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Joseph DillardDr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year’s clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: integraldeeplistening.com

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Critiquing Wilber’s Defense of Krishna’s Justification of Murder in the Baghavad Gita

Joseph Dillard

In an article from 2004 entitled: "Conflict, Creativity and the Nature of God" in What is Enlightenment,?[1] Ken Wilber said, regarding the famous exchange between Krishna and Arjuna, when Arjuna was wavering in his decision to make war on his cousins:

Remember the Lord and do your duty. In other words, established in non-dual reality, you must do the appropriate thing in this moment, which is fight.

And Krishna's counsel would be good for somebody who is in WWII, for example, and is fighting Hitler. Hitler's regime was gassing 20.000 Jews a day at that time.

Now you can sit there and say, ‘Let's be passive, let's not be aggressive, God is peaceful and I'm going to help the Lord.’

No, you're actually murdering people with that stance, and you're contributing to homicide with that attitude. And that's clearly not a very spiritual attitude. So under those circumstances, what are you going to do? You remember God, and you do everything in your pure heart to remain established in spiritual love and openness, and then you do your duty and fight and kill the people who are murdering people.

They simply will not stop under any circumstance. And if that's true, then it is your spiritual duty to kill them. And I think that's what a lot of people get really confused about. They think that there's simply no way that their behavior can include a duty of aggressive action but that their heart can still be open for a higher cause and a higher purpose.

Is the issue as Wilber frames it, that people who do not want to kill when it is justified are not following their duty to take aggressive action? Are they forgetting God? Are they abandoning their pure heart, spiritual love, and openness? Are they doing something immoral, in that they are, through their passivity, complicit in the murder of innocents?

If murder can be justified and one still be “transpersonal,” what keeps other odious, despicable, and immoral acts from being “spiritual”? If we say “nothing,” then we are basically claiming there is no relationship between enlightenment or spirituality and morality. When we become enlightened, morality no longer applies to us. We are now exceptions to social norms, because we have evolved past a need to submit to them. What is that but a very clear justification of exceptionalism? Does exceptionalism include egalitarianism and pluralism? Doesn’t exceptionalism have to include egalitarianism and pluralism in order to transcend them? How does exceptionalism include egalitarianism and pluralism?

If we can justify murder at higher levels of consciousness, why not slavery? How about torture? Incest? Rape? Pedophilia? How about nuking other nations? Take Wilber’s argument above and insert any of these other options and see how that sounds to you. Let’s take a few examples:

"Remember the Lord and do your duty. In other words, established in non-dual reality, you must do the appropriate thing in this moment, which is (torture).

And Krishna's counsel would be good for somebody who is in WWII, for example, and is fighting Hitler. Hitler's regime was gassing 20.000 Jews a day at that time. (Or if you have a terrorist who is going to nuke Washington DC if you don’t find out where the bomb is...)

Now you can sit there and say, "Let's be passive, let's not be aggressive, God is peaceful and I'm going to help the Lord."

No, you're actually murdering people with that stance, and you're contributing to homicide with that attitude. And that's clearly not a very spiritual attitude. So under those circumstances, what are you going to do? You remember God, and you do everything in your pure heart to remain established in spiritual love and openness, and then you do your duty and fight and (torture) the people who are murdering people.

They simply will not stop under any circumstance. And if that's true, then it is your spiritual duty to (torture) them. And I think that's what a lot of people get really confused about. They think that there's simply no way that their behavior can include a duty of aggressive action but that their heart can still be open for a higher cause and a higher purpose."

What we can see, when we insert torture, is that Wilber’s argument is quite similar to that of George W. Bush’s for torture: “Because I am aligned with the Good, the True, the Right, I am exceptional; I have the right do do things, like torture and bomb countries that pose no threat to my own, to do things that look immoral but are actually moral because my motives are pure. I would be immoral if I didn’t torture.”

The common rejoinder to this is, “Any fool can see that Bush is not coming from non-dual anything.” But that’s not the point. The point is that Bush thought his intentions were as justified as does Wilber or Krishna. It brings up the question, “Just how do we measure spirituality? By claims of non-duality? By claims of exceptionalism? By psychic powers? Or by morality?” There is reasonable debate about the inclusion of all but the last. All those who claim to be enlightened or acting justly claim pure moral intent, if only because they were “forced” by the circumstances to murder or to vote for a murderer, as “the lesser of two evils.”

If we cannot justify pedophila or rape as spiritual or moral actions, how is it that we can justify murder? As horrific as rape and pedophilia are, people can and often do recover from these abuses. You don’t recover from being murdered. Which would you prefer, to be a victim of rape or pedophilia, or of murder? As horrible as those options are, I know which ones I would choose for myself and my loved ones. The reason is the finality of murder; there is no opportunity for growth, development, or life for the murdered; if you are dead there is no more learning, no chance for repentance or restitution. The curtain has come down on the final act of your life drama.

One favorite way to avoid the immorality of murder is to appeal to some conceivable afterlife or future life. Doing so is an effective way to rationalize away the finality of the act of murder and to justify the most repressive of all possible immoral actions. Because I believe in an after-life or reincarnation that somehow makes it OK for me to take your life. This is part of Krishna’s reasoning to Arjuna. Because you believe in an after-life or reincarnation, does that make it OK for me to murder you? Obviously not. Does my belief that I will “get my karma” at some indefinite future time a solace or compensation for your loss of your life by my actions? Courts do not think so; laws do not think so. Social norms of human rights do not think so. Such considerations led India to overturn millennia of religious and Caste law in 1947. An entire society woke up to the absurdity and discriminatory nature of such rationalizations. Here is another example, again, using Wilber’s argument:

Remember the Lord and do your duty. In other words, established in non-dual reality, you must do the appropriate thing in this moment, which is (nuke your enemies).

And Krishna's counsel would be good for somebody who is in WWII, for example, and is fighting Hitler. Hitler's regime was gassing 20.000 Jews a day at that time. (Or Japan, to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even though these were civilian populations and documents would later prove that not only were nuclear bombs not necessary to end the war - since the Japanese had already signaled intent to surrender - but their real purpose was to demonstrate US power to Russia.)

Now you can sit there and say, "Let's be passive, let's not be aggressive, God is peaceful and I'm going to help the Lord."

No, you're actually murdering people with that stance, and you're contributing to homicide with that attitude. And that's clearly not a very spiritual attitude. So under those circumstances, what are you going to do? You remember God, and you do everything in your pure heart to remain established in spiritual love and openness, and then you do your duty and fight and kill the (Japanese) who are murdering people.

They simply will not stop under any circumstance. And if that's true, then it is your spiritual duty to kill them. And I think that's what a lot of people get really confused about. They think that there's simply no way that their behavior can include a duty of aggressive action but that their heart can still be open for a higher cause and a higher purpose.

Now we know that Truman and the US military were lying about the necessity of destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear weapons. But people did not know that at the time. The public believed the rationale for nuclear murder. Similarly a lot of people think that Krishna was telling the truth and not lying, or do not consider that while his intention was pure, it was not consistent with the immoral course of action he represented. The mistake here is in our belief in our “pure heart.” What does that mean? Doesn’t it mean that we believe our intentions are moral? Is there any proven correlation between moral intention and moral action? Kohlberg couldn’t find one. Has anyone? If so, I don’t know of one. We like to conclude that if we have moral intentions we are more likely to act in moral ways. This delusion is so common it probably qualifies as a baked-in cognitive bias. However, the Zimbardo Prison Experiment and the Milgram shock experiments conclusively demonstrate the disconnect between moral intent and behavior. The latter showed that some two thirds of both sexes would inflict deadly shocks to others simply by being told to do so. Zimbardo showed how easy it is for randomly selected individuals to fall into the role of justified persecutor. Both studies, including the replications of the Milgram research in other countries, indicate that context largely determines behavior and that we justify and rationalize our behavior in ways that claims that our behavior is moral because our intention are moral. In Wilber’s case, it is not simply that we determine that our intentions are moral; we have determined that our consciousness is moral. We reach such conclusions because not to do so creates cognitive dissonance that threatens our sense of self as a good person.

Defenses based on intent and consciousness, even if they are supported by God (Krishna, in this instance), do not stand up in courts of law or the UN International Convention on Human Rights, to which most nations are signatories. Nuremberg showed that intent is not a justifiable defense for war crimes. Society determines guilt or innocence based on the morality of our actions, not the morality of our intent. If we harm others, it doesn’t matter under the law what our intent was. It may provide extenuating factors to be considered in the effort to arrive at justice. Exceptions for abuse justified by intent are those societal rescuers, such as firemen, medics, and police who are permitted to destroy property or harm others “in the course of duty.” While this license can be and is abused, it remains a socially accepted exception to social and international prohibitions against abusive behavior, including murder. That humanity is slowly waking up to this reality is indicated by the abolition of the death penalty in 107 of 195 UN member countries.

Wilber is essentially justifying murder using the famous “two truths” doctrine, first expounded by Nagarjuna, and defended by Wilber and Andrew Cohen, among others. Essentially it says, when you reach non-dual turiya, “anything goes.” You can no longer judge actions based on collective, social norms.

The problem here is that, according to a cardinal dictum of Integral AQAL, higher level states are not only supposed to transcend, but include lower level states. So that would mean that higher level morality includes observance of lower level morality. For example, higher level guru morality would not include sex with students, because to do so does not include social norms. Instead, the claim made by the “two truths doctrine” is that one can transcend societal norms without including them because somehow one has transcended the collectives in which they are embedded. It is as if a subset declared itself to no longer belong to the set or sets of which it is a subset, or a holon to declare it is no longer a part of a holon or holons of which it is a member. By what magic is this possible? Indeed, I believe this is a magical, prepersonal, grandiose claim: “I have become one with all so I no longer am a holon conditioned by the holons which are collectives of which I am an individual member.”

Is this a realistic or rational claim? If it is not, then how can it be transpersonal, since the transpersonal includes realism and the rational, in order to transcend them? When and where trans-moral morality does not include social norms, the onus is on those who claim their behaviors, which appear by standards of consensus morality to be immoral or amoral, to show that it is not in fact, prepersonal posturing as transpersonal.

Examples include George W Bush’s torture program and Obama’s persecution of whistleblowers and his drone bombing assassination campaigns. These actions are prima facie prepersonal, immoral behaviors based on amoral intent that justifies itself as moral. The burden of proof is on Bush and Obama to show otherwise, not on society to prove they are immoral and illegal. This is because their immorality and illegality has already been determined, by international law. Justifications for these actions by Bush and Obama boil down to 1) exceptionalism; and 2) “might makes right.”

When we claim that “the cognitive line leads,” we end up justifying moral intent, in the context of our vision-logic (or above) worldview, and thereby manifest a disconnect with moral behavior, represented by social norms and law. Exceptionalism rationalizes away immorality and amorality. This is why, in the collective quadrants and social development, the moral line, not the cognitive line leads. If it does not, then spiritual development proceeds without a moral grounding, but justifying itself every step of the way as being moral because it is spiritual. This is exactly the inverse of reality: if there is anything at all that deserves the title “spiritual,” it is moral in nature. Otherwise, without morality what are we looking at may be abstractly objective and clear states of mind, such as accessed in meditation or displayed by a surgeon, dentist, or perhaps even a torturer.

This schizoid disjunction between moral intent and moral action due to spiritual exceptionalism has allowed Wilber to minimize the abuses of Da Free John, Andrew Cohen, Marc Gafni, and others as “rude boys” using upaya, or “skill in means” to teach higher order truths. It has allowed him to justify telling his critics to “suck my dick” as a 2nd Tier or “higher” or “enlightened” statement, and stating that if people take it as abuse they have some shadow work to do. The rationalizations that Wilber gave are truly extraordinary and serve as excellent examples of how the best of us will use any and all justifications to reduce cognitive dissonance in order to protect our worldview and sense of self. Read Wilber’s explanations and draw your own conclusions.[2]

The reason that point is still relevant is that Wilber has never published any reconsideration of those justifications, to the best of my knowledge, so the realistic conclusion is that they remain Wilber’s position. Two of the common defenses I’ve heard several times from Integralists who should know better is to say, “That was a long time ago. Wilber has changed.” Or, “Forgive and forget.” To the first I would respond, “If Wilber has modified his position on this, show me where and when. I am not aware.” To the second I would respond, “Holding anyone accountable for what they say or do is a different issue from forgiveness. You can forgive me and still hold me accountable. And there is nothing to forgive. That implies that Wilber (or someone) has done something in need of my forgiveness. An enquiry into both sides of an argument in order to gain clarity is not about forgiveness; it’s about fact-finding and drawing conclusions from information. Also, forgetting is generally not a very wise move. How does one “include,” as in “transcend and include” if it has been forgotten? No, information is to be remembered so that it can be factored into other information in order that better decisions are made. If we forget information we are saying “I make better decisions when I don’t access all the relevant information I have.” Really?

Wilber’s argument regarding the spiritual justification for murder is only a salient example of a much broader phenomenon that applies to all of us. If someone as intelligent, wise, and meditatively advanced as Wilber undoubtedly is, can draw such conclusions and justify behaviors that are arguably not morally justifiable, how much more likely are you and I to do so? This shows up as silence in some sectors of Integral leadership regarding American and European support for Israeli apartheid, as well as Integrals voting for politicians who have a public track record not only of corruption but of war crimes. What is that? How can we do such things and still consider ourselves “Integral?”

This mass delusion is supported and maintained by our identification with our worldview; because “the cognitive line leads,” and Integralists grasp a vision-logic world view, and we typically identify with our world view, we conclude that we are at vision-logic (or above, particularly if we have had mystical experiences). We are exceptional, because our worldview includes and transcends other worldviews. This exceptionalism allows us to do what Bush and Obama and all True Believers do: justify our immoral behavior based on the purity and clarity of our our enlightened level of development.

While we tend to be blinded by this, those who are not part of our groupthink are not. Just as members of the global community who have not signed on to American and European exceptionalism are not huge fans of bombings, dronings, sanctionings, and being called out for violations of human rights, so those who have not drunk the Integral Kool Aid see right through the hypocrisy of Integral exceptionalism. What exactly is moral, spiritual, or integral about justifying murder, voting for murderers, and ignoring murder committed in our name?

Yes, Wilber is certainly correct in pointing out that a lot of people are confused about this topic. Because they believe their moral intentions justify whatever they actually do, whenever they are accused of being immoral or unfair they are hurt, indignant, angry, and feel victimized. Those that they have abused or murdered just don’t understand how pure their heart is in its spiritual consciousness. This is why law exists, to clarify such common confusions. And where divine law, dharma, conflicts with human law, which is to give way? If we choose not to live among others, within a global community, then divine law can reign supreme and be enough. However, if we choose to live among others, we choose to submit ourselves to human law, like it or not, just or unjust.

A good example is the crisis in Catholicism over the ancient practice of pedophilia. Long ignored, protected, and defended by the Church hierarchy, divine law has had to give way to human determinants of justice. Krishna may be right in the domain of divine law, but in the arena of human relationships, where most of us live, work, and find meaning, he and his advocates are not only wrong; they are betraying the sanctity of life, which is the most moral and spiritual of all issues.

NOTES

[1] "The Guru and the Pandit: Conflict, Creativity, and the Nature of God", What is Enlightenment, August-October 2004.

[2] Ken Wilber, What We Are, That We See, Part I: Response to Some Recent Criticism in a Wild West Fashion, www.kenwilber.com, June 8, 2006.

Ken Wilber, The Unbearable Lightness of Wyatt Earpy, Follow-Up #1, June 11, 2006.

Ken Wilber, What We Are, That We See, Part II: What Is the Real Meaning of This?, www.kenwilber.com, June 11, 2006.

Ken Wilber, On the Nature of Shadow Projections in Forums, Follow-Up #2, june 13, 2006.






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