Here we look at how the contemporary view of materialism and spirituality – the reigning 'paradigm' – has flowed and changed over the centuries
The backgound to our work is our understanding thatthere is an 'Ageless Wisdom' - a fundamental truth that lies behind all religions. It is available today as an inspiring source of answers to current fundamental practical problems. A basic tenet of the Wisdom is that whilst there is only one truth, it is a living truth and needs to be understood in terms appropriate to the time and place – hence the multiplicity of apparently different religions.
This idea, that a non-material level of consciousness is accessible, is not, today, a popular view. Over the years the reigning belief systems have changed and today we see the prevailing paradigm as a belief in Materialism. Here we look at how these paradigms have changed - how the most recent system has inhibited spiritual awareness - and where we are today.
The Ageless Wisdom - is a long-held spiritual teaching that has many names including the Perennial Philosophy and in recent years Theosophy. It is not a religion - but a belief system that underlies all regions - we call it the Wisdom.
The Wisdom holds certain basic tenets about the spiritual world that can be summarised as.
There are two fundamental levels of awareness
- The Material - accessed through the intellect and senses
- The Spiritual - or higher levels of consciousness - only accessed through a spiritual practice such as meditation.
All is One - There is one unified Whole embracing everything spiritual and material. Behind this Whole is the Mind of All. This Mind is a consciousness found everywhere - from the smallest sub-particle of an atom up to the Cosmos and its Galaxies. Everywhere there is consciousness and everywhere there is life, for there is no empty space or inanimate matter anywhere in the universe.
Individual souls - evolve from the One, each containing a spark of the One. These souls go through a long journey of repeated incarnations during which they develop awareness of the lowest level of consciousness and eventually return to oneness with the All.
Hierarchy of Beings - Between the extremes of the Divine One and individual incarnate souls. is a 'ladder of consciousness' occupied by intelligent entities from the mundane to the supreme. Certain advanced spirits no longer need to re-incarnate and are available as teachers and guides for incarnate individuals. These advanced souls are recognised in many forms including inspirers of individual religions such as Jesus, avatars and saints.
Spiritual Practice - For the incarnate human to progress in developing higher levels of consciousness, it is necessary to develop a regular spiritual practice. This practice can take many forms, including Yoga, chanting, dancing, prayer - and the universally recommended art of meditation. Developing these practices, leads to the ability to access beings at higher levels of consciousness and, through them, the cosmic Wisdom.
Over recent Centuries, these beliefs have been promulgated as follows:
Christianity (0 to date) - the original teaching was based on the tenets of the Wisdom. This later developed into a rigid Creed. Contact with the Divine could only be made through a priest of the church and through specific ceremonies. Christianity became, in Europe, the dominating paradigm for hundreds of years - but by basing its teachings on the new Testament Bible, it lost the essential flexibility of the Wisdom - always to be projected in terms appropriate to the specific time and place.
The Renaissance - (15th and 16th Centuries) - was a period in Europe marking the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. Essentially it was a rediscovery of the teachings of Plato and ancient Greece bringing a new focus on philosophy, and the understanding of natural science – it brought a willingness to explore the material reality of things rather than accepting the traditional teachings of Christianity.
Isaac Newton (1642 to 1727) - English mathematician, physicist, astronomer and theologian. Widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time. Defined the mechanical and physical laws of gravity, motion and light - and developed the differential calculus. His definitions allowed the interpretation of the world as a mechanical apparatus, apparently running on universally applicable rules and laws without the need for of a God. Newton himself did not see it as such as he was deeply spiritual and an active researcher and practiser of alchemy.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) - English naturalist and biologist best known for his contributions to the science of evolution and in particular his book 'The Origin of Species'. He proposed that all life had descended from common ancestors.
Materialism (1850 - 1970) - The Renaissance, and Newton's laws, started the weakening of the influence of Christian theology - the task was completed with the ideas of Darwin. Christianity contended that every species, including man, had been created initially by God. Now Darwin was saying something quite different. It appeared that religion and science were holding different and irreconcilable views. This difference was acerbated by the growing stature of scientists and the slow erosion of the authority of the Christian church.
Furious arguments broke out between Christian Bishops and reputable scientists. Despite well intentioned efforts, no meeting place was found between the two views, and it was agreed that religion and science should be looked upon as two different fields of activity. Each would accept its own findings and beliefs without making any effort to reconcile these views with the ideas of the other party.
A split had taken place between the concept of science - that everything could be defined in material terms - and the belief of religion that there was another level of awareness that was not strictly material.
From this early split, Materialism gathered momentum with extraordinary speed. Scientists and engineers developed electricity, the internal combustion engine, aircraft. wireless and computers. New treatments were found for previously incurable diseases and it began to appear that everything in the universe could be described in concrete material terms - from the minutest subatomic particle to the galaxies of the Cosmos. Included was the human body - the product of chance mutation of the cells. Thought, creativity and imagination were a product of the physical brain - there was no room for the idea of higher levels of consciousness, independent of the physical brain.
Science came to be seen as the one and only truth. If something could not be proven scientifically. then it did not exist. Materialism became the 'religion' of the age - any idea put forward in contradiction of this concept was looked upon as foolish and infantile. An academic or scientist who dared to voice the concept of higher levels of consciousness was in danger of being ostracised by their peers and cut off from research funding.
Despite this, as always, a minority continued to believe in the Wisdom - but they had little influence and found it best to keep quiet.
Academic Post Materialism (1970 - 2021) - Various ideas were emerging from scientific and academic research that were beginning to quietly disturb the rigid views of Materialism. Quantum physics was showing that, at microscopic levels, there was no material reality – simply a shimmering sea of energy - the 'Quantum Universe' in which there were no solid artefacts - only energy, that could be influenced by the observer.
In psychology, experiments were beginning to confirm the reality, even by material standards, of psychic phenomena such as distant viewing. telepathy, past-life memories and near-death experiences.
Research into the study of DNA, and genes, was showing that DNA alone did not appear to define the physique, personality and talents of individual humans.
A few brave souls began to state that that we appear to be moving out of the age of pure Materialism and moving to a point where we can accept and understand higher levels of consciousness - a consciousness not accessible by conventional intellectual processes. This might be a tentative dawning of a new understanding of the Ageless Wisdom - possibly better called an 'An Awakening of Pre-Materialism’!
The Signs are encouraging - but as yet these ideas are only being publicly voiced by a minority of academics and scientists.
Social Post Materialism (1970 - 2021) - in the social sphere, post materialism has taken a different path - it is held to be the transformation of individual values from the material, physical and economic to those of autonomy and self-expression. The origin of this change lies in the relative material security experienced by the post-war generations leading them to assume that society would look after them whatever happened. It was no longer necessary to build material wealth to secure the future, and it was now possible to be interested, and concentrate upon, self-expression, freedom of speech, gender equality and the environment.
This new Paradigm is clearly seen amongst the young and their interest in the need to do something concrete about global warming, the place of women in society and freedom to be different.
The Now (2021) - through the years of developing Materialism, religion and spirituality grew increasingly isolated. But the ideas of the Ageless Wisdom were kept alive, in quiet corners, by mystery schools and organisations such as the Theosophical Society. With ‘Post Materialism', spirituality may be beginning to make a modest reappearance - and reacceptance.
Our contention is that conscious accessing of higher levels of consciousness, and the Wisdom they contain, is a way of achieving inspired inspiration for practical solutions to material problems.
Whilst the old Materialism still dominates public awareness, these ideas are not likely to achieve wide acceptance -- so, it is up to those who understand, to quietly share these concepts with others, clearly define our ideas, and then, when appropriate, begin share them more widely.
Maybe in another hundred years, we will begin to see real progress!