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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Brad ReynoldsBrad Reynolds did graduate work at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) before leaving to study under Ken Wilber for a decade, and published two books reviewing Wilber's work: Embracing Reality: The Integral Vision of Ken Wilber (Tarcher, 2004), Where's Wilber At?: Ken Wilber's Integral Vision in the New Millennium (Paragon House, 2006) and God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom: Guru Yoga-Satsang in the Integral Age (Bright Alliance, 2021). Visit:



An Integral Response
to COVID-19

PART 1: Three Eyes of Knowing

Brad Reynolds

W hat would an integral response to COVID-19 look like? I have been reading a lot of personal, and often insightful, responses to the pandemic novel coronavirus that has shut down the modern global system during the first half of 2020, the year we are supposed to see more clearly. Perhaps now is our opportunity to see more integrally. Since I have not yet read an appropriate integral response, I will offer this one. I'll start with a comment I heard from a short talk given by the American Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman addressing COVID-19, for he had heard that maybe this “stay-at-home” and “shelter-in-place” directive is like Mother Nature telling everyone to go to their rooms and think about what they've done! We also need to think about what we are going to do in the future!

In other words, it's time to Grow Up some more, Humanity, and Wake Up too. For after this particular danger passes, the next global killer, if not another pandemic or nuclear war (each still a real possibility), is going to be the climate crisis and its untold effects on billions in the near future. Thus, it might be best to learn some crucial, and I emphasize integral, lessons from this opportunity now facing us. During this time when our fragility and limitations as human beings is being made obvious; we can only hope it brings us closer together to recognize our global unity. It is time to realize we are in fact a global community and start acting accordingly. We can begin by releasing our divisional differences to realize our Prior Unity and feel our love for humankind as a whole. May our healing from this deadly disease now attacking our bodies and our relatives invoke a global change by everybody-all-at-once.[1] That is my integral hope and prayer.

After all, the ancient Chinese word (wēijī) or the ideogram (危機) for “crisis,” is one that means not only “danger” but also means “opportunity” (crisis = danger + opportunity; see calligraphy figure above). Consequently, I believe an integral response to COVID-19 needs to involve both personal and social growth in the interior domains (of the Left-Hand quadrants) as well as proper systemic action in the exterior domains (of the Right-Hand quadrants).[2] Not only do we have an opportunity to take personal and social action, but we also have one to exercise spiritual-transpersonal growth by using reason (via science) and wisdom (via spirituality) together. Such a comprehensive vision provides an integral response to this deadly tragedy effecting billions of people, including the death of hundreds of thousands of our loved ones (by the time this event passes). The intensity of this new reality before us can become a powerful portal for future growth in facing the death being thrust upon us beyond media hype or political propaganda. Importantly, we must remember that this is not only a current crisis, but it's one showing us that we must be better prepared in the future to mitigate other potential threats. That is, if we are going to learn our lessons properly… like Mother Nature is suggesting.

Three Eyes of Knowledge-Wisdom

L et me start by stressing what I often emphasize (in my essays) as being a true hallmark of being integral, and that is to use ALL the modes or “Eyes” of Knowing adequately and to full effect (reviewed below). One of the great epistemological models given to us by integral philosopher Ken Wilber is to view reality and human consciousness as an oscillating and vibrating “spectrum” of existence composed of many stages (or “bandwidths”) where each level reveals different “truths” that all need to be accounted for and accessed. In other words, our best bet is to acknowledge all the various levels in the spectrum of life as being “true but partial,” as the integral motto has long championed. This is the great advantage in using ALL the Eyes of Knowledge in order to gain true Wisdom.

Let's begin by reviewing the primary “Three Eyes of Knowing,”[3] also known as epistemological pluralism, where the “Three Eyes” altogether cover the entire spectrum of human development and knowledge acquisition (each with earlier and later phases). As Wilber explains in Eye to Eye (1983): “Men and women, as the Christian mystics are fond of saying, have (at least) three eyes of knowing: the Eye of Flesh, which apprehends physical events; the Eye of Mind, which apprehends images and desires and concepts and ideas; and the Eye of Contemplation, which apprehends spiritual experiences and states. And that, of course, is a simplified version of the spectrum of consciousness, reaching from body to mind to spirit.”[4] This type of Integral Approach allows us the opportunity to make sure we are covering all the major domains and modes of knowledge available to every human being. The figure below models these three “eyes” of knowing with their five epistemological relationships:

3 Eyes of Knowing
3 Eyes of Knowing: 5 Epistemlogical Relationships
(after Ken Wilber, Eye to Eye)
It's up to all of us to use ALL three modes or “eyes” of knowing to overcome this pandemic terror and regain our equanimity or “normalcy” to live life again to its fullest. This fight is being led by science and its understanding of the molecular and biochemical structure of this particular novel coronavirus in order to secure vaccines and stop its deadly threat to the human body and its respiratory system.

As a brief encapsulation, we see that these three primary dimensions of human knowledge reach from the (1) prepersonal (or natural) realms to the (2) personal (or mental) realms to the (3) transpersonal (or spiritual) modes of knowing. If educated integrally, or as a whole, we learn that they work best when operating in unison:

  1. The Eye of the Flesh or Physical Knowing is seeing or knowing with the “prepersonal” physical eye as it looks out onto the realm of Nature to view our body and the world surrounding us. On a practical level, we simply gather knowledge from the impulses and perceptions coming to us from our five senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell). Our senses are necessary for our survival and fitness in understanding the processes of life and nature on Earth; all animals use their senses to survive and pass on their genes (as evolution teaches us). The Eye of Flesh, in its higher phase, includes the Eye of Science (used in conjunction with the Eye of Mind), which measures and dissects the realm of Nature with great precision, looking beyond the limits of our senses into the atomic and molecular and chemical structures of life and existence.[5] Obviously, using physical and scientific means of knowledge acquisition will be vital in an integral investigation of this coronavirus pandemic disease and our future healing. Stated simply, in answer to COVID-19, the flesh cries out: Science to the rescue!
  2. The Eye of Mind or Mental Knowing is “seeing” or knowing with the personal and collective mind, which includes the use of symbols, concepts, ideas, and reason (as well as accessing all the functions of the human psyche, from unconscious to conscious to superconscious elements). The Eye of Mind or Eye of Reason is where science, as a mental discipline—the Eye of Science—transcends our personal preferences by applying the scientific method to determine more objective knowledge about Nature, disease, and health. By going beyond mythic explanations (of the early mind), science interfaces with the Eye of Flesh to look deeper into the mechanics and processes of the natural world.
    By using the analytical mind, based on inductive reasoning (going from data to conclusions), we discover the hidden “miracles” uncovered by empirical science based on facts, including those from physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, electronics, and the social sciences, etc., all of the skills and techniques we will need to neutralize and overcome COVID-19. By accessing the Eyes of Flesh and Mind working together, science is able to effectively combat and defeat this pesky killer of human tissue and life. This begins, most definitely, with testing, testing, and more testing (an activity so far inadequately handled by the government in the United States, beyond all reason). We must first know who is sick and who can spread the disease before we can stop it altogether. Biology demands as much, as does the Integral Approach.
    On the higher levels of mind, by using integral vision-logic (or network-logic) and systems theory, we can better integrate all the knowledge streams of science and our social systems into an effective response for securing our safety, our health, and future well-being. By accessing the various “levels of exchange” in the social and cultural spheres, or in all “four quadrants” (see Part 2), we can better fight this “war” with an invisible enemy. By using science, we must rely on data, data, and more data—and then apply our reason with compassion (further cultivated with the Eye of Spirit) to override the terrible threat from this planetary pathogen. This qualifies as an integral response to COVID-19, one activating the full potential of our human capabilities.
  3. The Eye of Spirit (the “Eye of Contemplation”) or Spiritual Knowing is “seeing” or knowing the transpersonal or spiritual dimensions of being fully human, an avenue of wisdom that science has difficulty exploring. No worries, however, for we have had previous explorers—“psychonauts” and Yogis, Sages and Spiritual Masters, etc.—who have been exploring this territory for millennia. They have sent back their test results, data, and techniques for replication (or experimental verification) in the form of teachings and instruction, disciplines and practices (i.e., paradigms and exemplars).
    In regard to the COVID-19 crisis, the Eye of Spirit is the calm eye in the center of the storm. It is the still point in the midst of conditional, evolving, psycho-physical existence, the interior intersection with the Unconditional Reality, our touch with the Transcendent Condition that is the Source and Presence (or Being) of the world; and, yes, of disease and death too. Spirit transcends (yet includes) Nature and Mind which are the exterior “machine” of matter-energy, the dance of changing conditions, not its deep still-point center, which is Real God, our true Divine Existence (not simply the mythic deity of egoic religions). Spiritual awareness is where the personal enters the transpersonal to drink from the Spirit of Life, where the body-mind is rejuvenated with inspiration to carry on, even in the most difficult of times. Knowing and contacting Spirit as Life-Energy will serve to enliven the flesh and mind as we strive toward integral health during this time of crisis and calm.

In other words, it's up to all of us to use ALL three of these fundamental modes or “eyes” of knowing to overcome this pandemic terror and regain our equanimity or “normalcy” to live life again to its fullest. This fight is being led by science and its understanding of the molecular and biochemical structure of this particular novel coronavirus in order to secure vaccines and stop its deadly threat to the human body and its respiratory system. Yet, we cannot do this effectively, and establish a better future, without also accessing and exercising the higher transpersonal dimensions of the human being, the most underdeveloped “eye” of knowing in our current modern/postmodern world. Only by using the transpersonal Eye of Knowing do we become a conduit for Spirit to radiate out into the world helping to heal the wounds of humanity's distress and disease.

Consequently, to conquer this dangerous pathogen requires not only an advancement in science, but a change in human behavior. We now have an opportunity to not only cooperate socially, but we also have some time to develop ourselves more deeply and evolve our consciousness. As always, the choice is ours. In the future, such an Integral Approach will demand improving our health care system, including providing universal health care for everyone. Our spiritual awareness, grounded in the heart's compassion, is the deep well of wisdom that will help guide us out of these dark days of doom into a brighter future. But first we must learn our lessons before Mother Nature will release us from our confinement to set us free once again.

Using the Eye of Science—Physical Knowledge + Reason

T he so-called “Eye of Flesh,” for all practical purposes in today's world, is the Eye of Science, which is emphasized by any integral response to COVID-19 as being crucial. Science uses the highly developed function of inductive reasoning or “Reason,” not the more “prepersonal” modes of magical or mythic thinking found in the earlier stages of human consciousness development. While the Eye of Mind is more freely exercised by an autonomous self with inalienable liberties, it must conform to the data coming from the Eye of Flesh to actually be real science, instead of just mental theories. The Eyes of Body and Mind, in other words, are working together to generate the knowledge of science.

Since the Integral Approach includes science (only transcending it in a greater embrace of reality), then using science to combat this COVID-19 coronavirus is all-important. It is only with science, or using our knowledge of the physical world, will we be able develop therapeutics and a vaccine to finally silence or abate this deadly disease. When the Chinese scientists published the genetic structure of this version of coronavirus—officially called SARS-CoV-2—laboratories in the West (and United States) immediately began to develop counter efforts and vaccines. Vaccines have already been developed, but now must go through the necessary process of testing to be sure they are safe.Even if this is expedited due to our current emergency (testing vaccines usually takes 18 months), the cure will not come soon enough to overcome incalculable damage, both in our health and to the economies of most nations. Many medical officials have said that only a competent vaccine will provide the safety measures necessary to allow people to once again feel safe to gather in large crowds, such as in sports stadiums, concert halls, and conferences, etc., let alone in smaller social situations such as workplaces, restaurants, gyms, parties, and other social get-togethers and family encounters.

The scientific response, of course, also involves heeding the warnings to ward off these types of pandemics and epidemics in the future, which had previously been more effective in the past few decades than in this current case (such as with SARS and the Ebola outbreak in west Africa). However, scientific research and responses had been underfunded and misused resulting in the spread of COVID-19. The Trump administration in the United States, for example, had dismantled the emergency epidemic response team established by the Bush and Obama administrations (as well as underfunding the CDC, Center for Disease Control), leading to our current predicament.

Tragically, because President Trump did not heed the warnings of science, being more interested in the US economy and his reelection, many of the important steps needed to lessen the deadly effects of this virus were missed. Some have concluded, therefore, that Trump has “blood on his hands” by missing these precious opportunities, a fault any of us will make if we do not listen attentively to the knowledge gained by science (i.e., by using the Eye of the Flesh supplemented with the Eye of Mind). Indeed, many authorities, including the well-known TED talk by Bill Gates in 2015, warned us to spend more money and follow the recommendations of science to be better prepared for an inevitable pandemic. A genuine Integral Approach encourages us to act now (and in the future), to avoid and mitigate the deadly effects of disease and other dangers to human society (such as with global warming and environmental degradation).

The Integral Approach will always use the methods of science for this type of knowledge acquisition and deployment. Knowledge of biological evolution, via natural selection and genetic mutations, is vital in this approach, as are all the advancements of modern medicine. Contrary to some critics of Ken Wilber's view on evolution, he certainly wants this type of science to be included in any integral approach to COVID-19. Viruses, for example, appeared very early in the biological Tree of Life (emerging around 1.5 billion years ago), even prior to unicellular bacteria, which makes them doubly difficult to kill and eliminate. Obviously, science must be included in any Integral Metatheory; the main criticism regarding science, particularly scientific materialism, from the integral perspective is in its empirical reductionism of all human functions, from mental and yogic capacities, from spiritual and religious understanding, etc., down to being nothing more than the play of physical elements and material processes.

In other words, being integral means using the methods and knowledge of science for what it excels at, i.e., understanding the physical fleshy realm and mechanics of Nature. This means, however, that science does not offer an adequate overall life philosophy. In this case, by being human we must also include the transpersonal and transrational domains of spiritual knowledge and wisdom as well, i.e., the Eye of Spirit. Nonetheless, the advice of an Integral Approach is to “listen to science, not mythic religion” when it comes to matters of the flesh, yet without rejecting the wisdom of Real Religion or authentic transformative transpersonal spirituality. As is often said, we don't want to throw out the spiritual baby with the mythic bathwater, otherwise we make the pre/trans fallacy (or confuse pre-rational and trans-rational modes since both are non-rational).[6]

Being integral means using the methods and knowledge of science for what it excels at, i.e., understanding the physical fleshy realm and mechanics of Nature. This means, however, that science does not offer an adequate overall life philosophy. In this case, by being human we must also include the transpersonal and transrational domains of spiritual knowledge and wisdom as well, i.e., by using the Eye of Spirit.

Seeing with the Eye of Spirit: The Lesson of Meditation

I mportantly, if a person has not previously been exercising the Eye of Spirit, which in practical terms means to at least be a meditator, or one who trains (and learns) to quiet the mind, to feel the Spirit-Current of the Kosmos (in Divine Communion), then during a time of crisis this inner truth will escape your notice and attention. This is an extremely valuable lesson to be learned from this global, societal crisis: do meditation! Contemplative prayer revealing (and communing with) Spirit should be a regular activity in a person's daily life even during “normal” times (though it must be done between the chores of work, running a household, and all the other distractions of living in the modern world of mind and flesh).

If a person is a meditator or does yoga (sadhana) seriously, and has practiced calming the mind, then even during a crisis, even during the disruption of daily routines and distractions, one is able to retreat into the Fullness and Emptiness of one's own heart (beyond mind and body). Here the Divine is most radiant, full of happiness, bliss, and love. This “Perfect Space” of God-Communion is like drinking from the refreshing well (or wellness) of existence. It's a practice that centers the bodily being, calms the social exteriors, and renews us for the “battle” and challenges ahead after a person rises from the meditation mat. Sitting in meditation, free from stress, open in stillness, we see the truth beyond the changes of the day. Daily life then becomes service, not struggle.

Spiritual practice, therefore, exercises the Eye of Spirit to cultivate the courage, the wisdom, and the humor to carry on even in the most difficult of circumstances. However, such wisdom and ego-transcendence does not come easy, for it is difficult training to tame the wandering mind, to calm the endless thoughts and patterns that never seem to cease, even under the best of circumstances. This is why meditation or opening the Eye of Spirit takes practice and devotion… and then more practice (often accelerated with guidance from competent, authentic teachers and Guru-Adepts). Perhaps now, in a forced retreat from our regular daily activities brought on by COVID-19, this might be a time to start meditating and to study spiritual teachings, whatever one's preferred religion or faith. It is certainly a time that can be served by meditating and opening the Eye of Spirit as a regular, spiritual practice, during any time of one's life, whether in health or under stress. Integral life practice, from the very beginning, recommends no less.[7]


[1] “Everybody-all-at-once” is a phrase created by Adi Da Samraj; see: Not-Two-Is-Peace: The Ordinary People's Way of Global Cooperative Order (4th Edition, 2020) by The World-Friend Adi Da.

[2] See: "PART 2: Four Quadrants of Integral Wisdom - An Integral Response to COVID-19" by Brad Reynolds.

[3] See: Ken Wilber, Eye to Eye (1983), where Wilber based this idea on one used by Christian mystics, as he explained, p. 2: “St. Bonaventure, the great Doctor Seraphicus of the Church and a favorite philosopher of Western mystics, taught that men and women have at least three modes of attaining knowledge—'three eyes,' as he put it (following Hugh of St. Victor, another famous mystic): the eye of flesh, by which we perceive the external world of space, time, and objects; the eye of reason, by which we attain a knowledge of philosophy, logic, and the mind itself; and the eye of contemplation, by which we rise to a knowledge of transcendent realities.”

[4] Ken Wilber, The Eye Spirit (1997), p. 32.

[5] See: Ken Wilber, Eye to Eye (1983, 1990), pp. 12-15: “Empiric-analytic science is simply the organized body of verifiable knowledge grounded by the eye of flesh…. Scientific proof is empirical and inductive; it is not rational and deductive (although, obviously, science uses logic and deduction, only it makes them subservient to empirical induction).… The point is that the classic scientific method was empirical and inductive, not rational and deductive…. Odd as it sounds today, that was a stroke of genius: let the eye of flesh itself check facts in the domain of flesh, and thus avoid the category errors of confusing flesh with reason and contemplation.”

[6] See: Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995), p. 205: “The essence of the pre/trans fallacy is itself fairly simple: since both pre-rational states and trans-rational states are, in their own ways, non-rational, then they appear similar or even identical to the untutored eye.”

[7] See: Integral Life Practice: A 21st-Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening (2008) by Ken Wilber, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard, Marco Morelli; Integral Meditation: Mindfulness as a Way to Grow Up, Wake Up, and Show Up in Your Life (2016) by Ken Wilber.


Please see: "PART 2: Four Quadrants of Integral Wisdom—An Integral Response to COVID-19" by Brad Reynolds

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