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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
L. Ron Gardner is a mystic-philosopher and devotes his life to living and communicating the Truth. In addition to elaborating on his own Dharma, he enjoys analyzing other ones and presenting his unique and penetrating insights in a clear and engaging manner. Prior to launching his writing career at the age of sixty, he was self-employed in various capacities, including astrologer-counselor, computer consultant, and sportsbetting arbitrager. He has a B.A in sociology from the University of California, San Diego, and studied Marxism under the iconic Herbert Marcuse at UCSD. He is an unabashed Ron Paul Revolution fan and quasi-Objectivist/libertarian, and delights in intellectually carving up statists and “integral” globalists. See: www.electricalspirituality.com
Chapter 5 of Zen Mind, Thinker's Mind (Kindle, 2022)
The Fourth Turning
L. Ron Gardner
I argue for a subsequent, or Fifth, Turning of the Wheel that would usher in a new school of Buddhism which demystifies the previous Turnings.
Ken Wilber is considered by many to be the world's greatest living philosopher. Wilber, who bills himself as a “pandit” (Dharma scholar/teacher), specializes in integral theory and solutions, which provides the lens through which he views humanity's past, present, and future. And in his 2015 book The Fourth Turning: Imagining the Evolution of an Integral Buddhism, Wilber focuses his “integral lens” on Buddhism (the religion he most vibes with), and envisages another (or Fourth) Turning of its Wheel that would embody the principles that are at the heart of his Integral philosophy.
In The Fourth Turning's Introduction, Wilber informs us that the world's religions “need to get serious about updating their fundamental dogmas.” He says that the core ideas can be maintained but that new discoveries about spiritual experiences, spiritual intelligence, and spiritual development during the past thousand years need to be integrated into an Integral framework that includes and transcends the central teachings of the traditions. I agree with Wilber's goal but disagree with some of his ideas about the “upgrade,” and I detail my disagreements in this article. Most importantly, I think Wilber misses the essence of what a new Turning of the Wheel should be about.
Wilber's book is arranged in three parts, with Part 1 focusing on Buddhism's past, Part 2 on its present, and Part 3 on its future. In Part 1, Wilber presents a brief history of Buddhism's essential past, meaning the Three (or Four) Turnings of the Wheel. According to Wilber, the First Turning, by the Buddha, represented “renunciation,” the Second, by Madhyamaka, was about “transformation,” and the Third, by Yogacara (and Vajrayana), introduced “transmutation.” As Wilber points out, Vajrayana can also be viewed independently as The Fourth Turning.
In my opinion, Wilber doesn't grok what these Turnings are about because he doesn't deeply understand Buddhism or mysticism. I'll summarize what the Turnings are really about, then deconstruct Wilber's Buddhism and mysticism.
My Vision of the Four Turnings
I maintain that there have been Four Turnings of the Wheel in Buddhism: 1) The Buddha's original Dharma, 2) Madhyamaka's emptiness Dharma, 3) Yogacara's Mind-only (or Buddha-nature) Dharma, and 4) Vajrayana's tantra Dharma. And in contrast to Wilber, who only envisions spicing up Buddhadharma with elements of his Integral theory (mainly transpersonal developmental psychology and a sociopsychology of religion), I argue for a subsequent, or Fifth, Turning of the Wheel that would usher in a new school of Buddhism which demystifies the previous Turnings and incorporates their respective essences into a truly holistic new Buddhadharma. I call this new school of Buddhism "Electrical Buddhism," and I do so because, as I'll explain, each of the Turnings after the Buddha's represents one-third of Ohm's Law.
The First Turning of the Wheel, by Gautama Buddha himself, set the Wheel in motion; the second, by Madhyamaka, emphasized emptiness (Absence, or “Ohms reduction”); the third, by Yogacara, accentuated Mind (Presence, or “Voltage”); and the fourth, by Vajrayana, focused on Energy (Power, or “Amperage”). The Fifth Turning would not only unify Buddhism, but also integrate it with Christianity; and I elaborate this theme in my book Electrical Christianity: A Revolutionary Guide to Jesus' Teachings and Spiritual Enlightenment.
I call the paradigm that integrates Ohm's Law with Christianity and Buddhism the Electrical Spiritual Paradigm (ESP), and I contend that this paradigm radically demystifies spiritual en-Light-enment. I'll now provide a summary of it in relation to the Three Turnings that followed Gautama's.
First, for those who are unfamiliar with Ohm's Law, it states that “the strength or intensity of an unvarying electric current is directly proportional to the electromotive force and inversely proportional to the resistance in a circuit.” Ohm's Law—where V = voltage (electromotive force), I = amperage (intensity of current), and R = ohms (units of resistance)—can be summarized in three formulas:
V = IR; I = V/R; R = V/I
(Note: Any form of the Ohm's Law equation can be derived from the other two via simple algebra.)
Madhyamaka, the first of the three Turnings that followed Gautama's, emphasized emptiness, which equates to self-emptying, or Ohms (or resistance) reduction. Yogacara, the subsequent Turning, emphasized Mind, or Conscious Presence, which generates Consciousness-Force or Pressure, which is akin to Voltage (electromotive force). In electricity, electrical energy, or Amperage, is directly proportional to Voltage and inversely proportional to Ohms reduction; and Vajrayana Buddhism, which turned the Wheel after Yogacara, emphasized spiritual Energy, which is akin to Amperage. In short, each of the three Turnings after Gautama's represents one-third of the fundamental Law of Electricity—Ohm's Law.
Interestingly enough, some scientists argue that electromagnetism is the only fundamental force in the universe. Wilber talks about integrating modern science with Buddhadharma, and to my mind, where this integration should begin is by considering the Turnings of the Wheel in the context of electrical energy, specifically Ohm's Law.
Wilber's Vision of a Fourth Turning
Many imagine that Ken Wilber is an all-time great spiritual teacher. For example, Jim Marion, author of Putting on the Mind of Christ, describes Wilber as “one of the greatest and most brilliant spiritual teachers of all time.” In contrast to Marion, I contend that Wilber is hardly the brilliant spiritual teacher or philosopher that many imagine him to be. With this in mind, I'll now point out some of the flaws in Wilber's understanding of Buddhadharma, and also Hindudharma.
First off, Wilber doesn't understand Emptiness, which he emphasizes in his exegesis of Madhyamaka and Yogacara. He conflates Emptiness with Ultimate Reality, which he also conflates with Nothingness. If he had studied Ayn Rand's Objectivism (which he pretends to have done), he'd realize that he's guilty of the reification of zero, attributing ontological status to a non-Existent. Nothingness does not exist, so form, or existents, cannot derive from it. Emptiness is likewise a non-Existent; it is simply a term to describe the absence of existents. Emptiness is a derivative, not the Great Ontological Primary. There must be Something to be empty, and that Something is Mind, or Consciousness. Unbeknownst to Wilber, Mind is empty, or formless, but it is not Emptiness; it is Consciousness. Emptiness is really about self-emptying, or self-nullification, which allows Consciousness-Force (Voltage) to transmute into a Light-Energy current (Amperage).
Wilber, in goose step with the Heart Sutra, tells us that Form is not different from Emptiness, and that Emptiness is not different from Form. If the two aren't different, then where is the need for an Emptiness doctrine? Wilber also tells us that Emptiness is a synonym for Suchness, or Thusness, or Isness. The Hindus, properly, laugh at this. According to them, Isness, or Being (Sat) = Consciousness (Siva)-Spirit (Shakti). But Wilber doesn't understand Being, which he reduces to Spirit, which he conflates with Emptiness. Spirit is not emptiness; it is the en-Light-ening Action, or Energy, of Being. Being is Consciousness-Spirit, or Consciousness-Energy. Spirit, or Clear-Light Energy, because it is perceived, is the “objective” side of Being, while Consciousness, or Mind, because it perceives, is the “subjective” side.
In addition to being ignorant of Emptiness, Suchness, and Spirit, Wilber doesn't grok the Buddhist Trikaya (Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya), which I contend is the same Triple Body as the Christian Trinity (Father, Holy Spirit, Son). Wilber tells us that the Dharmakaya, which is unborn Mind, or timeless Awareness, is synonymous with the Hindu Causal Body. He's wrong, and if he understood Advaita Vedanta, he'd know that the Anandamaya Kosha, the Bliss Sheath (the fifth of the five sheaths that cover the Soul, or Self, or Buddha-nature), is the Causal Body. The Anandamaya Kosha, or Bliss Sheath, is the same Body, or Dimension, as the Buddhist Bliss (or Light-Energy) Body, the Sambhogakaya, which, when contemplated dualistically rather than nondualistically, functions as a sheath, meaning that it obstructs Self-realization. But Wilber tells us that the Sambhogakaya is analogous to the Subtle Body. This is patently false, because the Sambhogakaya, which is uncreated Clear-Light Energy, is utterly distinct from the Subtle Body, which, in Advaita Vedanta parlance, consists of three created sheaths: the life-force (pranamaya kosha), the lower-mental (manomaya kosha), and the higher-mental (vijnanamaya kosha). In other words, the acosmic Sambhogakaya, which never enters spacetime—it is in it but not of it—should not be confused with the cosmic sheaths, or bodies, that constitute the Subtle Body.
Although Wilber's description of Yogacara Buddhism and its principal text, the Lankavatara Sutra, is less than “integral” (for example, he doesn't differentiate Cittamatra from Vijnaptimatra or mention the Tathagatagarbha or Dharmamegha), he, most importantly, does understand that when the Diamond Sutra displaced the Lankavatara, Zen lost its sophistication. He writes:
Lankavatara Sutra was so important it was passed down to their successors by all 5 of the first Chan (or Zen) Head-Founders in China, as containing the essence of the Buddha's teachings. In fact, the early Chan school was often referred to as the Lankavatara school, and a history of this early period is entitled Records of the Lankavatara Masters. (Starting with the 6th Head-Founder, Hui Neng, the Diamond Sutra—a treatise solely devoted to pure Emptiness—displaced the Lankavatara, and in many ways Zen lost the philosophical and psychological sophistication of the Lankavatara system and focused almost exclusively on nonconceptual Awareness. Zen Masters were often depicted tearing up sutras, which really amounted to a rejection of the 2 Truths doctrine. This was unfortunate, in my opinion, because in doing so, Zen became less than a complete system, refusing to elaborate conventional maps and models. Zen became weak in relative truths, although it brilliantly succeeded in elaborating and practicing ultimate Truth.)
Wilber's vision for an Integral Zen and Buddhism, however, doesn't involve re- emphasizing the Lankavatara. Rather, it's about marrying his Integral philosophy with Buddhadharma. And in Part 2 of The Fourth Turning, he presents seven central ideas to achieve this union: 1) structures and structure-stages of development, 2) states and vantage points, 3) shadow and shadow work, 4) quadrants (four perspectives and dimensions that all phenomena possess), 5) typologies, 6) the miracle of “we,” and 7) the impact of interior thinking.
I will now briefly critique these seven central ideas.
Structure-stages, the first of Wilber's central ideas, are the evolutionary philosophical “windows,” or vantage points, through which people view and filter their life experiences, including what Wilber identifies as the four major states of humans: gross, subtle, causal, and nondual. From the lowest to the highest, these structures-stages, according to Wilber, are: archaic, magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, integral, and super-integral. Humans can experience any of the four states from the vantage point of any of these stage-structures. According to Wilber, “structures are how we grow up and states are how we wake up.”
I think that structure-stages provide a useful tool for understanding the various cultural mindsets throughout history; they explain how these mindsets have evolved while the four major states have remained the same. But just as Wilber doesn't understand the four major states very well, he likewise goes awry with his structure-stages hierarchy. His “integral” doesn't belong above “rational” because it is irrational, opposed to the political primacy of constitutional republicanism. Wilber, ignorantly and irrationally, equates individual freedom with representative democracy, which is a euphemism for majority mob rule, which empowers the (usually clueless) masses to vote away the rights and freedom of individuals. If Wilber had evolved to the (truly) rational level, he'd understand that the representative democracy he lauds is tantamount to “two wolves and a sheep deciding what they'll have for dinner.” But because Wilber has not evolved to the (truly) rational level, he's unqualified to identify the structure-stages beyond rational; hence, his hierarchy falls apart and has no place in a Fourth Turning of the Wheel.
Wilber goes just as awry with his second central idea, states and vantage points, as he does with his first, structures and structure-stages of development. He emphasizes the importance of vantage points “in determining human experience [meaning states of consciousness]—how it is seen and how it is interpreted,” but the vantage points he provides are flawed, because he doesn't deeply grok the Self-awakening project. He uses terms he doesn't understand—such as Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya, gross, subtle, causal, and Spirit—to explain dimensions and states of awakening; and rather than clarify the process, he muddles it. For example, he describes the ultimate state of nondual Awareness as “the union (and transcendence) of individual self and infinite Spirit.” But he doesn't have a clue what Spirit is—Blessing/Blissing Clear-Light Energy, which is the same hypostasis as the Sambhogakaya, which he erroneously conflates with the subtle body. Because Wilber has been infected with what I call the “Madhyamaka virus,” he thinks that Spirit is a synonym for emptiness, but as the cognoscenti know, emptiness is a non-existent with no ontological status, whereas Spirit is Shakti—Divine Power, or Light-Energy. But Wilber, sadly, has nothing to say about this Light-Energy in relation to the En-Light-enment, or Self-awakening, project.
Wilber's third central idea, shadow work to understand and deal with one's shadow, or “dark side” (which Wikipedia.org defines as “an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify itself”), is certainly a positive recommendation. Regarding the need for shadow work, Wilber writes:
We know from long, hard, bitter experience in meditation from the time of its introduction in the West some 40 years ago, that meditation won't cure shadow issues and often inflames them. We all know meditation teachers who are often superb state teachers but structurally are shadow-ridden neurotic nuts, to put it as politely as I can. Don't be a victim of your own shadow, but include at least a little shadow work along with your meditation.
Wilber recommends and describes a couple of (what he terms 3-2-1 and 3-2-1-0) methods to address one's shadow problems. I find these methods, which are purely psychological, to be superficial. From my perspective, the first thing necessary to deal with one's shadow is right thinking, specifically right ethics (meaning the understanding of and adherence to the non-aggression principle). Right ethics prevents one's shadow, or “dark side,” from infecting others, because an adherent to such ethics will not do things that infringe upon the rights, space, or sovereignty of others. But Wilber doesn't respect the non-aggression principle. In fact, the pluralistic (meaning liberal-authoritarian) politics he promulgates are diametrically opposed to it, as they promote the forceful enslavement of individuals by a Leviathan State and New World Order.
In addition to his 3-2-1 and 3-2-1-0 methods, Wilber also suggests psychotherapy as a means to deal with one's shadow issues. But better than psychotherapy for understanding one's shadow is astrology, for no other method can provide an objective map of one's root psychological tendencies and complexes. Once an individual understands his unconscious psychical “structures” and employs the non-aggression principal—not only in relation to others but also to himself—then no harm will come from his “dark side.”
I have been to, and socialized with, Jungian psychoanalysts, and from personal experience, I can say that astrologers with an understanding of Jungian psychology are more effective than psychoanalysts in providing shadow analysis and counseling. Such astrologers can graphically describe a client's shadow elements, including their anima or animus. This is particularly important for male spiritual teachers, for it is their unregenerate anima which all too often precipitates their sexual misbehavior and downfall.
Although shadow work is important for self-understanding, it hardly qualifies as an essential component for what constitutes another Turning of the Wheel. But Wilber, whose goal is to impose his “Integral” vision on Buddhism, imagines that it does.
Wilber's fourth central idea involves integrating his four-quadrant model into Buddhism. This model, which consists of 1) Upper Left; interior-individual (intention), 2) Upper Right; exterior-individual (behavioral), 3) Lower Left; interior-collective (cultural), and 4) Lower Right; exterior-collective (social), reveals him as epistemically challenged. If he'd studied Ayn Rand's Objectivist epistemology instead of hanging his hat on Charles Peirce's Sign Theory, or Semiotic, he'd understand that his description of his four-quadrant model as “the four perspectives and dimensions that all phenomena possess” is nonsense. Human minds possess perspectives, phenomena don't. But Wilber isn't just epistemically challenged, he's also delusional regarding the importance of his four-quadrant model, which constitutes the core of his Integral philosophy. When he states that “The stages of meditation, in other words, like virtually everything else, are a four-quadrant affair,” the cognoscenti can only laugh at his ignorance and hubris.
I second Wilber's fifth central idea, that of typologies—but he misses the boat with the typologies he designates as important in the creation of an Integral Buddhism. In my view, there can be no Integral psychology and no Integral Buddhism without astrology, a nonpareil tool for understanding self, others, and relationships on a karmic level. But Wilber, partially buried in the very zeitgeist “flatland” he heavily criticizes, fails to acknowledge astrology as a valid tool for self-other understanding. However, he buys into the Enneagram (a ninefold typology of personality types), which unbeknownst to him, derives from astrology, which subsumes and transcends it as a system of human classification and understanding. Wilber also acknowledges Myers-Briggs personality types as a means to self-understanding. The four fundamental personality types in Myers-Briggs—feeling, sensation, intuition, thinking—correlate closely with the four astrological elemental types—water, earth, fire, and air—and a professional astrologer, which I was for many years, can assess the “elemental” constitution of individuals far better than the Myers-Briggs test.
Wilber's sixth central idea, the miracle of “we,” is hardly a new idea or ideal. In reality, it's just another attempt by Wilber to inject his four-quadrant model into Buddhism. Wilber writes, “But what is central for an Integral Spirituality is not that it focus merely on the collective 'We,' but that it integrate all 4 quadrants in each and every moment.” As an example of a “miracle of 'we'” practice, Wilber cites Andrew Cohen's intersubjective yoga:
Andrew Cohen recommended a type of “intersubjective yoga” (Lower Left Quadrant) where the individual lets go of self-identity and instead identifies with awareness itself (and “the ground of being”) and especially the evolutionary impulse itself and its urgency, and then lets this evolutionary intelligence speak through every group member. When done correctly, this is often reported as feeling like a “group enlightenment.”
If you want to know how successful Cohen's intersubjective yoga has been, Google “integral abuse: Andrew Cohen and the culture of evolutionary enlightenment.” You'll find that it has not only been unsuccessful, but destructive. In short, a Fourth Turning of the Wheel would do well to skip on Wilber's miracle of “we” idea.
Wilber's seventh central idea, the impact of interior thinking, is no more than a plug for the application of his four-quadrant model to the process of reasoning. If you vibe with Wilber's left-wing “progressivism” and New World Order politics, you'll appreciate his model of integral interior thinking; but if, like me, you don't, then you'll categorically reject it and its inclusion in a Fourth Turning of the Wheel.
Part 3 of Wilber's book, “The Future,” is simply a superfluous regurgitation, or summary, of Part 2. And speaking of summaries, here is mine of this book: It is simply Wilber's Integral Theory plastered on top of Buddhadharma. If you are already familiar with Wilber's Integral theory, you won't find much, if anything, new here. And Wilber is one of the last writers I'd recommend for anyone wanting to learn what Buddhadharma and mysticism are really about. In short, the “pandit” is in over his head when it comes to envisaging a Fourth Turning of the Wheel.