Wilber, Ken: The Atman project: A transpersonal view of human development. Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing, 1980. $6.95, 204 pp.

by Stanislav Grof

The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1980, Vol. 12, No. 1

Several years ago when Ken Wilber introduced himself to transpersonal circles by a series of articles and his pioneering book, The spectrum of consciousness, he received an almost instant recognition from his colleagues. This unusual achievement that has very few precedents was based on a rare combination of abilities and talents. His encyclopedic knowledge of Western psychological systems of thought and of the major spiritual traditions of the world in itself is quite remarkable. However, he also has a unique gift of incisive analysis, unusual clarity of thinking, mature and articulate style, and capacity to synthezise creatively and imaginatively vast amounts of seemingly disparate data. Now, shortly after his excellent book No boundary: Eastern and Western approaches, comes another major contribution to the fields of transpersonal psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, and theology.

In my opinion, The Atman project is an extraordinary work of historical relevance. Ken Wilber succeeded in accomplishing a brilliant synthesis of most of the major schools of Western psychology and many aspects of the great religious traditions; he outlined a comprehensive and coherent vision of the development of human consciousness in a cosmic context. At the same time, his new model integrates ontology and cosmology, or evolution and involution of consciousness, into one organic whole.

One of the most important contributions of this book is the fact that Wilber has been able to detect essentially identical or at least similar formal principles and mechanisms behind the confusing diversity of the many stages of evolution and involution of consciousness. His concepts of deep and surface structures of various levels of consciousness, translation versus transformation, different types of the unconscious (ground, archaic, submergent, embedded and emergent), evolution and involution of consciousness, outward and inward arc, disidentification versus dissociation, and redefinition of the terms Eros and Thanatos, will certainly become standard elements in transpersonal psychology of the future. However, most basic is the concept of the Atman project itself, the search of the individual for the original cosmic unity that is ultimately the motivating force on all the levels except that of Atman itself. However, because of the inherent restraints, this happens in ways that allow only for compromises. This is the explanation for the failures of the project that lead to abandoning the levels involved and transformation to the next stage.

The Atman Project represents an important landmark in the history of transpersonal psychology. It will undoubtedly become a classic in the field and a standard reference text whose significance will continue to grow in the decades to come.