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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Ken WilberKenneth Earl "Ken" Wilber II (born January 31, 1949) is an American neoplatonic writer and public speaker. He has written and lectured about mysticism, philosophy, ecology, and developmental psychology. His work formulates what he calls Integral Theory. In 1998 he founded the Integral Institute. Ken Wilber is the most translated academic author in the United States.

Read the 1999 exchange between Heron and Wilber: Heron 1 | Wilber 1 | Heron 2 | Wilber 2

Ken Wilber's response
to John Heron

Ken wilber

[Heron] is interested in anything but cooperative relativist dialogue, "in which the discussants share, interweave, and overlap." No, he is interested in absolute demolition, period.

John Heron has published several attempted criticisms of my work. The longest and presumably the most serious was posted on the Net as "A Way Out for Wilberians." It pleasantly begins, "I despair of Wilberians…. People ask me from time to time what I make of Wilber's work. And I have to say, 'Not a lot.'"

Mr. Heron proceeds to explain that those who find value in my work as a whole are suffering from "some strong unconscious spiritual projection," since, he believes, there could be no other reason for these people to appreciate my books. Individuals from Roger Walsh to Mike Murphy to Frances Vaughan to Michael Lerner, are, we must surmise, caught in strong unconscious projections. But fortunately for them (and Lord knows for me), Mr. Heron announces that he is going to help liberate them. In his own words, "the time has come for liberation," and this essay is offered, he says, for just that purpose. Reading this I felt rather as if on the beach at Normandy, awaiting with blank stare the storm of liberating forces soon to come rushing ashore to liberate the world from, gulp, me.

Heron tells us, with great sincerity, that he has a "self-imposed ordinance," which is "not to spend too much time" in arguments that "typically involve heavyweights slugging it out in absolutist theoretical arenas in which propositions are landed on each other to build up scores of points. Underneath all this is fear, fear of opening the heart to co-operation." And then Heron delivers himself of a torrent of propositions landed on each other to build up scores of points—he actually spells them out and puts by a bullet by each so you can keep track of his attempted kills. The absolutist propositions come at you in a relentless stream, as if from a high-pressure hose. All the while Mr. Heron assures us that the type of "theoretical gun-slinging" which supposedly characterizes all of my writing "makes spiritually minded women want to throw up." Why it doesn't make spiritually minded men want to throw up is not made clear. But Heron does go on to assure us that such that gun-slinging is exactly what he himself so deplores. Whereupon he then engages in page after page of theoretical gun-slinging, in a much more concentrated and unbroken fashion—and for more polemical pages against one person—than anything I myself have ever attempted, or would ever care to. I had a hard time concentrating on Heron's relentlessly rapid fire, because I kept thinking I could hear scores of spiritually minded women throwing up everywhere.

There is, to try to get serious for a moment, one very telling item about Heron's critique. Heron assures the reader that his own desire is to proceed "not by competitive absolutist argument, but by cooperative relativist dialogue, in which the discussants share, interweave, and overlap their perspectives on the agreed topic." But in Heron's entire critique, which covers my work as a whole, Heron says not one positive thing about any of it. Instead, as you will see in the following pages, the only adjectives he uses to define my work are: authoritarian, totalitarian, oppressive, pathological, controlling, dominating, hegemonic, devouring, and a sexist plot. He forgot to mention that my work also causes scurvy, beriberi, and the heartbreak of psoriasis, but there it is.

When I look through Heron's writings, I can find some very perceptive and occasionally profound material, some of which I agree with, and some of which I disagree with. Even as I look through Heron's present essay, which seems to be a cold-blooded assault on everything I have written, I can find several positive points about it, and I shall gladly mention them below. But the fact that Heron has not one mutually appreciative or cooperative thing to say about any of my work, shows that 1) this is not a thoughtful and balanced criticism; it is a hatchet job; 2) he is interested in anything but cooperative relativist dialogue, "in which the discussants share, interweave, and overlap." No, he is interested in absolute demolition, period.

Incidentally, most people who comment on Heron's writings seem to react very negatively to his intense polemical style, which is woven into most of what he writes. (I have occasionally been criticized for polemics, but I usually confine them to a few footnotes or rare essays and critical responses, such as this. But polemic is simply not characteristic of my style on the whole, and 14 of my 18 books have not a single polemical sentence or footnote in them.) But it's not Heron's polemical style that I object to; in fact, I find it often invigorating and humorous, and I wish the general spiritual/transpersonal field would allow a sharper style without interpreting it as a spiritual pathology. No, as I said, what I find lamentable about Heron's style—at least in this essay—is his lack of mutuality and appreciation for the work of others. Even in my most polemical statements, they are always balanced, if you look at all of my writing, by an appreciation of the positive contributions of those I criticize. Nobody is capable of producing 100 percent error—nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time—and I usually criticize the partiality of various approaches, not their significant truths or contributions. But I can find little of that balance in Heron, which is unfortunate, I think.

Heron's bulleted list contains thirteen items that he announces are devastating to my view. So, while I'm dodging these bullets, I will try to answer as best I can. But I should mention: 1) the points I make refer only to his essay "A Way Out for Wilberians," and not Heron's other writings, unless indicated; 2) there is so little good will on the part of this gentleman that I see little point, apart from this response, in answering any more of his attacks, so do not mistake future nonrebuttal as a cowering silence.

And so, as the sun sets quietly on the horizon, and the wind blows softly all around, and amidst the gentle sound of female barfing in the background, I try shall to respond.

1. The Atman Project, according to Heron, is "self-negating, it shoots itself in the heart, and with two bullets." Again with the bullets. "The stated theory, when defined in its own terms, is an illusory substitute gratification put out by an illusory substitute self in the interests of denying Spirit. Wilber thus promotes a theory which, self-defined, discredits both himself and his writing." Heron completely misses the definition of the Atman project, which is that the Atman project contains two parts, which I call Atman telos (Eros) and Atman constriction or avoidance: it is half truth, half illusion: it is a true intuition of an infinite source (Spirit or Atman), but an intuition that is applied to a finite, limited, relative, and restricted self—and to that degree it is obviously involved in illusion and self-delusion. Nonetheless this relative self, pulled in part by its true intuition (Atman telos), grows or develops through successively higher spheres of ever-expanding consciousness until it can authentically embrace Atman itself (an embrace known generally as enlightenment).

Each stage of this developmental process means less Atman constriction and more Atman presence, until Atman itself can be recognized as the ever-present ground of consciousness. All of the various levels of being and knowing—matter to body to mind—still remain in existence as radiant manifestations of Spirit (Atman), but they are no longer burdened by a separate-self in flight from death and attempting to make each of those finite levels into an infinite release.

The book as a whole—and not sentences taken out of context—makes it very clear that the self and its activities are not totally and nothing but an illusion (which is the error that Heron's criticism is based on). Rather, the various levels of being and consciousness become burdened with the Atman project when the separate-self exclusively identifies with them, because the separate-self then tries to make them a source of infinite salvation: food becomes its religion, or concepts become its God, or wealth becomes its salvation. "All joys yearn for infinity," said Nietzsche, and the reason they do is that we intuit that there is indeed a real infinity, a real Spirit, a real God, but we apply that intuition to some finite pursuit—money, sex, fame, fortune—and try to turn that finite twitch into an infinite joy. And that mixture of both true intuition of the infinite, applied merely to finite things, is the Atman project. It doesn't say finite things are merely illusory, only that their confusion with the infinite is.

Heron fires this "bullet into my heart" by completely ignoring the true half of the Atman project and the finite reality of all the levels (as a manifestation of Spirit), and then, since he claims I am saying that absolutely everything is nothing but an illusion, he can of course then pull the Cretan's paradox on me (i.e., if everything is an illusion, then that is an illusion too).

2. "The second bullet is that Wilber states the theory by presupposing what it denies. The theory holds that we are nothing but illusory, separate selves [notice the "nothing but" upon which his entire criticism depends]; but it implicitly invokes a real person, who is neither the One Spirit, nor an illusory self, and who sets up the latter to evade the former." Having completely missed the actual definition of the Atman project, Heron continues by actually criticizing the silliness of his own misinterpretations. The situation as I describe it is not either/or, as Heron claims—he thinks that I said the self must be either the One Spirit or a total illusion, but, as we just saw, it is a mixture of both, and that mixture of real finite self intuiting real infinite Spirit—producing the illusion that the finite self is itself infinite and immortal, cosmocentric and divine—that mixture is the Atman project, and that extraordinary mixture is what makes human begins so interesting. In The Atman Project, I trace the growth of the finite self toward an infinite Atman, and watch the illusions and self-delusions that this separate-self produces as it tries to turn each level of development into a substitute for Spirit, for wholeness, for salvation and release. But once the substitute gratifications of a given level are tasted and found wanting, then that level is released, let go of, disidentified with, and transcended (the Atman project at that level is dissolved), and the self, still in search of Atman, identifies with the next higher level of consciousness, and so on until all substitutes have been tried and let go, and Atman, or true Spirit, flashes forth in consciousness.

3. "The Atman project theory has a cynical consequence. Since a person is nothing but an illusory self busy avoiding God, the theory reduces authentic interpersonal love between persons to nothing more than collusion between illusory selves in their evasion of God. Such cynicism is defamatory of human agape." Oh dear. In addition to continuing his "nothing butism," Heron misses the simple fact that, in my view, each level of development is an increase in Eros (humans reaching to Spirit) and Agape (Spirit reaching to humans)—there is nothing cynical or defamatory about it. But, at the same time, interpersonal love is often burdened with narcissism, egocentrism, self-promotion, and reckless domination. I do not deny authentic love at any level; I just try to point out some of the ways that it gets derailed when finite selves imagine themselves to be immortal and cosmocentric. To me, the wonder and tragedy of human love is that it does indeed yearn for infinity, and does so because infinity is most definitely real; but in many cases, instead of discovering the Spirit that blesses us with infinite fullness, we exclusively fuss about in the realm of time looking for the timeless, and the unpleasant fallout from that Atman project drives much that is, as Heron would have it, defamatory.

4. "The Atman project theory also has a philistine consequence." One shudders. "It holds that culture is created by the illusory self as a world of objective substitute gratifications…. It follows from this that the music of Mozart is not a revelation of that which is divine in Mozart's soul, but an account of Mozart's flight from the divine. To anyone who really listens to Mozart's music, this philistinism is absurd." Well, Heron and I both agree that something absurd is afoot. Spirit's manifestations—including, in this case, the extraordinary music manifesting through Mozart's soul—are just that, Spirit's radiant and wondrous manifestations. But men and women are not always pure channels, as it were, for these wondrous gifts. Mozart is reported to have told the King of Austria, who was upset with Mozart's many vulgarities: "I may be a vulgar man, but I assure you, my music is not." It is exactly that mixture of purity and vulgarity—that Atman project—that I have attempted to analyze, and Mozart is indeed a classic example.

5. "The Atman project…denigrates all human activity except meditation, which is the only real absolute ethical imperative. Only in meditation can we overcome our self-alienation from God." Actually, my view is that each and every stage of development overcomes a degree of alienation. In our evolution from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit, each major growth involves an increase in consciousness, or an increase in the amount of Spirit that we can embrace, so to speak. Anything that helps with our evolution from subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious is an ethical imperative. Meditation is simply one of many authentic ways to help facilitate growth into the superconscious realms.

6. "The Atman project theory of the early work is abandoned in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. The SES view of the person contradicts the early view. In SES, the person is no longer an illusory, evasive, substitute self, but a human holon with a 'reality composed of holons.' What was illusory has become a feature of holonic reality." Actually, what has happened is that, whereas previously Heron distorted the Atman project by ignoring the realities and seeing only the illusions, he here switches to ignoring the illusions and seeing only the realities. He still can't seem to understand that both sides of the Atman project are in play. It is not that my latter version contradicts my former version, but that Heron's latter distortion contradicts his former distortion.

7. "SES gives no coherent account of the person." SES is not meant to. My accounts of the person (the self and the self-system) are found in Transformations of Consciousness, A Brief History of Everything, The Eye of Spirit, and Integral Psychology.

8. After announcing that SES does not give a coherent account of the person (which it does not), Heron nonetheless takes the few pitiful statements in that book that he can find about the person, assumes those pitiful little pesos are my complete theory of self, and then goes on and on and I'm telling you on about what a rotten theory my view of the person is.

I did find two things out in this section, however: 1) Heron seems to have a very strong prejudice against, even hatred of, the nondual wisdom traditions, and 2) he knows as much about them as he does about my view of the person.

9. Heron seems to have a great deal of difficulty with my suggestion that the past mystics might offer guideposts about possible future stages of evolution. He then discusses five or six related criticisms of my view of evolution, each one of which I have dealt with, often extensively, in other publications, a fact which he either ignores or is ignorant of. Nonetheless, I will attempt a few short responses.

10. "Wilber holds that ancient Oriental mystics have long ago gone through, named and fully mapped out all the spiritual stages which lie ahead for the rest of mankind." Fully? Completely? All? Not even close. I suggested a few interesting points: some of the pioneering mystics—East and West, Oriental and Occidental—seem to have experienced genuinely transpersonal and supramental states of consciousness (from nature mysticism to deity mysticism to formless mysticism to nondual mysticism). Further, those states were experienced in human organisms that, as far as we can tell, are physiologically similar to ours, which likely means that these higher states are available, as potentials, to all of us. I also pointed out that those pioneers gave impressively detailed phenomenologies of some of those spiritual experiences. I then suggested that if human beings at large continue evolution into higher realms, and if those potentials are an indication at all, then some of the states that were experienced in the past by a few individuals situated in small sanghas (or mini-communities) might in fact be experienced by more human beings on a larger scale.

But as for all of the stages being mapped out in precise and unchanging fashion by these early pioneers, that is simply rubbish. They are a blueprint, in deep feature form, of some of the options for future unfolding. But how those futures actually will unfold depends on an infinite number of variables in each of the four quadrants, as I have often stated. Moreover, I have traced the ways in which spiritual experience itself evolved over the ages, and (at the end of Part I of SES), I pointed out that evolution into the subtle realms will most likely involve millions, even billions, of different future forms of evolution. (Only the Formless, by definition, does not evolve). Nowhere did I say, or even hint, that yesterday's mystics saw all of those billions of future forms.

11. Heron maintains that, if something is constrained by its deep structures, but has creativity or novelty in its surface structures (which I believe is often true), then it has no real creativity at all. "A theory which tells us that we have surface novelty and also tells us what will deeply and serially constrain it, is taking away much more than it gives." But a deep structure, as I have defined it, is really deep: it is simply a description of what makes that particular thing that particular thing. An iron atom, for example, has a deep structure that includes 26 protons. Within that deep structure—and within the structures in its environment—the iron atom is free to move with much novelty. But if you alter its deep structure, by, say, taking away a proton, then it is no longer an iron atom; it is, in fact, a manganese atom. Heron thinks that this unfairly and wickedly limits the creativity of the iron atom, whereas it is just a definition of iron. Heron uses this "objection" to trot out a long list criticisms of why my view of creativity isn't really creative, and how, most egregious of all, I don't allow human beings to be really, really, really novel, and so on. He wants the iron atom to have the freedom and the creativity to lose one or two or three protons, if it wants to, and still be iron, by golly, and how dare I limit poor iron like that? As we will see, this is the first of many examples of my authoritarianism and my attempt to control souls. If I point out that the English alphabet contains 26 letters (its deep structures), Heron will claim that I am trying to limit his freedom to say whatever he wants; I personally am trying to curtail his freedom of speech; I personally am trying to limit his creativity. And I am doing so because I am an authoritarian dolt. That is exactly what his critique amounts to, and he will wield it often and heavily. But really, John, if I had my way, I'd let the iron lose a proton, honest.

12. Heron defines my developmental scheme as being, in all cases, "a linear series of predetermined stages." Heron is criticizing a phase-2 model, which ended in 1983; he seems completely ignorant of phase-3 and phase-4 models. I have dealt with this misrepresentation of my work at length in The Eye of Spirit and One Taste, among other places. No scholar of my work believes that is my view, and a great liberator like Heron ought to know that.

13. "Wilber holds that, in the evolutionary scheme, a few human holons (ancient mystics) early in the mental-egoic stage could anticipate spiritual stages way off in the future for all other human holons." We have seen that isn't true, but let's continue: "Why is this idea not generalized throughout the evolutionary line? In other words, why does he not hold, for example, that a very few holons in the protoplasmic stage would have appeared in the form of the much more advanced holons of the locomotive stage? The answer is, surely, that the idea is incoherent and bizarre, without any supporting evidence." The answer is, surely, that human beings, unlike rocks and amoebas, show psychological, moral, and spiritual growth through a dozen or more stages, and hence some humans can show more development than others. As only one example, researchers have found that in America today, about 2% of the population reaches Jane Loevinger's highest stages of self development, stages which involve an autonomous and integrated self. From what I can tell, Heron would find this integrated self to be, relatively speaking, a good thing, even though only 2% of the population reaches that stage. However, one study showed that, among individuals who meditated for several years, an astonishing 38% reached those higher stages. If this is incoherent and bizarre, please give us more of it.

14. "Wilber holds that repression is a modern Western discovery and is only vaguely understood in the East. This implies ancient eastern mystics bypassed dealing with repression. Wilber chooses not to notice this, and so ignores the pathology of world-denial evident in Hindu and Buddhist mysticism alike." In fact, I devote much of the entire second half of SES to exactly that topic. It must be the half that Heron didn't read, so let me recap: the great pathology of both Eastern and Western spirituality for the last thousand years or so has been that they were largely a path of Ascent divorced from, and repressive of, the path of Descent. They were driven, in part, not by Eros but by phobos—fear of, and repression of, earth, body, female, sensuality, and anything else that appeared this-worldy. Repressive is exactly what they were, in part. What is required, I suggested, is an integration of Ascent and Descent, Eros and Agape, Wisdom and Compassion, Evolution and Involution. Heron repeats at length all of my criticisms of this path, and then excoriates me for not recognizing these criticisms.

15. "In appointing the ancients, who by-passed body-mind integration, as arbiters of future spiritual stages, it also looks as though Wilber is not attending fully to his own body-mind integration." I'm not integrated myself, and this is why I overlook the repressive side of all those merely Ascending religions.

It's not just that Heron again viciously attacks his own distortions of my work. This time, his attack is merely the prelude to a long list of ad hominen attacks on me as a thoroughly rotten person, and not just on the thoroughly rotten nature of my work. In the course of this onslaught, as you will see, he shares with us an explanation of the various psychological and spiritual diseases from which I suffer (much as he announced, at the beginning of this essay, that Wilberians are caught in unconscious spiritual projections and pathologies, or some such.) And Heron will, with kindness he says, point out these diseases (which, actually, is not a completely unpleasant thought—I can always use a good diagnosis or two—but I would prefer to be able to choose my own doctors and not have Heron thrust himself upon me unasked; but it is my experience that those who talk most loudly about mutual cooperation just can't wait to get their hands on you).

16. Heron begins with a long litany of why I am an authoritarian person, which he drops on my head with an authoritarian clunk. As best as I can make out—and I might be misrepresenting Heron here, because he gets so heated up about totalitarianism that I can't quite make out the argument—he thinks that, to get things started, Zen meditation is nothing but (and he does imply it is nothing but) a closed-minded repetition of past tradition, and that it is not in any way "a genuine, questioning spiritual inquiry," and that it does not involve "a community of peers." He then broadens his critique to include a condemnation of "traditional meditation methods" on the whole, which he denounces as authoritarian, hierarchical, and not open to experiential inquiry. He then assures us that there has been "no experiential inquiry into these methods as such," thereby overlooking the absolutely staggering amount of research into just that topic (cf. Michael Murphy et al, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation).

But it is necessary for Heron to ignore reams of actual evidence in order for him to denounce all such contemplative practices, and to portray them—and me—as being against open inquiry among peers. "Wilber's absolutism and authoritarianism cannot allow for this." In the half of SES that he apparently didn't read, I outline my ideal of spiritual inquiry (and spiritual practice), which I believe Heron would actually find compatible with much of his own views, namely, the simultaneous and open exercise of all four quadrants—or simply the Big Three of I, we, and it; or self, culture, and nature. In terms of spiritual practice, this means exercising the subjective domain by way of spiritual inquiry (of whatever form—meditation, work as yoga, interior prayer, shamanic vision quest, journal keeping, visualization, psychotherapy, etc.), done in an intersubjective setting of like-minded peers (group, sangha, community, cooperative inquiry, relationships in general, etc.), using relationship as a medium of mutual growth, cooperation, and care; and treating the entire "objective" world (including nature) as manifestations of Spirit.

One thing I will not do, however, is trash the entire pantheon of the great wisdom traditions, which Heron seems to do with morbid relish. The nicest thing he says about them is to call them "those outdated versions of spirituality"; the worst involves a litany of his most treasured words: authoritarian, repressive, controlling, absolutist, hegemonic, dominating, etc.

As usual, there seems to be no middle ground for Mr. Either/Or Heron. But surely, when it comes to the wisdom traditions, we have choices other than to swallow them whole, on the one hand, or condemn them altogether, on the other. We do not have to take everything the traditions say with authoritarian groveling. But we can certainly appreciate, respect, and honor the extraordinary contributions that the great wisdom traditions have made, and enter into a mutually beneficial dialogue with them. But Heron will have none of this mutual respect. Of "those outdated versions of spirituality," and especially of their Oriental forms, Heron has, that I can find in this essay, not one nice thing to say. It's not because he doesn't know how to give a compliment, because he has several nice things to say about himself; he just genuinely seems to despise these things, and at least he's being open and honest about it, I suppose.

In another essay, Heron announces that "The perennial philosophy is a sexist, hierarchical, authoritarian plot which transpersonalists in general, and Wilber in particular, have bought into, as Peggy Wright so nicely summarizes." Relying on Peggy Wright as a scholar of the perennial philosophy gives one little comfort. Heron doesn't hide the fact that he rather loathes "those outdated versions of spirituality" ("The primary unaware values incorporated in these ancient traditions include authoritarianism, patriarchy and the denigration of women, emotional repression, together with any commitment to autonomous mastery of the phenomenal world, both social and natural"). But he also thoroughly rejects their summary as a perennial philosophy, since that implies something universal, and anything universal, as we will see, gives Mr. Heron the willies. But whether referring to "those outdated versions of spirituality," or their summary as a perennial philosophy, Heron admits fairly straightforwardly that he suspects the entire lot. But to simply condemn as an authoritarian plot virtually the entire sweep of past human spirituality shows, in my own personal opinion, an authoritarian ego of alarming dimensions.

17. "If Wilber is a genuine transcendental inquirer who practices spiritual verification, why does he always give reports, never of his own experiences, but always about the reports of the experience of other people? If it is his own experience, he is not telling us." My own personal accounts have been given in "Odyssey," "The Stages of Meditation," Grace and Grit, and One Taste.

18. Heron states, "I think this is all very deeply distressed Manichean stuff: divine life indwelling the human being is desecrated by Wilber with disvalue and disparagement and reduction to the infamous. Above all it means that traditional meditation rises up to divine mind by kicking divine life in the gut and in the womb, with the result that the end-state of meditation is inflated and swollen by an inflammation stemming from what has thus been damaged."

I have no idea what that means, but I'm just sure I didn't do it.

19. Heron again revisits one of his favorite themes, that I am somehow seeing the past spiritual traditions, not as offering useful guideposts for future development (because they have in fact disclosed some of the realms of the superconscious), but as prescribing in a completely unalterable, fixed, predetermined fashion, every structure, form, and contour of tomorrow: "To make past spiritual experience an unalterable bench-mark for the present and the future of human spirituality is to be locked into a form of deleterious conservativism rooted in an appeal to the binding authority of tradition. It is an indefensible form of oppressive, intimidating, hegemonic absolutism."

Is not.

20. Heron gives several criticisms based on his misunderstanding of the centaur (and vision-logic) in history. So let us first correct his presentation. As I have explained on numerous occasions, when I refer to a general epoch as being, for example, "mythic," it simply means that the average of level of consciousness was mythic. Any number of individuals in those cultures were above or below that norm. Habermas, for example, believes that even as far back as magical-foraging societies, some individuals developed to a formal operational level of cognition. (I suggested, in Up from Eden, that a few highly evolved individuals went even further, into psychic and even subtle occasions, and those were the shamans.) By the time of the rational-egoic era (beginning roughly in the first millennia BCE), we have substantial evidence that some individuals had developed even further into causal and nondual capacities. Heron thinks that whole cultures have to move chock-a-block through predetermined stages in a lock-step, clunk-clunk fashion, and all of his "centaur criticisms"—pages and pages of the stuff—stem from this misrepresentation. It also overlooks my oft-stated view that a person at virtually any stage of development can have an altered state or a temporary peak experience of psychic, subtle, causal, or nondual realms. (See Integral Psychology, in volume 4 of the Collected Works; Shambhala Publications, October 1999; see excerpts in "Response to Allan Combs" on this website.)

Incidentally, the question has come up several times, due no doubt to lack of clear presentation on my part, about the role of vision-logic in, say, mythic and early mental societies. Was it really present in any group of people to a substantial degree, such that they could further develop permanently into transmental domains? In other words, since I do believe that vision-logic is a requisite for higher permanent spiritual realizations (and not just passing altered states or temporary peak experiences), and since I defend the causal and nondual traditions that were present from late mythic forward, is there any evidence that those traditions really understand (or were expressing) vision-logic?

I think so, definitely. Vision-logic, recall, is simply the capacity for taking multiple perspectives and then integrating them to some degree. Unlike formal operational thinking, which tends to be single perspective, abstract-formal, and monological (hence Gebser's term "perspectival reason"), vision-logic is postformal and "integral-aperspectival." Interestingly, as research into vision-logic (or postformal cognition) has blossomed in the recent years (e.g., Commons et al Beyond Formal Operations and Adult Development), Kohlberg decided that his stage-5 morality (the social contract) was in fact a postformal (vision-logic) accomplishment, which makes perfect sense, since a social contract (or pluralistic, democratic, multiple-perspective view) demands an integral-aperspectival capacity. In other words, wherever you find a democratic awareness, you have some type of vision-logic.

When it comes to spiritual development, that idea is crucial, because a genuine understanding of everything from the bodhisattva vow to the realization that Spirit is universally present in all sentient beings requires a grasp of universal, postformal perspectives—requires, that is, vision-logic—and the traditions East and West seem fairly unanimous that without a deep and genuine commitment to the good of all, you cannot make much progress on the spiritual path. Vision-logic, in other words, stands at the gateway to enduring spiritual realization.

21. My position, from Up from Eden to Sex, Ecology, Spirituality to One Taste, has always been that of "universal pluralism," "unitas multiplex," or "universal-relative." That is, I try to highlight certain features that appear to be universal (which I call deep features), but set those firmly in contexts that are relative, culturally molded, and pluralistic. I have sharply criticized those who present only universals (such as the traditional perennial philosophers) and those who over-emphasize the cultural relativity (such as most postmodernists and, ham-handedly, Heron).

Naturally, both sides have attacked my position (the perennial philosophers think I am unspiritual, and the postmodernists think I am fascist and authoritarian). Heron, needless to say, believes the latter. Any time such a critic sees one itty bitty item that is claimed to be universal, they scream oppression, fascism, authoritarianism, and Heron dutifully steps into this line-up. It then becomes absolutely necessary for Heron, overlooking everything I have ever written about the four quadrants, to make it appear that I acknowledge only the universal and that I completely ignore the historical, the relative, the contextual. (For an overview of the importance of contextuality, see chapters 4 and 5 in The Eye of Spirit.)

22. "Wilber tries to exempt ancient mystics from the historicity, the cultural relativity, of their spirituality. But if they necessarily co-evolved, through agency-in-communion—as Wilber's theory of holons emphatically asserts—with other people in their culture, there is no way, within the terms of his own theory, that they can be exempt." See what I mean? Of course all four quadrants mutually interact, and of course the ancient mystics must be situated in their cultural and historical worldspace. But to say that such a fact means that what happened yesterday, or in another country, therefore has absolutely no applicability to you or me, is simply to say there is nothing whatsoever common to the human condition. Might as well say that a modern Japanese cannot read Shakespeare and get anything out of it, or that the music of Bach makes sense only to Germans of the 18th century. If what Heron says is true, how can he say he likes Mozart's music? And if he can learn something from Mozart, why not from Buddha?

In all these attacks, what Heron seems to fear most shows up in sentences such as: "We cannot construct or enact what, at the deepest level, we know to be inevitable and outside our creative command." And right there is the key to everything that Heron has attacked in this essay. Anything outside of his own "command," Heron lashes out at. He despises teachers and traditions of any sort, he loathes the perennial philosophy in any form, he rails against Sri Ramana Maharshi as a pathological imbecile, he aggressively condemns "oriental mysticism," he despises deep structures, universal anything, and determination of any form: in short, it certainly appears from this evidence that anything outside of his control he despises. Anything that hems him in, that puts a pattern on his license, he attacks as being (and these are all his words): authoritarian, totalitarian, oppressive, controlling, hegemonic, dominating, and devouring.

Since I attempt a balance of both universal and relative, Heron reacts with horror. I am obviously trying to control him. "Wilber's unqualified absolutism is, of course, oppressive. Wilber's account of the spiritual path clearly seeks to be controlling, dominating, hegemonic, devouring…." And so on. The fact that I have, in various writings, given an appreciative reading of some two or three dozen spiritual paths, East and West, and the fact that I have suggested they generally fall into four broad categories (nature mysticism, deity mysticism, formless mysticism, and nondual mysticism), and the fact that I have suggested that all of them are profound but some are more profound than others, is taken by Heron to mean that I am personally trying to control and devour him.

John, you can do anything you want, old sport, and it's totally fine with me.

23. "Wilber gives two entirely incompatible accounts of the relation, on the path of spiritual development, between the way up, the path of interior ascent, and the way down, the path of exterior descent. When he is attending to Plotinus, he says that descent and embrace of lower levels should occur with each stage of ascent. Eros, going up to the One, is balanced at each and every stage with Agape, reaching down to the Many. But when quoting Aurobindo and Zen, he insists you must first go all the way up to the One, then go down and embrace the Many." Both are true, they simply refer to different degrees of the same evolution. Each stage of development, lowest to highest, transcends (Eros) and includes (Agape) its predecessor; a failure to do so usually results in dysfunction, whether it is a failure to include (Eros degenerates into phobos and repression) or a failure to transcend (Agape degenerates into Thanatos and regression).

As for an integral yoga, the idea is simply that, according to most traditions (from Eastern Orthodox Christianity to St. Teresa to Advaita), one must first discover and stabilize formless cessation (the ultimate One), and then move through that to nondual union (of the One and the Many). In a sense this nondual awareness is present from the start (as ordinary mind), but until one can transcend all, one cannot easily integrate all. That is what I meant by the generalization: "flee the Many, find the One; having found the One, embrace the Many." Heron consistently, astonishingly, asserts that I favor only the "flee the Many" school, and he asserts, contrary to everything I say, that "The Zen injunction is flee the Many to find the One," utterly ignoring the "embrace-the-Many" aspect of Zen.

This sets him off on yet another rant about Oriental paths. "Wilber never faces up to the authoritarian patriarchy and concomitant sexual abuse evident today in Oriental traditions of spiritual practice such as Zen." Notice he does not say, "Some Zen teachers, like some teachers of cooperative inquiry, get involved in sexual abuse." It's all or nothing with Heron. If we could just get him to move from a logic of the sort, "All Orientals look alike," to perhaps, "Some Orientals all look alike," that would be a start. But, alas, since this is a spiritual path outside of Heron's approval (and certainly outside of his creative command), he must condemn all of it, absolutely all of it, and make no attempt—as he makes no attempt in his criticism of my work—to separate the useful from the confused, and then highlight both the good and the bad in a balanced assessment of mutual appreciation, but instead simply aims his shotgun at the entire affair. Thus he can totally dismiss both me and an entire tradition with his stock-and-trade epithet: "Wilber has never dealt with his submission to oriental religious authoritarianism." Is it just me, or do you get the sense that Heron is really, really interested in dominance and submission? Ah, it's probably just me.

24. Warming up to yet another extended lecture on the evils of the merely Ascending path—where he simply repeats every criticism I have also made of that path, but without even vaguely mentioning that fact—he lashes out again at poor Sri Ramana Maharshi as a sad, pathetic, pathological creep. (I can't ever remember reading such mean-spirited attacks on one of India's greatest sons.) He then gives us his summary of the meditative path as practiced by many of the world's great wisdom traditions: "You close your eyes for twenty-five years and when you open them, you find the Many are all there seamlessly with the One in nondual awareness, which is where they have been ever since you shut your eyes. If you hadn't been locked into a paradigm of fleeing the Many to find the One, you could have opened your eyes at the outset and allowed the everpresent seamlessness of your immediate experience, whatever it is, as your starting point." When he recommends real meditation as starting with "the everpresent seamlessness of your immediate experience," Heron has just given, of course, a succinct statement of the Oriental path of shikan-taza (Japanese), trek chod (Tibetan), and chih-kuan (Chinese), which I can only assume means that he has decided to follow an authoritarian, sexist, oppressive, hegemonic path himself, as long as it is under his creative command.

25. "Wilber only has a monopolar theory of interior ascent. That is to say, on the left-hand, interior side of his holonic map, everything goes one way, the path of inward spiritual ascent, from the primitive and protoplasmic to the transcendental spiritually all-embracing One. There is no bipolar, correlative and complementary path of inward descent to the immanently spiritually each-dwelling Many. I do not mean by inward descent spirituality a simple reworking, enfolding, re-assimilating of earlier stages and structures, a going back to reclaim and integrate aspects of those stages that were blocked off or simply not noticed at the time. Wilber fully allows for this. I mean by inward descent a direct conscious opening to the indwelling Spirit, the divine life, that is the ground, source, and prompt of development from stage to stage…; the immanent spiritual womb as complement to the transcendental spiritual…" This is a good point, and I quite agree with Heron. But in my scheme, those two aspects are intimately related in the ever-present ground of Agape, which is simultaneously: 1) Spirit's reaching down to all levels; 2) any level's embrace of its predecessors; and 3) part of the prompt of development for each level to reach out to a higher/deeper level (because that increases not only Eros but Agape). Heron won't allow that I might agree with him, because—you guessed it—"Wilber's scheme just carries on the classic monopolar, autocratic patriarchy of the Oriental traditions." Those darn Orientals!

26. Because of what appears to be Heron's hypersensitivity to anything outside of his creative command, he constantly reacts to items that have any sort of telos. Since the Kosmos itself is shot through with telos, this puts Heron at odds with much. But he seems to reject anything with telos since telos seems to determine outcomes outside of his control, and Heron will have none of that. This shows up in his own chosen path of spiritual practice, namely, what he calls "cooperative inquiry." I actually like much of what Heron says about cooperation, and I will return to an appreciation of his contributions in this regard. But my point is that, in his hypersensitivity to control (he even criticizes me for using too many italicized words, presumably because they indicate I am trying to control him), Heron often goes too far and throws out the baby with the bathwater.

In another essay, for example, he sharply criticizes the notion that the traditional spiritual paths follow my three strands of valid knowledge. The three strands (see Eye to Eye) are injunctions (exemplars, paradigms), evidence (data, experiences), and communal confirmation/rejection. The first strand reminds us that any sort of knowledge relies on social practices (paradigms). There is no such thing as innocent data; every type of knowledge, from sensory knowledge to mental knowledge to spiritual knowledge, depends upon actions that we take to bring forth from the Kosmos various domains of inquiry. This includes the sorts of action that Heron calls cooperative inquiry. The second strand reminds us that all knowledge is ultimately grounded in experience—sensory experience, mental experience, spiritual experience—and reminds us that genuine knowledge attempts, wherever it can, to ground itself in evidence. The third strand is a reminder that intersubjective verification (or refutation) is an important part of our goal to establish that something is knowledge, and not just opinion, hallucination, or individual bias.

John maintains that the spiritual traditions do not really have inquiry (or a genuine first strand), but only training, and thus they do not have genuine knowledge. You only have inquiry, John says, when the presuppositions that are built into step one are questioned. Otherwise, the experiences (strand two) and the confirmations (strand three) are merely reinforcing the presuppositions latent in the first step.

True enough. But so what? Some spiritual truths are enduring; and spiritual practices that have repeatedly demonstrated success in disclosing those truths are ones that can be usefully trained for just that reason. They work precisely because they embody the three strands for their stated purpose. Training is thus the form that inquiry takes in those cases.

John's own presupposition here is that anything outside of his own control is completely false. This is like saying, "Here is a microscope. I am going to teach you how to use it. If you use it correctly, you will be able to see a cell's nucleus." The student is trained in the microscope, and sees the cell's nucleus. According to John's critique, the cell's nucleus isn't real, because this is only training, not inquiry.

Where I agree with John is that, in a more integral endeavor, the presuppositions in step one need periodically to be examined. That is, in a meta-inquiry, the three strands need to be applied to the presuppositions in strand one of the traditional inquiry. (You can likewise re-apply this in fourth perspective, fifth perspective, and so on, with each case being a meta-analysis, using the three strands, of any of the strands in other practices.)

But even that does not mean that everything in the traditional inquiry/training is therefore useless, false, authoritarian, hegemonic, devouring, etc. etc. etc. Some of the traditional presuppositions are patriarchal and authoritarian; some of them are powerful techniques repeatedly demonstrated to disclose realms of the superconscious. We need to be aware of both. But by refusing any and all of the traditional inquiry/training techniques, John's form of inquiry almost guarantees that many of the enduring truths of spirituality will be intentionally missed and ignored.

27. "Wilber's outward path is only about relating to physical and social processes in this world. There is no correlative and complementary path of expressive outward ascent…in the suprasensory cosmos. He has quadrants, in his holonic scheme, for sensory observables, individual and collective, but not for transphysical, extrasensory observables. He includes physical and social science [in the Right Hand quadrants], but totally ignores any kind of supersensory science—a fundamental and major omission." Heron is quite correct here, and we are all no doubt grateful for this restful pause, a small, tiny, desolate little island of absolutely correct reporting.

But to say I did not include the suprasensory in SES is not to say I don't believe in it. The four quadrants presented in SES are largely of the gross waking realm for most individuals. But you can do a four quadrant analysis on the dream state, for example—the nature of the subject having the dream, the objects that are perceived, any intersubjective communication with other subjects, and so on—all of which are suprasensory events. In fact, this is actually the theory of the subtle bodies of Vedanta, about which I have often written, and that includes the astral and etheric dimensions discussed in, for example, The Atman Project, whose basic ideas apparently departed Heron's head the moment he stopped criticizing them.

28. Heron attacks the notion of worldspace as I present it, mostly because he imagines that I claim the higher worldspaces are all completely predetermined, and we know what that means: "This is really a bid for political power in the spiritual field, a bid for hegemonic control of souls."

I do believe that, for example, there is a sense in which the subtle realm has certain deep features, and these deep features appear to be largely given at this time (just as the English language, at this time, has 26 letters). But those features are so broad and wide they constrain almost nothing. The subtle realm, as I use it, is the realm that is experienced in, for example, the dream state—and just how limited and constrained and "controlled" are you in the dream state? Heron thinks that because I suggest that some features of the dream state—such as its intensely creative capacity—might become more widespread in the future, that I am trying to force that future into my command. It seems to me that Heron's hypersensitivity to anything outside of his own control sends him into a bloody panic when he hears about deep features of anything not of his own making, and so he lashes out at these types of incredibly innocuous generalizations.

29. Heron's extreme relativism and constructivism (along with its performative contradictions) force him to announce that all four of the quadrants are actually just subsets of the Lower Left quadrant. That is, all of them are cultural constructions. This is exactly what I predicted extreme relativists would say (see The Eye of Spirit), and that is exactly what Heron says. In his view, "Wilber's constructive worldspace [Lower Left] subsumes all the other three quadrants. They all fall within the aegis of the constructivist or enactive paradigm," as he sees it. This is necessary in Heron's world because anything that is not socially constructed would limit his "creative control." That which is socially constructed can be deconstructed, thus leaving the authoritarian ego unfettered by external constraints of correspondence truth and systems fit. Heron therefore claims that the real message of my four quadrants is actually a radical cultural relativity (or all four quadrants a subset of the cultural). This old postmodernist move is thus claimed to be the correct meaning of my own presentation.

In order to make this extreme constructivism stick, Heron must then try to do away with the validity claims of the other three quadrants. "This is the radical implication of the four quadrant system, whereas Wilber simply tacks onto it, in an unintegrated way, Habermas's three validity claims of truth, sincerity, and justice." By "unintegrated" Heron really means "not sufficiently reduced to the Lower Left quadrant alone," which is the only validity claim he recognizes in full. My position, on the other hand (if I may be so bold as to present it myself), is that by acknowledging the irreducible reality of all four quadrants, we can genuinely honor, acknowledge, and respect these different but equally important types of truth, of which Habermas—and dozens of other theorists I mention—have worked so hard to elucidate.

30. In order to do away with the other three quadrants and the other truths that Heron does not approve of—and consequently to portray me as just not understanding my own writing—Heron is forced to say that I simply borrowed the constructivist/enactive paradigm (presumably from Maturana and Varela), but that I haven't thoroughly understood it, since I have obviously not completely embraced it. "Wilber doesn't seem really to have absorbed the full epistemological implications of this paradigm, which he has picked up and adapted from the work of others." But I have not completely embraced the enactive paradigm because it is not completely true. The enactive paradigm ignores the four quadrants and an integral embrace of all the various types of validity claims. That is why in SES I give a series of very long endnotes both appreciating the enactive paradigm for its important but partial truths, and then criticizing it for ignoring or denying other types of truth. (See, for example, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, chapter 14, note 1.)

31. Likewise, in order to reduce all quadrants to the Lower Left—and thus reduce reality to whatever me and my chums can agree on—it is necessary for Heron to deny any form of objective truth (or correspondence), and therefore necessary for him, once again, to take the universal-relative balance that I present, and claim that I am nothing but a universalist-absolutist. "Wilber cheats by extracting only the immediacy component of experience to support the idea of universal validity, and by discarding the mediation [cultural] component which makes truth always relative-universal." The fact that I claim, strongly, that each human holon has four quadrants, and that one of them is cultural or intersubjective, and therefore always culturally situated and to some degree relative and pluralistic—all of this is completely ignored, so that I can be caricatured as believing in "unqualified absolutism." Having done that, then all of my work, and anything even vaguely universal, can be happily discarded by Heron. Heron says his reason for this relativism is "that we need to listen to each other, rather than lecture each other."

32. He then proceeds to lecture me about my spiritual pathology. "All of this strikes me at times as an advanced kind of spiritual pathology which has gotten entirely out of hand." He realizes this is a not a very nice thing to say about a person (especially someone he's never even met), but he assures us he is doing this confrontation out of kindness and compassion. "This is not very complimentary, although it may be kind in a confronting sort of way, but it at least gives an explanation of how it is that Wilber cannot see the multitudinous flaws in his own constructions." Oh now John, surely I can see them, because dear folks like you are waving them in my face all the time. I simply try to listen and learn from those who, having first accurately represented my view, then point out its weaknesses or errors; and I try to discard those criticisms that are, start to finish, loopy.

But that reminds me of Heron's original purpose of his essay: a way out for Wilberians. Heron has reached in, with his penetrating vision, untangled the knotted mess that is my corpus, and thrown out all that needs to be thrown out—which is, to judge from this essay, every single thing I have ever written. Heron doesn't let up for a single moment in his scorched earth march to the sea. I mean, even somebody like Daniel Helminiak, who in his recent 300-page book devotes an entire 100 pages to a frothing attack on my work, pauses every ten or twenty pages to say that Wilber had a pretty good idea here, then returns with renewed passion to his attack, which is full of wonderful comments like: "Wilber shows profound ignorance regarding these matters. Worse than ignorant, he is also unmannered, rude, and offensive." Well, Helminiak is a day at the beach compared to you know who. Heron is Helminiak minus all that charm.

Nonetheless, here are some of the positives I take from Heron. There are several, actually, but I will focus on one. I do believe that Heron over-reacts to tradition, teachers, and authority of any sort (and frankly, I believe he does so for the reasons I suggested; but that is nothing but an educated guess based on the items that he consistently hyper-reacts to), and thus he gives mercilessly short shrift to the great wisdom traditions (or any path with a teacher, it seems). But that doesn't mean that his points are without merit. It sometimes takes somebody who is hypersensitive about an issue to notice things that most people would gloss over.

What I hear John Heron talking mostly about is cooperative inquiry, and the necessity for individuals to constantly check realities against their own experiential disclosures, and to realize that those realities are always part of a mutual dialogue carried forth with what should be openness, listening, dialogical sensitivity, and care. I completely agree, and I do attempt to include all that in the Lower Left quadrant (as Heron acknowledges). But, I believe Heron would further say, what all-too-often happens on a spiritual path (or any path for that matter) is that authoritarian, rigidly hierarchical, domineering elements seep (or sometimes force their way) into the ongoing mutually co-evolving dialogue and cooperative inquiry, and that deeply distorts the process and robs individuals of their autonomous cooperation with others. This is especially true of the merely Ascending paths that (he and I both agree) tended to repress earth, body, and woman (what I have called the "three great Others" of the patriarchal Ascending traditions). And this is why is he especially suspicious of them from the start.

In my view, a balanced spiritual path includes the exercise of all four quadrants, or simply the Big Three of self, culture, and nature. Most critics have acknowledged that my theoretical presentation does indeed strongly emphasize all of those dimensions (from self cultivation to social engagement to ecological embrace); but they find that I have not yet given very many practical details of such an integral path. This is true. I started to fill in some of these blanks in One Taste, but it is still a sketchy production. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean I am against cooperative inquiry; I am for it, I have just not fleshed out the details as I see them. And when I do, I suspect the positive points of Heron's work will play a welcome role.

© 1999 Ken Wilber

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