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Integral Theory

Integral Esotericism - Part Four

Alan Kazlev

4-i. The Integration of Knowledge

The theoretic aspect of the Integral path, Integrative Philosophy or Integral Theory, represents the mental or intellectual side of the Integral metaparadigm, including of the Esoteric Integral Paradigm presented here. Inspiration for Integral Theory may range from mere intellectualising of the gross physical mind (sect. 1-ix), to some opening to inner realities but still totally exoteric (e.g. Wilberian theory), to fully esoteric and higher intuitive (such as Aurobindonian philosophy and this current work of Integral Esotericism which draws on the latter). Obviously though all these categories still shade into each other.

Ideally, any Integral Theory should incorporate all previous fields and areas of knowledge and practice. As such, it would constitute a mental "map" or big picture that allows the integration of human knowledge, and incorporates the understanding of various ancient and modern cultures including the insights of secular modernity. It can also be considered Integrative because it integrates all other interpretations and fields of understanding A good example of this intellectual-philosophical perspective - albeit limited to the exoteric sphere - is the Wilberian and much of the post-Wilberian Integral movement. Its very big limitation is that theory alone cannot provide salvation; in fact empty theory goes nowhere. And the limitation of exotericism, including Wilberian theory, is that the real occult causal factors behind the human condition are left untouched. Therefore people can follow that path and, remaining deluded, act with the grossest immaturity, narcissism, and self-righteous self-justification. Their followers, being equally deluded (in the manner of the blind leading the blind) would defend the emotionalistic outbursts of their gurus and teachers, and attack and criticise any who would question such actions or credentials based upon them. And this is the reason why much of the Integral movement up till now has been a gross moral and spiritual failure, no matter how much success it may have had as a popular intellectual New Age philosophy.

Well, as for the practical side of things, this will be the subject of the following chapter. But first I would like to reply to the question of why should my map be preferred over Wilber's, if the latter is already popular. How does an insight into esotericism enhance fields like business, science, academia, politics, religion, and spirituality?

But just because a theory or explanation is popular doesn't mean it is correct. . An explanation may be popular not because it accurately maps reality, but because it is provides simplistic answers; junk food for the "soul" (i.e. For the aspiring part of the affective and mental being) right. Take for example, the belief in a supernatural deity tacked on to the secular-material understanding of the cosmos, and justified via exoteric religious scriptures and a lack of insight into science (sect 1-x). This is certainly popular, but it is popular because it does not require one to think outside the box. It simply takes two common and very traditional consensus viewpoints in western society (scientism-based physicalism and Judaeo-Christian religionism) and mashes them together without bothering to consider the real meaning or implications for either tradition.

In this chapter I will both critique Wilber's AQAL-based Integral theory and present an esoteric-occult alternative, which is the theoretical aspect of Esoteric Integral Ethics.(EIE) and which nevertheless still includes the exoteric element. In the following chapter I will show how the implications of this paradigm can provide a practical social and spiritual approach which can incorporate current integral developments (both Wilberian and non-Wilberian) in this field. The following chapter will return to (now strictly esoteric) theory with a consideration of the spiritual-transpersonal "road map" of this paradigm, using a few simple diagrams. This will be followed by a chapter on the practicalities of the Integral spiritual path, as well as various aspects thereof.

We can begin with the "big picture" unification of knowldege. To start with, a few of the many themes that might be used to distinguish an Integral Philosophy, from other philosophies and paradigms, might be listed here, together with some examples. These are:

  • An "integral aperspective" or "postmodern" framework that integrates all fields of human inquiry, expression, creativity, and spirituality without bias or exclusiveness
  • Bringing together and transcending of opposites; East and West, science and religion, materialism and spirituality, in an interdisciplinary manner
  • A "Theory of Everything" in which all knowledge is explained in a highly systematic, manner, usually in terms of specific stages or gradations. When taken literally, as opposed to metaphorically, this is almost certainly false because its overly inflexible and abstract nature does not accord with the empirical facts. It is however useful as a generalisation, and valid from that certain perspective. But care must be taken to avoid an excessive anthropocentric or literalist bias being taken as the complete picture

Taking each of these in turn:

An "integral aperspective" framework that integrates all fields of human inquiry, expression, creativity, and spirituality without bias or exclusiveness. The idea itself goes back to Gebser, and was then taken up by Wilber. Of course, the Buddha taught the same thing long ago, with his parable of the blind men and the elephant, which was later adopted by and very popular among Sufis[1]. Basically then, all phenomena and all perspectives have some validity; a true "theory of everything" includes all of them without bias or depreciation.

We should also distinguish between Gebser's "integral aperspectivism" and Wilber's "orientating generalisations", even if the two are merged in Wilber's own work. I have already shown[2] that Wilber doesn't follow his own advice that all perspectives should be honoured, and everyone has something valid to say (he often says "nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time"[3]), because he downplays those paradigms - e.g. Ecospirituality[4] - that he doesn't like, and totally ignores others, such as occultism. So a truer starting point would be to take Wilber's idea and apply it properly, assuming of course that Wilber's methodology is even valid at all. Not only does Meyerhoff argue that it isn't, but even Wilber himself now seems to have taken this criticism on board, while continuing of course to denigrate Meyerhoff[5] .

Transcending, including, and synthesising of opposites - At a broader level, what all this means is that what is required is a "Big Picture" approach that includes the insights of, but also transcends or goes beyond the limitations of, traditional one-sided perspectives, such as materialism and mysticism, science and religion, East and West. This is nothing new, and certainly not limited to the Integral movement sensu stricto. One finds examples of this methodology in the teachings of Blavatsky (Theosophy), Teilhard de Chardin, and Oliver Reiser (Cosmic Humanism), all of whom I would define as "integral" theorists in the broad (non-Wilberian) sense.

Another, but much less satisfactory, example of the union of contrary understandings in a larger "big picture", is represented by a common theme in current, Wilberian-influenced, integral thought - the unifying of premodern, modern, and postmodern. This interprets knowledge and understanding in terms of the trilogy of premodern, modern, and postmodern, which are then it is claimed unified in an Integral synthesis. And while one can indeed divide up the development of modern Western society in this way, one can also equally divide it in other ways too. See for example my historical review in sect.2 of this essay. Moreover, Wilber's most recent attempts at resolving the problem of the incompatibility of "premodern" (traditional) spiritualities with modern physicalism have unfortunately involved denying both the ontological insights and the occult and esoteric practices described by the former, so as to uphold a modified (holistic) version of materialism (see TLDI 2a) that it is hoped would be acceptable to the latter. Such an exclusivist approach is very far from the true spirit of integral.

A "Theory of Everything" in which all phenomena and areas of specialised knowledge are explained in a self-consistent, intellectual, systematic manner. In the West we can go back to Platonism (especially the later Neoplatonism of Proclus) and Aristotle, or a little later to the Renaissance; in the East as well as some forms of Mahayana Buddhism (especially the Hua Yen school), Tantra, and Neo-Confucianism. More recently emerging in, or as a reaction to, the secular West to Hegel, Blavatsky, Steiner (Anthroposophy), Edward Haskell (Unified Science), Arthur M Young (Theory of Process), and of course Spiral Dynamics (Clare Graves, Chris Cowan, and Don Beck) and Wilber's Integral theory. For these and other examples see fig.1 and sect. 3-iii. Among the 19th and 20th century evolutionary versions of this theme, we often find specific stages or gradations. The problem with these "big picture" explanations is that, while quite useful as general guidelines, they tend towards excessive intellectual rigidity and pigeon-holing. So instead of seeing the thing in itself, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing one's own explanation of how the thing should be. Hence, while theorising and creating mental maps is an important and often necessary aspect of the Integral movement, there is also the individual danger of becoming overly caught up in abstractions and a subjective mental bubble or mental fortress, and individually and collectively of literalism and fundamentalism, which is exacerbated when teachers start claiming infallibility for their own intellectual pronouncements. Thus one should only consider theoretical teachings as somewhat arbitrary guidelines and pointers, and never as absolutes or alternatives for authentic experiences or yogic work of self-transformation.

4-ii. Going beyond AQAL - a more sophisticated classification

Wilber's AQAL diagram has already been referred to a little earlier in this essay (sect 3-iii). Perhaps the most important and widely adapted of Wilber's ideas, and central to his whole cosmology, is his four quadrant schema, it is a sort of mandala or mental orientating system made up of a double polarity of subjective-objective and individual-collective. Its popularity lies not in the fact that it accurately mirrors reality (in fact it is based on the old Cartesian duality), but in the fact that it is easy to apply and understand. These quadrants, combined with a restrictive linear series of levels, became known as AQAL (All Quadrants All Levels)[6] and formed the basis of Wilber-IV, which is still the most popular form of Wilberian theory. Unfortunately, because of his constant tendency to bolt on more and more mental concepts and references, he has now replaced AQAL with an even more abstractionist system, "Integral Methodological Pluralism" or "IMP".of Wilber-V. But this latter, while a useful classification system for various rationalistic states of consciousness, methodologies, and so on, turns out to be both inconsistent with AQAL and badly organised regarding its own internal logic[7], perhaps an inevitable outcome given its more unweildly and artificial nature. And unlike AQAL it will be a lot harder to give a practical social or collective application to. Increasingly, Wilberian theory look becoming the province of a small cadre of intellectual elite who will be the only ones with the intelligence and perseverance to penetrate the obscurities of creations like Integral Methodological Pluralism and Integral Mathematics.

AQAL can thus be considered the high point of Wilber's thought, before his slide into the over-obscurity and narcissism (Wilber now basically claims that his current theory is more encompassing and more inclusive than any form of knowing including meditative states and all other spiritual traditions (need refs)) of Wilber-V. Because of its interesting premises, and importance as a glyph or mandala that has exerted a huge influence on much of the integral movement - both Wilberian and post-Wilberian - and familiarity to most readers of this essay, I have used the AQAL diagram as a launch pad to construct a larger Integral metaparadigm. More specifically, I have pointed out some of the weaknesses within this diagram, and in Wilber's philosophy as a whole, and have replaced them with insights from esotericism and Aurobindonian thought. For self-contradictions in Wilber's subsequent thought, see the previous footnote.

The AQAL diagram consists of two components, the quadrants and the levels. The following is an illustration of Wilber's original quadrants; repeated in a number of Wilber's books as well as widely on the internet (just type "AQAL" into any good search engine):

Upper Left (UL)



Upper Right (UR)


Exterior -Individual

Lower Left (LL)



Lower Right (LR)




Fig 2. The Wilberian arrangement of quadrants

This is basically an updated version of the traditional mandalic system of corr4epsondences common to all mythological and premodern societies. There, the four quadrants represnet the four cardinal points and are associated with the four elements (sometimes in addition there is a fifth element or quintessence in the center), four seasons, colours, animals, deities, astrological correspondences, and so on. Thus a single diagram - for example a Tibetan mandala or Chinese cosmological diagram, can summarise in glyph form the entire knowledge and worldview of a particular culture. What Wilber has done is the same, except that he has used reference points more applicable to Western secular culture. But ultimately his system is no better and no worse than any other, it is just one more form of a symbolic unification of everything.

Interior and Exterior can also be referred to as Subjective and Objective, although the "Lower Left" (LL) quadrant is actually "inter-subjective". In any case, the problem with the Wilberian quadrants is three-fold, and derives from his still being bound (as is Transpersonal psychology as a whole, according to Jorge Ferrer) by Cartesian dualism, a philosophically unworkable system which forms the basis of the Wilber-IV AQAL diagram, and for that matter the follow-up Wilber-V "Integral Metaphysical Perspectives" which further multiplies the dualisms by dividing each quadrant into a further interior and exterior. In the AQAL diagram Cartesianism is represented by the distinction between subjective ("left") and objective ("right"). Hence the alienation from the body, which is associated with "exteriors" and empiricist impersonalisation.

We will return to the quadrants, and problems of dualism and depersonalisation, shortly. But first, the Levels. The idea is that there is an exact equivalence between the levels in each quadrant, or rather, each level has four aspects to its being (the four quadrants). This system quickly becomes absurd, as would be expected from a mental abstraction that is not based on empirical reality. I can do no better here than quote integral philosopher Andrew P. Smith:

."..there are numerous inconsistencies, oversimplifications and misrepresentations in Wilber's treatment of the work of others, and many of these flaws...are ultimately rooted in his attempt to integrate these data or ideas smoothly with the notion of higher states of consciousness....(I)n his four quadrant model, where human beings of different kinds of societies, such as magic, mythic and rational, are considered to occupy genuinely different levels of existence, levels that have the same relationship to each still higher, trans-rational levels have to them....

With his hierarchy defined in this manner, some conclusions emerge that are completely at odds with scientific and social evidence, not to mention plain common sense. For example, the relationship of a modern, rational human being to a human of the mythic or magic level (or more precisely, the relationship of their brains) is the same as that of an organism to its cells, or of a cell to its molecules. This despite the fact that the all members of Homo sapiens are considered anatomically identical, and that any differences between them must involve very fine structures in the brain, as yet undetectable by science.

The four-quadrant model also regards social holons or societies to be on the same level as their individual members, even though a society is higher by any criteria (including the one Wilber himself prefers) used to define higher/lower relationships. This model classifies some holons, such as planets, stars and other celestial bodies, as social, though they have none of the essential properties of social holons composed of humans or other organisms, while ignoring other holons, such as metabolic networks within cells and biological tissues within organisms, that do have these properties. And nowhere in the entire model is there any mention of an individual organism, the fundamental unit of biology; only brains are depicted."[8]

This gives us our first lesson, that any authentic Integral theory has to fit with empirical evidence, which includes the evidence provided by science (sect 1-x). And this is why over-rigid and over stylisied Wilberian theory needs to be replaced with a more adaptable and multidimensional perspective. I offer one such perspective here, but there are any number of possible options. And ultimately integral philosophers cannot simply passively accept what others have created, but engage in their own philosophising as well, as transitional activities until one is able to go beyond the conceptual mind altogether.

4-iii. The Polarity of "Lunar" and "Solar"

The basis of Wilber's AQAL diagram is, of course, the overlap of two pairs of opposites - interiors and exteriors, and individual and collective, which form the backdrop on which the various evolutionary holons are placed. This idea of using pairs of opposites to create a grand big [picture theory is certainly not unique; it goes back at least as far as ancient China, and has been developed independently in many different forms since.

To give just a few examples, the Chinese Yin-Yang system, the Pythagorean Even and Odd numbers, the Tantric Ida and Pingala nadis, and so-on. These can be shown as follows ( arranged chronologically from top (earliest) to bottom (most recent)) :

Psychology and Cosmology "Yin" / "Lunar" aspect "Yang"/"Solar" aspect
Taoism (1st millenium b.c.e.) Yin Yang
Pythagoreanism (6th century b.c.e.) Even Odd
Tantra (1st to early 2nd millennium c.e.) Ida / "Lunar" Pingala / "Solar"
Alchemy (1st to early 2nd millennium c.e.) Mercury / Moon Sulphur / Sun
Steiner (early 20th century) "Luciferic" "Ahrimanic"
New Age / New Paradigm (1970s, 80s, and 90s) Holistic / "Right brain" Linear / "Left brain"
Stan Gooch (1972) System B / "Self" System A / "Ego"
Wilber /Integral Theory/AQAL (1995 onwards) Interiors (left quadrants) Exteriors (right quadrants)

Table 1: "Yin" and "Yang" polarities in different philosophical systems

All of these convey the fundamental polarity in the human psychophysical functioning and consciousness. Obviously there would be a similar polarity in all living beings (and for that matter the entire physical cosmos), as I would argue these opposites pertain to the polarity of yin and yang ch'i energy - see for example my page on the Microcosmic Orbit[9].

The following table shows the pairs of symbolic opposites according to the system of Stan Gooch[10] (which could in itself be considered a sort of integral psychology).

System B

System A ("Solar")

Self Ego
Unconscious Conscious
Dream Waking
Dark Light
Female Male
subjective objective
personal impersonal
emotion, feeling thought, thinking
irrational rational
faith fact
belief proof
magic (`illogic') logic
Religion, art science
involvement detachment
sexual asexual
left-wing politics (Labour, Communism) right-wing politics (Fascism)

Table 2: Psychological polarities

Gooch use this polarity as the basis for a whole series of books on various subjects, including parapsychology and the Neanderthal question. At least to me personally, his later work is less interesting than the above polarity with its rich symbolism and almost universal coverage, which provide an important tool in mapping the fundamental divisions of consciousness, and even of society, as indicated by the Left / Right - and hence egalitarian / hierarchic - polarity in the last row.

4-iv Two Integral Teachers - Ken Wilber and William Irwin Thompson

In terms of Gooch's table of polarities, Wilber's very intellectual integral methodology fits very neatly in "System A". Conversely William Irwin Thompson, with his emphasis on myth, allegory, and the feminine principle, would represent the opposite polarity of "System B".

John David Ebert, who interviewed Thompson in his book Twilight of the Clockwork God: Conversations on Science & Spirituality (1999) comments on this in the end-notes of his book:

It occurs to me that Ken Wilber and William Irwin Thompson are modern incarnations of an archetypal dichotomy of intellectual temperament. Aristotle and Plato are perhaps the earliest manifestation in Western culture, but it has continued right down the line in such pairs as Newton and Leibniz, Kant and Goethe, Hegel and Schopenhauer. The Wilber type is the Systematist for whom the world is capable of reduction to a single clear architecture. There is one set of truths, eternal and unchanging, which the Systematist, whether he is Kant or Hegel, Newton or Aristotle, believes he has been uniquely privileged to discover. Everything is assigned to its niche, like the saints and apostles in a Gothic cathedral, and one system contains all the necessary answers for any question that should arise.

For Wilber, consequently, there is only one theory that is articulated over and over again in each of his books, all of which repeat the same schemas and diagrams endlessly. His work can be neatly divided in two halves, for Sex, Ecology, Spirituality marks the birth of his new Final Theory, in the light of which his earlier works are to be taken as precursors. Everything since that book contains a carbon copy of the same four-fold diagram of quadrants, as though consciousness can be mapped as neatly as the trajectory of a parabola on a Cartesian grid.

For the Thompson-Schopenhauer-Goethe-Leibniz-Plato type, the world is in flux and its truths are changing along with it. The ideas of these thinkers are never finished, always subject to revision, and constantly undergoing transformation as new truths are tested, or new theories acquired. The world is a state of perpetual Becoming and no system or body of knowledge can ever hope to be complete, capturing all that there is to know at last. No scholar has ever succeeded, for example, in capturing the fine nuances of Plato's ideas as they evolve through the course of his dialogues. Nothing but actually reading them through chronologically can replicate the experience of watching his thought ripen to its full maturity. Plato, like Nietzsche, was not afraid of contradicting himself, for the two were alike in their manner of constantly trying out new ideas on themselves to see what the resulting points of view would look like.

Something of this dichotomy is embodied, also, by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. For the former, working in the medium of stone meant the production of complete masterpieces. Michelangelo almost always finished what he started--until later years, that is--and consequently we possess only a handful of unfinished works. The Sistine Chapel constitutes a veritable System of the Christian cosmos, complete in every respect from Genesis to Apocalypse. For Leonardo, on the other hand, the world was ever changing and so were his views. Rarely did he finish what he began. Each painting is a sort of test of an entirely provisional theory. His notebooks are unsystematic and no one has ever really managed to capture their full complexity in a synopsis.

Thompson, likewise, must be read in his entirety, every book, in order to grasp the substance of his vision, which is always changing. He is unsystematic, but always innovative, incorporating fresh insights with each new volume. Every book is a unique experience. For him, consequently, Wilber personifies that which Thompson most dreads: the Final Theory Engraved in Stone.[11]

Similar also is the metaphor of the Fox and the Hedgehog. According to a fragment of verse by the 7th-century b.c.e. Greek poet Archilochus "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This illuminating metaphor was used by the philosopher and intellectual historian Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) in an essay on Tolstoy (in his book "Russian thinkers"), As explained by Croatian esotericist Arvan Harvat:

Basically, human beings are categorized as either "hedgehogs" or "foxes". Hedgehogs' lives are embodiment of a single, central vision of reality according to which they "feel", breathe, experience and think - "system addicts", in short. Examples include Plato, Dante, Proust and Nietzsche. Foxes live centrifugal than centripetal lives, pursuing many divergent ends and, generally, possess a sense of reality that prevents them from formulating a definite grand system of "everything", simply because they "know" that life is too complex to be squeezed into any Procrustean unitary scheme. Montaigne, Balzac, Goethe and Shakespeare are, in various degrees, foxes.[12]

Harvat considers Wilber a classic Hedgehog. The equivalence between this polarity and that mentioned by Ebert is not exactly the same, since Plato is referred to first as a transformationist (if that's the right word), the opposite polarity to Wilber, and then as a Hedgehog and systematist. So it may be that the two sets of polarities are not the same, that one of the lists of names is in error, or a little of both.

A true integral system has to incorporate both polarities and both perspectives. In this contrext Wilber and Thompson are both equally integral thinkers and teachers, but each represents a totally opposite and equally one-sided aspect of integral. This is not to deny that Thompson is the greater and more profound thinker. But the reason for that is simply that as a systematist, Wilber isn't a very good one. His scholarship is sloppy, his philosophy is full of contradictions and unwarranted generalisations (as Meyerhoff has shown), and his AQAL theory is easily disproved by a little empirical analysis and common sense (4-ii). A much better systematist would be someone like Edward Haskell or Arthur M. Young. I'm not saying that the theories of either of those innovative philosophers are more correct than what Wilber says, only more consistent, although this may be because neither attempted to assimilate such an ambitious amount of raw data.

As a non-systematist Thompson resists allowing his thoughts coalesce into a dogmatic theory; this is one reason I haven't been driven to create an esoteric integral paradigm based on his work the way I have with Wilber's AQAL.

4-v. The Self as Body and the nature of the "I"

Having considered polarity in general, we can look at (and critique) the AQAL quadrants themselves. Much of the problem lies with the right-hand side of the AQAL diagram, which confuses three different realities; (a) one's own individual physical body, (b) the experience of the other as physical, and (c) the objectivist experience of matter. All of these are described as "it" in Wilber's quadrants. Each of these however would be better considered separately, as each corresponds to a quite specific aspect or gradation of reality.

In Western religious and philosophical thought, beginning with the platonic tradition and continuing through to Gnosticism and Hellenised Christianity, Medieval Christianity, Cartesian dualism, and contemporary Empiricism, the soul or spirit or mind, or in empiricism the conscious observer, is distinguished from the body or matter or nature. The former is good, the latter is ontologically inferior (Platonism), a prison for the soul (Gnosticism), a source of sin or shame (Catholicism, Puritanism, etc), or something to be experimented (empiricism) on exploited (consumerism). Such dualism is by no means limited to the western tradition, one finds it in Hindu and Buddhist spiritual teachings for example, in which the world-process is considered to be maya, samsara, a misconception through avidya, and so on. However, psychologically and ontologically, the Eastern and Platonic perspectives are still superior in insight to Cartesian ontological or Empiricist physicalist forms of dualism.

Instead of a mind-body (e.g. AQAL's upper left and upper rught quadrants) or spirit-matter dichotomy, Aurobindonian integral psychology contrasts the Inner Divine Soul or center with the Outer Being. By "outer being" I mean the surface consciousness and its reality;using the term in the Aurobindonian context[13]. This incidentally includes the Big Three, Four Quadrants, and Eight Perspectives of conventional integral theory (thus Wilber's "Inner"is still part of the "Outer Being"). The Outer Being consists of physical, vital (= emotional/affective), and mental, with all three of these levels each representing a different stratum of "conscious" The system of "centers"of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky is very similar, and correspondences can be found in other yogic teachings and esoteric traditions. In less technical terms, this can be translated as the physical consciousness or physical being, the emotional consciousness or emotional being (emotions in the sense of feelings, psychological affects, likes and dislikes, etc), and the mental consciousness or mental being.

So instead of body and mind (Descartes' dualism, and its derivatives such as Wilber's exteriors and interiors), there is body, emotional feeling, and thinking. In this way the simplistic Cartesian and post-cartesian (including Teilhardian, Dual-Aspect philosophical, and Wilberian) dichotomy of subject-object or interior-exterior (with mind or consciousness on one side and body on the other) can be replaced by a more phenomenologically appropriate understanding, by which I mean corresponding to individual experience rather than abstractions. In this manner the field of experience the body (which is the physical element of the above mentioned trinity) is part of the field of consciousness (the "I" using the word in the Wilberian sense - upper left quadrant). This is in keeping with the insights of Merleau-Ponty[14].

This Aurobindonian, Neo-theosophical, and Gurdjieffian inspired ontological understanding is very different from Wilber's evolutionary holarchic levels. In the former the mental center or faculty does not include and transcend the physical, the way it does in Wilberian theory. In esoteric ontology, Mind, Emotion/Vital, and Body are all each distinct, and in Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga all three have to be equally transformed. The difference can be shown in the following table.

Theon, Neo-theosophy,
Sri Aurobindo, Gurdjieff/
Ouspensky, etc

Mental being or self Body + Life + Mind
Emotional being or self (no equivalent?)
Physical being or self (or equivalent) Body + Life

Fig 3. The Esoteric trichtomy and the Wilberian Holarchy

It is not that one is wrong and the other right. Rather there are two complementary positions, the ontological and the evolutionary. It is worth pointing out that most current esotericists also accept and incorporate the evolutionary as well as the ontological perspective. Both the Theosophical and Aurobindonian traditions see evolution as the progressive actualisation of higher ontological faculties, which is exactly what Wilber also teaches (and where did Wilber get this idea in the first place, if not from Theosophy and Sri Aurobindo?). But they also acknowledge these principles as ontological realities in their own right.

So it is our old friend include and transcend again. AQAL-based Wilberian integral theory includes the evolutionary perspective only. Esotericism includes this very same evolutionary perspective, but it also transcends it with the addition of an ontological perspective. The ontological perspective recognises the existence of supra-physical realities which are ignored or denied or explained away in Wilberian theory. Thus even 19th century Traditional Theosophy is in this respect more integral in the Wilberian definition of the term - more inclusive and integrative in other words - than current 21st century Wilberian Integral theory. More recent does not necessarily mean better; progress is only rarely a straight line from past to future.

Another difference between Wilberian Integral theory and Esoteric Integral theory is that in the latter, represented by Theosophical and Aurobindonian esoteric ontology, and also the Gurdjieffian-Ouspenskian philosophy, the Subjective / "I" perspective is three-fold, representing the three ontological gradations of physical body, emotions or feelings, and thoughts or mind, with an equal degree of ontological distinctiveness between them. In contrast Wilberian theory is still based on the old exoteric dualism of mind and body, or as he prefers to put it, interiors and exteriors. To see how this works, let's look at the AQAL (Wilberian) version of duality again:




(upper left quadrant)




(upper right quadrant)

Fig 4. The Wilberian dichotomy of the individual part of AQAL

Phenomenologically, this is exactly the same as Cartesian dualism. Wilber may differ from Descartes in embedding his duality in a 4-aspect holon, but the duality is still there. Nowhere in all his voluminous writings does Wilber suggest a way out of this dilemma, other than to refer to a transcendent Absolute; rather like a Christian creationist relying on "God of the Gaps" top explain the weaknesses in his theory. As mentioned (sect 4-iii, 4-iv) in terms of Stan Gooch''s integral psychology (in his book "Total Man"), Wilber's AQAL dualism is very much "system A" thinking, which is from the perspective of the rationalised mind or observer, with its depersonalisation of the body as an object or thing, "it".

Now, in contrast to this, let's consider the concept of the personality as three-fold, with all three aspects of the being are equally of the nature of "I", and none of them depersonalised as "it". This gives:


Individual theories, ideas, etc; Individual mental bubble or mental fortress, abstractionist thoughts

Individual emotions, affects, feelings, etc

Physical body, physical consciousness, sensation, consciousness of the body, etc

Fig 5. The Three Faculties

So whereas the Cartesian-inspired AQAL system depersonalises the body as an "it" (Upper Right quadrant), in Esoteric Integral Paradigm the body is actually part of or an aspect of the "I" (which would be upper left quadrant in Wilber's AQAL diagram). This incorporates the insights of both phenomnology - which Wilber gives lip-service to in his eight methodological perspectives, but does not actually integrate into his system - and esotericism.

The animate body as subjectively experienced therefore is distinguished from inanimate matter. In AQAL the "body" has two aspects: the mind, or consciousness of the body, is "I" (Upper Left Quadrant) and the exterior of the body "It" (Upper Right Quadrant). But in Integral Esotericism as defined here, the Body is always "I", always an aspect or part of the field of consciousness, as Merleau-Ponty asserts.

4-vi. The inclusion of You (Empathy and Participation)

The experience of the Other (you / thee / thou) is based on the empathic communion. Interestingly the second-person pronoun is totally absent in Wilber's AQAL diagram[15]. To incorporate the heart element into Integral theory and practice, we have to turn to John Heron's concept of co-operative inquiry and a "participative paradigm", which asserts the participative relation between the knower and the known. This enables an epistemology based on empathy, and it is on this foundation and the linchpin that the entire Esoteric Integral Ethics philosophy (Integral Morality) can be built.

I am not simply talking here about God as Second Person; the I-Thou principle referred to by Martin Buber, and which Wilber includes in his recent book Integral Spirituality. That is a part of it, but only at the level of the transpersonal. What is referred to here is the other person as second person; empathy on the personal level, not just on the transcendent and transpersonal as in standard mysticism. This includes mysticism, but also goes beyond it, to see not just Self or God in all beings, as Vedantic spiritual culture asserts, but a finite person like oneself in all beings, to see that all sentient beings - regardless of species or other external form - desire happiness and joy and freedom from pain. And seeing that, to act accordingly.

In this context the distinction between Individual and Collective is another axis altogether, and there would seem to be an obvious redundancy here with Wilber's levels as holons, because the collective is the larger holon that includes the smaller holon of the individual. More on holarchy in sect.4-x. For now, the following diagram can be presented as an alternative to the AQAL quadrants:

Holarchy Self Other
Individual Individual Subjective / "I"

The self, ego, or individual identity
Individual Intersubjective / "You"

The other, related to empathically
(or if non-empathically, as"It")


Collective /"We"

The sum of "I", "You" and others (e.g. "They")

The larger ecology; includes "social holons".

Fig 6. The three pronouns

4-vii. The Co-action Compass

Just like AQAL, there are other, equally integral, diagrams and representations by other thinkers like Edward Haskell and Arthur M. Young. The fact that these systems of universal explanation are not specifically referred to as "integral" by their authors, does not mean that they are not integral in the Gebserian or Wilberian sense of an all-embracing "big picture" explanation of things.

In this regard, the "Co-action Compass" or "Coaction Cardioid" can serve as a graphical foundation of the EIE paradigm. The Co-action Compass is a cybernetic feedback diagram that forms the basis of the "Unified Science" integral paradigm presented by Edward Haskell and his associates. Unified Science and the Council for Unified Research and Education constituted in the 1940s through to 1970s an initiative every bit as "Integral" as Wilberian theory and the Integral Institute based thereon. In fact it could be argued it was more so because it free of cultic authoritarianism and religious worship of the leader. The initiative failed, and Haskell, one of the seminal thinkers of the 20th century, died forgotten[16]. He was a man ahead of his time, and the world was not ready for such radical views.

In this light, the success of the Wilberian paradigm during the 1990s and 2000s is only due to the fact that it builds upon the already established New Age and New Paradigm movement of the 1970s and '80s, which itself is the development of the counter-culture of the 1960s, which itself stems from the Beat movement of the 50s. Thus, historically Wilberism is a theory and a movement that found itself in the right place at the right time; and it succeeded for that reason alone, not because it was qualitatively superior to earlier forms of Integralism such as Unified Science.

While no less inflexible than Wilberism in its strict delineation of categories, stages and sublevels, "Unified Science" thus provides a useful perspective that is lacking in Wilberian theory, and can thus contribute to a larger Integral meta-paradigm, and form the basis of an Integral morality.

Unified science can be summed up by a simple diagram, the aforementioned Co-action Compass or Coaction Cardioid. What follows is a representation provided by Timothy Wilken, but variations of the same diagram, albeit less artistically presented, are provided throughout the book Full Circle, as well as on the cover:

fig 7. The co-action compass of Haskellian Unified Science -
the two elements can interact in a way that is positive, negative, or neutral,
for either or both of them, giving nine possible combinations.
Diagram © Timothy Wilken[17]

This diagram (and Unified Science in general) is based on the premise that with any two interacting factors (shown in the diagram by the two emoticons), one will have a controlling role (here represented by the y axis) and the other will be the "work component" (the x axis). Because both aspects are required, the word coaction is used; action is not something that occurs in isolation.

There is an obvious parallel here with the yin (= x axis) and yang (= y axis) of Chinese philosophy and cosmology. In Unified Science, these two elements interact in a way that benefits, harms, or is neutral to, one, both, or neither. The result is a matrix of 9 possible interactions, which are represented graphically as the co-action compass. The diagram here shows how these 9 possible relationships determine the 9 fundamental states of the co-action compass.

In the above diagram, the X or work element is represented by the emoticon on the left, and the Y or control element is represented by the emoticon on the right. Where an element benefits, than there is a green smilie face (in this diagram green represents growth or development). Where it suffers there is a red frowning face (here red represents going backwards or loss). Where the effect is neutral, the result is a silver neutral face. The larger the green outside the circle (right side of diagram) the greater the benefit and evolution, the larger the red band inside the circle (left side of diagram) the greater the backward slide. Note that these colours are just for illustrative purposes in this diagram, and are not relevant to Unified Science itself; so this should not be taken as any sort of Spiral Dynamics colour-coding of stages.

There are three primary relations where each element is affected in the same way. At the top right, both benefit. This is called "ectropy" in the original book. An alternative term might be negentropy, although I prefer Wilken's suggestion "synergy". This constitutes the state of mutual onward development and growth, towards "omega", the last letter of the Greek alphabet, the context may be here may be inspired by Teilhard de Chardin's "Omega Point" as the consummation or christogenesis of terrestrial evolution.

Alternatively both elements could suffer (the two red emoticons, bottom left); the result here being entropy, and the fall to a lower evolutionary or developmental stage, with the lowest being the starting point "Alpha", shown at the middle of the diagram.

A third alternative is that neither is affected, or "atropy" in the book, shown here by the two silver neutral emoticons facing away from each other. Actually here they are placed in the wrong position, because atropy corresponds to the circle in the diagram, the center being the Alpha point or maximum entropy.

Just as Wilber introduced developmental levels into his AQAL diagram to supplement the quadrants, Haskell et al have a modified version of their diagram consisting of concentric coaction cardioids, with the upper right tip of the inner one touching the neutral circle of the next one out. In this way, evolution progresses through the successive stages, or "kingdoms", which here are particles, atoms, molocules, "geoid" (inanimate matter) systems, plant ecosystems, animal ecosystems, and human cultures. The parallel with Wilber's developmental levels is obvious, even though Wilber presumably has no knowledge of Haskell's work. And just as with Wilber's AQAL cosmology, the introduction of this extra parameter does not add to the explanatory power of the diagram or the conceptual system, but takes away from it. The result is an increase in rigidity, not a greater universality. This is because all these systems try to explain too much using too simple an explanation. For this reason I focus here on the co-action compass, which itself repres4ents a complete explanatory diagram, and ignore the later and unnecessary additions.

Haskell et al's co-action compass is therefore for me what Wilber's AQAL diagram is not, a fundamental representation diagram of the evolutionary nature of reality.

Looking at the the Co-action Compass then, it seems that the fundamental principle is not Y or X, but the relation between the two. So we have again a participative paradigm, in which the interaction of Governor (Y) and Work Component (X) determines the outcome of the joint entity that the two comprise.

So the fundamental unit is not a sort of fundamental metaphysical atom like Leibnitz's monad or Wilber's quadra-polar holon, but rather the interaction between two (or more) entities (or beings or systems). And each entity is itself not a static unit but an interaction between other entities. These entities may be beings one empathically relates to as equal, or the X/Yin and Y/Yang components of its own make-up, or they may be part of a larger local, collective, or cosmic ecology).

And whereas AQAL is based on the static and impersonal dichotomy of Individual and Collective, "I","We", and "It" (fig 2), the Co-Action Compass is based on the "You", the interaction between two entities, the interface between self and other, individual and collective, that is missing from the Wilberian scheme. I have designated the "co-active" holarchic level (table 4) and assigned to it the pronoun "you" (ignored in Wilberian theory), and the principle of empathic and participatory epistemology already referred to by John Heron. This in turn relates to the participatory epistemology of Richard Tarnas and Jorge Ferrer, and the peer to peer social and collective revolution observed and described by Michel Bauwens.

The "Coaction Cardioid" is the heart-shaped path the figure traces (fig.7), although the vague similarity to the mandelbrot set is also intriguing! And inasmuch as the heart is associated with the spiritual (as well as the personal) principle of empathy, love, compassion, and interpersonal interaction, the apparently arbitrary (or synchronistic) shape of the symbol is doubly meaningful[18].

4-viii. Dynamic pairs of opposites

The pairs of opposites in sect 4-iii are still limited to either an abstract or a cyclic representation of polarity. In contrast to this, Unified Science portrays polarity in a dynamic way, via the two interacting axii and ontological entities mapped in the Coaction Compass (fig 7), and the results of which (at least on the physical level) can be empirically mapped through scientific means. But this does not mean that the points of the Coaction Compass be limited to rationalistic associations only. The following table compares the Unified Science polarity with the other polarities and opposites found in different teachings,philosophies and science, but overlapping in various ways, even if only rarely synonymous. The list is arranged chronologically from top (earliest) to bottom (most recent)


"Work Component" aspect

"Governor" aspect

Taoism (1st millenium b.c.e.) Acupuncture, Taoist Yoga[19] Yin Functional channel (front) Yang Governor channel (rear)
Tantra (1st millenium c.e.) "Lunar"/ Shakti "Solar"/Shiva
Quantum Physics (developed in early 20th century) Wave Particle
Haskell / Unified Science (1940s to 70s) Work Component (X) Governor (Y)
Stan Gooch (1972) System B / "Self" System A / "Ego"
Wilber / Integral Theory/AQAL (1995 to present) Collective (lower quadrants) Individual (upper quadrants)

Table 3: "Governor" and "Work Component" and equivalent polarities.

Here different perspectives of the Wilber AQAL diagram are given as correspondences in tables 2 and 3, while many of the other polarities - e.g. Yin and Yang - are the same. This is because the latter pair constitute a more fundamental and universal "structure". Borrowing the language of physics we could say that yin and yang are "global" whereas Wilber's quadrant pairs (upper and lower, left and right) are "local".

Moreover, not all polarities fit the system represented in tables 2 to 4. For example the Indian concepts of non-dual Absolute/Consciousness and the phenomenon arising in or as transformations of that consciousness (in varying systems the Samkhyan Purusha and Prakriti, Vedantic Brahman and Maya, Tantric Shiva and Shakti, and the reconciliation of these three opposites in Sri Aurobindo's theology and metaphysics), the Gnostic Spirit/Light and Matter/Darkness and the related Lurianic Light and Vessel and associated polarities (Hesed/Mercy and Gevurah/Severity, Will to Give and Will to Receive, etc), and variations of each or both, represent a higher polarity of transcendent and relative, in which the relative is defined by the polarity/duality of "yin" and "yang" It should also be remembered that even using the term "yin" and "yang" is problematic, because it is reversed for example in Japanese macrobiotics than it is in Chinese thought. Also, assigning the female principle to the negative polarity (yin as darkness, the common a supposed to the superior man, etc) is simply part of the entrenched chauvanism and sexism that is found in all traditional esoteric and spiritual systems, in which the negative or ensnaring principle (maya, prakriti, gevurah, etc) is always considered female. This shows that those who formulated these systems were not able to rise above the common prejudice and misogyny of their milieu and their patrialtrous (neologism - adj. , from Patrialtry, n. "worship of the (heavenly) Father") religion, hence could not have been authentically enlightened. Contrast for example the strongly matrialtrous (neologism - adj. , from Matrialtry, n. "worship of the (Supreme) Mother", neologism coined here) approach of Sri Aurobindo, who perhaps sought to redress this imbalance by directing his disciples to The Mother (the incarnate Mira as avatar of the Supreme Mother)[20]

In my earlier and unfinished "integral theory of everything" formulation, I speculated that whether an entity or element A is more yin or yang than entity or element B is determined by their position on a "quadontological" (my neologism, rather like AQAL it means four quadrants or four aspects of being) mandala, so every pairing of phenomenon and manifest reality can be understood in terms of a yin and yang interaction, leading to either an entropic, a neutral, or a syntropic outcome for one or both units. Although I now consider this mandalic representation - inspired as it is by Wilber's AQAL mandala - as unnecessarily limited and artificial, the theme of a fundamental yin/yang relation is I feel still valid.

This would mean that the fundamentally everything that exists is all part of a vast "Tao of Physics"esque "dance of Shiva" network of bootstrapped interactions of other interactions which in turn consist of other interactions (like the dance of virtual particles). The result is a "monadology" in which the monads are not entities but "processes", in which ontology and morality are actually two aspects of the same thing.

The reason they are, is because every action either raises up towards omega (infinite synergy and creativity) or breaks down to alpha (matter as non-being, the Plotinian hyle or Aurobindonian inconscient). In this regard every action is moral, and karmic, because it has an evolutionary effect on oneself and others. This effect is the result of the yin-yang interaction, plus the third neutral element giving the nine alternatives listed in the diagram. Or instead of yin-yang one could say yab-yum (the Tibetan embracing deities), if metaphorically every empathic interaction is - by virtue of its intimacy - a sort of sexual embrace on some subtle level) interaction)

4-ix The Inconscient - Matter as constricted Consciousness

Objective or (apparently) non-conscious matter is what is traditionally thought of as matter apart from mind or consciousness. But because ultimately (at least according to my own understanding, others may disagree) everything is consciousness, and matter can be seen as a restricted form of consciousness (Kashmir Shaivism) that means that even inanimate matter can be explained a sa form of consciousness, and understood in terms of what Sri Aurobindo refers to as "the inconscient", the veiled and concealed consciousness of matter. This is something quite distinct from the physical consciousness of the body (which being a form of consciousness is therefore also part of the individual subjective). However, if everything is consciousness, the difference is one of levels of consciousness. So a number of intermediate levels can be posited between physical as individual body-consciousness and the physical as inconscient "objective" matter. The Wilberian distinction between "it" (singular) and "its" ("it" as plural, not possessive case) can be rejected as irrelevant, since any individual "it" or object is also part of a larger system of interactions, whereas this is not necessarily the case with the left of the diagram - individual ideas may have nothing to do with the collective society or culture.

4-x The Holarchy

In the AQAL system, the Cartesian-based duality of Interior and Exterior, or mind and body, is complemented by the duality of Individual and Collective. But this arrangement is still incomplete because this holarchy (for that is what it is) can be extended both beyond Collective to Cosmic and Infinite-Universal. Thus in EIE the holarchy can be represented simplistically as follows:

fig. 8. Individual to Infinite-Universal

Here, the levels of Individual and collective are more or less the same as in the upper and lower quadrants of the AQAL diagram (fig 2). But that diagram is now extended with the addition of even more universal levels. AQAL however fails to take into account the cosmic and infinite-universal dimensions, which are even more inclusive than the collective. Or if it does mention them it includes them with the collective.

An additional element is the interpersonal or interactive level; this being the sphere that one most often finds the interaction with the other as "you" or "it". (sect. 4-vi). As the individual or personal environment and surroundings and auric field, it constitutes the intermediate level or link between the egoic self-centered or self-limited "I" (which pertains only to the individual and its contents), and the collective level of the society, ecology, or whatever as a whole. In this latter case then, the first three holarchic levels are designated "egoic", "interactive", and "collective", the latter again corresponding roughly to AQAL's lower two quadrants.

Thus, comparing and contrasting AQAL:with this system:

Ontological state /

Description (Esoteric Integral theory) Equivalent AQAL quadrant and pronoun EIE Pronoun

(as metaphor a la AQAL)
Universal-Infinite Plane of Reality or aspect of the Supreme in general no equivalent Same as below
Cosmic Cosmic archetypes, deities, astronomical objects, comsecology, astrology, etc Part of LR quadrant? Transpersonal: "Thou" (mystical - Martin Buber)
Collective Collectivities - large scale society, ecology, group minds, etc Collective - Lower quadrants (LL/"We" and LR/"It-s") Empathy: "We", Lack of empathy: "They"
Interactive (Individual environment) Empathy or lack thereof with surroundings, interaction and coaction with other beings, intersubjectivity or onbjectivity no equivalent Empathy: "You" (also "We") Lack of empathy: "It"

Sphere of relative self and all its contents, the ego, the individual consciousness, the microcosm, subjectivity UL quadrant ("I") UR quadrant ("It") "I" (includes body, affects, and thoughts - sect. 4-v)

Table 4: The holarchy

This holarchy could also be defined not just on the gross through to transcendent physical, but also on the various levels of the emotional/affective and mental/ideational (fig.5) as well. This applies not just to the Egoic "I" as shown above, but to every larger level of being and plane of existence (sect 4-xxiii).

Wilber's identification of holarchy with levels of consciousness - the basis of his AQAL cosmology - is not viable, because a larger totality does not necessarily mean a greater level of consciousness. For although it is true that the collective may sometimes be more intelligent then the individual ("Wisdom of Crowds"[21]), conversely it can also be less so (e.g. the "mob mind"). For more on the self-contradictions inherent in Wilber's AQAL diagram and concept of holons see the thoughtful critiques provided by Andrew Smith (sect 4-ii and other articles on his website and on Integral world)

4-xi Coaction and Universal Morality

The coaction compass (sect. 4-vii) allows the mapping of the "You" or "Thou" element that is missing from Wilberian thought. In this way it can form the basis for an Integral system of morality. And this Integral system of morality constitutes the basis of the entire Esoteric Integral Paradigm presented here.

Let us consider those pronouns again. We have the principle of You or Thee, representing empathic interpersonal connection. But because there is also a self doing the connecting, the complete equation would be I-You. In the co-action compass, "I" would represent the Y or control axis, and "You" the X or work axis or the environment. But this also depends on perspective. If Adam interacts with Betty, from Adam's perspective, he is the Y axis and Betty is the X axis. But from Betty's perspective, Adam represents the X axis whereas she is the Y axis. This is because ultimately, at a transcendent level (rather than our current relative level) nondual Consciousness, the Witness, the Self, Atman, Purusha, is "Y" in the coaction diagram, and the field or objects or (according to Kashmir Shaivism) self-manifestation of nondual Consciousness, or maya or prakriti (to use some more technical Indian philosophical terms) is "X".

But to return to the relative level. Y can relate to X in a positive manner, in a negative manner, or in a neutral manner. I define the positive manner as being that of empathic union, sympathetic resonance, or seeing the Divine in the other. In other words, You or Thee. To relate in a negative manner is to see the other being as an "It". As for the third, neutral, position, this may mean to take a non-committal approach. Similarly the other person or being can respond in kind, or differently. The result would be the nine fundamental interactions shown on the coaction compass.

In addition to the type of interaction (positive, negative, or neutral) there is also the aspect of one's being that does the interacting. Buddhism teaches right actions in body, speech, and mind. Similarily, in Integral Esotericism, there is the trilogy of Physical, Affective/Emotional, and Mental (sect. 4-v) which are similar but not the same (the Buddhist "speech" for example would seem to involve both body and mind, but does not necessarily correspond to emotional being).

Then there is the type of being that constitutes "thou"(positive/empathy) or "it"(negative/antipathy), and which one can respond with or react towards via action, feeling, or thought. Here I would postulate five more progressively inclusive categories:

  • human
  • other sentient (sensitive and aware beings, not necessarily human; e.g. Animal with a developed nervous system, and in the future perhaps Artificial Intelligence as another type of sentient)
  • other life (includes life even without developed intelligence, e.g. Plant, microorganism, etc)
  • other matter (not just living beings)
  • and other being (not just material-physical).

And finally the holarchical scope or scale (sect. 4-x). One can ideally respond with action, feeling, or thought on the level of

  • the egoic intra-individual level (pertains only to oneself)
  • the interactive inter-individual or personal environmental level (pertains to those in one's immediate vicinity, may be friends, family, pets, workmates, home environment, aura, etc)
  • the collective level (on a larger scale, racial, global, etc)
  • the cosmic level
  • the universal-infinite level

Of course in practice it is only the first three holarchical levels that are relevant, the latter two being too vast

This gives us a foundation for an integral morality, and hence the right way to act in any situation or any relationship, with any being. I will return to a more practical discussion of Integral Morality in the next chapter of this essay (sect 5-ii)

4-xii. Inner/Esoteric and Outer/Exoteric

The distinction between esoteric and exoteric has already been referred to (sect 1-ii). To explain a little more what each of these polarities refer to, and using here Sri Aurobindo's yoga (and the derived integral psychology of Indra Sen and others), "outer" refers to the superficial or surface consciousness, basically what we normally experience in waking consciousness, and how we function as non-enlightened beings, the surface physical, vital, and mental, whilst "inner" refers to a vast realm of what might now be called "transpersonal"; states of subtle, inner, and/or wider or more universal consciousness which may or may not be spiritual, but are far beyond the narrow existence and experiences of the "outer being".

Meditating on this polarity, one can also easily postulate various symbolic correspondences here, and including those listed in table 2.: particle (outer) and wave (inner), yang (outer) and yin (inner) (or vice-versa, depending on your interpretation), finite (outer) and infinite (inner), matter (outer) and spirit (inner). But doing this leads to fixed and limited dogmatism; since seen from another context particle and wave are both "outer", and spirit and matter both "inner", or vice versa. Also, there is the ever-present risk of mistaking or interpreting the symbolic or allegoric with and as the literal.

Moreover, as mentioned, not all polarities are the same. On the one hand there is "yin and yang" (or "lunar and solar"), on the other "spirit and matter". The polarity of Esoteric and Exoteric would be closer too, but not necessarily synonymous, with the latter polarity. And even here what we have is not a simple polarity but a convergence of many different realities.

Understanding how this works means going beyond the current Western academic, pop new age, and popular integral (Wilberian and much of post-Wilberian) paradigms. To begin with, it is necessary to get away from simplistic ideas of Cartesian dualism (mind and body, spirit and matter, etc), and for that matter also Wilberian integral theory holistic dualism (left and right quadrants) which maintains the same shortcoming but within a "dual aspect" or "quadra-aspect" framework which gives it a more holistic (and hence "New Age') feel.

And although objective physical reality may indeed be a unitary dimension of existence, but it is also opposite to and the convergence of many different distinct parameters. This is explained in the following diagram (this and the next diagram are slightly modified from originals that I drew about 2 years ago, when first exploring the idea of a very intellectual Wilberian-like metaphysical theory of everything, which I posted on my website.

fig 9. Integral ontology and Cartesian dualism

Here the lower right corner constitutes the "exoteric"; everything else the "esoteric" dimension. Three parameters or ontological gradations are provided for the sake of simplicity, but there would be others as well, and also these three would also converge and diverge.

An ideal Integral understanding has to incorporate both exoteric academia and esotericism - the latter transcendending the mundane and constituting the mental "map" as regards the supra-mundane.

There would be many applications and subfields here, pertaining to the various Arts and Sciences in which the basic Integral theory or philosophy is applied to the understanding and mental integration of the natural, social, paraphysical, and noetic worlds and arts and sciences. One should avoid the silliness inherent in adding the word "integral" as a prefix to any trendy topic - e.g. integral business, integral ecology , integral medicine, integral politics, etc[22]. However there are some instances, such as integral art, integral education, integral psychology, and integral yoga has the use of the prefix been given authentic validation. I would add to that list, integral spirituality, a useful term that needs to be rescued from Wilber's misappropriation of it.

The following is a more complex diagram, that shows different forms of valid knowledge. I haven't included exoteric religion in it because I consider that literalist religious belief systems do not accurately represent a useful map of reality (their esoteric aspects are another matter). I am not denying that exoteric religions may be useful as social institutions and belief systems for those folk who are not comfortable with the larger realities revealed by esotericism and perennialism In a world grown too big and complex, some people need the comforting security of a simplistic (to us) worldview and black and white morality that exoteric religion provides; it is actually something necessary for their psychological well-being and spiritual development, and should not be denigrated because of that. But for a larger and more universal perspective, one that can incorporate the infinite subtleties and complexities of the world, a literal description based on exoteric religion is not adequate. For that matter, neither is a a literal description based on any one worldview, even an integral or an esoteric one. Hence the following diagram should only be seen as a suggestive guideline, nothing more.

fig 10. Ontology and knowledge

We have then the Absolute Reality, which is beyond words, beyond conceptual understanding. Although of course there are many shades and gradations of realisation of the Absolute, including partial ones that can be very misleading (as Sri Aurobindo has indicated in his masterful analysis regarding the Intermediate Zone). There are also many Realities, many stages of emanation (outflowing, progressive self-manifestation) and manifestation of the Absolute, of inner infinite divine being, as for example, A. H. Almaas has described (sect 4-xxiv).

For both these reasons, the circle that divides the Knowable from the Absolute Reality in this diagram is misleading. There is no division, only various gradations and realisations. It is only for the sake of simplistic categoirisation, to give our conceptual minds, that the diagram is drawn in this way.

Within the circle there is the Exoteric and secular reality, which is ordinary knowledge, including current integral theory. And both in and outside the circle (since as mentioned this is an illusory or arbitrary and in any case simplistic boundary) there is the Esoteric.

Three aspects of esoteric integral theory - Noetics, Endopsychology, and Occult Cosmology - are proposed here, corresponding to three dimensions of consciousness. Of course in addition to these three there can be many more, the whole diagram is just an arbitrary representation. And these are just provisional names that can be given to systems of valid knowledge pertaining to each of the three parameters or ontological gradations shown here.

Noetics is used in the sense of the study and experience of Consciousness in itself, and as defined here is not the same as other, equally valid and authentic definitions of the term[23]. Endopsychology refers to the nature of the inner or innermost being. Occult cosmology is the nature of the collective, cosmic, and universal aspects of the various ontological realities, and the interactions between them (such as emanation and causality). And Paramology - the study of the Absolute Reality, the Supreme, parame in Sanskrit - is suggested as an alternative to "theology", with its monotheistic, deistic, and dualistic assumptions and biases.. The word "theology" can however still be applied to the study of god or gods of the intermediate, cosmic, and universal realities.

It is important also to understand that subjects like Esotericism and its subsets such as Occultism, Integral Psychology, and theosophical and gnostic cosmogony and cosmology, cannot be explained in terms of, or reduced to, Spiral Dynamic concepts of magical, purple meme, and so on. This is because they deal with supra-physical rather than external or mundane Physical, involution rather than external evolution. They go beyond the surface appearances totally. However it is not that this represents a stage "beyond" exoteric integralism, but rather the two go side by side, as shown in the following diagram:

Inner ("Esoteric") Integral

pertaining to the inner being, and radically transpersonal and spiritual states of existence

Mysticism, occultism, esotericism, theurgy, yogic practices and states, going beyond the limitations of the mundane physical
Outer ("Exoteric") Integral

pertaining to the outer or surface personality, with glimpses and intimations of the inner being

Exoteric (including Wilberian and other such) Integral Theory, Arts and Sciences, Art, Morality | Society, Lifestyle, Education

Fig 11. The "Inner" and "Outer" Integral

An interesting thing about what is here designated the "inner" or "esoteric" is that it reveals reality to be in the form of an ontological spectrum of ontological planes, worlds, or hypostases[24]. A fuller review of this subject is beyond the scope of the present essay, but basically Reality can be thought of as a gradation, or more accurately, multi-dimensional and multi-parameter, in which the various axii and the relationships between them can be considered a fractal network of intershading states of reality.

One might even divide these categories again; for example "Outer" could be divided as follows:

Outer Integrative/Holistic/Integral

Inner of Outer Theoretical

Esoteric Integrative Theory & Philosophy (deals with esoteric, spiritual, mystical, and occult topics but from the perspective of the rational mind)
Outer of Outer Theoretical

Exoteric Integrative Theory & Philosophy; Arts and Sciences (deals with realities pertaining to the mundane or surface consciousness and objective world)
Inner of Outer Practical

Art, Morality, Education (Subjective and experiential)
Outer of Outer Practical

Society, Lifestyle, Education
(applies these things in the external world)

Fig.12. Divisions of the "Outer Integral"

At the same time these categories all merge into each other, and should never be understood as hard and fast distinctions.

4-xiii. Integral Philosophy and Esotericism

The word "Philosophy" means "love of wisdom". It can be defined as the use of the intellect, either with or without the help of higher intuition and gnosis (it depends on the type of philosophy) to arrive at an understanding of the nature of things. At the very least the nature of relative reality, and perhaps even some hints or indication of the nature of the Absolute Reality; or the nature of "God" in western philosophy; the contrast being the "God of the philosophers" who is really an interpretation of the Absolute, and the God of theologians, who is the anthropomorphic deity of Judaeo-Christian religion.

Philosophy today and for the past two and a half thousand years is an academic discipline that has many branches and subfields on inquiry: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, aesthetics, the mind-body problem (which in the old days was included under metaphysics, and in my opinion still should be), and various more specific applications like political philosophy, religious philosophy (merges with religion and theology), analytical philosophy, linguistic philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of education, and so on.

Then, moving beyond the mainstream exoteric, we have Eastern philosophy (often merges with "New Age", although since the late 19th century has become respectable in the West), Occult philosophy (never part of mainstream academia), Hermetic philosophy (similar to the latter), Esoteric philosophy (ditto), and so on.

The term "Integral Philosophy" as far as I know was coined by Wilber (although I am just assuming, so if anyone knows the real facts please contact me) , and is used by him to designate his own AQAL, post-metaphysics, and other such ideas, and the ideas of his co-workers, such as the Integral Spiral Dynamics he adopted from Don Beck. I here use Integral philosophy in a rather broader context, to refer to any "integral" (sect. 3-ii) worldview that is described at least in some part on the mental level, even if it has other aspects (visionary, scientific, etc). For example, Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo each presented an integral philosophy to the world. But in the case of Teilhard that integral philosophy is based on science and religion, and in the case of Sri Aurobindo on yoga and spirituality. In the case of Wilber it is based on transpersonal and developmental psychology and, more recently, postmodernist philosophy.

Overlapping with and including Integral Philosophy, is Integral Esotericism, the metaparadigm presented in this essay. Integral Esotericism encompasses all the Integrative/Holistic/Integral paradigms, with their theoretical and practical applications, but raises to them to the level of the transpersonal, mystic, occult, and supra-physical. As such, there is also a lot of overlap between Integral Esotericism and the higher speculations Philosophy in general. Here a number of categories might be suggested, such as:

  • Metaphysics which provides a theoretical understanding or framework for all aspects of reality, and the universal principles that underlie the particulars and underlying nature of reality or Reality as a whole. Includes but is not limited by the following topics:
  • Ontology - the study of nature of being or reality, both physical and supra-physical. Occult philosophy might also relate here and also with Cosmology. Occultism which refers to interacting with subtle forces, action in regard to supra-physical realities, understanding the nature of the subtle forces impinging on and influencing the individual, the "macrocosm" or larger reality; this would overlap with Ontology, but differs because of its more practical aspect.
  • Cosmology - refers to the nature and evolution of the physical cosmos; incorporates science, integral theory, and esotericism. Visionary Cosmology which brings together science, esotericism, mythology, occultism, and gnosis and encompasses and explains all worlds and realities and their transformations
  • Theology - the nature of the Divine Reality or Realities
  • Atmology, Buddhology, Paramology etc, which pertain to the nature of the Absolute Reality (although these overlap with ontology)
  • Causality - includes emanation, involution, teleology etc
  • Epistemology - the nature of knowledge, how do we know what we do know; does our understanding of the world accurately reflect the way that the world is; and are their different types or levels of knowledge, some more reliable than others (regarding the latter queries, philosophers and spiritual teachers like Plato, Plotinus, Vasubandhu, Shankara, and Sri Aurobindo all agree in the affirmative)
  • o Ethics which is not just about ethics in the modern sense of the word, but wider questions such as how should we live our lives, are some actions good and others evil, and what is the nature of happiness. Obviously this ties in both with Morality - the way that we treat other beings - and Lifestyle and Spirituality All these topics will be dealt with in the next chapter of this essay. For me, Integral Morality is especially important, indeed it is the linchpin on which any practical Integral philosophy must turn if put into practice. Spirituality - the transformation of the lower nature and transcendence of the limited self or (pop-guru definition of) ego to a body, life and consciousness centered around the Divine Center (the Inner Divine; Higher Self, or "Psychic Being"). The term Esoteric Integral Ethics is here also used to refer to Integral Esotericism as a practical, not just a theoretical, philosophy.
  • o Aesthetics is that aspect of philosophy that deals with beauty and, on a larger level, perception. What is beauty, and why are some things considered beautiful? What is the nature of perception? What is art?
  • o Integral Psychology includes all states of consciousness and all aspects of the psyche and the essential attributes of the "microcosm" or the individual as the "little universe" and reflection and image of the Whole (overlaps with Ontology and Integral Spirituality). Also Endopsychology and Noetics (the latter overlapping with phenomenology)
  • o Phenomenology which considers immediate experiences of the body and of consciousness, unmediated by later intellectual and cognitive biases.
  • o Social and Political Philosophy deals with philosophy in the world and in society; social reform, the making of a more perfect society, and so on. Hence concepts regarding an Integral society, or Integral philosophy in the realm of politics, business, and management, which are areas being explored by Wilberians, are important here. I would argue however that a true Integral society and Integral politics is not possible without an authentic integral spirituality, and a freedom of the individual consciousness and receptivity to the Divine. One can also add here things like Integral Education, educating the whole child (physical, affective, mental, and spiritual), which again has to tie in with true spiritual development and self-actualisation.

Some of the above themes will be explained or touched on in the following sections, although it would take a book or many books to cover each of these subjects at length.

4-xiv. Metaphysics, not post-metaphysics

As defined here, Metaphysics is both a subset of Esotericism, and also and more so a field of Philosophy that overlaps with esotericism. Philosophy in the sense of modren academic, analytical, philosophy presents things from a rational-intellectual speculative aspect, whereas esotericism from visionary experiential, inner, supra-physical and spiritual aspects.

Traditionally, Metaphysics is that branch of Philosophy that the rational investigation of questions about the different categories of existence or being (Ontology), the nature of God or the Absolute Reality (Theology) and of the Universe (Cosmology), the mind-body problem (nowadays generally a separate discipline in philosophy), causality, the nature of time, the problem of free will and determinism, and so on. In other words, questions concerning the meaning of existence, the big questions that underlie all other inquiries.

With the rise of the secular Enlightenment in the West, and especially current modernity, much of academic philosophy has lost its connection with the original "Wisdom Tradition" of Pythagoras and Plato and Plotinus, and hence cannot really answer these questions. Because these questions cannot be answered, proved, or disproved, by rational physical or physicalist means alone.

The word Metaphysics means literally "after" (not "beyond" or "above") "physics", and refers to the arrangement of Aristotle's writings, in which his books on "first philosophy" were placed after the books on "physics". This is quite distinct to the popular definition of beyond or above the physical reality. This perhaps led to the New Age definition in which New Age teachings are referred to as "metaphysics", and hence "metaphysical bookshop" or "metaphysical studies" . For more examples, look at the Google sponsored links when you type in "metaphysics" or "metaphysical" into the search engine.

Part of the confusion comes from a misunderstanding of the prefix meta-, and part from the fact that some (not all) of the topics metaphysics deals with do indeed refer to supra-physical realities (e.g. questions concerning the existence of God, minds, souls, etc) and are part of the New Age worldview. The difference comes about through in the one instance these things are argued about through reason, in the other they are believed in in a somewhat religious manner. Similarly, although esotericism and occultism are commonly referred to, or refer to themselves, as metaphysics, this is not strictly correct, because metaphysics is very much an intellectual, philosophical, theoretical discipline. This is not to deny there is some degree of overlap regarding the theoretical aspects of New Age thought, esotericism, or occultism, or that these topics do not have important implications for some aspects of metaphysics.

In this essay, I refer to metaphysics as pertaining to the philosophical discipline of rational or rational-intuitive inquiry, and supra-physical to those ontological realities that are non-material or non-physical in nature.

Within the integral movement, especially its majority Wilberian branch, "Metaphysics" has become something of a dirty word. This is due solely to Wilber's repeated statements that metaphysics belongs to an outdated or pre-modern age and must be rejected if spiritual teachings (by which he means experiences abstracted from any context or meaning and hence slotted into his own AQAL system) are to be acceptable at the court of modernity and postmodernity[25]. In addition, as I have shown[26], Wilber understands by metaphysics only the popular, non-academic philosophical meaning. Because of this, he is able to avoid acknowledging the fact that his own system is highly metaphysical (quadrants, holons, transcendent Spirit, etc) when making his self-contradictory claim that his own current teachings as "post-metaphysical"[27].

In doing this Wilber (and hence the entire Wilberian integral movement) has bought into the scientistic and academic preference for debunking metaphysics (TLDI 2-ii, 2-iii, and this essay sect 1-vi), because it deals with things that cannot be "proved" by or to the Physical Mind (sect 1-ix). But this rationalist physicalism itself rests on a number of unproved, irrational, and yes, metaphysical, assumptions, as has been persuasively shown by Transpersonal Psychologist Charles T. Tart[28]..

My intention in this essay and my other works is to go in the exact opposite direction to Wilber, to embrace metaphysics and higher ontological realities, rather than dismiss them.

And my position here is that not only is metaphysics necessary, but no truly comprehensive "integral" understanding of reality is possible without it. Without metaphysics the best one could have would be a sort of agnostic postmodernist or neo-Buddhistic (Western apologetic Buddhism[29]) style of approach, in which bare experiences are recognised and defined empirically, but there is no attempt at arriving at a deeper meaning, no attempt is made to show what those experiences refer to. Such agnosticism comes with its own metaphysical baggage, e.g. crypto-physicalism or crypto-materialism, the subtle conception that all these experiences, visions, etc are simply the by-product of the physical brain, but one shouldn't look to closely at that, just be satisfied with the experience taken out of its context and sanitised for a secular physicalistic bias. This may work for Wilberian physicalism, but as soon as one studies even superficially the teachings of authentic spiritual realisers it quickly becomes apparent that reality is much vaster than physicalism considers it to be.

The problem here, as mentioned at the start of this section, is that modern Western secular academic thought has lost its original wisdom tradition (represented by Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Neoplatonism, etc) and hence has to fall back on scientism and superficial empiricism. This is why apologetics like Wilber try so hard to present an nonthreatening and secularised version of spiritual and perennialist teachings (TLDI 2a) although Wilber's own idealism and self-contradictions (sect 1-vi) surely makes his own presentation less palatable to academia as well.

It is important that no metaphysical system and no map of reality be accepted as final. It should always be remembered that all these concepts are just suggestions and points of view, useful classification schemes and thoughtforms, which should never never be used as alternatives for direct spiritual experience. That goes for the metaphysical system presented here as much as for any other metaphysical system or theory. When metaphysics is divorced from both authentic experience and authentic gnosis (revelatory understanding or spiritual knowledge), what remains is an intellectual abstraction.

A few metaphysical themes are elaborated upon in the following sections, but this should in no way be considered a comprehensive or even an unbiased list.

4-xv. The Nature of the Absolute

In general the Transpersonal psychology, New Age, New Paradigm, Wilberian and post-Wilberian movement understands the Absolute Reality in a monistic Vedantic or Mahayanist Buddhistic sense, as an Self or Essence or Spirit or "emptiness" (shunyata) underlying, transcending, but also synonymous with phenomenal or relative Reality. Although this is obviously due to the Eastern influence behind the new consciousness movement, but the same "impersonalist" approach is also found in Blavatskyian Theosophy, the neo-sufi inspired Perennialist movement, and other integrativist teachings. For example Huston Smith places the Personal God at the Celestial level, and the Absolute or Spirit or Self at the highest level, beyond that[30]. This was clearly one of Wilber's sources of inspiration, the other being Adi Da / Da Free John; Wilber's guru (Wilber's feelings are ambivalent but he has not actually renounced Da[31].

Significantly, both The Mother and Sri Aurobindo present a more personalistic and theistic approach, not in the sense of a deity apart from the rest of the universe, but as an all-embracing Absolute that also has a theistic element. This represents a very different position, but one that reconciles the theistic/personal with the impersonal, seeing both as just partial modes of a larger reality, rather than one as merely a subset of the other (TLDI 3-vi)

To this should be added the various partial realisations of the Absolute as represented by the "Intermediate zone", as well as the various aspects of the Absolute that intergrade and intershade into and with the relative being. So it is not that the Absolute stands apart from everything else in a dualistic fashion, like the old Zoroastrian-Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Deistic (and the equally dualistic eastern equivalents, e.g. Madhva Vedanta, Chaitanya and ISKON Krishnaism, etc) conceptions of a monotheistic deity separate from, even if intimately related to, the world. Rather it is all a single Reality, of which we make up and know a tiny part.

So we might say about the Supreme that it has many aspects, including

  • The Impersonal (Advaita, Taoism, Neoplatonism, Pernnialism, etc)
  • The Personal (Theistic mysticism, religion, Theistic Esotericism (Sufism, Kabbalah, etc))
  • The Transcendent Unmanifest (e.g. Buddhist nirvana, Sufi fana)
  • The Transcendent Manifest (e.g. Ananda, Shakti, etc)
  • The Inner Divine Physical (Form of Light, archetype)
  • The Inner Divine Affective (Love/Compassion/Mahakuruna)
  • The Inner Divine Mental (Purusha, Buddha Mind)
  • The Inner Divine Individual (the Divine Center or Soul or "Psychic Being")
  • The Transformative Truth Nature (the Supramental sensu Sri Aurobindo)

and many more besides. Note that the above is a very unsystematic list, but all these aspects and infinite others represent some facet of the infinite and eternal Supreme.

4-xvi. Two types of dualism, and the emanationist-gradational interpretation

As mentioned, ontology is a branch of metaphysics. It means the study of being (in Greek ontos). An integrative and integral ontology should map out and descriptively explain all the faculties or states and stations of our being, gross and subtle (including occult and other phenomena that cannot be explained by physicalism or secular modernity), the interactions of which that causality refers to. In other words, it should describe both physical and supraphysical realities.. And it should do so, not just in a static sense, but as a description of the dynamic processes of causality that determine the interaction of these various realities.

Because both physical and supraphysical realities are described here, it could be said that this paradigm can be interpreted as substance dualism. In the language of modern Analytical Philosophy, substance dualism is the hypothesis that there really are two distinct objective realities, the physical and supra-physical. Substance dualism is the type of dualism described by Descartes, who asserted that there are two fundamental kinds of substance: mental (or thought) and material (or extension). This is in contrast to the property dualism of philosophers like David Chalmers regarding the mind-body problem, and Wilber with his exterior/interior holons[32]. According to property dualism, mental properties emerge when matter is organized in the appropriate way.


However, substance dualism implies only two realities, whereas in keeping with the perennial philosophy I posit a whole gradation or spectrum of realities. For this reason Substance gradationism or substance emanationism would be better labels for the paradigm of the Esoteric Integral Paradigm presented here. Dualism implies only two realities, which have an incompatible relationship with each other. What is described here is a continuum. I also agree with the Neoplatonists and more especially Kabbalists here; the realities in some cases are intimately interconnected, hence emanation, a concept present in the traditional wisdom tradition (Platonism and Neoplatonism) of the West but totally absent in modern academic philosophy. More on this in the next section.

4-xvii. The dynamics of Emanation

The doctrine of emanation in one form or another is central to Vedanta, Mahayana (beginning with Yogachara) and Tantric Buddhism, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, Sufism, Kabbalah, Taoism and Neoconfucianism, Theosophy and Neo-Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and Rosicrucianism, contemporary Hermeticism, the Fourth Way, the philosophical teachings of Sri Aurobindo, and the Diamond Way of A.H. Almaas, to give just a few examples. In view of its universality (even Wilber refers to this idea[33]) emanation can serve, I believe, as one of the foundational elements for an integral metaphysic. What follows is an explanation of emanation and of some associated ideas.

There seem to be at least three forms of emanation, one of which involves an ontological degradation or impoverishment with each stage, and the other doesn't. These are:

Emanation of and as aspects of deity, best described in Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism (Trikaya etc) and by Max Theon, and The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. This form of emanation can occur on the cosmological level and the level of an individual entity, attractor, god, or avatar[34]. However the latter can ultimately be considered a subset of the former. This form of emanation generally has very few links. It is represented more often as a mandala rather than a gradation or a tree

Ontological Emanation of density grades, as in the teachings of Sant Mat, Theon, and A.H. Almaas. This form of emanation generally has a large number of links, and also fractal sublevels. It is represented usually as a spectrum, less often as a branfching or converging tree.

Emanation as ontological impoverishment: described most clearly in the metaphysics of Neoplatonism and Kabbalah; I wrote an online essay regarding this, in which I suggest there are a number of basic themes or dynamics in the process[35]. This form of emanation pertains to the lower levels (the mundane reality and those realities adjacent to it) of being, where the most "manifest" stages of the previous two processes may take on characteristics of ontological diminishment.

Often also it happens that different emanation processes are described together e.g. the common conception of the Chain of Being combines the Ontolodynamic and Ontological aspects. This may be because at the level those insights come from these two processes do indeed work as or have been combined into one.

Emanation can best be understood by means of some diagrams. Here I will use diagrams I created for my earlier and unfinished web book on a New Integral Paradigm more than a year ago[36]. However the interested reader is also referred to Hermetic Kabbalist Colin Low's excellent online essay Emanation and Ascent in Hermetic Kabbalah[37].

Fig. 13 - A simple representation of emanation

The first diagram (fig.13) refers to the fact that in Emanation the "higher" (either the more unmanifest or the more ontologically authentic) reality gives rise to the next reality below it. That reality may still be very sublime and spiritual, relative to where we are, but not quite as Absolute as the original Reality. The result is a sort of causal chain of being. The diagram here shows a very simple version of this, based on Plotinus' hypostases and the perennialist synthesis of Huston Smith. More realities can be posited, including various intermediate stages and worlds, but it is best to keep it simple when explaining things. Each of these levels of reality can be designated by their Neoplatonic technical term, as hypostases ("underlying states")

As the arrows show, each higher reality or hypostasis generates the next one down. At the bottom is the physical, which does not emanate anything; it is effect only, rather than cause. Obviously this position is the exact opposite of the conventional physicalist explanation, according to which consciousness and the mind is the same as brain activity (this is called "identity theory" in philosophy), or is a by-product of it ("epiphenomenalism"). Actually things are more complex then either extreme, because there are levels of mind and consciousness that are on the level of the physical body, which is how physical states can affect embodied consciousness. But as I said, it's best to keep things simple for this explanation.

fig.14. The hypostases showing emanation and return

According to Plotinus, emanation goes both ways (fig.14). The cosmos emerges through emanation from The One (his term for the Absolute) and then the philosopher or mystic through contemplation can return up the hypostases; from Soul to Nous, and thence back to the Source. This is very like the monistic teachings and spiritual practice of Vedanta, except that the hypostases places greater emphasis on the Reality of the world. In the diagram here, emanation is shown by the downward arrows on the left, and transcendence (returning to the source) by the upward arrows on the right.

Fig. 15 - Emanation and return interpreted as yin and yang

In this diagram (fig.15) I decided to be a bit more original and presented these two currents of emanation/creation and transcendence/ascent with the Chinese polarity of yang and yin. Yang is creative, hence could be associated with emanation, Yin receptive, hence associated with receptivity to the Divine and hence the mystic ascent. For other correspondences, please see the tables in sect. 4-iii. To say "Yin and Yang" is simply to use shorthand for this complex web of associations and correspondences.

It can be seen here that each hypostasis, except the two on either end of the ontological spectrum, has both a yin and a yang face. My inspiration here however was not so much Taoism (where Yin and Yang can also be interpreted in the reverse manner, or as horizontal polarities) but Lurianic Kabbalistic thought. In Lurianic Kabbalah there is the ever beneficent Divine creative principle, or Light, which is called the Will to Give (spirit), and the receptacle which receives the divine plenitude, called the Will to Receive, or the Vessel (matter). Lurianic Kabbalah is much more complicated than just that; if you look at some of their books the whole thing quickly becomes unreadable, because of the density of the symbolism (hence the need to explain and interpret it from Teacher to Student), but the basic idea is quite simple. Lurianic Kabbalah also uses this same symbolism to explain the Fall, and the dialectic of Light and Darkness, a detailed discussion of which would unfortunately take us beyond the limits of the current essay[38].

fig.16. Cycle of Emanation, Creation, and Return

Of course, many more correspondences can be added, as in the above diagram (fig.16) which incorporates the idea of the Hindu trinity of Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer (actually not the right word, more like withdrawal into the source, as nothing is "destroyed"). And although in Hinduism these correspondences apply only to the emanation of creation from the Source, and its return, in Kabbalah, in keeping with the fractal ontology, this sort of symbolism would apply to all the levels and sublevels of being

fig.17. A simplistic representation of the web of interrelationships

Finally, this diagram (fig.17) shows that each of the hypostases are connected to every other hypostasis. So it is not the case that there is a simple linear spectrum, but rather a complex web of interrelationships, which are presented in simplistic form here. One might look to the I Ching matrix of hexagrams and lines, Judaic and Hermetic Kabbalah and the Cosmic Philosophy of Max and Alma Theon for other such examples.

In this way, the various paths connecting the hypostases can be considered intermediary states, dimensions, or stages, such as the various sublevels in the integral psychology diagram fig whatever. Hermetic Kabbalah even has practices called "pathworking", by which one works one's way along the various paths connecting the sefirot in the Tree of Life, each path with its own correspondences and characteristics. And even though the details only apply to Hermetic Kabbalah and Neopaganism that incorporates Kabbalistic elements, the same principle of transitional levels is also found in the fractal cosmology of Max and Alma Theon, which developed completely independently of Hermetic Kabbalah, although both did indeed draw from the same roots (Judaic Kabbalah and 19th century European occultism), which may have been responsible for the parallel orientation of the two.

As mentioned earlier, not all emanationist cosmologies posit an ontological degradation. Sri Aurobindo and A.H. Almaas refer to the divine nature at each plane or gradation. The implication is that there are two parameters, ontological gradation (density levels) and ontological diminishment (each higher level "spirit" or "inner"in relation to the other one "matter" or "outer") .

Also of relevance here are the Gurdjieff / Ouspensky and Taoist alchemy for spiritual transformation, many other examples including Vajrayana and Sri Aurobindo, which show that the realities are not fixed and immutable as Descartes believed. And Theosophists would assert (validly I believe) that there is as much difference between affects (or the astral plane, whatever) and thoughts (the mental plane) as there is between matter and affects. Perhaps there are seven or twelve or more such primary gradations, of which matter is the "densest".

There is also the implications for paraphysics. If reality constitutes an ontological gradation or spectrum, then there must be a stage that is immediately intermediate between the familiar material reality described in exoteric knowledge, and the various dimensions of subtle, causal, and transcendent realities described in esoteric teachings.

This intermediate state, neither objective-empirical-material nor subjective-phenomenological-psychological, but having certain characteristics of both, is the foundation for both alternative and holistic healing and alternative medicine. Chinese Acupuncture, Feng Shui, Tai Ch'i and martial arts, especially extraordinary feats of martial arts, and corresponding hatha yogic feats, both of which involve superhuman physical abilities, and many more such phenomena, practices, and experiences, Mesmer's "magnetic fluid", Hahnemann's homeopathy, Reichian ideas regarding orgone, and similar discoveries by Steven Guth regarding an intermediate substance he refers to as "protowater", Steiner's biodynamics, Hatha Yoga paranyama, as well as Japanese Reiki and Mahakari and New Age adaptations like Sekhem (inspired by ancient Egyptian teachings regarding healing) all of which involve radiating healing energy from the hands, are just a few of the many fields that pertain to this transitional level. Also included here is what could be called all the paraphysical sciences. In other words pertaining to anomalous phenomena outside the secular paradigm; dowsing and radionics, forteana, paraphysics, and so on, also synchronicity and divination (I Ching, Tarot, Astrology, etc), and so on. What we have here is the interface between physical reality (including the physical body) and the various subtle realities.

Thus it is necessary to get away from the flat one dimensional standard physicalistic and holistic-physicalistic (including Wilberian and hence most of current Integral theory) perspectives, to recognise that reality is multifaceted and multidimensional, and all one needs to do is touch the boundaries between the material and the inner, subtle, or higher reality supporting behind and/or transcending above it, for miracles to occur.

4-xviii. An integral ontological framework

There are many different esoteric teachings regarding the nature of being and the relation between the different realities, and the characteristics, dynamics, and interrelationship of each, that could qualify as "substance gradationism" or emanationism or spectrum of being metaphysics. However few of these qualify as being truly integrative and integral, in that few of them really describe everything in a single big picture explanation. Instead, most of these sort of teachings are more appropriately considered as phenomenological-based descriptions or spiritual soteriologies. This is especially so with the Indian philosophies; e.g. Vedanta, Samkhya, Tantra, Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, etc. There are however other Indian metaphysical systems which tend to be less psychological and more cosmological, such as Jainism and Sant Mat. Traditional forms of Western and Near and Middle Eastern mysticism and esotericism which tend (although this is a generalisation) to be more cosmological in speculations includes Platonism and Neoplatonism, Ishraqism and Sufism, Kabbalah and Chabad Hassidism (Lurianic tradition). In the far East, based on yin-yang cosmology, we find Taoism and Neoconfucianism.

An integral metaphysic however has to include all aspects and dimensions of reality, as well as taking into account the insights of secular modernity, although not allowing oneself to be limited by the modernist viewpoint. In this regard Wilberism with its rejection of esotericism and "premodern" :perennialism" is very far from integral or integrative. We need to consider therefore various forms of contemporary esotericism, which build on the wisdom of the past without denigrating it or trying to reduce it to only those aspects that might be acceptable to modernity.

Among the many different examples here, one might mention Blavatsky and the Theosophical and Neo-Theosophical tradition, Max Theon and the Cosmic philosophy, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Sant Mat and it's popular subgroup Radhasoami, Rudolph Steiner and Anthroposophy, Max Heindel's Rosicrucianism, elements of the Fourth Way established by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, the Diamond Way of A. H. Almaas, the highly original teachings of Jane Roberts / Seth, and elements of the New Age movement.

4-xix. Traditionalism, Wilberism, and Physicalist-based Modernity

Not all esoteric schools are necessarily integral. The intensely anti-modernist Traditionalist movement (the Perennial tradition) of Rene Gernon, Frithjof Schuon, Martin Lings, and others, despite its universal synthesis of spiritual and religious teachings and metaphysical realities, completely rejects the possibility that the empirical insights of modernity may have anything authentic to contribute . Huston Smith is one contemporary representative of Traditionalism / Perennialism who does engage with modernity and accept the discoveries of science and so on, even if his overall attitude is critical (he does not accept Darwinism for example; interestingly Wilber had the same stance although he seems to have reversed his position recently[39]). His book Forgotten Truth, a slim volume which can nevertheless be considered a modern classic in this field, presents his cosmological thesis of reality as ontological gradation of levels of being. This work independently exerted a large influence on both Wilber and myself many years ago (I had already developed a similar perspective to that of Forgotten Truth, but was encouraged by the fact that Professor Smiith came to the same conclusions).

As mentioned (sect 1-vi), within the Wilberian and some aspects of the post-Wilberian sphere there is the opposite approach, which is to take a very negative or dismissive attitude to ontology. This seems to be due perhaps to Wilber's belief that denying supra-physical realities this will make traditional spiritualities more acceptable to academia (see TLDI part 2a). It is also, I would suggest, due to the fact that the Integral movement has not broken free of the physicalistic and scientism-based worldview that characterises one part of the modern Western world; the other being exoteric Judaeo-Christian Theism, which may be anywhere from agnostic to liberal to fundamentalist literalism..

Thus, rather being the radical inclusion and transcendence of the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern that it claims to be, the mainstream Integral movement is still simply one more subset of Modernity (including Postmodernism); albeit one with a central New Age character.

4-xx. An "Integral Theosophy"?

One exception to the standard "anti-metaphysical" attitude that predominates in the wilberism and postwilberism Integral movement is what might be designated as "Integral Theosophy". I use this designation to refer to several essays by Frank Visser; which propose a synthesis of orthodox (Wilber-IV) Wilberian and Perennialist and Theosophical thought. Rather than Wilber's holistic physicalistic interpretation of higher states like Subtle, Causal, etc, Visser suggests that these can be understood in classic esoteric terms such as astral body, causal body, and so on. And of course vice-versa. This would allow the Wilberian/post-Wilberian and Theosophical (or "Perennial") insights to be integrated in a single explanation[40]. In view of the similarities (if not an actual occult connection) between Theosophy and Wilberian Integral Theory, this proposal is intriguing. Unfortunately, Wilber felt he had to mock Visser's Theosophy as a way of proclaiming the superiority of his own "post-metaphysical"/"Wilber-V" philosophy[41]. This attitude of intellectual bullying and smug sense of superiority is as far from a genuine spiritual consciousness that one can get. And it was one of the motivating factors behind by decision to publish a strong critique of Wilber in TLDI . The other reason of course was to preempt Wilberian claims that "Ken has already deconstructed (insert here any teaching or insight that falls outside the limited holistic-materialistic understanding of Wilber-V)".

I contend that, contrary to Wilber's own claims of superiority, Visser's Integral Theosophy is actually much more integrative (more inclusive) than Wilber-V. The reason is because it includes both the esoteric (Theosophy) and the modern (Wilberian), rather than simply presenting an apologetic, anti-perennialist stance as does Wilber's current thought. .

But as always with all these worldviews, including Integral Theosophy, and including everything I write here, it is necessary to avoid approaching them too dogmatically, because they are ultimately just as abstract and subjective as the mundane world "theories of everything" of the previous theme. There is no harm, and even great usefulness, in creating a mental map of reality that provides an understanding of supra-physical realities, but these representations should never be taken as absolutes. This problem is more acute on the subtle levels then on the gross, because of the ideoplastic nature of those realities (they appear in whatever form one believes them to be). And when that happens there is tendency to become trapped in one's own mental bubble or mental fortress; instead of experiencing the subtle realities in their original nature, one only experiences one's preconceptions of those subtle realities.

4-xxi. Integral Psychology

By Integral Psychology is meant an overall, holistic, integrative explanation that includes all states of consciousness and all aspects of the psyche and the microcosm. It explains and includes all aspects and facets of the consciousness , both in terms of development of consciousness, psychodynamics, and different states of consciousness. Although the term "Integrative Psychology" may be more appropriate, the strongly spiritual and yogic aspect points to the transformative aspect. And the fact that the term "Integral Psychology" is already used to designate at least three distinct interpretations - Aurobindonian, Chaudhurian, and Wilberian - shows that the term has already acquired some permanence[42].

The following therefore represents just a very small selection and representative examples of the varieties of "Integral psychology": Vedantic and Yoga psychology, Buddhist psychology, Neoplatonic psychology, Kabbalistic psychology, aspects and applications of the teachings of Max Theon, Rudolf Steiner, and other esotericists, psychological elements in the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, including the commentaries and accounts by Indra Sen, A.S. Dalal, V. Madhusudan Reddy, and others (all of which represent the original definition of Integral Psychology), C. G. Jung and his students and followers (Analytical or Jungian or Depth Psychology, more recently reinterpreted as Archetypal psychology by James Hillman), Roberto Assagioli (and were not Psychosynthesis already classified under its own name, it would without doubt be considered "Integral Psychology"), Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (Fourth Way) and A. H. Almaas (Diamond Way); Abraham Maslow (Humanistic Psychology), Stan Grof, Charles T. Tart, Michael Washburn, Claudio Naranjo, John Welwood, Christian de Quincey, and others in the Transpersonal psychology movement that developed in the 1970s , Haridas Chauduri (Integral Psychology, but different from the Aurobindonian), Brant Cortright and others (Integral Psychotherapy, based on Sri Aurobindo and The Mother's teachings), the spiral dynamics system of Clare Graves, Chris Cowan, and Don Beck (Beck and Cowan have since fallen out over the issue of Wilber), and finally and perhaps the least applicable here, Wilber's Integral Psychology, which despite the name of the book dedicated to that subject, seems to be little different from Wilber-IV (or according to Brad Reynolds, Wilber-V), and of little relevance because of its abstract perspective.

A description of the elements of the personality might be considered from at least three overlapping perspectives. There is the distinction between the conscious and unconscious described by depth psychology, with the latter vertically divided into Lower, Middle, and Higher in Assagioli's Psychosynthesis, the ontological spectrum of physical, emotional, and mental (Neo-Theosophy etc), and the distinction of Outer Being, Inner Being, and Inmost or Central, Psychic Being (Sri Aurobindo). These constitute different ontological gradations and will be considered in more detail further on.

4-xxii. The Ontological "Density" Gradation

Central to any "Integral Ontology" is the concept of the gradation of being. This applies equally to Integral Psychology and to Esoteric Cosmology.

In his middle (Wilber-IV) and more recent (Wilber-V) work, Wilber refers to the gradation or spectrum of being as the "Great Nest of Being". Actually the wporldview behind this term, which is central to his entire evolutionary cosmology, is profoundly mistaken. This is because it confuses the qualitative "vertical" ontological gradation (which is one reality) with the quantitative "horizontal" holistic hierarchy. He considers these two are actually the same thing, or at the very least two aspects of the same thing, because his whole evolutionary metaphysic (here using the term in its original philosophical context as opposed to Wilber's preferred pop-layman definition) is based on having everything tied together in as simplistic and over-formalised a manner as possible. For a good refutation of his rigid theorising, see Andy Smith's critique in sect 4-ii. It should be pointed out that Steiner tends to do exactly the same thing, using his more Theosophically-inspired worldview.

Wilber's "Great Nest" cosmology states that - apart from transcendent Spirit - all higher realities of consciousness as described by various spiritual teachings have an "outer" and material counterpart, the exception being only those that he himself considers supra-physical (sect. 1-vi).

In contrast, all esoteric and genuine occult and mystical teachings are in agreement that the supra-physical grades of reality do not "include and transcend" the physical. They just transcend it. In the gradation of being; the realities are distinct, like colours in a spectrum.

I would therefore argue that the various spiritual and esoteric teachings are basically correct in their general understanding (despite their many obvious and contradictory differences in details), and that Wilber and other physicalist-inspired integral theorists are in error here, rather than the reverse.

But what then are the original sources for descriptions of this ontological gradation? Actually there are a great many esoteric and occult cosmographies, or representations of the gross and subtle dimensions of the universe, that present this sort of gradational worldview. These include teachings thousands of years old, such as Vedic India, as well as those that are very recent, such as New Age interpretations of Theosophy and Hermeticism.

Some of these worldviews, such as Shamanic psychomythology, Plotinian neoplatonism, Vedantic or Taoist yoga psychology, or the perennialist compilation of Huston Smith, refer to only a few primary grades or states of consciousness, although these may each have a lot of correspondences, as in Tantric Buddhism. Here there may be either a greater emphasis on theory (e.g. perennialism) or on practice (e.g. Tantra). Other esoteric worldviews, while not neglecting the practical, place a lot of emphasis on theory and explanation. These are extremely detailed, both in terms of number of levels or aspects and sublevels of being, and number of cycles of involution and evolution. Here we might list the elaborate philosophical system of Proclus, the gnostic-like cosmotheologies of Kabbalah, culminating in the baroque but fascinating teachings of Isaac Luria and his school, the more contemporary esoteric teachings of Blavatsky, Theon, Leadbeater, Steiner, Max Heindel, Alice Baily, and the various - especially the more Theosophically-influenced - versions of the Radhasoami faith.

So esoteric teachings may be simple or complex in their cosmologies, or theoretical or practical in their orientation.

And it cannot be denied that all of these teachings differ in various minor or major details. This makes any point by point correlation impossible, and reveals that a large part of the details of these cosmologies are the result of individual experiential or cultural bias or both. But despite these differences, most share the same universal conception of a series of ontological levels graded by "density" or degree of "matter". In this esoteric or emanationist consensus, the densest reality is that of physical matter, while above that is an intermediate, etheric or spiritual or psychic reality (sometimes with an intermediate formative ("vital" or "life force") level between the two), and above that again are the higher spiritual and celestial or transcendent realities. So despite the innumerable differences in detail between the traditions, which show that beneath the many differences of detail, there is an underlying unanimity. The basic schema has been summarised by Huston Smith's book Forgotten Truth, to which the reader is referred. Other good descriptions are found in the Spiritualist, Hermetic, Theosophical and Neotheosophical, Radhasoami, and Aurobindonian cosmologies.

Any one of these esoteric teachings could be reliably selected as a frame of reference for an Integral Theory. And any of them would be superior in that regard to the Wilberian approach, because they would be able to incorporate rather than to deny or claim to exclusively possess knowledge and understanding concerning supraphysical realities. However my favourite nominee for an integral occultism is the system of occult states and degrees described by Max Theon through research he and his wife made into the occult realms. Intriguingly, the Theosophical/Esotericist/New Age word "planes" is not used in Theon's "Cosmic philosophy". He seems to have wished to avoid the use of ontological labels in this context, although elsewhere he does refer to four "worlds" in the sense of the Kabbalistic words.

The word "planes" is however retained in the present essay because it is a familiar label with a specific and precise occult/esoteric meaning. And it would be unnecessarily confusing to invent a whole new jargon to describe what is essentially already superbly labeled in current occult/esoteric literature.

Theon's cosmography involves a series of States and Degrees (planes and subplanes), rather like that of Theosophy, Kabbalah, Gnosticism, and Sant Mat (with Radhasoami as its best known sub branch), although unfortunately little of this material is available in English, and a large amount is probably still in manuscript form. Because Theon was not interested in building an organisation, unlike Blavatsky, Steiner, Alice Bailey, or Wilber, much of his work has been tragically forgotten, perhaps some of it lost for ever, while instead there is no shortage of rehashed and derivative material of little value in the so-called spiritual supermarket.

Combining Theon's discoveries with The Mother's teachings (and The Mother was Theon's student in occultism before she met Sri Aurobindo) as well as with Theosophical, Hermetic Kabbalistic, and New Age themes, gives three primary ontological gradations - planes, realities, universes, states, hypostases - or whatever term one wishes to use, each of which is further subdivided. Theon postulated also a fourth state, which he called the Psychic (Soul) and which would seem to be rather equivalent to, and the source of inspiration for, the Psychic (or Divine Center) as understood by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

At least three ontological realities or universes or planes contribute to human (and other embodied) consciousness. These are: the Physical, the Affective (a preferable term to Theon's "Nervous", Sri Aurobindo and The Mother's Vital, and the Neo-Theosophical "Astral", although the latter can still be used because of its widespread familiarity in the New Age and esoteric movement), and the Mental. In addition there are higher ontological gradations of spiritual mind and light beyond the Mental, as well as inner, subtle, and cosmic realities, the whole constituting an elaborate network.

Theon's physical "state" includes many sub-realities, which makes it mnore multifaceted than the conventional concept of the physical or material plane. It might be considered equivalent to the Hermetic Kabbalistic world of Asiyah, or alternatively to Malkhut of Asiyah (since there are so many different possible explanations and little agreed upon consensus or standardisation here). He divides the physical "state" into four subdivisions or "degrees", and these intriguingly are also described by New Age writer and healer Barbara Brennan, who it must be certain had never heard of Theon's work; she refers to them as the "four dimensions of human creativity"[43]. The first is the gross physical, then the subtle, consisting of various subtle bodies, auras, and other such phenomenon accessible through clairvoyance, then a more subtle level again, but still part of the psycho-physical (gross and subtle) realm. Barbara Brennan calls the "Hara" (of which the traditional Hara is only one of the aspects), and finally the Core Star or - as The Mother called it, the God within[44]. There seems to be a similarity here with the four states of the Mandukya Upanishad (Gross, Subtle, Causal, Turiya) and follow-up representations in Advaita Vedanta, Tibetan Buddhism, and Tantra, as well as with Sri Aurobindo's description of the various aspects of the physical being[45]. This might give the following approximate table. Remember that these categories should not be taken as literal identifications since in each case there is the cultural and conceptual bias of the specific tradition and experiences

Mandukya Upanishad, Vedanta, Tantra, etc Max Theon Sri Aurobindo Barbara Brennan
Turiya / Transcendent Mental degree of Physical Physical Purusha (Divine center = "True Physical") Core Star
Causal / Dreamless Sleep Psychic degree of Physical Inner Physical Hara
Subtle / Dream Nervous degree of Physical Inner Physical / Subtle Physical Human Energy Field (aura and subtle bodies)
Gross / Waking Physical degree of Physical Outer Physical Physical

Table 5. Four stages of the Physical

Empirical method, and physical reality as recognised by materialism and scientism, corresponds only to the lowest of these realities, the "Physical degree of the Physical" as Theon would say. All the others are supra-physical in the sense that they transcend the mundane secular reality or Physical sublevel of Physical.

In addition to those systems of understanding in table 5, one can also bring in further associations here with Ann Ree Colton, Rudolph Steiner, and other esotericists, but here the series is less complete.

It might even be argued that Wilber's Intra-physical (influenced by Vedanta and Tibetan Buddhism) pertains to some of these subtle gradations, except that it would be necessary to discard the absurdities of AQAL fundamentalism so as to not force the experiences and realities into misleading and invalid sets of correspondences. Still, I am not denying that Wilber may have caught an intuitive glimpse of a few of these realities, and then misunderstood them because off his need to fit everything in a rigid mental system. Steiner - a truly great clairvoyant - was the same as regards ruining authentic experiencing with poor theory. He clearly had many extremely diverse experiences, but all of them had to squeezed into his same claustrophobic and procrustean mental edifice, and as a result his teachings were much narrower and less useful than they would otherwise have been.

And despite differences in details between all these esoteric systems, these could still all be described in terms of emanation, with each more subtle or inward level supporting and being the more fundamental reality behind the next reality out. And it seems also that the relation between the Gross and Subtle dimensions, and hence higher and lower hypostases (to use a technical neoplatonic term), is the same as the polarity indicated in tables 2 through to 4.

Cosmology "Subtle" aspect "Gross" aspect
Taoism Yang (spirit, heaven) Yin (matter, earth)
Perennialism, Esotericism, etc Esoteric Exoteric
New Age / New Paradigm Holistic / "Right brain" "New Paradigm" Linear / "Left brain" "Old Paradigm"
Stan Gooch System B / "Self" System A / "Ego"
Wilber /Integral Theory/AQAL Interiors (left quadrants) Exteriors (right quadrants)

Table 6: "Subtle" and "Gross" polarities in different philosophical systems

The astute reader will notice that relative to tables 2 and 3, the position of Yin and Yang is reversed in table 6. Were I still an intellectual-mental systematiser, I would artificially reverse some of the correspondences until they fit with my mental preconceptions. This is the approach that Wilber and hence the Wilberian majority of the Integral movement takes. The result is a purely abstract intellectual edifice with no relation to reality beyond its own thoughtform (see TLDI 2-viii). But reality itself, at the collective, cosmic, and universal levels (see fig 8 and table 8) is not limited by one's own mental preconceptions, and is far more multidimensional than the understanding of the linear rational mind allows. This is where the Wilberian system fails, even if, as suggested above, Wilber may have intuitively stumbled upon some authentic realities, but described them much more poorly than Blavatsky, Theon, Steiner, Sri Aurobindo, and Barbara Brennan did.

At least three ontological realities or universes or planes contribute to human (and other embodied) consciousness - the Physical (which includes various subtle and transcendent realities as well asthe "gross" or "dense" physical), the Affective (a preferable term to Theon's "Nervous", Sri Aurobindo and The Mother's Vital, and the Neo-Theosophical "Astral", although the latter can still be used because of its widespread familiarity in the New Age and esoteric movement), and the Mental. In addition there are higher ontological gradations of spiritual mind and light beyond the Mental, as well as inner, subtle, and cosmic realities, the whole constituting an elaborate network.

Humans (and other beings) are thus multi-ontological entities, not just physical beings. So thoughts come from the mental universe, emotions from the affective universe, sensations from the physical universe (by "universe" is meant a distinct ontological "reality" or gradation). As the Buddhsits say, we are aggregates, or rather, aggregates of aggregates.

The existence of different ontological realities, for example gradations of supra-physical realities, raises the problem of how to explain how a human being, say, with a body of physical matter, can also actualise non-physical realities. If thoughts come from the mental universe, then how do they come to be correlated with activity in specific parts of the brain? How can the mental universe interact with the brain if it is supra-physical? How are the different ontological realities interrelated?

The answer is that although the realities are ontologically distinct, that does not mean that they are totally unconnected in their interactions. Only that each reality represents a different "density grade" of reality. Obviously there are correlations, connections, interactions, etc (there is a rich (albeit distinct in each case) metaphoric language and metaphysical systems in both Neoplatonism and Kabbalah to describe precisely these interactions). Otherwise it would be impossible for the brain to mirror thoughts (and vice-versa, for thoughts to correspond to patterns brain activity)

The Physical in the broad sense is a vast reality that includes many sub-realities, including the mundane physical (the physical of the physical), as well as those that are totally supra-physical, interacting in a holistic manner.

Beyond (in the sense of being of a lesser density grade) this diverse Physical universe is a region of highly polarised zones of light and dark that has been given many names: spirit world, astral plane, vital world, emotional plane, desire plane, intermediate region (sensu Huston Smith, not the intermediate zone of Sri Aurobindo), etheric world, and so on. This is the region of many large and small entities that manipulate human consciousness, playing us like puppets. I use the term "attractor" to refer to the larger of these entities, other terms are gods, daimons, archetypes (Jung), spiritual hierarchies (Steiner), and so on. The smaller of these beings are astral detritus, and these are ones that latch on to people parasitically . All of this is just basic occult psychodynamics; you will find it clearly presented in The Mother's talks and in native shamanic wisdom and tribal cultures (where people haven't been conditioned by religious literalism), present but less clearly in Steiner's lectures (being greatly obscured by Steiner's need to interpret everything in a theoretical explanation much tinier than his experiences), and also described in many other esoteric and occult teachings. Hermetic occultists and ceremonial magicians will talk about these things in a common-sense way, but it is less often that they have been written down, in fact rarely do they appear described in systematic form. At the higher levels and sub-levels one finds various heaven realms (that is, ontological and noetic regions that are described by those who have experienced them as heavenly).

Beyond the affective/astral universe, there are more elevated noetic spiritual-divine realities, including the pure mental worlds, the higher mental, and so on. Beyond all of that are the world or worlds of the gods, by which is meant even greater cosmic-divine archetypes.. In fact there would be various emanations of such gods, what the Gnostics called the Pleroma, and following them and very much in the spirit of later Neoplatonists like Iamblicgus and Proclus, Henry Corbin referred to several such pleromas, series of archetypal emanations, each higher one more sublime and transcendent. The same basic cosmology is also found in Sikh esotericism (Sant Mat/Radhasoami). Theon refers to four primary states of consciousness (Physical, Nervous, Psychic and Mental), and four higher states beyond that which, being transcendent, are not usually considered. According to The Mother there are actually twelve planes altogether, and it is possible to go out of each one sequentially, to a progressively more subtle body, until one arrives at the Infinite; both Madame Theon and herself were able to independently have the same experience[46].

The ontological density gradation - or at least the lower three levels of physical, affective, and mental - can also be applied in (integral) psychology. Concerning this, I find Aurobindonian integral psychology to be the most useful in presenting an easy to use psychological and psycho-spiritual map of consciousness. In this, the Outer Being or mundane personality consists of physical, vital (= emotional/affective), and mental, with all three of these levels each representing a different stratum of "conscious" The system of "centers"of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky is very similar, although this has three centers (moving, sexual, and instinctual) instead of just the "physical". Further correspondences can be found as well, based on equivalent ideas in yogic teachings, esotericism and integral psychology. Here is a crude tabulation, which should not be taken as anything other than suggestive of general similarities.

Level of self Hindu Yogas Sri Aurobindo Gurdjieff Neo-Theosophy Chakras (NewAge)

Higher/ Inner
(all of the below) Psychic, Higher Mental, etc (higher centers) Monad and Soul Crown
  Outer Being / Mundane Personality Mental Jnana/ Knowledge Mental Yogi / Intellectual Mental Brow
Emotional Bhakti / Devotion Vital Monk / Emotional Emotional Heart
Etheric Hatha / Tantra Subtle Physical Fakir / Moving Etheric Solar Plexus
Physical Karma / Action Physical

Physical Base

Table 7. The nature of the psyche according to Integral psychology.

More correspondences can be found at table 18. Not all these correspondences necessarily add up, and correspondences may differ according to their association. The interpretation of Gurdjieff's moving center for instance is different in table 7 and table 18. This shows how misleading it is to treat this material as scientific empirical data. Going back to tables 2 and 3, the best approach would be to see the esoteric as pertaining to the left-hand column, and the empirical-objective to the right-hand column, although even here these things should never be taken too dogmatically. Those esoteric and philosophical systems that try to make exact associations and correspondences between systems of thought that have very different origins and backgrounds only create artificial mental abstractions, since the purpose of these associations is to suggest by analogy only. By looking at different spiritual and esoteric traditions and teachings one arrives at spiritual currents that can be followed through to the Inner Truth (or the Intermediate Zone, with the divine Truth beyond that) behind the outer literal surface. And this hidden reality can be hinted at by noticing intriguing but only suggestive parallels between the theoretical and practical teachings of different esoteric systems.

4-xxiii. The nature of consciousness

We think of our consciousness as distinct from the rest of reality, but in fact the reverse is the case; our thoughts are determined by the larger realities and environment around us. We are like fish swimming in a vast ocean the existence of which we are unaware. Or like sponges, soaking everything up, so that what we take in becomes part of our being. Wilber touches on this when he speaks of quadra-polar holons that include both individual and collective in the same holon, but as with Steiner's elaborate Anthroposophy, his intuitive insight is quickly buried under a mass of inflexible intellectual categorisations and abstractions. And unlike Steiner he is not aware of the nature of occult realities, so all that remains is a formalised addition to his intellectual system, in which he gives the individual equal billing with the universal in his four-aspect holistic co-emergence theory (sect 1-vi), perhaps reflecting or inspired by the anthropocentric bias of secular thought.

To understand how this works it is necessary first of all to give up the belief in what Wilber calls "the myth of the given" (sect 1-vi), and acknowledge that there are many realities out there, which are totally real, regardless of what we do or don't do, which exist independently of us, and that our small individual consciousness (I am not talking here about the Transcendent Self or the Divine Center) is just one tiny and often very passively reacting and helpless element in the much bigger picture.

Yet between individual and Universal there is still a one on one correspondence. An evocative perspective can be found in the traditional or perennialist perspective these represent the "microcosm" and the "macrocosm". According to Western astrology, hermeticism, alchemy, and Renaissance and Elizabethan philosophy, the individual is the "microcosm", the "little universe", who repeats on a smaller scale the structure of the "macrocosm", the "big universe". The various ontological gradations and subdivisions of reality are equally applicable on both the individual and the cosmological levels.

In sect 4-x a four- or five-level holarchical gradation was presented. This is simply a more contemporary interpretation of microcosm and macrocosm, in terms of Integral theory, would be that "microcosm" is the sphere of integral psychology, and "macrocosm"of esoteric or occult cosmology (e.g. Blavatskyian and post-Blavatsky Theosophy, and Theonist Cosmic Philosophy), although obviously there is some overlap. Hermetic philosophy like the Golden Dawn system pertains to both, which is in keeping with the holistic spirit of the New Age / Integral movement. Yet apart from traditional Shamanism and tribal wisdom, only a few teachers, such as Theon, Gurdjieff, and Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, see to have been specifically aware of the passivity of the surface consciousness to occult and subtle influences from its environment, although this is implied and mentioned in passing in Western Hermeticism and Occultism

This is not to say that the individual consciousness and ego has no influence ore no role of co-creation to play, only that its role is very tiny, in keeping with its status and scale relative to the power and consciousness of the cosmic and universal formations, forces, and movements .

All of which can be summed up as follows:

Ontological state / Holarchy Description Traditional Reality AQAL equivalent
Universal-Infinite Universal forces and archetypes, infinite Godheads, Plane of Reality or aspect of the Supreme in general Macrocosmic Objective n/a
Cosmic Cosmic archetypes, deities, godheads, astronomical objects, comsecology, astrology, etc Macrocosmic Objective Mentioned only in the context of the "Kosmic"
Collective Daimons, devas, subjectively shared worlds, group minds, larger thoughtforms, society, ecology, etc Macrocosmic Objective Collective - Lower quadrants (LL/"We" and LR/"It-s")
Interactive Interaction and coaction with other beings, thoughtforms n/a Intersubjective or interobjective n/a
Egoic   Sphere of relative self and all its contents, the ego, the individual consciousness, the helpless limited self Microcosmic Subjective UL quadrant ("I") UR ("It") but poorly defined

Table 8: The holarchy, showing correspondences

In describing the interaction between macrocosm and the microcosm, and the way in which consciousness flows from the former into the latter, a distinction has to be made however between

  1. the "objective", collective, cosmic, and universal levels of mind and emotion in themselves, which are impersonal and transpersonal and pertain to their own realities
  2. individual egoic consciousness, such as the emotional (affect, emotion, etc ) and mental(cognition or thinking) consciousness, and is the individualisation of that universal reality within the psycho-physical being (only the physical body (somatic) consciousness itself pertains to the physical plane).
  3. the subtle body, with is part of the subtle physical reality (but not the "gross"or "dense" or "objective" physical)

The first of these categories constitutes the holarchy from egoic to universal. The second is the ontological gradation that is the basis of many integral psychologies. And the third refers to the subtle or inner being, as opposed to the gross or objective or outer being.

If we combine the ontological spectrum (from physical to mental - see sect. 4-xxii) with the holarchy of scale (from individual to universal - see table 8), the result is that each gradation of the spectrum of being can be represented in terms of a holarchical scale from egoic to universal-infinite, shown as follows

Holarchy (this row): Ontological density level (this column): Universal-Infinite Cosmic Collective Interactive Egoic (sphere of relative self fig. 8)
Mental / Ideational Mental/ Ideational / "Spiritual" Plane Mental archetypes (Platonic ideas), collective unconscious, etc Mental environment, noosphere, larger mental ecology Mental aura and interactions with others, acquiring information from the environment Mental "I"/ consciousness;
Emotional/ Affective Astral Plane Astral planes and worlds; daimons, attractors, collective unconscious, etc Emotional and astral environment, larger affective ecology Emotion aura and interaction, interpersonal, empathy or lack thereof, Emotional "I"/ consciousness,
Subtle Physical Subtle Physical plane Subtle physical attractors, gods, collective unconscious, etc Devas, Subtle Physical / etheric environment Etheric/auric interactions Etheric/ auric/ subtle physical, subtle bodies
Dense Physical Physical plane, physical cosmos as a whole Planets, stars, galaxies, etc, Physical cosmos Physical environment Physical interaction with others or with objects Physical/ somatic consciousness / "I" /body

Table 9: The holarchy of Individual to Infinite-Universal
on various ontological density levels

In this manner holarchy is defined not just on the individual through to universal-infinite, but also on the various levels of the emotional/affective and mental/ideational hypostases or realities as well.

The concept of a collective and even a universal reality as equivalent to our individual thinking and feeling (macrocosm and microcosm again) explains where our consciousness comes from. Our consciousness, the levels and strata of which correspond to the right-hand column in the above table (the "egoic"), are the end result of various factors and phenomena of the larger interpersonal, collective, cosmic, and universal levels.

Thus what we call consciousness (the stream of thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc) is a sort of holistic overlap between the collective, cosmic, and infinite-universal levels of mind and emotion, and the limited physical body or physical consciousness. This overlap is what we call "personality" or "identity", the delusion (as the Buddhists might say) of a separative ego, and the area where the overlap occurs is the emotional or mental body in the subtle physical. In Barbara Brennan's account of the total person, this is the Human Energy Field which includes the aura and subtle bodies. Equivalent ideas can be found in Theon, Leadbeater, Steiner, Heindel, etc). There are also those aspects of the individual mental and emotional consciousness that, although still personal and limited, transcend the psycho-physical being, such as the astral body and the pure mental consciousness. This is shown in the following diagram:

fig. 18. physical and supraphysical self

These Astral and other non-physical bodies are not "bodies" in the conventional sense, but rather structures of consciousness on the subtle, especially the physical subtle but also higher, levels (astral plane). Shamanism, Hermetic occultism, Robert Monroe, and many others have described the astral body. Theosophy and New Age thought confuses this with the emotional body; but Max Theon explains the difference with his diagram of fractal sub-levels[47]; the emotional being pertains to the astral sub-level (or sub-sub level) of the physical, while the astral pertains to a distinct reality beyond the material. All of these levels and sub-levels intershade and inter-grade into each other, hence they are easily confused.

4-xxiv Inner and Outer Being

An interesting contrast in perspectives can be found between the Neoplatonic, Kabbalistic, Theosophical, and Gurdjieffian cosmologies on the one hand, in which the ontological spectrum tends towards greater and greater self-limitation and restriction of consciousness, and the position of A.H. Almaas, who postulates the Absolute as not only unmanifest (the traditional ineffable Absolute) but manifest as well, the latter constituting an ontological hierarchy of five infinite, boundless and coemergent dimensions that nevertheless become progressively more differentiated, knowable and less subtle So in one case the ontological gradation is a movement from greater to lesser being, a sort of metaphysical impoverishment, in the other, all the ontological levels are equally of the nature of the Absolute.

I would suggest that these two positions or perspectives can be reconciled in the Theonist and Aurobindonian cosmologies, by considering the distinction between Theon's physical and nervous (lower) and psychic and mental (higher), or between Sri Aurobindo's Outer (more limited) and Inner (vaster and more transpersonal) grades of being. In this way Almaas' five absolutic dimensions can be interpreted as referring to the inner or divine aspects of the corresponding "outer" plane described by Theosophy, Kabbalah, etc, and vice-versa.

Briefly, Almaas' five dimensions are (1) absolute emptiness, which causes the arising of space in both inner and outer perception, (2) pure nonconceptual awareness, the clear light responsible for our capacity for perception, (3) pure presence where being and knowing are the same, and which is responsible for our capacity for discriminating knowing.(4) pure universal love, which is responsible for the arising of felt qualities and affects, and 5) the logos, which is the dynamic dimension underlying all change, movement and transformation[48].

Here, (3) and (4) clearly correspond to the mental and emotional planes of Theosophy and Sri Aurobindo. Although matter is specifically excluded from the above list, the Logos can be interpreted as the inner or divine aspect of the Physical, since this would be the region where evolutionary change and transformation occurs (according to Sri Aurobindo all the supra-physical levels are "typal", so there is no change or evolution there. In Hermetic Kabbalah (Mathers, Dion Fortune) there is also an understanding of angels as static beings, rather than evolutionary as (hu)man is.

Also, if we look at table 6, it can be seen that the larger physical reality is made up or various further sub-hypostases, beginning with the transcendent "turiya" or core star or God within. This can be associated with the "inner being" (more specifically the "physical purusha", the Divine Center in the physical) in Sri Aurobindo's system, as well as an aspect of the Manifest Divine in Almaas's metaphysic. The latter's reference to these levels as "infinite" ties in with the highest level of the holarchy shown in fig.8. Which leads to the following correspondences:

Almaas/Diamond Way (Manifest Absolute dimensions = Theon and Aurobindo Inner) Almaas/Diamond Way (effect) Neo-Theosophy, Hemetic Kabbalah, etc (= Theon and Aurobindo Outer)
absolute emptiness space (=akasha) n/a
pure nonconceptual awareness perception n/a
pure presence discriminating knowing mental/spiritual
pure universal love felt qualities and affects emotional/affective/astral
Logos dynamic change physical

Table 10. Inner and outer planes

To this can be added the "four worlds" of Kabbalah, especially as presented in Hermetic Kabbalah (Golden Dawn tradition etc), which presents reality in terms of four successive emanations from the unmanifest Absolute: Atzilut, the Divine World or World of Emanation or Nearness to God (the archetypes or sefirot), Beriah, the world of Creation, Yetzirah, the angelic world of Formation, and Asiyah, the gross world of making, or of action. Wilber's intellectual categories of transpersonal states - derived as I have shown (TLDI 3-vii) from Da Free John - can probably also be mapped here. All these are representational descriptions, maps that represent the conceptual mental attempt at understanding the territory of actual experiences:

Mandukya Upanishad, Vedanta, Tantra, etc Kabbalah Max Theon Ken Wilber (Integral Theory) A. H. Almaas (Diamond Way)
Turiya / Transcendent Atzilut (Divine) Mental Nondual

Manifest Absolute

Causal / Dreamless Sleep Beriah (Creation) Psychic Causal Subtle in part --
Subtle / Dream Yetzirah (Formation) Nervous Subtle in part Psychic --
Gross / Waking Asiyah (Making) Physical All stages up to Vision-Logic Physical and vital

Table 11. Four stages

As always, it is important not to take these sort of correspondences too literally. Almaas' "Logos" for example is not exactly the same as the inner divine aspects of the Physical according to Theon and Sri Aurobindo. Even so, there are still a few intriguing connections. For example, according to Almaas, the Logos is the source of the Soul. In Sri Aurobindo's system only incarnate, physical beings have a Soul (a Psychic Being or Divine center). With both, there is the link between Inner "Physical" and Soul, with the former necessary fro the development or manifestation of the latter. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo take this further with the teaching that the Supramental or Divine consciousness is only to be fully realised here in the material world (TLDI 3-viii), and that realisation means the total transformation and enlightenment of nonconscious physical matter (sect 4-ix) itself.

Concerning now the Diamond Way and comparison with other systems, Almaas' Manifest Absolute with its five infinite divine co-emerging dimensions recall the sefirot (archetypes) and partzufim (Divine personalities) of the Kabbalistic world of Atzilut, the first emanation of the Infinite En Sof, which is perhaps equivalent to Almaas' Unmanifest Absolute. And inspired by Kabbalah we can then bring in gnostic cosmology with its transcendent pleroma, Radhasoami with its Sach Khand (transcendent divine world) and so on. These sort of associations really need to be explored at greater length, which unfortunately is not practical at the moment in the present essay is remain within essay (rather than book) size. For now however a few brief tables will hopefully suffice, provided it is understood that these associations and correspondences are suggestive only, not literal facts in the manner of empirical science.

The following table suggests the relationship between the inner and outer Ontological states and the ontological density gradations ("spiritual" is a generic term here for all states beyond or above the mental or ordinary surface consciousness). As always, these correspondences should not be taken as statements of fact, but simply ideas to be considered, discussed, and accepted or rejected as the case may be.

Ontological state / Ontological gradation:   Transcendent / Atzilut Causal / Beriah Subtle / Yetzirah Gross / Dense / Asiyah
Spiritual Transcendent Spiritual mystic experiences Spiritual archetypes and deities Spiritual phenomenona and hierarchies (e.g. Steiner's angelology) Spiritual and transpersonal states
Mental pure presence, Nirvikalpa Samadhi and similar Profound meditative states Savikalpa Samadhi and similar; experiences of transpersonal insight Mental center, mind's eye, intuition, inspiration, witness consciousness, meditative states, thoughtforms Thoughts, mental consciousness, all mental maps and forms of cognitive knowing, theories, memes (sensu Dawkins)
Affective/ Emotional pure universal love Union with God, transcendent empathy and love for all beings, Empathy and feelings of unity, mystical experiences, bhakti, selfless compassion; mahakaruna Emotional center powerful transpersonal felt states, religious experiences, perhaps BPM (Grof) Emotions, affects, feelings, "system B" (Gooch), etc
Physical Divine body experiences, Tantric enlightenment Spiritual or yogic body and states, primary chakras, kundalini(tantra), "Hara" of Barbara Brennan Etheric/ auric/ subtle bodies, auras, ch'i, secondary chakras, devas, paraphysical phenomena, alternative healing Mundane physical reality, empirical, objective, "system A" (Gooch), Right half of AQAL, etc

Table 12: subdivisions of Ontological states and gradations

The correspondences and classification in Table 12 constitutes a sort of mental map or navigation diagram for various states of consciousness, although because it only includes two parameters it is of necessity limited and simplistic. As a "big picture" mental map it is similar to Integral theory's AQAL and IMP, but unlike the latter it is also able to include non-ordinary states of consciousness. The limitations of Wilber's more recent ideas in this regard are clear through its failure to map meditative states of consciousness. As Andrew P. Smith explains in a blog post

"...(I)t is profoundly misunderstanding meditation to confine it to one of Wilber's eight zones. Meditation is qualitatively different from other forms of knowing. All those other forms in the eight zones involve dualistic approaches to the world. meditation does not. They all involve thinking. Meditation does not. They all are either monological or dialogical. Meditation is neither, or both. They all remain firmly embedded within the ordinary state of consciousness. Meditation does not."[49]

And what applies to meditation also applies to all non-ordinary (subtle and above) states of consciousness. Thus while Wilber's Eight Perspectives are useful enough in describing rational waking consciousness, they cannot be applied to states beyond the mundane gross physical realm. Their purely rational-mental and abstractionist nature means they are limited to the "mental" subdivision of the "gross" reality (or "gross" subdivision of the "mental" reality - either term is equally applicable), as is his AQAL theory, and for that matter all theoretical speculation or "mental maps".

One of the major weaknesses of AQAL is that it considers the holarchic levels of scale, and the developmental stages of prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal, as one and the same. It also contains a redundancy in that holarchy is mentioned twice, both in the quadrants and the levels. A better way to map states of consciousness and reality would be to distinguish these parameters. Ideally this requires at least a three-dimension diagram, which is impractical on the screen or printed page. So different perspectives have to be used, and reality cannot be explained ina simplistic monolinear manner. The following diagram matches the ontological states against the holarchy levels:

Ontological state / Holarchy Transcendent / Atzilut Causal / Beriah Subtle / Yetzirah Gross / Dense / Asiyah
Universal-Infinite Infinite transcendent being; Manifest Absolute sensu A.H.Almaas Universal archetypes Subtle planes of existence The Infinite Multiverse
Cosmic Cosmic deities / godheads / Sambhogakaya Cosmic archetypes and deities Large scale attractors, gods, astrology, cosmecology, etc Galaxies, etc, Physical and psychophysical cosmos  
Collective Angelic deities, emanations of Godheads Angelic and similar beings, Causal archetypes, intermediate zone in part Devas, attractors and forces, psychic environment, collective consciousness, intermediate zone in part Society, ecosystems, Physical and psychophysical environment
Interactive Aspiration and consciousness of the Divine within (consciousness of the Psychic Being sensu Sri Aurobindo), Empathy, Gnosis, interaction with others on a profoundly transpersonal level, I-Thou mystic experiences, Bhakti yoga Etheric, Emotional, and Mental auras, extended consciousness and interaction, "Circumconscient" sensu Sri Aurobindo Physical, Emotional, and/or Mental interactions with other beings, or with the environment as a whole, ego caught up with the world
Intra-individual/ Egoic (sphere of relative self) God within, purusha, realisation of the Atma, Jnana yoga, enlightnment as an individual experience Profound meditative states, spiritual or yogic body and states, primary chakras, kundalini Etheric, emotiona, mental and spiritual subtle bodies, ch'i, secondary chakras, astral plane as subjective thoughtforms The outer personality, Psychophysical consciousness, limited individual consciousness, introspection, introversion  

Table 13: subdivisions of Ontological states and holarchy

Because there is so much detail here, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to consider the Gross/Asiyatic, Subtle/Yetziratic, and Causal/Beriatic Physical and supra-Physical realities, in more detail, dividing each one up according to its Physical, Affective, Mental, and Spiritual sublevels. I started doing this for this essay, drawing up tables and so on, but the degree of complexity quickly spun things out of control, and the excessive number of tables implied an over-mentalisation that required a whole lot of other material to balance it if it was to remain reasonably grounded. So that particular project has to be deferred for later.

4-xxv The Nature of Freedom

Taken on its own, Esoteric Theory, with its detailed discussion on states of consciousness, dimensions of being, and so on, may have no more relevance to ordinary consciousness and everyday existence then any other over-intellectualised worldview.

The whole point of Esoteric Integral Theory however (and Esoteric Theory in general) is that it explains the origin of and causal factors behind everything that happens in individual consciousness, and hence the human condition, society, and the nature of the world and its current problems. This explanation is based on the following hypotheses.

  • Just as there are objective physical realities, so there are objective supra-physical ontological realities, which exist regardless of whether we believe in them or not
  • Our individual consciousness is not shut off from these various realities but partakes of them as an element in a larger occult ecology
  • Therefore our individual subjective natures, thoughts, ideas, emotions, impulses, etc are due in large measure to the influence of these larger realities upon us, the way they determine whether our restless "monkey mind" will jump this way or that.
  • In other words most of what we think of as free will is illusion
  • What applies on the individual level also applies on the collective level. That means that the collective human consciousness is likewise under the sway of these forces.
  • Freedom of Consciousness in the real sense can only be had through standing back from these various impulses, rather than allowing oneself to be carried along by them
  • Freedom of Action, Right action comes about through the spiritual path, aspiration for the Divine, following the Inner Guide (the "Psychic Being") and the transcendence of ego

This explanation is therefore highly relevant not only to ordinary consciousness but to the world as a whole, because understanding esoteric and occult realities allows us to understand the human condition, and hence human society, and the mess that humanity has made of the planet, through its own weakness. Look at politics, government, big business, the mass media, religious institutes, or ideologies and organisations of every kind. People think they are in control, they think they are making the decisions. But as long as their consciousness has not been purified and focused, as long as they do not have a receptivity to the Divine, but instead react only according to egoic desires, likes and dislikes, fear, insecurity, shadow projection, ego-idealisation, and so on, they are not free. Instead, they are slaves to whatever larger (interpersonal, collective, or cosmic) forces might choose to embody or express themselves in the field of activity and evolution, without having to limit themselves by actually taking on a dense physical body.

And because the collective level is the same as the individual, but even more so; then if people who do not have freedom over their own consciousness are mere puppets of larger forces, the more collective the level the more they are puppeted. Politics, religion, business, the mass media, the achievements of civilization and also whole mess the world is in; all these things are not the ultimately result of human wisdom or stupidity. People are simply instruments, or a lower order holon, in the manifestation of larger collective forces, which are the larger holons in the hierarchy.

These larger holons are not evolutionary. Integral Esotericism differs from Integral Physicalism (whether it be the quadra-polar Integral Theory of Wilber or the non-quadrant holarchy of Smith) in that it does not posit a progression from simple cells to organisms to global or planetary organism. The larger holons predate human existence (and perhaps predate the Earth and even the physical universe), but once the conditions were appropriate at the physical level; that is, once the lesser-order holons (individual sentient beings and especially sophont (sapient and sentient) beings) had evolved, they were able to establish a field of activity within the physical universe. That is what everything that happens on Earth and throughout human history is; a field of activity of these larger holarchic, nonhuman and nonphysical forces.

These forces pertain to the subtle physical and gross and subtle astral and mental, and much more rarely and positively to the causal and transcendent levels. There are forces that want to build and create, forces that want to destroy, and forces that simply have their own agenda. Especially at the gross and negative subtle astral level, the negative outnumber the positive, but there are also dimensions of reality where the positive predominate, and others where there are forces and evolutionary attractors that are profoundly and uncannily alien to everything we know.

I will resist the temptation to provide any sort of typology of these forces, as this essay is far too long as it is, and any such classification will require further explanation, and could easily become a book-length project in itself. For now it can be said that - contrary to Theosophical, neo-Theosophical, and New Age ideas of ascended masters and so on - when it comes to occult factors behind human affairs, the unfolding of cosmic, planetary, and human history, and the current global situation, the most important forces of the subtle and supra-physical realms are not human and have never been human. They can best be thought of as "forces of nature" in the sense of the gods of old, or Jung's concept of archetypes, without the biological metaphysics of racial memory (which implies some sort of reductionistic explanation).

There are Divine forces that pertain to the higher and the inner causal worlds, and that uplift and inspire and guide. These are often described in esoteric literature as angelic archetypes and hierarchies, although it is still the inner Divine center (the Psychic Being), our true immortal nature, that remains the basis of all spiritual endeavour. It is this inner center that gives us the Freedom to make authentic choices, including the only choice that really matters, whether to serve the self-seeking ego full of fear, delusion, desire and hate that is itself the helpless slave of even the pettiest subtle forces, or whether to aspire for the Supreme and the realisation of actualisation of one's true potential.

The Hellenistic Gnostics of the Roman world had the idea that the world was under the sway of, and controlled by, negative or demonic powers, which they called archons and the demiurge, while the true Divine principles (the Pleroma or "fullness") resided above. This strongly dualistic and highly pessimistic cosmology was actually a standard one in late Antiquity, and Christianity can also be understood as part of this general milieu (indeed much of Gnosticism represented an early form of Esoteric Christianity)[50].

Ignoring the more absurd and fatalistic elements of Gnostic, Manichaean, Catholic, Revivalist, and other such dualistic religions, the common theme is that when it comes to the mess that the world is in at the moment, it is the negative or adverse (anti-divine) forces that are responsible. This has been explained by Max Theon in his Cosmic Philosophy. Theon taught that above the physical reality is the region he called the "nervous" (equivalent to the astral of Neo-Theosophy). The lowest division of this, and hence immediately above the physical reality, is the "physical degree of the nervous state", and according to Theon this is where the "hostile" or anti-divine principle is found. The parallels with Gnosticism and its evil world-ruler (demiurge) are pretty obvious. Interestingly, the same basic idea also appears in some of the Radhasoami teachings. In The Mother's teachings the word "vital" and "vital world" is used instead of "nervous state" or "astral plane" but the meaning is the same. Indeed The Mother is one of the few spiritual teachers who didn't shy away from these things; who didn't just say everything is sweetness and light and if there is any negativity it is only because of "the ego", which is the standard pop-guru explanation. This does not mean one should obsess over such things either; just that this is one more reality to factor into any comprehensive description of the "big picture".

This cosmology has some interesting implications. For example it could be presumed that this is where superstitions and religious belief in evil spirits and demons come from. So it is not that these religions that have these dualistic beliefs about metaphysical evil and so on are wrong. In fact they have genuinely intuited something, but the problem is their whole fundamentalist theology with its shadow-projection and scapegoating too often also pertains to this very same reality. Because of this they cannot present an accurate account of these things, and indeed often themselves serve as instruments for adverse forces (through their promulgating of bigotry, hatred, holy way, inquisition, extremism, terrorism, and so on).

But the real problem isn't that there are negative cosmic forces that seek to obstruct the evolution of the Earth to a harmonious condition of Spiritual Truth. The real problem is that most people simply are non-conscious. Being not aware and mindful of their thought-processes, not focused on the Supreme, not surrendered to the Divine, not having made their whole life a Yoga of spiritual transformation, they react automatically and mechanically to any stimuli from the larger gross or subtle physical, affective, or mental realities. So if there is an intelligent supra-physical but non-divine force that wants to do something, it can easily create the desired response and reaction in any human puppet. Ironically for the authentic Divine, spiritual, angelic, and transcendent forces and impulses it is much harder to get a response, because people are so caught up in their lower nature, so in love with what is base and perverted, so willing to jump at the first reaction from the most petty gross-astral formation, that it is very hard for the genuine Light to get through. And this is the tragedy of the human condition.

For a description of the nature of the positive, negative, neutral, familiar and alien forces that exist beyond the boundaries of our egoic individuality, and the way they interface (whether as mere suggestions taken up, as sporadic inspirations, or as potent archetypal "attractors") with individual human consciousness we need to turn to the work of great Teachers like Isaac Luria, Max Theon, Steiner, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. All of which would, again, take us beyond the scope of this essay.

It is only this true spirituality that gives freedom to oneself, and thus makes possible an Integral transformation of society. Such a transformation of society means putting the larger world in contact with this way of harmony and evolution, so that the transformation isn't just limited to the individual. But this cannot done while people are still unaware of and unconnected from their own Divine Center.


[1] See "The Blind Men and the Elephant" online at for a number of versions of this tale

[2] See my essay "Wilber's Methodology - a critique" online at 2002/2005

[3] See for example Ken Wilber Online: Foreword to Marilyn Schlitz and Tina Hyman eds.Integral Medicine: A Noetic Reader ; Ken Wilber Online: "Excerpt B: The Many Ways We Touch - Three Principles Helpful for Any Integrative Approach" and Jack Crittendon Who Is Ken Wilber? by Jack Crittenden, Forward to Ken Wilber, The Eye of the Spirit. (online )

[4] See for example Gus diZerega, "A critique of Wilber's account of deep ecology and nature religions", The Trumpeter, 1996

[5] For a very readable introduction to Wilber's "orientating generalisations" see Jack Crittenden "What is the Meaning of "Integral"?" . This methodology forms the basis for Wilber's arguments in his opus Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. For criticism of this idea see Jeff Meyerhoff's "Six Criticisms of Wilber's Integral Theory" For Wilber's sarcastic put-down (without addressing any of Meyerhoff 's arguments) see "What We Are, That We See: Response to Some Recent Criticism in a Wild West Fashion" For Wilber's belated attempt at a refutation of Meyerhoff, where at the same time he concedes Meyerhoff 's arguments without acknowledging him, and somewhat distances himself from his own "orientating generalizations" methodology, see the online audio dialog between Wilber and his student Sean Hargens (now offline). For commentary on the above see Dashh's blog commentary - Wilber on Meyerhoff's Six Criticisms For Meyerhoff's refutation of Wilber's reply see "An 'Intellectual Tragedy'"

[6] The original anagram FQAL ( ) (Four Quadrants All Levels) being rejected for obvious reasons!

[7] For a readable introduction, along with shortcomings and self-contradictions of Wilber's AQAL and IMP theory, see Andy Smith, "An IMP Runs Amok: The Promise and the Problems of Wilber's Integral Methodological Pluralism", April 2006

[8] Andrew P. Smith, The Intersubjective Meditator: A Critical Look at Ken Wilber's Integral Spirituality For more critiques of Wilber by Smith, see and his home page at

[9] page

[10] from Stan Gooch, Total Man, Abacus, 1972, pp.82-3 In later books Gooch explored the Neanderthal question, suggesting that the System B / Self Neanderthals were wiped out by (but also interbred with and hence preserved elements of their psychology and physiology) the System A / Ego Cro-Magnons. While Gooch's ideas are intriguing (if simplistic, because these polarities are universal and indeed metaphysical and cosmological), this later work obscured the very interesting suggestions made in his first book.

[11] This quote from the Ken Wilber Forum - "William Irwin Thompson on Ken Wilber and Jean Gebser" regarding which, see also further discussion on this.

[12] Arvan Harvat personal correspondence, June 2004

[13] For the latter's definition, see e.g. Letters on Yoga vol.1 p.311 "The outer consciousness is that which usually expresses itself in ordinary life. It is the external mental, vital, physical. It is not connected very much with the inner being except in a few until one connects them together in the course of the sadhana" Sadhana is a Sanskrit word meaning spiritual practice; in this context it also refers to Integral Yoga

[14] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in Phenomenology of Perception (first published in French in 1945), developed the concept of the "body-subject" as an alternative to Cartesian dualism.

[15] One could argue that "we" (the Lower Left quadrant) is the sum of "you" and "I" (both Upper Left). This is suggested for example by Paul Helfrich in a recent (30 June 2006) post on the New Word Discussion forum thread "AQAL and/or Integral 101" But this seems a rather weak rationalisation, since if "It-s" is the plural of It (upper left) "we" should more consistently be the plural of the first person or "I" alone.

[16] A brief biography is available online at

[17] see Future Positive - Edward Haskell

[18] The heart glyph of course bears no relation in appearance to the human physical organ, but the origin of the symbol remains obscure - see

[19] See e.g. the diagram at Mantak and Maneewan Chia, Awaken Healing Light of the Tao (Healing Tao Books, 1993), p.170. Reproduced at my Microcosmic Orbit page

[20] See e.g. Sri Aurobindo, The Mother,

[21] James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, Little, Brown, 2004. Wikipedia summary

[22] The classic instance of this is to be found in Wilber's "Integral Institute", see his webpage "Announcing the Formation of Integral Institute" Here we find a whole lot of new "Integrals" none of which are defined, but none of which are really explained.

[23] For example the Institute of Noetic Sciences is a nonprofit organization founded in 1973 by astronaut Edgar Mitchell, explore the frontiers of consciousness, conducting and sponsoring research into the potentials and powers of consciousness: including perceptions, beliefs, attention, intention, and intuition, bridging science and spirit, and supporting a fundamental shift in human consciousness to advance individual, social, and global transformation love. This certainly qualifies as "Integral" in the definition used in this essay. The website is

[24] See for example Huston Smith Forgotten Truth: The Primordial Tradition. New York: Harper & Row. 1977, and my webpage Planes of being This subject will also be dealt with at more length in book in progress, tentatively titled Towards an Integral Metaphysic

[25] See for example "Excerpt G - Toward A Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies" , "Excerpt D. The Look of a Feeling: The Importance of Post/Structuralism" , "Integral Post-Metaphysics and the Myth of the Given"

[26] "Towards a Larger Definition of the Integral, Part Two, A Fourfold Critique" sect. 2a

[27] The word "postmetaphysical"was used previously by the contemporary German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, see for example Postmetaphysical Thinking (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought ) - transl. By William Mark Hohengarten, :MIT Press, 1994. Wilber is a big fan of Habermas and lists him among his Integral Thinkers (Integral Psychology ch.7), along with Baldwin, Maslow, Gebser, and Sri Aurobindo. I have not read any Habermas and so are not familiar with his thought, but given Wilber's track record with other citations and teachings (e.g. Plotinus, Shankara, Sri Aurobindo, Gebser, Darwinism, etc - see TLDI 2a, 2d, etc for citations; see also Jeff Meyerhoff Bald Ambition - A Critique of Ken Wilber's Theory of Everything and Geoff Falk, Norman Einstein: The Dis-Integration of Ken Wilber 2006, for much more detailed and comprehensive critiques) it would not be surprising if he has completely misrepresented Habermas.

[28] Charles T. Tart, "Some assumptions of orthodox, Western Psychology". In C. Tart (Ed.), Transpersonal Psychologies. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 61-111.

[29] Jorge Ferrer, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, pp.49-50

[30] Huston Smith, Forgotten Truth: The Primordial Tradition. New York: Harper & Row. 1977

[31] For Wilber's conflicting statements regarding Adi Da, see the Shambhala website Wilber Online: The Case of Adi Da For the same correspondence from the devotees' perspective, see the Daist website Adi Da and the Case of Wilber

[32] I would like to thank Andy Smith for making this distinction (at the Open Integral forum)

[33] The concept of Emanation is found in the context of involution in one of Wilber's on-line essays "Excerpt G - Toward A Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies" , although obviously this is quite anomalous in regard to Wilber's current tendency towards physicalism and denial of metaphysical realities, since emanation by its very nature implies supra-physical ontological realities and thus is anathema to the current wilberian ideology of "post-metaphysics". However it is acknowledged that Wilber make allowance for supraphysical raelities in his own understanding (sect. 1-vi) even if he denies it in all other and previous spiritual teachings (TLDI 2-ii, 2-viii).

[34] According to Sri Aurobindo: "An emanation of the Mother is something of her consciousness and power put forth from her which, so long as it is in play, is held in close connection with her and, when its play is no longer required, is withdrawn back into its source, but can always be put out and brought into play once more. But also the detaining thread of connection can be severed or loosened and that which came forth as an emanation can proceed on its way as an independent divine being with its own play in the world. All the Gods can put forth such emanations from their being, identical with them in essence of consciousness and power though not commensurate. In a certain sense the universe itself can be said to be an emanation from the Supreme. In the consciousness of the sadhak an emanation of the Mother will ordinarily wear the appearance, form and characteristics with which he is familiar." - Letters on Yoga, Volume 1 p.383

Rudolf Stiener speaks of three triads of spiritual hierarchies,of which the highest are able to create further beings (emanations) through the activity of their consciousness (ref)

In Tibetan Buddhism incarnate emanations of a previous enlightened adept or a bodhisattva are called "tulkas", although the word is more often included in a spiritual teacher's name as a title of respect

[35] See "Emanation"

[36] See Emanation - The Hierarchical Ontology (Ontological Gradation)

[37] Colin Low, Emanation and Ascent in Hermetic Kabbalah 2004. Presentation and notes on emanation and the historical roots of Hermetic Kabbalah

[38] For a quick overview, see refs url

[39] On Huston Smith's criticism of Darwinism, (although unlike Creationists he accepts the validity of the fossil record) see Beyond the Postmodern Mind. Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, 1982 pp.169-74 - this naturally extends to a criticism of Teilhard; Ibid pp.124-7; On Wilber's anti-Darwinist stance see A Brief History of Everything p.20 (2nd edition, Shambhala Boston, 2000) and a letter published here ; for criticism of this see my essay "Wilber's misunderstanding of science - Evolutionary Theory" and references cited therein. On Wilber's current turn-around see Jim Chamberlain "Wilber on evolution - A Few Comments"

[40] See for example "Wilber and Metaphysics", "Post-metaphysics and beyond", and "My take on Wilber-5"


[42] See the Wihipedia page

[43] Barbara Brennan, Light Emerging, ch.2

[44] Mother's Agenda vol.12, p.268 (16 Oct 1971)

[45] See e.g. Letters on Yoga, vol.1; pp.309, 311, 345

[46] See Mother's Agenda 4 November 1958 (vol.1), and 27 January 1962 (vol.3)

[47] "The "Materialisms" Plane - four lower divisions"

[48] See e.g. A. H. Almaas, "The Diamond Approach"

[49] Open Integral - comment to "Are mystical states transrational?"

[50] See e.g. Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958), E. R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1965), J. M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (New York, 1st ed., 1977; 3rd ed., 1988), and Elaine Pagels,.The Gnostic Gospels (Vintage Books)

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