Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Brian HinesBrian Hines is the author of Return to the One, Life is Fair and God's Whisper, Creation's Thunder. More information about these books and Brian's current writing projects can be found at, his website. A serious student of meditation, metaphysics, and philosophy for over thirty five years, Brian has a bachelor's degree in psychology/humanities, a master's degree in social work, and two years of doctoral-level training in systems science. He has been a research associate at the Oregon Health Sciences University, a manager with Oregon's health planning agency, and executive director of Oregon Health Decisions. Most recently, Brian was the communications director for Eco-Enterprises, Inc.

Reposted from (June 6, 2010) with permission of the author.

Integral egos
gone wild

Wilber and Cohen Relish Worship

Brian Hines

Wilber and Cohen aren't aiming to go beyond the limitations of religiosity in their quest for an Integral spirituality; they're out to found a new religion.

As I said in this post, I used to have a love-hate thing going on with Ken Wilber and his Integral philosophy. (Click on that link and you'll be led to examples of what I liked and disliked.)

Last night, though, I got around to reading the September - November 2009 issue of EnlightenNext, a magazine devoted to uncritical lauding of Wilber's work, along with that of his Integral comrade, Andrew Cohen.

When I got through reading "The Second Face of God," I'd reached a clear conclusion: Wilber and Cohen aren't aiming to go beyond the limitations of religiosity in their quest for an Integral spirituality; they're out to found a new religion -- with themselves as the worshipful objects of devotion.

Of course, this won't be a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to the steadily increasing signs of cult behavior in the Integral community, as documented by Integral World

Pandit and Guru
Guru Andrew Cohen and pandit Ken Wilber

For example, this article by Elliott Benjamin discusses his personal experiences of the cult dangers at the Integral Institute. A piece by Be Scofield documents the abuse lavished on his students by Andrew Cohen, who calls himself a "guru." (William Yenner does the same in "American Guru.") And Ken Wilber's slide into narcissism is the subject of V. Gunnar Larsson's essay.

I've read many, if not most, of Wilber's books. At first his Integral Vision appealed to me. But the more I've reflected upon it, the less I like it. In two paragraphs, here's the basic reason why.

Wilber is a masterful organizer of other people's ideas. His grandiose goal is to take every idea about anything that humans have ever come up with and fit it into his complicated typology of quadrants, levels, states, stages, and what not. Wilber doesn't really try to sort out truth from fiction. Everything is true, just in different ways.

So there isn't a way to prove that Integral philosophy is right or wrong. It's simply a big conceptual filing cabinet in which all kinds of ideas about all sorts of subjects (science, morality, religion, evolution, child development, etc.) have been arranged in a hugely complicated fashion that reflects the hugely complicated mind of Ken Wilber.

OK, so now I'll return to "The Second Face of God" and show how this dialogue between the "guru" (Andrew Cohen) and the "pandit" (Ken Wilber) points to some serious shortcomings of their Integral Vision.

First, Wilber and Cohen assume that God is real without offering up any evidence that this is true. They don't feel that they have to, because in the Integral scheme everything is true. That's why it's integral: nothing is left out, no matter how crazy some notion might be.

Thus Cohen starts out by saying:

I've always been very interested in what the word "God" means. If God represents the Absolute dimension of life, the highest spiritual reality we can conceive of, then what does God look like? And what does God feel like--what is the experience of God?

Well, it is whatever people say they experience. And this can be divided into first, second, and third person experiences.

Thus some people experience God as their own "I am" subjectivity (first person); others experience God as everything in existence (third person); while still others experience God as a "thou" who is an object of devotion, submission, and gratitude (second person).

Again, Wilber and Cohen don't present evidence that God exists. Nor do they even claim that if God exists, this divine being is more truly experienced in a first, second, or third person fashion.

No, since Integral philosophy is about integrating everything, no matter how crazy (or non-existent) some notion might be, Wilber and Cohen talk about how important it is for people to embrace the second person "I/Thou" relationship with God -- which is, of course, exactly what Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all about.

Submission. Devotion. Prostration before the Almighty.

Which, it turns out, includes Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber. But before I document their desire to be worshiped in much the same fashion as they want God to be, here's what they say about the need to bend one's knee before God.

But second person means a Being with intelligence. Many religions the world over conceive of spirituality in second person. They practice it, for example, with guru yoga, where you see your master as the embodiment of Spirit, and you use your interaction with your master to help learn how to interact with God or Goddess or Spirit.
...Ultimately, to become an integrally and evolutionarily enlightened individual, the ego is going to have to come down at least on one knee, if not both.
...the fact of the matter is that guru yoga, done correctly, is a way the student faces God as Other. The guru is apparently other -- his or her consciousness is other than mine. Therefore, I need to submit to that guru, but I need to do it in very specific and careful ways.
...Then at the level of consciousness, we must accept that some people are actually more developed, more evolved than others.
...But to really put into practice this understanding of hierarchy and generate awareness of the second face of God, we need to enter into relationships with individuals who have demonstrated to us that they are more evolved than we are.

Well, it's not hard to guess who Cohen and Wilber are talking about here: themselves.

After all, their life mission is to bring about an evolution of consciousness through the magic of the Integral Vision. Their magazine is filled with offers to attend workshops, buy books and videos, and make donations to the EnlightenNext movement.

If Wilber and Cohen aren't viewed as the elevated dispensers of spiritual wisdom that they claim to be in the bios that accompanied the "Second Face of God" article, their revenue stream could suffer. So we read:

Andrew W. Cohen: Guru [n. Sanskrit]: one who teaches spiritual liberation from his or her own direct experience or realization.
Ken Wilber: Pandit [n. Sanskrit]: a scholar, one who is deeply proficient and immersed in spiritual wisdom.

Ego-loss apparently isn't part of the qualifications for being a guru or pandit, because Wilber bemoans people who just don't understand how important it is to bend their knees and accept the authority of teachers like him.

Consenting to the presence of God has a necessary component of submission, and that's exactly the component that the second face of God always required. That's what gets it in trouble with people who don't understand it and who mistake it for authoritarianism.

But, on the contrary, that's actually the component that is so deeply uprooting to the ego's authoritarian ways. The people who criticize these types of practices with teachers as being authoritarian are right, from a certain point of view. There is something that's authoritarian, but it's actually the ego of the practitioner!

So the guru and the pandit are always right. Even if...

Cohen coerced donations from disciples, in one case to the tune of $2 million. His students were slapped, ridiculed, made to do thousands of prostrations before his photo, forced to immerse themselves in a near-freezing lake for an hour, and other humiliations.

Hey, that's all part of getting rid of the student's/disciple's ego. If you can't recognize that, you're not worthy of being part of the Integral Vision cult.

In another article in the same EnlightenNext issue, Cohen talks about how important it is for students to submit to the teacher's authority, since hierarchy is the nature of the cosmos according to Integral philosophy.

The real question to pose to students is, "Are you capable of humbling yourself enough so that Spirit will be able to move through you as it moves through me?"
...You love them so much that you actually don't care about their ego at all.
...So a truly enlightened teacher sees all individuals who come to them as potential vehicles for Spirit and doesn't really care so much about the personal, psychological, emotional predicaments of the particular individuals and the predicaments of their egos.

That's just what wife-beaters say, along with would-be gurus like Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber: I'm hurting you for your own good; you deserve it.

Well, I say: bullshit to that.

Run, don't walk, from Cohen and Wilber, EnlightenNext, and any attempt to entice you into a religious cult masquerading as Integral enlightenment.

What they're pushing is old-fashioned religion in a New Age guise. Cohen and Wilber are the high priests, and they're looking for submissive acolytes who will worship them and submit to their authority.

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