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

Alan KazlevM. Alan Kazlev is a self-taught esotericist and metaphysician, science fiction writer and fan, amateur biologist and palaeontologist, and student of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's teachings and yoga. His website is at and he can be contacted at akazlev at bigpond dot com


Historical and Comparative
use of "Integral"

Towards a Larger Definition of the Integral, Part One

Alan Kazlev

i. Introduction

This work, which started as an essay and grew to the proportions almost of a small book, begins with a brief historical overview and ends by proposing an alternative to the current Wilberian integral movement. Along the way I provide a four part critique of Wilberian thought and spirituality, and clear up some misconceptions in Wilber's teaching regarding Sri Aurobindo, which can be traced back to Wilber's understanding being limited to a mental-intellectual nature. I use Wilber's own “include and transcend” approach to go beyond the current limitations of Wilber's Integral understanding without actually rejecting it, and suggest that the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and his co-worker the Mother (Mirra Alfassa) could serve as the spiritual element that is currently missing in the Integral movement.

This essay is divided into four parts. The first part provides an historical and comparative overview of the concept of “Integral” in the context of spiritual philosophy, with especially emphasis on a comparison and contrast between Sri Aurobindo and Wilber. The second part presents a fourfold critique of Wilberian theory, on the basis of (a) Physicalism or the denial of supra-physical realities , (b) Non-Integral or abusive Spirituality, (c) the overmentalisation of Wilber's personality and hence of his Integral Theory, and (d) Cultic tendencies currently emerging within the Wilberian Integral movement, and the resulting oppression of free intellectual discourse. The third part illustrates Wilber's misunderstanding of Sri Aurobindo's teaching, and presents an Aurobindonian vision as an alternative to Wilberian theory. Finally the fourth part briefly suggests new directions for the Integral movement, including replacing the current Wilberian emphasis with an Aurobindonian one.

Writing this essay has been a strange experience, because when I started I had certain ideas about what I wanted to say, but as the work progressed it became more and more radical and controversial (to the sceptical-materialistic mind) and more and more material was added. As a result this work contains passages written from many different strata of consciousness! It is hoped that this won't be too distracting to the reader!

A disclaimer: As the reader will notice, I refer a lot to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and to the Aurobindonian philosophy and practical teaching of Integral Yoga. Statements made here regarding the understanding or misunderstanding of Sri Aurobindo by Wilber, and a critique of the latter on the basis of the former, represent my own interpretations and conclusions, and should not be taken as formally or officially representative of the Aurobindonian position. The only way you can arrive at the latter is by reading Sri Aurobindo's books first hand, or, failing that, by dialogue with members of the Integral Yoga community.

Likewise, I am not, and do not claim to be, any sort of authority on Ken Wilber. I have neither the time nor the interest to plough through the many thousands of pages of text (much of it repetitious, as Wilber tends to repeat himself in each new book) that according to Wilber is necessary if one is to fully understand his work (and even if I did it could still be said that I don't understand Wilberian theory as I havent dialogued with Wilber himself to clarify the various points in his writings). For this reason, there are doubtless many errors in my understanding of Wilberian theory and Wilber's own point of view. So if you see any mistakes in that area, please let me know!

As regards my own belief system, it should be mentioned that I am not and have never been a Wilberian. My spiritual and intellectual affiliation, as the title of this present work indicates, is with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and it is from that perspective that I critique Wilber. That does not make me a fundamentalist Aurobindonian either. But the Aurobindonian vision of an Integral transformation even of matter itself is one that I resonate to in a way that I do not and never have to Wilberian Integral theory. And the thesis argued here is that an Integral theory based on an Aurobindonian paradigm will be far more all-encompassing, more profound, more inclusive, and more truly integral, then one based on the Wilberian paradigm. It is my belief that a true integral understanding has to go beyond intellectualism, and beyond the limits of modernity and postmodernity that Wilber is still tied too. It has to enter into the heart and soul of things, and to incorporate the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and divine being. It is hoped that this current work will go some small way towards developing such a goal.

I would like to thank Scott Zimmerle for reading an earlier and much smaller draft of this essay and suggesting important criticisms and objections. Although all the opinions and errors in this essay are my own, it is thanks to answering Scott's constructive criticism that this essay was allowed to develop in certain directions it had.

A very long section that was originally to be the concluding part of this essay will be presented as a separate work, as it less a critique of Wilberism and more a general suggestion for directions of exploration of the Integral movement.

Shortly before this essay was finished (and after it had taken into account Scott's very useful feedback and critiquing), Wilber posted his famous (or infamous) “Wyatt Earp” attack on critics. The tone of Wilber's post, and its follow up with its incipient cultic attitude (see sect. 2-xii), so shocked me that I realised I could never again hold Wilber in respect as an intellectual equal. As a result of these posts and the responses they generated in the Wilberian and broader Integral movement, and much as it pained me to do so, I have altered the tone of some parts of this essay (which were originally rather more positive and accepting towards Wilber), as well as adding a critique of cultic aspects of Wilber's presentation and his Integral movement. Any other response would have been intellectually dishonest on my part.

Finally, I encourage all readers – Wilberian and non-Wilberian alike – who wish to to send in any feedback, corrections of any errors I may have inadvertently made (I'm sure there are heaps!), constructive criticism, and any other comments, which will be helpful in any revised edition of this essay.

1. Historical and Comparative use of “Integral”

1-i What does “Integral” mean?

The word “integral” is a big part of interdisciplinary theorist Ken Wilber's philosophy, and of the generic movement that has developed around it (Integral Institute, Integral Naked, Integral studies, etc). But it is also found in other teachings as well, for example, the Bengali sage and yogic revolutionary Sri Aurobindo uses it to refer to the particular spiritual path he taught (“Integral Yoga”). A lot of people have adapted and adopted it. There's the California Institute of Integral Studies for example, which has absolutely nothing to do with Wilber, and the Integral Review, an interdisciplinary journal. It behooves us therefore to provide a wider definition that can accommodate all these specialised uses.

If we look to Wilber himself to provide a definition for us, we see that he tends to use the word integral rather vaguely. For example in his book Integral Psychology Wilber refers to “an integral approach” but it is clear that all he is doing is self-referencing his own system.[1] Later in the same chapter, he gives the word “integral” a very broad and amorphous context:

"Like all truly great integral thinkers – from Aurobindo to Gebser to Whitehead to Baldwin to Habermas – he (Abraham Maslow) was a developmentalist."[2]

Apart from lumping together a number of individuals who really had nothing in common apart from the fact that they all wrote books and all to some degree or other espouse some sort of developmental theory of consciousness, this really tells us nothing about what “Integral” is. One gets the feeling that Wilber uses the word as a label simply for his own intellectual viewpoint and that of others who he has been influenced by, or simply anyone whom he feels agrees with him.[3]

In “Meanings of "integral”,[4] Frank Visser lists a number of possible definitions, some very generic, and others mostly just based on Wilberian or Buddhistic ideas (the only reference to Aurobindo is a mention of Integral Yoga in the context of “lines of development”). While his short page helped get me thinking about this topic in the first place, unfortunately in practice little of this is of much use. For example, “the integration of theory and practice” (included as one of the examples) could really apply to everything one does, regardless of whether it is part of integral theory or integral spirituality or not!

The problem with all these definitions (apart from their vagueness) is that they tend to cluster around Wilberian theory, giving the impression (already evident from the previous Wilber quote) that “Integral” is the standard adjective that one uses to refer to Wilber's own philosophy and movement. There is a tendency (rightly or wrongly) towards an exclusivist or elitist group following a single teacher in a somewhat worshipful and cultic manner, as shown by the fact that "integral", when used by Wilberites[5], appears to be a synonym for "good", "right", "true", or "authentic". I am not denying that one possible if rather narrow interpretation of Integral is indeed “Integral equals Wilber"'; but there is also an alternative and perhaps preferable point of view that "Integral is bigger than Wilber". Even Wilber himself has indicated[6] that integral refers (or should refer) to many people and theories.

Moreover, as it was Sri Aurobindo who came up with this word in this context in the first place, he should at least have equal say in defining the term!

So, in our explorations into integralology (now there's a neologism for you! ;-) , let us begin with a brief historical overview.

1-ii Sri Aurobindo, Gebser, Chaudhuri, and Wilber

The word "integral" was originally used by Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) from the 1910s onward to describe his own yoga, which he called integral or Purna (sanskrit: "Full") Yoga. Integral Yoga is so called both because it constitutes a synthesis of the three yogas of the Bhagavad Gita – karma (Yoga of Selfless Works), bhakti (Yoga of Devotion to God) and Jnana (Yoga of Transcendent Knowledge), and because it involves a transformation of the entire being, rather than, as in most other yogic and spiritual teachings, a single faculty such as the mind or the emotions or the body. For Sri Aurobindo, the aim of Integral Yoga is:

“to put our whole conscious being into contact with the Divine and to call Him in to transform our entire being into His, so that in a sense God Himself, the real Person in us, becomes...the Master of the Yoga by whom the lower personality is used as the center for a divine transformation and the instrument of its own perfection.[7]

Sri Aurobindo did not use the term beyond the specific yogic context described with such comprehensive detail in his 900 page treatise, The Synthesis of Yoga, form which the above quote is taken. Some of the his followers and students however have taken Integral in a more intellectual sense to refer to the theoretical understanding and application of his unique teachings. Indra Sen (1903-1994) developed an integral psychology and an integral philosophy as early as the 1940s and 50s[8], while Haridas Chadauri (1913-1975)[9] did so somewhat later.

Chaudhuri was not simply a follower, but developed his own perspective and philosophy. In 1968 established the California Institute of Integral Studies (originally the California Institute of Asian Studies), in San Francisco, (although it only became an independent organisation in 1974), and in the early 1970s presented his own original “Integral Psychology”, rather than relying as Indra Sen had purely on Sri Aurobindo's writings.[10] Today, the California Institute of Integral Studies that he established in San Francisco today constitutes an important center of alternative, interdisciplinary, and integral studies that has on its faculty many important names in the new consciousness and new age movement Chaudhuri's ideas on Integral Psychology have been further developed by Bahman Shirazi, also of the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Meanwhile, the word “Integral” was also adopted by the German-born Swiss linguist and phenomenologist Jean Gebser (1905-1973), although this was done quite independently of Sri Aurobindo.[11] Gebser proposed that human consciousness passes through a series of stages from archaic through magical, mythical, mental, to the aperspective-integral. Note that Gebser uses the word "mutate", rather than "evolve", which he sees as a biological metaphor (he also rejects words like "development" and "progress").[12]

Gebser's ideas exerted a powerful influence on Ken Wilber (beginning with Up From Eden, which suggests similar stages, but in a specifically evolutionary context), who adopted Gebser's ideas and definitions (along with those of many others, e.g. Habermas, Baldwin, Piaget, etc) to define his own attempts at a synthesis of eastern mysticism, developmental psychology, science, sociology, and postmodernism in an ambitious attempt at an Integral “theory of everything” that integrates all separate fields of study in a large framework. This Integral theory is first presented in what many consider Wilber's greatest work to date, his eight hundred page (including several hundred pages of footnotes) opus Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (SES for short), and has been since followed up with a number of further books, all of which reiterate the same themes as were elaborated in SES. Wilber's concern was and is not to select one explanation over another, but to honour the truth in all possible explanations and fields and human understanding. He associated this “integral aperspectivism” with the stage of “vision-logic”, a post-formal state that is beyond the linear rational-logical mode of cognition, and which he also refers to in the language of Spiral Dynamics as “Second Tier” or “Turquoise”.

Wilber's work (both pre- and post-SES) has been so prolific, and his influence in the new consciousness movement so large, that one one tends to identify the word “Integral” with his philosophical corpus alone, forgetting that before he adopted the word, Sri Aurobindo, Sen, Gebser, Chaudhuri, and others, had been using it for many years.

More recently there have been a number of reactions towards certain elements of Wilber's philosophy, personality, and organisation.[13] While only some of these critics refer to themselves as “integral”, they do all still make legitimate contributions, and so can be considered as a new aspect of the Integral movement (as distinct from Wilber's teaching).

1-iii Sri Aurobindo and Wilber – a study in differences

In modern evolutionary biology, cladistics (systematic phylogeny) is used to define groups of organisms on the basis of shared characteristics (called synapomorphies in the scientific jargon) derived from a common ancestor. Might there also be common characteristics shared by these two great visionaries who use the word “integral” – Sri Aurobindo and Wilber – to define the “integral movement”?

This is something that I have wondered about for some time, and was one of the original motivating ideas behind my thesis of an Integral Metaphysic or larger Integral Paradigm. Since I am familiar with the teachings and writings of both these great pioneers, that puts me in a good position to ponder this matter.[14]

The conclusion I finally came to when writing this essay is, yes, there are a few similarities, but too few to build a solid common philosophy and cosmology on. Most of the similarities are instead very generic. So we could say that both Aurobindo and Wilber affirm

  • a broadly monistic outlook (ultimately there is only a single Absolute Reality)
  • an involutionary-evolutionary cosmology (consciousness, having involved and concealed itself in matter, evolves back to higher consciousness)
  • that evolutionary novelties do not arise out of nothing, but rather from the emergence of a pre-existent involution (life and mind can evolve in and out of matter because they had previous been involved and hidden in matter)
  • there are states of superconsciousness above ordinary consciousness just as there are other states below it
  • there is a single linear ontological continuum (Wilber: “Great Chain” or “Great Nest of Being”) of distinct stages from Matter to Spirit through which evolution passes.
  • evolution moves beyond the personal to transpersonal or mystic states
  • the progression towards higher states of consciousness can be considered in a hierarchical manner (in that the higher states are more profound and more complete in their understanding than the lower states)

With the exception of the third point (evolutionary novelties derive from a pre-existent involution), – which can be understood as a direct borrowing by Wilber from Aurobindo, and as far as I can tell this is the only instance in which Wilber actually understands Aurobindo even intellectually (more on this a little later) – everything else is either vague or generic. And no doubt more could be added, of a similar nature. All of these points could easily be applied to the Transpersonal Psychology in general, and to any number of New Age beliefs.

So we have to acknowledge that anything more than superficial appraisal quickly reveals that two teachers that are so different in style, approach, and content, that apart from a few generic points mentioned above, an evolutionary philosophy, and a rejection of one-sided approaches to knowledge there really is nothing that they have in common. To elucidate just a few points of contention (sections refer to further discussion on these points in this essay).

  • For Aurobindo the Advaito-Buddhist teaching of liberation is a side issue or preliminary path and only one possible state of Liberation, for Wilber it is (in a rather Aristotlean manner) the goal and end of both the individual spiritual path and also the telos to which the cosmos is evolving, even if the phenomenal world, being stuck in samsara, can never get there.[15] (sect. 3-viii.)
  • Aurobindo refers to only four generic stages (matter, life, mind, and Supermind which is the Absolute), whilst Wilber has about twenty distinct subdivisions (albeit within similar general divisions) through which consciousness has to evolve.
  • Aurobindo taught the transmutation and divinisation of matter (“Supramentalisation”)[16], while Wilber in typical Buddhistic style teaches its transcendence; a teaching he presumably derives originally from his guru, Da Free John (Adi Da). (sect. 3-ix)
  • Aurobindo acknowledges and describes supra-physical as well as physical realities, whereas Wilber rejects “metaphysics” and includes all “higher” levels in the physical (“intra-physical”).[17] (sect 2-ii, 2-iii)
  • Aurobindo sees the Absolute or God as being multifaceted, incorporating theistic as well as monistic elements[18]; whereas Wilber insists instead only on a simple acosmic or shunyavada Zen-type mode to describe “Spirit” and the “Nondual” stage,[19] with all other experiences (Psychic, Subtle, etc) as less complete than that. (sect. 3-vi)
  • For Sri Aurobindo, spiritual devotion is through the Mother, while according to Wilber the Mother represents an archaic mythological and at best the “psychic” (pre-subtle) state.[20] (sect. 3-iii)

And so on. And although Wilber certainly regards Sri Aurobindo very highly, his understanding of the Bengali sage is full of misconceptions.[21] For example, he often refers to Aurobindo, along with Plotinus as the classic representatives of the perennial cosmology (sensu Huston Smith's book Forgotten Truth, which emphasises the metaphysical side of the Perennial philosophy, but note that there are other interpretations of perennialism too, e.g. Ananda Coomaraswamy, Henry Corbin, etc) which he refers to as the “Great Nest of Being”.[23] But here Wilber fails to appreciate that what Sri Aurobindo was emphasising was not a detailed and elaborate hierarchy of being (this being a side issue, and ultimately irrelevant to his central message), but rather a total transformation of physical existence, down to inanimate matter itself (a process that Sri Aurobindo calls Supramentalisation). This is a concept that is alien to Wilber's own “Advaito-Buddhistic-Daist” soteriology,[241] but as we shall see is the central message of Sri Aurobindo. I will also show that attempts to reconcile Aurobindonian Supramental realisation with Wilberian-style Rinzai Zen-inspired enlightenment are problematic to say the least.

It is also important to point out that one cannot truly understanding Sri Aurobindo without also considering the life and teachings of his spiritual co-worker the Mother (Mirra Alfassa, known as the Mother of the Aurobindo Ashram). The latter is totally ignored by Wilber's “masculinist” (as William Irwin Thompson would say) philosophising, despite her central role in Aurobindonian teaching and yoga.

As an intellectual philosopher, Wilber works from the level of the rational mind, and apparently a very subjectivist and abstractionist rational mind at that, dealing with abstract second-hand interpretations rather than concrete realities (sect. 2-viii). True, he also acknowledges higher states of consciousness and spiritual traditions as authentic in their own right, and hence goes beyond what the sceptical materialist will acknowledge. But he still insists on explaining and understanding things in logical or at least self-consistent terms, using the tools of empiricist methodology. When that fails, he has to resort to the “Two Truths” acosmism of his Daist and Buddhist spiritual heritage, which sees all phenomenal reality as deficient or less real in relation to the transcendent state of Liberation.

In contrast, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have transcended the limitations of rational cognition altogether, although they still deploy the verbal mind in presenting transpersonal and transrational teachings to the wider world. But even there, it is not the rational or even the intuitive-rational mind that is speaking, but the higher mind, which clothes itself in these merely human functionings. So Sri Aurobindo is a transcendentally realised Teacher who (sometimes) uses the philosophical intellect to get a message across.

Thus, many differences between Wilber and Sri Aurobindo can be explained by understanding that they come from two very different realms of consciousness, the abstractionist rational mind in the case of the former, and the supra-rational, transcendentally realised Enlightened and Post-Enlightened Supra-Mind in the case of the latter.

1-iv. Sri Aurobindo and Wilber – a problem of comparison

The Dutch spiritual psychologist Joseph Vrinte, a long time student of Sri Aurobindo and resident of Auroville, the universal village dedicated to his teachings, presents an intriguing attempt at a comparison of Sri Aurobindo and Wilber in his book The Perennial Quest for a Psychology with a Soul.[25] As yet I have only glanced at, and not read, the book, so I cannot presume to write any sort of review, so it may be that many of my comments here are totally in error. If so, I welcome feedback and corrections.

Dr Vrinte's methodology and conclusions apparently differ radically from my own, because (so it seems from my cursorary review) he only looks at Aurobindo from the mental level. In his book, Vrinte presents a sympathetic but scholarly intellectual overview of both Aurobindo and Wilber's integral worldviews, both of which he is clearly familiar with, and taking care not to unduly favour either. In fact he is among the few students of Sri Aurobindo's teachings to presents Wilber in a highly positive manner (even if he does ultimately come out on the side of Sri Aurobindo as the greater thinker). His conclusion is that while both have much that is worthwhile to say, ultimately neither is perfect; Sri Aurobindo views need to be modified to accommodate present-day knowledge (this is Wilber's critique too – see sect 3-i), while Wilber's current integral views may well likewise come to be seen as naïve.[26]

Not withstanding the goodwill and sincerity in Vrinte's work, and the interesting material it contains, I cannot agree with this methodology of mental comparison, or with these conclusions, simply because they is limited to the intellectual plane of understanding, and this just doesn't work once you start looking at things like spiritual revelation. And while it is doubtless true that Sri Aurobindo's interpretation of, for example, Freudian psychology is dismissive, and his coverage of subjects like, say, sociology, minimal, the point is that, unlike Wilber, he is not interested in presenting an intellectual “theory of everything”. Rather he, along with the Mother, are providing a visionary revelation, in which words are just the gateways to a deeper spiritual awakening. This sort of “integral” is not intellectual, but yogic. And of course this is the same with spiritual and mystical teachings in general; if you approach them even in a sympathetic intuitive intellectual (let alone a more sceptical rational-intellectual!) manner, without the actual experience, the participation mystique as phenomenologists of religion like Mircea Eliade would call it, it is impossible to appreciate what is being described.

I had to myself let go of my attachment to intellect before I could realise this and experience it in an integral (sensu Aurobindo) way. In fact this very recent realisation (not just in a merely intellectual way which I had before, but in a more complete way) has been one of the main turning points of my own intellectual and spiritual development, and forced me to completely revise the central thesis and argument of my present book in progress (currently tentatively titled Evolution, Metapmorphosis, and Divinisation). I refer to this personal element here to stress that the need to go beyond intellectual constructs (whether it be Wilberian theory or any philosophical and esoteric theories) is not a trivial thing, but central to any authentic gnostic[27] understanding of things.

Of course, all esoteric and spiritual teachers and teachings, and even Wilber himself, say the same thing; you have to go beyond intellect to the Experience in itself.[28] If anything constitutes the Philosophia perennis, it is that. To be caught up in the scepticism of secular modernity means that you will always be “on the outside looking in”. Always analysing, and never understanding.

To get a bigger picture and a deeper understanding, you have to go beyond the rational and even the intuitive-rational mind of the intellectual esoteric philosopher.

And as even Wilber himself has shown, here is where the Integral methodology differs from the old exclusivist position. Because to transcend in an integral way means to also include. So an integral supra-intellectual approach is not anti-intellectual, as some spiritual and religious teachings are (for example the famous "Shoes and minds are to be left at the gate" sign at Rajneesh's ashram). Rather, it is bigger than the intellectual alone; a wider and more integral perspective that includes but also goes beyond more limited perspectives such as rationalistic theories on the one hand and anti-intellectualism on the other.

1-v. The Integral Movement – problems of definition

The words “Integral Movement” and “Integral Theory” are often used to refer to the Intellectual philosophy of Wilber, and that of his followers, supporters, and co-workers. Subdivisions such as Integral politics, integral ecology, integral spirituality, and so on, are not distinct teachings, but rather fields of practical application of Wilberian Integral theory.

There is however an ongoing debate about whether the Integral movement really is simply equivalent to Wilber's teachings and organisation, or whether it is, or should, include but also go beyond that limitation. Although Wilber is currently the most popular thinker and theorist (at least in terms of books sold) to use the word “integral”, that doesn't mean he is the only one. As pointed out by “Murgy” on the Wikipedia Integral theory and thought discussion page[29]

“It seems to me that limiting "Integral Theory" to Wilber and his direct followers precludes, or at least works against, the possibility of a larger movement that attempts to go beyond the limitations of Postmodernism. By privileging Wilber, we are excluding, for instance, the entire faculty of the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies, including Richard Tarnas, Jorge Ferrer, Stanislav Grof, and Robert McDermott who are certainly prominent co-contributors in the larger Integral project.”

There is also the matter of politics as well, due to the heated debates that Wilber has had with several members of the PCC faculty. Wilber's blog posting of 8 June 2006 in which he rants invective against critics (see sect. 2-xii below) shows that things have not improved since then. On the other hand (as I have shown on that same Wikipedia discussion page), a Google Scholar search will show that, excluding its more common definition in mathematics (calculus), almost every reference to “Integral Theory” is by Wilber and his followers.

To resolve this conundrum, it might be an idea to distinguish between Wilberian Integral Theory and the Wilberian Integral Movement (which includes Integral Institute, Integral Naked, etc) on the one hand, and a larger or broader definition of Integral Theory, as taught for example by the California Institute of Integral Studies, and other groups and organisations, and which – in contrast to Wilber's authoritarian tendencies (sect. 2-xi) – encourages free inquiry and criticism. Likewise the larger Integral Movement refers to anyone who uses the word “Integral” or similar words – e.g. “Integrity” (James N. Rose) – in a philosophical, social, psychological, spiritual or related context, regardless of whether or not they have anything to do with Wilber or his ideas.

In this essay, Integral Paradigm, Integral Thought or Integral Thinkers can refer either to Integral Theory or Integral Movement, but is used here only in the broader context.[30] Similarly, the word “integral” used on its own always refers to Integral in the broad sense, never Integral in the more narrow, Wilberian sense. Non-integral means an absence of Integral vision or Integral merthodology in the broad, all-inclusive sense. Thus some of the things Wilber says (e.g. his exclusivist approach to the Absolute Reality, based on his own quasi- Advaitin-Daist, Buddhistic, or Rinzai Zen-inspired nondualism, and his domineering personality and cultic need to avoid criticism of his ideas) may be integral in the Wilberian sense, but are also non-integral in a wider and truer sense of the word.

The neologism “Wilberian”, as in “Wiberian paradigm” is also use here to indicate that form of very limited Integral Theory, Thought, Paradigm, or Movement as defined or described by Wilber in his writings, or used by others but based on his ideas, including his organisations and websites.

PART TWO: The Wilberian paradigm – a fourfold critique


[1] Integral Psychology, p.73 (Shambhala, Boston & London, 2000)

[2] Integral Psychology, p.84

[3] For example, Wilber considered Michel Bauwens an “integral” thinker as long as Bauwens agreed with him. Thus he found that “when I agree(d) 100% with Wilber, I was called 'integral' by Ken himself (unsure, I had asked him specifically), but as soon as one becomes a partial critic, one falls down a stage or two.” Michel Bauwens, A Critique of Wilber and Beck's SD-Integral, Pluralities/Integration no. 61: March 23, 2005

[4] 'Frank Visser, Meanings of "integral", February 2003

[5] Wilber's followers are somewhat tongue in cheek referred to, and also refer to themselves, as “wilberites”, and their excessive devotion to Integral Theory as “wilberitis”, a play on Wilber's book Boomeritis. There is even a website that will soon be dedicated to this subject, although at the time of writing there is not yet any content.

[6] In his letter to Frank Visser requesting him to no longer use the title "World of Ken Wilber". Unfortunately this email has since been lost.

[7] Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga p.45 (Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, Pondicherry 3rd ed. 1999)

[8] Although Sen's book Integral Psychology: The Psychological System of Sri Aurobindo, was only published in 1986, but the original papers go back four decades and more. See Aster Patel, "The Presence of Dr Indra Senji", in SABDA – Recent Publications, November 2003, pp. 9-12 (the Aurobindo Ashram publishing newsletter – this issue is available online at

[9] see e.g. Haridas Chaudhuri, "Psychology: Humanistic and Transpersonal" in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, and The Evolution of Integral Consciousness.

[10] See Bhaman Sherazi “Integral psychology, metaphors and processes of personal integration" in Cornelissen (ed.) Consciousness and Its Transformation, for a useful historical overview. An online version of this paper is available at This paper also provides a short summary of Chaudhuri's integral psychology.

[11] Gebser claims not to have been influenced by Aurobindo in his use of the word “integral”, and that their similar usage was a "coincidence". See Ever-Present Origin p102 note 4.

[12] Ever-Present Origin pp. 38-9

[13] The various criticisms, both in print and online, have been compiled by Frank Visser in “Critics on Wilber” See also “A Spectrum of Critics”,

[14] I am not however the only one. I was interested to discover in my local Theosophical bookshop a scholarly comparative study, the first ever, on Aurobindo and Wilber – The Perennial Quest for a Psychology with a Soul : An inquiry into the relevance of Sri Aurobindo's metaphysical yoga psychology in the context of Wilber's integral psychology by Joseph Vrinte. More on whose ideas a little later. However, my conclusions here depart radically from those of Dr Vrinte's own, for reasons that will soon be apparent.

[15] Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, pp.324-5 (2nd, revised edition, Shambhala, 2000, coll. works vol. 6 )

[16] The Life Divine bk two, ch.27-28 ( Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, Pondicherry, 10th ed. 1977)

[17] On “post-metaphysical”, see "On the Nature of a Post-Metaphysical Spirituality Response to Habermas and Weis" On including higher realities in the physical, see "Toward A Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies", Excerpt G,

[18] See e.g. The Life Divine pp 145-9, Synthesis on Yoga pp.254-8

[19] Sex, Ecology, Spirituality collected works 2nd edition, pp317-8

[20] This contradiction in Wilber's (mis)interpretation of Aurobindo has been nicely pointed out by Rod Hemsell in Wilber and Sri Aurobindo: A Critical Perspective

[21] See especially Rod Hemsell (2002) Wilber and Sri Aurobindo: A Critical Perspective, online at for a devastating critique of both the early (Wilber II) and later (Wilber IV) misinterpretation and appropriation of Sri Aurobindo.

[22] e.g. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, coll. Works ed, 2000 pp.343-4; see also A Brief History of Everything, 2nd e.d 2000, pp.225-6 and many other references to Plotinus and Aurobindo in the context of the Great Holarchy or the Great Nest of Being

[23] e.g. A Brief History of Everything, 2nd e.d 2000, pp.246-7 ; and many other references throughout Wilber's work. The original term of course, as historian of ideas Arthur Lovejoy explains (in a book of the same name), is “Great Chain of Being”. Wilber is however compelled to call it a “Nest”, in the sense of a venn diagram of nested categories, because as we shall see his postmodernist stance means that he cannot acknowledge supra-physical, metaphysical realities, and thus has to see everything beyond the mundane as ”intra-physical”. See "Toward A Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies", Excerpt G,

[24] I have explained in my essay Wilber's "Two Truths" Monism online at This (and his modernity-inspired physicalism) is why Wilber is compelled to reduce Sri Aurobindo to the “upper left quadrant”. The term “Advaito-Buddhistic-Daist” is here used to refer to Wilber's three main sources of spiritual inspiration. There is however little doubt that in each case he has completely misinterpreted the original tradition. More on Wilber's poor scholarship in sect xxx

[25] Joseph Vrinte The Perennial Quest for a Psychology with a Soul : An inquiry into the relevance of Sri Aurobindo's metaphysical yoga psychology in the context of Wilber's integral psychology, Motilal Banarsidass, 2002. Vrinte, a follower of Sri Aurobindo, spent some years at Auroville.

[26] Ibid, p 544

[27] The word “gnostic” is here used in the sense of higher spiritual or divine knowledge. For Sri Aurobindo, it refers to the very highest, supra-rational and supra-mental, transformative knowledge-experience. The term itself dates back at least to Plato, who refers to four types of knowledge: sense knowledge (aesthesis), opinion (doxa), rational or verified knowledge (episteme), and transcendent or spiritual knowledge (gnosis). Obviously, Plato considered knowledge provided by the senses to be very unreliable! However scholars of the dualistic Hellenistic mystery religions grouped together under the category of “Gnosticism” use the word in a more limited context to refer to those particular early traditions of world-negating esotericism.

[28] as Wilber himself aptly writes:

“In other words, all of my books are lies. They are simply maps of a territory, shadows of a reality, gray symbols dragging their bellies across the dead page, suffocated signs full of muffled sound and faded glory, signifying absolutely nothing. And it is the nothing, the Mystery, the Emptiness alone that needs to be realized: not known but felt, not thought but breathed, not an object but an atmosphere, not a lesson but a life.” (Foreword to Frank Visser, Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY Press, 2003 )

Or as Thomas Aquinas, the most important theologian of the medieval Christendom, said, after a mystical experience, "All my works seem like straw after what I have seen"


[30] See the Wikipedia page for more, including a list of representative Integral thinkers.

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