In this article I will attempt to synthesize
several strands of thinking about transformational change. I will
not interrupt the flow of the article with references, but will
acknowledge the chief of my sources at the end.
Scientific Support for Spirituality
Let's begin with the origin of the universe.
Most educated people are at least somewhat familiar with the Big
Bang theory, namely that the universe emerged with incredible
heat and light energy some 12 to 15 billion years ago and has
been expanding and solidifying ever since into galaxies, stars
and planets under the operation of fixed natural laws built into
the process. This 20th century scientific theory replaced, at
least for some people, the spiritual belief of an Almighty God
somehow creating everything that is.
Did that mean spirituality was dead? Some tried to argue that
it was, but the claim of faith is not so easily dislodged from
the human mind. In fact, it was the existence of the human mind
itself that gave the scientific explanation of reality the most
trouble. While scientific laws and mathematical formulae can explain
the formation of a material universe, they cannot account for
the existence of immaterial mind or consciousness. The "popular"
scientific view is that consciousness emerges from the brain,
but there is no scientific way to explain how it is possible for
the immaterial to emerge from the material.
On the other hand, science has demonstrated
precisely the opposite. It has to do with the physics of a vacuum.
Quantum mechanics has shown that virtual particles and antiparticles
spontaneously emerge from a vacuum and become "real"
if energy is added. This gives rise to scientific speculation
that the origin of the universe was a quantum fluctuation within
a vacuum, which initiated not only the "stuff" of our
world, but also space-time itself.
What I am leading up to is an argument that
by the end of the 20th century scientific research rather than
dislodging the notion of spirituality has in fact strengthened
it. Again we turn to quantum mechanics, which has shown that a
particle exists both in its particle form and also as a wave.
The quantum wave is smeared throughout the whole of space, and
it only collapses as a particle into our physical space-time when
a conscious observer makes a measurement.
Was it such a super-ordinate Consciousness (called God) that collapsed
the wave function in a primordial vacuum and created the universe?
This gives us an explanation in scientific terms that confirms
the essence of the intuition from spiritual traditions of an omnipotent,
omniscient Consciousness (or Spirit) behind what we know as reality.
The argument for a spiritual dimension to being
becomes stronger when we consider what 2500 years of mental research
by Buddhists (and others), as contrasted with 300 years of empirical
research by scientists, has revealed about consciousness. The
collective result is that at its deepest level consciousness is
a state of luminous emptiness. In Buddhist terminology this absolute
ground of consciousness is called the Great Perfection. In other
words, there is a ground state of primordial awareness from which
everything we call reality came and into which everything dissolves.
This gives us the foundation for a 21st century spirituality in
which human faith is anchored in a revelation of eternal wholeness
and oneness from which we as human beings along with the material
universe come for a period of physical existence and to which
Implications of the New Spirituality
Let us now explore further the implications
of this spirituality for how we might live together on the planet.
A fundamental spiritual principle emerges from the above understanding
of the origin and continuing unfoldment of the universe and the
living portion of it that we know as the biosphere of planet Earth.
This is the principle of oneness, not only within the human realm,
but also of humanity with all life on Earth. This is a point that
cannot be overstated, for it stands in marked contrast to the
history of human spiritual experience over tens of thousands of
Wherever human tribes or communities grew up
on the continents and islands of our world, they embraced some
form of spiritual belief. This strongly suggests that the propensity
for spiritual thought, like the facility for language, is built
into the human genetic makeup. However, because humanity evolved
in isolated and separate enclaves, divided along ethnic lines,
this innate spirituality expressed itself in personal deities,
who were usually seen as the protector and sustainer of the ethnic
Because of another innate propensity in our
species, namely to perceive others outside the ethnic or tribal
grouping as enemies, the natural inclination was to bond fiercely
under the protection of the tribal god or gods, and to wage war
against the enemy in his/her name. Even when we come to relatively
recent times from an evolutionary perspective, namely the last
3000 years, when great spiritual traditions emerged and spread
across large geographical areas encompassing many nations, the
same propensity for separation persisted. Indeed, the 20th century
experienced two world wars and other international clashes when
nations expressing the same faith tradition fought against each
other in the most brutal ways ever conceived.
At the beginning of the 21st century the world
now finds itself teetering on the brink of what some would call
holy war or a clash of civilizations divided along spiritual lines.
Of course, international politics and policies of economic globalization
make everything much more complicated than that, but the fundamental
human predisposition for conflict and separation remains firmly
established. That is why a spirituality of oneness would be such
an extraordinary leap forward in human thinking.
Indications for Growth
So how is it to be accomplished? Two hopeful
signs from the perspective of the world's spiritual traditions
is the expression of a value for unity coming through the Parliament
of World Religions and the United Religions Initiative. The former
has supported the declaration of a common global ethic and the
latter has had an enormous growth of branches all over the world
encompassing tens of millions of people. These movements have
great capacity to do good to promote unity, though we need to
understand that this activity does not represent the embracing
of a new spirituality, but rather a determination by existing
religions to get along better and reverse the atrocious record
of killing and hatred done in their name.
A more encouraging sign from the point of breaking
new ground is the effort to bridge the gap between spirituality
and science, which has been given a great stimulus during the
past decade through the John Templeton Foundation. The Foundation
has established the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion,
which is financially larger than any other award, including the
Nobel Prize, and is awarded annually to any individual who advances
humanity's understanding of religion and spirituality. As some
of this dialogue moves from the halls of academe and theology
into general consciousness, we are seeing people groping for answers
outside the authority of established religions. This may be our
best hope for the future that a new spirituality of oneness will
blossom in this century and lead us away from the cataclysm that
awaits the current world of separation and conflict.
One of the most hopeful signs that something
is breaking loose from the mechanistic worldview of "old"
science and the external authority of "old" religion,
is the body of literature coming from reputable, if nontraditional,
sources that celebrates the ongoing creativity of the universe.
In this view our spirituality is not expressed merely by trying
to conform to a model like Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed, but rather
in our active participation in the evolutionary process.
We are now faced with the need to cooperate
as an entire planet because we understand that each one of us
is a cell in the living universe. Among all the species on Earth
we are the one with sufficient consciousness and imagination to
understand this living world of interdependent relationships,
so now we are being called to recognize that we have become the
guiding principle of the planet. In other words, evolution will
now continue through conscious awareness. This is the essence
of the new spirituality. The danger we face is that our creativity
will continue to exert itself through new forms of manipulation
in the old paradigm of control without being enlightened by the
new spirituality of our interdependent oneness with all there
is. That is the creative tension of our age-the vision of sustainability
and well-being against the current reality of growing destructiveness.
In the metaphor of creative tension the resolution
comes in one of two ways: either being pulled forward by a vision
that is more powerful than current reality, or being pulled back
by our inability to break free from the old concepts. In the midst
of this creative tension come the ideas that will be nourished
by the irrepressible human drive for survival. That is why we
can be optimistic that a new reality will emerge, perhaps not
in our lifetime, but in the course of time. Our task is to feed
Another metaphor often used to characterize
our current condition and the challenges we face is the metamorphosis
of the caterpillar into the butterfly. We are currently living
in the caterpillar world of grasping, chomping consumption of
everything around us. But perhaps the energy has changed and we
are entering the chrysalis stage when the body of the butterfly
builds until it has the wings to fly. Our task is to build the
butterfly, which is the vision of a cooperative, sustainable world
fueled with the energy of a new spirituality.
Three Pillars of Transformation
The big difference between our age and any
previous times when new spiritual ideas surfaced, is that we are
now experiencing a symbiotic effect of spirituality with ecology
and technology. Most people who give serious thought to our existential
predicament know that we face a big turn around in how we live
together on the planet. That big turning will not be inspired
by spirituality alone, but by its integration with ecology and
technology-comprising three pillars of transformation.
The spiritual component, as described above,
is coming from an understanding that consciousness rather than
matter is primary. The fundamental difference that this makes
to the question of human meaning is that it places human consciousness
as the driving force and gives us a new self-image of responsibility
and a deeper linkage to nature as a whole.
That brings us to ecology. The essential understanding
of the ecology movement of recent times is that both human life
and non-human life have intrinsic value and that humans have the
responsibility to preserve the richness and diversity of this
life. Such an understanding has profound implications for how
humans will live on the planet in the future. We need to decrease
rather than increase human population. We need to change current
aspirations for an increasingly higher standard of living to an
appreciation that what counts is the quality of all life on the
whole of the planet, not just in our own backyard.
These changes represent deep shifts in value,
which will be inspired by the shift to the new spirituality of
consciousness already described. In some sense it may mean a return
to what might be called a pre-literate consciousness in which
we understand that all of nature is alive; in which we see spirits
inhabiting trees, rivers and rocks; in which we invest nature
with consciousness and weave sequences of natural events into
anthropomorphic stories; in which we invite nature to reveal herself
to us through our own consciousness.
And what of technology, the third pillar of
the big turning? The old paradigm technology has given us incredible
power to assert ourselves against nature. If our spirituality
and acceptance of ecology give us new values for turning away
from such abuse, how might new technology complement the turning?
This is perhaps the most critical element in
the transformation, for our self-image, at least in the industrialized
world, comes from our ability to live in physical comfort, through
the concentration and use of energy from many sources. However,
the way we use energy is working against our appreciation for
ecology by pouring pollution and toxins into our air, water and
soil to the point that we are now triggering environmental collapse
and climate change all around the planet. Will our addiction to
"dirty' technology be our Achilles' heel in our efforts to
achieve the big turning?
While we can hope for some limited relief from
the dismal energy scenario through the increased use of "greener"
sources of energy (solar, wind, tides, etc.) and through the shift
to a hydrogen economy, the best hope for our future is that technology
can release the energy from the great vacuum field that science
now understands (at least partially) to be a sea of electromagnetic
radiation that fills the universe. This zero-point field has the
potential to provide humanity with limitless energy that would
be almost free to everyone on Earth. Imagine the changes that
would trigger to global economics as the geo-politics of the oil
age are rendered obsolete. Will it happen? Reliable sources suggest
that it will, and in this century-not a moment too soon.
Another unpredictable trajectory of technology
during this century is in the field of artificial intelligence.
Already, reputable sources are speculating on the merging of biological
and non-carbon based intelligence and the creation of super-humans
or perhaps non-human entities with superior intelligence. How
this particular transformation will impact the spirituality and
ethics of the future lies beyond the reach of this writer's imagination,
but we can be sure that the question will have to be addressed.
This article began with the premise that if
there is to be a shift from an old way of being to a new way of
being, it will be primarily a shift in spiritual consciousness.
The new spirituality will see humanity not as a derivative of
either a supreme being who gives us the rules to live by, or an
uncaring evolutionary process in which we are here because of
some cosmic accident, but rather as a co-creative intelligence
in full participation with a living universe.
The new spirituality will be informed by as
well as inform new technology, both being mediated by a deeper
appreciation of ecology. All three forces acting together have
the potential to produce a transformation of life on the planet
greater than any so far recorded in human history and coming faster
than anything humanity has previously experienced.
As we move into the second year of the new
century and new millennium, all this change is still potential.
It is building like bubbles below the surface in an ocean of current
reality. The momentum of the old paradigm is enormous and is resisting
the change at every point. What we are waiting to see is whether
the energy of the new spiritual-ecological-technological paradigm
is strong enough to churn and boil the ocean of current reality
so that the bubbles of potential burst through to the surface.
In the midst of this turbulence all of us are
being challenged to take our place in the scheme of things. Are
we supporting the change or holding onto the old? Almost certainly
we feel caught between two worldviews. It is a time of enormous
creative tension. How do we use our imagination to help resolve
the tension in the direction of a vision of hope? A good question
to ask ourselves each morning.
The conceptual framework for
this article was informed by three main sources:
||The EarthTIES On-line
Conference (January 16- February 12, 2002), in particular
contributions by Elisabet Sahtouris, Brian Swimme and Arne
||Gail Holland, A Call for Connection.
(Novato, California: New World Library, 1998).