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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 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: http://integralartandstudies.com
Integral+Life in late July 2023 where the graphics are excerpted from.
Integral-Centaurs in Vision-Logic, Part 1
for none of us, no, not one, is perfect.
And were we to love no one who had imperfections,
this world would be a desert for our love.”
W e live in a Kosmos, spelled in the original Greek with a “K”—“Koz-mos” (as phonically pronounced in the Greek)—which means “the harmonious order of the universe”—where we get our English word “Cosmos” (spelled with a “C”), yet that word in the West tends to mean a flatland of only physical matter, nothing but energetic particles, stars, and planets extending throughout a vast space-time continuum combining and evolving to make up everything in the Universe. Yet, in reality, we live in an integral Kosmos—a Kosmic Mandala: a multi-layered, pluri-dimensional, dynamic spectrum of energetic Existence—a vast Mandala of evolution arising in “Four Quadrants” (of individual/collective interiors/exteriors) extending from the physical realms to biological life to mental thought to etheric soul dimensions and even spiritual domains as One shimmering Divine Reality of Spirit-In-Action, or what Ken Wilber calls a “Morphogenetic Developmental Space.”
In this case, I believe one of the best ways for us to understand this vast Kosmos as a whole (short of Enlightenment) is by being Integral or awakening to the Integral stage of consciousness development. Therefore, this essay reviews what integral philosopher Ken Wilber calls the “Integral-Centaur in Vision-Logic” because, as we will see, being spiritual or opening to the transpersonal—or what is beyond the personal—is what truly makes a person Integral: integrating the wholeness of being human. The modern world has failed drastically in this enterprise and thus accounts for many of our seemingly insolvable problems. It is time for us to evolve into the next emergent level of conscious development and become Integral.
In this essay (based on a recent Keynote presentation), I want to review the wisdom gathered from some of our past Integral Pioneers, many who strongly influenced the theories of Ken Wilber, in order to get a fuller understanding of what being Integral is about. To start, let's begin with one of America's folk heroes, Mark Twain, who highlighted a main principle of being integral when he said: “It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you [think you] know for sure that just ain't so.” In other words, people are only partially correct, although they tend to think they're always correct. Being Integral is to unite and embrace all of those differing worldviews to create an Integral Vision of reality where everybody is “correct but partial,” for as Ken has noted, “everybody is right since nobody is 100% wrong.”
Let's start with Wilber's definition of the word “integral” published in the first year of the New Millennium as he opened his book A Theory of Everything: “Integral: the word means to integrate, to bring together, to join, to link, to embrace. Not in the sense of uniformity, and not in the sense of ironing out all the wonderful differences, colors, zigs and zags of a rainbow-hued humanity, but in the sense of unity-in-diversity, shared commonalities along with our wonderful differences.” The main principle of being integral is to accept diversity within a vision of unity: “unity-in-diversity” is the motto of Integral awareness.
N ow let's briefly review some of Wilber's major sources of inspiration starting with Jean Gebser (1905–1973), a German poet and scholar of comparative history who was writing during the mid-20th century while Europe was at war with itself and the world. Gebser was the first person to use the word “Integral Consciousness” as being an actual “structure” (or pattern) in consciousness development. A little earlier in the century, Sri Aurobindo had also used the word “Integral” to define a type of Yoga, as we'll see, but it was Gebser who defined “Integral” as a structure of consciousness. Back in the mid-1970s, when Wilber was doing research for his early books, he first read Gebser's work in some short articles published in a well-respected but little-known journal called Main Currents in Modern Thought.
Gebser's magnum opus, The Ever-Present Origin, would not be published in English until 1985 (although it had been published in German in 1949), therefore, by the 1970s Ken only had access to those summary articles of Gebser's. One of the articles in Main Currents was titled “The Integral Consciousness” where Gebser explained: “The growth of a new, Integral consciousness is important, even decisive, for our times, for it is a theme of universal scope, embracing the whole of humanity. As such, it deserves to be treated as a coherent whole, for the common destiny of the East and the West depends largely on the extent to which this new consciousness is realized.” This understanding has sparked a revolution in our thinking now underlying a worldwide movement.
Georg Feuerstein (1947–2012), a well-respected scholar on Yoga and personal student of Gebser's, a German who lived in England and then in the United States, and who would later become a friend to Wilber, noted this fortuitous connection: “Ken Wilber first utilized the Swiss scholar's ideas in his Up from Eden (1981)… and [later] in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995). Apparently, Wilber… came across Gebser's ideas in an article published in the long-defunct Main Currents in Modern Thought , and he responded to them enthusiastically…. Wilber's interest in Gebser should not really come as a surprise, because… Wilber has been deeply concerned with structural and developmental issues relating to consciousness. Whereas Gebser favored a predominantly cultural / literary / linguistic vantage point, Wilber has opted mainly for a psychological / cultural / philosophical pivot. Both approaches cover much common ground and have yielded many similar insights, which is a testimony to them possibly having uncovered actual psychohistorical patterns.” Again, integral thinking allows a diversity of perspectives by recognizing universal themes underlying and uniting them.
Thankfully, it was Gebser who pioneered our current understanding of what “Integral Consciousness” is and how to recognize it—what Wilber and Spiral Dynamics now calls “Second Tier” consciousness. Mostly, it is the ability to be transparent to the previous structures of consciousness development, something the earlier structures cannot do. Gebser suggested that the new emergent qualities of the Integral structure were first appearing in 20th century art, literature, and even scientific thinking, thus he explained: “Whoever has ennobled, intensified and prepared one's consciousness, so that an enrichment of the Integral consciousness is achieved, lives in a state of participation in the world as a whole. This participation, which is conditioned by Integral consciousness and which, even now, is to be found in individuals in every part of the world, holds the possibility for the healing of the world. It will depend on those few who are already consciously realizing this process and who are, thus, enabling new forces to take effect in the individual, the world and humanity.” Integral consciousness is even more evident now in the 21st century (and will be even more so as the future unfolds, hopefully).
Obviously, Gebser felt that being Integral was essential for stabilizing a peaceful global order instead of the threatening world wars (and endless violent conflicts) which have dominated our recent history. Such an evolutionary vision inspired Ken Wilber when he began his career—as it now inspires many of us. Feuerstein, who studied under Gebser in the last years of the philosopher's life (Gebser died in 1973), explains the significance of being Integral in his excellent (but now out-of-print) book titled Structures of Consciousness (1987). Here Feuerstein reviewed Gebser's work and the profound influence it had on Wilber's Integral theories: “This nascent aperspectival [meaning 'not one-perspective'] or arational-Integral consciousness, for the first time in human history, permits the conscious integration of all previous (but co-present) structures, and through this act of integration the human personality becomes… transparent to itself so that the originary presence, 'the spiritual', is directly 'awared'.” “Originary” here refers to the “Ever-Present Origin” or the Ground Unconscious, or even God as Consciousness. Importantly, it implies a spiritual (or transpersonal) awareness that goes beyond the limitations of modern materialism to thus more fully encompass all of the capacities of the whole human being. Consequently, such Integral awareness influences not only the individual but the collective society as a whole.
Another important Integral philosopher active today, Steve McIntosh, whose integral thinking focuses more on politics and how being Integral can help heal and integrate our current political divisions or culture wars, points out the significance of Integral consciousness operating in both individual and collective dimensions: “The point is that the subjective systems of consciousness and intersubjective systems of culture coevolve and are deeply intertwined. Even though consciousness is individual and subjective, and culture is collective and intersubjective, these overlapping domains of interior development share the same source of energizing power.” That is an excellent way to describe how to be Integral: activating both individual and collective streams of influence on our thinking and actions.
While Gebser was certainly a pioneer in Integral thinking, he wasn't the only person using the word “Integral” in the 20th century to describe the emerging integration of Eastern Wisdom with Western scientific knowledge. There was also Haridas Chaudhuri (1913– 1975) from India, a student of Sri Aurobindo, who was given the mission to bring Aurobindo's “Integral Yoga” and philosophy to the United States. Haridas was instrumental in founding the American Academy of Asian Studies, which became the California Institute of Asian Studies, and which finally became CIIS or the California Institute of Integral Studies located in the heart of San Francisco.
Since Alan Watts was on its faculty (in the 1950s), this party of professors profoundly influenced the Beat Generation's attraction to Eastern Wisdom and a universal approach to religion that set off a wisdom revolution across America and around the world. In a way, we could say “Integral” reached the farthest shores of the West (California) to face toward the East (of Asia) in an urge to integrate both with a new global vision for humanity. Professor Chaudhuri ideally explains: “The method of integral thinking represents a dynamic integration of the scientific phenomenological and dialectical methods of the West and the self-analytical, psycho-integrative, nondual value disciplines of the East.” Such a “marriage” of East and West, of science and religion (or better, of mysticism), is not trite idealism but the essence of being Integral. Integral is an emergent worldview that has been birthed in the last century and has gained legs in this century, therefore, it is up to all of us to promote it into mainstream politics and the culture at-large (instead of bickering among ourselves or attempting to deflate its thesis).
To support this emerging Integral Vision, Chaudhuri wrote a book published in 1977 called The Evolution of Integral Consciousness (a great book, btw, but out-of-print), plus other important integral books; he is worth reading. Haridas was pointing to an “Integral Psychology” before Wilber used that term, where he included the entire spectrum of consciousness by saying: “Integral psychology… is founded upon the concept of a person's total self… All psychological investigation should be guided by the Integral view of the human psyche. The psyche is the indivisible unity of the physical, the mental, and the transpersonal.” Here we see an example of what Wilber would soon call the “Three Eyes of Knowing” in an attempt to define what it is to be Integral, i.e., “seeing” or accessing the physical, mental, and spiritual streams of knowledge in order to be fully human.
A s mentioned, Chaudhuri was a devotee and student of the great master of Integral Yoga, Aurobindo Ghose (1872–1950), who was also a huge influence on Wilber's ideas. Aurobindo was the famous early 20th century Yogi educated in England who would focus on integrating the concept of evolution, which he cloned from Darwin, to explain the mystical evolution of consciousness. He used the word Yoga to “yoke” people to God-Realization (or an Awakened “Supermind”) via the descent of spiritual energy to initiate a Divine Life for everyone. This process was, he claimed, humankind's highest developmental potential, thus uniting or integrating the major principles of both Eastern and Western knowledge. Aurobindo called this living “The Divine Life,” the title of his magnum opus where he explained: “A perfection has to be aimed at which amounts to the elevation of the mental into the full spectrum and supramental nature. Therefore, this Integral Yoga of knowledge [jnana], love [bhakti], and works [karma] has to be extended into a Yoga of spiritual and gnostic self-perfection…. That too is the reason why the Yoga must be Integral.” In other words, the concept (or recognition) of Integral consciousness was birthed around the same time in both the West (via Gebser) and the East (via Aurobindo). Wilber brought them both together to create a powerful formulation that has now influenced millions of sensitive thinkers looking for a more complete and holistic philosophy to life and understanding the universe or the Kosmos.
Obviously, Aurobindo was a huge influence on Wilber's writings and ideas, as was the goals of Yoga itself. Wilber's integral theories therefore attempt to integrate Eastern and Western wisdom, which is why he says: “The more one goes within, the more one goes beyond, and the more one can embrace a deeper identity with a wider perspective…. In short, every within turns us out into more of the Kosmos… in the pluridimensional and holarchic Kosmos, the more depths of the self are disclosed, the more the corresponding depths of the Kosmos reveal themselves.” This is, once more, an excellent description of being Integral. Practically speaking, this means people need to practice the time-honored tradition of meditation (and inner contemplation), to turn within (and silence the chattering rational mind of the ego), in order to fully exercise all of humanity's potentials. Today, meditation is even recognized by science as being a healthy and extremely useful method for serving the further growth and development of the human body-mind complex.
Integral Yoga, as Aurobindo called his modern-day approach to wisdom, attempts to integrate the various traditional Yogas of ancient India into one holistic system. He integrated Jnana Yoga (or the yoga of knowledge and insight) with Bhakti Yoga (or the yoga of devotion and love)—thus integrating mind and heart—with Karma Yoga (or doing good work and service in the world) in order to live “The Divine Life.” I find it interesting that these practices match up fairly closely with Wilber's current “UPs” of Growing Up, Waking Up, Cleaning Up, and Showing Up. Aurobindo, a prolific writer, described what he meant by being “Integral” when he explained: “The triple way of knowledge (jnana), works (karma), and love (bhakti) becomes the keynote of the whole Integral Yoga… but one can be free only by living in the Divine.” Aurobindo, after all, was first a political revolutionary fighting to bring independence to India before he converted to a spiritual approach that used Yoga and mystical development to help set people truly free. He realized that the outer world is only going to find peace if the person (and community) finds it first within.
Next, let's look at some of Wilber's complex charts of development, outlining the various structures or stages of human growth (into adulthood and beyond), in order to better understand where Integral consciousness appears and is activated.
Wilber's Integral Theory, as this chart shows [see above], basically expanded upon Gebser's idea of stages (or structures) in “Growing Up” (combined with Jean Piaget's childhood development)—involving the stages of early development from childhood to adulthood (Fulcrums 1–6) [bottom circle]—in order to become “Integral” and then by adding Aurobindo's idea of mystical or yogic development or “Waking Up” (Fulcrums 7–10) [top circle]—giving us the full-spectrum of consciousness development. Ken used the data gathered from Western science and evolution (in the various spheres of human existence, from the physiosphere to biosphere to noosphere) to expand his Integral theories even further over the decades of his career. He further refined and updated this “spectrum of consciousness” (the title of his first book) by adding 20th century humanistic and transpersonal psychological research to give us a much more complete and holistic view of human potential than modern psychology had provided.
One way Wilber tried to explain this expansion of human potential was with the concept of the “Three Eyes of Knowing” in order to better outline this multi-tiered way of looking at our Kosmos. It was an idea he borrowed from the Christian mystic St. Bonaventure (1221–1274), the great Doctor Seraphicus, a favorite of Western mystics. This approach of epistemological pluralism involves “opening” or using the “Eye of Flesh” (physical), the “Eye of Mind” (mental), and the “Eye of Spirit” (mystical)—which I feel is one of the most useful intellectual tools we have to aid us in becoming truly Integral. Wilber explained his thesis: “Once we recognize and honor all the levels and dimensions of the Great Chain, we simultaneously acknowledge all the corresponding modes of knowing—not just the Eye of Flesh, which discloses the physical and sensory world, or just the Eye of Mind, which discloses the linguistic and symbolic world, but also the Eye of Contemplation, which discloses the soul and spirit.” To allow one “eye” or method of knowledge acquisition or data gathering to usurp another is called a category error, which is what integral thinking attempts to avoid.
Consequently, this process of epistemological pluralism allows us to integrate the data gathered from our bodily senses with science and philosophy or mental knowledge while still being grounded with an inner spiritual understanding that includes the levels and states of mystical awakening. In other words, by using the “Three Eyes” of knowledge acquisition we have one of the best methods possible to become a holistic human being:
Integral thinkers today, such as the American-Buddhist Lama Pema Dragpa, who is currently publishing a book on An Integral View of Tibetan Buddhism (2023, Bright Alliance), points out the obvious advantage using all three eyes of knowing:
The Eye of Flesh and the Eye of Mind cannot see what the Eye of Spirit sees. Perspective always depends on your AQAL Kosmic address. Just as you can't use a microscope to see planets or quarks, you can't use reason to completely verify meditative insight…. A telescope reveals big objects far away, and a microscope reveals tiny objects that are nearby, yet that doesn't mean that planets and microbes are fundamentally contradictory. These are just different ways of experiencing different levels of physical reality. The tools we use disclose different features of reality—each way of knowing discloses its own type of data, and each bit of data is level-specific. Each tool only discloses its respective objects of apprehension, and the three different ways of knowing use different tools: physical tools, rational tools, and contemplative tools.
Wilber, of course, perfectly summaries the significance of using all the Eyes of Knowing in order to be truly Integral: “All men and women possess an Eye of the Flesh, and Eye of Reason, and an Eye of Contemplation; that each eye has its own objects of knowledge (sensory, mental and transcendental); that a higher eye cannot be reduced to nor explained in terms of a lower eye; that each eye is valid and useful in its own field, but commits a fallacy [a category error] when it attempts, by itself, to fully grasp higher or lower realms.” However, it comes with a warning: “Unfortunately, mainstream Western philosophy and psychology have relied mostly on the Eye of Flesh and the Eye of Mind, and some, like behaviorism in psychology and empiricism in philosophy, have relied solely on the Eye of Flesh—a terrible restriction. The point is that once you acknowledge all Three Eyes of Knowing… you're using not just the Eye of Flesh and/or Eye of Mind, but also the Eye of Spirit, the meditative or contemplative Eye. You therefore genuinely have a more comprehensive and all-encompassing view.” That's it, a complete pointer to being Integral!
This circles us back to the “Spectrum of Consciousness” model as a whole, which can only be fully (and accurately) understood and appreciated by accessing (and exercising) all of the Eyes of Knowing. In the chart above, we see the standard Spectrum or Spiral of Development, as often presented by Jeff Salzman of the Daily Evolver (a podcast on politics and current affairs), on the far right-hand side [see right red circle]. But I have also correlated those stages in the spectrum with Adi Da's “Seven Stages of Life” model on the far left-hand side [see left red circle]. In the Seven Stages of Life the various “states” of consciousness are not conflated or confused with the higher stages (or levels), which I find often happens in Wilber's current model (such as with the Wilber-Combs Lattice); this is part of the reason he calls them “state-stages” (because they are not clearly differentiated). However, I believe we can tease them apart better to more clearly see how higher states—or “peak experiences”—relate to the higher stages of development. This is an important distinction to make since each are distinct qualities of human experience because the higher states of awareness, which are only temporary, actually reflect the higher potential in more advanced stages of development, which are permanent adaptations.
Therefore, in actuality higher states act as “attractors” to the various higher stages of conscious awareness that we have yet to grow into. Having a peak experience helps unlock our greater, more enlightened and loving potentials until final God-Realization (or the Seventh Stage of Life in Adi Da's model), where the self-sense or ego-I is totally transcended-yet-reintegrated thus realizing our highest potential as a whole human being exhibiting peace, compassion, and happiness. Importantly, in Adi Da's model, and most Spiritual Traditions, the awakening of the heart becomes the most important function for initiating higher transpersonal development, an aspect often hidden in Wilber's (and Gebser's and Spiral Dynamics's) more cognitive-oriented models.
The heart—which has “three stations” (the left, middle, and right)—is really the key to higher spiritual development into the transpersonal stages or entering what Adi Da calls the “Fourth Stage of Life”, the stage of the Integral-Centaur which involves the devotional surrender of the ego to a higher purpose (and to the Divine Itself). This is a very difficult transition—from 1st Tier to 2nd Tier, from Personal to Transpersonal awareness—perhaps for most people the most difficult of all. This is because this crucial transition usually takes a conversion experience or “turnabout” of the ego's attention from the lower bodily life of money, food, sex, and social egoity, or living a life of materialism addicted to endless mental-mind forms and experiences, to a life dedicated to surrendering the separate self-sense or ego-I attachments. Only after the ego begins to transcend itself do the lower levels of development become more transparent to our awareness (instead of us clinging madly to those lower-level limited perspectives). This is another reason is why we all could use some “divine help” or assistance from more highly-evolved human beings, who have already entered the higher stages of life, or have access to some full-spectrum maps to help guide us.
For one, transitioning into a Yogic (or transpersonal-oriented) life involves conducting living energy or Spirit by opening the subtle energy channels (or nadis) of the human body-mind complex. Unfortunately, since Ken Wilber is not a Spiritual Master, but only a wise pandit, as he confesses: “A guru is an enlightened master and teacher. I'm a pandit, not a guru,” then he is unable to fully serve our further development. In other words, Ken does not instruct us sufficiently on how to make this crucial transition. Spiritual growth is much more difficult than merely having “peak” experiences or entering “Waking Up” states, which only give a person a small “taste” of our higher developmental potentials. The traditional function of a genuine Guru is to assist a person's spiritual development, regardless if some have been inauthentic in either the past or present, for overall this is a valid spiritual process that must be intelligently activated. What is obvious, the world's greatest Spiritual Masters, from Buddha to Jesus to Ramana Maharshi, et al, are in fact authentic and function to transform our consciousness to God-Realization with our conscious participation. The fear of cults and the abusive behavior of charismatic cult leaders must be transcended or overcome with intelligent discrimination and an understanding of the real purpose of a God-Realized Adept who is here to serve and awaken people, not delude them.
The real work of higher growth is an intense yoga, like Aurobindo emphasized. It involves the transformation of one's normal egoic self, a fire that burns away the old self to make room for the new and more evolved enlightened stages of awareness. Yes, the higher state-stages do involve the processes of “Waking Up” to a spectrum of possibilities, from Shamanic to Yogic to Saintly to Sage-like Realizations, or from the psychic to subtle to causal states, a model that Wilber has adopted and refined over the course of his career. Yes, he was initially guided by the wisdom of some advanced Spiritual Masters, such as Adi Da and Aurobindo, from the beginning—and of course added his own spice of cognitive genius—but he has failed to give us a real practice to develop these higher stages. In other words, we must turn to the real Gurus and Great Traditions of yoga and meditation, East and West, for such advanced human development, whomever you may choose to study with. I discuss these topics in detail with my recent book, God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom: Guru Yoga-Satsang in the Integral Age (2021, Bright Alliance), and the forthcoming In God's Company: Transcending the Fear of Guru-Cults in the Integral Age (2023, Bright Alliance).