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".
Zakariyya Ishaq is a writer who has just completed his first book on the subject of spiritual cosmology. An original new theory he feels can rival any: THE ELLIPSE: THE FALL AND RISE OF THE HUMAN SOUL: SECRETS OF THE COSMOS. In addition to being a writer he is a musician, computer professional, and community activist. He is a Graduate of Devry University in Digital Electronic Technology. Ishaq has been a mystical seeker of enlightenment for 30 years, a member of 3 Sufi Orders: and has studied formally and informally Buddhism, Vedanta Cosmology, Cabala, Taoism, Sufism, Integral Philosophy, and various other mystic esoteric and exoteric schools of thought.
The Nature and Tradition of Integral Spirituality
Integral Spirituality and Traditional Religion
Integral Spirituality has taken various forms, and its nature has evolved inside and outside of its individual and collective contours to reflect the very nature of the evolving human.
Integral Spirituality (IS) is a form of spirituality that is not confined to any creed. Though an IS practitioner can be a believer in a particular religion, they are not exclusively confined to the practices and ideals of that tradition.
It is particularly Western exoteric religion that has fostered the notion that one can only benefit from this or that particular religious doctrine to the exclusion of all other ideals or spiritual philosophies. Indeed, this idea of ethnocentric exclusivity particularly within the major Western religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has been a well established ideology ever since exoteric clericalism became the essential teachings of these faiths replacing or usurping over time the original teachings that inspired these faiths. Whatever the clerics formed over time of the original teachings of the major faiths, history records unequivocally that the founders of our great religions were all practitioners of Integral Spirituality.
Moreover, close scrutiny would reveal that the narrow-minded faith of the clerics was never intended by the founders of the great religions, precisely because the founders of our existing creeds were all originally integral spirituals. (This by-the-way includes attitudes towards science that the clerics have by their own false authority fostered negative attitudes towards.)
Within the theological sphere of the Abrahamhic monotheistic dispensation of the Western and Near Eastern tradition there was a burgeoning separation between the religious outer tradition and the esoteric inner tradition. This occurred over time as the original founders of the wisdom traditions teachings fell prey to clerical and ethnocentric dogma that produced the nascent religions of Judaism and Christianity—the classical externalist of the Church and Jewish law, and their pre-modern version of Abrahamhic religion. In this scenario the inner tradition had little if any connection to the outer one that was fostered by the clerical institutions. The exoteric clerics eschewed and suppressed esoteric understanding and replaced it with a dogma regarding afterlife mythologies and idolatrous views towards Jesus in Christianity, and distorted racial theories within Judaism. These elements became the “esoteric” for the masses. At the same time within this tradition were remnants of the original teaching of the founders and some left over esoteric wisdom of the obscure mystics of Neo-Platonism, and even more obscure Hebrew mystics, some Christian monks, and scattered remnants of the original and authentic followers of Christ that reflected aspects of the subtle lore of the esoteric. These inner paths had little to no relationship with the clerical institutions of those days that overtime formed the outer doctrines of traditional religion that became the historic creeds we all know. This also is true in the case of Muhammad and the Buddha.
Essentially then what formed by the clerics, after the advent of the teachers of the major world faiths, was not intended by the original founders. In the case of the Western creeds in particular, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all traces of any Integral and esoteric spirit were striped from the founder's teachings. And in the case of Buddha, less so, were his teachings distorted in this sense, though even there, clericalism created a rather dense and uncreative spirit that usually pervades any clerical mental culture.
It is certainly clear that the Prophet Muhammad before he established Islam was never associated with any of the existing Abrahamhic religions of his time, or any of the pagan creeds. He was primarily a solitary seeker after truth and associated with a loose group of mysterious mystics not even much known to history.
And whatever kind of faith some parts of Islam have evolved into, Muhammad's version of Islam was never anything close to what the clerics of Islam have concocted. Originally Muhammad's spiritual methodology relating to the LLQ (Islam) was a form of Islamic Sufism that has little if any resemblance to the modern version of exoteric Islam that exists today, or has existed ever since it's clerical usurpation far into the past. Also, before the codification of the early pre-modern Islamic faith, which formed by the mystical occult phenomenon that surrounded Muhammad, he was a practicing Integral Metaphysician who regularly meditated in the cave of Hira.
What is known in Sufi metaphysics as the Tariqah (esoteric way) and the Shariah (exoteric path) existed in early Islam as a balanced path originally free of the pernicious dogma of today's Islamic fundamentalists who only know a narrow, concocted ( over time) form of Shariah. The extreme sectarianism of today didn't exist under Muhammad's Islam. In-fact the heritage of Muhammad exists in the teaching of the Sufi orders not in any of the versions of exoteric Islam that have all but abandoned the Tariqah of Islam, and only have a distorted sectarian version of the Shariah to offer as Islam.
The Prophet on the other hand offered and practiced an Integral spirituality that respected other perspectives as well one could in pre-modern times. Here is Muhammad's letter to Christian monks at the St Catherine church in 628 CE.
This letter even if written in post modern times would be an integral political and religious document, and proves Muhammad of 1400 years ago an Integral political and religious figure.
On a theological level, Muhammad never rejected the fundamental religious lore of the Jews and Christians, but merged some of their traditions with some of the Islamic Shariah and Tariqah and only rejected what from his perspective were their innovations and distortions from the original mystical Hebraic doctrine of the unity of God.
Turning to the Christian dispensation, the Messiah himself of Hebraic mystical heritage was not an adherent to the dogmatic clericalism of primitive Judaism. In-fact all the evidence is that he was a practicing Integral Mystic who traveled and learned from places like Egypt, India and maybe farther east. There is no evidence he practiced or believed in any of the major dogmas of classical Christian clerical Catholicism, a later innovation . . . therefore, I hasten to say Jesus certainly wasn't any kind of Christian. His immediate follower's in-fact, after his mishap in Palestine, where likely the Essenes or Ebonite's and were led by his brother James. James was a fierce opponent of Apostle Paul, (whom he thought an innovator and distorter of his brother's teachings) the catalyst of the clerical tradition that turned into the exoteric dogma of the Catholic Church.
Furthermore, along these lines, there is much history that testifies to the occult—almost pagan— aspects or certainly very esoteric teachings related to Jesus having been associated, through the Mary Magdalene, to a Feminine mystery cult. Primarily this is indicated by the biblical story of Jesus being the Christ, (the anointed one), this being a practice not at all associated with Judaic religious ways, but rather a well-known mystery Goddess cult in Palestine associated with the Gnostic Sophia tradition. Additionally, many ideas such as the Logos, which exists in the New Testament, a Neo-Platonic notion, is clearly not a Judaic tradition. Multiple scholars have also indicated that many aspects of Christian doctrine have been borrowed whole from the Egyptian religion, and many surmise he was likely raised in Egypt. These ideas, and the Messiah also being a teacher in a school-of-thought from the traditional Judaic line, as well a mystery master, and traveling to the far-east, qualifies the historical Jesus as an Integral Master.
Also, the powerful universal themes in the New Testament such as the sermon on the mount casts him as one of the greatest integral teachers in world history, whose teaching bare little or no resemblance to church Christianity of today or yesteryear.
The supposed founder of Judaism, Moses, though perhaps the most obscure religious figure amongst the major founders of the world religions, was an integral seeker after truth according to the Quran ( chapter 18), an Egyptian priest, magical adept, and likely a follower of the monotheist Akhenaton in some form, or may have been, as many researchers speculate, Akhenaton himself!. Whatever the case he had no relationship to dogmatic creeds other than his attachment to the priests of Egyptian religion. Eventually it seems that the lore surrounding the events of Moses' story reflect him denouncing and severing his ties to this priestly class that had fallen into corruption and founding his own monotheistic mystical cult based on Akhenaton's monotheistic philosophy. Certainly there is no documentation that connects Moses to the Jewish exoteric faith other than clerical traditions that have very little objective historical credibility.
Turning east, examining Gautama Siddhartha, better known as Buddha, it is clear, as the catalyst of what later became known as Buddhism, was an individual seeker after the meaning of the mysteries of life as an Integral mystic with no attachments to the creeds of his day. In the Integral tradition of seeking what one determines is best for their development—in time and place—he learned as much as he could, including Samadhi meditation, from two teachers and moved on. He had no psychological or spiritual obligations based on any theology to those teachers; his sole interest was in his own quest for truth. And it is said he attained enlightenment later through his own will and the practice of insight meditation.
What illustrates that the founders of our great religions traditions were Integral Spirituals is that, even though all of them used practices that were current at the time, none of them adhered to any religions of their day! They sought truth independent from the creeds of their day. Therefore how could they in good conscience ask others to rely on thousand-plus year old dogmatic clerical traditions ONLY, for something as important as understanding and perceiving cosmic truth? There is no doubt that the insights and what these teachers left as guiding posts for others, is invaluable to the spiritual seeker, and indeed they did attempt to loosely systemize their experiential path to truth as an example to other. Unfortunately, they were waylaid after they died by the burgeoning institutions of clericalism that usurped their teachings and rendered them almost as empty shells, because of the excising of the esoteric and integral aspects of their teachings.
In the context of Integral Spirituality, the wisdom traditions require updated wisdom and information of the spirit that an Integral Spiritual methodology can provide. The IS practitioner, like the mystical philosophy of Sufism, Western Mystics, and branches of Buddhism and Vedanta, requires this because of the evolutionary condition of the psychic and metaphysical spiral. Any spiritual teacher who doesn't recognize this, and only relies on ancient traditions and exoteric lore may lack what the Sufis call “baraka” to alchemize the student, and therefore may lack the attributes of being a genuine mystical teacher.
The premise of Integral Spirituality has two levels. One relating to the meaning(s) of the word integral, and the other aspect relative to spirituality.
Integral means fundamentally, what is essential to completeness. Also, in more common usage, it implies something that is necessary to some functioning phenomenon. . . .such as for example, “ Mary has become, as our daughter, an integral part of the family.”
It is clear on examining the history of the major founders of our wisdom traditions that they were the essence of what genuinely is Integral Spirituality, based on these points:
None of them actually wanted to create a new religion or certainly not the organized monstrosities that have become of the religions institutions in the world.
They all, in the spirit of IS, utilized, merged, and practiced spiritual methodologies, and lore, myths and ideals that existed already and which they believed were integral (necessary to some functioning phenomenon) to success and adapted them to their own updated spiritual methodology.
They all claimed to offer to their followers what was at that time essential to their spiritual completeness ( Integral).
Modern and Postmodern Integral Spirituality
Turning to the psychic level, the modern insights into the psychology of human development, particularly the Spiral Dynamics of Clair Graves, Chris Cowan, and Don Beck, have led to great insights into the phenomena of religious psychology and history. We now have an understanding of how and why the lore of religious sciences (as enumerated above) of ALL our major wisdom traditions were high jacked (immediately after the death of the founders of the tradition) by the lower tiers of the mind that produced systems unbalanced with clericalism and ethnocentric and coercive dogma. This occurred because of the dynamic spiral of the evolving and devolving psychic apparatus. Merely because an embodiment of truth ( the founders of the wisdom traditions) enters this realm doesn't mean the spiral stops it's vibrant and chaotic turbulence, and becomes still and pledges allegiance to the teaching master. This in turn lends great credibility to Integral spiritual, intellectual and philosophical tradition, in its quest to seek what is lost and to understand what is genuine and integral to human development within our wisdom traditions.
Even though traditional religion has been plagued by the dynamics of the spiral, Integral Spirituality practitioners do understand that there is still some wheat amongst the chaff, and often take advantage of the idea of a wisdom tradition being the guiding post of their spiritual path. This is not in contradiction to Integral Spirituality theory. But what may be outside of the spirit of IS . . . is for that attachment to be all-encompassing and to evolve into any form of ethnocentric sectarianism of the divisive kind we too often see in traditional, particularly exoteric, religion. The very essence and spirit of the moral and ethical ideas within religion and IS are vastly upended by such an indulgence. On the other hand, the IS practitioner often will for a time attach to a specific wisdom tradition, or aspects of it, that has transcended the ethnocentric level of religion and psychology and evolved at least to a world-centric or universal centric level, because they perceive there is an Integral need for their development to do so. . . . Certain themes in these traditions are necessary for the student to concentrate on for a time. In this regard it is important to distinguish here the two aspects of IS relating to the individual and collective.
The attachment of an Integral seeker to a wisdom tradition can be at varying degrees, depending on the judgment and needs of the seeker. For instance: as Ken Wilber in his spiritual quest somewhat associates himself with forms of Buddhism. . . . He integrally nourishes himself with what he believes is useful to his development within the Buddhist tradition, yet never seems to think of himself as a Buddhist. Indeed, the attachment to the traditions best elements as he sees it, while at the same time practicing a healthy form of detachment—the psychological essence of a genuine seeker—reflects Ken Wilber in his best light as an Integral Spirituality teacher.
A closer association with the wisdom traditions has also been accomplished by other modern seekers. The late Lex Hixon, also known as Sheik Nur, was a Sufi Sheik of the Jerrahi Sufi order, a Zen Monk under the tutelage of Bernard Glassman, Christian mystic, and Vedanta priest. In this instance he advised his students that although one could practice different traditional methods it is advisable not to mix them together. What that means is that in the mosque the Sheik would do the Sufi dhikr, and in the Buddhist temple perform the zazen.
This form of Integral Spirituality is actually an individual quest since as far as I know the Sheik didn't necessarily advise his students to adapt his methods of IS. He taught his Sufi students Sufism, not necessarily his eclectic spiritual methodology. In-fact, likely he never applied the term Integral Spirituality to himself.
There are groups within IS that do adapt the methodologies of varying wisdom traditions but maintain this practice within the confines of their particular group. Andrew Cohen and his Evolutionary Enlightenment are an example of this kind of IS teaching setting. Certainly he can be classified as an Integral Spiritual teacher, even though he likely utilizes many of the methods of the Vedanta and Buddhist mysticism he was earlier exposed to. And obviously his techniques have broadened overtime through his association with Ken Wilber. Then there is the groups such as Wilber's, the Integral Spiritual Center of the Integral Institute, who have adherents to his IS philosophy and apparently follow his advice and read and purchase his myriad materials on spirituality. Here, though, is no formal group where one takes an oath of allegiance or has something to join such as in a traditional religious organization.
Cohen and Ken Wilber and the Integrative Spirituality organization (now Universe Spirit) within IS are practitioners that may or may not adhere to any formal wisdom tradition as initiates, but accept and often practice methodologies form these traditions and their own original methods as they see fit— to advance their own spiritual development. Marc Gafni, a teacher out of the Kabala tradition, has formed the Center for World Spirituality, is another example of an IS group along these lines.
On another level there are the Integral kinds of spirituality of people like Deepak Chopra and Dr Wayne Dyer, and many others, who teach aspects of spirituality from within and without wisdom traditions in Integral ways. You might call this Quantum IS.
This seems to be somewhat of a representation of the present form that IS has evolved to. In the case of Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, Andrew Cohen, Lex Hixon, Dyer and Chopra as IS teachers, they have all brought their own novel experience and modes of spirituality within the traditional teachings in the spirit of IS.
In today's environment there is also the individual who remains outside of all traditions even outside of associating with IS groups. This is the solitary practitioner or believer in spirituality but one who because of personal inclinations decides to remain alone and not join any formal practitioners.
On this topic one can't forget to mention the IS that originates out of the new ageism of our times. Interestingly, one of the alleged historical reprobates of all time, Aleister Crowley, the Magician, is responsible for some of this. Whatever notorious acts he is supposed to have done, this 20th century mystic was an enthusiastic IS practitioner who has had a galvanizing affect on new age mysticism that is entirely, whatever one thinks of the antics of the “great beast,” within the theoretical and philosophical confines of IS. Also the theosophist Madame Blavatsky, the Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner, and the 19th century explorer and orientalist Sir Richard Burton and many others gets honorable mention in this regard.
Crowley, Steiner, Blavatsky and Burton and their acceptance of other viewpoints outside of Western spirituality as valid paths are important in that they are examples of the result of the changes in Medieval Europe wrought by the Renaissance, the reformation, and the secular humanism that began to flourish in Europe because of the liberation from the stranglehold of clerical dogma.
During, and at the end of the renaissance in the 16th century Europe began to look to ancient Greece, Rome, the East, and Near East for spiritual food that had been for so long denied the hungry spirit of European seekers and intellectuals by the coercive and oppressive policies of the Church of the papacy. The wisdom of the Saracens, Indian mysticism, Jewish theology, and Greek and Roman thought became open to the European mind that produced a great interest in science, alchemy, magic and mysticism that was the progenitor of many occult and religious institutions and figures between the end of the renaissance and the early twentieth century, all the way to today's related fields in Integral Spirituality, psychology, science, and philosophy.
Indeed, it is in the philosophical sphere where the European mind breaking free from Church dogma with the energy of a cooped up bird from a cage, opened up the nascent and curious minds of the West to produce many philosophers whose ideas contributed unique insights to IS, such as Immanuel Kant on the limits of classical metaphysics in the 18th century and Jean Gebser of our era on consciousness.
In postmodern times the term Integral Spirituality came into common usage in the 20th century through the Sri Aurobindo philosophy of Integral or full Yoga. Up until then it was a reality without a name regarding individuals and many spiritual schools of thought. . . . Today still many adherents to IS still don't apply the term to themselves.
In terms of the collective aspect of IS, within some of the wisdom traditions is a valid form of IS, such as within some Sufi, Christian, Buddhist and yoga groups, the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, and many others who though maintain a close relationship with a wisdom tradition—at the same time their spirituality is very Integral within that tradition. There are many legitimate lineage Buddhist teachers, teachers from the Sufi and Vedanta wisdom traditions, who though attached to these traditions, are integrally inclined in many ways.
Integral Spirituality as a New Religion
The Integral Spirituality of Ken Wilber, unique among most practitioners, has somewhat formed into a quasi-religious movement. There is clearly a language and identifiable intellectual culture within Wilberian IS that distinguishes it, above and beyond, what one can classify as personal and collective existential Integral Spirituality of myriad seekers, who although are within the philosophical and intellectual plane of legitimate forms of IS, have nonetheless—other than within their own group—not had the impact on this spiritual and philosophical system as Wilber has.
Certainly there are cultic groups and independent religious organizations that have legitimate and illegitimate Integral ideas that have blossomed but none to the degree of Wilber.
Ken Wilber's language, culture, and metaphysical cosmology ( with AQAL and related material) has contributed to the richness and philosophical integrity of Integral Spirituality, and enhanced its popularity and intellectual and philosophical systemization.
There are issues regarding this with many, one merely has to read the critical essays on this Integral World website ( including this authors works), but as far as this writer goes I have no problem with Wilber's unique contribution to Integral Spirituality in terms of his own Integral intellectual culture he has fostered. Though one can certainly have issues with many details of the mechanics of the Integral Metaphysics of Wilberian thought. . . .Notwithstanding that, Wilber's influence is deep. He has many, what amounts to, disciples who spread his spiritual and language culture and adds to the depth of Integral Spirituality, and to his own school of thought, and to the Integral subject in general.
One wonders though has Wilber drawn back somewhat, hopefully not because of health issues, because lately his signature has toned down. In-fact at one point it is no doubt that Wilber could have practically started another modern religion, in the mode of Scientology, Theosophy or Mormonism, but seemingly through his own understanding and wisdom has held back from this.
Whether the creation of a formal religion called: Integral Spirituality is a good or bad idea, is an essay in itself, and perhaps Wilber has concluded, it is a bad idea, such is the reason he has somewhat drawn back from the energetic ways of a few years ago. Whether that be the case or not, it is clear that Integral Spirituality is the oldest informal religion in the world.
The Challenges of Integral Spirituality
A brief synopsis of a subject worthy of its own attention is in order regarding the modern challenges of IS and some of its problematic issues relating to its relationship to non-integral forms of thought.
Few if any things in life are absolutes therefore what are integral and not integral may be a matter of degrees and subjective judgment, so depending on how we precisely define “ Integral” within the confines of ”spirituality” everything in this context may have it's degree of integral mentality. That doesn't mean that all attitudes and modes of epistemology are considered valid philosophically from the standpoint of Integral spirituality and philosophy. What that does mean is that what is considered to be at the wrong side of the polarity of wisdom and science, objectively speaking, has to be viewed from two criteria, 1) The criteria of science, in terms of . . . whatever humans do should be examined objectively and has importance potentially, and 2) From the perspective of wisdom . . . no subject within any epistemology should be dismissed ipso facto. The problem here is illustrated in the modern version of atheism called “the new atheists” whom this writer concludes are at the bottom pole of not only wisdom, but ironically science as well. An enticement for the Integral spiritual to associate themselves with these scientific fundamentalists is great, but very un-integral like. Ken Wilber justifiably labels some forms of such thinking one-dimensional, and for that has come into conflict with some Integral thinkers leaning deep into scientism.
Their dense view of religion and is an example of their thinking. By totally rejecting the validity of it, even on a level of trying to understand something that the vast majority of people accept (so perhaps something so pervasive may hold some insight into human nature, at least), they make themselves, ironically, unscientific, as well as one-dimensional. Religion is so ingrained in the human even from an atheistic or agnostic perspective, since all theologies aren't based on belief in a God, that to dismiss such a thing on a “scientific” basis is very unscientific in itself, not to mention un-integral.
Moreover, people like Richard Dawkins, the spiritual head of these new atheists don't understand the charge against them that they are exhibiting somewhat of the same mentality of the fundamentalist they condemn, when they lump ALL spirituality with the fundamentalist. . . they are un-integral, such as a religious fundamentalist, not for being an atheist or condemning religion but for assuming that science is the only way to any truth ( similar to the fundie view of our way or the highway) and that within spirituality there may be a kind of science they can't understand or have the capacity to understand. This may be what really irks them . . . that is the fact that their intellects may not be entirely capable of perceiving higher reality on its own.
Perhaps the worm is turning a bit though, since just lately Dawkins conceded that he is not 100 percent sure that God doesn't exist!
On the other hand, Integral Spirituality should be open to challenging the traditional and non-traditional dogmas of insular thinkers within religion and spirituality, as well as science, but on a level of objectivity that will have open-mindedness to the possibility of its own not-knowingness, and faith in its ability to learn how to learn.
On another level, that being Integral Spirituality and its relationship with religious philosophy. Many Integral thinkers dismissal of mythology are problematic in this regard. Even though most IS practitioners have a generally healthy and understanding view of religion, many in IS nevertheless don't have much respect for the essence of religion, which is mythology. It is mythology that frames religion as a science (or hidden science) within its esoteric tradition. In-fact this methodology of initiatory wisdom exists to communicate with all the levels of the developmental spiral. That is something that indeed IS theorists who have no use for mythology certainly should understand. But they don't because generally those skeptics have thrown the baby (religion) out with the bathwater (mythology). What were the ancients to do in regard to the lower tires of developmental understanding in past times, in which mythology instructs? Leave that level barren? Or attempt to explain to primitive thinkers the facts of advanced metaphysics from an intellectual level? Would not that be like trying to explain to a child directly the subtleties of Marxist philosophy or the nuances of the metaphysical theories of Ibn Arabi? Of course one can't do that but what can be done and has been done is to cloak truths and facts of the universe in allegories and metaphors that even today remain hidden to the modern mind because post modernists think mythology is merely stories for children. A too linear approach to spirituality that exists somewhat within modern IS my be the cause of this mentality.
Finally, it seems that the Integral paradigm as essentially an idea that attempts to unify our experience with evolutionary completeness of the organism has always been at the basis of philosophy, science, and religion. Therefore nothing within the realm of our creativity should be excluded from examination, and since we are all on the road to that completeness we have little business in looking askew on anything or anyone, lest they go outside the boundaries of humanity.
Overtime, Integral Spirituality has taken various forms, and its nature has evolved inside and outside of its individual and collective contours to reflect the very nature of the evolving human. Within this spiral of the evolutionary impulse has remained an inner spark that compels the human search for the complete truth of our reality, and Integral Spirituality is at the vanguard of this search.