Saturday, June 17, 2006

Applied Integral Spirituality

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[It might be helpful before reading this to look at What Is Integral Spirituality? if you haven't already, especially page 106 to the end, the Appendix.]

This quote is from the Gospel of Thomas, saying 22:
Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, "These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father's) kingdom."

They said to him, "Then shall we enter the (Father's) kingdom as babies?"

Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]."
Ken Wilber spends a great deal of time in the new issue of What Is Enlightenment? talking about Integral Spirituality, but in particular, he focuses on how all the higher states of consciousness are available to any of the developmental stages. For example, someone who is essentially from a mythic order stage (Blue meme) can experience subtle, causal, or nondual states of consciousness. But those experiences will be filtered through the eyes of the mythic order worldview.

The example above from the Gospel of Thomas demonstrates this principle. Jesus is speaking about an apparent nondual state of consciousness, "When you make the two into one," but it is clearly filtered through a lower level of development that can equate the prepersonal infant with a transpersonal state of consciousness.

I think that what this demonstrates is a need to revise our vision of what constitutes enlightenment. We think of Jesus as enlightened because he accessed and talked about causal and nondual states of consciousness. We think of Buddha as perfectly enlightened because he accessed and could maintain nondual consciousness at all times. I used to think of Wilber, after reading One Taste, as someone who was was approaching Buddhanature. Maybe so, but it no longer seems relevant. None of these people, or any other person I am aware of, can be considered fully enlightened for our time and place by the standards of Integral Spirituality.

Reaching and being able to maintain higher states of consciousness is great, but partial. One can have access to the nondual and still have an egocentric center of gravity. That is not a great combination -- witness Andrew Cohen.

By the new standard, achieving states of consciousness is no longer enough to be considered enlightened. A person must maintain stages of consciousness. To be considered enlightened, someone must have reached and be centered in the highest known stage of development -- with full awareness that Spirit is evolving and what we might see as the highest stage today may not be in 500 years.

Within this evolving framework, it is entirely possible to see Jesus or Buddha as having been enlightened in their lifetimes, and by the standards of their civilizations. But by our standards, their teachings must be filtered out of their cultural context in order for us to retain their glimpse of perfection.

When people like Sam Harris call for the destruction of organized religion, what they really want to do away with is the cultural baggage that the spiritual insights of the major faiths carry with them. If we could remove the cultural baggage from Jesus' teachings (and do away with Paul almost entirely), would Christianity be as regressive as it sometimes appears to a rational believer in scientism?

Harris has already advocated removing the cultural/mythic baggage from Buddhism. Why can't he also see that Christianity would be a wonderful belief system once the Paulist teachings and the mythic order language is removed? Most other religious traditions, for that matter, once cleansed of cultural prejudices, would be wonderful belief systems. And as Wilber has pointed out in The Marriage of Sense and Soul, they all contain technology for transcendence.

This may be what the rational/scientific meme needs to be comfortable with organized religion, but it not an integral view. From an integral perspective, we realize that the major traditions have teachings and practices that feed the lower memes, which must be honorer in an integral practice. We cannot do away with all beliefs and practices from the lower memes, but we can recognize which elements of a given tradition no longer serve our needs.

For example, in traditional Buddhism and Christianity homosexuality is frowned upon. This is an artifact of their times, when procreation was essential for the survival of the group -- and procreation was framed as a moral issue due to its importance in survival. This is no longer the case. Homosexuality is a natural expression common to all sentient creatures, and as such it should be honored as part of the natural order.

But there are also practices from the same worldview that are useful. As an example, I was put off by the thought of doing 100,000 bows as part of one's preliminary practice. But this is useful technique for removing pride from the ego so that the student is more open to the teachings and is more pliable for the teacher. A rational ego or a sensitive self ego would reject this practice as barbaric, but an integral centered ego could see the usefulness of the practice.

Finally, Wilber claims, and I am not too sure that I agree with this (although there is some evidence to support his claims, I need to see more evidence from better studies), that experiencing higher states can act as a magnet pulling one into higher stages. That is essentially the rationale behind several modules of the ILP kits (Integral Life Practice). Maybe, maybe not.

We do know however, that simple mindulfness practice and meditation combined with various forms of inner work (journaling, art, therapy, subpersonality work, and so on) and a healthy lifestyle can have a major impact on one's growth process. I don't see a major need to experience higher states to make progress toward higher stages. In fact, I think the risks (in the absence of an excellent teacher) might outweigh the benefits.

When one tatses those higher states, ego gets all inflated with thoughts that it is enlightened now. Remember that ego hasn't gone anywhere because this is a state experience, not a new stage. Ego loves to feel enlightened -- it gets all puffed up with its specialness and struts around like a peacock. Noted transpersonal theorist, and I-I co-founder, Frances Vaughan talks about this risk in Shadows of the Sacred -- a fine book.

With this risk being so great for those of us who practice mostly in the absence of a powerful teacher, I think a slow gradual approach to stage shift is the answer. Robert Kegan suggests that it can take at least five years to fully shift from one stage to the next, but I think that an integral practice can speed that up considerably. Murphy and Leonard are the pioneers in this area.

With this in mind, I am going to put off the Dzogchen program I was looking into. My ego likes the idea of getting "enlightened" in this lifetime, but I am more concerned with trying to make my way into higher stages of growth right now than I am with experiencing higher states of consciousness.

If and when I taste One Taste, I want to be whole enough to hold that experience within a fully integral framework and not have it corrupted by my clinging ego. It may be a few dozen more lifetimes before I am ready for that -- and that's okay (insert Stuart Smalley voice, here).

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Anonymous said...

Last night I read the first part of The Guru and the Pandit: Dialogue XIII in the recent What Is Enlightenment issue and ran across this curious interchange on pages 76 and 77:

Wilber: ...The states are wonderful and we applaud those; they are part of horizontal enlightenment. But the vertical component is not as highly advanced as it could be.

Cohen: it seems that if state experiences don't, at least to some degree, compel one to begin to move toward higher stages, actually those experiences could even embed one more deeply in the stage that one is already at.

Wilber: Yes. And that depends largely on what you culture is telling you...

I suppose this means that higher state experences can lead to higher stage experiences only if the cognitive development line has advanced higher than the spiritual line. Otherwise, that higher state experience may retard development.

My point is that Wilber seems to agree with your assessment that higher states are necessary, and taken together with constantly evolving enlightenment, perhaps higher state experences ultimately hinder growth.

I'm interpretting mixed messages from Wilber on this, since he does, as you point out, advocate for higher state experiences to pull you up to the next stage. Which is it, I wonder? What am I missing?

william harryman said...


I agree that this seems to contradict what Wilber has said in the past.

But, I also think Wilber is arguing less that the intellectual line needs to be higher and more that cultural stuff can keep one rooted in a specific stage. For example, a nondual experience for a fundamentalist Christian might simply cement his/her worldview and keep that person rooted in the stage currently lit up.

I think we might have to wait for the new book to see what he really believes. When he is talking with Cohen he has a tendency to agree with Cohen in ways that don't always adhere to his books and papers.


Mike said...

Thanks for the link to the pdf, Bill. I read through the appendix, as you suggested, then your post. Very interesting ideas, although I see one possible issue that maybe is covered in more depth in a different work.

On page 106, Wilber writes, "Enlightenment is supposed to mean something like being one with everything, but if everything is evolving, and I get enlightened today, then won't my enlightenment by partial tomorrow?" This basic idea is continued on page 107, "The manifest world of Form is evolving and becoming more complex—it is becoming Fuller and Fuller over time ... and therefore whatever enlightenment I may attain today is not going to be as FULL as...I might attain in a decade."

Two things. First, I don't see how, even if everything is evolving, that enlightenment wouldn't be complete. Because to be one with everything is to be one with the process of evolution itself, which would therefore grant one an enlightened understanding of future evolved lifeforms. Thus, enlightenment would not be partial.

More importantly, however, is the part where Wilber says that Form is becoming more complex. This is soundly refuted from the biological perspective by Stephen Jay Gould in the book Full House (which is a great read; I'd highly recommend it). Gould shows that life is NOT becoming more complex. He does not deny that additional complexity has evolved (i.e. we have evolved from the single cell creatures that lived way back in the day). But considering all sentient beings, he shows that (a) Humans are NOT the pinnacle of creation, and (b) complexity of beings as a whole is not increasing. I'd like to know how Wilber tackles this issue, and how it affects his theories.
Thanks for posting!