Check out my review of Ken Wilber's latest book Finding Radical Wholeness

Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Oliver GriebelOliver Griebel M.A., b. 1964, was born in München and has studied translation and philosophy. He lives in Stuttgart. He is the author of Der Ganzheitliche Gott (2014)

What is Spirit?

Transcendent Loving Creator–Intelligible Natural Order
Nondual Meditative Emptiness - All of Them?

Oliver Griebel

My point of departure was the wish, indeed the longing to integrate traditional, modern and postmodern ideas of spirit, spirituality and God.

Ken Wilber has tried to integrate this three - traditional, modern and postmodern - views of Spirit in 2008 with his "1-2-3 of God", where he conjugates God/Spirit in all the three persons of singular: God as I (nonduality), God as Thou (creator), and God as It (natural order). It's controversial whether or not Wilber nonetheless keeps on granting a primacy to nonduality. As a matter of fact, in “Integral Semanics”, he writes: "The ultimate Nondual is not different from any object." In this pantheism, I just can't find a real relationship, a more than illusionary duality or plurality between God/Spirit and beings, needed for a creator and natural order view of spirit.

Die Ganzheitliche Gott

In 2004, when I didn't even know there was an integral movement and thinking, I had an idea for an integral view of God which in 2009 I published in a book called “Der ganzheitliche Gott” (The holistic/integral God). In this book, I have tried to describe the All-Encompassing in such a way that from the outset it HAD to be all in one: a loving counterpart, the sensible cosmos and the all-presence experienced in meditation.

My point of departure was the wish, indeed the longing to integrate traditional, modern and postmodern ideas of spirit, spirituality and God. The push came from my discontent with confessional religion and theology, materialism and atheism, but also New Age spirituality and postmodern relativism.

In philosophy, everything has always been turning around the question whether there is spirit, what's the significance of human spirit (mind), whether spirit has a world-encompassing importance, and if so, what's the power of spirit beyond human mind. Right from the start, the issue in the West and Near-East was the spirit of the God (or main god) of religion, which was conceived as an almighty and all-knowing person planning, creating and ruling the world “from outside”. (almighty Spirit–theism).

Then already the Greeks came up with something different, very modern: spirit in terms of cosmos, of a coherent, necessary and eternal order of the world itself which is keeping things together and which is conceivable by man with his mind (reasonable, “intelligible” order - naturalism).

At last, a Far-Eastern type of spirit, experienced in meditation, came to the Occident: a consciousness void of all purposes, thoughts and feelings of its own, untouched by the play of the chaotic, but also intricately linked phenomena, through which it is manifesting itself. (empty spirit - pantheism, now often called nonduality). In postmodernism, this notion of Emptiness has been connected to the idea of a plurality of world views, life plans and spiritualities.

When I decided to engage in “theology” or “philosophy of spirit”, my starting point was a criticism of something common to all of these doctrines and teachings: I contested the absolute primacy of spirit. Or put the other way round, I don't believe that the individual things in the world and their multitude can be utterly reduced to a God, natural order or Emptiness. Against this I claim that the individuality, the variety and the “mess” of limited things is an original and irreducible trait of the world as a whole. This “individualism” is my postmodern premise.

This premise is joined with the assumption that all things are embedded in an allencompassing whole. This embedding whole might be called Order of Things, All-Coherence, World as a Whole, the Being or the Allencompassing. It is not a mere collection of all things in the world, but the frame and medium of their reality, and as a potential of their unrealized being and “interbeing”, it transcends all of them enormously. However, beyond the Allencompassing there–logically–cannot be anything, particularly no God which is transcendent in the classical sense. This naturalism is my modern basic assumption. Mind you: An allencompassing consciousness is not yet supposed at this point.

Third, I claim that only together the multitude of things and their one coherence make up the world. They complement each other and at the same time are in a tension of counterpoles. This complementarity I think is fundamental, Being is different from the beings inside of it ... in any case as long as they last as individuals. None of both poles can be reduced onto the other. This is an idea that is philosophically quite novel. (At least that's what I thought until I learnt about John Heron's similar “diunity”.) For me, this complementary polarity is the proper integral assumption I am making for the relation between God and the world. By this idea, I manage to integrate the traditional, modern and postmodern premises.

Indeed, there is a traditional, fourth “premise”, which however seems to follow from what I already said: the all-consciousness, all-care and “all-will” of the Allencompassing. It understands itself, thus has self-consciousness, in particular about the value and beauty of itself and all of its “creatures”. It fathoms and loves what it “does”, and it wants what it “does” anyway, being the caring order of things: keeping together and putting together the things for their best without acting locally or episodically in the way human persons do. This allencompassing will and action is “only” limited by premise 1, which was the relative autonomy of limited things.

Now why this traditional premise properly isn't a premise? If the Allencompassing is the natural unity of everything, then there has to be an essential place in it for something as special as humans and their mind, not an accidental place. The fact that humans can think–that they are able to recognize something about their place in the world–that they are searching for a meaning: all of this fits with an allencompassing order of things only if, along with this Allencompassing, reason, world view and search for meaning are given right from the start. But how could such an order, if it were spiritless and pointless, bear in itself reason, world view and search for meaning? That seems absurd. Therefore, an order that is really encompassing everything has to be conscious (even if, as the history of religion and world views shows, one always has to be extremely careful not to project onto it any of the traits of the narrow limits of our human personality.

Thus, we now have a quite spare ontology and “theology”: one allencompassing natural order with a spirit in which all matter, all of life and all the human mind and culture are comprised, without any extra spheres, beings and anything otherwise supernatural. This kind of ontological economy, the notorious “Ockham's razor”, is a sign for the claim to sketch a really modern view of God.

At this point, some will ask: Wait a minute–a modern God-view? Isn't modernity per se atheistic and materialistic? I think one ought to distinguish the early-modern Enlightenment modernity, which–as an antithesis against traditional absolutism–almost had no choice but to jettison all religion along with the atrocities, the terror and the oppression caused by the “God-given” order. I see the scientism that followed and that still is mighty as a, say, cleansing process from otherwordly theistic thinking. This process being completed, the modern idea of an all-encompassing and self-contained (“coherent and maximally consistent”) natural order can by no means be made classically transcendent again, however, it can be made spiritual and metaphysical again, just the thing I try to achieve with my holistic God approach.

How this is related to the integral thinking, the way it is developed and common as yet, is not clear, as I learn more and more. Indeed, where in my God view is the place for radical nondualism, the primal empty consciousness on whose “screen” there do not appear real “beings” of their own, rather an “interbeing” of fleeting phenomena? There is no place for it, and for several reasons.

First, all things, in my opinion, while depending upon, indeed embedded and immerged in the allencompassing, possess a life of their own and out of themselves, a spontaneous element, and I think that means: a chance element. Even their emergence and formation is partly contingent. Every single thing could have not come into being, and could have become very different. But chance, by definition, can't be explained by anything. It originates “out of nothing”, and if there is a cosmic spirit or god, it/(s)he certainly is not nothing.

In any case I claim that the emergence, the evolution and the “life” not only of every person, but also of every thing in the world can't be completely explained or, for that matter, caused by anything, not even any Ultimate Reality, every thing rather being–partly–“prime cause”, a little ground of its own being, a tiny “hole” on its–partly–random walk through the allencompassing "net". So, for me, the emptiness is inside the beings, the fullness of Being complementing it.

A second reason why I can't accept a radical nondualism is that for me God as a self-aware, cohering, intelligible order of things has to be the very fullness of consciousness, empty only of all identification with idiosyncratic contents of persons like us.

Furthermore, the "nondual" idea of our illusory world (samsara, maya) being but vain projection on the ultimate empty screen doesn't make sense to me since it is itself a hidden dualism, in addition to being an implausible one. In fact, every world view that believes in a God or allencompassing spirit, has a duality of some kind, whether it admits it or not. The unacknowledged duality of true God and illusory world in nondualism is, as it were, an illusory monism. Why not abandon monism rightaway and adopt an integral duality and plurality? As long as the duality is a complementarity and entanglement, there's nothing wrong with it, integrally.

One last point that might surprise some: I am aware that nonduality is a very strong spiritual “intuition” that many meditating people share. I myself have deeply experienced this nonduality for many years and would like to preserve its undoubted importance philosophically–while reinterpreting it. Indeed, my own approach needs it because for me, the intimate connection of God and man is a essential trait of the world, one important form this connection can take being meditation–besides others like morality, art, search for meaning, humanities and natural science and philosophy.

For me, the spiritual philosophy of what I would call nondualism is a misinterpretation of the meditative unity experience: I meditate, and eventually there is noting personal left, only the presence of a spirit which does not change in itself und on whom nothing "sticks" of what comes and goes inside my fleeting mind. Does this entail that this divine spirit isn't intentional, that is not directed onto anything by insight or will? I don't think so.

The timeless order of things as I see it is something qualitative, caring and intelligent. While the quality and consciousness of an allencompassing spirit should be unchanging, men and women can deeply experience it with their changing mind by intuitions, inspirations, visions or revelations. In any case, that's the way I feel it.

And it's precisely this more philosophical vision of the divine that is turned off too in objectless meditation, experiencing “only” the peace and love of the allencompassing. Doing so, however, the meditating person separates something that, I believe, belongs together in and for God, she separates the emotional meaning and the cognitive meaning of the divine world as a whole. Yet, God has no problem with us separating meditation and philosophy. It's us who are getting a problem when we fail to integrate meditation and philosophy, because we are unable to overcome unbalanced nondualistic thinking.

Comment Form is loading comments...