Sunday, June 18, 2006

Even Astrolgy Beats Wilber's AQAL system

In the aftermath of my post on Wilber's developmental AQAL theory I had some thoughts about systems altogether, and it reminded me of my own, private venture in systems-making. As some of you may know, in my last phase of involvement in Adidam, I became Adi Da's personal “court astrologer” by an odd happenstance. Never having been into astrology, and having been a lifelong scoffer at all things astrological, I decided one day to investigate it, and ended up writing a long paper on it for Adi Da, which he seems to have been impressed by, and made me his astrologer. Thus began a crash course in learning astrology, much of which I felt was such bullshit that I felt compelled to come up with my own understanding of the subject, and ended up over the next few years creating an astrological system which tried to base astrology in a spiritual understanding of consciousness. In the end it wasn't a bad system altogether, and probably has the best approach to astrology I've ever seen, though of course that isn't saying much.

I did get to appreciate some of the advantages of the astrological way of looking at things, especially in relation to psychology and human development. I won't go into details, but I began to see the astrological “chart” as a map of human development from birth through death in endless repetition that described the basic “pattern” of an individual in consciousness, as a combination of energy and attention. I even created my own understanding of these in “quadrant” form, which is of course natural because of the two axis of any astrological chart, the ascendent and midheaven. I assigned the ascendent to “attention”, and saw the houses (which are based on the ascendent position) as the cycle of attention from the bare birth of attention to its fixation on objects, its development of relationship to objects, its discovery of the “other”, its development of relationship to the other, and its dissolution, from which proceeds a new form of attention. The Midheaven axis represents energy descending into life, and the signs represent the cycle of energy through the constellations. The intersection of the two, of energy and attention, houses and signs, represents the particular way these two manifest in the individual. Anyway, that's probably more information than most people can process without knowing the details of astrology, but the point is, as mundane as it is, using something as absurd as astrology as a model for the developmental process turns out, I think, to be superior to Wilber's AQAL model.

Why? Because as silly as astrology can be, it at the least is based on a view of nature that is more realistic than Wilber's. By that, I mean that astrology sees nature as a series of endlessly repeating cycles, rather than as a linear developmental process that moves from lower to higher. It's not that astrology sees no levels, quandrants, or types, it's full of such things. It's just that it doesn't see any of them as inherently higher or lower than any others. The cycle of the constellation signs begins at Ares and ends at Pisces, and in some sense they are the “low” and the “high” points of development, but not in absolute terms, because Pisces leads right back into Ares, and the cycle renews. This is aligned to the cycles of nature, in which Ares comes at the spring equinox, representing the rebirth of life in the springtime, and then matures through the signs until it dies, because universal, and then is reborn again the following spring. And this, I would suggest, is actually a better way of looking at life, if one must create a system around it, than seeing it in the AQAL model Wilber has created. It's more natural, it has deeper resonance, and it includes the qualities of tragedy, impermanence, and repetition that life is most deeply characterized by.

Even the astrological view of character and types is superior, I think, to the psychological, developmental view that Wilber uses. In astrology everyone is a combination of qualities in balance or imbalance with one another, and these are not in themselves changeable. Each person has a basic character that is unique, but only because there are endless combinations of energy and attention that nature can spit out, endless combinations of star and planetary patterns that can be manifested in various houses. The purpose is not to evolve one's pattern into some higher pattern, but simply to understand that pattern for what it is and not react to it, but simply observe it.

When I used to give astrological readings, I found it very interesting that merely bringing attention to a person's own pattern was quite “liberating”. The problem I encountered there was that people, deep down, are really nuts, myself included. Just doing astrology readings gave me a window on the dynamics of the cult of psychology, of workshops, of gaining insight, of how desperate and seeking people are, and how ready they are to put themselves at the mercy of a charismatic “teacher”, me, if only for a couple of hours of an astrology reading.

When I gave up the practice, it was for that reason most of all – I didn't like the dynamic of using a system combining with charisma and insight to “wow” people. I didn't like what it said about me, about other people, about the desperation of human beings to find an “answer” outside themselves. I could see the potential for such at thing, and Wilber's integral institute is of course a natural outgrowth of that kind of desire, the kind of thing I wanted to stay away from. It's a business, like the astrology business, that takes advantage of a certain dynamic potential in the creation of any “system” for reading people. And ultimately, like the cycles of nature, it just repeats itself ad nauseum. It may appear to help people in some respects, but it basically locks a person into a cycle that leads nowhere. The good thing about astrology in my view is that its basic structure points this out – the cycles of astrology, after one views them with any depth, reveal a univese that really is Buddhist in nature, and endlessly repeating wheel of signs and symbols that simple entrap consciousness in its own mire.

It's a narcissistic enterprise, in other words. The advantage is that the structure of astrology points this out rather readily, whereas the AQAL structure leads to the illusion of finality, of continuous upwards and outwards growth, culminating in a final realization of infinite consciousness. Astrology is more honest in its bullshit, one could say, whereas AQAL tries to mask its bullshit behind ultimate developmental notions. Studying astrology actually helped me to see that what I was up to lead nowhere, and that the only real “answer” was to get off the wheel. In some very real sense it helped me get off the wheel of Adidam, the wheel of all the things I had been up to, and at the very least consider those spiritual teachings which are more serious about bringing samsara to an end, rather than perpetuating it.

Wilber doesn't seem to have gotten to that point, and part of the reason is that his system is masking the real nature of conditional life, which is cycles of repetition rather than ongoing development in ever higher stages and levels. That maskign allows him to think he can have his cake and eat it, he can develop himself as an individual and also transcend his individuality in ultimate non-dual realization. He can't. No one can. That's simply not the nature of this maya. It ensnares anyone who think they can beat the game. That's how it ensnares us, by holding out the goal, and seeming to provide a path to the goal, all of which is merely an image in a mirror that is dangled in front of us, which we chase, and seem to ever get closer to, but all that does is involve us further in the chase. Wilbber doesn't realize that it's a circular path, that the tiger's tail he thinks he's gotten hold of is just his own tail, that it leads nowhere but back to himself, that he's no “higher” than he ever was, but no “lower” too. Coming to realize that is part of the enlightening process that allows us to simply stand in place, going nowhere, neither up nor down, simply examining ourselves instead as we are, not trying to develop ourselves or change ourselves, but letting all those fantasies go. Anyone can do that at any time. They don't have to develop themselves to do it. They just have to get off the wheel.


kang said...

Yes, very nicely put.

They try to deny (or prettify) the circular, repetitive nature of samsara by saying, "No, it's really a spiral." Which is just horsepucky. If some kind of advancement takes place on the vertical axis of a spiral, that very movement has its own reflection in a commensurate direction to the opposite. So it all ends up being circular once again.

In spite of all evidence and common sense to the contrary, they think they can maintain themselves at the pinnacle of a spiral, but that position is untenable. EVERYTHING changes.

Nevertheless, as you say very clearly, the great bond of maya involves not being able to let go of the idea that you can have your cake and eat it too.

I must say, it is refreshing to talk with a living entity who has the perspective you communicate. Thank God!

(By the way, we used to argue frequently over at that old forum re: that other guy. I find myself much appreciative of your current views.)

Broken Yogi said...

Thanks, Kang. Did you go by a different name over at the Daism Forum? I can't place you yet.

Yes, the spiral idea is kind of hokey and hopeful. Of course one goes over the same material again and again, but never quite in the same way. Sometimes that may form a spiral, but the effort required to keep the spiral outgoing eventually gives way to an inward spiral to match it. In the end, it's a zero sum game. One might postulate something like a conservation of mass/energy/momentum law, such that regardless of how many times one goes up or down or sideways, the sum total remains the same. Or, at least, short of infinity. The point is, no free lunch, no free cake. You pay for what you get, and it all dies anyway.

Again, it's hard to understand how Wilber thinks he's found a way around the laws of impermanence and change, given how much reading and studying and practicing he's done in Buddhism. My guess is that he feels that the impermanence view is simply one of many views, that it's true from its own perspective but not true from other perspectives, and that it's really just another form of confusing various levels to try to impose it across the board. But impermanence seems to me to be an inherent feature of all levels, all types, all developmental views. It's simply a unviersal truth. Wilber seems to deny that some basic truths are indeed universal, that there's a way to squeeze past them all, and get to the cake, then eat it without losing the cake, or without being eaten in the process.

Good talking with you too.

kang said...

Yeah, went by a different handle (or several) but perhaps it's better to let that all go. "Kang" has no meaning except for the funny characters on the Simpsons.

Speaking of systems, it occurred to me reading your latest blog post, that, if we must have a system of some sort (just to function at the conceptual level), it doesn't make sense to me to go to all that trouble of making it extraordinarily complicated like Wilber does. Why waste the energy when it isn't going to do anything for you in the absolute sense anyway?

So the simpler the better, and what comes to mind as a symbolic, systematic representation is the Tai Chi symbol. One whole with two alternating, complementary qualities, yin and yang.

This is quite enough to make way, it seems to me, if way must be made.

Anonymous said...

There is a blogger named Mushin who asked some interesting questions from a practitioner's perspective:

Whether there's something in Wilber's material that may actually lead its practitioners to disengage from or deny difficult situations rather than equipping them to engage more deeply. Though Mushin doesnt say so, an entire community that does this would have greater difficuly recognizing and then correcting a guru's escalating abuse of power.

Mushin asks:

But it seems to be time to question the basic teachings where such behaviour comes from. As it looks to me these are the top 4 questions on my agenda:

1) What is the effect of the prolonged distancing of the observer (”I am not his body; I am not these feelings; I am not these thoughts; etc”), the prolonged ‘neutral witnessing’ of the phenomena inside/outside in a ‘mirror of pure consciousness’?

2)What is the effect of the ‘trans-ethical’ stance that regards all human values as merely relative, and only the Spirit as absolute?

3)Are so called higher levels of evolution (yellow, turquoise etc. in SDi language as used by Wilber and his adherents) right in using all kinds of violence to raise lower levels up to their standard?

4)Is the non-participatory nature of the ‘pure witness’ in situations and phenomena in ‘the world’ - which will eventually dissolve according to Wilber et al in non-dual One Taste - maybe a cause for the kind of abuse we have recently seen in the integral world of Ken Wilber?

Michael said...

Hi Conrad,

I enjoy your take on this. It provides me with some real food for thought. I am a Wilber fan, to be sure, but I am not particularly skilled in debating his work in any great detail. I am not gifted with that sort of intellectual kung fu, so please bear with me.

But I do feel compelled to "represent" on some level. Ken's work is based on research, as you know. Lots of it. From empiricists. It's not a pet theory, but rather the reasoned results of decades of working with tensions among various worldviews, research results, testimony of adepts, etc. I think you somewhat misrepresent this basis, kind of tacitly implying that Ken is making stuff up.

I think a more accurate way of summarizing where Ken is coming from would be along the lines of saying "development is a Kosmic habit" or something along those lines. Denying development would include denying that we grow from infants, to toddlers, to children, to teenagers, to adults, etc. No? This "Kosmic habit" of individual growth is also apparent in human history. And realizing this and working with it is not equivalent to believing this is the end all-be all. It does not discount the fact that there could be much more massive kalpas, eons, and other huge cycles of time and growth.

And (to Kang's question about SDi) Ken doesn't limit himself to spirals. He talks of spirals, circles, mandalas, waves, and all sorts of patterns and ways that systems and people develop. SDi is just a nice, easy-to-understand way of introducing people to these ideas. Those very familiar with SDi are becoming more aware of its pitfalls and shortcomings, even in light of its overall usefulness.

Ken is always making comments in the context of his simplifications that its way more dynamic, convoluted, and mutlidimensional than we can easily express, but for the sake of discourse, we need to work with simpler concepts. People often gloss over these caveats when they criticize.

You say:

"Wilber doesn't seem to have gotten to that point, and part of the reason is that his system is masking the real nature of conditional life, which is cycles of repetition rather than ongoing development in ever higher stages and levels."

To me, it would be more accurate to say that Ken's system (AQAL) represents the real nature of conditional life, and includes in its framework cycles of repetition AND ongoing development in ever higher (and deeper) stages and levels (across lines, and including states and types).

If its just "cycles of repetition" that make up condition existence, why don't we see old men becoming 6 year olds? Why don't we see society suddenly becoming medieval again? Because there *is* development and its completely obvious. And Ken's work is just an attempt to make as complete a map as possible of this conditional, developing world full of conditioned, developing beings. All the while keeping in mind that its essentially unreal and empty of permanent nature.