Thursday, August 05, 2010

Position Paper - Integral Ethics and Spiritual Teachers

John Wagnon is putting action where our words have been - at his instigation, we are forming an Integral Ethics Review Board (or something with a similar name) as a place to file ethics complaints to a non-affiliated group (i.e., no one owns us) of integral practitioners, and with the purpose of discussing these issues as a community. We have not worked out any of the details yet, since this is equivalent to the period when the sperm hits the egg and the new being begins to unfold - we are only now unfolding.

Those who know me and my blog may be tempted to think this is an effort to bring down one man, but that is not at all true - this is John's idea, not mine. Yet, my fear is that one man can still set back our efforts at growing the Integral community in big ways - and we want to prevent that by offering a way to deal with issues in "we space" before they get so far that serious damage can be done.

This idea for an ethics panel grew out of conversations at this last weekend's Integral Theory Conference. It's one thing to feel frustrated and angry - it's a whole other thing to take community action to fix the problems as best we can.

Below there are some ideas on what a code of ethics might look like. For now, here are some of John's thoughts (and a few of the more substantial comments in response):

John Wagnon Ethics working group coming. Who's in? First step - define the mission. Here's my first stab at it: We provide a forum and organization for the integral community to respond to ethical challenges in their midst. In short - we provide a community response divorced from overt structures of power & money.

We need some organizational meetings (brief and integral!) to set things up for success. The mission is *not*... for this working group to become another nexus of power, especially personal power. If it becomes too beholden to any individual's voice then its just another agentic power vehicle. It needs to be a vehicle for the power of community. Ethics are a LL affair after all. This doesn't mean there won't be leaders and powerful voices. But if it becomes just another power pole, then I'm out.

And we will steadfastly resist becoming a green consensus society if I have anything to do with it. If we practice consensus, it will be *hard consensus* - meaning there are things we can do to avoid getting stuck. See - I plan to be one of those powerful voices. And I recognize that this can't be the John Wagnon show.

Nomali Perera:
Here is a little ramble: Even before coming up with "the mission," what might be useful for anyone who wants to be a part of this--whatever "this" is wanting to be--might be to clarify for oneself 1) WHY we want to engage, 2) HOW we want t...o engage (depending on other commitments, how much time do i have, do i want to only support sincerely as a critical voice, do i just want to share my opinions, do i want a leadership/active role, etc), 3) WHAT do personally want or expect from the group and what can I honestly give/offer/contribute, 4) In relation to the "mission," at least as far as I understand for myself as it is now, what am I seeking and what are WE seeking (healing? "truth?" "who's truth?" truth for whom?, etc 5) How much of the past do we engage - or, using some reflections from the past, do we want to create something for the future and 6) What would i personally like to see - Code of Ethics? Forums? Website? Meetings? etc... OK, now I have to rush to our staff meeting. As I said, not much thought here...just a ramble.

Brian Howlett:
do people listen to organizations outside or "divorced from overt structures of power & money"

John Wagnon:
Well, right now no one is saying anything to listen to. Eventually there will be a power structure in the form of an integral practitioner professional association (one would hope) but it takes community effort to get those going. Right n...ow, it is simply ridiculous to expect individuals to go against their own economic, power, sexual, personal interest in the name of ethics if there is no community voice to exhort, encourage, and support them. The role of a community ethics group is as much to provide supportive energy to those leaders as it is to call out those leaders who fail in this regard. A cooperative ethical solution is always preferable to a confrontational one.

John Wagnon:
And you are right Brian - a community organization will have power - it will just be less obvious and overt. The power will derive from our connections with one another rather than our economic exchanges. The personal connection will also be more diffuse - so that power is yoked to broad will rather than individual relationship dynamics. No single friendship, romance, or business relationship will direct that communal power.

Corey W. DeVos:
I love it, and i really wish Integral Life had the right technology requirements to fully support this. But we will soon. Either way, i'd love to find a way for the Integral Ethics group and the larger Integral Life community to interface. Let me know how i can be of service.
This conversation is still evolving over at Facebook, so come share your ideas.

From my perspective, it might help to have a "code of ethics" of some kind - we need to define what an ethics violation looks like.

There is one model that was created earlier this year. In May 2010, the Integrales Forum, which, according to Terry Patten, "is the central coordinating group organized and coordinates among over two dozen local Integral study groups in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, wrote and translated a "Position Paper" that attempts to set forth some standards for evaluating the legitimacy and conduct of spiritual teachers."

What follows is the beginning of their working paper, which may be the foundation of our own working paper for a code of Integral Ethics.
The Integral Forum has set itself the goal to discuss and apply the integral approach within the German speaking community as it has been developed by Ken Wilber and others. In doing so co-operations and partnerships have been developed and are being developed with organizations and individuals including spiritual teachers. These teachers are themselves subjects of public discussion that range from approval to very critical. Against this backdrop, the Integral Forum Board of Members has often been asked again and again and recently even more increasingly how we view our relationship to spiritual teachers and how we deal with the criticism of these teachers.

Based on this background and applying an integral approach we have prepared the two following articles.

Their purpose is . . .
• to clarify and outline our position on this subject
• to set a standard for our own (also spiritual) work
• to promote discussion and exchange with spiritual teachers
• to serve as a starting point for discussion with an interested public
• to help bridge the gap between humanistic disciplines, their applications and spirituality
• to be an example for an applied integral spirituality.
With the first article, Towards a School and Science of an Integral Evolutionary Spirituality, a philosophical framework is provided within which the discussion can take place. It particularly highlights theoretical questions in which different positions in theory can also have different ethical implications. For example a theoretical disregard of the Relative as related to the Absolute can practically lead to an ignorance and presumptuousness in a practice of the Absolute ignoring the practice towards humanity itself and finally result in spiritual arrogance. The second article, Enlightened Spirituality – A Checklist for Spiritual Teachers with Respect to Competence, Integrity, Responsibility and Transparency, then offers concrete criteria with which spiritual teachers but also their critics can be evaluated.

We would herewith like to make a contribution for discussions based on humanistic and scientific principles concerning just what (integral) spirituality (or evolutionary spirituality, or awakening, or ….) could be by including those that represent it and are involved in its practice in one form or another. This position paper is therefore to be understood as a first step in entering a dialog concerning the topic of a spiritual ethic with respect to teaching and practicing against the background of a culture in which spirituality does not yet have an enlightened and socially recognized tradition. Through our publications and events, our aim is to learn together and most of all in our dialog with spiritual teachers – also internationally - to assist in the emergence of an (in the western sense) “enlightened” spiritual culture. We have encountered great support through our numerous dialogues while preparing this position paper. We are well aware of the fact that the systematic as it is introduced in the second article can lead to irritations. Can we, or are we even allowed to approach, measure and evaluate such a topic as spirituality (and their representatives) based on the recommended (or even other) criteria? Our answer to this question is a definite "yes" and of course we apply these standards to ourselves first and foremost. In other words, if spirituality is to find its way into the community (including the scientific), then it (and its representatives) must submit to scientific discourse which primarily concerns humanistic disciplines. (In many discussions on this subject, the scientific approach has been equated with natural sciences and the encounter of science and spirituality limited to measuring brain waves of mediators and the comparison of quantum-physical descriptions with the Ground of All Being).

We are looking forward to this "integral" discourse.

Integral Forum Board, May 2010
I found this section very helpful: "A Checklist for Spiritual Teachers with Respect to Competence, Integrity, Responsibility and Transparency" (p. 7).
To get this discussion going, we would like to suggest a few criteria (the sequence is not relevant) from an integral standpoint that should apply to spiritual teachers. An important perspective is the teacher himself and how he perceives himself and his work, what is his self-image and self-assessment? Equally as important is the exterior perspective on the teacher and his work. How do others define what it is that constitutes a spiritual teacher and what he does?

1. Self-disclosure
a) phenomenological competence
b) psychological transparency
c) biographical transparency
d) philosophical-scientific competence and transparency (teaching)
e) own practice

2. External assessment
f) organizational transparency
g) what does the spiritual teacher do?
h) dialogical engagement
i) companions
j) public opinion


Refer to a:
Spirituality consists mainly of inner experiences that have a particular, namely "spiritual" character. Spiritual teachers should be able to provide sufficient and ongoing information concerning what they have experienced and realized during the course of their consciousness development. These accounts can then be compared to the great wealth of experiences found in the wisdom traditions and of other contemporaries. (A classical account of this type is the "The Interior Castle" by Saint Teresa ). In this way an important side-effect is that spirituality can be viewed as a phenomenological human discipline and possibly be better accepted in the circle of scientific academia.

Refer to b:
At the latest since Ken Wilber differentiated the path of enlightenment through state-stages and through structure-stages of development (with the possibility at each stage of dissociation and shadow formation), it has become clear that spiritual insights (state experiences) do not necessarily go hand-in-hand with psychological insights or a high stage in terms of structural development. The cases of teachers having a high spiritual development but a poorly developed character are legion. Therefore it is important that spiritual teachers are personally aware of who they are and how they work and are able to communicate this with an interested public. One possibility to do this is with a "psychograph" that can reveal the different competences and their development in cognitive, self, moral (values) lines for example based on a corresponding model and psychometric methods of developmental psychology. In addition, the spiritual teacher can provide information concerning shadow dynamics that he has discovered and worked on himself. Zen master Genpo Roshi also reports how the Big Mind Process helps in integrating the dual and nondual voices. Information from the teacher concerning topics such as power, misuse of power, teacher-student relations and authority can be just as revealing.

Refer to c:
The biographical background of a person does not necessarily determine his future but it can reveal certain factors. Even spiritually enlightened people remain individuals with a story. Where does the teacher come from, what has he experienced, who is important for him and what methods and theories have had an influence on him? It is to be recommended that a spiritual teacher make information available concerning his view towards his own development and biography. Of interest are difficult life phases and/or crises and how they were coped with. Just as interesting are insights and self reflections concerning mistakes, new understandings and learning processes.

Refer to d:
What does the teacher teach (even the comment "I have no teaching" is a teaching)? What is it based upon – which insights – and what type of ’hard’ science or humanistic disciplines and methods can support and confirm the teaching? Which methods and practices were used to gain these insights and how can they be tested? Is the teacher part of a lineage or tradition (such as Zen for example) and has he been authorized by his tradition or his own teachers to teach or is he self-named and self-authorized? Disclosing the teaching and its origin is an essential aspect when discerning the quality of a teacher. In this way the teaching can be compared with the teachings of other teachers and science – in a broad understanding of this term - in general.

Refer to e:
What does the teacher do for his own further development and in-depth development of consciousness? What information is available concerning his own practice (including the conviction: "My consciousness development is perfect and complete.")?

Refer to f:

Spiritual teachers often establish organizations or create communities with students they have taught. They are not responsible for everything that happens within these communities or what their individual students do, but looking at that is often a reflection on the teacher who is directing it.

Certain questions become very interesting within this context such as:
- How is the community organized? Is it transparent or obscure?
- What are the rules (rules of order) and procedures?
- How do you become a member and how do you leave?
- How do they handle money, how is the organization financed?
- How does the spiritual leader finance his livelihood?
- To what extent is the organization dependent on /independent of the spiritual teacher?
- How large is the organization?
- Is it possible and foreseen within the context of the organization that the spiritual teacher can be "surpassed" in his spiritual competence and what consequences would that have?
- Which great students did the teacher accompany in their growth and was he able to let them go on their own?
Refer to g:
What a spiritual teacher does and his behavior is the easiest to recognize and serves as an important source of information for those interested. How he responds to others is of particular interest. How does he deal with students, with former students, with sympathizers, with opponents and critics? How large is the sphere of influence of the teacher and who benefits from it? Do people come to harm? What do students and participants in seminars report of their experiences with the teacher? In a wider sense, all publications belong to that area of what a teacher does.

Refer to h:
Discussions or debates with those of different opinions also belong to dialogical engagement. Dialog partners that come into question are:
- other spiritual teachers
- students of the teacher
- the public in general including the media
Of particular importance is the dialog and interaction with critics.

Refer to i:
Close friends of the spiritual teacher are important sources for information as they know the teacher and accompanied him along his way. The spectrum ranges from enthusiastic students of many years to other spiritual teachers with whom the teacher is in dialog and cooperation and even to those who have left and have become critics.

Refer to j:

Public opinion and how this is presented in the media concerning a teacher is also an important source of information. Even here the spectrum ranges from positive and affirmative to negative and hostile. This contributes to the overall picture as well. (p. 7-10)
This is simply to generate some ideas - I will more than likely have some strong ideas on this - focused around power and its misuse, position and its misuse, and how to resolve these issues when the come up - and how to do this fierce, uncompromising compassion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might (or not) check out my 2004 essay Given Guns to Children at Integral World, which has some suggestions on an integral ethical code.

Good luck with this,
Edward Berge