QUESTION: Can human beings be improved and, if so, by what means?
Of course, “the human condition” can be and has been improved over time so that many people now live more healthily and prosperously, with far greater opportunities for varied experiences and personal development than in former eras. And as knowledge and sciences of all kinds advance, the prospects for the improving of our circumstances and opportunities expand even further. A greater proportion of people will live healthier, be better educated, and enjoy greater opportunities for contributing to the general welfare of the world, leading useful, meaningful lives.
But besides improving the conditions in which human beings live, can the human species itself improve? Analogously to computer systems and programs, can we be “upgraded”? Can our very consciousness be raised to higher levels of cognizance and functioning? Can we evolve into a higher order of humanity—say Homo sapiens sapiens sapiens? Our predecessor, Homo sapiens, like other animals, was conscious. We, Homo sapiens sapiens, are self-conscious as well, or conscious of being conscious. But what higher order of being conscious might yet be manifested in our successor species, Homo sapiens3?
The answer proposed by ancient gurus is Enlightenment or Nirvana or Christ Consciousness. The answer of Richard Maurice Bucke, a Canadian physician, in 1901, was Cosmic Consciousness, which he found exemplified by many harbingers throughout history, from the Buddha to Jesus to Walt Whitman. Bucke’s premise is that human consciousness has further reaches of illumination to attain and has already done so in certain favored forerunners who demonstrate the course of general human development still to come.
Is such a proposition worth exploring? Or must we assume the innate fallibility and deficiency of our species—that we are born broken, naturally self-serving and sinful, and unable to elevate ourselves above our tragic malady?
I opt for the potentials for human consciousness’ evolving to higher, clearer, even holier states than are common now, which are evident in exemplary persons alive today, often honored for their humanitarian acts—such as South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu, Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, and Tibet’s Dalai Lama. Whether such exalted consciousness be called “God consciousness” or “unity consciousness” or “cosmic consciousness” or “evolutionary enlightenment,” such a transcendental state has been reported throughout history and is not the exclusive property of any particular religion or belief system.
Whether it be called a “shift or elevation of consciousness” or a “spiritual transformation,” if the improvements in a person are growth in compassion, love and charitable behavior, then such a state is worth cultivating, and the methods for fostering it should be taught universally.