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:


Integral Interpretations: Talking Schools

God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom
Chapter 4

Brad Reynolds

So it is that the leading edge of consciousness evolution stands today on the brink of an Integral Millennium—or at least the possibility of an Integral Millennium—where the sum total of extant human knowledge, wisdom, and technology is available to all. — Ken Wilber, 2000

With its comprehensive overview of human development, Ken Wilber's integral perspective shines a new light on many serious matters facing our contemporary global culture, including a “religion of tomorrow” (the title to one of his recent books).[1] By taking an evolutionary perspective based on the unfolding of “basic structures” or “stages”—i.e., “fulcrums”—of consciousness development, including the various “states” of consciousness (plus developmental lines, types, etc.), Wilber's Integral Metatheory opens up a new and deeper understanding of world history. Without favoring any one culture, the Integral Vision sees all the eras (and their worldviews) of human history as being “true but partial” in order to embrace the entire inheritance of humankind and all our ancestors without prejudice to any one tradition.

The Integral Approach to human evolution understands the necessity to honor and include all the major eras of human knowledge (i.e., the archaic, magic, mythic, rational, etc.) by being based on a healthy integration of the premodern, modern, and postmodern worldviews—an unprecedented accomplishment. Wilber correctly maintains that we do this best by rejecting (or eliminating) each worldview's particular “disasters” (“bad news”) or deficient modes while maintaining (or incorporating) their “dignities” (“good news”) or efficient contributions (as Jean Gebser's integral theories also suggest).[2] By doing this, we can recognize the different worldviews that are currently inhabiting the world's various religious systems in order to better jettison each era's errors and fallacies. For example, we can reject both past mythic superstitions as well as the flatland materialism of scientism, yet while including the value of mythic archetypes and the brilliance of modern scientific discoveries and advancements. By relying on free inquiry coupled with discriminative intelligence we can investigate and integrate the various evolving worldviews about reality and our place in it—this is the Integral Vision-in-action.

Unfortunately, however, Wilber has mostly taken a “Talking School” approach to spirituality, not one providing Spirit-Transmission and vertical transformation of consciousness. Philosophies, even all-embracing integral ones (that even include models of mysticism), always end up falling short of Real Enlightenment because they overlook (or downplay) the “Practicing School” of real spiritual life. They talk about God instead of feeling and knowing God. Wilber very effectively offers a horizontal translation from the integral stage of awareness, one that does tip its hat to God-Consciousness, but fails to initiate God-Consciousness. Only a genuine Guru-Adept offering Satsang (and Grace) can do this. Only an authentic Transmission-Master can provide actual Spirit-Baptism, a descent of Divine Light into a person's body-mind by opening the heart to higher understandings. Guru Yoga-Satsang, as always, provides this means of authentic transformation that can never be replaced or replicated with Talking School philosophies and psychologies, maps and models, ideas and formulas. It is time we all recognize this greater understanding and realize this esoteric fact and simple truth.

Premodern Religions vs. Integral Post-Metaphysics

By taking an attitude of universal appreciation and global tolerance, the integral perspective proclaims that everyone is the rightful heir to the world's extant knowledge, technology, and religious-cultural wisdom (much as Adi Da suggests with the “Great Tradition”).[3] Wilber thus announces on the opening page of A Theory of Everything (2000), published in the first year of the new millennium this now obvious reality:

We live in an extraordinary time: all of the world's cultures, past and present, are to some degree available to us, either in historical records or as living entities. In the history of the planet Earth, this has never happened before…. From isolated tribes and bands [archaic], to small farming villages [magic], to ancient nations [magic-mythic], to conquering feudal empires [mythic], to international corporate states [mental-ego], to the global village [pluralistic]: the extraordinary growth toward an integral village that seems humanity's destiny. So it is that the leading edge of consciousness evolution stands today on the brink of an Integral Millennium—or at least the possibility of an Integral Millennium—where the sum total of extant human knowledge, wisdom, and technology is available to all.

In this present era of worldwide communication and an interconnected, interdependent global order it becomes the responsibility of our governments and educational institutions to make sure this collective inheritance is universally available for all nations and peoples. The “Great Tradition” of human knowledge is the gift of our ancestors given to us all, the common birthright of every human being born on Earth [see my book God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom (2021)]. As discussed above, this includes making available the Great Tradition's “Divine Library” for study and contemplation to inspire everyone's spiritual practice and growth to Enlightenment [see Chapter 2 of my book God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom (2021)].[4]

Yet it is also important to understand that the Global Wisdom Traditions are only our collective inheritance, not the Truth itself. The Great Tradition must be rightly understood and appreciated, not adhered to with blind allegiance since all the different spiritual systems and philosophies naturally contain many errors and falsehoods as well as partial truths. This is an important reason for accessing Adi Da's Seven Stages of Life and Wilber's AQAL spectrum of consciousness developmental models: to recognize the liabilities inherent in each religious and cultural point of view in order to outgrow their errors and confusions. Otherwise, there is a dangerous fallacy in resorting to traditional cultures in today's modern/postmodern world or just reviving ancient religious rituals and practices. This is doomed to fail because, as Wilber emphasizes, they originated in the premodern era therefore many traditional views often reject valuable truths uncovered by our current era (such as individual autonomy and basic human rights).[5]

It simply is not constructive or advantageous to regress backwards to bygone eras, as “retro-romantics” (in Wilber's words) suggest.[6] Rather, we must evolve forward into an Integral Age.[7] While there are certainly many traditional values worth keeping, much of the past's ethnocentric bias and superstitious beliefs must be released as being outdated errors from an earlier stage or worldview of development. The integral perspective intends to include the partial truths from every era including accessing mythic and traditional truths in addition to those discovered by science and the postmodern mind. Today integral philosophers claim this insight must become the fundamental orientation for any genuine integral theory and world philosophy to emerge.[8] Everyone and all cultures have something positive to contribute.

Unlike many of today's “new paradigm” (or “New Age”) theorists who often condemn modernity (and reason), Wilber has thoroughly accepted the fact that one of the main problems with the “premodern” Great Wisdom Traditions is that their myths and metaphysics cannot withstand the piercing critiques made by either modern or postmodern philosophers (such as with Kant or Nietzsche). When modern science demanded evidence, the exoteric myths of traditional religions were discovered to be inventions and projections of the interior mind (although they too have their proper use and function). Even esoteric metaphysics and some of the speculative philosophies behind the world's great religions have been discovered to be individually and culturally-conditioned, not pre-given truths after all. They are not necessarily based on ontological pregiven realities as they usually claim but rather evolve and change due to circumstances and the historical period within which they arise. This strong critique of premodern ideas is what's behind Wilber's so-called “integral post-metaphysics,” a radical approach that is trying to answer the concerns of advanced post-Kantian and postmodern analyses while still including authentic spiritual (or transpersonal) truths. This advance is where, according to Wilber, lies “the religion of tomorrow.”[9]

At the same time, I maintain we don't want to lump the Enlightened Adepts and their Nondual Wisdom into the same category as religious metaphysics, which is an error Wilber (and other scholars) too often promote. Nevertheless, the integral pandit is correct to note that the contemplative or meditative core of the Great Wisdom Traditions does in fact offer verifiable phenomenological evidence. Not only are they buried in the sacred texts of the Divine Library that can only be “measured” (or verified) by those adequately-trained in the higher Yogas but they reside in everyone's esoteric anatomy (or in the inner spheres of consciousness) as a developmental potential. It is only by resorting to this authentic contemplative and mystical core of the Great Tradition—i.e., by accessing Sophia Perennis, not just Philosophia Perennis[10]—that we can adequately outline the inner contours of the human psyche. It is only by doing the practice of mysticism (and meditation)—the “Practicing School,” not simply the “Talking School”—can the future of the world's religions ever hope to be revived in the modern/postmodern world.[11] Only by praxis (and grace), not theoria (or philosophia) alone, does gnosis dawn. Simply put: we got to walk the walk, not merely talk the talk.

As is well known, ever since the dawn of science in the Renaissance, modernity has rejected premodern religious traditions and their dogmatic, ethnocentric, and absolutist tendencies, let alone their symbolic-mythic stories stretching fiction into facts. According to modern science, premodern religious and mythological (and “metaphysical”) proclamations are asserted without supporting exterior evidence. They are largely imagined projections of the interior mind even if archetypal. They become dogmatic when taken as literal truths. Nevertheless, advanced theories of modern psychology have recognized the value of the imaginal mind and their archetypal representations even if cloaked in myths and metaphysics. This, however, is a perspective Wilber fails to acknowledge adequately, often calling them “prototypes” (instead of archetypes) since they arise from the prepersonal domains without transpersonal significance.[12] Too often the integral pandit claims mythic archetypes simply come from the premodern era so have little use for us today (e.g., often he pokes fun at their more extreme examples of literal interpretation, such as Moses parting the Red Sea and other exaggerated mythic claims).

Nonetheless, postmodernity has rejected both the views of premodernity and modernity by claiming that all perspectives, whether metaphysical or scientific, are historically embedded in individual bodies and collective cultures, therefore they're all deluding. A more advanced integral view understands that psychic archetypes or “myths” are illustrations and guideposts to our inner psyche and its potential development, therefore, they serve an important function in psychological health.[13] At its best, Integral Philosophy fully intends to include the partial truths from all eras of human knowledge and the entire span of our collective inheritance since they all have valuable truths to contribute, even if some are false if taken too literally. We must learn to discriminate these differences and values.

Another problem with the premodern Great Wisdom Traditions, Wilber claims (incorrectly, in my opinion), is that they mostly focus on individual interiors to the exclusion of exteriors, thus he claims “virtually the entire Great Chain of Being fits into the Upper-Left quadrant [the interiors of individual].”[14] This assertion, however, seems to be an overstatement in order for Wilber to force-fit the premodern spiritual line of development into his AQAL Metatheory. When examined more carefully by incorporating the entire spectrum of culture (especially in places like India and Tibet) the enlightened (or transpersonal) insights of the inner mind also pervade cultural interiors (the Lower-Left quadrant), and therefore influence exterior social systems (the Lower-Right quadrant) as well. Modernity with its flatland materialism, for example, outright rejects the interiors as not being “real” and thus science prefers to shift its focus to exterior forms by relying on objective measurements and experimental observation (in the Right-Hand quadrants). This “flatland” project of scientific materialism intends to scrub the subjective perspective out of our conclusions about reality. This is a major byproduct of the philosophy of modern science that collapses the pluridimensional Kosmos down into a materialistic cosmos of physical-only realities. Such a recommendation is no solution at all to the richness (and spectrum) of human experience.

Another persistent error of many modern people is to associate psi (or psychic) phenomena as being “spiritual” whereas true spirituality is about transcendent Spirit not energy states (or even kundalini). While beneficial in many ways, the modern mind is also a disaster for humanity with its stark reductionism of interior values to exterior phenomena. Science alone provides an incomplete philosophy for a Good Life. Both of these limited approaches, the premodern and modern (and postmodern) have weaknesses and liabilities. This is why humanity must evolve forward in consciousness development to an “integral-centaur” (in Wilber's terms) or whole-body awareness by including interiors and exteriors. This “leap” forward is necessary to manifest a genuine Integral Age of global inclusion, for earlier eras (including our own) are insufficient in solving our current predicaments. They are not fully holistic or integral, which is one of Integral Philosophy's principal and salient points.

When postmodernity pointed out the importance of the intersubjective and historical dimensions (Lower-Left quadrant) in influencing our interior worldviews we discovered that these basic structure-stages (or fulcrums) of development have essentially remained unconscious for much of human history, or at least for the average-mode collective. Integral Philosophy attempts to correct this failure by including all of these important truths—from the premodern to modern to postmodern—yet by also adding even more: genuine spiritual and transpersonal truths. The details and implications of this integral perspective and its revision of philosophy have occupied Wilber's central concerns in the later phases of his writings (since the late 1990s). AQAL Metatheory intends to include as many partial truths from all eras by taking an all-quadrant, all-level approach to investigating and understanding the individual and collective branches of the human psyche situated altogether within an evolving universal Kosmos. Nevertheless, I maintain that Integral Theory needs to listen better to the wisdom of the Siddha-Adepts, many situated from within the “premodern” eras, as well as those being born in our modern age. It is only these advanced-tip few, women and men alike, who will be better able to help initiate us into a truly enlightened Integral Age, not just a postmodern era of nihilism and further confusion, or even a post-postmodern era that elevates psychic and mythic ideas to enlightened status, but to a truly New Age of real spirituality for all men and women from all areas of the globe.

“Pop Spirituality” = Consumer Religion

Everybody wants God-Realization to require no effort, no way, no teacher or teaching.
To have God-Realization right now is the consumer's ultimate goal.

— Adi Da Samraj, 1982[15]

Avatar Adi Da has long been critical of any type of “pop spirituality” or “pop religion” or “pop esotericism” (in Adi Da's words) as he explains: “The central problem with conventional or popular religion and philosophy is the substitution of systems of affirmative belief about Truth for the self-transcending practice of devotion to the Realization of Truth…. 'Pop' religion and philosophy are basically tools of the gross social order. They consist primarily of systems of propagandized belief.”[16] I venture to propose that this is true for “integral” philosophy as well including the post-metaphysical AQAL variety even with all its strengths and advantages. Talking or intellectual philosophies are not enough, only genuine spiritual practices are adequate. Let's allow the Avatar to vent his “Shout from the Heart” in favor of authentic (or vertically transformative) esotericism by critiquing the sophisticated (yet still egoic) philosophers from any time or historical era:

The Truth is reduced to the mortal patterns of psycho-physical inwardness, and the Spiritual Master is abandoned for the “Inner Guide” (or the ego as Master). These conventions of “street wisdom” are combined with bits and pieces of all traditions (such as the Confession of Jesus that “the Kingdom of God is within you”) to create the absurd movements of “pop” spirituality (or “pop” esotericism), and these popular movements constantly clash in the streets with the equally absurd “pop” religions (or the “pop” exotericism of all the righteous absolute State religions) and their cultic Idols made of arbitrary beliefs and conventional mythologies….

In the popular un-Enlightened mind, the ego is eternal, good, Divine, and even very God. And mind is sufficient Heaven, or else this mortal Earth-life is the ultimate goal of conscious beings. Such views are not only false, they are the very substance of un-Enlightenment, fear, cruelty, and madness…. And, therefore, it is not only the message of worldly people but the message of ordinary and even extraordinary religious people that must be confronted by Wisdom. The righteous egoic “bite” of “pop” religion (and “pop” politics, “pop” science, and the “pop” mind cults of psychiatric vintage) must be tempered and transformed by righteous love, tolerance, and intelligent understanding…. The Way that is expressive of profound commitment to the Realization of Truth is another order of existence than the common path of the ordinary social [and even integral] personality.[17]

Wilber has also expressed similar reservations about consumer-oriented “spirituality” yet then he makes the error of championing the integral ego over the Enlightened State. He's even gone so far as to upgrade (or “upend”) Enlightenment Itself, such as with “evolutionary enlightenment.”[18] For example, in 1999 (before the Integral Institute) Wilber wrote: “I'm skeptical about the possibility of doing 'pop spirituality' without it becoming thin and diluted, but it's certainly worth a try, and it can always serve to whet the appetite in a large and hungry audience [for true spirituality].”[19] The problem is that Wilber and many of his advocates (like Andrew Cohen) have corrupted the truths of Guru Yoga by making spirituality about ideas and egos (even if integral), thus they try to dispense with the need for an authentic Guru altogether. The pandit goes so far as to suggest that someone like Adi Da, a fully Enlightened Tantra Master, has a “psycho-sexual” line that is underdeveloped.[20] These quasi-practitioner scholars ignore or only express fascination with the potency of Spirit-Baptism (or Heart-Transmission) that any real Guru-devotee relationship is based on. But such is the misguided error of ego (and the mind), even with an “Integral Vision.” All mental or “talking” philosophies need to be transcended and outgrown in authentic transpersonal development. I believe it's preferable to use sadhana-Satsang under the guidance of a genuine Guru-Adept as the Great Tradition of Global Wisdom has long taught.

By being influenced by too many ill-fated modern gurus, these postmodern pandits do not differentiate well enough between inauthentic and authentic Gurus nor do they discriminate adequately between the various levels (or state-stages) presented in the higher Stages of Life. Wilber, therefore, seems satisfied to mostly criticize Guru Yoga by offering his philosophical alternatives for the post-postmodern Integral Age. He offers his own “pointing-out instructions” to try to prove that “you” can access these “states” of Waking Up contemplation without Spiritual-Transmission or radical life changes (i.e., adapting to sadhana engaged in Satsang). Instead, you get “one-minute modules” and other simplified “integral life practices.”[21] The pandit even suggests that if you go integral you may become “super-human,” among other “first ever in history” utopian idealisms.[22]

Perhaps if Wilber had continued to study (and honor) Avatar Adi Da Samraj as an authentic Guru-Adept (after having lavished praise and endorsements on him for decades), and if perhaps he would have practiced sadhana in the Guru's Company, then he might have realized the inadequacy of the “inner Guru” and “pop” spirituality approach. But unfortunately, he didn't do that. Instead, Wilber turned his back on Adi Da and Guru Yoga by preferring instead his own “Fourth Turning”[23] or integral form of spirituality. This is what Adi Da calls a “Talking School” method, which Wilber now apparently prefers. Wilber proposes his personal form of an integral “Talking School” based mostly on students studying his books and using his AQAL metatheories in addition to doing his suggested “integral practices” of self-improvement (such as with “module” time-slots and mind-based “pointing-out instructions”). While good for psychological health and “Growing Up,” this approach has little to do with real “Waking Up” or Enlightenment. For the past twenty years and more Wilber has championed this watered-down approach to “spiritual” life rather than engaging the authentic “Practicing School” based on Guru Yoga-Satsang. This means it misses out on the opportunity to receive actual Spirit Baptism (or shaktipat transmission) gained from being in the Company of an Enlightened Adept-Realizer or Avatar.

“Talking School” Philosophy vs. “Practicing School” Spirituality

Since Adi Da Samraj is an authentic Adept, a genuine Siddha-Guru here to Liberate (and Enlighten) human beings, he is interested in actual spiritual practice not just talking about it. As Wilber once noted, “What a guru does nobody else does, is takes a particular person as a devotee—as a 'client'—and works with them personally…. The Guru eats the karma (or conditioning) of the devotee.”[24] Consequently, when the Avatar reviews the Great Tradition, including many of today's psychologists-philosophers and spiritual teachers (including Wilber himself), he turns a critical eye to what he calls the “Talking School” approach which, as he defines, is “characterized by talking, thinking, reading, and philosophical analysis and debate, or even meditative inquiry.”[25] But this is mostly a mind game, not authentic spirituality.

As a genuine Guru-Adept, Adi Da instead strongly supports the “Practicing School” that “involves those who are committed to the ordeal of real ego-transcending discipline under the guidance [and transmission] of a true Guru.”[26] The Practicing School, in other words, is the hard school of spiritual life demanding discipline and daily meditation, self-surrender and ego-transcendence. Thus this “hard school” of real practice, including self-disciplines and meditation, is highly unattractive to most modern Westerners (and many Easterners as well). Real Gurus who demand and expect actual ego-transcending practice are often ridiculed and thought to be dispensable or outdated in today's egalitarian and consumer-oriented world, an unfortunate claim made by many of the Talking School pandits. The table below lists some of the basic characteristics of each approach (which we will further review):

There is a modern tendency not only to dismiss authentic ego-transcending practices (such as proper diet and regular meditation) but then to dismiss the external physical Guru in favor of the “Guru within” or the “wisdom inside” (since everyone has interiors). Adi Da, of course, criticizes this tendency of “self-guruing” as being ego-based or self-saving “practices of childish, and (otherwise) adolescent, and (altogether) merely exoteric cultism.”[27] Adi Da openly complains: “It is in the 'Talking School' of heady practitioners (or self-contained egos) that we hear so much nonsense about the non-necessity of a Spiritual Master. Of course, the Adept is of no use (except perhaps to write books to feed the ego-minds) for those who are self-bound and not interested in the real fulfillment of the Great Way.”[28] Talking School scholars like to emphasize self-generated exercises of self-improvement, write books and give lectures, post YouTube videos, podcasts, and lead seminars, instead of declaring the authenticity of genuine Spiritual Masters. They prefer to recommend the “inner Guru” so anyone can follow any path that appeals to them. But this is just a ruse to hide the fact they are fearful of an external Guru who is always demanding preparation, more self-transcendence and active love than most students want to give. They prefer an eclectic smorgasbord approach to spirituality since they're still ego-centered, not a self-transcending entity communing with the Divine Reality. No Adept claims that spiritual life is easy. Yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein (a one-time devotee of Adi Da) noted:

It is certainly incomparably easier to tinker with spiritual practices on one's own terms than it is to respond to the Guru's incessant appeal for ever more comprehensive self-transcendence. So long as one purports to follow the “Guru within,” the tempo of spiritual practice is apt to be comfortable enough for the ego. But the [authentic] Spiritual Master never allows his [or her] disciples to lie back at their ease. Authentic spiritual life consists in the voluntary frustration of one's habitual tendencies toward stasis and self-pleasuring.[29]

Such authentic spiritual life needs an authentic Adept-Guru. We should be careful about what we criticize for it might be our own reflection in the mirror starring back at us; the error is more likely with us, not Guru Yoga. This criticism of the ego's lazy tendency is one of the important functions of the Guru: to provide the push and demand for spiritual surrender into love and self-transcending service to others, to realize God now in the present while living daily life. Spiritual life is a “hard school,” as Adi Da emphasizes, so it's much easier to resist and demure. The frustrations arising from a disciplined life generate “heat,” the meaning of tapas (in Sanskrit), the “fire” that burns away impurities and egoity. In a famous and popular talk given by Adi Da on July 17, 1978, called “The Fire Must Have Its Way” (available in CD and DVD formats), the Avatar clarifies that real spiritual practice is not merely about “feeling good,” but is an intense purification on all limits on feeling altogether. This “fire” of purification occurs most directly by coming into contact with the pure radiance of the Spiritual Master as Guru-Adept. Feuerstein acknowledges his own resistance and rigorous doubt, while intellectually agreeing with its age-old principle:

The Guru is a difficult factor to reckon with. Indeed, the Spiritual Master spells difficulty: That is his [or her] responsibility in the spiritual process. He constantly pushes the devotee beyond all self-imposed and comfortable limits. His efficacy can almost be said to be directly proportionate to his being a disturbance, a turbulence, in the life of the spiritual practitioner.[30]

Avatar Adi Da emphasized this same message during the very first year of opening his Ashram (in 1972): “The Guru is a kind of irritation to his friends. You can't sleep with a dog barking in your ear, at least most people can't…. The Guru is a constant wakening sound. He is always annoying people with his demand to stay awake, to wake up.”[31] Taking on such a powerful and sacred relationship, such as with Satsang and Guru Yoga, can only be handled by serious spiritual practitioners, those who realize the Guru is transforming them in God-Consciousness. This Practicing School based on devotion and meditation is resisted by those who prefer to talk about God and erudite philosophical ideals while they minimize or even shun actual self-transcendence and real transpersonal practice.

When done correctly Guru Yoga becomes a portal to the Divine Abode (in the feeling heart), to see God as All-Pervading and Transcendent to the world-Kosmos. Even in the modern world there is still a great benefit to be achieved by simply listening to and studying an authentic Adept-Realizer, even if serious practice is postponed. Most of us can't move into an Ashram, though all of us would benefit from taking periodic meditation retreats. Although this is a slower, more gradual approach, it begins by recognizing the true role of the Guru-Adept as being one of the most effective methods of real spiritual practice. Guru Yoga-Satsang is not just a Talking School philosophy but devotional authenticity.[32]

True, the work of pandits or spiritual scholars is important even if only to consider and contemplate the Spiritual Master's Call to ego-transcendence. Pandits can effectively translate or explain this radical point of view by facilitating our improved understanding, which in many cases, Ken Wilber has done admirably. But the real work of spiritual practice (sadhana) begins in recognition-response to a true Guru-Adept (in Satsang) so then we come to know and see the Guru as an agent of God transforming us into becoming God-conscious human beings. This is why people bow in respect and devotion, not out of cultic illusion or idol worship, but out of genuine gratitude for living an authentic spiritual life. Wake up to see God as Guru, an Agent of Enlightenment, and find out for yourself.

Pointing-Out Instruction: “I'm a Pandit, Not a Guru!”

The heart of Integral Philosophy, as I conceive it, is primarily a mental activity of coordinating, elucidating and conceptually integrating all the various modes of knowing and being, so that, even if Integral Philosophy itself does not deliver the higher modes, it fully acknowledges them, and then allows and invites philosophia to open itself to the practices and modes of contemplatio…. finally, it is a theoria that is inseparable from praxis, on all levels, in all quadrants.
— Ken Wilber, 1997[33]

The real purpose of the Guru-Adept is not to “talk” people into the ego-transcending process of spiritual life but to insist upon it. The authentic Guru is not your “friend,” simply there to console you into complacency or stimulate your mind with spiritual “ideas” but to aggravate you into self-transcending practice so you will learn to find Spirit, to find God or the Transcendental Presence for real (with each and every breath). Satsang may be a hard school, even sometimes confusing (or mind-blowing), but it's always full of love and bliss too, endearing affection and devotion. It is the Way of the Heart, not the way of the talking-thinking mind (or self-contraction). Satsang is a relationship founded on love and spiritual insight about the ego-transcending process of Divine Realization, not a mindless cultic fascination with some spiritual authority. A person will generally not accept or tolerate self-transcending disciplines without knowing it will be beneficial to them (e.g., such as in sports or the military). Self-transcending growth and development (and even improvement) to God-Realization is also the purpose of submitting to Guru Yoga-Satsang, as millennia of practitioners have proven and testify.

One prime example of a Talking School technique that Adi Da criticizes is the tendency for teachers today to talk people into identifying with their base consciousness or awareness, somewhat like the “pointing out instructions” used in the Vajrayana Buddhist and Advaitic traditions. Even then, in those traditions they are usually only given to disciples after years of training and dedicated practice; they are graduate studies, so to speak, not undergraduate classes. In today's world, however, you can receive these “secret teachings” during a lecture or in a book. While useful (since consciousness is real), they're more effective when given by a God-Realized Guru or Enlightened Lama, not a teacher or pandit.

Wilber acknowledges this is the type of approach he prefers to promote: “Precisely because One Taste is 'always already' present, many people can gain a quick but extremely powerful glimpse of this ultimate state if an accomplished teacher carefully points it out to them. And, in fact, many of the great Nondual schools, such as Dzogchen and Vedanta, have entire texts devoted to these 'pointing out instructions'.”[34] This common technique of Talking School enthusiasts, often used by Wilber in his books and public talks, is to engage in an analytical exercise that calls on the listener to identify with the consciousness behind thoughts and actions. We are encouraged, it is suggested, to “witness” all forms (interior and exterior) arising in formlessness awareness. Indeed, such “pointing out” is useful and instructive on any level for conscious awareness is in fact our fundamental reality and mode of knowing.

Such types of popular “mindfulness” utilized by the public Talking School approach will, as Adi Da explains, “try to talk people into identifying with consciousness, or merely relaxing their minds, settling into a conscious state that does not have any particular reference to the body-mind, even though it is still associated with it in practical terms.”[36] While this is a widespread technique used in today's spiritual marketplace since it helps people relax and possibly experience a short “taste” of what meditation (or stillness of mind) is similar to, it is not earned with daily practice. Then for a person to assume they are now “enlightened,” or that they have achieved some type of Jnana Samadhi or Transcendental (Witness) Consciousness simply by identifying with what is “always already the case” is false teaching, according to Adi Da (and other Adepts).

Sure, a popular audience appreciates this style of spirituality since it doesn't demand consistent practice (or sadhana), let alone Satsang, for it can be done in a seminar chair. In truth, this approach is mostly an exercise of relaxation, of releasing attachment to the stream of thoughts (or our “monkey mind”) which is positive but definitely not Enlightenment or God-Realization. While “mindfulness” or being detached from one's ever-changing thoughts and emotional states in repose and relaxation is beneficial in integrating the body-mind into a mild state of equanimity, the necessity to “go beyond” mindfulness becomes a dictum for the “Practicing School” (as Adi Da maintains). Awakening to the Divine Nature of Consciousness becomes the practice, not talking about it.

The integral pandit, as one example, provides his own “integral” version of the “Talking” method effectively given to the readers of his books: “I am simply going to point out something that is already occurring in your present, ordinary, natural state…. So you push back into the source of your own awareness. You push back into the Witness, and you rest in the Witness…. As you rest in the Witness—realizing, I am not objects, I am not feelings, I am not thoughts—all you will notice is a sense of Freedom, a sense of Liberation, a sense of Release.”[37] This “talking” approach or what Wilber also calls “Big Mind” (after Gopi Roshi) became a favorite technique used by the integral philosopher in the 2000s. This “always already” pointing-out approach often appears as Wilber's “nondual” last chapter in many of his books.[38] The problem with this method is there is always a “you” or a reader (i.e., an ego-I) who is trying to do something, e.g., “you rest in the Witness,” whereas actual self-transcendence demanded by a bona-fide Guru involves the total surrender of “Narcissus” altogether, the very sense that there's a separate self in the first place. Then you consciously commune with God's Spirit-Presence, not simply observe awareness. Such “ego-death” is what the Practicing Schools under genuine Guru-Adepts (from whatever tradition) teach and demand and serve by initiating authentic Awakening. Nothing else will do for them, so we too should naturally heed their more advanced Wisdom Call.

At times, Wilber understands this point too such as when he supports praxis over theoria: “Learning a new concept will not get you to nondual constant consciousness; only intense and prolonged practice will.”[39] But in the new millennium, the integral pandit shifted from this emphasis on practice as he relaxed his support for genuine Gurus. He began to promote his own form of “Integral Buddhism” (the so-called “Fourth Turning”) as being “the first awareness in all of history that is actually competent.”[40] Sadly such hyperbole seems to indicate that perhaps Wilber's ego should have listened more closely (and devotionally) to Avatar Adi Da (and other Adepts) instead of just writing and talking about it (as useful as that is for certain horizontal translations).

From Avatar Adi Da's (or an Adept-Realizer's) perspective, Wilber's approach is basically a “talking-writing” method of spirituality that has evolved (or devolved) into one where the pandit discourages (and disparages) practicing with a genuine Guru. While Wilber benefited from several living Gurus and Masters, from several traditions (though mostly Buddhist), such as with Katagiri Roshi and Maezumi Roshi (from Zen), Kirpal Singh (from Shabd Yoga), Kalu Rinpoche, Pema Norbu Rinpoche, and Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (from Tibetan Buddhism), including offering deep gratitude to Adi Da Samraj (in the pandit's early decades), today he tends to downplay participation in Guru Yoga.[41] Generally, Wilber teaches that Guru Yoga-Satsang is incomplete because it does not see the “hidden maps” or structures of “Growing Up” that filter the Guru's Enlightened Awareness through certain socio-cultural worldviews. Thus he harshly criticizes Guru Yoga and Satsang as being “premodern” and insufficient:

Humanity did produce Awakened or Enlightened individuals—people who followed the path of Waking Up—but they could still be relatively immature in many of their human capacities [of Growing Up]: they might be poorly developed psychosexually (and thus sexually take advantage of their students), or they might not be well developed morally despite their spiritual interests…. They may have been “one with the world,” but their capacities in that world remained relatively immature or even dysfunctional and pathological. [42]

This is a very dangerous and mostly deluded assessment to make about such a sacred and time-honored tradition. Even if it is correctly based on a few corrupted Gurus of the modern era (who should be rightly disgraced), he fails to take into account a genuine Guru's complete set of functions offered in Satsang. He diminishes the necessity for actual Spiritual Baptism (shaktipat), which is a powerful goad to real ego-transcendence and Divine Communion. The harm of such statements by pandits and scholars, while correct in some instances, betrays the true beauty and Divine Help that an authentic Guru-Adept provides. When it comes down to it, Ken Wilber is an intellectual “Talking School” pandit who is far from an Enlightened Guru, as he himself has often confessed: “A Guru is an enlightened master and teacher. I'm a pandit, not a guru.”[43] I suggest he should more readily follow his own advice. I know he knows better but actions speak louder than words.

Unfortunately, even in a sincere effort to learn more, people today tend to prefer these talking meditations and relaxation techniques given by some kind of pseudo-“guru” (with a small “g”). They're often some type of authority from modern psychology offering methods to “awaken you” now, right away. Just sign up for their “webinar” (a seminar held over the Internet), or their slickly promoted class, and usually for a considerable “bargain” fee too. They offer simple techniques instead of emphasizing devotion to God, self-transcendence, and daily meditation. They overlook the hard school of practice and the advantages in finding a genuine Guru or authentic spiritual authority who will push one's boundaries in order to fulfill true spiritual life. Worse, these Talking School advocates overtly forget about the necessity for Spirit-Baptism and Transcendental Transmission (Hridaya Shaktipat) that only an authentic Adept-Guru (not an intellectual pandit) can provide to student-devotees. In Wilber's case, this error has become particularly confusing. On the one hand, he is appreciative of Guru Yoga—“Guru Yoga is the most powerful yoga there is”[44]—yet, on the other hand, he's very dismissive at times.[45] By doing this Wilber leads a trail of students who use him more as a “guru” than just a teacher-pandit; I suggest we use both the Avatar and the integral pandit with each serving their appropriate function. They both shower benefit on the inquiring student wondering about authentic spirituality.

The Talking School approach to mysticism (really, an elevated form of Narcissus or the self-contraction) distorts the necessity for ego-transcending and ego-countering disciplines involved in a genuine spiritual lifestyle. As an authentic Enlightened Guru, Adi Da points out this serious fallacy: “The same kinds of advocates are also telling people that there is no real purpose for a Spiritual Master, except to bind yourself to another ego, and so on.”[46] Wilber falls directly into this anti-Guru camp when he suggests: “Some of these groups will be headed by people who are highly advanced in state development (of Waking Up), and not at all that advanced in stages of Growing Up…. You might have to resign yourself to simply listening to what this teaching has to say about states [of Waking Up] and pretty much ignore everything else.”[47] From my view, this seems like a direct critique aimed at Adi Da himself, which is a true distortion of reality and the function of Adi Da's Teaching-Work and Blessing-Power. I maintain that Wilber's distortion of Guru Yoga is a personal matter and therefore his views are inappropriate for public guru-bashing as honored in the Great Tradition of Global Wisdom. The truth is Guru Yoga-Satsang is one of the most highly regarded methods in the entire esoteric history of humankind. Only time will tell who is right, who is wrong; who is practicing and who is merely talking (or philosophizing).

Brad Reynolds' new book:

God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom:
Guru Yoga-Satsang in the Integral Age —
An Appreciation of Avatar Adi Da Samraj in Illuminating The Great Tradition of Humankind

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See Brad's YouTube channel — GodsGreatTradition

With an introductory video introduction by touring the Table Of Contents, please see: GODS GREAT TRADITION PROMO 2

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—Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, PhD, Dean of Integral Education, California Institute for Human Science, Co-editor Metatheory for the 21st Century, Founder of MetaIntegral, author of Integral Ecology

“Brad Reynolds' magnum opus, God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom, is a treasure trove of spiritual insight based on a lifetime of study and practice. Reynolds' devotion to his guru, Adi Da Samraj, and his commitment to articulating a path of human maturity for us all, shines through on every page. May the heart-essence of the great wisdom traditions, so beautifully outlined in this book, spread far and wide until every last being has come to know their true identity in God-Realization.”
—Dustin DiPerna, author of Streams of Wisdom, co-editor, Purpose Rising: A Global Movement of Transformation and Meaning


  1. See: Ken Wilber, The Religion of Tomorrow (2017).
  2. See: Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995, 2001), A Brief History of Everything (1996, 2017), The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998); also see: Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin (1949, 1985).
  3. See: Brad Reynolds, God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom: Guru Yoga-Satsang in the Integral Age (2021, Bright Alliance).
  4. Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything (2000), p. 1 [title caps added].
  5. See: Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World (2006).
  6. See; Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution (1995, 2001).
  7. See: Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995, 2001), A Brief History of Everything (1996, 2017).
  8. See: Ken Wilber, The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998); A Theory of Everything (2000); The Religion of Tomorrow (2017); also see: Dustin DiPerna, Evolution's Ally (2015); Steve McIntosh, The Presence of the Infinite (2015).
  9. See: Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality (2006); The Religion of Tomorrow (2017).
  10. See: Chapter 7-8 in my book God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom (2021) by Brad Reynolds.
  11. See: Ken Wilber, The Eye of Spirit (1997), The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998), The Religion of Tomorrow (2017).
  12. See, for example: James Hillman, The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling (2017); Re-Visioning Psychology (1997).
  13. See: for example: C.G. Jung, The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (CW, Vol.9 Part 1, 1981); or Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (1999).
  14. See: Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality (2006), A Theory of Everything (2000), Integral Psychology (1999), The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998), and The Eye of Spirit (1997).
  15. Adi Da Samraj [Da Free John], “The Seventh School of God-Talk” [talk] in “preface” to The Song of the Self Supreme: Astavakra Gita (1982), p. 46.
  16. Adi Da Samraj [Da Free John], Nirvanasara (1982), p. 151.
  17. Adi Da Samraj [Da Free John], Nirvanasara (1982), p. 149, 150, 152.
  18. See: Andrew Cohen, Evolutionary Enlightenment (2011) with a Foreword by Deepak Chopra, which Wilber claims is “truly one of the most significant books on spirituality written in the postmodern world,” probably, to a large degree, because Cohen expresses Wilber's own ideas on how Enlightenment is still evolving through each and every one of us via our born (or inherited) cultural-historical period.
  19. Ken Wilber, One Taste (1999), p. 132 [italics in original].
  20. See: In God's Company: Guru-Adepts—Agents for Enlightenment in the Integral Age (2022) by Brad Reynolds.
  21. 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.
  22. For example, see: Ken Wilber, Integral Meditation (2016), p. 193: “This is the first time, essentially in all of human history, that both Growing Up through developmental levels and Waking Up through developmental states… have all been brought together, practiced together, and realized together, producing a truly super-human Realization in one's very own being.” Honestly, and sadly, this is a genuine distortion of the Truth.
  23. See: Ken Wilber, The Fourth Turning: Imagining the Evolution of an Integral Buddhism (Kindle Edition, 2014).
  24. Ken Wilber, One Taste (1999), pp. 223-224, to which Wilber quickly added, “That is something that I myself do not wish to do.”
  25. Talking” School and “Practicing” School definitions from The Aletheon Glossary (2009, Volume 8), p. 2162;
  26. “Talking” School and “Practicing” School definitions from The Aletheon Glossary (2009, Volume 8), p. 2162; also see “What Is Required To Realize The Non-Dual Truth? The Controversy Between The Talking School and The Practicing School of Advaitism” in The Gnosticon (2010), p. 385ff [all quotes in this paragraph].
  27. Adi Da Samraj, The Aletheon (2009), p. 153.
  28. Adi Da Samraj, What Is The Conscious Process (1983), p. 19.
  29. Georg Feuerstein, “Worshipping The Guru's Feet” in The Laughing Man, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1984.
  30. Georg Feuerstein, “Worshipping The Guru's Feet” in The Laughing Man, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1984. In full disclosure, it is true that Feuerstein left Adidam after seven years (of being a devotee) to expand his writing and Yoga Research and Educational Foundation, where he published Holy Madness: The Shock Tactics and Radical Teachings of Crazy-Wise Adepts, Holy Fools and Rascal Gurus (in 1991). In this book, Feuerstein is critical of such direct demands and “crazy wisdom” behavior. Nonetheless, Feuerstein remained deeply grateful to Adi Da Samraj until his own death in 2012 (Adi Da died in 2008). Thus, it's easy to understand his comment from the above article: “My own oscillation, stretching over more years than I care to remember, between an affirmative attitude toward the spiritual dimension and a frustrated (and frustrating) skepticism and crypto materialism, allows me to empathize with those who still question the role and function of the Guru in spiritual life.” Such honesty is a necessary component to serving the evolution of consciousness.
  31. Adi Da Samraj [Franklin Jones], The Method of the Siddhas (1973, 1978), p. 152.
  32. See: Meeting God: A Mandala of Approach to Avatar Adi Da Samraj (forthcoming) by Brad Reynolds.
  33. Ken Wilber, The Eye of Spirit (1997), pp. 308-308, 1n.
  34. Ken Wilber, One Taste (1999), p. 137.
  35. See, for example, Wilber's version of pointing out instructions in One Taste (1999), pp. 86-88.
  36. Adi Da Samraj, What Is The Conscious Process (1983), p. 25.
  37. Ken Wilber, One Taste (1999), p. 87.
  38. For example, see the last Chapter in The Eye of Spirit (1997) titled “Always Already: The Brilliant Clarity of Ever-Present Awareness”; or the last Chapter in Integral Meditation (2016) titled “The Total Painting of All That Is.” This is when the integral pandit likes to dispense with his philosophical “ideas” presented in the earlier Chapters in order to “point to” the “always already” ever-present awareness (or Witness conscious-ness) that is Real God or Conscious Light (when known in Truth), thus often leaving the reader “in bliss” (at least momentarily) and, hence, more appreciative of the integral ideas he or she has read earlier.
  39. Ken Wilber, One Taste (1999), p. 133.
  40. Ken Wilber, Integral Meditation (2016), p. 218.
  41. See: Ken Wilber, “Afterword” to Spiritual Transmission: Paradoxes and Dilemma (2018) edited by Amir Freimann.
  42. Ken Wilber, Integral Meditation (2016), p. 2.
  43. Ken Wilber, Grace and Grit (1990), pp. 156-157; elsewhere, Ken Wilber: “I am a pandit, not a guru,” is a line (and explanation) Wilber has “used a hundred times in my life.” (One Taste, p. 222) “I do not want to be a guru because I do not want to enter into a therapist/client relationship with people…. I have no plans to get involved with anybody's personal transformation.” (One Taste, pp. 225-226) Obviously, Wilber has expanded this claim as the 21st-century dawned, and he was financed (by millionaires) to establish the Integral Institute (I-I), for now the integral pandit teaches like a “guru” (small “g”) while turning a critical eye on Guru Yoga: “Their Enlightened awareness simply supports their ethnocentric prejudices, because their nondual Suchness looks through the hidden maps of their structure development.” (Integral Meditation, p. 215) Therefore, Wilber believes he is providing an “Integral Approach” greater than any Enlightened Adept of the past, for he's trying to initiate “the single greatest transformation in human consciousness ever to emerge, anywhere, anytime.” (Integral Meditation, p. 218) However, unfortunately, I suggest there is more ego talking here than an Enlightened mind.
  44. Ken Wilber, One Taste (1999), p. 224.
  45. I have suggested elsewhere that one of the main reasons Wilber is dismissive of Guru Yoga is because of his ruptured relationship with Adi Da Samraj, who he had long admired (in print as well), but never became a true devotee. See: The Avatar and Integral Pandit: The Relationship of Two Spiritual Giants at the Dawn of the Third Millennium (forthcoming) by Brad Reynolds.
  46. Adi Da Samraj, What Is The Conscious Process (1983), p. 26.
  47. Ken Wilber, Integral Meditation (2016), p. 212.

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