Thursday, July 06, 2006

Buddhism and Integral Spirituality

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Back in the early years of integral theory, Wilber used to talk about states and stages differently than he does now. He used to suggest that a state experience was good, but that it needed to be solidified into one's daily functioning to be become a stage of development. Now he suggests that the states and developmental stages, while appearing similar, are not the same thing.

Here is a dharma quote from Snow Lion Press that we can use as an example:

Dharma Quote of the Week

It is important to recognize the difference between an enlightened experience and the state of enlightenment. To penetrate the veil is to see the nature of reality for the first time. This enlightened experience in the Zen tradition might be called a satori. This is a powerful shift of insight that shakes our reality. No longer can we live with the delusion we may have once held. Our solidly held concepts about reality begin to crumble. Samsara shakes, as Lama Yeshe once put it. This experience may not be comfortable. To come so close to this existential threshold challenges our secure sense of identity and can be frightening. Indeed, as a Tibetan lama once said, this fear is a sign that we are close to the edge. We are beginning to recognize the lack of substance of our ego-identity. Our "wisdom eye" has opened to a new truth--an ultimate truth, as opposed to relative truth.

When we penetrate the veil, however, the work is not yet done. We may have had an enlightened experience, but there is further to travel. As Gen Jhampa Wangdu once said while I was in retreat, it is not difficult to experience emptiness; the problem is holding it. For this insight to have its full effect, the mind needs to be able to sustain awareness for prolonged periods of time. Tibetan teachers will sometimes say we may hit the nail, but only with a quality of focused attention can we repeatedly do so. With the development of tranquil abiding, the veil can be cleared completely in the way the red ring of fire created by the incense burn[ing] slowly expands and consumes the entire film of tissue paper. The mind is gradually cleansed of the emotional turmoil and confusion that is generated by the misconceptions we have about reality.

--from The Wisdom of Imperfection: The Challenge of Individuation in Buddhist Life by Rob Preece, published by Snow Lion Publications
In this passage, the author suggests that a state experience (emptiness) is not sufficient for enlightenment. He contends that we must be able to hold that state for the majority of the time for it to be considered enlightenment. If we can do this, the experience of emptiness itself will burn away any imperfections (shadow stuff) in the psyche.

But does holding emptiness constitute enlightenment in the new model of Integral Spirituality?

Not according to Wilber. A permanent state is still only a state. For integral enlightenment to occur, we need to continue growing through all the stages of development, along all the lines, in each of the quadrants. Enlightenment is a whole lot harder than it used to be.

Of course, we have to keep in mind that this is context dependent. One can only attain the highest level of development that has been realized during one's life span. Buddha or Jesus may have attained the highest possible level of development during their lifetimes and by those standards were enlightened -- but they would not be enlightened by our standards.

Wilber has made the concept of enlightenment a lot more complex, but I think this is good. People like Andrew Cohen claim enlightened status, but developmentally they are still children in many ways. How Wilber is going to reconcile this fact with his friendships with questionable gurus remains to be seen.


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