Evolution and Involution
Theosophical literature uses the word “evolution” to refer to a process that refers not only to biological development but also to cosmic systems such as galaxies or solar systems, as well as to the progressive unfoldment of consciousness in organisms.
Biological Evolution. Darwin formulated the theory of evolution as a result of his observations of the apparent mutation of animals and plants in adapting to different environments mainly through a process that he termed natural selection. In each succeeding generation of any species, there are genetic variations that result in different characteristics from the previous generation. Some of these variations survive, others do not, depending upon their ability to cope with the environment as a result of these changes.
Since the time of Darwin, several theories have been advanced to further account for mutations in organisms. These theories synthesize new insights derived from observations in microbiology, plant genetic modification, fossil studies, population genetics, etc. Certain factors, for example, contribute to rapid evolution, such as small populations, which quickly result in a “genetic drift” towards the preponderance of certain traits after a few generations. Major environmental changes can result in dramatic changes in organismic adaption within a short period. This is the theory of punctuated equilibrium, as opposed to the previously assumed constant and gradual evolution of species or phyletic gradualism. Migration of organisms also result in new patterns of mutations, or “gene flow.” Whereas Darwin simply based his theory on natural selection, modern theories of evolution have refined Darwin’s thesis to account for many other sources of mutations in organisms.
Theosophical View. In theosophy, evolution has a much profounder meaning than the Darwinian theory. Evolution is a process in nature arising from an innate impulse in all things in nature to unfold their potential. It is similar to the Hindu concept of svabhvah ( “innate disposition,” ). The concept is therefore closer to the idea of EMANATION since the impulse and the pattern is essentially coming from within, although external factors do play a part in its material aspects. The energy behind this impulse is FOHAT.
The impulse comes from the spiritual MONAD in its two aspects: the universal monad, and the individualized monad. The primordial or universal monad or spirit descends into matter — an “involutionary” process, that is, spirit involving itself into grosser material form. This results in the individualized monad. Thereafter the immersed monad re-ascends to its former universal state.
There are many waves of life that are descending or ascending. Those that are descending into matter are growing towards greater material density and complexity, while those ascending are becoming more spiritual. These are the two simultaneous streams of evolution. They go in opposite directions, also called the descending arc and the ascending arc, involution and evolution. These two streams are called pravritti and nivritti in Hindu philosophy.