Epigenesis means to “grow upon” and (when relating to humans) is the evolutionarily creative impulse within human beings, as well as a metamorphism of the human being in terms of consciousness, towards becoming the infinite conscious creative force of Reality, as manifest through the Source of all that is.
Origins of the Epigenetic Theory
The theory of epigenesis sought to address the creative dimensions of nature in time, particularly in the development of the physical embryo, but also extended out further into all elements within existence. Adherents of the theory of epigenesis recognized that the organism was not yet formed in the fertilized egg, but that it arose as a consequence of profound changes in shape and form during the course of embryogenesis.
Aristotle had been the first to ask whether all the parts of the embryo come into existence together, or if they appear in succession. According to Aristotle, organisms generate themselves successively under the guidance of a formative drive. The generation of each organism was the result of a male formal cause (conveyed by the semen) and a female material cause (the menstrual blood.)
Concerning the metaphysical basis of epigenesis, it is the assumption that subjective forces share in the formation of living organisms. Epigenesis is thus the condition of any claim to absoluteness and is the very discourse that brings the distinction between natural and artificial relations into play in the first place.
Basics of Epigenesis
The consciousness-oriented aspect of epigenesis has been brought to the forefront of human consciousness largely thanks to the Rosicrucian philosophy, a western mystical school of thought. One of the most striking differences between the western mystical philosophy and traditional eastern teachings is the concept of epigenesis. It is a principle whereby the spiritual aspirant can consciously create and introduce new “causes” into the life cycle by utilizing the Law of Cause and Effect, which is alternately called karma.
Unlike the eastern aspirant who attempts to remain aloof from life by “releasing” and practicing detachment to eliminate karma, this western mystical philosophy utilizes life’s opportunities to change an individual’s circumstances. A person seeks first to understand how previous actions have contributed to current situations. Armed with this knowledge, the person sets out to initiate new causes that will eventually result in the most beneficial effects for both his or herself and humanity, as a whole. The aspirant understands that by using this method, drastic change or elevation in the progression of one’s present and future evolution of consciousness can take place. Such a person is a co-creator in his or her own destiny. This is called “conscious evolution.”
Instead of assuming the passive status of a passenger on life’s journey, it is preferred to determine the direction and nature of his or her own trip. Much attention is paid to the subtle dimensions of what is considered the human being. Both eastern and western mystic tradition recognize that the health and vitality of the physical body are a direct manifestation of this “higher” etheric vehicle. As the hermetic adage says, “As above so below.”
According to the evolution of consciousness, humans build upon that which has already been created, but add new elements because of the activity of one’s consciousness (in times past interpreted as spirit). Humans have the capacity, therefore, to become creative intelligences (creators). For a human being to fulfill this promise, his or her training should allow for the exercise of originality, which distinguishes creation from imitation.
When epigenesis becomes inactive, in the individual or even in a race of species, evolution ceases and degeneration commences. This concept is based on the Rosicrucian view of the world as a training school, which posits that while mistakes are made in life, humans often learn more from mistakes than successes. Suffering is considered as merely the result of error, and the impact of suffering on the consciousness causes humans to be active along other lines which are found to be good, in harmony with nature.
Humans are seen as localized fields of consciousness attending the school of life for the purpose of unfolding latent powers within their beings, developing themselves from impotence to omnipotence, reaching the stage of creative beings at the end of humanity’s present physical evolution.
Integral Theory’s Connection with Epigenesis
The concept of epigenesis has a strong connection to the integral theory that had been formulated by Ken Wilber in the 20th century. In this integral philosophy (inspired in part by the works of Plotinus, Hegel, Sri Aurobindo, Eric Jantsch, and many others) reality is said to consist of several realms or stages, including more than one of the following: the physical, the vital, the psychic, (after the Greek psyche, “soul”), the causal (referring to “that which causes, or gives rise to, the manifest world”), and the ultimate (or non-dual and non-linear), through which the individual progressively evolves.
Although this schema is derived in large part from Tibetan Buddhism, Wilber successfully demonstrates that these same levels of being are common to all wisdom teachings. Described simplistically, Wilber sees humans developing through several stages, including magic, mythic, pluralistic, and holistic mentalities. But he also sees cultures as developing through these stages. And, much like Hegel, he sees this development of individuals and cultures as the evolution of existence itself.
Max Heindel, The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception: Involution, Evolution and Epigenesis, November 1909