Reflections on Ken Wilber's The Religion of Tomorrow
(2017) - Parts
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".
M. Alan Kazlev is a self-taught esotericist and metaphysician, science fiction writer and fan, amateur biologist and palaeontologist, and student of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's teachings and yoga. His website is at www.kheper.net and he can be contacted at alankazlev (at) ihug (dot) com (dot) au
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PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE
WHERE TO NOW FOR
THE INTEGRAL MOVEMENT?
Towards a Larger Definition of the Integral, Part Four
4-i. The Integral movement – a fresh beginning
When I started writing this essay, I was going to argue that the Wilberian Integral movement should expand beyond its current limits, and embrace many different philosophies, teachings and points of view. Wilberian theory could still be retained, but simply as one mental explanation among a number of such mental explanations; of no greater or lesser validity than the others. While I quite like Wilber's early work, I find current (Wilber-IV and Wilber-V) Wilberian theory to be dry and pretty useless. But I was still going to argue its validity on the grounds that it does represent part of the intellectual new paradigm integral movement, and that many people have indeed found it useful and helpful, even in spite of its failings in the field of scholarship and consistency and its inbuilt materialism (sect 2-ii). Wilber himself I saw (as I had for some quarter of a century) as a gentleman scholar, a kindred spirit and fellow traveler in the grand journey of conceptual understanding of this vast and wonderful universe of ours.
Wilber's emotional overreaction to any criticism of his ideas, his unprovoked ad hominem attack against Frank Visser for no other reason than that Visser hosts a website that is dedicated to peer review of Wilber's work, and his “three cards” in-group / outgroup cultic rationalisation (sect 2-xii), have forced me to make a complete reassessment of the man and his work.
By the force of his intellect and personality, and the glowing praise of his students and fans, Wilber is inadvertently creating, or perhaps rather allowing to form around him – as much a victim to it as everyone else an authoritarian cult in which no independent intellectual or spiritual discourse is questioning is allowed (sect. 2-xii). I passionately believe that in every single way this development represents the exact opposite of what the integral movement should be, and indeed what the new paradigm and new consciousness movement should stand for.
As an authoritarian approach that discourages peer review and encourages cultic acceptance cannot be in any way relevant to the work of Integral transformation, the Integral Movement should have nothing any longer to do with Wilber, or with his organisation.
In other words, let's give the Integral Movement a fresh start.
A movement needs a central focus, a magnetic and charismatic powerhouse. One reason why the faculty of the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies, including such prominent thinkers as Richard Tarnas and Jorge Ferrer (participatory inquiry), Stanislav Grof (Transpersonal psychology), and Robert McDermott (interdisciplinary, including Sri Aurobindo and Rudolph Steiner), has not been able to form the nucleus of a new or alternative integral movement is that there is no charismatic focus such as Wilber; or rather, the daimon or Attractor behind him (sect 2-xiii), provides. The same goes for other authentic writers and teachers in this field. This is in no way to criticise their value as thinkers or as spiritual philosophers, only to point out that a movement can only form if there is a specific impetus behind it.
I would suggest that this impetus is already there in the teachings, personality, and spiritual presence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, as the founders of integral yoga and initiators of the integral spiritual transformation of the Earth. Note that both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are mentioned here. This is to avoid the tendency by masculinist and abstractionist thinkers to approach Sri Aurobindo alone on a purely mental level, while ignoring the Mother. A reason for their discomfort may be because her pragmatic and accessible teachings are threatening to the mental ego. For this reason, a true integral initiative has to include twin avatars, not just one.
4-ii. Suggested themes for an Aurobindonian-inspired Integral movement
What sort of themes would be central to an Integral movement that incorporates all different philosophies (secular as well as spiritual) and esoteric, occult, and spiritual teachings, as well as being based on the teachings, work, and spiritual presence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother?
The following constitutes an incomplete list of possible themes. Others may propose a different list, or even have a completely different conception of a Integral movement. For example they may prefer a more secular or academically respectable approach, and/or they feel that basing the movement around the teachings and revelation of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is just as cultic as basing it around Wilber. Also, other students of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother might themselves disagree with the interpretations here. Thus it is not suggested that the following list should be in any way dogmatically or uncritically accepted. It is simply one interpretation among many (albeit the option felt here to be most inclusive and potent).
- The Integral movement includes philosophical, scientific, cultural, social, artistic, interdisciplinary, phenomenological, spiritual, esoteric, occult, mystical, and yogic elements; and for that matter anything else of relevance that hasn't been mentioned in that list
- It is an open and transparent, participatory community, free of censorship, in which no individuals have positions of cultic or authoritarian superiority, peer-review and strong intellectual criticism are not only welcome but essential, and no secret discussions or explanations of why this or that is so go on behind closed doors, accessible only to an in-group
- It is based on a multiplicity of perspectives, not just the ideas of a single theorist; the more perspectives that are acknowledged and incorporated the richer the ideas and insights.
- Its worldviews have to embrace all psychological, cultural, historical, conceptual, and other opposites (premodernity and modernity, sacred and secular, occultism, mysticism, and science, phenomenology and empiricism, etc) without exclusiveness
- Supra-physical and esoteric realities as well as objective empirical physical realities are acknowledged
- Mental understanding is acknowledged to be useful but limited; many over-intellectualised teachings result from being limited to one's own “mental fortress”
- Most experiences traditionally interpreted as enlightenment are understood to actually derive from the Intermediate zone, a transitional state between surface consciousness and true enlightenment where truth and falsehood are inextricably mixed. (beyond Aurobindonian teachings this is admittedly only a hypothesis at the moment, but one that I feel has extraordinary explanatory power)
- Abusive, cultic, authoritarian behaviour and so-called “crazy wisdom” are the result of emotional weakness and dysfunctional, narcissistic, sado-masochistic attitudes that have nothing to do with genuine spirituality
- In contrast the authentic teacher never abuses their power, never tries to “break down” the devotee's ego, and never engages in any other forms of fake spirituality.
- Integral spirituality involves both self- and soul-realisation, as well as transformation of all aspects of the outer being
- There are states of higher gnosis and transenlightenment beyond traditional liberation
- The goal of cosmic evolution is the divinisation and enlightenment of matter itself.
While some of the above points can be seen by any reasonable person as self-evident truths, it may be argued that some of these points are arbitrary or based on a single teaching. I do not deny this, and indeed the purpose of this essay is to present an Aurobindonian-inspired Integral alternative to "Wilberanity”. Ultimately it is up to the reader to decide whatever interpretation is most meaningful to them.
4-iii. Summing Up
It has been suggested in this essay that the Integral paradigm must move beyond the limited mental viewpoint of Wilber's Integral philosophy and that part of the Integral Movement based on his teachings. It has also been argued that the spiritual teachings associated with the Wilberian Integral movement are non-integral, being associated with gurus known for their abusive behaviour, biased towards non-dual other-worldly spiritualities, and hence totally counterproductive for any understanding of or working on the post-cognitive evolution in the world. Equally problematic are the cultic tendencies and inability to accept peer review criticism that seems to be increasingly characterising Wilber's behaviour and the Wilberian movement as a whole.
For all these reasons, it would seem that Wilber and his followers, despite their great sincerity, are unable to go beyond cultic worship to true spirituality, or see beyond the mental sphere to a truly supra-mental and integral vision of transformation. Sri Aurobindo and his co-worker the Mother have provided us with the first complete Integral spirituality and post-intellectual Integral teaching and praxis, and thus the promise of an integral divinisation of the physical body and the Earth consciousness as a whole.