Thursday, May 11, 2006

More on Integral Eclecticism [Updated]

Tuff Ghost has added his wise voice to the conversation on spiritual eclecticism began by Jay at Pagan Bodhisattva and continued here.

From Tuff Ghost:

I think it's necessary to distinguish between a spiritual path that is eclectic and one that is syncretic. I think that an Integral world view is inherently syncretic (not a narrow, dogmatic syncretism, but one that aims to seek the deepest possible connecting patterns, broadly speaking) rather than eclectic. Where eclecticism aims to take a little of this and a little of that to no apparent end, syncretism takes a base practise and seeks out what is complementary. Thus, both William and Jay still have a Tibetan Buddhist base practise (correct me if I'm wrong here) which is complemented where appropriate. In this manner the dangers of picking and choosing (first and foremost, quitting when the going gets rough) are overcome by a commitment to a core practise that is in itself part of a broader framework, in Wilber's words, freeing by limiting. Just because you know the contours and limitations of a religion doesn't mean you can't fully embrace it.

Read the rest. Tuff Ghost continues with a thoughtful look at the integral model and how it relates to spiritual practice.


Tuff Ghost offers the following injunctions for an eclectic syncretist approach to spiritual practice:
First of all, it must be eclectic in knowledge - perhaps similar to Paglia's view that education should be based on the study of comparative religion - and pluralistic in intent.

Secondly, it should be founded on a core practise or tradition. I think there is widespread agreement that there must be some kind of stable platform, onto which other approaches are placed/grafted/merged. Does anyone disagree with this injunction?

Thirdly, there must be a key emphasis on contemplative practice. Such an emphasis rescues religion from both metaphysics and culture (the misguided attempt by pluralism to intrinsically wed religion with place, a noble yet horrific endeavour).

I'm not a huge fan of Paglia, so I'm not sure how I feel about bringing her into conversation. But in general I agree with these tenets.

I had a comment from Steve about having a religion of any kind as the foundation of an integral eclectic approach. He finds this challenging -- and for most of my life I would have agreed with him.

However, I want to take a moment to defend my own tradition. Tibetan Buddhism has many ritual practices that must be undertaken before initiation is granted -- and even before one can do a 3 month or 3 year retreat. To those unfamiliar with the practices, the requirements may seem strange or just plain stupid. Here are the Four Preliminary Practices:
- Making 100,000 mandala offerings to generate merit by generosity
- Reciting 100,000 refuge prayers to increase one's confidence
- Reciting 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras to purify obstacles
- Making 100,000 prostrations to counteract pride

I can see how this might seem like so much jumping through hoops. But these practices are profound for burning off ego attachment, pride, selfishness, and many other negative traits that can stand in the way of transcending ego. Most traditions in the East have similar requirements of initiates as far as I know (please correct me if I am wrong).

The West used to have elaborate initiation ceremonies as well. When I was in college, we looked at the baptismal ritual as practiced in France during the Dark Ages. I don't remember the specific Catholic order, but young men who wanted to be baptised (and it was only available to men) were removed from the community for an intense period of study that lasted months. They had very specific prayer and offering practices that had to be completed. They were required to pass oral tests on the teachings. Some of this same structure was the foundation for secret societies like the Templars and the Masons.

Anyway, the traditional practices of Buddhism appeal to my Blue meme need for structure, my Purple meme need for ritual, and my Yellow integral need to make sure all my memes are finding healthy expression in my spiritual development. Buddhism also satisfies my Orange rational need for system that makes sense to me intellectually and my Green need for a moral stance that cares for all sentient beings (maybe this is Turquoise?). There is even an avenue for Red to express its energy in rebellion against the limitations of ego consciousness.

I think the one tenet missing from what Tuff Ghost has written is that an integral eclecticism
(or eclectic syncretism) must address the needs of all of one's memes through one's primary practice or secondary practices. Does that seem fair?

This is a great discussion. I look forward to reading other viewpoints.

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Steve said...

"Just because you know the contours and limitations of a religion doesn't mean you can't fully embrace it."

As an adult, I've never been able to fully embrace any religion precisely because I know that all are limited by their contours and flaws. Maybe I'm wrong to feel this way, but I don't know how to stop it or even if I should stop it.


Origen said...


I don't think it's wrong or right either way. I'm still not entirely sure about the merits of 'picking a path' and sticking with it, because I don't have the experience to determine whether having a teacher is strictly necessary. So at the moment it's a sort of flip a coin type decision between going with some kind of contemplative humanism (ala Sam Harris) or working within a particular path that you think will work the best.