A definition of evolution by Roberto Assagioli from his book Transpersonal Development.
“The eighth group of symbols, which has much in common with human experience, is indicated by the words ‘evolution’ and ‘development’. In a sense we might say that these words are synonymous. To develop, which literally means ‘to become disentangled’, refers to progress from the potential to the actual.
The two main symbols of development are the seed and the flower: a seed has all the potential it needs to become a tree, and a flower, from its closed bud, opens up and enables the fruit to form. We have grown so used to this that it no longer surprises us when an acorn, by some miraculous process, becomes an oak, or when a child becomes an adult. But where actually is the tree in the seed? Where is the oak in the acorn? Aristotle spoke about ‘entelechy’, and others have spoken about ‘models’ or ‘archetypes”. One has to admit some pre-existent reality, an immanent Intelligence guiding the various stages of development from the seed to the tree, from the germinal cell or cells to the complete organism.
The other symbol, one that has been used extensively from the earliest times, is that of the flower, particularly the lotus, our waterlily (India) and the rose (Persia and Europe). The symbolism of the lotus comes closest to what takes place in humans. The lotus has its roots in the earth, its stem grows in water, and its flower opens in the air from the effect of the sun’s rays. Oriental thinkers have seen this as a symbol of the human being, with a physical body, or earthly base, which then develops psychologically in the sphere of the emotions (the water) and the mind (the air). Reawakening of the spiritual consciousness corresponds to the opening up of a flower produced by the life-giving powers of the sun, a symbol of the Spirit. Eastern philosophers also maintain that the human soul is like the lotus flower, and that it has nine main petals, divided up into three groups. The first group stands for spiritual knowledge, the second stands for spiritual love, and the third for spiritual strength. At the centre is the ‘Jewel of the Lotus’, the divine Essence, which is only revealed when an individual’s spirit has fully developed. Certain Eastern methods of development and meditation are based on this lotus symbolism.
The symbolism of the rose comes from Persia where the mystical poets speak of the rose in this symbolic sense. In Europe we find Le Roman de la Rose, the ‘mystical rose’ referred to by Dante, and certain secret movements, such as the Rosicrucians. The symbol of the rose has been used in a special exercise which is very effective in encouraging and bringing about an opening up and an unfolding of the spiritual consciousness (see page 95).
The symbol of development can be applied in two stages: the first covers the transition from a child to an ordinary adult, and the second the transition from the ‘normal’ adult to the spiritually awakened being.
Maria Montessori, who devoted so much of her life to the education of children and brought about a revolution in the education system of her day, is right when she says:
The child is actively engaged in creating the fully grown person within him and gladly fulfils this task when the adult at his side does not hinder him by administering his own pearls of wisdom. The child is the human seed; just as the oak is contained within the acorn, so the child contains the adult in embryo form.
Although the method introduced by Maria Montessori was revolutionary, we should remember Plutarch’s words, ‘Man is not a vase to be filled up, but a fire that only needs to be kindled.’ Education should be precisely what the etymology of the word implies: e- ducere, drawing out from within, or developing.
As regards the second stage of human development, we can say that this truly represents the transition to what is practically a superhuman state – entry, symbolically speaking, into the Kingdom of God, the fifth realm of nature, as different from the fourth realm as the fourth is from the third, i.e. the animal kingdom. We should not look down on our bodies from the animal kingdom; despite having an animal’s body, we are still self-aware beings. Thus the superhuman beings (the genius, saint, sage or hero) have an animal body and a human personality, but at the same time something extra: they are spiritual beings.”