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John AbramsonJohn Abramson is retired and lives in the Lake District in Cumbria, England. He obtained an MSc in Transpersonal Psychology and Consciousness Studies in 2011 when Les Lancaster and Mike Daniels ran this course at Liverpool John Moores University. He is currently studying for a distance learning Buddhist Studies MA at the University of South Wales. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Reposted from Transpersonal Psychology Review, Volume 17, No. 1, Summer 2015 (© The British Psychological Society) with permission of the publisher and author. This is a pre-publication version of the following article. A hardcopy of this journal is available at

The Emperor's New Clothes

Ferrer isn't wearing any—Participatory is perennial

A reply to Hartelius

John Abramson


I would like to thank Hartelius for his substantial and informative response to my article, 'The misunderstanding and misinterpretation of key aspects of Ken Wilber's work in Hartelius and Ferrer's (2013) assessment'. It opens the debate I have requested and my thanks to the editor for the opportunity of continuing this here.

I would also like to acknowledge Hartelius' gripping style of delivery during which I have been variously likened in my manner of writing

  • to Bill Clinton's denial of having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky about my insistence that Wilber does not assert a single nondual ultimate.
  • Compared to a climate change denier when I contended that Hartelius and Ferrer had missed the point about T.R.V. Murti's and Wilber's 'absolute'.
  • Accused of almost reaching the point of dishonesty when I identified Wilber's complaint that Ferrer can deduce that he has shifted the ontological status of Kosmic habits to the inner realm (upper left quadrant) of the individual.

Hartelius has therefore employed sex, ecology and (lack of) spirituality in his criticisms. I respond to these below in the first part of my response to Hartelius, but for the present, although I realise Hartelius' 'sex' comment was no doubt said tongue in cheek there is nevertheless something in it, and perhaps more than Hartelius realises. However, the opposite applies to his remarks concerning 'ecology' and 'lack of spirituality'. Besides responding to Hartelius (2015) I intend to attempt to move the debate on by setting out some of my own criticisms of Wilber's and Ferrer's work.

Ferrer is precisely wrong about his claim that participatory thinking radically departs from perspectivist perennialism.

Hartelius characterises me as a supporter of Wilber in the sense that he suggests I am wedded to his views and am, for example, willing to unearth 'a passage deeply embedded within the technical concepts of Wilber's complex worldview that would scarcely be accessible to anyone outside of Wilber's adherents'. In this instance Hartelius conflates the need to be clear about what is being discussed i.e. Wilber's definition of integral post-metaphysics, and the ease with which such a definition can be accessed. Hartelius refers to this as 'a lucid example of how Wilber and his supporters insist that the debate with Wilber's ideas be conducted within a comprehensive understanding and presentation of Wilber's writings'. But this is not the case; I just identify what Wilber means when he refers to integral post-metaphysics. I go along with Hartelius insofar as Wilber's definition is hard to find but his inflationary extension of this is unwarranted.

I agree, of course, that Hartelius is entitled to present whatever his interpretation of my motivation in writing my article might be. But I insist my motivation is to overcome misunderstandings I perceive of Wilber's work and I suggest that, in the case of considering integral post-metaphysics, starting with a definition is reasonable. As to whether I am a supporter of Wilber's work and wedded to his views; I am the former and am not the latter. I am a supporter of Wilber's views partly because, as Ferrer has to some extent intimated, he is a genius[7] in the field of transpersonal psychology[8]. And by 'supporter' I mean it is worthwhile making an effort to understand, in the first instance, Wilber's work in the terms he presents it but certainly not an unqualified acceptance that Hartelius attributes to me. I am not wedded to Wilber's views because although I almost invariably find them stimulating they can, on investigation, appear misconceived. Examples of two such instances are:

  • Wilber's technique of ranking spiritual states and stages (e.g. nondual higher than theism) is flawed.
  • Wilber has, I argue, fundamentally misunderstood the relationship between spiritual states and stages of development (cf. the Wilber-Combs matrix; Wilber, 2006, p.88-93). Insofar as I am correct about this, an important implication of this misunderstanding is that Wilber is largely misguided in one current area of his work i.e. promulgating a 'Fourth Turning of Buddhism' (cf. Wilber, 2014).

The Emperor's New Clothes

Jorge Ferrer
Jorge Ferrer

An elucidation of these criticisms of Wilber's work will be the subject of later sections. But first some areas of disagreement with Ferrer's work will be discussed intertwined with relevant rejoinders to issues raised by Hartelius (2015).

In my opinion, from a certain definition of perennialism[9], Ferrer's depiction of the mystery is arguably perennialist. Since the participatory paradigm involves intimate participation with the mystery, my argument therefore extends to attributing perennialism to Ferrer's participatory turn. As both Hartelius and Ferrer make clear, 'perennialism begins with the assumption that there is a single truth underlying various traditions' (Hartelius and Ferrer, 2013, p.190). And Ferrer's depiction of the Mystery includes precisely this assumption:

There is a way, I believe, in which we can legitimately talk about a shared spiritual power, one reality, one world or one truth… a common spiritual dynamism underlying the plurality of spiritual insights and ultimates. (Ferrer, 2002, p.190; cited in Abramson 2014, p.5; emphasis added)

In my 2014 article, I used this quote to compare Wilber's and Ferrer's position on a single truth. But now I wish to draw its arguably more startling significance i.e. as a pointer towards the perennial nature of Ferrer's account of the mystery. Hartelius rejected my proposition of a linkage between Wilber and Ferrer's position on a single truth based in part on a complaint that I based this on 'a 36-word quote [as above] from Ferrer (2002)' (Hartelius, 2015). Hartelius implies that this was an isolated comment by Ferrer, but similar references connecting the mystery to a single truth are very common in Ferrer's writing e.g. 'There is a way, I believe, in which we can legitimately talk about a shared spiritual power, one reality, one world or one truth…' (Ferrer and Sherman, 2008, p.156; Ferrer, 2005, p.127); the mystery is the 'generative power of life, the cosmos, and/or the spirit' (Ferrer, 2011, p.2); 'the mystery that is source of all' (Ferrer, 2002, p.xiv); 'the Mystery out of which everything arises' (Ferrer et al., 2005, p.311; Ferrer and Sherman, 2008, pp.40,137,152; Ferrer, 2006); 'a mystery out of which everything arises' (Ferrer, 2013, p.102); 'the ultimate unity of the mystery' (Hartelius and Ferrer, 2013, p.197); the participatory approach does not seek… [to refute] …an ultimate beyond all possible ultimates… rather it rejects dubious perennialist equivalences among religious ultimate's' (Ferrer, 2011a, p.19).

The above analysis and the weight of the above quotes from Ferrer and Hartelius suggest that 'In any ordinary usage of the term, … [Ferrer's] system… is accurately and usefully described as perennialist'. This quote is from Hartelius, 2015, and relates to his justification to tie Wilber's system to perennialism. However, as will now be apparent, this same justification by Hartelius apparently ties Ferrer's account of the mystery to perennialism. After all as Hartelius says 'if one makes perennialist claims, it is reasonable that one's work will be characterised as perennialist' (Hartelius, 2015).

The question might naturally arise of why an explicit perennialist charge has not, to my knowledge, previously been made in relation to Ferrer's account of the mystery. However, George Adams' review of 'The participatory turn' (Ferrer and Sherman, 2008) can be interpreted to go some way towards this:

… in terms of the work still facing Ferrer, there is the challenge of clarifying his position regarding the nature of the spiritual reality which is the object of religious experience. Ferrer declares that his approach is free of any ontological objectivity ('no pregiven ultimate reality exists' (Ferrer and Sherman, 2008, p.142)), but he frequently uses terms such as 'mystery,' 'spiritual power', 'reality,' and other designations that imply that there is some sort of spiritual reality out there (or in here), however varied are its expressions. In other words, there is an implied ontological objectivity in Ferrer's model, even if it is an objectivity that avoids essentialist reifications and that cannot be divorced from the elusive variability and radical creative undeterminacy of the sacred. Further clarification of Ferrer's understanding of this sacred reality is called for, however challenging that task might be while operating from a participatory model. (Adams, 2011).

Compare Adams' assessment that Ferrer:

… frequently uses terms such as 'mystery', … 'reality', … that imply that there is some sort of spiritual reality … In other words, there is an implied ontological objectivity in Ferrer's model. (Adams, 2011)

with Hartelius' comment about perennialism's shared spiritual goal, or ultimate of all possible ultimate realities:

Even if the ultimate spiritual goal [of perennialism] is ineffable but remains factually the same for all traditions, it must be in some sense objective.[10] (Hartelius, 2015)

Hartelius' point is that the assertion of perennialism of one truth, or an ultimate spiritual goal, for all traditions necessarily implies that this one truth/ultimate spiritual goal 'must be in some sense objective'. In other words an objective one truth/ultimate spiritual goal is perennialist. But Adams charges Ferrer with an implied objectivity of Ferrer's account of the Mystery which is the same, according to my analysis, as Hartelius' implying the Mystery is perennialist.

T.R.V. Murti's absolute, Ferrer's mystery and perspectivist perennialism's ultimate reality

All three systems i.e. Murti's, Ferrer's, and perspectivist perennialism's have an ultimate beyond all possible ultimates, which for Murti is an absolute.

I argued that Ferrer's account of the mystery is perennialist, which Ferrer associates with Wilber's work, which in turn is associated with T.R.V Murti's absolute. I will now consider how this impacts on Hartelius' assertion that I am a 'climate change denier' when I contended that Hartelius and Ferrer had missed the point about T.R.V. Murti's and Wilber's 'absolute'. As a starting point for this, Ferrer introduces the role of the absolute in perennialism:

[P]erennialists often assert that, because multiplicity implies relativity, a plurality of absolutes is both a logical and a metaphysical absurdity: 'The absolute must of necessity be one and, in fact, the one as asserted by so many metaphysicians over the ages' (Nasr, 1996, p.19). This commitment to a monistic metaphysics is closely related to the perennialist defense of the universality of mysticism. As Perovich (1985), a perennialist philosopher, puts it: 'The point [of the perennial philosophers] in insisting on the identity of mystical experiences was, after all, to bolster the claim that the most varied mystics have established contact with 'the one ultimate truth' (p.75). (Ferrer, 2000, pp.17,18)

There is an apparent confusion here concerning Ferrer's, Nasr's and Perovich's use of the term absolute, at least as far as Murti/Wilber understand the term absolute, and similarly how I define absolute in the context of the ultimate realities of perspectivist perennialism. T.R.V. Murti's account of 'the absolute' is of an absolute beyond all possible absolutes (1960, pp.320,321,327). Thus there is a two stage structure of absolutes according to Murti and this is mirrored in both:

  1. Ferrer's account of two stages of ultimate realities stemming from the mystery, and
  2. Perspectivist perennialism's account depicting different dimensions i.e. God, Nirvana, Brahman, Allah, Tao, Nondual etc. of the same ultimate reality[11] (cf. Ferrer's 2002 illustration on p.79)

All three systems i.e. Murti's, Ferrer's, and perspectivist perennialism's have an ultimate beyond all possible ultimates, which for Murti is an absolute that is beyond all Hindu and Buddhist religious absolutes, for Ferrer is the mystery, and for perspectivist perennialism is what Ferrer describes as a ground of being (Ferrer, 2002, p.78). All three also have multiple ultimates that are sourced from these i.e. multiple absolutes (Murti), multiple ontological ultimate's (Ferrer) and using Ferrer's terminology, many goals of perspectivist perennialism. Examples of Murti's 'second stage' absolutes are the absolutes of Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism, and Vijñanavada and Madhyamika in Buddhism. These three examples from Murti are included in the multiple 'second stage' ultimate realities of Ferrer's participatory model and perspectivist perennialism except they are referred to as ultimate realities rather than Murti's reference to them as multiple absolutes. The participatory and perennial models also encompass additional ultimate realities to that recognised by Murti e.g. God, Allah.

I conclude from the above analysis that

  • there is congruence between the two stage structure of the account of ultimate realities in Ferrer's work and in perspectivist perennialism. This congruence can be extended to Murti's system but with the import caveats that Murti refers to absolute rather than ultimate reality and he restricts 'second stage' ultimate/absolute realities to those in the Hindu and Buddhist religions. This supports my contention that Ferrer's account of the mystery is perennialist[12].
  • Ferrer's (Ferrer, 2000, pp.17-18) above use of the quote by Nasr that mentions 'The absolute must of necessity be one' is problematic because it should be qualified to relate to the 'absolute that is beyond all religious absolutes'. That is, Ferrer, following Nasr, has conflated the 'absolute that is beyond all religious absolutes' with the multiple absolutes of the different traditions.
  • this is a further reason to support the contention I made in Abramson, 2014, pp.5-8 that Ferrer's dismissal of Murti's 'absolute' is almost wholly unwarranted i.e. Ferrer appears to overlook that his account of the 'one truth' mystery that is the source of all ontological ultimate realities is structurally very similar to Murti's 'the absolute' that is the source of all Hindu and Buddhist absolutes. I have more to say about Ferrer's dismissal in a latter section.

In discussing perennialism Hartelius appears, like Ferrer, to have conflated the 'ultimate reality beyond all possible ultimates', which he refers to as an ineffable ultimate spiritual goal, with the multiple ultimate realities of the different traditions.

Ferrer pointed to the simple and logical fact that a perennialist model requires an objective, transcendent ultimate that is apprehended deep within personal subjectivity. That ultimate must be objective in order for it to be the consistent destination of all traditions. (Hartelius 2015).

Besides the conflation I have referred to, Hartelius also apparently fails to realise he is misapplying conventional logic in relation to ultimate reality. As I mentioned in Abramson, 2014, p.5 Hartelius and Ferrer have failed to understand that drawing an absolute and relative distinction is an essential element in understanding ultimate reality and as Mipham, 2005, p.99, cautions us, failure to do this will result 'in hopeless confusion'[13] if we fail to differentiate conventional from ultimate perspectives on reality. With both a lack of such differentiation and conflation present in the above quote by Hartelius, it will take some unpicking.

As Hartelius implies, it is 'simple and logical' reasoning that would lead to a conclusion that a perennialist model requires an objective transcendent ultimate. But simple and logical reasoning in relation to ultimate reality is precisely what Mipham warns us will lead to confusion. The premise, for example, of a) perspectivist perennialism, b) Murti's account of the absolute and c) Ferrer's account of the mystery is that their respective understanding of an ultimate reality beyond all other ultimates cannot be directly known[14]. To assign objectivity to this ultimate by conventional logic is fanciful. As Ferrer would say in respect of the mystery e.g. Ferrer, 2002, p.180 (citing Sells, 1994); and as Murti would say in respect of 'the Absolute' e.g. Murti, 1960, p.320; and as can also be said of the ultimate beyond all possible ultimates of perspectivist perennialism; nothing can be said of these ultimates - including that.

In the light of the preceding analysis it is informative to review Ferrer's opinion about the key differences between the participatory model and perennialism:

[H]ere is where participatory thinking radically departs from perennialism, I maintain that there is a multiplicity of transconceptual disclosures of reality. Perennialists erroneously assume that a transconceptual disclosure of reality must be necessarily 'one', and, actually, the one metaphysically envisioned and pursued in certain traditional spiritual systems. Put somewhat differently, perennialists generally believe that plurality emerges from concepts and interpretations, and that the cessation of conceptual proliferation must then result in a single apprehension of 'things as they really are.' (Ferrer and Sherman, 2008, p.139).

Ferrer is precisely wrong about his claim that participatory thinking radically departs from perspectivist perennialism. This is so for the simple reason that the transconceptual disclosure of reality in perspectivist perennialism is multiple and indeed parallels that of the participatory model. What is apparent here is lack of differentiation between transconceptual disclosure of realities on the one hand and an ultimate beyond all possible ultimates on the other. Ferrer could conventionally refer to the latter as 'one' in perspectivist perennialism. But as I have been at pains to point out, this is not a difference with the participatory model; it is a similarity i.e. the mystery can be conventionally referred to as 'one' and as the many citations I provide in the 'The Emperor's New Clothes' section testify; Ferrer does exactly that.

T.R.V. Murti's model of ultimate or absolute reality

As Murti (1960) explains, transconceptual disclosure of reality depends on the tradition that is practised to enable one to disclose that reality. The analogy he uses is the way 'the centre of a circle is reached from the periphery by different radii' (p.327) and each tradition is attempting to reach the centre of the circle i.e. 'the absolute', by its exclusive radii. Murti further explains that the centre of the circle can be approached but not reached by any of the possible radii i.e. authentic paths, but that 'persons adopting different radii may genuinely feel that they are on the right path to the centre and others are not. For each votary may see the centre looming ahead of him; but he cannot, from the nature of his predicament, see that others also may be reaching the centre through their particular modes of approach.' (p.321).

Murti's model is consistent with the first and second stage ultimate realities that I have referred to previously i.e. Murti's 'centre of a circle' would correspond to the unknowable ultimate beyond all possible ultimates and different radii of the circle correspond to, for example, the ultimate realities of the traditions. Interestingly, given Ferrer's critical view of Murti's absolute e.g. Ferrer, 2002, pp.102,103; Murti's model seems appropriate to describe the relationship between Ferrer's account of the mystery i.e. 'centre of the circle', and the ontologically real ultimates stemming from the mystery i.e. 'the possible radii'.

Murti's model is one way of pointing to ultimate reality. In the context of this response to Hartelius it helps illustrates some import commonality between Murti's, Ferrer's, and perspectivist perennialism's account of reality. I will now introduce another such model which has, I argue, some additional explanatory advantages over Murti's model; albeit it is rather more complex.

A model of ultimate reality using the properties of infinity

This model uses some properties of infinity to provide a pointer to ultimate reality. It presupposes no mathematical knowledge and only requires an appreciation of certain properties of infinity that are illustrated in the following two citations:

Spatial infinity is beyond conception… neither reason nor imagination can grasp it, for any conception necessarily limits what is, by definition illimitable… The science of mathematics accepts the notion of infinity even though it is beyond and apparently contrary to reason. It is a concept accepted without being understood: a baffling yet necessary idea, something known about without in any real way being known. (Hill, 1997, p.46)
… what Cantor's research demonstrates is that there are multiple infinities, multiple kinds of infinities, infinities that can be rigorously differentiated, infinities that are greater than other infinities. (Sallis, 2012, p.199)

Reasons for the effectiveness of choosing the properties of infinity as a pointer to ultimate reality include:

  • infinity is unbounded (Hill, 1997, p.46). In that respect it is like the absolute which has no boundary (Murti, 1960, p.285, n.3).
  • infinity is beyond reason (Hill, 1997, p.46) and again, this is a property of the absolute (Murti, 1960, p.135)
  • there are multiple kinds of infinity (Sallis, 2012, p.199) and there are multiple kinds of absolute (Murti, 1960, Chapter 13).
  • there are infinities that can be rigorously differentiated (Sallis, 2012, p.199) and there are Absolutes e.g. the absolutes of Advaita Vedanta, Vijñanavada and Madhyamika, that are rigorously differentiated (Murti, 1960, Chapter 13).
  • there are infinities that are greater than other infinities. (Sallis, 2012, p.199) and The absolute (Murti, 1960, p.320) is beyond (or greater than) all religious absolutes.

Thus the properties of infinity, which are established by rigorous mathematical proof, appear to be a useful guide to the properties of absolute reality. Indeed, Infinity is referred to extensively in some Buddhist scriptures that refer to absolute reality. Some extracts from 'The Flower Ornament Scripture' and Thomas Cleary's commentary, gives a flavour of this:

Yet another function of the scripture, often unsuspected or considered gratuitous hyperbole, is to affirm the infinity of the path. (Cleary, 1993, p.51)
… the real potential of humanity is so much greater than imagined as to be virtually infinite even if that infinity can never embrace the infinity of infinities. (Cleary, 1993, p.52) By transcendence of all perceptions of form… they attain to and abide in the realm of infinity of space, aware of infinite space. Totally transcending the realm of infinity of space, they attain to and abide in the realm of infinity of consciousness, aware of boundless consciousness. By totally transcending the realm of infinity of consciousness, they attain to and abide in the realm of nothingness, aware of the absence of anything at all. ([trans] Cleary, 1993, p.724)

Murti's account of the absolute

Hartelius' depiction of me, and those holding the opinion I express on this issue, as akin to climate change deniers demands a robust response. As I indicated in Abramson (2014), I believe Ferrer's dismissal of Murti's (and Wilber's) account of the absolute, although apparently well argued and well supported by other scholars, is radically flawed. Once the blinkers Ferrer is unaware he is wearing are removed, his arguments are exposed as a full explanation of just one side of what has been widely recognised for centuries among scholars and practitioners as an unresolved issue.

Some 25 per cent of my 2014 article was related to Murti's absolute and this material was summarily dismissed in Hartelius' 2015 response. Hartelius' adopts the tactic of failing to address the points I make in a scholarly manner and instead responds with an unsubstantiated claim that the case I make is akin to that of a climate denier. This does no service to an informed debate and I will therefore attempt to put a further reason for Hartelius and Ferrer to look again at the evidence I have presented.

One of the notable scholars that Ferrer 2002, p.103) cites in his dismissal of Murti's account of the absolute is Jay Garfield (1994). Indeed Garfield, together with many other distinguished scholars[15] is opposed to Murti's account of the absolute. But Garfield[16], together with many other scholars who are opposed to Murti's absolutist views, nevertheless recognises the legitimacy of the polarised views regarding an absolute in Buddhism (e.g. Thakchöe, 2007, p.90; Newland and Tillemans[17], 2011, p.4). Is Hartelius saying these scholars, not to mention Capriles (2009), Chatterjee (1962), Coward (2003), Hookham (1992), Lindtner (1982), Sebastian (2008) and Sprung (1979) whom I mentioned in Abramson (2014, p.6) are all, by taking an interpretation of an absolute in Buddhism seriously, are akin to climate deniers?

The Wilber-Combs lattice is misconceived (Part 1)

In this section I critique a key aspect of Wilber's work i.e. the Wilber-Combes Lattice. The issue that Ken Wilber and Allan Combs (independently) addressed that resulted in the Wilber-Combs Lattice was the way Western stages of development (e.g. Hy and Loevinger, 1996; Cook-Greuter, 2011) relate to Eastern spiritual states (e.g. using Wilber's terminology, gross, psychic, subtle, causal and nondual states of consciousness). The background to Wilber's and Combs' work on this was presented in a previous issue of this journal by Michael Daniels in Rowen et al., 2009, pp.12-16. I will therefore just give a very brief resume of this.

For the purpose of my critique I would just note that in the two decades leading up to the turn of the century, Western researchers such as Wilber and Combs integrated western stages of development[18] with eastern states of consciousness by stacking the latter on top of the former. This implied that someone experiencing a higher stage of consciousness would necessarily have had to be at among the less than 1 per cent of the population thought to be at the highest level of development. Remarkably, this odd implication did not prevent this 'stacking' model prevailing through the 1980's and 1990's. But then it became apparent to Wilber (and independently to Combs) that a higher state of consciousness can be experienced at any stage of development (Wilber, 2006, p.89)— and they jointly promulgated the Wilber- Combs Lattice that reflects this (see table 1).

Thus the Wilber-Combs lattice represents a considerable advance in terms of an explanatory model compared to the clearly flawed earlier model. For example it illustrates that although anyone can potentially experience any state of consciousness, they will always report that in the terms of the stage of consciousness that they have attained. However Daniels (Rowen et al., 2009, pp.13-16) raises an important objection regarding the particular structure stages in the above model. He points out that the bottom five are Piagetian (p.14) whereas the top five are taken from Aurobindo's work. And he is adamant that Wilber (2006) gives no justification for including the Aurobindo stages. Wilber appears to be making a similar mistake to that when he stacked eastern states on western stages. That is, Aurobindo's stages of development are intimately related to the sequential states of psychic, subtle, causal and nondual and therefore it appears Wilber is once again stacking states on stages by introducing the five Aurobindo stages onto those of recognised western Piaget/Loevinger stages of development.

The Wilber-Combs lattice is misconceived (Part 2)

Table 1: The Wilber-Combs lattice (adapted from Wilber, 2006).

Just as Wilber (2006) explains how he and Combs missed something that, in retrospect, was obvious i.e. that the attainment of states and stages can be achieved independently of each other, I suggest their Wilber-Combs lattice has overlooked another apparently obvious error in its construction. Although they correctly note from the evidence of eminent researches such as Cook-Greuter (2011) that stage development is sequential and that stages cannot be skipped; they fail to recognise that this un-skippable stage progression can occur independently within the gross, subtle and causal realms. Wilber says as much in his book 'one taste':

… that ego and soul and spirit can in many ways coexist and develop together, because they are relatively separate streams flowing through the waves in the great nest of being. And there can be, on occasion, rather uneven development in between these streams…. This is why some early cultures apparently showed advanced psychic capacities but rather poor frontal development. (Wilber, 2000, p.275).

In addition, the evidence Wilber uses from western researchers to support his contention that stages of development cannot be skipped are almost wholly within the gross realm. Thus for example in some recent results from Cook-Greuter (2011, p.59) only 0.06 per cent of the protocols came from Stage 10 (i.e. the subtle realm). If my reasoning stands up to scrutiny, it seems to imply that there should be three relatively independent sets of Wilber-Combs lattices in respect of a person's development of their ego in the gross realm, their soul in the subtle realm and their spirit in the causal realm. It would answer Daniels' point about why Wilber has added Aurobindo's stages of development on top of those of Piaget/Loevinger because only the Piaget/Loevinger stages would be in the first of the three Wilber-Combs lattices and Aurobindo's stages would be appropriately split up between the other two.

It would also help explain why enlightenment, contra Wilber, is substantially the same for, say, the historical Buddha as it is for an enlightened person today i.e. it is only different in terms of ego stage development. It also has radical implications for Wilber's current work on his proposed fourth turning of Buddhism. But exploring that is for another day.


[7] 'As I believe Wilber himself would admit, his particular genius manifests not in invention, but in the integration of others' ideas.' Ferrer (2011b, p.13)

[8] Many scholars within transpersonal psychology continue to make use of Wilber's work, or at least to criticise it, notwithstanding his now longstanding disassociation from the field in favour of integral spirituality.

[9] i.e. perennialism In the sense of all religions stemming from 'one truth' which I agree with Hartilius is the generally held view of perennialism. Specifically this one truth is broadly as described under the heading of perspectivist perennialism, which is one of five types of perennialism's described by Ferrer (2002, pp.78-79) i.e. 'many paths and many goals', but excluding Hick's (1992) depiction of ultimate reality as Noumenal. A more complete account of how I choose to define perspectivist perennialism is developed below.

[10] In my opinion the sense in which perspectivist perennialism, as defined here, is objective should be related to the perspective of the two truths of Buddhism. Using that perspective, the sense is conventional rather than the ultimate. That is, although I agree with Hartelius and Ferrer (but only from a conventional perspective) that perspectivist perennialism does imply a single truth—as indeed my analysis suggests that so does the mystery; neither perspectivist perennialism or the mystery suggest one truth from an ultimate perspective. (cf Abramson 2014, p.5).

[11] This is another way of referring to an ultimate reality that is beyond any religious ultimate realities.

[12] On one of Ferrer's definitions of perennialism i.e. perspectivist perennialism's; but one such definition is sufficient to label Ferrer's account of the mystery as peennialist.

[13] The context in Abramson, 2014 was Wilber's account of what Hartelius and Ferrer described as a single nondual reality—but Mipham's sentiment applies equally to Hartelius' account of a 'transcendent ultimate'.

[14] In this connection it is notable that Wilber claims nondual emptiness is an ultimate beyond all possible ultimates i.e. the very ground of all other ultimates. As Buddhist texts make clear, nondual emptiness can be directly known through, for example, meditative equipoise. But I agree, with Hartelius and Ferrer that, in my terminology, nondual emptiness is a 'second stage' ultimate reality, intrinsically undifferentiated in its spiritual efficacy with other 'second stage' ultimates. This is consistent with the point made here i.e. all 'second stage' ultimates can be known (usually in higher states of consciousness) but the 'first stage' ultimate that is beyond any of them cannot be known, by humans at least, in its entirety.

[15] e.g. the nine scholars who together with Garfield comprise the Cowherds (2011) among many others. But as I point out (Abramson,2014) there are many contemporary scholars who accept Murti's account of the absolute.

[16] e.g. see Garfields foreword to Thakchöe, 2007, or Garfield, 1994, pp.vii,viii where Garfield suggests Murti's interpretation of Nagarjuna is as valid as his.

[17] Newland and Tillemans refer (p.4) to the 15th century Madhyamika Gorampa, who had similar views to Murti on the absolute.

[18] the highest stage of development in the Western models at that time was 'somewhere around… Loevinger's integrated' (Wilber, 2006, p.88).


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Cleary, T. (1993). The Flower Ornament Scripture: Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Cook-Greuter, S.R. (2011). A report from the scoring trenches. In Pfaffenberger, A.H., Marko, Paul, W., Combs, A. (2011) The Postconventional Personality: Assessing, Researching, and Theorizing Higher Development. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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