Teilhard had a unique perspective on evolution and spirituality. Unlike the contemporaries of his time, he saw religion, mysticism and evolution as part of one greater process of unfolding, groping towards some unity with the Godhead. A new kind of faith, which saw an attainable future “unity” with God, a glorious “Kingdom of Heaven” on Earth, in which humanity was here to continue to evolve, be challenged to grow and love, unite and build the world together. In a sense, his version of Christian mysticism has two important factors: That all matter is divine, and secondly, that we are not here to escape or transcend matter, so much as we are to discover the divinity that is already in the world. Humanity then has a unique destiny. The world is compelled towards greater unity, greater complexity, so that the inner Godhead may shine through. Human beings are the “pinnacle” of this, because we are capable of self-reflection and actively participating in “building the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.”
Teilhard saw Eastern spirituality discovering the same underlying thing, but in a different way (which he thought made them deficient, compared to his version of Western/Christian mysticism). He believed Buddhism and Hinduism understood that there is an essentially divine nature behind physical reality, but they took a cynical view towards this world: don’t bother with it, it’s illusion, there is something far more real! He believed that because Eastern mysticism sought to simply realize what already is, instead of looking ahead to some ever-greater future, it could not be the total picture. To summarize, he believed Eastern spirituality to be too dismissive about the physical world and the story of its evolution. The world of matter was important too. Even though it was essentially divine, it had a direction and an unfoldment we were a part of. Teilhard dismissed his contemporaries for being so fascinated by Eastern religions, but I think he actually missed what Eastern mysticism was all about.
Even though Christianity had always looked to the future for Christ’s second coming, it had become very static. Evolution was not incorporated into the theological doctrine (and even today, the Catholic Church is only beginning to become open to faith as a process). The world just “was,” and eventually, Christ would return. The notion of process, evolution, etc was missing.
In the East, one could say it was similar on the surface level. Even though Buddhism taught of impermanence and flux, there wasn’t much focus on direction. After all, evolution is a form of impermanence.
The East has an equally beautiful vision for the world as a cycle with definite direction. Its mysticism shares Teilhard’s vision for Christianity: the notion that there are greater Ages to come and humanity will be a direct part of that unfolding.
There are the Yugas, in which we move from an age of bare subsistence and survival (Kali yuga), to the gradual return to God-consciousness (Satya Yuga). In Buddhism, there is the idea that Maitreya would return as a great Buddha for a future age. In Persia during 19th century, the Bahai Faith emerged, claiming that all religions were part of a great spiritual unfolding. Interestingly, this more recent faith has placed the “core” mystical teaching as the pinnacle and forefront of its teaching. Something that has not been done by other established world religions.
All in all, I’m saying that the story of process, direction, unfolding is not Western, nor is it Eastern. It’s a perennial mysticism that is shared by both hemispheres and spiritual traditions. If we bring this to focus with scientific understanding of evolution, spirituality itself has the potential to cultivate a new, worldly faith that isn’t limited by respective cultural contexts. Evolution has sent a shockwave through all facets of civilization, so what would happen if the world embraced it spiritually, in a common mystical vision that appears to have already been a part of human history for thousands of years? If anything, evolution hyper-charges spirituality with new context and a planetary meaning. The possibilities here are overflowing.