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

What Is Unmentionable?

Are There Yet Taboos In Our Growing Integral Family?

David Jon Peckinpaugh

In every family there are things we don't talk about. In every society there are topics considered off-limits. In every world there are truths that one dares mention only if he or she is willing to risk their stake in the crowd. When in Rome do as the Romans. If you don't… if you don't fit in… you will be ostracized, banished, exiled—extradited to some alien outpost where you are no longer considered a 'threat' to the lukewarm discontent of a people or race of beings.

So rather than be forced into exile—although the enlightened have also traveled this path—it is left to the enlightened to willingly walk into a sort of retreat from society and its herd mentality. It is somewhat like this: As if a cow were to one day 'wake up' and begin communicating to the herd that they were all just being fattened up, in a seemingly idyllic pasture, just so that they could be slaughtered to carnivorous gods in the near-future, only to be chastised by the herd for disturbing all the other cows from enjoying their afternoon cud-chewing session. 'Don't upset the other cows with your cheap and silly talk. Don't ruin someone's whole day by daring to suggest such unforeseeable outcomes. For we are cows and we cannot possibly know what the future portends for us. All we can know is that we are given today and there is plenty of green grass and water here for us. We are being well taken care of. Besides, look at all of those young calves over there, playing so happily around their mothers. Just look. Look at how good life for us is here in these green, rolling hills. So don't ruin it all with your foolish nonsense. Just keep quiet about what you think is going to happen to us all one day. Don't spoil the happy dreams of your brothers and sisters. Cuz if ya don't, we are going to have to find some other way of dealing with you.'

Things We Are Not Allowed To Say

Don't remind us that we are finite beings. Don't remind us that the body is not immortal. Don't remind us that this adored flesh, these sought after sensations, and the grandest of all thoughts, will all end up going the way of the dinosaur.

Don't say these things!

Don't disturb the dreams of others. Don't try to awaken those who sleep happily. Don't try to illumine the inevitable fate of those who want nothing more than to stay blind, deaf, and dumb to that fate. Don't forget that for many 'ignorance truly is bliss.'

There is resistance: resistance to the Truth; resistance to awakening; resistance to acknowledging that the Truth might be more worthy of our devotion than the content of all our dreams and illusions; resistance to 'dropping the body-mind,' in the words of the beloved Japanese Sage, Dogen.

The question, then, is, 'Why are we so enamoured with that which has no substantial and independent existence of its own to speak of?' Do we secretly think that if we wish for the preservation and continuation of the 'body-mind' that this will somehow result in our attaining such a state or condition of existence? Do we think that we are the 'new generation'—and arrogantly so, I might add—that is going to outwit the impermanence that has signified the existence of each and every generation to inhabit this-oh-so-empty-world?

Are we the ones who will 'cling to the body-mind' and succeed in our infinite grasping at that which has a tendency to slip through our fingers like water through a sieve?

Are we the ones who will succeed in essentializing an illusion?


Let us bear in mind here that the general tendency is to be so attached and identified with the 'body-mind' of our choosing, such that we have this way of growing exceedingly defensive anytime anyone comes along to indicate that this might not be an effective tact for us to take in the long-run. Body-Minds-R-Us. To which the Realized Sage replies, 'The wrong knowledge of 'I am the body' is the cause of all the mischief.'[1] Oh, and what mischief it is! Rape. Murder. Wars. Pedophilia. Starvation. Torture. Gulags. Internment camps. Auschwitz. The Killing Fields. The sado-masochistic sea of samsaric suffering that knows no end for as long as there is this belief, this single idea, this pernicious principle, held as true and self-evident: that 'I am a body-mind.' That we are all body-minds. Nothing but bodies here. Nothing but minds to tell a sad and wicked tale. Just that.

This sad and wicked tale does include some temporary relief. We can get 'high' and feed off of fleeting sensations that titillate the skin.

Oh, but then the 'crash.' Then the 'fall.' Then we—man especially—has to live out the duration of that long refractory period that follows his orgasmic release from the dull mundanity and/or stresses of existence as 'I am the body-mind.'

Yes, indeed, before body-minds can ascend again to the heights so adored there must be this return to the valley below, where we wait before enough thermodynamic pressure builds so that we can take up the pathways of ascent once again. Sisyphus has rested with his boulder. He begins once again. He can do no other. This: a tale portrayed by an idiot. Or is it just the cursed fate of humanity assured by the gods who dictate all such efforts in futility?

Is Hope The Last To Go?

Perhaps Sisyphus does not despair at what he must do. Perhaps Sisyphus is hopeful that he can attain the success that he so desperately wishes to achieve. Perhaps Sisyphus is forever hopeful when he is pushing that boulder upwards. For this is the time. This is the one. This is the effort that will finally pay off. This is the day that he shall seize and make his own. The stars are aligned. He can feel it. This is a day of triumph for him. He shall prevail, finally, at last, and forever! Success. Achievement. Oh the triumph! Oh the glory!

This is all on the way upwards. The ascent is hopeful.

Yet the ascent does not exist apart from the descent. The ascent is the hopeful side of descent's dread. Our happy 'Hallelujah!' is followed by our despairing, 'Oh shit! Not this again.'

But what is our, 'Oh shit! Not this again,' the result of if not the hopeful promise of an ascent divorced from any and all descent. In other words, we ascend because we think we can stay up. Hear me men? Because we think we can stay 'up'… stay 'hard'… stay 'erect'… stay 'on top.' We 'get up' with our eyes on the prize, but without also realizing that in doing so we are precipitating our own 'fall from Grace' all over again.

And whether or not you can do all of this with 'unblinking awareness' or not really does not matter as much as the fact that to 'initiate such a cycle'—one whose outcome is rest assured—is to pretty much confess one's ignorance and/or sheer vanity.

So what if you are able to push a boulder up a mountain while realizing that you are doing so. Big deal! Awareness of what we are doing is not the penultimate consideration here. You think our mythical Sisyphus doesn't know he is pushing a rock up to the top of a mountain? Of course he does! But that doesn't change or alter the 'eternal repetition' of what he must do as long as he 'initiates' one more vain attempt. That doesn't change the fact that the boulder is destined to roll back down to the bottom of the mountain!

Mere awareness of what we are doing, I would contend, is not enough. It is often held out as the ultimate standard. Just awareness. Just be aware of what is transpiring. Just 'pay attention.' But mere awareness without discrimination is fairly damn empty if you ask me. This is why I would make the suggestion that our awareness of what we are doing, coupled with the realization that what we have been doing is part of a 'cycle' that has no other outcome than 'return' might lead us to 'cease' the commencing of another 'round' of the same old scenario.

And let us also bear in mind that changing our thoughts about what we are doing—being more affirmative, positive—is also a wasted effort if what we are doing has an outcome whose end is assured in the beginning.

Nor does the fact that we change our clothes and decide to dress as a priest or prophet alter the inevitable outcome of that which is truly a fait accompli. ¨

No doubt this sounds extreme, radical—perhaps even truly outlandish—to those whose orientation is more situated towards a this-worldliness (even as far as such is an expression of one's religious and/or spiritual convictions). Some might even consider such assertions being made here as 'nihilistic'—which just so happens to be a similar sort of accusations that accompanied the spread of Buddhism around the globe.[2]

People… sentient beings… want their dreams, cherish their hopes, adore their many forms of this-worldly devotion. Any indication that who, what, or where one might be pursuing, in a this-worldly fashion or manner, is not all that is appears to be cracked up to be, is going to feel like a threat to one's self. There will be the usual catalogue of accusations, defensiveness, justifications, rationalizations, and the like.

The simple truth is that if you touch upon a person's or people's dreams and wishes for this-world, then you are essentially touching upon the 'one thing' that they are most attached to and associated with; henceforth, it is to also touch upon that which is the illusory center of one's false sense of self. The dream… the hope… the wish… or secret fantasy that keeps one locked into the vice-like jaws of eternal recurrence.

For Sisyphus the hope or dream is to have the boulder come to rest on top of the mountain. Yet, this dream or hope is the source of his greatest despair and suffering. Again, his chief dream in life is the primary source of his greatest despair.

But Sisyphus sees this not. He has hope yet for success, for attainment, for realizing his dream and achieving the object of his desire. In other words, he has not yet become sufficiently disillusioned with his hopes and dreams of some sort of success in order to have a 'sit-down' (meditation anyone?) and 'go on strike' against the temptation of his 'greatest wish/fantasy.' He has not yet realized that his 'primary hope in terms of this-world' is the source of his greatest bondage. Herein lies a seeming paradox of Enlightenment, Awakening, Liberation, and/or Release: that even our most humane and compassionate desires for a certain 'outcome' in terms of this-world can keep us enslaved in ways that we can hardly fathom. The one thing that we want to achieve—for ourselves, for the world—is the last thing that we are willing to surrender. Our hope is often the last to go before there is that 'dropping of the body-mind' that Dogen indicates is both the practice and the presence of Enlightenment itSelf.

So be hope-less… and be Free.


[1] Maharshi, Ramana, Talks With Ramana Maharshi, Carlsbad, CA, Inner Directions, 2000. To Ken Wilber's great credit I should mention that, in the foreword to the aforementioned volume, he writes that 'it is exactly by all those who are thus in love merely with the manifest world—from capitalists to socialists, from green polluters to green peacers, from egocentrics to ecocentrics—that Ramana's message needs so desperately to be heard.' Later he states the following—upon which I concur whole-heartedly—namely, that 'under no circumstances should you base your salvation on that which is finite, temporal, passing, illusory, or suffering-enhancing and agony-inducing.' Meaning, this-world cannot save you. And no activity partaken in this-world can save you—One already is so. Which is why the efforts, activities, and aims taken up in wholly in terms of this-world—which are meant to attain salvation—are themselves some of the single greatest obstacles to realizing That which already is… and that 'thou art That' which already is.

[2] This was especially the case upon the occasion of Buddhism's encounter with the West. For more on this see Tweed, Thomas A., The American Encounter With Buddhism, Chapel Hill, N.C., University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

David Jon Peckinpaugh is authour of Buddha & Shakespeare; Eastern Dharma, Western Drama (2004); Naked Guide To Life And Death: Experts, Extremism, Evolution, Education (2002); and Framing The Postmodern: Language, Commerce, Culture, Consciousness (2002).

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