Sunday, January 17, 2010

The narrative of enlightenment as consumer commodity

Open Integral posted this before I could get around to doing so, for which I am grateful. There is an interesting discussion going on in the Gaia Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality pod.

The discussion originated around the teleconference being led by Craig Hamilton, founder of Integral Enlightenment and found member of Ken Wilber's Integral Institute. One could just as easily plug in Genpo Roshi or Bill Harris or Andrew Cohen (and here) - all of whom are associated with Wilber.

Here is the post from Open Integral. I agree with him, in part, but I am one of those who criticizes Wilber and the insular nature of I-I, and yet I am still going to the conference this year. There is no other group, aside from Integral Review and the Arina Foundation, that has the resources to put on a conference.

The narrative of enlightenment as consumer commodity

There’s an interesting discussion on the above topic in a thread by that name at Gaia’s Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality pod. Craig Hamilton’s conferences came up in this regard. Someone mentioned that while they didn’t approve of his marketing methodology they nonetheless would participate because of some of the presenters. I replied:

This goes to my point above, that sometimes we have to give up some valuable stuff to effect change. Yes, Hamilton brings together some key voices that might make a difference. But those voices, by participating in his conference, offer tacit approval to his commodified method. And many folks then also assume this is the proper way to proceed in the spiritual marketplace. I’m even wondering if those valuable presenters like Swimm, by participating, aren’t subconsciously influenced by such participation and such methods come to be seen as a necessary evil within a commodified culture, that we have to use such measures to reach people in the first place but once we do then we’ll change methodology. Unfortunately in the process we get corrupted and the methodology doesn’t change.

That’s why I boycott I-I and things like the Integral Conference. Yes, there are many people that go to these that challenge Wilber, even on issues such as this commodification. But the conference itself is promoted with such methods and financially supports I-I, which supports such methods. And by attending and participating we tacitly support such measures, measures that will continue because they are receiving support, even if one talks opposition.

What’s the alternative? Those that oppose such methods might form their own integral organization and conference and market themselves in a different way. But I-I has done all the work, it’s just easier to go to theirs, we don’t have the resources, maybe we can change it from within etc etc. To walk our talk is the hardest challenge imaginable. And we all know this has to be done because I-I is not going to change in this way, ever, even after Wilber is gone.

Now go read the thread at Gaia - non-members cannot comment, but it is still interesting. Here is the original post.
Reading the post on the Bulletin Board about the upcoming teleconference organized by Craig Hamilton, I am struck and dismayed yet again at the ongoing commodification of the idea of 'enlightenment' or 'awakening' in the Integral scene.

In the thread on Magical Thinking in Integral Theory, Kela expounded beautifully on what I will call the Narrative of Enlightenment:

“First, and perhaps foremost, is the idea that meditation and/or spiritual practice causes or brings about something called “enlightenment.” Now, by enlightenment we often mean something specific; it may have slightly different nuances to its sense. Generally, though it means some kind of permanent change in the individual. These changes range from minor to profound depending upon the definition of enlightenment, but typically the profound changes are emphasized. One typical definition would have it that it means the appearance of a permanent, direct cognition, via intuition or some other means, of an ultimate reality of some kind — a continuous, intimate and non-occluded apprehension of the “ground of being,” the “supreme godhead,” the “mystical void,” or whatever: samyak-sambodhi; the supreme kensho; sahaja samadhi, etc . It also usually means a supreme sense or experience of absolute redemption, supreme bliss and happiness, ultimate peace, and absence of existential suffering or angst: release, moksha, nirvana, kaivalya.”

It seems to me that the idea of 'enlightenment' as originally conceived in the early Jain, Buddhist, and Yoga traditions was an idea of release from suffering and even physical existence, by people who were exposed to a greater degree of physical suffering, material deprivation, and insecurity than most people in the industrialized west have experienced. Over time as these traditions evolved, the narrative of enlightenment became more about “a supreme sense or experience of absolute redemption, supreme bliss and happiness, ultimate peace, and absence of existential suffering or angst”; as in Mahayana & Vajrayana Buddhism, or Kashmiri Shaivism.

As the narrative of enlightenment has been introduced into the materially prosperous modern & postmodern cultures of America & Europe, in unison with growing disillusionment with our own religious and spiritual traditions, has it been fundamentally changed? Has the subtext in our approach become the driving consumer affirmation, obtain this and your life will be complete?

I will admit that this was the idea that drove my own spiritual striving for a decade or so. I see it as the driving force behind KW, Andrew Cohen, & Craig Hamilton's high profile campaigns to appeal to the spiritual marketplace. My former teacher Saniel Bonder has been a shameless enlightenment salesman. I also believe it is the reason seekers have put up with so much abuse at the hands of Da, Andrew Cohen and others. 'Evolutionary Enlightenment' is tailor made for the American religion of progress, optimism and denial.

I would be interested to hear whether others feel that this narrative of enlightenment has motivated their own search. I would also be interested to hear about alternative narratives to the spiritual search for enlightenment.

samadhi whore

1 comment:

(0v0) said...

Thanks! I don't keep up on the Integral message boards, but it's great to have this highlighted.

I listened to the first series of Hamilton's podcasts. The first handful were good - redundant with much better versions elsewhere, but still good. Then they got emptier and emptier. Disappointing.