Two trees, one root: the link between evolutionism and Eastern spirituality
Published: 13 February 2018 (GMT+10)
Looking at today’s once-Christian ‘Western’ society, one sees two non-Christian worldviews growing like long-established trees, stretching their branches into everything from education, to the media, to the church. One tree is materialism, the belief that matter is all there is, firmly based on and intertwined with Darwinian evolution. Its canopy bears the dark fruits which stem from morality without a Creator (and thus Lawgiver).1
Alongside it a second tree is thriving: Eastern spirituality. With its alluring blossoms promising enlightenment, health and wisdom, this tree seems to be drawing much of the world to its shade.
These two worldview ‘trees’ may look very different, but are remarkably connected by a common root system.
Exploring the connection
Like materialistic Darwinism, Eastern spirituality is a far-from-biblical concept that is heavily promoted in popular culture and public education. In education systems throughout the world, ‘mindfulness’ programs have emerged to teach youth meditation practices which, though often secularized, are rooted in ancient Eastern religions.2,3 These may include anything from breathing practices, visualization techniques and other ‘focusing’ exercises to transcendental meditation, mantra repetition and yoga.4
Of course, one needs to avoid the ‘genetic fallacy’, which would be to conclude that something with origins in an anti-biblical philosophy is therefore necessarily unbiblical in itself. It is nonetheless disturbing to see the extent of the enthusiastic penetration of such Hindu-derived practices, with at best minimal evidence of benefit. England, Canada, America, Israel, and India are just a few of the nations to integrate such programs in all levels of school curricula.4 Organizations like Mindful Schools partner with teachers to bring meditation practices to classrooms in over 100 countries.5
But education is only the beginning. In Western nations, Eastern spiritualistic practices are becoming commonplace in such diverse realms as business, the military, and healthcare.3 They have become so popular in Western cultures that some Hindu communities are actually beginning to take offence. For instance, they deplore the Western commercialization of yoga without recognition of its Hindu origins,6 and are offended at imagery of Hindu deities on ‘religiously impure’ consumer goods such as socks, shoes and toilet seats.7 When did Eastern spirituality become so internationally popular?
A bit of history
Let’s backtrack through time to the mid-1800s, shortly after Darwin published his Origin of Species. As evolutionary ideas became popular in Europe and spread to India, which was then a British colony, both Eastern and Western scholars noted that despite some key differences between naturalistic Darwinism and polytheistic Hinduism, there were important commonalities. These make Eastern spirituality all the more appealing to Western cultures in which evolution has made inroads.
For instance, not only does Indian cosmology feature the long ages known as ‘deep time’, but Hinduism maintains that the universe progresses in cycles of evolution and dissolution. In each cycle, a set number of species evolves along a fixed pattern. The fixed, cyclic nature of Hindu evolutionism contrasts with the less predictable linear model which Darwin advanced. But Eastern and Western views of evolution overlapped enough that Swami Vivekānanda (né Narendranath Datta, 1863—1902), instrumental in developing modern yoga and popularizing it in America in the late 1800s/early 1900s said,
“The idea of evolution was to be found in the Vedas [ancient Hindu scriptures] long before the Christian era; but until Darwin said it was true, it was regarded as a mere Hindu superstition.”8
An example of Hindu doctrine which various scholars have interpreted as evolutionary is avatarism. This refers to a series of earthly manifestations, or avatars, of a deity—usually Vishnu. Each reincarnation of Vishnu assumes a new form, beginning as a fish-man and progressing up to a human avatar. Of this doctrine, nineteenth-century Hindu philosopher Keshub Chunder Sen observed,
“Lo! The Hindu Avatar rises from the lowest scale of life through the fish, the tortoise and the hog to the perfection of humanity. Indian Avatarism is, indeed, a crude representation of the ascending scale of Divine creation. Such precisely is the modern theory of evolution.”9
Nineteenth-century Westerners who likewise stressed the overlaps between Eastern and Western evolution include Nobel-Prize-winning essayist Maurice Maeterlinck, and Oxford Sanskrit professor Sir Monier Monier-Williams.10 The latter said, “The Hindus were … Darwinians many centuries before Darwin … .”11
Meanwhile, even as the Western naturalism12 of Darwin and Huxley spread east, Eastern spirituality was spreading west, with many of its prominent promoters advocating at least some elements of Darwinism.
One such was the aforementioned Swami Vivekānanda, who interpreted Yoga Sutras (ancient Hindu texts) along Darwinian lines. He used Westerners’ eroded trust of scriptural authority in Darwin’s wake as an opening for promoting evolution-friendly Hinduism in the West.13 He wrote,
“At the beginning of the nineteenth century man tried to find God through reason, and Deism was the result. What little was left of God by this process was destroyed by Darwinism and Millism.”14
He outlined four types of yoga, describing them as four paths by which man may realize his ‘own divinity’.15 Such ideas fitted well with the Western occultist movements, then becoming popular as an alternative mode of spirituality following Darwinism’s challenge to Christianity.16 The result was to usher yoga into the West through promotion by Western mystics and New Ageists who themselves adopted evolutionary ideas.
Among these was Annie Besant (1847–1933). Once a clergyman’s wife, she became an active political reformer before turning to theosophy, an occultist movement rooted in Hindu teachings.17 A leader of the Theosophical Society, Besant was influenced by Helen Blavatsky, who advanced a spiritualistic, cyclic form of evolution and who wrote,
“Evolutionary law compelled the lunar ‘Fathers’ to pass, in their monadic condition, through all the forms of life and being on this globe … . These ‘Forms’ are called ‘Sons of Yoga,’ because Yoga (union with Brahmâ exoterically) is the supreme condition of the passive infinite deity.”18
Besant was, like Vivekānanda, a key originator of modern yoga, as well as a social Darwinist and eugenicist.19 She advocated yoga as a means of hastening the evolution of a Mother Race, which corresponds to “what used to be called the Aryan Race”.20 Hitler’s swastika is in fact an ancient Hindu symbol.21
Sharing this fascination with both Social Darwinism/racism and Eastern spirituality was John Woodroffe (1865–1936). He interpreted Sanskrit texts into books which helped catalyze Western adaptations of kundalini yoga and hatha yoga.22 Woodroffe also wrote The Seed of Race, outlining a Social Darwinian model which aimed to enhance humanity’s evolution through eugenics.18,23
Further highlighting the intersection between Eastern philosophy and evolutionary thought in the 20th century is the relationship between the prominent humanist Charles Francis Potter (1885–1962) and the American yogi-entrepreneur Pierre Bernard (1875–1955). Bernard was born Perry Baker in Iowa, before choosing a less pedestrian-sounding name for himself in promoting postural yoga, occultism—and himself. A godlike figure to many, he became known as ‘the Great Oom’.
The humanist Potter was once a Baptist minister who adopted increasingly liberal theology. He founded a Unitarian church, debated conservative theologians on topics including creation vs evolution, advised the lawyer defending evolutionary education in the Scopes Trial, and founded the First Humanist Society of New York and the Euthanasia Society of America. In advocating the abolition of the supernatural to leave humanism as ‘real religion’, Potter said that “the chief end of man is to improve himself, both as an individual and as a race”.
Interestingly, Potter was also so taken by Bernard’s ideas that he wrote an unpublished biography of him. What connects Bernard’s Eastern spiritualism with Potter’s evolutionary humanism?
The root—an ancient rebellion
Answering this requires digging straight to the root connecting the two worldview ‘trees’ we have been examining. A major hint is seen in the stated purpose of Vivekānanda’s four yoga paths, echoing Potter’s ‘chief end’ comment: man’s “realization of his own divinity”. This is a lie as old as Eden, first whispered in Eve’s ear when the serpent insisted, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).
It is this rejection of a single, unmatchable, all-powerful biblical Creator that ultimately unites Eastern spirituality and evolutionary materialism. Both are manifestations of the same Genesis rebellion. But Eastern spirituality, unlike naturalistic evolution, has the advantage of recognizing a spiritual dimension. It can therefore tickle the human need for spirituality without requiring acceptance of the biblical Creator, or His moral standards.
It also stands in opposition to our need to recognize our own sinfulness and inability to save ourselves before coming to God through Christ. And it makes its appeal through a framework which shares many overlaps with evolutionary theory, even promising to help humanity reach a higher stage of evolution. No wonder Eastern spirituality appeals to so many in our evolutionized culture!
Ultimately, the only way to overcome the toxic fruits of these two ‘trees’ in our society is to acknowledge the root, reject the rebellion, and turn back to the Genesis Creator through the only way available: Jesus Christ.
References and notes
- For examples, see the list of articles at creation.com/qa#Social. Return to text.
- Renshaw, T.L., & Cook, C.R., Introduction to the special issue: Mindfulness in the schools—historical roots, current status and future directions, Psychology in the Schools 54(1):5–12, 2016. Return to text.
- Meiklejohn, J., et al., Integrating mindfulness training into K–12 education: Fostering the resilience of teachers and students, Mindfulness 3(4):291–307, 2012. Return to text.
- Waters, L., Barsky, A., Ridd, A. & Allen, K., Contemplative education: A systematic, evidence-based review of the effect of meditation interventions in schools, Educational Psychology Review 27(1):103–134, 2015. Return to text.
- Mindful Schools website, mindfulschools.org, accessed 4 August 2017. Return to text.
- Jain, A.R., Who is to say modern yoga practitioners have it all wrong? On Hindu origins and yogaphobia, JAAR 82(2):427–471, 2014. Return to text.
- Ramachandran, T., A call to multiple arms! Protesting the commoditization of Hindu imagery in Western society, Material Religion 10(1):54–75, 2014. Return to text.
- Vivekānanda, S. (1896), as cited in Killingley, D. H., Yoga-sūtra IV, 2–3 and Vivekānanda’s interpretation of evolution, Journal of Indian Philosophy 18(2):151–179, 1990. Return to text.
- Sen, K.C. (1882), cited in Killingley, ref. 8. Return to text.
- Brown, C.M., Colonial and post-colonial elaborations of avataric evolutionism, Zygon 42(3):715–747, 2007. Return to text.
- Monier-Williams, M. (1891), cited in Brown, ref. 10. Return to text.
- Another term for materialism; nature is everything, there is no supernatural realm. Return to text.
- Killingley, ref. 8. Return to text.
- Cited in Killingley, ref. 8. Millism refers to the agnostic John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), an influential liberal philosopher. Return to text.
- Newcombe, S., The development of modern yoga: A survey of the field, Religion Compass 3(6):986–1002, 2009. Return to text.
- Brown, ref. 10. Return to text.
- Annie Besant (1847–1933), bbc.co.uk. Return to text.
- Blavatsky, H., The Secret Doctrine, Vol. II: Anthropogenesis, p. 115, 1988, retrieved 29 July 2017 from phx-ult-lodge.org. Return to text.
- Singleton, M., Yoga, eugenics, and spiritual Darwinism in the early twentieth century, International Journal of Hindu Studies 11(2):125–146, 2007 | doi 10.1007/s11407-007-9043-7. Return to text.
- Besant, A. (1927), cited in Singleton, ref. 17. Return to text.
- For more on this, see Wieland, C., One Human Family: the Bible, science, race and culture, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, 2011. Return to text.
- Jain, A., From Counterculture to Counterculture, in Selling Yoga: From counterculture to pop culture, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, pp. 26–27, 2014. Return to text.
- For background to this subject, see creation.com/eugenics. Return to text.
Interested readers might refer to an article by Van Dam et al "Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation" Perspectives on Psychological Science 2018 v 13(1) 36-61.
A fluent, well-researched article, with sensible conclusions. Thank you, 'Tricia.'
The article has great information, but I'm a little concerned at the legalistic representation of Christian faith with words like 'lawgiver'. The Creator calls us to be restored 'image-bearers' but even more so, in Christ. It is not about adhering to 'rules' but about getting past the 'rules' that we have never been able to keep instead to be given new life through the indwelling Spirit who enlivens us to an abundant life in eternal fellowship with the Creator. At last, restored to life that is part of what is truly real.
Galatians 3:24 the law is the school master that brings us to Christ. Without the law you end up with 'cheap grace'. Of course no one is saved by keeping the law. It only condemns us. Jesus died to pay the just penalty for us breaking God's just law (death). What you say only makes sense with this context.
I have long noted the ideas and principles of Eugenics as being responsible for many of the injustices and unconstitutional persecutions American citizens have been enduring since the early 1900's. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Social Sciences which run our universities and plant little demi-gods into government positions of power over the people. Almost without exception they come to "serve" with the full intention of controlling. And, they summarily determine and develop social constructs that give them reign to determine what is best for humanity and play out their devious inventions under guise and through systems such as CPS where social workers determine who may or may not keep and raise their children. Those in power often fall prey to the ideas that they and they alone are the enlightened ones qualified to control society. By falling for this lie they automatically fall into the materialistic view of life itself and, thus, it is only rational to think of ways to eliminate all the woes in the world by eliminating entire family lines and individuals deemed unworthy. Hinduism was created as a way for the suffering masses to transcend their misery for it takes them out of their bodies but when they return it does nothing to alleviate the conditions causing their misery in the first place thus, leaving them in never ending and perpetual misery. Surely, in comparison to the gospel of Jesus Christ anyone can see the disparity between the constructive forces of the Holy Spirit that compel us to make the changes necessary to improve our lives and the lives of others and the endless cycle of escapism that leads nowhere.
" tickle the human need for spirituality"...well said.
Excellent article! Very informative and well written. This explains a lot!
Wonderful article. Thanks. I and some friends years ago participated in several Mind Body Spirit 'Festival' using Creation to talk to people about truth, our Creator and Saviour. We had many great conversations and were fully aware of the connections this article explains. We wrote many of our own 'bulletins' for our visitors as there were no Christian tracts that suited this group. To write these we studied Eastern philosophies and religions and can only endorse the analsyis in the article.
and again, there is no one else who could and ever will be able to say:
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
...which part of 'no man' don't people understand?
The Bible says, "the serpent said to the woman,..." you will be like God...". That is exactly what Advaita Philosophy, that is the major Hindu philosophy, says today. All we need to do is get rid of our Karma and join with Brahman, the Supreme Reality.This then discards the need for a Mediator Jesus Christ between man and God. This is a fallacy as we all need a Saviour to get rid of our Karma and sin.
There is only one truth, the word of our saviour, JESUS CHRIST.
I confess to flirting with “New Age” and Buddhism before being saved.
At the Buddhist centre it was mostly Aussies and I discerned they were attracted to Buddhism because :
1. They were put off Christianity by anti-Christian propaganda promulgated by satanic forces
2. Some Christian tenets are inconsistent with the secular world view - creation vs evolution, miracles vs materialism
3. They still had a “God shaped hole” which they needed to fill
4. Buddhism does not require belief in a creator God – which does not disturb the western, world view
5. They can still believe in evolution/Darwinism and therefore maintain intellectual credibility
6. Buddhism conveniently explains the difficult question of suffering/bad fortune via the “law of karma” (which requires no repentance)
7. Buddhism does not require belief in the supernatural or miracles
8. Buddhist meditation requires a certain self-discipline, consistent with western work ethic
The western education system brainwashes our youth against Christianity and instils the materialistic, Darwinian, evolutionary belief system.
This causes a cognitive dissonance between the secular and Christianity.
The person abandons Christianity and pursues the secular belief system, which is nevertheless a religious belief - Nihilism.
However, the emptiness/meaninglessness of the materialistic world view is contrary to our true nature and provides no spiritual satiation
People feel empty and often fill themselves with drugs, alcohol, sex etc
Some who don’t ruin themselves with hedonism go to New Age/eastern religions, promoted by satanic forces as a proxy.
This is a challenge to reverse due to significant investment in this strategy by the enemy, who is dedicated to the long game.
Thanks for the article.
Spirituality in nature & in the mind both miss the mark but their popularity is big as the western world searches for meaning apart from the revealed truth of God's Word & Jesus the Son.
I think Kung Fu of the 70's & the Kung Fu Panda of the 21st Century were/are subtle teachings of influence & invitations to try something different & find the power within or the power of the universe. Guru's unite.
So close & yet so far when it comes to the truth & that is often how a clever deception works.The ancient world is very much alive today & the same battle ever-present. Enter the dragon/serpent.
Evolution with its materialism and eastern spirituality would seem on the surface to be opposed to each other, and yet, as Tricia shows, the common rejection of God the Creator actually makes them allies. While most of the CMI readers will be well aware of the dangers that evolution poses, even to the church, many will be less aware of the dangers of eastern spirituality and its 'western adaptations' of yoga, mindfulness, visualization, meditation, and New Age spirituality, practices which are even entering into the church. As believers in Christ guarding against such practices, we must remember that it is only by the finished work of Christ on the cross, and nothing else, that we may enter into the presence of God.
Thank-you Tricia for a well written and well researched article.
Very interesting article thank you! I've always felt uneasy about yoga and meditation.
A slight diversion from the article, but something that jumped at me while I was reading it, is how Satan used the popularity of The Beatles in the 1960s to introduce yoga and meditation into the 'Christian' West through their connection with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who was the founder of Transcendental Meditation.)
Kudos for the occult practice of meditation was introduced into the 'Christian' West by mixing it with the popularity and hysterical mass following held by the Beatles.
What an article.
The relations between Hinduism, Buddhism and evolutionism is just another evidence that modern day darwinism is actually unscientific Pantheism that believes nature itself is kind of a life producing and life progressing "womb".
In Buddhism, people can emulate and even surpass God and attain "Nirvana", a state said to be beyong words.
In Hinduism man can become real god themselves and surpass worldly existence and even attain "moksha" or become one with "brahma"-the very meaing of Yoga.
In either case, they advocate man's own pride and so called inner potential , and seek to be on par with God or even surpass God. This is the very theme in Eden where Satan deceived the first couple that they can become Godlike. What a gross lie catering to the carnal heart of pride.
So from a biblical point view, they have lost humbleness under God and fill their hearts with pride. And it is pride that stand in our way to recognize the true God just as Bible teaches us.
So these southeastern religions are just another example that shows our carnal hearts are prone to be proud of themselves.
Unlike western cultures, eastern people are more introverted so when they become pride in their hearts, they are more likely to imagine they can really become or surpass God， which is just another illusion. Because evolutionism and athesim likewise proclaim that there is no God， no Creator， so there are no higher existence for which we should be held responsible and there is no higher beings other than humans ourselves, which is just another form of human pride and vanity. For they want no higher beings and rules so they could lead their immoral way of life.
So great is the Bible teaching that pride is
really the enemy that keeps us from walking into true God.
Thank you for this exposure of the link between evolutionism, eastern mysticism and the occult, which is now so alarmingly rampant. How wonderful, that despite the wickedness and corruption in the world, God has not left himself without witness. His invincible truth, through that inner, pure, gentle witness of the Holy Spirit, attends us still. '...the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men'. I read Proverbs 16 this morning, where there are several verses that speak into this topic, encouraging the saints to stand firm 'in the day of evil': E.g. "By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil": And we know who shall prevail in the end, and indeed has prevailed, through his Cross (Rev 5.5; 12:7-9). Not long to wait now.