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The Four Kingdoms

Mineral-Vegetable-Animal-Human

During the middle ages and after, alchemical thinking divided nature into animal, vegetable, and mineral.  There is in fact a natural succession from inert mineral to the plant that is alive but not (apparently) sentient to the animal that has awareness but not reason.  Hence the human kingdom as the next rung on the ladder of being.  The series mineral-plant-animal-man is still used in a number of western esoteric systems of thought: Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Rosicrucianism, contemporary Sufism, the teachings of Edgar Cayce, more recent New Age, channellings, and science-metaphysics syntheses like Arthur Young's Reflexive Universe.

The concept of the "four kingdoms of nature" was adopted and modified by the theosophists, who proposed a number of involutionary kingdoms that represent the downward antecedent of the "evolutionary" kingdoms of plants, animals and man.

The Four Kingdoms - Baha'i Thought and Modern Science

Note: The following is taken from the archives of a Baha'i newsgroup and nicely illustrates the problem of reconciling traditional spiritual thought with modern science in understanding the natural world.


Sean Alphonse (post dated Mon, 8 Sep 1997)
Hello and Allah'u'Abha. My intention, as a Baha'i is to use this newsgroup, soc.religion.bahai, as a means of healthy consultation for Baha'is and non-declared Baha'is. My question deals with the topic of kingdoms discussed within the writings of Abdu'l-Baha. On page 240 of the book The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Abdu'l-Baha writes:

"Answering them, the men of divine knowledge have said that all existing phenomena may be resolved into grades or kingdoms, classified progressively as mineral, vegetable, animal and human, each of which possesses its degree of function and intelligence. When we consider the mineral, we find that it exists and is possessed of the power of affinity or combination. The vegetable possesses the qualities of the mineral plust the augumentative virtue or power of growth. It is, therefore, evident that the vegetable kingdom is superior to the mineral. The animal kingdom in turn possesses the qualities of the mineral and vegetable plus the five senses of perception whereof the kingdoms below it are lacking.  Likewise, the power of memory inherent in the animal does not exist in the lower kingdoms."

At this moment in time, in the scientific world, there are more than four kingdoms representing the phenomenal world. If we assume that the mineral world applies to all phenomena that is not living nor biological, then there are still five kingdoms within the world of biology and microbiology. For example, protozoan life is understand not to be classified as an animal or plant because of certain criteria, such as being only a single eukaryotic celled organism, etc. Likewise, all fungi and bacteria have their own classifications separate from that of the plant, animal kingdom and humans ( with the basic assumption that humans are classified separately because of their ability to exclusively have a free will). My question is, should this concept of the spiritual kingdoms, as presented by Abdu'l-Baha, include these other kingdoms, and if not what is to happen to extra kingdoms presented in the biological scientific community?


Jean B. Hunter (post dated Sat, 13 Sep 1997)
Hi Sean -- If you look at the criteria that Abdu'l-Baha sets out for the vegetable kingdom, which "possesses the qualities of the mineral plus the the augmentative virtue or power of growth" and the animal kingdom which also "possesses the five senses of perception", it seems clear that the micro-organisms would fall within Abdu'l-Baha's definition of the plant kingdom. IMHO having the 5 senses of perception denotes the existence of a central nervous system, which all but a few animal species have and no plant or micro-organism has. (Sponges don't have a CNS)

Remember also that when Abdu'l-Baha was teaching, microbiology was a reasonably new science with a very confused taxonomy; for example, fungi were classified with the plants. Now different fungi are classed in 3 different kingdoms none of which is the plants!

IMHO we can't expect the dynamic and ever-advancing knowledge of physical reality that we get from science, and the cosmic, timeless knowledge encapsulated in static scripture, to correspond precisely. The worlds of creation and revelation aren't necessarily governed by the same natural laws.

My 2 cents, Jean in Ithaca
-         Jean Hunter, Ithaca, NY,    USA, Earth, Universe, the Mind of God




More recently, E.F. Schumacher in external link Chapter 2 of "Guide for the Perplexed" 1977 revived the four kingdom concept as an example of the "Perennial Philosophy"


Guide for the Perplexed

The following table correlates these different systems.


stages:
mineral kingdom
Plant kingdom
Animal kingdom
Human kingdom
angelic kingdoms
Divinisation
Aristotle
(soul)
n/a
(plant) soul
irrational (animal) soul
rational soul
n/a
n/a
medieval "kingdoms"
Mineral  kingdom
Plant kingdom
Animal  kingdom
Human  kingdom
angelic hierarchies
n/a
Anthroposophy
(Steiner)
Levels of Self
Mineral (individualised physical body
Plant
(individualised etheric body)
Animal
(individualised astral body)
Man
(individualised ego: self-
consciousness)
nine spiritual hierarchies (angelology)
n/a

Modern science however has rendered the four kingdom idea obsolete.  First the mineral kingdom or inanimate matter has been replaced by the hierarchy of particles, atoms, and molocules.  Then more recently the plant and animal kingdoms were replaced by the five kingdom model of Whittaker (monera, protist, fungi, plant, and animal (including human)), and then the three domains of Woese and others.

The above mentioned discoveries in the physical sciences in the late 19th and early 20th centuries led some authors has also added further kingdoms like subatomic particles, atoms, molocules, etc before the mineral.  Arthur Young proposes the interesting hypothesis that particles, atoms, and molocules represent the downward part of the theosophical series. These authors retain the now dated distinction of life into plant and animal, showing how "hedgehog"-style esotericist unified science lags behind discoveries in science. This is because it is impossible to keep track of all new discoiveries, and hence generalisations that the grand theorists make are often faulty


stages: physical source - physical involution/
evolution
subatomic particles - physical involution/
evolution
atoms  - physical involution/
evolution
molocules
/inanimate matter -
physical involution/
evolution
plant - physical evolution animal - physical evolution human - physical evolution trans- human
(spiritual) - physical divinisation
Anthroposophy
(Steiner)
n/a
Mineral (individual- ised physical body only) Plant
(individual- ised etheric body)
Animal
(individual- ised astral body)
Man
(individual- ised ego: self-
conscious- ness)
nine spiritual hierarchies (angelology)
Edward Haskell Unified Science singularity;
quasar
particles atoms molocules;
geoid systems
plant ecosystems animal ecosystems human societies omega
Arthur Young
Reflexive Universe
photon/
electromagnetic spectrum
(involutionary)
particles
(involutionary)
atoms
(involutionary)
molocules
(the turn)
plants animals dominion
(not necessarily, or only, human)

A further approach is indicated by Theosophy, which has both involutionary and evolutionary stages or kingdoms.

The following table correlates these different systems.


stages:
1st (highest)  stage -
pre- physical
2nd (middle)  stage -
pre- physical
3rd (nearest physical)  stage -
pre- physical
physical source - physical involution/
evolution
subatomic particles - physical involution/
evolution
atoms  - physical involution/
evolution
molocules
/inanimate matter -
physical involution/
evolution
plant - physical evolution
animal - physical evolution
juman - physical evolution
angelic, spiritual intellugences
trans- human
(spiritual) - physical divinisation
Theosophy
1st elemental
2nd elemental
3rd elemental
not defined
Mineral
Plant
Animal
Human
post- human
(spiritual evolution)
n/a
Anthroposophy
(Steiner)
(theosophical ideas retained in earlier material - rejected in later)
n/a
Mineral (individual- ised physical body only)
Plant
(individual- ised etheric body)
Animal
(individual- ised astral body)
Man
(individual- ised ego: self-
conscious- ness)
spiritual hierarchies (angelology)
n/a
Sri Aurobindo
involution of consciousness into matter
Matter/Physical
Life/Vital
Mind/Mental
Spiritual Mind
Spiritual;
Supramental
Arthur Young
Reflexive Universe
involutionary stages identified with first three physical stages
photon
/electro- magnet spectrum
(involut- ionary)
particles
(involut- ionary)
atoms
(involut- ionary)
molocules
(the turn)
plants
animals
dominion
(not necessarily, or only, human)

This suggests

The first is the province of occultism and metaphysics.  The second is characterised by increasing "objectivity", restriction (entropy - linear thermodynamics).  The third refers to increasing creativity, diversity, and freedom (negative entropy - non-linear thermodynamics)

Meanwhile, in a progressive move that does not conflict with science, Sri Aurobindo, and Teilhard, replaced the four kingdoms with four evolutionary, stages: matter/geosphere, life/biosphere (which includes all five kingdoms and thre edomains), mind/noosphere (incorporating the human kingdom), and a future spiritual state of attainmaint and collective consumation, which Aurobindo terms the Supramental and Teilhard the Omega Point.


stages:
Inorganic/Inanimate
Life
Mind (Humanity)
Spiritual Mind
Divinisation
Teilhard de Chardan
Physical sphere
of matter
Biosphere
Noosphere
not indicated
Omega
Sri Aurobindo
Matter/Physical
Life/Vital
Mind/Mental
Spiritual Mind
Supramental





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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 14 June 1999, relocated 3 July 2004, last modified 5 July