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

Integral Esotericism

A new Integral paradigm in theory and practice

Part One: Introduction

Alan Kazlev

1-i. The context of this essay

The present thesis began life as part iv of my previous Integral World essay, Towards a Larger Definition of the Integral - An Aurobindonian vision and a critique of the Wilberian paradigm, henceforth abbreviated as "TLDI", with sections indicated by number and lower case Roman numerals. I was even going to call it Towards a larger definition of Integral (II). As well as being the second part of my critique of Wilber, it was and is also a plea for and introduction to a larger and more integral alternative to Wilberian theory.

But as I worked on this essay, it took on a life of its own, as these things often do. It became a rough basis for an entire new Integral paradigm, which I call Integral Esotericism or the Esoteric Integral Paradigm [1]. The practical application of this worldview is referred to here as Esoteric Integral Ethics (or EIE). I hope to develop and eventually publish this work in book form, and for that reason invite feedback and criticism.

The current work is less a manifesto so much as a very rough work in progress of my current understanding of and approach to the Integral movement; a movement I have been intellectually involved in for the past two years. As such, and as an attempt at an "explanation of everything" (a la Wilber), it can be seen as in part an update of my previous work in progress, titled A New Integral Paradigm, which was published on the Integral Visioning website in 2005[2]. I say "in part" because not all the themes covered in that essay are covered here, and obviously many themes here are not found in the earlier essay.

In the intervening 18 months or so between A New Integral Paradigm and the current essay, two things happened that each in very different ways shaped my approach to and interpretation of Integral theory, and my feelings on what the Integral movement is about, and what it can and should represent.

The first was that through my own approach to reading The Mother and Sri Aurobindo, my understanding and indeed my spiritual insight went through a sort of breakthrough or development, and as a result I am now much more aware of the limits of the intuitive-rational mental understanding. For this reason I am now less inclined to take specific mental maps or descriptions of reality as accurate representations of that reality. Indeed I now see them as totally provisional and arbitrary, albeit still useful. So although I still enjoy creating such diagrams and worldviews, and presnet quite a few in the course of this essay, I take them much less seriously than I used to, and advise the reader to do the same. Ironically, by taking such representations less seriously, one can also explore and present them better.

The second was Ken Wilber's recent cultic[3] behaviour[4]. This quite public instance of narcissistic exhibitionism on the part of the most influential theorist of the Integral movement, and the equally cultic and religiously devotional obeisance of some of his followers regarding his actions, made me seriously consider whether I shouldn't just completely distance myself from the entire Integral movement, give it up as a helpless case, and go back to standard esotericism (although as you can see I decided to remain working in the Integral movement!).

Yet in spite of his cultic behaviour, Wilber remains a catalyst, not so much for his intellectual teachings, which seem to have less and less merit the more he buys into secular physicalism (or "post metaphysics"- this essay sect.1-vi), as for the magnetic force of his personality (or rather the Attractor standing behind him - see TLDI 2-xiii). It is this latter which is the inner or subtle-world (sect. 4-xxiv) causal factor behind the outer or external, exoteric, Integral movement as it is at present. And on the positive side, this is still a movement which has created forums for a diverse community or association of alternative, quasi-spiritual, and spiritual individuals. But still the Integral movement has many faults and weaknesses, just like any other human ideology. Perhaps the three main ones are:

  • its restrictive exoteric (sect 1-ii) and agnostic (sect. 1-viii) perspective, which means that it cannot acknowledge or understand esoteric or occult realities without trying to water them down to serve the needs of some sort of pseudo-academic respectability (TLDI 2-ii - 2-iii), kow-towing to the standards of the present-day consensus paradigm, or buying into physical-mind-derived (sect. 1-ix) scepticism or limitation of insight
  • and a widespread naïvity and religious and devotional attitude among many but by no means all of its representatives and members towards (pseudo-)spiritual and often abusive (TLDI 2-iv) authority figures.
  • Wilberanity, by which I mean Ken Wilber as a religion: Wilber fundamentalism (sect. 1-xi) and the religious-devotional worship of Wilber himself as a bodhisattva or enlightened being (TLDI 2-x) (an attitude of excessive religiosity that Wilberians themselves show good humour in referring to as "Wilberitis").

Note that only the first of these points applies to much of the Integral movement as a whole; the last two seem to refer specifically to Wilberism, which constitutes the mainstream orthodoxy of the modern integral movement, and also, I would suggest, its most dogmatic and "religious" aspect.

It is my contention that the great initiative and potential in the Integral movement can only be realised if it can broken free of its exoteric limitations, its agnosticism, its academia wannabe attitude, its resistance to occultism, its Wilberanity, and its uncritical attitude towards abusive intermediate zone gurus such as Wilber's friend Andrew Cohen[5] (see TLDI 2-iv). Only if all these challenges are met and overcome will the Integral movement as a whole be able to finally fulfill its potential.

In part 4 of this current essay, a critique of Wilber's AQAL system. Instead of AQAL an alternative and less rigid, esoterically-based Integral Theory is proposed, which it is hoped will encourage discussion and help encourage a more diverse range of psychological and metaphysical perspectives within the integral movement.

I would also like use this essay to correct two shortcomings in my previous essay. The first was regarding Joseph Vrintis' comparison of Wilber and Sri Aurobindo, which I dismissed too harshly. Hopefully I can redress some of that error here. The second was the interpretation that Wilber is a physicalist (or crypto-physicalist) because of his rejection of supra-physical realities. It will be shown that Wilber does indeed himself assert the reality of supra-physical (or as he calls them "metaphysical") ontological realities. And sure he does this while (as I showed in my last essay) dismissing and denigrating as "abstractions" (TLDI 2-viii) all other teachings that say exactly the same thing that he now (sect. 1-vi) does. And he also does not address the contradiction and lack of consistency with his other statements in this regard. But still, I acknowledge he cannot be defined as a "no such thing as higher ontological realities" physicalist.

But if they can't be overcome, the movement will most certainly slide into cultic irrelevance, just one more wacky New Age religion, to be replaced in time by newer (and probably equally deluded) religious movements. And it would be a great shame for all that good will in the mainstream Integral movement to be wasted in this manner.

During the course of this essay a large number of esoteric systems and worldviews are described, but are not academically referenced via footnotes. The reason is that were I to do so the amount of footnotes would quickly become enormous, and certainly unwieldy for an internet-published thesis like this one. Therefore for the most part only footnotes relative to the integral movement in particular are given here. In several books that are planned, these various esoteric concepts will be referenced in a more scholarly way.

If there is an unevenness about this essay, it is because in the process of writing it my ideas have constantly changed. The essay itself is a sort of archeology of ideas, with more recent strata placed above earlier insights, the whole thing representing a sort of patchwork or collage, which may even be a little inconsistent in some instances when comparing one small part of the thesis against another. But rather that try to rewrite the whole thing, and risk having to rewrite it again after I have done that, or alternatively have my ideas go stale through too much re-hashing, I have decided to submit it in rough-hewn form as is.

It need not even be stated that as a work in progress, this current essay should not be taken as a complete philosophy or system of thought. I invite feedback, criticism, and corrections regarding the many errors that this work no doubt contains.

1-ib. Why Wilber?

Although there are - as Wilber himself acknowledges[6] - many forms of Integral, I have dedicated the most effort here to critiquing the Wilberian version. There are a number of reasons why I have done so. These can be listed here.

The first and most pragmatic reason is that I am simply more familiar with Wilber's work and with the controversy surrounding him then with that of other Integral philosophers, having observed his intellectual developments on and off for the past 27 years, and his organisational and cultic behaviour for the past two.

Secondly because I think his followers are right when they say he is the most important living integral thinker. Not the most profound mind you (that honour would probably belong to William Irwin Thompson). But the most influential. Wilber is without doubt the most influential and charismatic New Age intellectual around. In this sense at least, "Integral does equal Ken"[7]. So if you are going to critique a movement, it is better to critique the person whose ideas form the basis of much of that movement And more than that, if these ideas have already been accepted and internalised as a collective thoughtform[8] by a culture or subculture as a whole (in this case, the Integral/New Age movement). In this way one contributes to the debate, development, and evolution of ideas at the collective level.

Then there is the fact that Wilber's big picture approach can still be usefully adapted and modified, even allowing for the limitations of his own perspective. Just as Marx turned Hegel on his head in order to emphasise the particular over the universal, the empirical over the philosophical, and the descriptive over the ethical, and thus used Hegel's dialectic idealism to analyse history from a materialist perspective, so I have turned Wilber on his head and used an exoteric integral methodology to explain esoteric realities.

And last and perhaps also least of all (in reasons of relevance for serious debate), who could resist all that juicy controversy! Wilber makes the biggest claims of any integral teacher, both regarding himself in person and regarding the importance of his philosophy, which he sees as including and intellectually[9] surpassing all previous spiritual teachings. Yes, even surpassing in intellectual understanding the greats like Plotinus, Shankara, Steiner, Jung, and Sri Aurobindo! He claims to be an academic, and is touted by his followers as being the "greatest living philosopher", yet is not recognised by any significant representatives of mainstream academia[10]. He is unique among New Age / alternative thinkers in having an extremely antagonistic and hostile attitude towards his critics. And - although in this last alone he is completely unexceptional - he is the object of uncritical religious devotion and worship by his followers. With such a colourful and controversial figure, who stands like a colossus astride the landscape of the contemporary New Age / Alternatative / Integral movement, who would not want to critique him?

But it is not enough to simply critique. Indeed to critique without offering an alternative is boring. In my previous essay, the alternative I offered was the Integral Yoga and Integral Spirituality of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In the current essay it is an Integral Worldview, an Integral Theory and an Integral Practice that "includes and transcends" (to use Wilber's phrase, one I quite like) Wilber's entire teaching, and much else besides! To give this Integral worldview a name, a label, a handle for convenient reference, it can be referred to as Integral Esotericism or the Esoteric Integral Paradigm, and the practical aspect of which is here designated by the Wilberesque-sounding term Esoteric Integral Ethics (EIE). "Esoteric" will be explained in the next section, and "Integral" in chapter.3. By "Ethics" I mean Ethics as a branch of philosophy, which is concerned with subjects like right and wrong, good and evil, personal responsibility, and how to lead a good life.

In this essay Integral Esotericism or the Esoteric Integral Paradigm will be referred to interchangeably.

1-ii. Why Esotericism?

The words "Esoteric" and "Esotericism" are used here in a very specific context, that pertains to the contemporary (19th century onwards) "Wisdom Tradition" of the West. It is not to be confused with "esoteric" in the colloquial adjectival sense of something that is very specialised, technical, and difficult to master, such as "esoteric" mathematics, or that pertains to the minutiae of a particular area of common knowledge, such as "esoteric" baseball statistics.

As used in this essay, "Esoteric" refers to insight or understanding of inner (Greek: eso-) or spiritual or metaphysical realities, or a specific teaching or spiritual practice or path or "wisdom tradition" that is based on a mystical interpretation of spirituality, rather than a religious or slavish following of the outer words of scriptures, or pertains to transpersonal or transcendent states of existence. In contrast exoteric knowledge, is knowledge that is well-known or public, and does not require any such transformation of consciousness.

To give an example, Muslim fundamentalism which is based on a literal reading of the Holy Quran is "exoteric", whereas Sufism which looks at the inner meaning of the words and takes the scriptural account as metaphor (e.g. Mohammad's Night Flight to Jerusalem is interpreted as the ascent of consciousness) is "esoteric". Even progressive Islam which adopts a less restrictive and more academic and open-minded understanding provided by secular modernity is still "exoteric" because it is not based on a mystical and transcendent understanding of the hidden meanings of things.

Similar classifications between the "outer" "exoteric" and the "inner" "esoteric" approach to scripture and to spirituality can be made in Judaism and Christianity, while groups like Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Neo-Theosophy, and the "Fourth Way" teachings or "the Work" of G.I. Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky qualify as "esoteric" teachings.

All such esoteric teachings involve complex cosmological, cosmogonic, and anthropological speculations and accounts of the nature of reality and the spiritual path.

Another definition of "esoteric" (which is not relevant to the present essay) is that it represents a special occult teaching that is available only to the initiate, and kept hidden from the profane masses. This form of "esoteric" was or is found in Ancient Egypt, in Pythagoreanism, in Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, in Rosicrucianism and Hermetic Occultism, and in Radhasoami, to give just a few examples. More recently initiation-based sects like Eckanker, TM, and Divine Light Mission could also be included here. Alternatively, such knowledge may be said to be secret not because of the desire of an exclusivist priesthood, but by its very nature, for example, if it is accessible only to those with the right intellectual or spirituality capacities.

Especially in the late 19th and early to mid 20th century occult movement of the West, these two definitions have often merged.

In contrast, "Esotericism" is both the collective field under which these various "esoteric", cosmological, and occult teachings can be included, and a generic term for any representation or variation of the contemporary occult-spiritual Wisdom Tradition of the West, based on the Kabbalistic, Theosophical, Hermetic, New Age, and other such traditions. As such, "Esotericism" has an "inner", ontological, cosmological, mystical, and transpersonal focus and emphasis.

As much as both pertain to higher spiritual levels of attainment, there is some overlap between esotericism and mysticism. However, a mystic is not necessarily an esotericist. Mysticism is based on the devotional relationship with the Godhead, with the on prayer and bhakti (heart consciousness) towards the object of devotion. Esotericism may or may not corporate this, but adds the additional element of spiritual or transcendent knowledge (gnosis). Thus Esotericism is based in part at least on the element of transcendent or transpersonal knowledge. It constitutes a sort of spiritual intellectualism, in contrast to the simpler devotionalism of Mysticism.

Wilberian Integral theory does not recognise esotericism. Wilber in fact never uses the term, preferring instead "Perennialism", after Huston Smith's popularisation of Guenon and Schuon's Neo-Sufi Traditionalism as "Perennial Truth" or "Perennial Philosophy"[11]. According to Wilber, Perennialism is "premodern" (sect. 2-ii) and has to recognise the insights of secular modernity and postmodernism (Wilber himself claims to have included but also transcended all three). In the Wilberian paradigm therefore, Esotericism is simply an aspect of "premodernism", and as such indistinguishable from exoteric religion and mythology except that it pertains to a more transpersonal level of consciousness.

The problem is that Wilberism itself is based on the exoteric position of modernity (TLDI 2-ii, 2-iii). I say this because it rejects the occult metaphysics of Theosophy and other esoteric teachings, in favour of the scientism-based authority of literalist empiricism (sect 1-vi). I have also found, in my discussions with Wilberians, that they have difficulty in understanding radical esotericist conceptions. This may be because most people in the Wilberian movement come from a purely secular or else a purely exoteric religious background, and were only introduced to various teachings through Wilber, who himself has difficulties accepting the viewpoint of esotericism, but can still serve as a bridgebuilder between conventional materialism and genuine spiritual knowledge ( TLDI 2-ii). The inability of Wilberian integral theory, and indeed most integral theory in general, to incorporate genuine occult and esoteric insights is in the opinion of the present author one of the reasons why the Integral movement has still yet failed to live up to its potential.

In this essay I use the term Integral Esotericism to apply to Integral Theory and Practice that incorporates the insights of Esotericism. As presented here, Integral Esotericism "includes and transcends" the current Integral paradigm (both Wilberian and most post-Wilberian). The problem with the current Integral paradigm is that it is exoteric, and hence cannot easily, and often cannot even at all - access and incorporate radical transpersonal and supra-physical states. Things like meditation and so on are fine, because they can be incorporated into a physicalist paradigm with only minor, if any modification of the latter. But what is one to make of experiences of non-ordinary realities, meeting with non-physical entities, archetypal visions, theophanies, etc, if one is not to reduce them reductionistically to physicalistic or holistic-materialistic terms such as hallucination or, at best, higher brain activity? That is why a a larger perspective is required. And central to this is the distinction between the "exoteric" and the "esoteric" perspectives.

The "exoteric", or "outer", perspective, pertains to ordinary consciousness, and draws its authority from such things as scientism, secularism, and empiricism on the one hand, and religionism, supernaturalism (in the sense of a duality between a supernatural deity and the material world) on the other. In either case, the exoteric orientation is traditional, conservative, and mainstream, and does not require any transformation of consciousness or radical new insight of reality

In contrast, the "esoteric:" or "inner" perspective, is represented by esotericism, and requires a very radical revision of the way one looks at the world, including recognition of supra-physical realities and concepts that go against not just the secular-sceptical scientism-based physicalist, and the conventional Judaeo-Christian religious, worldviews, but a very large part of Wilberian theiry and the current worldview(s) of the integral movement at present. If one adds to that the truly radical insights of the divinisation of consciousness proposed by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother then this metaparadigm becomes even more radically unlike anything most people in the western world, and for that matter even many traditional cultures, are familiar with.

The following table shows the difference between Wilberian theory and Integral Esotericism regarding this.

General worldview Wilberian theory Esotericism
Conventional religion premodern exoteric
Conventional Esoteric religion premodern esoteric
19th-20th C. esotericism (sect 2-v) premodern esoteric
Scientism, empiricism modern exoteric
Postmodernist philosophy postmodern exoteric
Aurobindonian Integral Yoga Partially integral (premodern metaphysics + insights of modernity) esoteric
Wilberian theory Fully integral in every way exoteric
Esoteric Integral Paradigm (this essay) I imagine Wilberians would see this current work as partially integral but still clinging to outmoded "metaphysical"assumptions :-) esoteric

Table 1a. Wilberian theory versus Esoteric Integral Paradigm

For Wilber the primary distinction is between premodern, modern, postmodern, and integral (sect. 2-i). For me the distinction is between exoteric (including Wilberism) and esoteric. Most contemporary esoteric teachings would be "integral" to some extent by their very nature (sect. 2-v).

The distinction between esoteric and exoteric can also be defined as a pair of opposites - "inner" and "outer" - as follows:

One the one hand, there the "inner", esoteric, spiritual, occult (in the context of hidden from ordinary perception and mundane consciousness), supra-physical, unlimited, causal (emanation, involutionary) reality. We can think of this as the reality known to mystics, representing by the "perennial philosophy", and so on. It could be called "metaphysics" in the pop-colloquial (not the philosophical) sense of the word.

On the other there is the "outer", exoteric, mundane, physicalistic, limited, dualistic, world of effects, or of linear causality (evolutionary), and ordinary physical consciousness. This is the reality known to Western secular knowledge, to science and scepticism (these two are not synonymous, despite the claims of the latter to appropriate the former), and to modernity and much of academia.

"Inner" and "outer" is here used in an Aurobindonian, rather than a Cartesian, Teilhardian or a Wilberian context. Each of these opposites is both metaphysical and phenomenological. "Metaphysical" in that each pertains to ontological, causal, and cosmological realities. And phenomenological in that each is associated with specific types of consciousness and experience.

It may be objected that what is being proposed here with the esoteric-exoteric distinction is just another form of elitism, like Wilber's special insider club for those 2% of Turquoise Meme / 2nd Tier people who accept his teachings[12]. Nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, "esoteric" doesn't belong to any one individual; indeed the very claiming of unique privilege or ownership here is a sign of exoteric fundamentalism. For another, "exoteric" is not better than "esoteric", but simply pertains to a different aspect of reality, a different form of understanding, and and a different psychological polarity (sect 4-iii). Both are necessary for a complete - as oppose dto a partial - integral approach. Finally, many of the greatest spiritual teachers taught and functioned on the exoteric every day level, not the esoteric level; for example St Francis of Asissi, Martin Buber, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Many of the greatest integral teachers, such as Teilhard de Chardin, were the same. And the entire body of science, academia, and scholarship and all its amazing contributions, and all the vast technological and social achievements of humanity, pertains to the esoteric. So in no way should the exoteric be considered inferior. It only becomes inferior when it seeks to deny the esoteric dimension, as in scientism, scepticism, reductionism, literalism, fundamentalism, and so on. So when I criticise the exoteric worldview, it is only that exclusivist exoteric worldview that is being criticised. Just as an exclusivist esotericism, which replaces real science with pseudoscience (as do some forms of the New Age movement) or rejects and attacks modernity and for example replaces science with creationism (as does the Guenon-Schuon school of Neo-Sufi-inspired Traditionalism) is equally one-sided.

More on the distinction between exoteric and esoteric in sect. 4-xii of this essay.

1-iii. Why Sri Aurobindo and The Mother?

TLDI compared the Wilberian movement and Wilber's Integral Theory with the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother (Integral yoga and philosophy), arguing for the superiority of the latter, which is based on higher spiritual revelation, and ultimately the Divinisation of matter, over the former, which is based on mental abstractionism and cultic authoritarianism. It was also suggested that if the Integral movement needs a charismatic founder or founders and focus, it would be better that this be Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, rather than Ken Wilber.

In this follow-up essay, I would like to develop and broaden the integral theme by presenting an Integral/Holistic "meta-paradigm" (a paradigm that includes other paradigms), inspired by, but not limited to, the revelation of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. I would also emphasise here that integral should just mean "Aurobindo Integral", with the consequent dangers of fundamentalism and literalism (sect.1-vi). Integral has to go beyond any one teacher, but include them all. Instead, I am using Sri Aurobindo and The Mother as my primary reference points in building an Integral/Holistic Metaparadigm.

The reason I am doing so is because they have, to my understanding, the most integral and all-encompassing system of all. That is, they are the only ones I know of who taught not only about issues of education, society, personal development, and so on (this is also found in the modern Wilberian and post-Wilberian[13] integral movement), and not only about the various dimensions and aspects of consciousness and existence (such knowledge in its various incarnations is common to esotericism as a whole), and again not only about the requirements and nature of the spiritual path (this is the perennial mystical teaching found in all authentic spiritual traditions[14]), but also, uniquely, about the practicality of the integral divine transformation (in their terminology the supramental). This refers to both the divinisation of the individual body (down to the enlightenment of every cell), of "inanimate" matter, and of the world as a whole.

Supramentalisation is therefore something quite distinct from, although it also includes, individual divinisation and liberation. It is even distinct from, and beyond, the apparently much rarer occurrence of an individual divinisation of the body that leaves the rest of the world unchanged. In short, this is a tradition with no clear antecedents; it is something totally new, and hence cannot be reduced to comparisons with already established perennial traditions, still less with contemporary evolutionary philosophers. There are certainly points of intellectual overlap and parallel. For example the Aurobindonian[15] evolutionary cosmology is very like that of Teilhard de Chardin. But to make specific claims on the basis of superficial and abstractionist correspondences, as Wilber for example always does, is to profoundly misunderstand what is being described here (see TLDI 3)

In this essay, I have used this remarkable spiritual and transformational framework of understanding can be used as a "big picture" in which various integral and non-integral perspectives and paradigms can be incorporated. At the same time, other teachers, teachings, and philosophical and spiritual traditions will also be emphasised and referred to. The goal is to arrive at a new and broader insight or thoughtform within the collective noosphere (the totality of human consciousness, ideas, and knowledge) as well as in the sphere of individual personal and spiritual praxis.

1-iv. A practical foundation

One may still ask, how can postulating or understanding various dimensions of existence improve upon the Wilberian AQAL theory, which is already popular and easy to understand in the Integral movement? As Wilberian integral theorist and blog activist ~C4Chaos replied after I had sent him a draft of an earlier version of this essay:

"what are the most influential social domains? it's business, science, academia, politics, religion, and spirituality. if you are going to critique AQAL and propose a more integral theory to transcend and include it, i suggest that you deal with those social domains and explain how your version of integral theory will impact them and weave them better than what AQAL has done."[16]

In this essay I take up this challenge to present a larger integral paradigm that does indeed have a practical foundation. And as well as the social sphere there is the individual sphere and the cosmic sphere. Guiding and inspiring our actions there is morality, the sense of right and wrong, the right attitude to other beings. And at the apex of the spiritual path there is the transformation of the world. And hand in hand with the theoretically there is the practical, just as hand in hand with the practical there is the theoretical.

But first it is necessary to however reply to a few objections and go over a few points raised in my previous essay.

1-v. Apples and Oranges?

Allan Hardy, a pro-Wilber critic of my previous essay, after having read the first installment (TLDI 1) suggested in a blog comment and email[17] a comparison of Aurobindonian Integral spirituality with Wilberian Integral Theory is rather "like comparing apples and oranges." He adds:

"It also seems like they do not have the same ‘design center', try to solve the same ‘problem set.' Is this what the author means when he says ‘the two are different in style, approach, and content'? Or when he says Aurobindo ‘is not interested in presenting an intellectual "theory of everything"' , which is exactly what AQAL is about isn't it? Two very different people, very different agendas, very different uses of the word Integral, I get all that. So why continue to compare/contrast the two?"

This point gave me some pause for thought, although Allan then went on to suggest that "it seems like the scope of Wilberian Integral Theory - meaning AQAL, stages, states, lines, types, quadrants, - might, or should be able to encompass Aurobindo's Integral Yoga/Worldview.". I of course make the opposite claim (strongly argued in TLDI 3), which is that Sri Aurobindo's insights include but also far surpass Wilber's . Obviously, it is up to each individual to come to their own conclusions on this matter!

Thus we have two possible alternatives. Either Sri Aurobindo and Ken Wilber are each saying and doing two completely different things, and there is really no overlap between them, or else they are ultimately talking about and practicing the same thing, but one of them constitutes, at best, only a partial "holon" of the other.

The first alternative evokes a postmodernist, academic idea of a fragmented understanding, in which a unifying deeper vision and apprehension of the supreme is not possible, but rather different spiritual teachings, philosophies, etc each present their own angle, and their own approach to what Jorge Ferrer evocatively refers to as the "ocean with many shores"[18]. Such an understanding would have been nonsensical before the rise of secular modernity, since a unifying "big picture" was almost always at the center of the belief system, religion, mythology, or cosmology of most cultures. And, whilst the pluralistic approach accurately reflects the limitations of different mental worldviews (which perhaps is the great contribution that postmodernism makes), it also creates an excessive scepticism, a denial of a greater ontology and metaphysic. To do so however fully in keeping with the physicalistic paradigm of the modern world, which is perhaps the reason for its appeal.

The second alternative seems equally problematic, or at least divisive, because it forces us to choose along sectarian lines, with the teacher and teaching of one's choice constituting the greatest and most all encompassing perspective; the most integral and the most integrative as well. In the example discussed here, those who consider Wilber an enlightened bodhisattva or the greatest living philosopher, go in one camp, those who consider Sri Aurobindo an avatar or unsurpassed yogi and teacher go in another, and those who follow neither will elevate their own preferred guru or teacher instead.

A third option might combine the two. At the level of the relative mind there are indeed many different perspectives, some greater, some lesser, but all in some sense valid (in the context of Gebser's "aperspective integralism" and Wilber's statement that "no one is stupid enough to be 100% wrong"). But the "higher" or "deeper" or "more insightful" one goes or becomes, the more all encompassing things become. But, I would argue, this is only possible if one can go beyond everyday limited mental conceptions, to higher stages of gnosis and supra-rational apprehension. Here the scepticism of the physical mind and the narcissistic preferences of the ego are replaced by a truer and more immediate revelatory knowing.

In my previous essay I presented Sri Aurobindo's map of gradations of enlightenment and transenlightenment (my neologism, first introduced in TLDI) as one such possible description or set of descriptions of just such a higher series of realisations. I would like to continue to work with those insights here, in order to show that the Aurobindonian paradigm can serve as the foundation and framework for an Integral meta-theory or meta-paradigm.

1-vi. Update on "Post-Metaphysics", and a new Critique

In TLDI-2a I made the claim that his current position of "post-metaphysics" ("Wilber-V" in the series of stages of development of Wilber's theorising[19]) is actually a form of secular physicalism. Crypto-physicalism would have been a better word, because its materialistic assertion is mostly hidden rather than openly defined. And a "Two Truths" (transcendent and relative reality, or in Wilber's theory, Unmanifest Spirit and Manifest Kosmos[20]) holistic physicalism to be sure, hence a physicalism in which the brain is dependent on the mind as much as the mind is dependent on the brain. This is explained in terms of the four quadrants, since supplemented or supplanted by a more obscure and abstractive configuration of eight perspectives. But, I argued, it is still physicalism, because Wilber asserts that every "interior" (or level of consciousness) has a corresponding physical "exterior", and in which all states and stages of consciousness must have a physical correlate, at least in the manifest realm. Because every interior requires an "exterior", which is in some way physical or objective, there can be no possibility of purely supra-physical ontological realities (realties that are not part of a mind-body holistic totality). This interpretation also is the reason he associates mystical experiences with neurophysiology[21], even if doesn't reduce the experience to the physiology. And this need to justify experience in terms of western empirical secular knowledge implies scientism, because it falsely uses science is used to justify things beyond its sphere of relevance. All of this makes Wilberian theory in this particular respect a form of holistic materialism, not reductionistic materialism such as the mind-body identity theory, in which experiences are actually reduced to and derived from neurophysical states.

Another indication of Wilber's physicalism, I suggested in my previous essay, is the fact that he rejects the possibility of authentic supra-physical ontological realities when referring to the teachings of everyone from Plotinus and Shankara to Sri Aurobindo and Jung. Instead he incorporates "experiences" but not "metaphysics" (using the word both in the colloquial context, i.e. supra-physical realities, and also to designate assertions that refer to an unverifiable referent[22]), which is what all physicalist mind-body theories except strict behaviourism do anyway. In the resulting Wilberian hermeneutics, these sanitised experiences can then be slotted in to the appropriated AQAL quadrants and levels.

However I have since discovered however that, as with so much concerning Wilber's thought, things are not so simple! This was brought home to me in a discussion on the Open Integral forum[23]. There, Edward Berge refers to a paragraph from Wilber's discussion on reincarnation in Excerpt G. Now, Excerpt G is an on-line essay (intended as part of Wilber's "Kosmos Trilogy") which presents his view that all forms of consciousness exist with a physical basis. That is, every interior has an exterior (and vice-versa). This was one of the essays I used to argue the case for Wilber's holistic physicalism. In his online essay Wilber also argues the same critique of the "perennial" spiritual traditions, the same rejection of their conception of "metaphysics", as he does in his latest book Integral Spirituality.

But, and quite anomalously to the rest of his thought, Wilber also introduces in Except G the following hypothesis

"#4. Complexity of gross form is necessary for the expression or manifestation of both higher consciousness and subtler energy.

Hypothesis #4 introduces the possibility that the higher forms of consciousness and energy (i.e., higher than the gross-family realm) are not tied to complexifications of gross form ontologically but rather as vehicles of the expression of subtler forms and energies in that gross realm itself. In other words, it is not that higher consciousness and energies are bound to the complexities of gross form out of ontological necessity, but that they need a correspondingly complex form of gross matter in order to express or manifest themselves in and through the material realm."[24]

Note the inconsistency here. Wilber criticises all other teachings for being "metaphysical" and "ontological", yet by positing the reality of "higher consciousness and energies" he is doing exactly the same thing himself. He condemns metaphysics and ontology as "abstraction", claims he has gone beyond it, asserts that this is central to his "Post-Metaphysical" stance, but then he refers to it himself in a very traditional way as part of his own philosophy!

The above excerpt cannot be seen as an aberration (which is what I had previously thought it to be), because in Integral Spirituality Wilber writes:

"In particular, the idea that there are levels of being and knowing beyond the physical (i.e., literally meta-physical) is badly in need of reconstruction. This is not to say that there are no trans-physical realities whatsoever; only that most of the items taken to be entirely trans- or metaphysical by the ancients (e.g., feelings, thoughts, ideas) actually have, at the very least, physical correlates."[25]

Here Wilber seems to acknowledge that there are indeed supra-physical (in his terminology, "meta-physical") realities, but then he says what was taken by "the ancients" (i.e. by all previous spiritual teachings) to be these in fact turned out to have physical correlates.

The question then becomes, what are these trans-physical realities Wilber refers to? And why should he claim that only he can distinguish these supraphysical realities, in contrast to the al the spiritualities that preceded him, which, he asserts, were actually confusing the intra-physical with the supra-physical? (TLDI-2-ii) Wilber does give any actual examples, but Berge suggests that it might be the subtle and causal bodies that correspond to higher levels of consciousness. The problem is, that is ontology, which is something of a dirty word in Wilber-V.

So it seems that Wilber is stuck in a bind. On the one hand, as I explained in TLDI 2-ii and 2-iii, he has taken on board contemporary secular and postmodernist memes (sensu Dawkins) with its belief in science as an absolute authority (scientism), which means he is duty bound to debunk all ontologies that posit supra-physical realities. This is then tied in with his opinion that his own intellectual understanding is superior to all previous spiritual teachings; to have "included but transcended" them all. He thus presents all previous teachings as inferior to his own integral theory because he asserts they are still stuck on metaphysics, whereas he is not (TLDI 2-viii).

But now he is admitting that such realities exist. It seems that he trying to have it both ways, and doing so by denying the accounts of these realities in all other spiritual teachings and philosophies apart from his own.

This may perhaps be the reason why Wilber cannot follow up his statement of the existence of supra-physical ("meta-physical") realities with examples. While he seems to have the intuition these things exist, he cannot describe these supraphysical realities, because any such description would be ontology, and metaphysics, and that means he would lose his self-appointed position as the one who has included and transcended all previous teachings by being "post-metaphysical". So he has painted himself into a corner. As Andy Smith and Jeff Meyerhoff point out there are many contradictions throughout Wilber's work, and now this double standard on "metaphysics" can be added to the list as one of the more glaring ones.

For these reasons I do concede that I was in error in my previous assertion that Wilber is a physicalist. Rather, it seems that Wilber is saying that what everyone else, Plotinus, Shankara, Sri Aurobindo, everyone, was describing was actually a form of physical reality, so that they are actually the physicalists (only they don't realise it), whereas only what he is referring to is supra-physical. Perhaps it would be better if Wilber really was a simple crypto-physicalist, because at least then he would not have to be so embarrassingly narcissistic.

Another unusual aspect of Wilber's crypto- ambiguo-physicalism is his adherence to the "myth of the given". The myth of the given denies that there is a given physical or objective reality "out there", independent of one's perception and conception of it.

So on the one hand Wilber repeatedly asserts that all states and stages of consciousness must have a physical correlate, at least in the manifest realm, and that neuroscience can map and explain meditative states. On the other hand he also holds to a tetrapolar "idealism" in that what he considers physical is not objective in the way that normal realism considers it to be, but rather co-emnerges or is co-created. This is actually a very "New Age" idea, in the sense of the "you create your own reality" idealism of the New Age[26] . As Wilber explains in Integral Spirituality:

"There is no pregiven world, but simply a series of worlds that come into being (or co-emerge, or are tetra-enacted) with different orders of consciousness."[27]

Thus Wilber redefines the physical as that which is tetra-enacted with the various orders of consciousness. This is very different both to the pre-given physical world of science. It is also very different to my own philosophy of ontological realism, or "substance emanationism" (a phrase I suggested in a discussion on "Postmetaphysical Thinking" on the Open Integral forum, see sect 4-xv). Ontological realism, as in Esoteric Integral Ethics, fully accept the reality of the mundane world; the "given" in other words. And this argument also enabled me to appreciate why the great Indian monist Shankara was a realist, not someone who said the world is illusion, as those unfamiliar with his Adviata Vedanta system often say. Although Shankara constantly referred to the identity of Atman and Brahman as the substrate of all existence, he was also at pains to point out the reality of the mundane world (and of Ishwara etc).

Wilber's position here reminds me not just of Yogachara idealism (which, as a form of Buddhism, and in its Chinese derivatives of "Mind Only" influential on Zen, and hence may have been Wilber's main source of inspiration), but also of the Seth material (Jane Roberts) The idea is that we create, or co-create in the New Age and Wilberian worldview, our own realities. This is a theme that is central to the New Age paradigm, and further suggests that the Wilberian/post-Wilberian Integral movement is just the latest and most intellectual transformation of the New Age movement (sect 2-vii). It is quite plausible that this appears is "objectively" true on the subtle realms (sect 4-xxii) because of their ideoplastic nature, e.g. phenomena of the Astral world taking on the forms one's thoughts give them. But when it comes to dense material reality all the explanation and belief in the world won't make you walk through walls, or not bump into a tree in the forest! It's like the New Age myth (repeated on What the Bleep?, a New Age documentary that was blasted by scientists) that the Amerindians literally couldn't see the white man's ships because they had no conceptual framework to understand them.

1-vii. Moving beyond "Post-Metaphysics"

Although Wilberians may understandably interpret both my previous and this current essay as "Ken bashing" - and I can fully empathise with where they are coming from since I expect I would feel the same in that position - my aim is not to criticise for the sake criticising. Rather, it is to refute Wilber's attack on all previous spiritual and esoteric traditions and teachings except his own. This is in order to allow a new and more inclusive integral movement can be allowed to develop, without constantly having to constantly respond to the claim that "Ken has already deconstructed this sort of metaphysics anyway" every time that a statement of ontology or cosmology is made. That objection will still no doubt will be raised concerning many statements in this current essay that cannot be accommodated by secular modernity. But in these instances I would refer the reader to my TLDI 2 and the update in sect. 1-vi of this essay, where I critique the physicalist methodologies and assumptions of Wilberian thinking, as well as to sect 1-ix below, where the root of sceptical and reductionistic thinking is described..

A true Integral meta-paradigm has to go beyond, way beyond, the deprecatory rejection of spiritual metaphysics and ontology and the self-contradictory orientation of Wilber V. Moreover, a truly authentic and universal Integral theory, and Integral practice, must be something that not only includes the insights into supra-physical, occult, and ontological realities provided by spiritual and esoteric teachings of the past and present, but also can be applied to practical transformation. For any Integral movement cannot rest complete on theory alone.

And while Wilber has endeavored to keep his whole philosophy academically respectable (although like all bridge-builders (TLDI 2-ii) with little or no acknowledgment or interest from the audience he addresses), for more interesting maps of consciousness, one has to leave orthodox Integral theory for the field of esotericism. Plotinus, Abhinuvagupta, Suhrawadi, Isaac Luria, Radhasoami, Max Theon, Sri Aurobindo, Jane Roberts/Seth, A.H. Almaas are simply a few that could be mentioned. Although Wilber has attempted to reduce the sort of maps of reality these teachers describe to intellectual subsets of his own Integral Theory in the hope that it would in that way be acceptable to academia, nothing in his books indicates he really understands what these other mapmakers are describing in the first place. In TLDI I showed how problematic Wilber's understanding of Sri Aurobindo was for example. And my impression so far is that his followers have even less understanding of the great Bengali sage, all they know is second hand from Wilber's misinterpretations. This lack of understanding is not really Wilber's fault (still less the fault of Wilber's students), because it requires a lifetime of study, contemplation, and humility to appreciate Sri Aurobindo. The same applies to other spiritual teachings listed here.

But just because Wilber himslef doesnt seem to understand at leats many of the spiritual teachers he cites, does not mean that he himself should be ignored as saying nothing of value. His philosophy can certainly be studied for his map of the development of and aspects of consciousness, provided it is understood that this is only his map. And that his interpretations of all the other maps are only his interpretations, nothing else. And of cpurse always bearing in mind that Wilber's map is only one among many. It is not even original to him. I have shown (TLDI 3-v) that KW's levels can be directly derived from the seven stages of life of Da Free John (Adi Da), and Da himself, like any mapmaker, can only plot the territory as far as he has traveled (which may be further than Wilber, but not as far some or all of the other names I listed). For that matter, Da was likewise influenced by Muktananda, and Muktananda by Kaula Tantrism[28], which in turns go back to Dravidian India. In any case it would be good, ideally, for the Wilberian movement to explore other maps than the Wilberian ones. Especially if one is to avoid the excessive religiosity and Wilber-fundamentalism that that movement seems to be so prone too.

But again, the problem with exploring a map is that one needs to have familiarity with the teaching that provides the map, otehrwise all one will do is distort the map to fit one's own preconceptions. There are people who have dedicated years of their lives to studying Wilber for example. I have dedicated years of mine to Sri Aurobindo and The Mother and other esoteric teachings. And that is the dilemma; it takes years to truly understand what even one mapmaker is saying, and hence to properly understand and apply their map. How then can one incorporate them all?

I don't have an answer for that question. All I can do is create a map, according to my understanding. Which I have done here.

1-viii. Agnosticism is not the same as going beyond opposites

I have noticed in the discussions on the Open Integral forum a tendency to prefer to adopt an agnostic approach when faced with the limitations of both Wilberian and post-modernist thought to explain authentic realities such as the nature of Consciousness. On the surface this appears as a tolerant and common-sense attitude to not take positions on what cannot be clearly described or is not yet known. This is fine and indeed absolutely necessary for Science, which by its very nature has a very narrow and specific sphere of influence. But Integral theory by its very nature has to explain everything; if it didn't it could not be integral (in this definition of the term). For an Integral Theory to be agnostic on all the Big Questions means that it is just one more form of secular exotericism. This is because the very fact that one is assuming that these realities cannot be explained is to deny the vast corpus of spiritual and esoteric philosophy and the many eloquent and comprehensive descriptions of supra-physical and mystical realities by esoteric teachings down through the centuries.

In short, in a universalist philosophy there is no such thing as true agnosticism, unless it be an agnosticism of the Madhyamika sort (Mahayana Buddhism), which shows that any conception of relative reality is itself relative and leads to a reductio ad absurdum, because of the essential emptiness or voidness (shunyata) of all things [29] But as far as relative reality goes, and all the various ontological gradations, extending up or in or behind to the absolute (the aforementioned shunyata) , then to say that these things cannot be known is to adopt the exoteric mindset of modernity, even to allow oneself to be limited to some extent by the "Physical Mind"

1-ix. The "Physical Mind"

Central to any thesis on esotericism, metaphysics, and the nature of reality is an understanding and recognition of what Sri Aurobindo refers to as the "physical mind":

"At the outset man lives in his physical mind which perceives the actual, the physical, the objective and accepts it as fact and this fact as self-evident truth beyond question; whatever is not actual, not physical, not objective it regards as unreal or unrealised, only to be accepted as entirely real when it has succeeded in becoming actual, becoming a physical fact, becoming objective: its own being too it regards as an objective fact, warranted to be real by its existence in a visible and sensible body; all other subjective beings and things it accepts on the same evidence in so far as they can become objects of our external consciousness or acceptable to that part of the reason which builds upon the data supplied by that consciousness and relics upon them as the one solid basis of knowledge. Physical Science is a vast extension of this mentality: it corrects the errors of the sense and pushes beyond the first limitations of the sense-mind by discovering means of bringing facts and objects not seizable by our corporeal organs into the field of objectivity; but it has the same standard of reality, the objective, the physical actuality; its test of the real is possibility of verification by positive reason and objective evidence."[30]

What the "Physical Mind" indicates is that the sceptical, scientistic, and secular Western consensus approach selective looks at only those things that it is able to acknowledge and fit within its own paradigm or meta-paradigm. Modernity's materialistic/physicalistic worldview is therefore not some sort of privileged methodology or standard that its advocates claim, but the result of a one-eyed perspective, using only a single faculty of consciousness, and denying, ignoring, or explaining away everything else.

This is not to denigrate the vital role of secular understanding in helping to elucidate the facts of the objective material world, and our physical consciousness' individual and collective responses to and interaction with it and with each other. But such analysis can only be a small part of the larger picture. The physical mind and its many important insights regarding the natural world and empirical knowledge should not be denigrated. But neither should it be allowed to be the sole or even just the primary arbitrator of things. It is necessary to go beyond the bias of the physical mind, to uncover a larger and wider Reality

Now, the reader may agree disagree with the above assessment, and with Sri Aurobindo's statement regarding the "physical mind. Ultimately everyone has to come to their own conclusion of things. But this is my starting point, and my primary critique of physicalism.

1-x Science and Integral Thought

Since we are mentioning the Physical Mind, and since the contemporary Physical Mind uses Science to justify its claims, in much the same way that in the past - and in theocratic cultures in the world today - e.g. Islamic theocracies, or Bible Belt America - it used and uses exoteric religion, it is worth saying a few words about the place of science in Integral thought, and in the development of any universal Integral theory.

As the "creation narrative" of our time and culture, science figures large in all contemporary (19th to 21st century) "big picture" accounts or integral worldviews. It is, naturally therefore, also very important to Wilber, who both uses it as a sort of religious foundation for his worldview (his denial of all "metaphysics" except his own intimations - sect 1-v) and his scientism-based correlation of neurosciences and meditation states. This desire to incorporate scientism (the uncritical belief in a worldview based on the discoveries of science, as opposed to actual scientific empirical methodology itself) into the integral worldview, and the resulting anti-ontological and sceptical perspective, seems to me to be important to most Wilberians and post-Wilberians in general. But is it really a good idea, or even possible, to merge science with wilberian theory?

I would like to say that when Wilber talks about "include and transcend", I am in total agreement. An integral approach has to include all the ways of understanding (science, philosophy, esotericism, occultism, mysticism),. and all the ways of doing (art, morality, technology, practical spirituality).

But this larger and more universal understanding simply cannot happen if one is still at the level of the partial perspectives. And here, I argue, is where Wilber fails in his attempt to assimilate science and scientific, empirical method. In this he is not alone.

J. B. Rhine's founding Parapsychology on statistical results, Reichian attempts to prove orgone theory in materialistic scientism-based terms, and Wilber's attempt to present a new version of postmodernism that incorporates spiritual experiences, worthy in intention as they may all be, cannot succeed, because the realities they are addressing are realities that go beyond the academic secular world. But it is not enough to try to re-explain or reinterpret things on the level of that particular academic discourse. That only gives a partial picture, not an integral picture.

The same goes for Marxist attempts to justify Marxist-Leninist socio-economic theory as science, and - in the esoteric field, statements by Steiner and the Theosophist Leadbeater, that what they are saying is science, or the occultist Aleister Crowley's assertion that one day scientists will be able to replicate in the laboratory what he can only achieve through ritualistic means. More recently in the field of the New Age there are many teachings and worldviews that consider themselves scientific, or more often in harmony with science, especially with quantum physics. This New Age concept of the complementarity between science and mysticism[31] goes back to Fritjof Capra's famous book The Tao of Physics. An earlier, more lucid, Wilber correctly criticised Capra and the New Age on this[32], although ironically with his current "post-metaphysical" thought (see sect.1-v) he has fallen into exactly the same scientism-based holistic worldview that befell Capra.

All of these attempts to appropriate science are based on a misunderstanding of what science is about, how science works, and what science can do.

I will state outright here that science, real science, should be the foundation and bedrock on which any integral paradigm or metaparadigm is built. But science, and scientific method, is not only a central element to any integral understanding of reality, and also that aspect of any integral synthesis that is the most misunderstood. Science itself is in no way the same as integral thought and integral practice, even if it is neveretheless an essential element.

The most important thing to understand is this: science makes no statement either for or against metaphysical realities. Science is not a religious or philosophical statement as to the nature of things, but a form of empirical methodology which enables the progressive accumulation of facts regarding the material universe, and the discarding of hypotheses that are refuted or falsified by newer facts. Although the various hypotheses, theories, and theorems that constitute science's understanding of the world, are being constantly refined, developed, and replaced with new theories and theorems and methodologies (this being what historian of science Thomas Kuhn referred to as "paradigm shifts"), there is never a final explanation, never a dogmatic statement, and never a claim made regarding things that are beyond the scope of science's methodology. It is this precision, and this self-limitation and modesty, that distinguishes science from pseudoscience, from scientism (which the belief that the current findings of science constitute an actual description of how things are), and from religion.

In short - science is a methodology, and a body of facts and hypotheses gathered through that methodology. It is not a philosophical statement about the nature of reality.

The misunderstanding of actual science is so widespread that I tend to think now that perhaps it is easier for someone to be an esotericist that to understand science (as opposed to scientism).

Scientism, physicalism, scepticism, atheism, materialism, naturalism - all of those philosophies and beliefs claim to be scientific, but they are just secular religions that have misinterpreted science

The problem comes about, then, when esoteric, New Age, and integral thinkers attempt to use science, without understanding how science works. I contend that one reason the new age movement, and people like Wilber, are in a mess as far as their theoretical explanations go, is because they simply don't understand science, and instead adopt the religious belief of scientism. The same could said about such a seminal worker as William Reich, whose experiments were criticised by Einstein. This is not to say that things like Orgone are not real, only that they are not real on the material-physical level that science works.

This is why, when seeking to understand the nature of the cosmos, some sort of grounding in science (in real science, not scientism and narrow-minded scepticism) is essential, if one is to avoid being caught up in intermediate zone (TLDI 2-v) fantasies and one's own mental bubble (TLDI 2-ix) regarding how the world works. Often new age sources try to appear scientific, but they aren't, and so real scientists can tear them to pieces (as I and others have done regarding Wilber's misunderstanding of Darwinism for example)

And this is where movements like the Reichians, the holistic thinkers, and like the Wilberians get stuck. They are still trying to justify their worldview in terms of a physicalistic science whose methodology and limitations they do not understand. So they claim what they have is respectable science plus this other element. Wilber's include and transcend. Which is all very well, except that what they are doing is nether including nor transcenmding, but simply seeking justification according to the contemporary social and intellectual worldview of their time. It is similar to how in the middle ages and renaissance people tried to justify hermetic philosophy etc by appeal to the Church, that it was the true meaning of the Bible etc etc. They did this not just for political reasons, but because they genuinely believed it. They accepted the religion of their day, just as Wilberians and Reichians accept the religion of our day (scientism).

Yet science alone is not enough. Teilhard de Chardin, Oliver Reiser, Edward Haskell, and Arthur M. Young are among those "integral thinkers" and visionaries who understood science but also had a more cosmological perspective. And even there their work is often dated; Haskell's Unified Science for example is unable to incorporate the multifaceted interdisciplinaray and subdisciplinary fields of current scientific thinking and research.

Ultimately it is necessary to go beyond science and beyond academic philosophy altogether. A higher spiritual consciousness is about letting go of that whole way of trying to explain things in terms of material facts.

1-xi. Avoiding the fundamentalist trap

One thing that can be annoying (even if it is understandable and I suppose in a sense forgivable) when dialogging with Wilberians is their tendency to believe what Wilber says as some sort of literal truth or literal hypothesis of how the world works. To me this indicates that, like fundamentalist practitioners of any religion, they have already lost their ability to think for themselves; a problem is exacerbated by Wilber's own authoritarian and cultic attitude[33]. I am referring to a rigid interpretation of reality in intellectual-mental terms. The Aurobindonian equivalent would be to take the dead letter of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother's words, and ignore the yogic experience behind them, something I am equally opposed to because it is equally one-sided and fundamentalist. i.e. an Aurobindonian fundamentalist would say - there are only these realities as describe by Sri Aurobindo, and all interpretation and experiences must be defined only in the words which he used[34]. And the same danger of literalism and hence missing the true spiritual inspiration is found with all spiritual teachers and teachings.

This is one reason why it would be an absolute tragedy if the integral movement were to be identified with a fundamentalist Wilberanity, a fundamentalist Aurobindonism, a fundamentalist Theosophy, or with any other rigidly fixed conceptual system, no matter how "integral" it may be in a superficial theoretical manner. We have already seen what religious dogmatism can do, has in the past done, and is still responsible for now (Middle East, anyone?)[35]. Let's leave religions and cults in the past where they belong. This is not to deny the usefulness of drawing from the intellectual ideas and teachings of any philosopher, teacher, or guru. Indeed that is the only way that integral movement can be built, by standing on the shoulders of giants. But one should never simply naïvely accept any philosophical or intellectual or even spiritual teaching as literal truth, and allow it to become a religion or dogma. Genuine spiritual teachings are the result of authentic spiritual traditions, and each instance of learning and growth is a unique interaction between the student and the guru or teacher. These things should not and cannot be taken in the sense of repeatable and falsifiable empirical knowledge.

1-xii. The limitations of the abstract mental

The abstract mental approach is another trap. It is not the same as the physical mind, although the two may certainly overlap. But it refers to what happens is one tries to arrive at an understanding without the aid of empirical (outer), phenomenological (inner), or spiritual-intuitive ("higher") knowledge or data.

Because humanity understands things through the mind, there are limitations to each particular mental perspective. Each person builds their own subjective mental worldview, and ultimately their own "mental fortress" (see TLDI 2-ix) to keep their egos safe against other viewpoints that they would find threatening. This is fine for limited perspectives, but if we want to arrive an integral understanding we need to go beyond these limitations, and hence beyond individual integral theories, integrating but also transcending them. Even this current essay should not be thought of as a dogmatic explanation; to do so would be to fall into the trap of "my explanation, while not the absolute truth, is still the most complete, while yours are all only partial or lesser stages that have to interpreted on my terms" (and I am as guilty of this as anyone!). But in fact every explanation and worldview presents only a partial understanding, because it is only mental. And that also includes everything that is said in this essay, and for that matter in any other essays I have written. In each case it is partial, an artificial construct, a tool to be used if found useful, and discarded when not.

With this understood, we can proceed.


[1] This latter is a useful term suggested in passing in an email (dated 25 Oct 2006) from Scott Zimmerle

[2] M Alan Kazlev: A New Integral Paradigm

[3] The term "cult" (of which cultic is the adjective) is here used to designate any exclusivist religious and/or ideological group centered around a charismatic or prophetic leader, that makes claims regarding its own uniqueness or infallibility or special status, and adopts an antagonistic or paranoid attitude to critics or criticism of the movement, while at the same time adopting a naïve, uncritical, and worshipful attitude towards the teachings and behaviour of its own leader, guru, or prophet. A common element is that irrational, narcissistic, and/or abusive behaviour on the part of the leader or guru is justified on the grounds of the leader's enlightenment or divine inspiration, which is beyond the understanding of the rest of the group, or for that matter of humanity as a whole.

[4] I wrote a brief overview which has since been edited and improved on Wikipedia: "Wilber's June 2006 response to critics on his blog" Frank Visser provided a brief overview but with a good collection of links to comments (pro and con); "The Wild West Wilber Report" See TLDI 2-xii for why I believe that Wilber, his organisation (the "Integral Institute"), and more enthusiastic followers must at present be considered cultic. See also Len Oakes Prophetic Charisma, for a study of cultic leadership.

[5] See for example the discussion on the strongly pro-Wilber and pro-Cohen Zaadz community regarding Cohen at . Most responses were naively devotional, although there were also a few critical voices. In the course of discussion, the critics asked for clear replies from Cohen loyalists concerning whether the violent acts reported on the ex-devotee What Enlightenment? blog actually happened or not. Instead the Cohen loyalists responded through glowing testimonials or in some cases, psychological decompensation and ad hominem attacks. Finally some of the loyalists demanded that the thread be closed for further discussion, and in the end the thread has been locked by the moderator while the discussion was still active. I am not saying this is an example of deliberate censorship, but rather the inability of the current Wilberian Integral movement, and for that matter the New Age movement in general, to come to terms with the abusive behaviour of false gurus - including false gurus glowingly recommended as teachers of Enlightenment by Wilber himself.

[6] Originally in a cantankerous letter to Frank Visser asking that he rename his website, then called "World of Kern Wilber" (it then became "Integral World")

[7] Whether or not Integral is bigger than Wilber is a point of some debate. To quote Wikipedia and Wilber student Goethean "I read the blogs of a few people who were or are involved with Wilber's Integral Institute in Boulder, Colorado. One was very frustrated with Wilber's management of the Institute, but said "Integral is bigger than Ken". I agree with that." (see "Template talk:Integral thought" ) And while I also agree with that position, I tend to wonder, in view of the lack of strong alternative, how true that is. Hopefully alternative forums like Open Integral will be able to change this.

[8] In Theosophy, occultism, and esoteric thought in general, a thoughtform is a thought that has an objective existence; not just intersubjective like Wilber's "lower left" AQAL quadrant, but actually objective on the mental level, in the sense of having its own life independent of individual minds. For the classic Theosophical account, see Thoughtforms, A Besant and CW Leadbeater, Theosophical Publishing House, 1925, This work is now available free at Project Gutenberg

[9] I say "intellectually" because Wilber does not and never has claimed to have a more profound spiritual experience or realisation than that of the great teachers, only a greater theoretical (hence intellectual) understanding. He bases this assertion on the fact that he has the benefit of modern secular-empirical knowledge that these teachers didn't have, and can thus arrive at a larger and more complete "integral" picture. For my refutation of his reasoning see TLDI 2-ii, 2-viii, and this essay sect. 1-ii, 1-vii.

[10] There is an apocryphal reference to Wilber's being acknowledged by Canadian social philosopher Charles Taylor; however the whole matter is highly problematic and seems to be limited only to statements by Wilber's publisher Shambhala; see the Wikipedia discussion at

[11] See Huston Smith Forgotten Truth: The Primordial Tradition. New York: Harper & Row. 1977, for a very readable presentation of esoteric-style cosmology based especially on Fritjof Schuon's Neoplatonism-inspired neo-Sufism.. Smith's book, and Frithjof Schuon's The Transcendental Unity of Religions (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1975) both seem to have exerted a strong influence on the early (pre-Postmodernist) Wilber.

[12] see e.g.

[13] As I define the term, post-Wilberian refers to those thinkers who have in some way been influenced by Wilber or incorporated some of his ideas, but have since for various reasons broken with him to develop their own visions and understanding of "Integral". See the links section of my page "The Integral Movement" The term may have originally be been used by Michel Bauwens who in an 11th February, 2003 blog post to "Lenses for looking at "co-intelligence"" refers to Jorge Ferrer as (one of the) "pioneers of post-Wilberian integral thinking"

[14] The classic reference here is Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy, (Harper Colophon Books, Harper & Row, New York, 1970)

[15] This adjectival form of Sri Aurobindo was coined by senior disciple and author Amal Kiran (K. D. Sethna) and has since become standard, if a google book and google scholar search are anything to go by. However Tusar Mohapatra has recently argued that "The last o in Sri Aurobindo is not necessary for pronunciation of the name, and hence a simple Aurobindian is good for is good for all seasons". See blog post dated 23 Aug 2006 "Savitri Era is our religion" I played around with both names, but felt that Aurobindonian has more power. So, until and unless Aurobindian becomes standard in acedemic circles, I will stick with Aurobindonian (Interestingly there is a similar problem in paleontology resulting names that have an extra "s" - Ceratopsian, Gorgonopsian etc are standard names found in both old an dmost recent text-books, but apparently the "s" following the "p" is unnecessary. This has led to a confused situation in which some people using the "ps" spelling and others the "p" spelling. For a while Wikipedia had similar but not identical articles for Ceratopsia and Ceratopia, until the latter was made a redirect to the former. As one editor there commented: "historically there have been all sorts of guffs in naming plants and animals, misspellings, what is published takes precedence. This is highlighted by the use of greek/latin/aboriginal/amerind/anagrams etc now. Especially with the latter there is no 'correct' syntax so what the author says goes." See Wikipedia Talk Ceratopsia So even if Aurobindonian is grammatically incorrect, it is still the more common adjectival form in print.

[16] Personal email dated 25 Sep 2006

[17] The blog comment is at Unfortunately I was not aware of this comment (I only discovered it by accident later). Allan later included his comment in an email to Frank Visser, Frank forwarded it on to me, and I replied to Allan. I found (by his reply) Allan to be a very decent guy. In his blog post he makes some interesting points, as well as other suggestions that I disagree with. Rather than reply to all this in the present essay, I'll simply reference his "apples and oranges" argument here as this is quite pertinent to the subject at hand. The rest of the relevant points will be dealt with in a later article to Integral World, which will basically be a response to criticism. I was disappointed not to have received more constructive, so the response will not be as long as it could have been.

[18] Jorge Ferrer, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, SUNY Press, 2002, ch.6

[19] A useful if uncritical and adulatory summary of Wilber-V can be found in a recent issue of Andrew Cohen's magazine What is Enlightenment? - Issue 33, June-August 2006. For a more detailed coverage see Wilber's latest (and misleadingly titled) book Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World, (Shambhala, to appear in print October 2006) 240 pages . For discussion on Wilber's critique of metaphysics, see the discussion at Open Integral - "Postmetaphysical Thinking" (blog post by Edward Berge responding to my criticism of Wilber's understanding of metaphysics, and follow up discussion)

[20] See for example Wilber's perspectives on intersubjectivity, in his reply to Christian de Quincey in "Do Critics Misrepresent My Position":

"Moreover, I add at least two more types of intersubjectivity not dealt with by de Quincey. I will focus on one of these, which in many ways it is the most important of all. With reference to de Quincey's numbering scheme, we could call it Intersubjectivity-3, namely: the agency of all holons opens directly, immediately, onto Spirit itself, and thus all holons share a deep, nonmediated, nonlocal, profound intersubjectivity due to the fact that all holons immediately touch each other via the Spirit that each of them fully is. This ‘ultimate' meaning of intersubjectivity is for me the primary meaning, and I believe that all of the other forms of intersubjectivity issue forth from this all-pervading Ground. As Schopenhauer noted long ago, without a common Self in and to all people, you can't get any form of intersubjectivity going in the first place...."

Thanks to Edward Berge for digging up the quote (on the Open Integral forum) -

[21] see Toward A Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies", Excerpt G, (now offline).

[22] See the definition in the Integral Institute wiki " In Integral Theory, any assertion without injunctions is considered metaphysics, or a meaningless assertion (i.e., postulating a referent for which there is no means of verification). The term is also used in its traditional sense given the lack of alternatives." The reference to assertions regarding ontological realities as unverifiable and hence meaningless again reflects the physicalist bias of Wilber's currrent thought. Many realities that pertain to the esoteric and the supra-physical dimensions are indeed unverifiable as regards Western empirical method, analytical philosophy, and rational-cognitive thought, but that doesn't make meaningless.

[23] Open Integral - "Postmetaphysical thinking"

[24] see Toward A Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies", Excerpt G, (now offline).

[25] Integral Spirituality, p. 310

[26] For a detailed account of this, see Hanegraaff New Age Religion and Western Culture, pp.229ff

[27] Integral Spirituality, p.302

[28] See Sarah Caldwell, The Heart of the Secret: A Personal and Scholarly Encounter with Shakta Tantrism in Siddha Yoga for a very illuminating personal yet scholarly account of Muktananda's later teachings

[29] See Nagarjuna's Madhyamika Karika (various translations)

[30] The Life Divine p.413. See also Letters on Yoga p. 327, also see Jyoti and Prem Sobel, The Hierarchy of Minds pp.37-46 for a collection of quotes. The "Physical Mind" in this context has nothing to do with the Physical Mind as understood in Pilates (see e.g. ) In Hatha Yoga, Pilates, Tai Ch'i, etc, what is being described is a distinct faculty, the Consciousness of the Body. In the current essay, "mind" is used in the sense of the conceptual or cognitive faculty, whilst consciousness with a small "c" refers to a broader range of sentience or awareness. Consciousness with a capital "C" refers to the non-dual Absolute. In English works of Mahayana Buddhism, Mind with a capital "M" has the same meaning.

[31] On New Age approaches to science, see Hanegraaff New Age Religion and Western Culture, ch.3

[32] For a good synopsis see Hanegraaff New Age Religion and Western Culture, pp.176-81

[33] Wilber makes clear in his "Earpy" and follow-up blog posts that "Integral" and "Second Tier" is equivalent to his own thought and writings, and seems to consider any serious criticism as automatically "green meme" and "lower tier"; see e.g. . For perceptive observations on this sort of cultic behaviour, and the unfortunate way in which Wilber and his organisation in 2006 seems to have deteriorated into the precise narcissistic mode that he himself had perceptively critiqued in 1983, see Jim Chamberlain "Sorry, it's just over your head - Wilber's response to recent criticism"

[34] From "A grassroots spirituality Interview by Carel and Bindu", Auroville Today Dec 01 > - "The tendency to turn Sri Aurobindo's teaching into a cult seems to be prevalent everywhere. Many quote the words of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, often out of context and to suit their own purposes. Is there a danger that by doing this we will turn the Integral Yoga into yet another a religion?"

Dr. Ananda Reddy: "...It is true that many people are getting into the trap of "Mother said". In fact this is a passive complacency, it is not the right attitude. It is a metaphysical truth that what we call "The Mother's Force" is at work in this world. But if there is sunlight outside, I still must open my window to let it in. Quoting Mother and Sri Aurobindo does not imply that you let that force into your life - and perhaps, many who quote do not.

Quoting is often a sign of a beginners' aspiration. When one is a newcomer to this yoga, one needs external symbols to hold onto one's faith....To embark on a spiritual life requires a great amount of courage. The human mind is often not ready to give up its religious attitude - and that is the reason why many who have accepted Sri Aurobindo and The Mother continue to worship different godheads and gurus."

[35] In this context however, and pointing to the positive aspects of traditionalist (literalist) spirituality, Ajahn Punnadhammo suggests that the word "Triumphalism" should be used to refer to religious extremism instead: "Fundamentalism, according to one dictionary definition is "strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology." This in itself may not necessarily be a negative thing. Fidelity to a tradition and it's teachings is one legitimate approach to religion. It may be thought by some to be narrow, by others to demonstrate an integrity and clarity of thought. However, what is often called "fundamentalism" these days is probably better called "triumphalism." This is the view that one's religion is absolutely right, all others are wrong, and usually leads to the conclusion that force is justified to promote one's beliefs. The Buddha condemned this kind of thinking; "this is right, all else is wrong" as leading to disputation and conflict. We can certainly see that today." See Bhikkhu's Blog "Fundamentalism and Triumphalism" (Monday, August 21, 2006)

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