Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
John Heron is a facilitator and trainer in co-operative inquiry and a wide range of personal and professional development methods. He is the author of Helping the Client (Sage, 2001), The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook (Kogan Page, 1999), Sacred Science (PCCS Books, 1998), and Co-operative Inquiry (Sage, 1996). This is a revision and integration of interrelated sets of notes that have appeared in Michel Bauwens' Pluralities/Integration online newsletter.
A way out
I despair of Wilberians. I wonder whether Wilber feels like Jung, who once said to my mother, 'It is better to be Jung than a Jungian'. Is it better to be Wilber than a Wilberian? Wilberians seem resistant to the idea that there are radically serious problems with Wilber's intricate transpersonal theoretical framework. They admit to one or two difficulties, and then, with evasive justification, relapse back rather rapidly into the faith. There is presumably some strong unconscious spiritual projection going on. Wilber's elaborate work is rather like the complex occult system of the Qabalah, of which people used to say, 'Once you get inside it, you can't get out of it'. This brief piece is dedicated to those Wilberians who are starting to feel that the time has come for liberation.
Wilber is a modern apologist and proselytizer on grand scale for ancient oriental mysticism (1990: 284), basically Advaita Vedanta Hindusim and Madhyamika Buddhism, plus any other mystics of any time or place whom he chooses to regard as having similar views. His elaborate apologetic takes this ancient religious story of the human condition and seeks to turn it, via a variety of contemporary theoretical devices, into a template for the spiritual development, individual and cultural, of the whole human race, past, present and into the far-off future. In doing this he claims to be exercising vision-logic, a species of holistic thinking which includes the capacity to take incompatible notions and integrate them in a greater whole which preserves what is positive in them and negates what is partial (1995: 185).
People ask me from time to time what I make of Wilber's work. And I have to say, 'Not a lot'. It has so many internal problems that I sometimes think it is more like an exercise in vision-illogic. Instead of incompatibles being resolved in a higher synthesis, they are conflated and superimposed upon each other in a contradictory way, or lurk inside unnoticed implications, or otherwise lie around unresolved in an incoherent system. His apologetic project is starting to look like an heroic failure. My own guess is that, when the scale of this gradually dawns on people as they withdraw their projections, he will unwittingly have done more to undermine the ancient traditions he seeks to promote than any number of the misbehaving mystics they frequently produce (Lachs, 1994; Crook, 1996).
The purpose of this paper is briefly to separate out and summarize some of the many tangled, problematic threads in his system. In the first sections below, I shall refer to his earlier work and his later work: by the former I mean the views which culminated in Up from Eden (1983 - I am using the first edition published in England), and by the latter the views expressed in Sex, Ecology and Spirituality (1995). I shall also refer to The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977), to the expanded edition of Eye to Eye (1990), to The Eye of Spirit (1997a), and to an online document 'A Spirituality that Transforms' (1997b). Since this paper is for Wilberians, I shall assume the reader has a reasonable working grasp of his theories. This is concentrated stuff, so take a break occasionally and have a cup of tea or a stroll round the garden.
For convenience I give here a list of the problems I deal with, in the order I present them. I don't think it matters too much which order you read them in. It may well be a good idea to start with the ones that interest you the most. There is a small amount of cross-referencing from the later topics to the earlier ones, but that shouldn't complicate things too much.
- Problems with the Atman project theory
- Contradiction between earlier and later accounts of the person
- Problems with later accounts of the person
- Problems with the theory of evolution
- Problems with the ancient mystics' anticipation theory
- Problems with the theory of transcendental inquiry
- Problems with the theory of meditation
- Problems with the theory of cross-cultural consensus
- Problems with the theory of ascent and descent
- Problems with the theory of worldspaces
- Problems with the four quadrant theory
- Problems with absolutism and relativism
- Problems with the theory of the nondual
- A closing comment on the above critique
Finally, and before launching into my critique, I would like the reader to know that:
- It is not an armchair critique. It is based on many years experiential inquiry-based practice, both personal and co-operative (Heron: 1975,1992,1996a,1997).
- It is not a defense against the call to spiritual self-transfiguration. I am committed to and engaged with that call.
It is about alerting people to the problems of a transpersonal theory which, from my perspective and for those who share it, puts forward very large claims made on inauthentic grounds.
Problems with the Atman project theory
1. The earlier work is self-negating, it shoots itself in the heart, and with two bullets. The central premise of this work is the Atman project theory. This theory holds that every person develops an illusory separate self which is a defensive substitute for Spirit: it compensates for the lack of Spirit by trying to recapture it in illusory projected forms, such as knowledge, power, money, fame, food, sex; and the whole of human culture is an illusory realm of such objective substitute gratifications (1983: 12-15). The first bullet is this. The stated theory, when defined in its own terms, is an illusory substitute gratification put out by an illusory substitute self in the interests of denying God (or Spirit). Wilber thus promotes a theory which, self-defined, discredits both himself and his writing.
2. The second bullet is that Wilber states the theory by presupposing what it denies. The theory holds we are nothing but illusory, separate selves; but it implicitly invokes a real person, who is neither the One Spirit, nor an illusory self, and who sets up the latter to evade the former. Thus Wilber writes - and I put his own words in italics - that every person intuits Spirit cannot accept death and compensates with an illusory self (1983: 14).
3. The Atman project theory has a cynical consequence. Since a person is nothing but an illusory self busy avoiding God, the theory reduces authentic interpersonal love between persons to nothing more than collusion between illusory selves in their evasion of God. Such cynicism is defamatory of human agape.
4. The Atman project theory also has a philistine consequence. It holds that culture is created by the illusory self as a world of objective substitute gratification both to replace and run away from God. It follows from this that the music of Mozart is not a revelation of that which is divine in Mozart's soul, but an account of Mozart's flight from the divine. To anyone who really listens to Mozart's music, this philistinism is absurd.
5. The Atman project theory passes on the old world-denying blight from the East. It denigrates all human acitivity except meditation, which is the only real absolute ethical imperative. Only in meditation can we overcome our self-alienation from God. In everything else we are busy, through self and cultural gratification, in avoiding God (1983: 321).
Contradiction between earlier and later accounts of the person
1. The Atman project theory of the early work is abandoned in Sex, Ecology and Spirituality (1995), hereinafter SES. There is no acknowledgment or explanation of this fact. The SES view of the person contradicts the early view. In SES, a person is no longer an illusory, evasive, substitute self, but a human holon within a 'reality composed of holons' (1995: 35). What was illusory has become a feature of holonic reality, which as a whole is saguna Brahman, final God with form (1995: 619). What was an illusion avoiding God is now a real aspect of manifest God.
2. This contradiction is fully revealed in the incompatibility of the earlier and later accounts of Eros. In the earlier work, Eros is simply misbegotten desire and thirst (1983: 334): the drive of the illusory, substitute self to perpetuate its own illusory existence (1983: 14). In SES, Eros is changed out of all recognition into aspiring and ascending love, indwelling Spirit, Spirit-in-action, a divine drive of holonic reality to self-transcending development (1995: 487).
3. There is another contradiction between the earlier and SES accounts of the self. The earlier view says the explicit ego is not annihilated in ultimate Wholeness (nondual awareness) but is simply reconnected with everything (1983: 12-13). The SES view is that in nondual awareness the explicit ego vanishes (1995: 301-10).
4. So if we put the first and third points above together, on the earlier view what was unreal before, becomes real after, enlightenment; and on the later view, what was relatively real before, becomes unreal after, enlightenment.
Problems with later accounts of the person
1. SES itself gives no coherent account of the nature of a person. It holds (a) that a person is a human holon, and holons are what reality is composed of (1995: 35) and manifest the process of Spirit-in-action fully present as self-developing life (1995: 487); (b) that a human holon, at the phenomenal level, the level of manifestation, has a relatively real cohering self and a relatively real stream of mental states which are mutually necessary (1995: 695); and (c) that such a holon is ultimately unreal and resolves into the absolute emptiness of Spirit (1995: 695).
2. In general, in SES, the the first point is undermined by the third: affirmations of Spirit-as-Many keep being wiped out by affirmations of Spirit-as-One. The human holon thus occupies a very uneasy no-person's land between the Many and the One: it looks like it could really be an expression of Spirit-in-action and one of the real Many, then thinks it is only relatively but not really real, and then it evaporates in the unqualifiable thatness of the One. Is Spirit-in-action, fully present as the self-developing life of a human holon, really ultimately unreal?
3. Wilber, in fact, runs a contradiction between an implicit non-cynical concept of personhood and an explicit entirely cynical concept, and it is the latter which, in his dominant and dour Manichean mood, comes out on top. The non-cynical theory of a person, as one of the real Many, is implicit in the idea of the human holon manifesting Spirit-in-action fully present as self-developing life (1995: 487). Such a theory - of a real spiritual person - is required by the first of two contradictory views. This first view is that at every level as you ascend with wisdom toward the One you reach out with active compassion to the Many on the levels below, up to and including your current level (1995: 338-9). But he can never let this seed of real personhood grow. He chops off its sprouting shoot with the second of the two contradictory views. And this is that you must flee the illusory many to find the One, and only then reach out to embrace the One-Many (1995: 356). It is this doctrine which prevails. It generates his cynical view of the person as nothing but one of the illusory many: a separate self, contracted with terror, locked in a fruitless attempt to find Spirit in misbegotten substitutes in this 'monstrous' world, and sustained in its folly by the anodyne beliefs and practices of low-level religion (1997a: Ch. 1; 1997b).
4. Wilber's dominant view is that there is no personhood or self of any kind in the mystical end-state of nondual awareness. If there is no distinct centre of reference within the mystic who is in the nondual state of the absolute identity of emptiness and form, then the mystic's state is indistinguishable from the divine as such, from God as God is for God. This is the great problem of inflation for the no-personhood-of-any-kind-at-all-in-final-realization tradition of the nondual. And the nondual traditions have a repetitive problem with it. The inflation, I believe, is illusory. It rests on a denial of any individuation within the nondual state. This denial suffers, first, from a naïve bias in favour of objective seamlessness. It allows that in the nondual mystic's perceptual field there are distinctions, e.g. between frog and pond, within the total seamlessness of the nondual state, but falls short of acknowledging that between the subjectivity of the perceiver and the objectivity of the perceived there is a subjective-objective unitive seamlessness. Second, the denial of any high level individuation also rests on a conflation of separateness and distinctness. When contracted, coiled up, alienated, fearful and separated personhood lets go and uncoils into divine presence, it doesn't just evaporate. Rather, it reveals a distinctness, a unique lustre within the seamless, unitive whole. Buddhists throw the distinct baby out with the separated bathwater. It is rather like saying that when a separate single note of music finds its apotheosis within the orchestral performance of a great symphony, it disappears and can't be heard. Whereas, in fact, the opposite is the case: it is remarkably audible in and through the whole.
Problems with the theory of evolution
1. The later work puts forward a theory of emergent, undetermined, innovative evolution in which the later stages are higher levels, and in which the higher the level the greater the innovation (1995: 35-78). It also holds that the highest level spiritual stages lie ahead of us in the future (1983: 10; 1995: 278), which should mean that they will be undetermined and very innovative indeed. However Wilber contradicts this: he holds that ancient oriental mystics have long ago gone through, named and fully mapped out all the spiritual stages which lie ahead for the rest of mankind (1983: 10, 241-60;1995: 253, 314-15). Their future occurrence is therefore both (a) determined by our prior knowledge of them and (b) not at all innovative, since their 'new' forms will be conditioned by our awareness of their ancient forms. (We must also note that is very weird for an evolutionary theorist to say that one or two holons in an early evolutionary stage can appear in the form of holons of a much later stage. I return to this point at the end of this section.)
2. SES, however, makes a distinction between surface structures and deep structures in any holon (1995: 60), and therefore in the cultural forms of an evolutionary stage. It holds that the surface structures will show emergent, undetermined diversity and novelty but not the predetermined deep structures (1995: 314). This predetermination is a built-in code or programme of set linear stages, and it is this which past sages have uncovered and made manifest. But once we all know, from Wilber and his ancient colleagues, what our deep linear programming is, it is still the case that any 'novelty' in its surface expression is massively determined by that prior knowledge. A theory which tells us that we have surface novelty and also tells us what will deeply and serially constrain it, is taking away much more than it gives. The human will constrained at depth is not the will that generates authentic novelty on the surface. True human novelty is not mere superficial flexibility; it is rooted in creative choice at depth, at the level of the deep structures themselves.
3. The problem here, it is important to note, is not with a theory of teleological forces, or entelechy, or chaotic attractors, or deep structures, or however one chooses to name it. The problem is the irreconcilable tension in Wilber's evolutionary theory between the unprecedented, undetermined, innovative, self-transcending emergence (1995: 47-8) of human holons and the predetermined linear actualization of their inbuilt spiritual code, entelechy or deep structure. The distinction between surface and pre-programmed deep structures does not resolve this tension; on the contrary it makes it worse by undermining human creativity with an account of its inescapable superficiality. The incoherence can be resolved by a deeper view than Wilber's: by holding that a person's, or a culture's, inner spiritual potential or entelechy consists of seeded patterns of possibility, the selection from and linear actualization of which is indeterminate and a matter of deep creative choice. The built-in code is not a linear programme, but a deep map of options, through openness to which our creative choices are made. We co-create our path with inner divine life impulse and the possibilities it proffers. This more coherent idea, incidentally, leads on to a theory of the valid diversity of spiritual paths, rather than to the assimilative totalitarianism of Wilber' system.
4. SES seeks to present a model of undetermined innovative evolution as part of an extended version of what Wilber upholds as the perennial philosophy. He seeks to add a teleological evolutionism to the traditional involutionary cosmology of the perennial philosophy. But for him the process of evolution is mapped out by Spirit in a linear series of predetermined stages and deep structures, which are known by Wilber, and his ancient mystic colleagues, to be the stages of involution in reverse order (1995: 337 passim). This makes evolution neither undetermined nor innovative, and hence not an emergent creative process at all. Wilber reduces a genuine evolutionary creative process within the Many (big M), to a reflux, a predetermined return of the many (little m) to the One, a going back up the involutional ladder. Evolution is not an ongoing innovative dynamic intrinsic to creation, it is reduced to being a repeal of the formula of involution. Ascent is not the exploratory process of God as an authentic contingent process of becoming among the Many, it is merely a retracing of the descending levels generated by God as necessary and eternal causal One. This is just a more refined version of the Many-to-One reductionism which appeared in gross form in Up from Eden (Heron, 1992).
5. Wilber holds (a) that holons (humans and other evolutionary entities) necessarily co-evolve, that the individual and the social are inseparably interactive (1995: 63-6); and therefore (b) that the spiritual stages of the future are 'worldspaces', that is intersubjective enactments, social constructions, ways of construing the world that are shared within a whole culture. Wilber undermines these interconnected points by proposing that ancient oriental mystics, meditating in subjective solitary seclusion in the midst of prespiritual cultures, realized (somehow or other) and mapped out all the main future spiritual intersubjective stages and cultures. Allowing for the crudeness of such mapping does not solve the problem: Wilber picks out one ancient sage after another, each of whom was the first explorer of some high spiritual stage (1983: 241-60). This means they did it all alone, without one whit of necessary co-evolvement, of agency-in-communion, of inseparable interaction. So a solitary holon in the past bypasses a basic tenet that holons necessarily co-evolve and yet succeeds in manifesting the deep structure which determines how all holons will co-evolve in the far future.
6. Wilber holds that, in the evolutionary scheme, a few human holons (ancient mystics) early in the twelfth mental-egoic stage could anticipate spiritual stages (the fourteenth and beyond) way off in the future for all other human holons. Why is this idea not generalized throughout the evolutionary line? In other words, why does he not hold, for example, that a very few holons in the third and protoplasmic stage would have appeared in the form of the much more advanced holons of the sixth and locomotive stage? The answer is, surely, that the idea is revealed as incoherent and bizarre, without any supporting evidence, when applied across the board through the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms. It is would be very odd for an evolutionary theorist to say that, in general and at any level, a tiny number of past evolutes can jump way out of evolutionary line and manifest the basic structure of far-off-in-the-future evolutes.
Problems with the ancient mystics' anticipation theory
1. Wilber holds, in his evolutionary scheme, (a) that the lower level is the necessary foundation for the higher, and we can't properly go on to the next higher level and be responsibly engaged with it until we are stabilized in and have done justice to the current level (1995: 46-56, 489, 748); (b) that the Centaur level precedes - and so is the necessary foundation for - the four future spiritual levels, and (c) the Centaur level dawned in the Renaissance and is only peaking now (1983: 319-20). But he contradicts all this by also holding that ancient oriental mystics anticipated, fully realized and did justice to the higher spiritual levels long before the dawn of the Centaur stage (1983: 10, 241-60;1995: 253, 314-15). Nor does he ever say that they in any way anticipated the Centaur stage: they only anticipated the four stages which, for the rest of the human race, come after it. It seems, therefore, that they bypassed a necessary foundation for the spiritual levels. So it would also seem that they went on to the spiritual levels improperly and irresponsibly, and must have had distorted experiences of them. There is a deep incoherence here.
2. Wilber holds that the current Centaur stage is a necessary foundation for higher spiritual stages, and is about body-mind integration, an essential part of which is dealing with repression. He also holds that repression is a modern Western discovery and is only vaguely understood in the East (1990: 90-1). Thus, to elaborate the previous point, this implies ancient eastern mystics bypassed dealing with repression. Wilber chooses not to notice this, and so ignores the pathology of world-denial - flight to God from the works of God - evident in Hindu and Buddhist mysticism alike. He especially chooses to ignore the fact that a recent mystic in this tradition, Ramana Maharshi, whom he cites as modern hero of the causal and nondual stages (1995: 301-10), continuously subjected his body to pathological abuse and neglect and had no glimmering of what body-mind integration might mean.
3. In appointing the ancients, who by-passed body-mind integration, as arbiters of future spiritual stages, it also look as though Wilber is not attending fully to his own body-mind integration and to the innovative, unpredictable evolutionary prompt that may emerge by doing so.
4. I have already covered the point, in the previous section, that on the one hand Wilber has an evolutionary tenet that all holons necessarily co-evolve with other holons, on the other hand he picks out individual sages who first identified, all on their own, far in the past, one or other of the higher spiritual stages of human co-evolution that are far in the future.
5. Wilber tries to exempt ancient mystics from the historicity, the cultural relativity, of their spirituality, how they construed it and practised it. But if they necessarily co-evolved, through agency-in-communion - as Wilber's theory of holons emphatically asserts - with other people in their culture, there is no way, within the terms of his own theory, that they can be exempt. He must, to be consistent, hold the sensible view that all ancient accounts of spiritual states are inadequate and incomplete hybrids: they represent the context-relative attainments of solitary mystics in tiny sub-cultures, set within dominant nonspiritual cultures. Their accounts are unawarely laced with key values of those cultures, as well as being in conscious reaction against some other cultural values. What we get is a representation of human spirituality that is culturally relative: it is relative to the general level of the evolutionary emergence of humankind at that time. The primary unaware values incorporated in these ancient traditions include authoritarianism, patriarchy and the denigration of women, emotional repression, together with the absence of any commitment to autonomous mastery of the phenomenal world, both social and natural. What the ancient accounts are in conscious reaction against, is the driven desire-ridden addiction to misery rife in society, hence their preoccupation with moksha, release from it all. All this becomes inflated to theological proportions, and woven into the structure of the spiritual path and the interpersonal conduct within spiritual traditions. Wilber recklessly presents these outdated versions of spirituality as the authoritative forms of our transpersonal future. He never faces up, for example, to the authoritarian patriarchy and concomitant sexual abuse evident today in oriental traditions of spiritual practice such as Zen (Lachs, 1994; Crook, 1996).
Problems with the theory of transcendental inquiry
1. Wilber holds that the old spiritual traditions, which he believes have long ago established the four spiritual stages which lie ahead for mankind, are valid forms of transcendental inquiry which offer a verification procedure for spiritual experiences (1990: 39-81; 1995: 265, 273-6). This is a spurious claim which confuses inquiry with training. His description of the procedure presupposes that settled views of spiritual experience already exist. His three simple steps define no more than experiential training within an established tradition. They are nothing to do with an inquiry which either questions what is established or seeks to uncover new knowledge. Wilber very improperly presents (offering Zen as an example (1990: 59-61)) what is in effect authority-laden spiritual training by an hierarchical teacher as if it were genuine, questioning spiritual inquiry. And he presents what in reality is teacher-dominated assessment of training outcomes as if it were confirmation or refutation of inquiry outcomes in a community of peers. He dresses up the authority of tradition in the guise of peer inquiry, about which he appears to have no k [...] of this critique see Heron (1996b).
2. Meditation is potentially one method, among many, of spiritual inquiry, but it has never been used as such. It has always been, and still is today in its schools of practice such as Zen, constrained within the authority of an experiential tradition, and such authority is inimical to the open-ended nature of experiential inquiry. There have been some inquiries into the effects of using traditional meditation methods, but no experiential inquiry into these methods as such, that is, no innovative variations on these methods to check out their experiential claims, and no experiential comparisons with other non-meditative mystical methods.
3. If Wilber really believed that the spiritual stages which he promotes were grounded in a genuine transcendental science, then he would also hold that existing accounts of them would be provisional, in principle open to revision and development as a function - in a true community of spiritual peers - of future spiritual inquiry and a sifting of its outcomes. But Wilber's absolutism and authoritarianism cannot allow for this: the transcendental die is cast; mystics have revealed the way up and affirmed that it is the same, in reverse order, as the way down; the future spiritual evolution of the human race is already known. Wilber does not believe in spiritual inquiry, but in the authority of traditional experiential claims, an authority which he believes is valid for all time. These claims, as I have said, have as yet never been subjected to any kind of real inquiry and verification. Any attempt within established spiritual traditions to initiate an open experiential inquiry into their claims would be quickly suppressed as egoic resistance.
4. If Wilber believes that his account of the stages of spiritual experience is derived from a simple verification procedure for such experience, why does he not tell us what stages he has so far verified and by what means? If he is a genuine transcendental inquirer who practises spiritual verification, why does he always give reports, never of his own experiences, but always about the reports of the experiences of other people, people who never even claim to be transcendental scientists? It is as if a conventional scientist presented as a valid scientific theory a view for which he never gave his own experimental evidence but only cited the anecdotal experiences of other people.
5. So what are the experiential grounds for Wiber's elaborate theorizing. If it is his own experience, he is not telling us. It is certainly not the other people whose experiences he cites, since they will never have heard of his theories - and even if they had heard of them, only they would be entitled to say whether their experiences do or do not uphold what he propounds. So whose experience is it? What I am getting at, is that validating experiential grounds could only properly be provided by a group of people who (1) understood the theoretical structure, (2) had a significant amount of agreed relevant experience, (3) shared that experience and dialogued about it, (4) devised several experiential tests, adding also a range of validity procedures to check for consensus collusion, inquiry counter-transference, dependence on and spiritual projection onto external authorities, etc., and (5) reflected together to see what sort of intersubjective consensus there was about the validity of his views. I am not aware that any of this has taken place. And even if such an inquiry had taken place, the validity of its findings would be relative to the context of the inquiry: they would have absolutely no predictive or prescriptive relevance for the spiritual development of the rest of the human race, present or future.
Problems with the theory of meditation
1. Wilber insists that present-day meditators come up with the same basic hierarchic path as did 'successive transcendent heroes of the past'; and that these are 'two very different sources of information' which show 'striking' similarities. This view begs some big questions which never get raised, let alone answered. First, the present-day meditators to whom he refers all use ancient meditation methods. The nine references he cites to back-up the view that modern meditators find the same stages as ancient ones are all texts grounded in ancient methods (1983: 255). Meditation as understood and practised today in the west is an imported ancient eastern method. So it is spurious to argue that the moderns provide independent confirmation - and this is clearly what Wilber wants to imply - of what the ancients found. There is just one long continous source of information.
2. Second, Wilber never raises the key question as to whether meditation, a methodology devised in the east in by sages wrestling with the limitations of the middle of what he calls the mental-egoic stage, is appropriate to the modern Centauric stage, launched at the Renaissance and 'peaking' now (1983: 319-20). The Centaur stage, he holds, is about body-mind integration, dealing with repression, untying bodily knots that are also mental knots; and also about dealing with the social world, and with egoic processes (1977: 244-59; 1990: 90-91). Given that the Centaur stage precedes future spiritual stages (1995: 258-64), and is a necessary foundation for them (1995: 489,748) why would the integrated Centaurian want to adopt a regressive spiritual methodology which was designed to make sure that no body-mind or social integration takes place, so that both can be bypassed en route to Spirit. Meditation posture locks repression in place: the lotus position is the last thing a Centaurian body-mind pracitioner would use to unlock it. Meditation is a solitary internal process, takes no account of the social world, and is designed to ensure that there is no explicit social interaction. It is the classic way to flee from the Many: it is static, silent, nonsensory, unsocial, dissociative and inward. Indeed, it is often used by some of the contemporary repressed as a dissociative method for ensuring that Centaurian body-mind integration does not take place today. It is not, prima facie, a spiritual method that builds and capitalizeson and takes forward into the spiritual stages, the body-mind integration, the undoing of repression and the integration with the social world that the developed Centaurian has achieved.
3. Third, there is a related but wider issue. Wilber seems to take it for granted that meditation is the only valid mystical and spiritual methodology. This is a parochial assumption, an uncritical spiritual chauvinism. As I have just shown, because it is ancient in form, it doesn't build on or take forward Centaurian integration. It presupposes a worldview preoccupied with Spirit-as-One (divine mind) and with dissociation from Spirit-as-Many (divine life). Whereas the Centaurian implicitly calls up immanent living Spirit-as-Many (1) to untie bodily knots and generate integration from below, and (2) to emerge - where two or three are gathered together in openness and honesty - as the go-between divinity fostering social interaction. What this suggests is a deeply valid spiritual path, rooted in honouring Many-One-Spirit, which is charismatic-expressive both in its creative use of the body-mind and in its spontaneous social interaction. This path starts with the nondual seamlessness of a present experience that is creative, expressive, dynamic and interactive - like Many-One-Spirit itself. It doesn't set out to end, as with Wilber's claimed stages, with a static return of the once repressed Many into a seamless union with the One. Classic meditation is flight from the Many: you close your eyes for twenty-five years and when you open them, you find the Many are all there seamlessly with the One in nondual awareness, which is where they have been ever since you shut your eyes. If you hadn't been locked into a paradigm of fleeing the Many to find the One, you could have opened your eyes at the outset and allowed the everpresent seamlessness of your immediate experience, whatever it is, as your starting point.
4. So, fourth, meditation is valuable when (a) freed from its ancient flee-the-Many paradigm, (b) updated in terms of the extent and phenomenology of its practices, (c) liberated from a predetermined, linear hierarchic path and (d) regarded as one of a range of Many-One methodologies. With respect to the first of these points, I take the view that the human being is engaged with the bipolarity of divine mind and divine life. Traditional oriental meditation focuses the entire mind on its source, and does this by disregarding and downgrading life, by conflating it with low level desire and emotion, a misbegotten thirst driving an alienated and illusory separation from Spirit. Thus Ramana Maharshi at age 17, while perfectly healthy, has a sudden pathological fear of death, falls on the floor and simulates being dead, and so awakens, he believes, to the Self as Spirit, and sustains this state by going off to sit in a dirty pit, neglecting and abusing his life and leaving others to take minimal care of it for him. Within this tradition, the body itself is a disease, as Ramana himself said. Within this tradition, the hara, the life-centre, is an inferior focus of nothing but sex, desire and emotion, and is a place to get through and rise above on the way to the crown. Its anatomical and physiological correlate in women, the womb, is a hell-hole where the whole 'nightmare' of alienated and illusory life in the world begins. Thus Wilber talks of the 'unconscious hell' of infancy turning into the 'conscious hell' of adulthood in a world of 'grasping and despair' as the self becomes aware 'of the intrinsic pain of existence, the torment inherent in samsara, the mechanism of madness coiled inherently in the manifest world' (1997: Ch.1). I think this is all very deeply distressed Manichean stuff: divine life indwelling the human being is desecrated by Wilber with disvalue and disparagement and reduction to the infamous. Above all it means that traditional meditation rises up to divine mind by kicking divine life in the gut and in the womb, with the result that the end-state of meditation is inflated and swollen by an inflammation stemming from what has thus been damaged.
5. Fifth, Wilber seems think it is meditation as such that establishes - in his terms creates and discloses - a worldview, whereas in reality it merely unravels the worldview that is built into its methodology. A worldview or worldspace is not created by a methodology, it is generated by a prior revisionary conceptual shift in a culture which then in turn generates a method that suits the shift. Wilber conflates the shift with the method (1995: 274). Dissociative meditation is a methodology designed to elaborate a pre-existent worldview of reality as nothing-but-One-Spirit, just as modern experimental science is a methodology designed to elaborate a pre-existent worldview of reality as nothing-but-many-matter. Methodology articulates and gives expression to a pre-existent ontology and epistemology, it can't do anything to establish the metaphysical construct which shapes it. Experiments per se can neither establish nor resolve the restricted metaphysical assumption on which the experimental method is based. Just so, meditation as such can neither establish nor resolve the monopolar bias built into its traditional non-inquiry based experiential method.
Problems with the theory of cross-cultural consensus
1. Wilber believes there is a consensus among mystics of diverse cultures and different eras about the different stages of the spiritual path, at the level of their deep structure; and that this is valid for the whole of our human future (1995: 276-8). The first problem with this belief is that it is based on a very small and selective amount of the recorded religious experience of a minute fraction of the human race over a short time span of less than 3000 years (Camphausen,1992). The data base is perilously small for the monolithic claim it is used to justify.
2. Even if it exists, a textual consensus among mystics, per se, confers no validity on its content. It could mean that all those concerned are in deluded morphic resonance, to use Sheldrake's theory (Sheldrake, 1981). It it exists, it would certainly mean that they are bound within cultural and other constraints that affect the whole human race for a 3000 year period, and don't apply in the future. As we have seen, the dynamics of repression is a very recent discovery, a discovery which makes possible full body-mind integration. There is no evidence that mystics of the last 3000 years ever got to grips with it. Hence their supposed consensus could be, in part, evidence of their shared pathology. More generally, it could at best be evidence of a culturally relative and incomplete account of human spirituality. As we have seen, not only does Wilber refuse to acknowledge the historicity of past mystics' knowledge claims, he proposes - with high implausibility - that these claims anticipate the historicity of future mystical knowledge.
3. A past consensus among mystics, if it exists, has no prescriptive or predictive relevance for the present or the future spiritual experience of mankind. Past agreement about any kind of human experience, especially the mystical kind, cannot and should not either provide a final standard for judging its present occurrence, or provide a formula for its future development. To make past spiritual experience an unalterable bench-mark for the present and the future of human spirituality is to be locked in a form of deleterious conservatism rooted in an appeal to the binding authority of tradition. It is an indefensible form of oppressive, intimidating, hegemonic absolutism: it cannot possibly serve the liberation of postmodern spirituality. It is also, of course, incompatible with any genuine theory of the unpredictable, emergent, innovative evolution of the human spirit.
4. The mystical consensus, or perennial philosophy, theory is itself highly questionable and can seriously be called in doubt. It is based on a small selection from the large number of extant religious texts. There are criteria for deciding which texts are to be included for the analysis, and which excluded. These criteria are taken to the selection. They are necessarily prior to and independent of the texts. They derive from the collator's religious beliefs, beliefs ultimately based on personal preference, practice and reflection, and encounters with living teachers. These criteria determine the selection of texts, thus a monist like Aldous Huxley will throw the theists out (Huxley, 1945). The criteria also determine what will be read into the chosen texts. Consensus does not just sit out there in the texts waiting to hit you in the face, but, like all 'evidence' it is identified in terms of prior theory. It is already theory-laden, criteria-laden, when it is served up. The claim that there is textual consensus is in reality a veiled form of special pleading for views held on other grounds. And the more insistently the textual consensus claim is pushed, the more we may suppose that there is an unacknowledged, unidentified and radical insecurity about the unstated grounds on which those views are held. Otherwise why not state those grounds on their own and leave it at that? The real consensus is not a consensus among mystics, it is a consensus among a small group of male scholars that the religious texts they have selected reflect back to them the beliefs that determined the selection.
5. Furthermore, the consensus claim is massively underdetermined by the supposed evidence for it. This is because the interpretation of ancient texts is itself notoriously problematic. Ancient writings are embedded in and emerge from ancient cultural and linguistic contexts. Each such context is a set of mutually shared values and meanings, some of them explicit and some implicit. The meaning of an ancient text is inseparable from this ancient intersubjective set of meanings, at both its explicit and its implicit levels. Translating this meaning into a modern language whose usage is embedded in its own intersubjective context of cultural values and meanings, is a precarious matter. Even Christians have questioned the very possibility, in some cases, of finding modern equivalents for biblical meanings ( Mudge, 1983).
6. There is some evidence that Wilber tinkers with texts to support his views. Certainly this is so with regard to quotes from Emerson, and in the bizarre business of what people say Plotinus said on his deathbed (diZerega, 1997).
Problems with the theory of ascent and descent
1. Wilber gives two entirely incompatible accounts of the relation, on the path of spiritual development, between the way up, the path interior ascent, and the way down, the path of exterior descent. When he is attending to Plotinus, he says that descent and embrace of lower levels should occur with each stage of ascent. Eros, going up to the One, is balanced 'at each and every stage' with Agape, reaching down to the Many (1995: 338-9). But when quoting Aurobindo and Zen, he insists you must first go all the way up to the One, then go down and embrace the Many; and unless and until you get to the One there is no way to unite the way up and the way down 'either in theory or in fact' (1995: 356). Wilber is at sixes and sevens about the One and the Many. Generally he sides with the old idea of 'Flee the Many to find the One', but this prescription is so outdated, he seems unawarely driven to contradict it.
2. Wilber only has a monopolar theory of interior ascent. That is to say, on the left-hand, interior side of his holonic map (1995: 122), everything goes one way, the path of inward spiritual ascent, from the primitive and protoplasmic to the transcendental spiritually all-embracing One. There is no bipolar, correlative and complementary path of inward descent to the immanent spiritually each-indwelling Many. Wilber has the notion, from Schelling, of deus implicitus, the fully present indwelling Spirit, Eros, Spirit-in action, the very process of life development (1995: 487); but it never figures in his account of the conscious, intentional developmental path. It just moves the development along from behind the scenes: it is not engaged with as part of the development itself. I do not mean by inward descent spirituality a simple reworking, enfolding, re-assimilation of earlier stages and structures, a going back to reclaim and reintegrate aspects of those stages that were blocked off or simply not noticed at the time. Wilber fully allows for this (1995: 742) and holds that every new stage involves various kind of reworkings of previous ones. I mean by inward descent a direct conscious opening to the indwelling Spirit, the divine life, that is the ground, source and prompt of development from stage to stage; it is an honouring of the deus implicitus, as a complement to the ascent spirituality which honours the deus explicitus. It is not concerned with the prepersonal, the personal, or the transpersonal, but with the infrapersonal, with divine entelechy, the living godseed within. It is the infrapersonal dimension, as a polar complement to the transpersonal, that is missing: Shekinah as complement to Logos, the immanent spiritual womb as complement to the transcendent spiritual word; the birthing of divinity from the depths within one's present stage as well as a calling down of divinity from a higher stage; the creativity that is born of intentional opening to the divine options within entelechy, as well as the transforming vision from on high. His scheme just carries on the classic monopolar, autocratic patriarchy of the oriental traditions.
3. Similarly, Wilber only has a monopolar theory of exterior descent. So on the right-hand, exterior side of his holonic map, the path of outward descent is only about relating to physical and social processes in this world. There is no correlative and complementary path of expressive outward ascent of the soul in other worlds, in the suprasensory cosmos. His general tendency here is to reduce outward ascent to inward ascent, the transphysical to the transpersonal: subtle worlds to subtle interior states (the psychic and the subtle in his scheme are exclusively on the left and interior side of his holonic map). He has quadrants, in his holonic scheme, for sensory observables, individual and collective, but not for transphysical, extrasensory observables. And the soul can be expressively engaged with these, in the ascent mode, through practices and inquiries which reach up into them, as it can in the descent mode with the domain of the sensory. He includes physical and social science, but totally ignores any kind of supersensory science - a fundamental and major omission. This, too, is a left-over from oriental monopolar bias: in this case the belief that any engagement with supersensory obervables is a distraction from the realization of Spirit-as-One.
4. Thus Wilber reduces a potentially rich fourfold acount of inward and outward ascent and descent into a rather superficial and impoverished twofold account of inward ascent and outward descent. There is no comprehensive fully-grounded, fully-embodied complementarity, bipolarity, of a developmental path engaging with the Many and the One in this fourfold way, with entelechy and archetype, the indwelling and the transcendent, implicit and explicit divinity, contingent and necessary divinity, temporal and eternal divinity, divine life and divine mind.
Problems with the theory of worldspaces
1. I have already dealt above (problems with the theory of evolution) with the incoherence of holding, on the one hand, that holons necessarily co-evolve, that the spiritual stages of the future are socially constructed 'worldspaces', and, on the other, that these stages have been anticipated, not by any kind of co-evolution, but by solitary holons in nonspiritual worldspaces.
2. SES holds, as stated in the previous point, that the future spiritual stages or 'worldspaces' are intersubjective enactments or constructions shared within a whole culture. SES contradicts the idea that they are constructions by the claim, already noted, that their future deep structures are predetermined and already known now. We cannot intelligibly be said to construct or enact what, at the deepest level, we know to be inevitable and outside our creative command. The sort of constructivism which Wilber wants to adopt is only plausible when it presupposes a model of an evolutionary process that is truly undetermined, a model in which teleological forces deep within us delimit patterns of possibilities from which we make at that deep level unpredictable, emergent, creative selections; a model, in short, in which socially constructed worldspaces can only be known as and when choices are made about how we enact them.
3. To say that the deep structure of a future yet-to-be constructed worldspace is predetermined, and then to say that you know now, in the present day, all about this predetermined form, is in reality a bid for political power in the spiritual field, for hegemonic control of souls. But, of course, it is a spurious and therefore self-annihilating bid, since once announced it can be readily deconstructed. As soon as we hear what our future worldspace must be like, what teleological forces it must manifest, we can set about choosing to enact a world that manifests quite different teleological potentials. The whole point about the constructivist or enactive paradigm - a paradigm which Wilber has adopted without adequate assimilation - is that it cannot be held hostage to absolutist predictions.
4. A 'worldspace' is defined by Wilber as co-determined by the human mind and given reality: a world is what we shape or enact as we encounter the given. And we do this collectively, intersubjectively within a culture. The world on this view is not a pregiven reality which we observe and represent by pregiven sensibilities. It is culturally constructed in the very act of social engagement with the given (since it engages with the given it is not any old arbitrary construction); and this rules out any simple representational, reflection or correspondence account of the truth (1995: 541, passim). Validity in a socially constructed world is a matter of mutual understanding, a deep resonance of meaning among those with lived experience of that world (1995: 128). Wilber's system defines all the spiritual stages as worldspaces of this sort: they all go in his lower left, interior-social, quadrant. But what about the validity of Wilber's metatheory of the whole past and future sequence of different worldspaces? Surely this can only be established within a metaworldspace, that is, through mutual undertanding, deep resonance of meaning, among those who between them have lived experience of all the different socially constructed worldspaces. But first, this would only be possible in a historically comprehensive gathering in the after-life. And second, it could only be done after all the worldspaces had been enacted and lived through, a point I elaborate in the next paragraph.
5. In Wilber's system, as I have said, the spiritual stages are all defined as worldspaces that lie in the future, beyond the current Centaur stage. They are all placed firmly in the lower left, the social-interior quadrant. This fits with his evolutionary theory that all holons necessarily co-evolve: all agency is always agency-in-communion. And Wilber also makes it clear that any valid account of a worldspace is a matter of mutual understanding with those within it, a harmonic resonance in depth with their lived experience of constructing it (1995: 128). Therefore, we may assume, since spiritual worldspaces nowhere yet exist - they lie in the future - no valid account of them can be given since there is no socially lived experiential construction of them with which we can engage in harmonic resonance. In other words, within the terms of Wilber's system, you can't properly talk validly about future worldspaces until they have arrived and you can get some mutual understanding going with those who are enacting them.
6. As I have pointed out in the section on meditation, (1) Wilber erroneously supposes that meditation is a methodology that creates/discloses a worldspace; whereas, in fact, (2) methodologies derive from, and give more systematic expression to, prior revisionary worldviews. Thus meditation methdology develops and elaborates a worldspace from which it is derived. The One-biased worldspace that generates the traditional practice of meditation can neither be established nor disestablished by that method.
Problems with the four quadrant theory
1. As well as the limitations just mentioned, the four quadrant scheme (a) lacks reference to its necessary ground, and therefore (b) ignores a basic priority in the ordering of its components, an order which (c) has certain important epistemological consequences. Let me explain. The scheme exists only within the purview of language, whose basic pronouns define it: we (interior-social), our (exterior-social), I (interior-individual), it (exterior-individual). The use of language itself presupposes a deep, tacit, non-linguistic, experiential, mutual understanding and exchange of meaning, which is a necessary ground and condition of agreeing how to use language itself. This ground underlies all the linguistically-articulated quadrants.
2. This ground makes language first and foremost public language, voicing the tacit participative mutuality which makes it possible. Once we are explicitly present with our language-culture (interior-social), we can define our institutions (exterior-social), develop our personal experience (interior-individual), and start to analyse phenomenal objects (exterior-individual).
3. What this means is that our shared, interior-social, way of construing our reality through the forms of language and the culture which springs from it - Wilber's constructivist worldspace - subsumes all the other three quadrants. They are all subspaces within the intersubjective world space. They all fall within the aegis of the constructivist or enactive paradigm. The enactive criterion of truth, mutual understanding through mutual experiential resonance - which in its fully developed form is what I call participative co-operative inquiry - applies, with appropriate adaptations, in each of the other three quadrants. This is the radical epistemological implication of the four quadrant system, whereas Wilber simply tacks onto it, in an unintegrated way, Habermas's three validity claims of truth, sincerity and justice (1995: 144).
4. One simple but highly relevant implication of this superordinate status of the enactive paradigm, is that there is a limit to the degree to which the subjective connotation of the terms of a language can stray from their intersubjective or public connotation. In other words, language is first and foremost public language: if one person stretches the meaning of public terms too far outside the aegis of their common meaning, that person starts to become unintelligible - to him or herself as well as to others. This puts a contextually determined limit on the degree to which any one person can give revisionary meaning to his or her individual experiences, and therefore puts a limit to the reach of these experiences themselves. This is another reason for calling in question the mystics' anticipation theory.
Problems with absolutism and relativism
1. Where is Wilber's grand theory of involution and evolution, of successive worldspaces and spiritual stages, situated within its own terms and framework? Well, it should be located as a Centaurian construct, deploying vision-logic, whose validity is relative to intersubjective meanings within the enacted world of Wilber and other Centaurians. He should say that its validity is relative to this context, but that this relativity is not noxious and nihilistic, because in enacting their world he and his fellow Centaurians have sought to the best of their ability to be critically rigorous in the in the intersubjective method whereby their constructs shape and contextualize the given in the process of meeting and touching it. But I cannot find any place where he does say this. He seems to go far beyond what his adoption of the enactive paradigm should allow. He doesn't seem really to have absorbed the full epistemological implications of this paradigm, which he has picked up and adapted from the work of others.
2. I say this because he holds an uncompromising absolutist position by asserting that validity claims relate, with a universal yes or no, to extracultural pregiven reality, sensory, mental and mystical. In other words, instead of saying there can be relative validity in a co-operatively enacted worldview - the element of validity being there because people seek to be intersubjectively rigorous in shaping the given as they touch and meet it - he argues, following Habermas, for absolute validity. He says that because what is mediated or contextualized also immediately touches the given, then, by virtue of that touching, the mediated constructions can claim transcendental/universal validity (1995: 599-605). This is a crude analysis. For if our experience is mediate-immediate (subjective-objective, shaping-meeting, however you name the paradox) the validity claims are relative-universal, that is, relatively true. They are relatively true because of the mediation, the contextualization; they are relatively true because of the immediacy, the touching, the meeting. Wilber argues that extreme relativists cheat - and are self-destructing - by discounting any immediacy, but tacitly assume both it and universal validity for their own thesis. Fair enough. But Wilber cheats by extracting only the immediacy component of experience to support the idea of universal validity, and by discarding the mediation component which makes truth always relative-universal - a wise provison of providence, perhaps, so that we need to listen to each other, rather than lecture each other. Thus he falls foul of a false dichotomy which offers an exclusive choice between universalist-absolutism on the one hand and pernicious self-refuting and nihilistic relativism on the other, and so cannot entertain the sort of authentic relativism required by the enactive paradigm which he has adopted (Ferrer, 1997).
3. But surely, you may say, Wilber does have the notion of relative truth. No, not really. He dresses up in a constructivist cloth of relative truth, but the cloth is cut by an absolutist. He says that holarchy is the study of nested truths, that truths are always relative to their context, but immediately says that context-relative truths have an absolute validity, within any wider context, as long as they don't claim to be ultimate or exclusive (1995: 537, n.83). Furthermore, his account of the basic structure of the holarchy itself, the whole array of the deep structures of nested contexts, lays claim to transcendental/universal validity (1995: 599-605). Wilber entirely misses the deeply reassuring paradox of the relative-universal nature of all truths, including any he or I may utter.
4. This unqualified absolutism is, of course, oppressive. Wilber is telling people, in no uncertain terms, with remorseless drumbeat, with great and elaborate theoretical persistence, with emphatic italicizations on every single page, what the spiritual path is really, in absolute reality, all about. His account of the spiritual path clearly seeks to be controlling, dominating, hegemonic, devouring (opponents are relished for breakfast), and is implicitly intolerant and dismissive of all religious beliefs and practices which cannot be assimilated into its absolutist framework (diZerega, 1996; Ferrer, 1997). Wilber writes with analytic scorn about the poor fools who cannot get his absolute point. And yet all the time he seems to be missing the relative point. Is religion really a matter of such relentless cognitive harassment?
5. There is a strong element of hubris and inflation about all this which strikes me at times as an advanced and sophisticated kind of spiritual pathology which, at a subtle level, has got entirely out of hand. This is not very complimentary, although it may be kind in a confronting sort of way, but it least gives an explanation of how it is that Wilber cannot see the multitudinous flaws in his own constructions. He is like someone who meditates too much in a one-sided mode and as a result writes with brilliantly luminous error. He is also like someone who long ago projected his own inner spiritual authority onto the external authority of some spiritual school or tradition. The more he goes along that prescribed path, the more his achievement on that path buries and represses the frustration engendered by the projection. He is thus driven, in his roundabout theoretical way, to take out his denied frustration by getting everyone else to go along the same path. Wilber, perhaps, has never dealt with his submision to oriental religious authoritarianism, and wants all his readers to pay the price.
6. Finally, let me remind the reader of what Wilber's absolutist claims about his spiritual stages actually rest upon.There are, in fact, only three very wobbly little legs. The first is the untenable view that solitary mystics in ancient eastern prespiritual cultures stepped entirely outside their own massively restrictive historicity, uncovered invariant stages of the spiritual path that apply to anyone anywhere, and revealed for all time the predetemined sequence of spiritual cultures way off in our future. The second is a spurious view of transcendental inquiry which passes off teacher-dominated experiential training and assessment in traditional oriental spiritual schools as if it were authentic inquiry within a peer commnity. The third is the consensus, as I put it earlier, among a small group of male scholars, that texts which they have selected reflect back to them the beliefs that led them to make the selection. This is not the stuff of which transpersonal theory can be made.
Problems with the theory of the nondual
1. Wilber, and other oriental apologists, make a certain sort of nondual awareness the final and absolute acme of the spiritual path (1995: 308-10 passim). This rests on a big and unwarranted inflation. It speaks of a relatively permanent and well-established state of immediate participatory experience, of the dissolution of separate subject and object in a unitive field of awareness, as if it were an all-inclusive final identity of absolute consciousness with any and every manifest form: '…the final decentering of all manifest realms…I-I am the rise and fall of all worlds' (1995: 310). But this state, remarkable and profound though it is, is also relatively limited. The mystics who have claimed to be in it have never claimed, as far as I am aware, to have equal access, via their participatory field, whether sensory or extrasensory, to remote galaxies as to their immediate local environment. As Wilber likes to quote, the Zen symbol for this state is a wee poem about a frog jumping into a pond, not a poem about what is going on in the Pleiades. What apologists for this state do with it, is to inflate its relative permanence, as sahaj samadhi, to its total inclusiveness.
2. To put it another way, they fail to distinguish between a continuous feeling of the the tacit inclusion of the whole cosmos in this state and an awareness of the explicit inclusion of that part of the cosmos that is immediately present here and now. They conflate the tacit whole with the explicit part. When Ramana Maharshi says 'the whole cosmos is contained in the heart', this distinction between tacit whole and explicit part is implicit. He is certainly not evincing an o [...] scious knowing, that is identical in equal measure and grasp, with every kind of form everywhere in the cosmos. There is no nondual mystic on record anywhere as ever advancing by one iota our knowledge of the form and process of the physical cosmos.
3. The nondual state, I find, includes the Many that are present with the subject in an explicit participatory field of immediate experience and all the rest of the Many as a tacit infinitude at the centre and circumference of the field.The field is full of significant distinctions and it is seamless. The field is subjective-objective, nonseparable and seamless.The field can expand or contract, the distinctions within it can change, it may be active or passive - and it is seamless. The seamless field is the One-Many disclosed through one of the Many. The seamlessness is the One, the explicit-tacit field is the Many. The developmental change within the field is an abiding characteristic of the Many.
4. The nondual state claimed by oriental quietists, who specialize in the beatific annihilation of significant action, is an impressive state of advanced cardiac arrest, the mystic heart in permanent suspension and stasis in the participatory field of immediate present experience. Or put it the other way round, the perceptual field and its penumbra of tacit infinitude, is in permanent stasis in the mystic heart. The idea that such stasis is the end-state of spiritual development, the apotheosis of human destiny, the full and complete return of the One to the One, the realization of the identity of ineffable formlessness and the infinitude of forms, is simply a pneumatic illusion, the final and most impressive defense against coming fully to terms with embodiment in a bipolar cosmos. Nondual stasis is not the human end-state, just the end of a self-limiting monopolar flight from the Many to the One.
5. The Zen injunction is flee the Many to find the One. This flight from the Many, certainly in one or two of the top-notch nondual mystics about whom we have some biographical data, is a flight from the body, women, sex, life, relationships, any kind of systematic competence or responsibility in dealing with the phenomenal world, social or natural. It is rooted in psychosocial distress and the displacement of repressed material. In short it is just because the very sensitive, highly endowed souls involved have not gone through body-mind integration, have not dealt with repressed material, that the flight takes place: they dissociate from the pain in pursuit of the One. As a youth Ramana sat in a dirty pit [...] his unwashed body rot, attacked by bugs and covered in sores, leaving it to others to provide some minimal care. His neglect and abuse of his body led to life-long asthma and arthritic rheumatism. 'The body', he said, 'is itself a disease'. The fleeing mystic is on an inward journey that has a compulsive overdetermined quality to it: the journey goes through inner psychic lights, archetypes and demiurge, the transcendence of all name and form in unmanifest consciousness, and then - a highly sublimated return of the repressed - the immediate Many reappear seamlessly with the One - a valid experience of the divine in one sense, yet overregarded and held in inflated stasis by the continued denial which generated the original flight. For Ramana even the pain returned in very literal form: as he groaned in public with the agony of terminal cancer, he remarked 'I feel the pain but I don't suffer' - denial to the bitter end. Profound mystic, unresolved human; One-pointed, Many-blunted.
6. This kind of flight from the Many, sustained for a lifetime, results in massive phenomenal incompetence, a total absence of mastery of the realm of manifestation. In Ramana's case it meant that his skills in this respect amounted to no more than the ability to do very simple tasks such as stitching leaf-plates and reading proofs, all the while being cared for by others. This unbalanced development can scarcely be put forward as a model for the end-state of human development. The One and the Many are correlative and interdependent: the seamlessness is here now in the immediate subject-object field of participative perception. To flee the Many to find the One is to start with a false duality in order eventually to overcome it in an inflated way.The end of the flight takes part in the lop-sidedness of its take-off.
7. There is as yet no adequate pneumopathology, that is, no pathology of spiritual and subtle states of being that is not crudely reductionist in the manner of Freud. What we need is a pathology which allows that a person can be genuinely and profoundly attuned in one way to god, but in a way which entails two errors: first, the experience is sustained in a fixated way that is a defense against attending to other ways; and therefore, second, it is claimed to be much more than it is, and is inflated to ultimate proportions. If you do not think there is a pathology of luminously arrested inflation in those who claim 'fully-realized' nondual awareness of the old oriental kind, look carefully at the life, deeds, claims, writings, utterances, social structures and, above all, acolytes, of Da Avabhasa, once Franklin Jones. This, incidentally, is someone whom Wilber has endorsed as a 'religious genius of the ultimate degree' (Da Avabhasa, 1992: back cover). Nor do I think it accidental that the huge incoherent inflation of Wilber's work is all built around a fixated and exaggerated notion of the nondual (1995: 309-10).
8. I believe in and experience the seamlessness of consciousness and its contents in immediate present experience. I do not at all doubt the validity, as an experience, of nondual awareness. The things I call in question are (1) the monopolar flight the traditional oriental mystic takes to get to it and how he is then stuck with it, (2) the claims made for this traditional version of it in terms of transpersonal theory, and (3) the way this is then used to define the spiritual path. I am not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I'm just saying it's more of a baby than the bathwater allows. Drowning the baby in mystification prevents its further development.
9. My own view is that the seamless nature of immediate present experience is regarded, not as an exalted and mystified end-point, but as a simple and inalienable starting point: our present just-as-it-is, here and now participation in One-Many awareness, a participation capable of indefinite expansion. And that this seamless immediate experience is also regarded as the ever present integration zone of a bipolar path in which there is rhythmic alternation between attention in the direction of the One and attention in the direction of the Many, and this in terms of the fourfold options, outlined earlier, of interior ascent, interior descent, exterior descent and exterior ascent. It is this pattern of options, or something like it, which I would regard as our deep structure, our entelechy, our godseed, our spiritual potential. As co-creators with indwelling divine life, opening to its entelechy, we can make deep choices about how we structure our bipolar path, what sorts of rhythms, alternations, integrations we make.
10. The difference, if you like, is between an exalted end-point that is terminally arrested on a linear predetermined monopolar path, and a modest starting point, no less seamless or nondual, that is dynamic and expansive on a creatively chosen bipolar path. No doubt apologists for the ultimate, end-of-the-road nature of traditional nondual awareness will want to tell me how greatly I have misunderstood what it is all about. I am very happy to listen, although I do have one respectful request. They do not tell me what Shankara or Nagarajuna or Ramana or Murti or Wilber or textual consensus says. They tell me about their own immediate present experience as simply and honestly as they can and I will do the same.
11. One final point. I respect the fact that Wilber or any traditional nondualist has chosen to take a linear, monopolar path as their personal path of spiritual unfoldment, for any such choice is their deep right and privilege. I have no respect, however, for the promotion of hegemonic claims, made on behalf of this path, that it is the preordained path for the whole of mankind, and for the very good reason that these claims can, for a while at any rate, intimidate and disempower people from making deep, creative structural choices about their own spiritual path.
A closing comment on the above critique
1. The problem with my analysis of the many flaws in Wilber's elaborate theoretical system is that it is itself cast in the argumentative mode of discourse that characterizes what it criticizes. Wilber has acquired, and seems intentionally to sustain, a reputation as the fastest transpersonal gun in the west. He believes in shoot-outs, in intellectual winning: 'Let Katz answer Habermas; we'll talk with the winner' (1995: 603). Every transpersonal theorist gunslinger who comes into town either cautiously falls in line behind him and or has to take him on. To argue with Wilber's views is to do what a man's got to do, in the best tradition of male competition as an end-in-itself. The level at which this competition occurs, and what is competing about, makes spiritually-minded women want to throw up. There is no doubt a genuine passion for truth involved too, but it is the aggressive vehicle for this passion which is problematic.
2. There is, however, an important difference between my critique and what it criticizes. I do not make any absolutist claims on behalf of the comments I make. I believe they have a relative validity, that is to say I believe they are valid relative to the enacted worldview implicit in the several co-operative inquiries into spiritual and subtle experience with which I have been involved in the last decade (Heron: 1997).
3. I also have a self-imposed ordinance, which is not to spend too much time on the kind of argument with which I have just been engaged. It typically involves heavyweights slugging it out in absolutist theoretical arenas in which propositions are landed on each other to build up the score of points. Underneath all this is fear, fear of opening the heart to co-operation. Still, however strong the fear, transpersonal study would seem better served, not by competitive absolutist argument, but by co-operative relativist dialogue, in which the discussants share, interweave and overlap their perspectives on the agreed topic. This, however, can still have the disadvantage that only propositions are exchanged. Beyond dialogue there is co-operative inquiry applying a holistic fourfold epstemology: propositional exchange is interrelated with experiential exchange, presentational (aesthetic) exchange and practical exchange. That is, the co-inquirers interweave and share, in relation to the focus of their inquiry, propositions, mutual presence, imaginal patterns and, above all, practice (Heron, 1996a; Reason, 1993; cf. also Ferrer, 1997, on argument, dialogue and concourse).
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