Dr. Beatrice Bruteau
This interview was re-edited and reprinted with a special introduction for our 15th anniversary edition.
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The emerging field of evolutionary spirituality is not exactly overcrowded. Although interest in the connections between evolution and enlightenment has grown in recent years, there are still very few who have explored both the eternal verities of the spirit and the ever-changing structures of nature's unfolding design. That is why we were thrilled last fall to come across the work of Dr. Beatrice Bruteau. For the past fifty-odd years, Dr. Bruteau has been charting a unique path through the worlds of science, philosophy, mathematics, evolutionary theory, and mysticism, East and West. "It all began," she explained to us one afternoon from her office in North Carolina, "when I found a book on Ramakrishna at the Carnegie Public Library in Pittsburgh." Bruteau was working toward her combined master's degree in mathematics, philosophy, and religion at the university. "I used to sit on the big black stone bridge near the school, dangling my feet over the edge, enthralled by Ramakrishna's philosophy. It spoke to me." A friend told her about the Ramakrishna Mission in New York City, and as soon as she had completed her degree, the independent-spirited Bruteau moved to Manhattan, next door to the Mission, and began studying Vedanta while pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at Fordham University. "The 1950s," Bruteau reminisced, "were a very exciting time in New York. I met Brother David Steindl-Rast, who had just started studying with Tai Shimano Roshi; Rabbi Gelberman, who was connected with Swami Muktananda's ashram in India; Swami Satchidananda; and so many others. I loved Vedanta, and I loved the Christian mystics, whom I started reading at the same time. And do you know what they told me in my classes at the Mission? They told me Catholicism was Vedanta in European dress."
Today a practicing Catholic, Dr. Bruteau's wide-ranging interests have given her a unique combination of spiritual and scientific between the two, seeking the mystical in the material and the vast creativity of God in the temporal unfolding of the cosmos. She has the unusual distinction of having deeply studied the work of both Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo—the twentieth century's great spiritual evolutionary pioneers—and has published several books exploring their visionary work. Like Teilhard de Chardin, Bruteau believes that we are at a unique juncture in history where, perhaps for the first time, evolution will not be primarily physical in nature but rather will be noetic—a transformation or mutation of consciousness. And human beings are in a crucial position. For in order to take this next evolutionary step, she tells us, we must actually become conscious participants in the unfolding and direction of the evolutionary process itself. It is to this "Grand Option" that Bruteau calls us, to this great moment in human destiny, when "the universe will either go forward into the creation of higher level unities, or else it will eventually fall back into the dispersed homogeneity of maximal entropy. It all depends," she writes, "on what we choose to do."
Currently living in the small community of Pfafftown, just east of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Dr. Bruteau edits the quarterly journal American Vedantist
and oversees two Christian contemplative orders, even as she works on what will be her thirteenth book. Indeed, at the age of seventy-two, her creative energy seems inexhaustible, and she spoke as if we had all the time in the universe to get to know one another, reflect on the human adventure, and let the great mystery of evolution gradually unfold.
This interview received underwriting support from the Trust for the Meditation Process, a charitable foundation that supports the rediscovery of Christian contemplative practice and encourages dialogue and cooperation among all contemplative traditions.