Spiritual Evolution

from Training for the Life of the Spirit by Gerald Heard (1889-1971), British homosexual, social commentator, philosopher and mystic who came to America with Aldous Huxley and was later part of the Southern California Vedanta group that included Christopher Isherwood. A central notion in Heard's thought was the idea of "forerunner types," i.e. people a little ahead of the rest in consciousness. Some aspects of homosexuality he saw as forerunner traits.

Our animal evolution and our human history have a tendency running through them. That tendency is for our consciousness to evolve. First we were mainly bodies with a mind that helped a little. Then body and mind shared the task of going on developing. Finally the body took less and less part and the mind oversaw everything. So it has been that many parts of the body which are of vital importance to animals, such as their teeth and their ears, we have been able to allow very largely to fail. Our great brain carries on and provides substitutes.

Once we see evolution in this light (and to try to see it in any other is nearly always to put out the light by which to view it) we realize that it could continue. Once we can understand our past we can realize that we have a future. In brief that future is to evolve further, to evolve consciously, to evolve consciousness. We have to look forward to, to aim at and achieve a further condition of consciousness. As cunning turned into foresight, so foresight in turn became reflection; as reflection grew into speculation, so speculation grew into self-consciousness; now this self-consciousness, this detached awareness of oneself, must be followed by another step that looms ahead of us. Intelligence can turn into comprehension and thought into its higher state, spirituality, which is the conscious realization of union with That from which it has sprung.

But as this is now to be evolution carried on in consciousness, it must be done consciously. We must ourselves deliberately develop ourselves. That evolution which follows will show itself in a threefold development: in growth of conduct, of character and of consciousness itself.

... [Spiritual awareness] indicates in brief these four high points: That we can evolve further; that evolution is essential if we are to be adequate to face our present crisis; that evolution is spiritual, it is a growth in consciousness, in awareness, in power and control through understanding our connection with all life and with the Eternal Life which sustains all life; that evolution is now achieved and achieved only by the skilled, conscious training of our spirits.

... There is actual evidence that [such] training, if we use the right method and aim in the right direction, does lead to otherwise unattainable improvement in our conduct. Forerunner types, showing what we may become, have already appeared. Though not frequent, they have in fact been appearing with considerable constancy for thousands of years. They are those whom we generally call, rather loosely, saints.

Saints are of different degrees, and these degrees are evidences of various stages of spiritual evolution. The first-degree saint may be called a moral genius. His conduct is constantly what we attain at happy moments and under most favorable conditions. But it may cost him inner conflict. The second-degree saints have gone beyond this conflict. The training has penetrated until not only their conduct but their character is constant. Now their whole will only wills one thing always. Though without conflict and fear they may still suffer from sadness. That is because, though their hearts know what can be done, their intellects still apprehend the same world as we do. They therefore periodically retire to fix their mind on what is still for them the invisible. The third-degree saints have risen above this limitation. They do not need any longer to retire in order to recollect. They constantly see Reality; they walk all the time in the Everlasting. Their training has permeated their whole nature. Not only are their conduct and character transformed but their actual consciousness is as well. Their conditioned reflexes have been re-conditioned and the aperture and focus of their consciousness have been enlarged to register more of Reality than we can apprehend.

This series of advanced types is valuable to us as earnest and guaranty that evolution does go on and as an indication of its direction: toward increased consciousness. This increased consciousness is therefore won by a constantly enlarged awareness of one’s kinship and union with Life.