I have puzzled over this question for a long time. There are so many traps within that statement. But I am hard headed and will always return to O³I. (Omniscience, Omnipresence, Omnipotence & Immutability) The Bhagavad Gita captures for me the essence of our place and purpose in this Universe.
For instance Krishna says to Arjuna in The Gita:
Real, as used in spiritually, means that which is eternal, never changing, indestructible. This is the very definition of ‘Reality.’ That which is Real never ceases to be. Anything that is impermanent, even if it lasts a very long time and seems durable, eventually changes and thus does not have true Reality. The wise ones understand the difference between the Real and the not-Real. When you fully understand this profound fact, you will have attained the zenith of all knowledge…
Get to know this Reality. It pervades the entire cosmos and is unchanging and indestructible. No power can affect it, No one can change the changeless.
[Quoted from “The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners” by Jack Hawley; Chapter 2: Verses 16 – 17]
For me to explain this journey, from my perspective, it is important for me to declare that I lean towards the evolution track of history. I have accepted that we are real physical beings in a real three-dimensional universe.
I accept that there is a spectacular universe of galaxies and solar systems filled with the most wondrous things. I accept that this universe adheres to an Immutable set of laws. At the same time, however, I get that our intellect, our consciousness, got us to this point of comprehending the scope and beauty of this universe, as we know it today. And so there lies the trap!
Can we be physical (animal) and still be spiritual?
The obvious answer is: Yes, we are… that IS our existence.
Most of the ancient texts, scriptures and myths have spun that story up every way possible. I personally do not understand why it can’t be a combination of these stories. Why can’t we be an evolving physical animal, set in a universe prepared for developing these sorts of creatures, with a plan (the Universal Consciousness in Sanskrit ‘Atma’) that provides for different levels of experience or consciousness to occur? Why is that not possible for a Supreme Creator? As our intelligence increases (evolution suggests that organisms tend to increase in complexity and brain capacity over time – many millennia) and reaches a certain level its mental capacity “graduates” or “expands” or “ignites” to realize the larger more complex realm. It’s like we matured intellectually to point of understanding and then were given a bigger, or expanded place to play.
There are many ways I can explain similar “expansions” in humans that might help bring my point across. Peek-a-boo games with children are a perfect example. Up to about six months infants are not aware of the permanence of things outside of their own sphere. This is called object permanence – an object still exists even when it is out of our vision. There is a point when the child’s brain “realizes” object-permanence. This is an important step in child development and all of us experience the thrill of having a child come to this realization. This point in human child development could be considered analogous to acquiring God Consciousness for our species. We suddenly (in the evolutionary sense) perceive the vastness of the universe. We understand it is there even if we can’t see it. We are aware on a new higher level! We begin to understand Universal Consciousness.