Friday, October 21, 2005

Dzogchen Teachings from Lama Surya Das

Beliefnet has a new teaching from Lama Surya Das that is worth reading.

The Dzogchen view is often taught via pith instructions, or the quintessential elixir of mind-meditation teachings boiled down from the essence of empty awareness practice. The essence of these pith instructions on the view is to help us to see things as they are while seeing through them at the same time and to avoid being deceived by the mere appearances of phenomena and noumena (mind-stuff). In this practice, the essence of emptiness and awareness is inseparable-we see things as they arise and dissolve, but we also at the same time see through them into their insubstantial, empty, open, radiant, and marvelous nature. These pith instructions are not only helpful in meditation practice but are also applicable and integrable into daily life. Some of the most important of these pith instructions are:

Just as it is.
Let go and let be.
Seeing through, being through.
What we seek, we are.
Not too tight or too loose.
Take the Vajra shortcut.
Direct access.
Leave it as it is, and rest your weary mind.
Naturalness is the way.
Natural mind is Buddha mind,
We are all Buddhas; we only have to recognize that fact.
Everything is pure and spontaneously accomplished from the outset.
Nothing to do and nowhere to go.
Seeing; recognizing; penetrating; releasing.
See through the seer and be free.
Nothing to do but remain in the View.
Pure vision: see the Buddha in everyone and everything.

These pith instructions are known in Tibet as men-ngak and in Sanskrit as upadesha. These essence words are the highest direct words, the pithy pointers, what we call in Tibetan mar-tri, or red guidance, naked words. Or, let us say, naked truth. These pith instructions are not just the information that we have read in books or the Buddhist scriptures, but are the essence of lessons actually learned from life, the most naked instructions boiled down to their essence or pith. They are, in a sense, concentrated wisdom--the way a vitamin C pill contains 1000 milligrams of ascorbic acid so that we do not have to eat dozens of oranges to get enough of the active ingredient.

Read the rest here.

Clare Graves, The Never Ending Quest

The Never Ending Quest: Clare W. Graves Explores Human Nature. Edited by Chris Cowan and Natasha Todorovic with the help of William R. Lee and others.

From the text at the Spiral Dynamics Online website:

Relying on Dr. Graves's previously unpublished manuscript, this is as close as we will ever come to the book Dr. Graves wanted to write.

In it, in his own words, Graves describes his research and how he came to his remarkable theory over a period of years. He compares his work to a number of other theoreticians', and shows how this kind of thinking can be of use from the individual to geopolitical levels.

Hardbacks of this very limited first run are now available on a first come, first served basis.

Preview Table of Contents and Index
(570 pp, hardbound) Price: $59.95
ORDER NOW directly from ECLET Publishing

For students of Spiral Dynamics, this book is the holy grail. We have had to rely on the work of Beck & Cowan (both are fine scholars) to reveal for us Graves' original research and conclusions. Now, finally, the book Graves was writing at the time of his death is available.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Are Studies of Meditation Junk Science?

Wonkette blogged a recent New York Times story about the controversy surrounding plans for the Dalai Lama to speak at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience on the topic of generating compassion through meditation.

Apparently, 544 brain researchers have signed a petition urging the society to cancel the lecture, because, according to the petition, "it will highlight a subject with largely unsubstantiated claims and compromised scientific rigor and objectivity."

Later in the article: "As the public face of neuroscience, we have a responsibility to at least see that research is replicated before it is promoted and highlighted," said Dr. Nancy Hayes, a neurobiologist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey who objects to the Dalai Lama's speaking. "If we don't do that, we may as well be the Flat Earth Society."

The article goes on to suggest that some recent studies support the topic on which the Dalai Lama plans to speak, while also noting that other scientists believe the research is flawed and should not be considered valid. I've read some of these studies, and while they do have flaws, they also present compelling evidence that research in this area should be encouraged rather than dismissed as "woo woo."

Wonkette, being a good liberal blog, sided with science on this issue. The entry's author, Michael Weiss, implicitly suggests that the studies in question are no more valid than "intelligent design" and should be accorded just as little respect. Kudos to the post, however, or I might have missed the Times story entirely.

The Real Issue

The truth of the situation, once all the trivialities are dropped is that science fears further encroachment into its domain by religion. With the intelligent design trial still underway in Pennsylvania, science feels assaulted by religion. Being scientists, and therefore unable to acknowledge anything other than physical reality, they have a turf to protect. In many cases, they are right to do so.

However, there is a difference here. ID, and its shadow, creationism, do not hold themselves up to scientific testing. They demand faith without evidence. There can be no "truth test" to disprove their beliefs.

Those who would promote Buddhist meditation are more than willing to conduct studies, test hypotheses, and then refine the studies to get more accurate results, good or bad. Whether or not meditation practice can increase compassion over time can be tested. Perhaps the tests that have been conducted so far were not solidly deigned, but that doesn't mean they cannot be refined.

Science must learn to use its own logic to form partnerships with those who would test the veracity of claims by spiritual practitioners. Otherwise it will be at war with all religions.

We are evolving as a species. With that evolution will come the reintegration of spirit and matter (the current separation is really only perceptual, not actual). Science can be on the leading of the research in this area, or it can put its head in the sand and refuse to move forward.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Which Version of Spiral Dynamics Is Correct?

If you've ever done any research into Spiral Dynamics on the web, you likely have noticed that the original authors of the book have competing websites and don't seem to like each other very much. Chris Cowan believes he has stayed true to Clare Graves's original work and therefore is the rightful heir to the Spiral Dynamics lineage. Don Beck has become more well known than Cowan, having joined forces with Ken Wilber and others to become one of the founding members of the Integral Institute. Beck has adopted Wilber's AQAL (all quadrants, all levels) integral model and has rechristened the original SD approach as SDi (Spiral Dynamics Integral). Beck also has aligned himself with Andrew Cohen, founder of What Is Enlightenment? magazine, which has greatly increased his exposure.

So which version is correct?

If you do much reading on Cowan's site, you'll find he is very contemptuous of Beck and Wilber. Cowan feels they have misrepresented the work and vulgarized it to fit into Wilber's integral framework. He believes that SD was already an integral approach and did not need to fit into anyone else's model.
Despite suggestions otherwise, nobody denies that Dr. Graves' emergent-cyclical biopsychosocial systems theory is integrative since that suggests inclusive and connective. However, the so-called integral wing of SD represents the fusion of Ken Wilber's four quadrant model - internal/external, individual/social - with the emergent levels of SD, plus a lot of big talk about geopolitics, as something quite new. We find little to support many of the grand claims. While the metamorphic Mr. Wilber periodically expands, elaborates, and rewrites his opinions, the quadrants seem to be a central tenet of his perspective. In our view, most of this is implicit in the 'emergent, cyclical, double-helix model of adult biopsychosocial systems development;' Wilber and his acolytes offer a simplification and compilation of some aspects and elaboration of others, but leave out some of the real meat of the Gravesian theory.
For his part, Beck tends to act as though Cowan does not exist. There is nothing on his site that explains the schism between Cowan and himself, nor is there any reference to Cowan's work being misguided or wrong. There used to be a link to Cowan's site, but I notice that it has been removed in the last year or so.

From my point of view, Cowan has a point. The original Gravesian work is more complex than what Wilber and Beck are generally presenting. My guess is that Beck reserves the more complex aspects of the work for the higher-order certifications. Wilber's use of SD and Graves in his books can only be thought of as a summary and not a detailed explanation of the model. While the SD original book is faithful to Graves's research, the writing isn't crisp and the message sometimes is lost within the textual manipulations.

For those who want to learn more about SD in either of its forms, I would encourage an exploration of both versions (Beck's page is limited in its presentation, so I would recommend the What Is Enlightenment? site, which has a fairly in-depth presentation).

The most profound difference that I can see between the two versions is that Beck has dropped most references to the transitional states between the values systems, or memes. For each of the memes, there are two transitional states before the next meme is fully emergent. For example, one does not simply move from Blue to Orange (about the colors), but instead from BLUE to BLUE-orange, then to blue-ORANGE, and finally to ORANGE. So rather than a simple series of eight value memes, the Graves/Cowan version discusses 24 possible states, depending on the biopsychosocial status of the individual or culture in question.

This is where integral theory becomes a valuable addition to the mix. Wilber has identified around 24 different developmental lines, each of which may be represented by a different mix of value memes depending on its development. This is assumed by Graves/Cowan, but is not explicit and therefore can't be worked with in any direct way. Wilber also introduces a spiritual component to the SD model, which Cowan admits was not of much interest to Graves.

One mistake many of us make (which infuriates Cowan) is that we shorthand the colors as descriptors of individuals. This habit is largely confined to readers of Wilber's work, so Cowan justifiably blames Wilber for this misuse of SD. No individual can be classified as purely one color -- different developmental lines may represent an assortment of value memes and transitional states. At best, and Wilber does make this distinction, a person can be describes as having a "center of gravity" in one meme or another.

Returning to the idea of transitional states in SD, Cowan is critical of the integral model for not acknowledging these important elements of the SD model. However, Wilber's integral theory does acknowledge transitional states between developmental levels, so I think it is assumed (since value memes have some affinity with developmental levels, though they are not identical) that these transitional states exist between value memes as well. Wilber's model (which is based on the work of many other theorists) uses the terminology of moving from fusion (embeddedness in one level) to differentiation (disidentifying with the previous level) to integration (fusion into the next level, while still retaining the capabilities of the previous level -- "transcend and include"). These steps aren't as precise as Graves' intermediary stages, but they approach the idea in a useful way for the general public.

And that may be the final difference. Beck and Wilber are trying to reach a wider audience, one not likely to have the education and discernment to fully grasp the Gravesian model of SD. Cowan offers a more advanced and intricate version of SD than does Beck, one more suited to academics and intellectuals. Each has a niche to fill.

I have read that Beck and Wilber have both approached Cowan about partnerships, but that Cowan has refused. Too bad. Each version of the SD framework has its merits. There are many people, myself included, who would like to be educated in both versions without spending our life savings to attend expensive and competing trainings.