynamic to growth than that of the evolution that took place on earth.

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823โ€“1913), a biologist and spiritualist, had faith in the development of qualitative novelties through the spiritual evolution process. His faith focused on the phenomena of life in the mind due to supernatural agency.

In the later years of his life, Wallace advocated spiritualism and began to believe in the immaterial origin of the higher mental faculties of the human mind. He thought that the theory of evolution denoted a purpose to the universe’s existence. Thus, specific dimensions of the life of living organisms were not explainable in the context of materialistic processes. Wallace postulated the spiritual approach to evolution in his 1911 book World of life. He distinguished evolution as the “directive mind, creative power, and ultimate purpose”.

Wallace believed that the theory of natural selection could not explain human attributes such as intelligence or morality, so non-material spiritual forces must account for these. He posited that man’s spiritual nature could not be a consequence of natural selection alone. Thus, the origins of this spiritual nature of man must have begun through the unseen spirit of the universe.

Robert Broom claimed in his book The Coming of Man: Was it Accident or Design? (1933) that “spiritual agencies” have devised a path for evolution in animals and plants. Broom claimed the ultimate purpose of evolution was the origin of Homo sapiens. Accordingly, he believed that much of evolution looked like a path resulting in the species that is known as man today. The other animals and plants that became a part of this evolution were only meant to fit in a suitable world for humanity.

Stage Theory

The contemporary expression of this idea of spiritual evolution can be found in several stage theories that have been influenced by Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser, and Piaget, among others. These theories as models elaborate on human development, having gone through a number of structural stages from the very beginning of primitive psychophysical Genesis to a full-grown rational, cognitive and moral expression.

This human development in individual and collective contexts is beyond the transpersonal stage. This transpersonal stage is conceptualised with the presence of an unconscious drive that is fully recognised and integrated. Here, the sense of a separate identity is loosened, alienated and abandoned.

Spiral dynamics

Another theory or interpretation that can be associated with spiritual evolution is known as spiral dynamics. This theory revolves around the social and psychological development of a being and is based on the work of Clare W. Graves. Spiral dynamics is known to elucidate the progression of a series of stages in human cultural development.

If looked at closely, one can easily recognise that from the survival-based hunter-gatherers' stage to a magical tribal green stage to a city building invading stage to a mythical religious empire stage to a rational scientific capital stage to a green, holistic, inclusive stage, humans have come a long way.

Finally, they have reached a second-tier stage where all the previous steps are contemplated, reflected, and integrated into a third transpersonal stage where spiritual unity or Omega point is attained. All the stages up until now have been struggling to embody this spiritual unity. Graves believes that individuals can ascend themselves to the peak of consciousness only if they belong to one of the categories of prophets, visionaries and leaders of any region/age.

Ken Wilber

Through the works of integral theorist Ken Wilber, the concept of spiritual evolution has been given a sort of respectability in contemporary times. Both the cosmological and the personal dimensions of spiritual evolution have been described in his writings. His integral philosophy has been said to be inspired by the works of Plotinus, Hegel, Sri Aurobindo, Eric Jantsch, and many others.

He postulates that reality consists of numerous realms and stages, including โ€” the physical, the vital, the psychic, the causal and the ultimate. Every individual thus known has been said to develop from these realms and stages. According to his works, if described simplistically, Wilber has seen humans grow through a number of stages that include magic, mythic, pluralistic and holistic mentalities. According to this school of thought, culture is another aspect that has been developed through these stages. Much like Hegel, the development of individuals and cultures is the evolution of existence itself.

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