Saturday, June 18, 2005

On Attachment

"In the end, all dependable satisfaction comes from the higher ground above and within, depending on how we choose to look at it. True satisfaction comes from the deathless dimension, not the temporary, transient, ephemeral, and material realm of joining and parting; it comes from a more invisible dimension, not merely from our plans and stratagem. Thus we rely on the ubiquitous religious impulse in human beings to find a love that transcends death -- a life that goes beyond this world where, as they say, moth and rust can destroy and corrupt. There is no way around this. This is not to denigrate our quotidian ordinary concerns, rather it is a way to bring deeper perspective to daily life, a way to bring a sense of the eternal into this time and space and in that way get perspective on our existence. We bring the timeless dimension right into the here and now. This is the realm of faith, of invisible connections, of interrelatedness."
(Lama Surya Das, Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be)

Working with attachments is the foundation of Buddhist practice. The first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is dukkha, which usually translates as suffering. More precisely, it is the recognition of life's transience and the suffering entailed in that recognition. The second noble truth is the recognition that what gives rise to dukkha is attachment (tanha, which translates literally as thirst) to things that are, by defintion, transient. The more we are attached to the things of this world, all of which are transient, the more we suffer. The third noble truth is that dukkha can be escaped through the eradication of attachments. The fourth noble truth is that the eightfold path offers the way to escape dukkha.

It is important to note that Buddhism recognizes that there are truly pleasurable things in the world; however, it is our attachment to those things that creates the suffering, not the things themselves. We can readily perceive that everything changes over time. However, most of us fight change because we are attached to things as they are right now. Whether it is something pleasurable, such as an old, ratty shirt that is comfortable, or something unpleasant, such as an abusive relationship, we cling to the status quo because we fear the unknown that change entails.

We all would benefit from looking at the ways we are attached to things and, therefore, creating suffering in our lives. There is no need to give up what we love, but we can change the way we hold those things. Instead of clinging to what makes us feel safe, we might release our attachments to those things and instead honor their presence in our lives. This applies to people as much as it does to things.

True enlightenment requires the cessation of attachment to this life. We don't reach this end in a single step, but it takes a first step to begin along the path.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Clinging to Beliefs

In Taoism there's a famous saying that goes, "The Tao that can be spoken is not the ultimate Tao." Another way you could say that, although I've never seen it translated this way, is, "As soon as you begin to believe in something, then you can no longer see anything else." The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.

By the way that we think and by the way that we believe in things, in that way is our world created. In the Middle Ages, everyone accepted the idea, based on fear, that there was only one way to believe; if you didn't believe that way, you were the enemy. It was death to all forms of creative, fresh thinking. Many things that people had been able to see, people just couldn't see anymore because they didn't believe in them. Once they began to think and believe in a certain way, there were all kinds of things that they literally couldn't hear, see, smell, or touch, because those things were outside their belief system.

Holding on to beliefs limits our experience of life. That doesn't mean that beliefs or ideas or thinking is a problem; the stubborn attitude of having to have things be a particular way, grasping on to our beliefs and thoughts, all these cause the problems. To put it simply, using your belief system this way creates a situation in which you choose to be blind instead of being able to see, to be deaf instead of being able to hear, to be dead rather than alive, asleep rather than awake.

--Pema Chodron, The Wisdom of No Escape

It's easy for me to look at other people and see this type of behavior -- a truly closed-mindedness. It's especially easy to look at my government and see its focused commitment to seeing the world only within its limited ideology and acting accordingly as short-sided and dangerous.

However, the real challenge is examining my own thoughts for the ways in which I cling so strongly to my own stories of "how things are" that I exclude all evidence to the contrary, or any possibility of expanding those stories into larger, more expansive visions. Being somewhat intelligent, moderately well-informed, and decently educated, I tend to think I have it all figured out. I tend to live my life within my limited understanding of the world and how it operates. The more afraid or anxious I am -- as a result of personal turmoil, stupid political leaders, a faltering economy, and so on -- the more strongly I cling to my little picture of the world.

So what would happen if I stopped clinging? What would happen if I just lived my life without a plan, without a theory, or without and intellectual and emotional safety net?

Pema Chodron says, "People find it quite easy to have beliefs and to hold on to them and to let their world be a product of their belief system. They find it quite easy to attack those who disagree. The harder, more courageous thing, which the hero and the heroine, the warrior, and the mystic do, is continually to look one's beliefs straight in the face, honestly and clearly, and then step beyond them."

This is my practice for the coming weeks -- to step beyond my beliefs and try to see the world without the filter of my safe explanations of "what is true." I invite all of you to try to do the same thing.

Be mindful of when you are judging something or someone; this is a good indicator that you operating within your filter. Also try to be mindful of assumptions you hold about "how things are" or "what will happen if." These are also good indicators that a belief system is at work.

No one is asking you to give up your beliefs -- I'm only suggesting that we all are limited by our beliefs to some degree. It's easy to see in others; the hard part is seeing it in ourselves.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Ken Wilber's Four Quadrants

[The following article was originally published in The New Vibration.]

Integral Theory
[A very brief introduction to the work of Ken Wilber]

Integral theory may be the most important philosophical and spiritual development of the 20th century. Yet few people know anything about it or its primary creator, Ken Wilber. What he has done, almost single-handedly, is to provide a comprehensive map of human experience. Tracing human evolution from its beginning and following it into the future that awaits us, Wilber convincingly demonstrates that humanity and the world are much more than the random combination of subatomic particles. The world -- the Kosmos -- that Wilber reveals is alive, imbued with Spirit. Wilber uses the old Greek term Kosmos, created by the Pythagoreans, because of its ability to incorporate all of the known Universe, from electrons to Spirit. In every moment, Spirit is becoming conscious of itself and its own evolution. According to Wilber, evolution should be thought of as Spirit-in-action.

Through his own practice, discussed in his book One Taste, Wilber has seen aspects of the future that awaits us. He walks the talk of Spirit and has been practicing daily meditation in a variety of forms since his early twenties. Wilber's studies of the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual masters provide a framework for the whole of human evolution. After decades of study and research -- which produced such books as The Spectrum of Consciousness, The Atman Project, and Up From Eden -- he was able to put all the pieces together into a map of the Kosmos. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality is a highly detailed explanation of that map (A Brief History of Everything is the "Cliff Notes" version).

The Four Quadrants

As Wilber studied all the various systems devised to explain the world -- philosophic, scientific, psychological, cultural, social, biological, and so forth -- he noticed a pattern. All of the systems fit into one of four categories. First, they could be divided into either theories about the individual or theories about the collective. From there, Wilber then divided the theories into either explanations of the interior world, such as psychology and anthropology, or theories of the exterior world, such as biology and sociology.

The problem with these designations, however, was that nearly every theory or system fit into more than one category. The result was a four-quadrant map of all the theories. The top half of the grid is the individual, the bottom half is the collective, the right side is the exterior, and the left side is the interior. At this point, everything began to fit.

The upper left quadrant was the realm of I (interior-individual), the lower left was the realm of We (interior-collective), the upper right was the realm of the physical individual It (exterior-individual), and the lower right was the realm of the social Its (exterior-collective).


This is the quadrant of Nature, including everything external that we experience on an individual scale. Although Wilber's map is specifically designed to explain human experience, it also incorporates the rest of the known world. For example, this quadrant is generally discussed in terms of human biology, but the lowest level in the quadrant is that of atoms. From there, each level offers greater complexity than the previous one, until at the top we have the complex neocortex, followed by evolutionary levels as yet unknown.

Wilber refers to each level as a "holon," a term created by Arthur Koestler to refer to an entity that is both a whole and a part. Essentially, each level in the map is in itself a whole entity, but the next level transcends and includes the previous level. That previous level, while still a whole in its own right, then also becomes a part of the next higher whole. Everything is, in one way or another, a holon: "There are only whole/parts in all directions, all the way up, all the way down." (Wilber, BHE, 20) It's easy to see that complex organisms are holonic, but even at the subatomic level, larger particles disappear into smaller and smaller parts, and finally, into "an infinity of probability waves" (Wilber).


Again, the focus of this quadrant is on the human, but it also incorporates the rest of the animal kingdom. This is the quadrant of consciousness, psychology, and spiritual disciplines. At the most basic level, single-cell organisms are able to sense their environment and respond accordingly. From this lowest level, the holonic complexity increases through simple creatures and insects; to fish, reptiles, and birds; then mammals; and finally, human beings. The map, as Wilber presents it, discusses developmental stages up to 13 (vision-logic), but human development has been mapped far beyond that point. In several other books, including Integral Psychology and One Taste, Wilber discusses the higher stages of development, which have so far been the domain of mystics, yogis, and other practitioners of the meditative sciences.

Although science, as we normally think of it, is best suited to the exterior side of the map, the scientific method is perfectly suited to this interior-individual system as well. All of the world's major spiritual traditions have, at their core, a method by which to experience the divine, the non-dual, the Kosmic Spirit. These methods can be subjected to rigorous experiential examination, just like anything else. A person studies the method, employs it, compares the results to those of others who have tried that method, and then draws conclusions as to its efficacy. In The Marriage of Sense and Soul, Wilber offers this scientific method in action. Such an approach allows spiritual practice to be subjected to the same rigorous evaluations as might any theory of subatomic particles.


This quadrant of the map deals with the interior life of groups of people. This quadrant is the realm of religion, morality, customs, mores, laws, and a variety of other cultural codes that both determine and reflect how we view ourselves. Just as an individual moves through developmental stages, cultures also have developmental stages. Wilber’s handbook for cultural development is Up from Eden, the most detailed explanation available of a transpersonal view of evolution.

A more recent attempt to elucidate this quadrant has been offered by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, building on the work of Clare Graves. Their book, Spiral Dynamics, offers an explanation of cultural evolution, both in the individual and in society as a whole. It attempts to explain how values and meaning evolve in the various stages of this development, and how those values shape the individual and the culture.


While each of the other quadrants begins at the smallest, simplest level and increases in complexity from there, this quadrant begins at the level of galaxies. From this vast perspective, the ladder of development moves down to the planets, then to Earth, then to the earliest human social structures. At this point the quadrant begins to look like the others, with ever-increasing complexity in human social structures.

This represents the evolution of Spirit from diffuse to more focused. As human social evolution continues, Spirit will become an increasingly important part of the social fabric.

Spirit is evolving through each of the four quadrants, all at the same time. Furthermore, the movement of Spirit up the evolutionary ladder in each quadrant works synergistically to move all the quadrants forward. As individuals, we mirror that process. However, it isn't usually a smooth, even progression. There can be quantum leaps, steps backward, or stagnation. All of Wilber’s theories of functionality are more than can be handled here, but suffice it to say that direct linear progression is uncommon for any person, culture, or society.


Wilber often shorthands the whole map as the I, the We, and the It, dealing with the right side as one concept for simplicity in discussion. This shorthand allows him to talk about Plato's the Good (We quadrant), the True (It quadrants), and the Beautiful (the aesthetic dimension only available to the I quadrant). He also uses the designations Art (the interior-individual), Morals (the interior-collective), and Science (the exterior-individual and exterior-collective).

This map of the Kosmos is important because it creates a scientific and visual rendering of concepts that previously could only be discussed with abstraction. It also allows us to see where science should be the primary method of inquiry (the exterior), and where it should never be given any power (the interior). It offers us a construct to see how development in one area of our lives might be mirrored in other quadrant aspects.

Integral Theory is a powerful, developed tool for understanding the human being as an integrated part of the Kosmos. Wilber's map allows us to see our place within the whole evolution of the Kosmos, while simultaneously being able to assess our development as individuals, allowing a person from any spiritual tradition to understand his/her place within the whole.

To see Wilber's map, click here.

The Man Who Became the Messiah

Professor Elaine Pagels is one of the world's foremost experts on early Christianity -- The Gnostic Gospels won a National Book Award in 1980. Her work seeks to find a balance between appreciation for our religious traditions and a critical distance that allows us to understand the ways in which they have selectively shaped the story of their own origins. What we have come to know as Christianity -- the religion that, in various forms, is adhered to by a majority of Americans -- was shaped not by Jesus but, rather, by Paul, and later by a series of meetings of early Church leaders held long after Jesus' death.

Elaine Pagels is interviewed in the current issue of Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine. Here are a few excerpts.

[T]he idea of the messiah went through many transformations. The Hebrew word mashiah means "annointed one." The term could refer to priests, who were annointed with oil when they were consecrated. But in the Hebrew Bible, mashiah most often refers to the King of Israel. And that's what it meant in New Testament times. That's the sense in which Jesus would have been seen as the messiah; the King of Israel, the king of the Jewish people. He was, in this regard, one among many candidates. Obviously, over time, Christians came to view the idea of the messiah in a very different way.

There is also the question of whether Jesus himself actually said he was the messiah. In the fourteenth chapter of Mark, Jesus is asked, and he accepts the term, but other accounts of the same event say that he didn't. Whatever the case, the question would have referred to whether he was the King of Israel. No New Testament scholar -- or rather, none I know -- thinks Jesus ever said he was the Savior of the world, or anything like it.

How did a rabbi from Nazareth, a man with an obscure and humble background, come to be seen as the Savior of the world? It's astonishing.

Certainly, the teachings of Paul were crucial. Paul called Jesus the Savior of the world, and he translated his convictions about Jesus into terms that Gentiles could understand. Paul portrayed Jesus' crucifixion as a sacrificial death that atoned for all sin and claimed that those who believed in Jesus could find a place in salvation. My colleague at Princeton John Gager has written several books based on this view, which is shared by others, that Paul saw Jesus' life and teaching as a divine revelation that would extend the salvation previously enjoyed only by Israel to all the nations, thereby fulfilling prophecies in Isaiah and also God's promise to Abraham that "In you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed." That's John Gager's conviction, and it's a very interesting perspective.

After Jesus was crucified, his disciples were left with a terrible feeling of disappointment. The Gospel of Luke has them say, You know, we heard these things about Jesus of Nazareth. We thought he was going to be the one to redeem Israel. But we were wrong. The idea that Jesus would fulfill the role of the King of Israel -- well, it didn't happen. So they needed a different way to understand who and what he was. They needed to make sense out of this devastating event. So they changed the definition of "messiah" and created a different narrative about his role.


When I began work on my book on the Gospel of Thomas, Beyond Belief, I was struggling with the question of what I loved about the Christian tradition and what I could not love. Writing the book helped clarify for me that what I could not love was the rigid dogma and the idea that Christianity was the only path to God. And what I loved was the power of the tradition to move us, and even transform us, spiritually. But I don't think that this is true only of Christianity. A religious tradition contains forms and teachings that can lead people into the spiritual dimension of life. In today's world, that capacity and that experience need to be affirmed.

Among some progressives, Christianity is becoming an enemy -- a worldview that seems to stand in direct opposition to our notions of human evolution and human liberties. However, Christianity need not be relegated to an antiquated period of human history that we have since outgrown. The term Christianity implies a unique divinity for Jesus that, by definition, denies the rest of us an equal spiritual footing. Yes, Jesus was an aspect of God, and as he taught, so are we all.

If one sheds the mythology and the dogma of traditional Christian theology, the teachings of Jesus are among the most profound spiritual teachings in human history. Many of the Gnostic Gospels reveal a Jesus who shared a worldview with Buddha. The Gospel of Thomas offers some of the most authentic teachings of Jesus, many of them holding ideas similar to Buddhism:

Jesus said, "Whoever knows everything, but is lacking within, lacks everything." (Thomas 67)

Jesus said, "If two make peace with each other in a single house, they will say to the mountain, 'Move from here!' and it will move." (Thomas 48)

"For this reason I say, whoever is [undivided] will be full of light, but whoever is divided will be full of darkness." (Thomas 61)

-- From Beyond Belief, Elaine Pagels, copyright 2003

If Christians could return to the actual teachings of Jesus and move away from all the dogma that has accrued over the last 2000 years, the spirit of Jesus might carry more weight in contemporary culture.

Jesus never taught that gays should be denied their rights and dignities. Jesus never taught that science should be rejected in favor of myth. Jesus would decry the money being made through television ministries and the fleecing of believers. Jesus would reject the use of warfare to settle differences. Jesus sought to protect the poor against the cruelties of the rich.

Where is this Jesus in American life?

Welcome to the Integral Options Cafe

When I began Raven's View, I intended for that blog to cover a wide variety of topics. Over time, however, that blog has become distinctly political in nature. So I have decided to start the Integral Options Cafe, a site devoted to an integral worldview -- spirituality, religion, psychology, science, health, and theory.

Integral Options will cover Ken Wilber's Integral Theory, Spiral Dynamics, developments in psychology, and Buddhism, among other things. Posts will range from observations, essays, and news items to parables, poems, and quotes.

I hope to eventually include posts from other people who are working to live an integral life in a fragmented world. If you are one of those people, please drop me a note at