Evolving Under the Banyan Tree with the Holy Spirit Dangling Down
Some commenters failed to understand my point about Man, -- not this or that man, but Man as Such -- that he cannot evolve further, because he is the end of evolution. As Northern Bandit put it in a comment, we are adequate to the Absolute, and that is as far as you can go -- unless you think you can "be" the Absolute, which is an absurdity on the way to a crime.
Of course this does not preclude such categories as improvement, learning, purification, illumination, union, etc. Again, we are not the Absolute; we only know it. Nor are we (yet) the likeness of God, only the image. I accept the Orthodox view that our own personal evolution, as it were, takes place between image and likeness, or potential and actualization. To put it another way, all men are born with the potential of becoming the likeness, but few people make it all the way. We call them saints, or starets, or mystics.
A few readers will no doubt wonder how this squares with Sri Aurobindo's cosmic evolutionary scheme, but I don't think his views can be wrenched from their Hindu context. We're talking mostly about Christianity here, in which the "descent of the Supermind" has already occurred; we call it the Incarnation, which is the bridge between God and man that assures us that our own little ladder goes all the way to the top floor. In the absence of the descent, we could only ascend so high from the doubthouse to the repenthouse.
I have said before that in my view Aurobindo was (without knowing it) very much "Christianizing" Vedanta, no doubt because of his western education at Cambridge, in which he absorbed not only Christianity and evolutionism (which was all the rage at the time -- and not just the Darwinian kind), but the whole Western canon.
Other methods of yoga are purely "ascending" paths, like, say Plotinus in the West. Only Aurobindo's is a descending, this-worldly path, the goal of which is to "divinize" oneself and creation -- very much analogous to the Christian goal of personal theosis and of redeeming the world. This is not to immamentize the eschaton, in which the distinction between transcendence and immanence is obliterated and man is made God. Rather, it is to live in the dynamic space between them.
And I fully accept Aurobindo's thesis that in order for there to have been an evolution, there must have been a prior involution. This idea is concordant with hermetic Christianity and Kabbalah, and basically means that God is both the ladder and the goal.
Just yesterday I was reading a very clear expression of these ideas in Kallistos Ware's The Orthodox Church, in which he describes the point at which "Christianity" really began. Was it with the Incarnation? The Transfiguration? The Resurrection? No, not exactly. Those were all cosmically necessary, but not quite humanly sufficient causes. It was with Pentecost, which marks "the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at Jerusalem.... On that same day through the preaching of St. Peter three thousand men and women were baptized, and the first Christian community at Jerusalem was formed" (emphasis mine).
The preaching that day that was so effective because it embodied a horizontal propagation of the vertical descent into Peter. Absent the descent, his words would have been mere pneumababble with no intrinsic power (or celestial mandate) to convert others.
Have you ever seen a banyan tree, like the ones in Florida, where I'll soon be visiting? It's a very strange tree, in that it sends down filaments from the branches, which descend to the ground and create what looks like another ascending trunk of a separate tree; it's as if the root system is above, not below. No wonder they're considered sacred symbols in India. You might think of the body of Christ as analogous to the banyan tree, which has all the individual "trunks" that are really just part of the single tree descending from above.
Elsewhere, Ware perfectly describes the (↓) (↑) symbols used in my book, as applied to Christianity. He quotes St. Paul's statement about Christ sharing "our poverty (↓) that we might share the riches of His divinity (↑)." This process of man's gradual divinization is called theosis:
"No one less than God can save humanity; therefore if Christ is to save, He must be God. But only if He is truly human, as we are, can we humans participate in what He has done for us. A bridge is formed between God and humanity by the Incarnate Christ who is divine and human at once."
And here is the money quote, from John 1:51: "Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending (↑) and descending (↓) upon the Son of Man." And as Ware adds, "Not only angels use that ladder, but the human race." (Please note the critical point that when the Third Person of the Trinity Incarnated as a man, he also did so as mankind, otherwise we would have no access to the ladder.)
I think that Schuon was the quintessential humanist, in a way that a secular humanist can by definition never be, since the latter denies any genuine possibility of the (↓) and (↑) that are our lifeline and our salvation. Some of his observations about Man are luminously and beautifully accurate:
"Man is spirit incarnate; if he were only matter, he would be identified with the feet; if he were only spirit, he would be the head, that is, the Sky; he would be the Great Spirit. But the object of his existence is to be in the middle: it is to transcend matter while being situated there, and to realize the light, the Sky, starting from this intermediary level. It is true that the other creatures also participate in life, but man synthesizes them: he carries all life within himself and thus becomes the spokesman for all life, the vertical axis where life opens onto the spirit and where it becomes spirit. In all terrestrial creatures the cold inertia of matter becomes heat, but in man alone does heat become light."
"Man -- insofar as he is distinct from other creatures on earth -- is intelligence; and intelligence -- in its principle and its plenitude -- is knowledge of the Absolute; the Absolute is the fundamental content of the intelligence and determines its nature and functions. What distinguishes man from animals is not knowledge of a tree, but the concept -- whether explicit or implicit -- of the Absolute; it is from this that the whole hierarchy of values is derived, and hence all notion of a homogeneous world. God is the 'motionless mover' of every operation of the mind, even when man -- reason -- makes himself out to be the measure of God."