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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Barclay PowersBarclay Powers is an author and futurist filmmaker. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and has an extensive background as an independent scholar. He has studied Chinese, Tibetan and Indian meditation, yoga and martial arts traditions for more than 30 years. Powers is currently releasing multiple media projects worldwide in film and print, related to the evolution of consciousness based on his studies with numerous masters of ancient wisdom traditions. His most recent film, The Lost Secret of Immortality, based on his book, won best spiritual/religious/Christian film at the Great Lakes International Film Festival, 2012, the Silver Palm Award at the Mexico International Film Festival, 2012 and best spiritual documentary at the New York International Film Festival, 2011. See his website at for information on the book, graphic novel and film.


The World's Most Dangerous Idea

Barclay Powers


Tilopa (988-1069)
At first a yogi feels his mind is tumbling like a waterfall;
In mid-course, like the Ganges,
it flows on slow and gentle;
in the end, it is a great vast ocean,
Where the lights of Child and Mother merge into one.

The true self may very well be the most dangerous idea in the world.

Many of the most recent articles on Integral World suggest a rapidly evolving combination of worldviews, which represent both skeptical and idealistic perspectives. Frank Visser’s ability to target motivational, transformational and inspirational Integral theistic narrative agenda conflicts with science represents a level of objective critical scholarship, which improves the overall debate with each new essay. It could be argued that a radical new story of ultimate superhuman potential and consciousness evolution may be emerging as an enlightened structure of consciousness, the true self, becomes a viable subject of inquiry by hard science in the form of contemplative neuroscience. Transpersonal psychology revolves around the true self as a kind of lost center of the psyche, which can be progressively realized by meditation, and other mind/body integration methods like yoga, Tai chi, qi gong, hypnosis, Tantra, and hallucinogenic shamanism.

Three living characters emerge: the real shaman, the true yogi, and the realized inner alchemist that still exist in the 21st century. The living experiential reality of these individuals often contradicts the contemporary mainstream scientific materialist narrative. The question always boils down to the personal perspective and agenda of the narrator who may intentionally or unintentionally blur the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. This unfortunately seems to be the case with many of the Integral experts on meditation, and non-Western spirituality. Mysticism as a whole has been overly romanticized and cross culturally misunderstood. Inner alchemy has been omitted, and nonduality has become a commercial slogan, which ignores the Trikaya, the union of the three bodies, physical, subtle, and super subtle as the goal of Mahayana and Vajrayana meditation systems. This consistent mistranslation prevents the progression of practitioners, and merely markets a spiritual lifestyle instead of accurately explaining liberation or true awakening, which has been misunderstood as psychological. A true post-materialist science of consciousness evolution would embrace, not reject, the data, which threatens the neo-Darwinian narrative that automatically excludes complete awakening, or Buddhahood, as the true origin of consciousness within the species. As Jean Gebser pointed out, the earliest form of consciousness was “totally identical with the whole.” Since this most evolved aspect of ourselves, the true self or Buddha nature, represents our original true fully awakened identity, a neuroscientific explanation may represent an entirely new definition of what it is to be human in the 21st century. It is this new definition or narrative of humanity, which Gebser described as the integral stage of consciousness mutation. As Takuan Soho, the 17th century Zen master says in The Unfettered Mind, “this self has no shape or form, has no birth, and no death. It is not a self that can be seen with the aid of your present physical eye. Only the man who has received enlightenment is able to see this. The man who does see this is said to have seen into his own nature and become a Buddha.”

The enso symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void.

Meditation, Awakening and the True Self

One of the major problems with conventional scientific descriptions of truth as the distinction between fiction and nonfiction, is that any phenomena that is sufficiently rare, like Buddhahood, a post-Trikaya state of consciousness, is completely off the radar because it is so advanced it can’t be observed, tested, replicated, measured, or even compared to any known experiential state of consciousness. Jeffrey Kripal is an extremely interesting scholar of religions who has successfully broken a number of mainstream academic research taboos in search of a paranormal 21st century cultural Gnostic narrative.

Mutants and Mystics

Kripal sees the evolution of American popular culture in terms of art, film, literature and the human potential movement, as being driven by powerful individual transrational transformative experiences, which are not generally acknowledged as possible or legitimate by the conventional scientific worldview. Actually when Chinese and Indo-Tibetan inner yoga meditation systems are explained by Western science, an entirely new model of consciousness evolution emerges in which the fictional superhero of comic books is very close to the real Gnostic history of the human race. Kripal states, “Literal forms of all religions are in fact fictions that hide deep experiential truths.”

Dr. Strange
Dr. Strange is a popular fictional superhero of comic books, which often include Gnostic themes within a science fiction context.

The superhero story is one in which a normal human being has an extremely powerful transformative experience, which results in a superhuman state that becomes the secret identity of the character. Actually this is also the meditation, Kundalini yoga, or Taoist inner alchemy story in the form of the Golden Elixir or Spiritual Embryo. It should be noted that Kripal had a powerful Kundalini type of awakening experience while researching the goddess Kali in India. He has said that his entire impressive body of work and research is based on understanding this experience. Gebser described his own non- Darwinian postrational experience of integral consciousness mutation as a “transfiguration and irradiation of the indescribable, unearthly, transparent ‘Light’.” After it he experienced himself as “recast inwardly.”

A comic book version of Kundalini theory might read as follows: the Gnostic theory would be that each human being has a dormant enlightened structure of consciousness within the enteric nervous system. This could also be described as the reproductive system or first chakra at the base of the spine, the starting point of the human body. The true superhuman is the result of a mutation of consciousness in which the subtle structure of the enteric nervous system is conjoined with the subtle structure of the central nervous system. This results in a return to the original enlightened primordial consciousness, which is identical to the whole, known as the Dharmakaya. Indo-Tibetan yogic systems describe this as the union of the sun and moon, and Chinese systems as the conjunction of yin and yang subtle bodies. Both Dzogchen and Mahamudra systems describe this energetic recreation of conception within the body, the goal of real Tantric yoga, as the union of mother and child lights.

Aaron Cheak
Aaron Cheak’s (pictured) research interests encompass the phenomenology of consciousness, nondual currents in Eastern and Western philosophy, and the traditional esoteric sciences. His newest book is Alchemical Traditions: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde.

As Aaron Cheak, President of the Jean Gebser Society, points out in his new book on alchemy, Dzogchen, Mahamudra and Taoist inner yoga represent living alchemical traditions, which appear to place many aspects of the Hermetic Gnostic narrative in the realm of nonfiction. One of the central myths of conventional science is that the true self or Philosopher’s Stone of spiritual alchemy never existed. The universal alchemical symbol of the union of the enteric and central nervous system subtle structures of consciousness is the oroborus.

The oroborus is the alchemical symbol of the union of the enteric and central nervous system subtle structures of consciousness.

The problem with many postmodern maps of consciousness evolution, as well as Integral Theory’s evolutionary assumptions can be found in the Western primitive-to-advanced linear conception of time. The goal of meditation is a circular return to origin, which is not only identical to the whole, but is the primordial enlightened nondual origin of consciousness itself. The actual goal of meditation, complete consciousness liberation, results in a radical experiential truth in which the origin of human consciousness is Buddhahood. The secret identity of every human being is a superhuman enlightened structure of consciousness, which exists independently of space and time when the Dharmakaya is returned to void, the post-Trikaya state of fully realized consciousness. Although the narratives of most classical meditation based contemplative traditions are often highly distorted by premodern mythic superstition, there is still a genuine structure of ultimate goodness within the enteric nervous system (or reproductive system) of every human being, which is the obvious explanation for the religious concept of the divine spark or the image of God within man. Ultimate goodness is sometimes used as a translation for Samantabhadra, the primordial, original or first Dharmakaya Buddha that depicts the alchemical Coniunctio Tantric experience of awakening. This image is virtually identical to the final vision of the celebrated Dzogchen Thogal leaping over practice, that unites the mother and child lights, resulting in Buddhahood, which is best completed in dark retreat, although space and light can also be used with its ancient gazing practice.

Samantabhadra, the primordial Dharmakaya Buddha depiction of the alchemical Coniunctio Tantric experience of awakening.

Kripal has noted the similarity between the artistic depiction of Kali’s eyes, Spiderman’s eyes and the popular cultural images of alien eyes. Aliens are often the postmodern depiction of dragons, and it is this archetypal representation of Naga superconsciousness, which represents 21st century fictional and nonfictional cultural versions of Kundalini awakening, the consciousness-mutating agent known as the solar serpent power within man. The classical Chinese alchemical saying is, “Reverse the cycle of the five elements and the dragon appears in the fire.” The embryonic eyes of very early stage fetal development are the dragon-like eyes of the yang subtle body of Taoist alchemy, the Golden or Spiritual Embryo, known as Infans Solaris or the Hermetic Androgyne in Western alchemy. Some early Gnostic systems describe the serpent as equivalent to both God and Christ. The lost knowledge of the Embryo of Buddhahood, or Buddha nature within, may represent the potential future of contemplative neuroscience and consciousness studies. The true self is the core identity of the human being that successfully awakens from the amnesia, which characterizes normal consciousness development. The conventional framework of Darwinian materialist science is based on a semi-fictitious linear myth of origin that excludes superconscious states of enlightenment. Take a look at Return to the Brain of Eden: Restoring the Connection between Neurochemistry and Consciousness by Tony Wright and Graham Gynn, for an original alternative hypothesis.

Spiderman and the Hindu goddess Kali
Spiderman and the Hindu goddess Kali illustrate the popular cultural image of alien eyes.

The superhero within everybody totally changes the story of what it means to be human, since the origin of consciousness itself is a state or structure of enlightened consciousness dormant within the literal starting point of the human body. Taoism describes the individual that has fully united yin and yang subtle bodies as a “real” human being. Chinese culture has always revolved around an esoteric genuine living meditation tradition of inner alchemy, which is believed to synchronize the individual with the whole. This is known as the union of heaven, earth and man and both Confucius and Lao Tzu are believed to have achieved it. This is probably what Confucius meant when he described achieving the mandate of heaven, Tien Ming, at the age of fifty. Lao Tzu describes the Embryo of Enlightenment as the Valley Spirit. Thousands of individuals, both male and female, have successfully escaped the human condition of unconsciousness and amnesia by awakening in this way. From the premodern perspective of the Taoist adept, the half yin/half yang world of human beings is a lower dimension of the yang world of the enlightened. Our world is believed to be a mere shadow of the real thing. We are watching the back wall of Plato’s cave. (There is an interesting new book called The Valley Spirit by Lindsey Wei about a female practitioner’s experiences training with Taoist teachers in modern China.)

Syncretist movements combining Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism compare the Taoist Sheng-t’ai, the Spiritual Embryo to the Buddhist Tathagatagarbha Embryo of Buddhahood or the Dharmakaya.

The major obstacles to creating a clear scientific map of consciousness evolution and ultimate awakening are based on huge problems with translation, the scientific rejection of vitalism as the basis of the completion stage of meditation, and the narrative agenda of the spokesperson for the particular worldview. The realization of the Trikaya is a vitalist process of subtle body union, which is achieved by sexual yoga in the Mahamudra system. This is the reason for the famous Tibetan saying, “There can be no Mahamudra enlightenment without Karmamudra sexual yoga.” The question is whether complete consciousness liberation can really be rationally explored by current Western science? If there is a post-Trikaya state of consciousness, which clearly demonstrates that the neo-Darwinian story does not include a necessary Gnostic narrative of the original true self, would science be open enough to acknowledge its own errors? For that matter is Integral Theory open enough to acknowledge its own mistake in completely mistranslating and misunderstanding the real Dharmakaya, the vitalist goal of meditation? Kundalini theory is also vitalist, which prevents a 21st century post-materialist scientific model from being developed.

Skepticism is a wonderful tool of inquiry, but if it excludes the data of thousands of years of Chinese and Indo-Tibetan thought experimentation, it is not being fairly applied with an open mind. Instead it is generally used to promote limited reductionist Western academic worldviews, which completely conflict with the living reality of meditation, awakening and the true self. The frameworks of meaning, purpose, direction and consciousness evolution, which science usually flees from describing, all revolve around the true self, which has been transformed into a psychological description of authenticity in modern Western culture. From a Tibetan perspective for example, anything that prevents the individual from achieving awakening, the highest purpose of human existence, is considered to be an obstacle, which must be overcome. Tibetans describe Buddha’s most significant obstacle as his father, who thought being a king was superior to awakening, not Mara, the demon, as commonly assumed. From this perspective both scientific narratives and Integral Theory are currently functioning as significant obstacles to awakening, because they have not understood the true self as a physiological enlightened structure of consciousness, dormant within the starting point of the human body that fully activates the brain when the Trikaya is realized. Integral Theory goes so far as to imagine oneness with the whole, while completely misunderstanding the inner alchemical vitalist yogic methods of achieving it. Nonduality means that the Dharmakaya is the true origin and nature of perception itself, whereas transpersonal psychological narratives are often controlled by semi-fictional Darwinian worldviews. To not recognize the conflict between the Dharmakaya and the worldview of evolution demonstrates a level of meditation that has not understood the true nonself as the seed, flower, and fruit of enlightenment. None of the scientific or Integral models of awakening have successfully translated the Trikaya, the union of the three bodies, physical, subtle and super subtle, as the goal of Mahayana and Vajrayana meditation, which returns the mind to its original perfect state. This is the state, goal and origin of the great perfection of Dzogchen.

The union of the three bodies
The union of the three bodies, physical, subtle and super subtle is the goal of meditation, which returns the mind to its original perfect state.

The perspective of the brain as self is one of the most striking aspects of scientism, which routinely excludes non-Western data, and reduces transrational awakening experiences to abnormal shifts in brain function and chemistry. Essentially, the mainstream scientific materialist narrative is based on a postmodern model, which forces it to exclude the nonfiction character of the Bodhisattva, and the living reality of the true self from any form of explanation. Nontheistic systems of awakening are not concerned with the discussions about the existence or nonexistence of God, which often dominate Western frameworks of debate. Integral Theory made a crucial error in confusing theistic and nontheistic forms of mysticism and awakening, with scientific models of evolution that exclude Buddhahood from the origin of consciousness. This is because true singularity has not been embraced, and real nonduality, the Trikaya has not been realized. Since the Philosopher’s Stone, Infans Solaris, the true self or Embryo of Enlightenment are considered to be fiction; the secret Gnostic origin of science itself has not been successfully translated and explained. The central obstacle to humanity transcending the human condition of amnesia, ignorance, superstition and mental slavery is a series of semi-fictitious, outdated, or false narratives, which prevent the individual and collective understanding of the true self, and the creation of a genuine Bodhisattva science of consciousness evolution. Integral Theory and Mindfulness don’t even come close in their current form.

Kundalini awakening
Kundalini activation awakens the consciousness-mutating agent known as the solar serpent power within man.

Essentially, we are almost living in the Gnostic, paranormal world of superhero comic book characters that Jeffrey Kripal describes as a significant aspect of American popular cultural creativity. Every human being does have a secret superhuman identity and this is the true self. You could call it the Kundalini, or the Embryo of Enlightenment. Religions have described this scientific fact, which shatters the materialist agenda of reductionism, as the divine spark within man. Dzogchen, Mahamudra, and Taoist alchemy are living alchemical inner yoga traditions that have successfully proven the eternal validity of the true self as the enlightened origin of consciousness and the human race for thousands of years. This may be where contemplative neuroscience is headed in the 21st century. Science was originally based on a quest for the true self, the Philosopher’s Stone or Hermetic Androgyne, and theoretically, may eventually rediscover its own lost origin in the present. There is a living Buddha dormant within the starting point of the human body. The real alchemists were right. When the soul and spirit, yin and yang, solar and lunar subtle bodies are conjoined within the body, consciousness is fully liberated by the recreation of its own origin. Soul and spirit are the subtle structures of the central and enteric nervous systems, which are permanently fused by the inner alchemical yogic conjunction, which fully integrates the individual with the whole. This was described as squaring the circle, the legendary union of the microcosm and the macrocosm, the goal of Western alchemy.

A 17th century depiction of the inner alchemical conjunction, which was also described as squaring the circle.

Since the scientific endeavor is based on a quest to distinguish between fictional and nonfictional narrative structures, the true self may very well be the most dangerous idea in the world. Essentially contemplative religious myth is proving to be nonfiction, while the story of science has become the central obstacle to the successful individual and collective awakening of the human race. A post-materialist science of consciousness evolution is necessary to transform the semi-fiction of science into the truth of the superhero within. As Fu Jinquan (1765-1844) says in Wang Mu’s Foundations of Internal Alchemy, “ in the alchemical texts there are subtle words, plain words, clear words, elusive words, metaphoric words, murky words, as well as circuitous and cunning words. There are doctrines on the Elixir, and there are oral instructions. It is as if a divine dragon first hides itself and then emerges, only to vanish and become invisible again, leaving a scale on the eastern road, and a claw on the western road. This requires much attention from the reader.” Chinese civilization has always described itself as the descendants of the dragon.

Fu Hsi and Nu-kua, the alchemically conjoined Adam and Eve of Chinese civilization. Note the compass and set square that the earliest Chinese cultural founders are holding are virtually identical to the compass and square that appear in Western esoteric alchemical traditions.


[1] Kornfield, Jack. The Song of Mahamudra, Shambhala, 1993.

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