Friday, June 16, 2006

Ken Wilber's Grand Developmental Theory and Non-Dual Realization

Seems I haven't written here in a few months. My how time flies. Sorry for the abrupt departure. It wasn't intentional, I just got caught up in work and many things, and as noted before, my attitude towards blogging is a little ambiguous to begin with. Last week I decided to start again, but wasn't sure what topic to start with. I'd like to write on the non-dual material I've been reading a lot of lately, but there's no easy way to segue into that. Then, while reading some forums, I came across a recent Ken Wilber posting, a reaction to his critics, that got me thinking a little about that particular “integral” path, and realized I needed to post something about it. So a long post will follow this one shortly discussing Wilber, his AQAL map, and how it relates, and doesn't relate, to non-dual reality (or is that simply redundant?). Also included will be my thoughts on developmental approaches altogether, including Adi Da's seven stages theory.

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Ken Wilber's Grand Developmental Theory and Non-Dual Realization

Recently I came across Ken Wilber's website and his recent counter-attack on his critics, linked to here:

http://www.kenwilber.com/blog/list/1

There's actually several posts, the first being “What we are, that we see”, and several follow-ups.

Apparently Wilber is upset at a long series of attacks on his work, and even on him personally, by critics he feels are undeserving of any serious response, and so he lets loose with a frustrated outburst punctuated by admonitions such as “suck my dick”. I've never read Wilber in any serious way over the years, and I have no idea what his critics' views are, so I can't really respond to either of them. Wilber only mentions that many of his critics seem to object to his “theory of everything” basically being a developmental theory, and this of course got me thinking about why it is that I don't feel interested in Wilber's line of thinking, even though he seems to share so much in common with me – a wide interest in just about any topic of interest, and inclusive approach to things, and a spirituality that runs from the rudimentary to the purest forms of non-dualism. It also got me thinking about what seems off with Wilber's whole approach, and so, I end up writing this post.

Let me say first off that I have nothing personally against Wilber. I can fully understand mouthing off against one's critics, especially internet bloggers and forumites. I've been there, done that, and probably will again. I have to say also that I share a lot of faults with Wilber. I too am proud, arrogant, cutting, condescending, ambitious, and feel that I usually am more self-aware than anyone else I'm talking too, that I know their criticism before they say it, that I've applied it to myself already, and so why the fuck don't they realize that and just shut up? Reading Wilber's reactions sounds like hearing a tape of myself from not too long ago. So it's funny, sad, and a little wearisome, but also instructive. Is that how I sound? No wonder people always ragged on me more than I thought I deserved. Apparently I actually deserved it.

Anyway, what I really want to comment on isn't Wilber's personal problems with his fans, his critics, the integral psychology movement, all that. I'm not a part of that world, and I doubt I ever will be. I'm not even qualified to make serious scholarly arguments about Wilber's work, his models, his whole theory. I don't know enough about it, and I probably never will. So if any Wilber students ever read this, don't expect anything approaching a serious critique of Wilber overall. I'm going to confine myself to just two basic areas. The first is Wilber's use of a developmental theory that includes non-dual understanding within its map, and the second is the fallaciousness of using a linear, developmental theory rather than a cyclical theory of change which includes not only development to higher levels, but regression to lower levels, including death, the dissolution of levels and changes.

I was going to begin with the first point, because that's how I got started thinking about this, but I think I'll mention the second point first. After reading Wilber's posts, I went through some of his more recent writings posted on his website, just to refresh my self on Wilber's current theories. Basically, it's an attempt to be as inclusive as possible of all of human knowledge and experience, and to organize it in a manner that makes practical sense. So far, hat's off for trying. When I first encountered Wilber back in the mid 1970's, when I was a teen-aged student of Bubba Free John (Adi Da), my basic reaction was, thank God someone's doing this kind of thing, now I don't have to. I had, over the years, flirted with the notion of doing just what Wilber was doing, immersing myself in all the fields of knowledge and art, and becoming an uber-cultural critic, including of course the full range of spiritual traditions, including the non-dual traditions of enlightenment. Not having to do that was a relief, so I have to thank Wilber for taking on a task that someone probably had to do, and thank God it wasn't me.

The task of including all knowledge and experience in a single model seems both exciting and a little quaint. There's a kind of charming 19th century naivete in it, a sort of Newtonian dream of understanding everything just so. There's also a great deal of hubris in it, but so what, give it a try. That's my superficial attitude, at least. Deeper down, I have to say: watch out, Icarus. Don't fly too high. And then I read on and on in his intro to AQAL, and I have to say it starts to get depressingly cheery, like a Tony Robbins infomercial for the End Times. See, we have all these answers right here, we have the technology that will allow you to break through any problems you might have, and become the awesome Master of the Universe you always knew you could be! But these are just tonal impressions. The real criticism I have is in the use of a developmental model itself.

What's wrong with a developmental model? I would agree with Wilber that on the face of it, nothing. Everything in the universe goes through a developmental process of some kind. Everything can be broken down into pieces and parts, levels, types, categories, and placed into various conceptual slots. Wilber has tried to map out all these levels, types, quadrants, processes, categories, etc., with great attention and common sense. In fact, if I were to categorize academics in general, I'd say there at two types. The first, are ones who try to challenge common sense by introduce theories which defy our accepted way of doing things. The second, are those who try to reign in the challengers by reapplying common sense, throwing out the nonsensical theories, and grounding what was useful in the challengers in a modified form of common sense. Wilber is of the second variety, and I admire him for it. The world needs common sense, especially now, which I think explains Wilber's popularity. But it's important to realize that he's not a revolutionary thinker at all, he's not a truly innovative genius, as some would like to posit, he's a second order thinker, a common-sense thinker, who is trying to systemitize and organize a lot of very weird material in an orderly and common-sensical way. That's a good thing, but not a great thing. A common response to Wilber's work is similar to my own, “I could have done that, if I'd wanted to.” Whereas, I'd never think to myself that I could have come up with Einstein's Theory of Relativity on my own, if only I'd been doing physics around the turn of the century. The reason why I think I, or any other really smart guy, could have done what Wilber has been doing is simply because he really is just applying good, common sense to a lot of material that has been lacking common sense for a very long time. Reading what is good in Wilber involves a lot of “yes, of course” kind of responses, which I think is why I find it uninteresting. I'm not much interested in reading affirmations of what I already know, or systemitizations of such things, I want to read things that I don't already know. Others I'm sure differ, and maybe I'm just not recognizing Wilber's originality, but I think he's purely a derivative thinker. His originality, if one could call it that, is in trying to be a comprehensive, all-inclusive derivative thinker.

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit condescending myself. I warned you, didn't I? Doesn't that make it okay? Don't get me wrong, I think Wilber is brilliant, and really, I couldn't have done things the way he's done them, not only because I wouldn't have wanted to, but because I don't have the gifts he has. And yet try as he might, Wilber himself doesn't have the gifts he really needs. He doesn't have the genius of an original viewpoint, only the ambition to have one, and the idea that by incorporating everyone else theories into one grand theory, that will constitute an original theory. Sorry, it doesn't. Wilber will never make the top ranks of world geniuses, and he will undoubtedly shed a few tears over that. I can understand. When I realized I wasn't even going to play big-league baseball, it came down hard on me too. Some people like that become sportswriters, and some become systemitizers, but it's not the same thing.

So that's part of the problem with creating a developmental system, the system part. Systems just don't cut it. They are second-level orders of understanding. They are useful to a degree, they are even important to a degree, but they aren't core, they have no heart, they can never be central to a truly meaningful life. Wilber's model reads too much like an L. Ron Hubbard sales pitch, it tries too hard to win you over, it promises too much. Real understanding doesn't promise anything; it already is what it promises. It doesn't have to aspire to be meaningful, it is meaningful, already. Systemization is so bourgeois. It's what people settle for when they can't really make the big bucks, and it's based on the same fear of losing what little wisdom one has. The idea is, if one systematizes it, one doesn't lose the wisdom, one can retain it better. This is useful in mechanical processes, but life is not a mechanical process.

But let's accept Wilber's program for what it is, a system, and not condemn it for that. Systems, while not being the ultimate answer, are certainly necessary to some degree, even inevitable. I know I was certainly attracted by them when I was younger. One of the great attractions of Adi Da's teachings was that it was a systematic approach to the spiritual process that tried to address everything. So what's wrong with creating a developmental system? After all, Adi Da's system was essentially a developmental model also. His “seven stages of life” looked at the spiritual cosmos and tried to create an orderly developmental model for the growth of the human being that started at birth and ended in full enlightenment. Wilber was undoubtedly inspired by Adi Da's example, even if he didn't agree with the model itself, and went off on his own tangent. But they both shared the idea that development and growth were the keys to the spiritual process, and that by understanding all the levels and types and processes involved, one could ensure that one's own spiritual growth was complete, full, and not lacking in any of the fundamentals necessary for spiritual advancement. Da went even further, creating an elaborate model for spiritual advancement itself, based on his own ideas, that involved tremendous examination of every detail of an individual's life, for the purpose of eliminating any obstructions to spiritual growth.

The problem with developmental models is this: they ignore the flip side of development, which is decay and regression. One of the primary faults I could see in Wilber's presentation of his ideas is the claim that any level one achieves cannot be lost. One is expected to glide over that, breezily accepting it as real wisdom, when in fact it is sheer poppycock. Are we really expected to believe that levels are objectively real, and that the attainment of a level is a permanent achievement? Has Wilber never heard of the Buddhist concept of Impermanence? Certainly he has, he's studied Buddhism far more than I have, he knows these things inside and out, supposedly, but what the eff? I understand what he's trying to say, and it makes common sense to be sure. When you become an adolescent, you don't go back to pre-pubescence. We all go through changes in our lives after which there is no going back. And once we start to see things a certain way, we can't return to our old way of seeing things. Except, except for decay and death. In other words, nothing lasts, not even our wisdom. We grow old and die. We lose what we have gained, completely, including all our levels and typologies and understandings. What have we gained in this life that we will take with us into the next life? We might as well ask what we brought with us into this life? Not much. We had to learn most everything all over again. And the same will happen next lifetime. Yes, the developmental model is a good one, for a part of the cycle of life, but only for a part of it, the upward cycle. It fails for the downward cycle.

And that is one of the major faults with Wilber's model. It posits a series of linear developmental processes, moving from the infantile to the Centauric, and beyond that to full non-dual enlightenment. It doesn't acknowledge that life is cyclic in nature, however, that all of this cosmos not only develops, but decays and dies. As Buddha said, life is a great Wheel, everything moves in cycles, nothing moves in straight lines. Progress is meaningful only relative to regression. And that is the meaning of duality – there are two sides to everything. There are no arguments that cannot be countered, no creations that cannot be invalidated by death. Wilber may think he has the tiger by the tail, but no sooner than the next step the tiger may turn around and devour him. As the Hindus say, there is no end to this Maya.

The human potential movement, of which Wilber has seemed to position himself as a leading figure, is not part of the enlightenment tradition that Wilber has the deepest sympathy for. Enlightenment is not potential in human beings. It is either already the case, or it is not at all. This brings us to the second problem I see in Wilber's approach. He has tried to include non-dual wisdom in a developmental model, when non-dualism is not a developmental process. In fact, the very attempt to see non-dualism as a developmental process kills non-dualism, and simply turns it into a dualistic process, while yet mouthing the truths of non-dual reality.

It's clear that Wilber still thinks non-dualism is the ultimate nature of reality. He simply thinks that non-dualism is inclusive of dualism. This is a huge error. Non-dualism is not inclusive. That's why they call it non-dualism. It means, not-dual. Wilber tries to get around this by suggesting that by being inclusive of everything, he's being truly non-dual, that non-dualism is simply about not being attached to only one side of anything, but seeing both sides, including them both, and thus transcending the conflicts of dualism. But this is simply not the case. It is an attempt to turn non-dualism into a philosophical exercise of logic, in this case, the logic of inclusion, rather than see non-dualism as its greatest exponents and realizers have seen it: as an end to all illusions, including the illusion of inclusiveness.

Here's the problem Wilber faces. The great exponents of non-dualism argue, and quite persuasively I might add, that the entire cosmos is a dream, an illusion of mind, manufactured out of fear and desire, and nothing more. They do not advocate a developmental process within the dream that ends up at enlightenment. They advocate immediate awakening. They do not tell people to go about a long developmental process, looking at all their developmental shortcomings as part of a process of balancing themselves, becoming Centauric, and then moving up through the great ladder of being to the top. They tell people to jump off the ladder, that if they jump from the developmental cycle of birth and death, grace with catch them and enlighten them, but only if they jump off. They don't say, climb a little further, come to a nice clearing, make a nice little house, then jump off the ladder. They say jump off now, right away, don't waste another moment. They point out that trying to climb the ladder further before jump will just enmesh you in more karmas, more attachments, more attainments, all of which simply lead to death and decay over time. Some people are going up the ladder, they acknowledge, but they also point that some people are going down, and whatever goes up, must also go down some day. That's the law of karmic gravity. Duality always has two sides that alternate one after the other. One can grow for only so long before things fall apart and die. Growth does not lead to enlightenment, it leads to death. The human potential movement is an attempt to stave off death, but that is all it leads to, as does every other human enterprise. The action of birth eventually leads to the action of death, that is karma. Getting off the wheel doesn't mean finding a way to grow past all death, it means literally getting of the wheel. And that is what the non-dual traditions point to.

If one looks at the non-dual realizers, from Buddha and Shankara to Ramana and Nisargadatta, they seem fairly unanimous in their advice: don't go down the developmental path, it's a trap that only deludes you further. They certainly didn't take that path. They didn't bother developing themselves in any exceptional ways. Many of them were very ordinary people with unexceptional talents. Some were criminals, degenerates, murders, etc. They didn't begin a process of trying to clean themselves up, develop themselves into better, fuller, more integral human beings, and then take the non-dual message seriously. They started off taking it seriously, and that's what made it work for them.

What I find objectionable about Wilber's use of non-dualism in his model and his overall philosophy and teachings, is that it doesn't actually take non-dualism seriously. It can't, because to do so would be to negate his whole system. It would require him to throw it all out, to get off the developmental path, to get out of the systematizing business, and really just drop out altogether. That's of course why very few people take non-dualism seriously. It costs everything. It negates everything that we do, every motive we have, every desire and fear we respond to. Wilber doesn't want to give that up. But he still really digs non-dualism, and so he feels he has to incorporate it into his model. I'm not sure how he rationalizes it, but I am sure it is a rationalization, because non-dualism simply can't be put on the shelf, even the top shelf, of any system or developmental process. Reality is not the goal, it's the root of all things. The only way in which anything can be seen in reality, is to realize reality as its base, its root, its source, which is ourselves. Our Self. Without that, nothing is real, no experience is real, no system is real, no life is real, no attainment is real. All passes, except That which was already here, That which cannot pass.

I have mixed feelings about Wilber's use of non-dualism. On the positive side, I think its good that he's introducing non-dual teachings to many people who might not have heard of them. It's also good that he's acknowledging that enlightenment is the true and ultimate purpose of life. But in so doing, he's also introducing a lot of misunderstandings about enlightenment, particularly that it is the result of a developmental process. It's a common misperception of course, not one that is unique to Wilber, he's just more professional than most in propagating it. But that's why he's due for some serious criticism. He's one of the biggest voices out there talking about non-dual truths, and he's spreading some serious misunderstandings about it simply because he wants to have his cake and eat it.

Wibler can talk the non-dual talk reasonably well. He gives a quick talk-through of the basics, as if talking through the basics means much of anything. He makes it sound as if getting a basic intellectual grounding in the non-dual truth of “I Am” is enough, now let's move on to developing your ordinary character and personality. This is now a non-dual teaching, it's a betrayal of it. It would be better if Wilber would just sever non-dualism from his presentation, because it's not what his model is about. His model is about developing the conditional self into a better, more advanced conditional self. That's not a bad thing at all. I'm all for it, up to a point. I don't look down on that kind of thing. I may snicker at Oprah, but I still think she does good things for people. And Wilber is sort of a more scholarly, intellectually sophisticated version of Oprah, or of his friend Tony Robbins. These aren't bad people at all. I'm sure Wilber is a great guy personally. And I'm sure that if anyone really wants to be a great guy, they can do it, and Wilber and Robbins and Oprah can help. But enlightenment isn't about becoming a great guy. It's about getting off that whole train. It shouldn't be associated with the whole great guy program. It's not like becoming the ultimate great guy. Non-dualism is for people who are disenchanted with that.

I guess I see it that way now, after having gone through a lot of infatuations with developmentalism myself. I was never a Wilberite, but I was a devotee of Adi Da for almost 30 years, and I followed that developmental path until it fell apart for me. A lot of that of course had more to do with the corruptions of the path and the teacher and the sangha in Adidam, and I've written about that here and elsewhere quite extensively. But another aspect to my leaving Adidam had to do with falling out of sympathy with the developmental approach altogether. Reading about Wilber's path coincides with a process I've been going through and thinking about for several years now, of how I not only don't buy anymore the details of Adi Da's developmental stages and levels, I even disagree with the whole approach. I feel a much greater sympathy with the approach the non-dualists take, the modern Advaitics particularly, which is a direct approach, rather than a developmental approach.

Self-enquiry as taught by Ramana and his devotees is not a developmental process at all. It's a way of letting all that go, and simply and directly examining the core feeling of self, of being, of I-ness, using raw attention, and allowing that to purify and strengthen oneself. In some sense, by letting oneself go, one also allows oneself to develop freely. It's not as if the approach is anti-developmental. It's just that whatever development occurs is incidental to putting one's attention on what does not develop, what is always the case, what is prior to all development, the ground of reality itself, pure awareness, consciousness itself. And that's the essence of the problem with developmental approaches. They require you to put attention on things that are not yourself, that are simply part of the dream-world of the body-mind, the false self. In doing so your identification with them increases, as does your fixation on your desires and fears and their objects. It's only by taking attention away from such things, and allowing attention to settle into its source and root, that one becomes free. Attention is of course the key, and attention has great and miraculous power. If you put attention on the self-root, simple development of the human person does occur, not in any intentional way, but it happens all the same. Realizers are by and large smart and capable people. But they didn't try to be that way, it's just a natural result of not giving all of that any thought at all, but instead being absorbed in the Self.

The conflict of trying to have one's cake and eat it too is not new to the spiritual scene. It's an age-old problem. Wilber isn't the first to suffer it, and suffer the consequences of it, and he's far from being the worst offender. The charges of cultism and elitism he gets seem in part justified, but that's just the natural result of doing things in this compromised way. Da had the same problem in spades, and if Wilber is trying to create actual institutions around his system, and make it into a religion-type business, there's simply no way he can avoid it. He can minimize it by being more honest about it, but Wilber strikes me as being genuinely conflicted, like Da, to such a degree that I don't think he really can minimize it. Wilber really does dig non-dualism, and he really digs the developmental model, and all that he thinks it can do for them. He probably can't even allow himself to see how completely incompatible the two are. If he did, he'd be forced to drop one of them, and if he did that, where would he be? Caught between a rock and a hard place. The truth is, Wilber has already made the decision, he probably just doesn't like to admit it to himself. He's chosen the developmental process. The karmic process. He's going to see how far up the ladder he can get before he jumps off. Which isn't really such a bad thing. I recall Papaji saying that rather than trying to forcefully give up one's desires, one might as well fulfill them. Either way, one has to be free of desire. There's no end to desire, even the desire to be integral, until one sees that they never end, and they never get fulfilled ultimately. So Wilber has a few more desires left in him.

He might pay attention to the cycles of decay that set in among spiritual types like himself. As with Da, there is often a degeneration into narcissism and cultism. Some of what is coming out in these wars with his critics is his own degeneration, even in the midst of his developmental efforts. This is not his fault really, it's just a sign of dualism reasserting its ugly head. He should take it as a sign that there's no such thing as a free lunch, that for every step up the integral ladder one takes, there's also a falling down the other side. Narcissistic cultism is just the other side of the coin he's on, and it will become the side he's on one day, if he continues trying to climb the ladder, because it's really a circular ladder, it just always seems that one is always going up. Even the people going down are just turned upside down. They think they are growing and developing also. Such observations should be taken as a sign of grace, that one should get off the ladder altogether, and not waste any more of one's time on the futile task of trying to get to the top of a circular ladder.

7 comments:

JesseM said...

I agree with much of what you say, but I'm not sure that developmentalism and non-dualism are quite as opposed as you argue. You said:

Here's the problem Wilber faces. The great exponents of non-dualism argue, and quite persuasively I might add, that the entire cosmos is a dream, an illusion of mind, manufactured out of fear and desire, and nothing more. They do not advocate a developmental process within the dream that ends up at enlightenment. They advocate immediate awakening.

First of all, isn't it a bit dualistic to say the cosmos is a "dream" or an "illusion"? That doesn't sound quite like the "nirvana and samsara are one" message that I've heard from many proponents of non-dualism. But second, and more relevant to my point about developmentalism and non-dualism, isn't the idea of striving for an immediate "awakening" just as dualistic in its own way as striving to develop through various stages into Wilber's "non-dualistic stage"? As long as you're striving for anything, as if you want to obtain something (say, 'Awakening') you don't already have, isn't there a kind of misunderstanding of what non-dualist proponents are teaching? Whatever "it" is, isn't it something we've had all along?

I think of non-dualist "realization" as more of a shaking off of confusion created by the mind--it's as if someone was denying they were conscious, and really believed that they had good arguments in support of this proposition, but then suddenly they realized that their own awareness of the thought proved this was impossible. In getting rid of the confusion, you're just noticing something that was always true. But if you understand the nature of the "realization" in this way, there could still be room for a developmental view of the shaking off of confusion--perhaps the confusion pervades all aspects of your mind, conscious and unconsious, so even if you temporarily lose your confusion on a conscious level, many habits of thinking based on this confusion will remain, and even the conscious clearing of the confusion may only be temporary, you may fall back into the old dualistic perspective. The developmental process could then be a long process of rooting out the confusion on all levels, losing more and more of the habits born from this confusion, and so forth. But it could also be true that the best way to actually develop in this direction would be focusing on your consciousness in the present moment, not on goals for the future. Not that I really buy Wilber's neatly-labeled stages of spiritual development, but I wouldn't be too quick to throw out the idea of development entirely.

kang said...

Nice post. Just checked back here after a long while and a new post. Good.

Frankly, I think you're too easy on Wilber. The old joke goes, "A guy picks up a piece of truth on the road. The devil is standing a ways off with someone, who says, 'That's bad for you, then.' The devil says, 'Oh, not at all. I'm going to let him organize it.' "

Clearly, as you suggest, the organizing faculty (buddhi? discrimination?) creates its own sphere. What's the fallacy? That the organization exists in objective independence apart from buddhi. But actually the organizing faculty and the realm that appears to be organized are mutually dependent. In that sense, exactly like a dream. The dream and the dreamer are one phenomenon, only considered to be separate in the waking state of presumed objectivity. Something is ignorant at the root of that presumption.

Then again, think of the assumptions implied by development. How does one know development has occurred? There had to be some kind of measurement of State A, a passage of time, some kind of measurement of State B, and a comparison of the two. Since measurement (including time) are the very definition of maya, it should be no surprise that no one ever gets anywhere (in the ultimate analysis) in the developmental mode. Not even Tony Frickin Robbins.

It takes something like ruthlessness to cut through all that crap, but really it's compassion.

Broken Yogi said...

JesseM makes some excellent points, but I disagree with some:

First of all, isn't it a bit dualistic to say the cosmos is a "dream" or an "illusion"? That doesn't sound quite like the "nirvana and samsara are one" message that I've heard from many proponents of non-dualism.

It isn't dualistic to point out to someone that they are living in a dream, if it is true. The dictim “nirvana and samsara are one” does not apply to those living in a dream. To them, nirvana and samsara are definitely not the same. The non-dual realizers say that upon realization, it is clear that nirvana and samsara are the same, but not before. So they don't advocate that people take the attitude that nirvana and samsara are the same, and imagine that developing their samsaric life is the same as developing nirvanic enlightenment. They take exactly the opposite view, which is that it is absolutely important to eschew samsara and affirm only nirvana.

But second, and more relevant to my point about developmentalism and non-dualism, isn't the idea of striving for an immediate "awakening" just as dualistic in its own way as striving to develop through various stages into Wilber's "non-dualistic stage"? As long as you're striving for anything, as if you want to obtain something (say, 'Awakening') you don't already have, isn't there a kind of misunderstanding of what non-dualist proponents are teaching? Whatever "it" is, isn't it something we've had all along?

No, it's not something we've had all along. It's what we are. The problem with living in the dream is that you don't know who you are. You are dreaming another life. Developing that dream life doesn't help you awaken from the dream. The striving you refer to is not so easy to define, however. If one is striving to create a better dream, yes, striving will lead nowhere. If one is striving to awaken, yes, even the striving leads to various illusions, but within that striving is the seed of awakening beginning to recognize what we truly need. All striving, in some basic sense, is striving for awakening, but it doesn't recognize it as such, it imagines that we are striving for some object or attainment. As that proves endlessly frustrating, we begin to understand that we are really striving for awakening. A little further along, we recognize that striving for awakening is self-defeating, and we cease even that. You could call that a kind of “developmental process” in relation to awakening, but really its just a breaking down of consciousness, of ego, of striving. It's a falling apart, not a building up.

I think of non-dualist "realization" as more of a shaking off of confusion created by the mind--it's as if someone was denying they were conscious, and really believed that they had good arguments in support of this proposition, but then suddenly they realized that their own awareness of the thought proved this was impossible. In getting rid of the confusion, you're just noticing something that was always true.

Yes, but the primary illusion shaken off is the mind itself, and the very notion that “I” am the mind, a self separate from other selves, an awareness separate from other awarenesses, a being in a world, separate from other beings in this and other worlds. So when all confusion is shaken off, the world is gone, you are gone, and what remains? Nirvana. That is not really a developmental process, except in the negative sense. Rather than growth, it is decrease, the renunciation of anything at all that might “develop”.

But if you understand the nature of the "realization" in this way, there could still be room for a developmental view of the shaking off of confusion--perhaps the confusion pervades all aspects of your mind, conscious and unconsious, so even if you temporarily lose your confusion on a conscious level, many habits of thinking based on this confusion will remain, and even the conscious clearing of the confusion may only be temporary, you may fall back into the old dualistic perspective.

Yes, I think this is true enough. One could certainly look at a realizer, and see how their practice developed over time into realization. Nisargadatta has given accounts of his own practice and how it developed. But it didn't go through anything like the stages described by Wilber. It was astonishingly simple and to the point. It took him a few years from start to finish, and there was definitely what you might call “progress” during the process, but again, not a progress in positive terms. It was a “losing” process. Here's Nisargadatta describing it in his own words:

The mind ceased producing events. The ancient and ceaseless search stopped – I wanted nothing, expected nothing – accepted nothing as my own. There was no 'me' left to strive for. Even the bare 'I am” faded away. The other thing I noticed was that I lost all my habitual certainties. Earlier I was sure of so many things, now I am sure of nothing. But I feel that I have lost nothing by not knowing, because all my knowledge was false. My not knowing was in itself knowledge of the fact that all knowledge is ignorance, that 'I do not know' is the only true statement the mind can make.

So yes, there's a “development” there, but really, in any sense that we can speak of the term, it's the opposite of development, certainly in the sense that Wilber uses it. What does Wilber promise but greater and greater certainty, greater and greater knowledge of precisely how the universe works, all of which is what Nisargadatta lost in his “developmental process”. Who seems better qualified to speak about the real spiritual process, Wilber or Nisargadatta? Me, I'll place my wagers on Nisargadatta.

I'm not saying that the non-dual process is anti-developmental, only that it's a negative process in and of itself that is simply not developmental in nature. In relation to the human developmental process, however, it's not negative at all. It would appear that following this negative process actually helped Nisargadatta grow as an individual in his capacities and human qualities. He acknowledged this, and explained that Grace moves in and brings clarity, integrity, energy, vitality, strength, and love to the individual undergoing this process. What I sense in Wilber is that he is aware of this side-effect of the non-dual process, and that's what his primary interest in it is – he notices that doing even a little bit of non-dual practice actually does strengthen the individual, and he wants to exploit it only for that purpose, rather than making it the primary focus, and not caring about the developmental effects non-dual practice has on the individual's bodily life.

The developmental process could then be a long process of rooting out the confusion on all levels, losing more and more of the habits born from this confusion, and so forth. But it could also be true that the best way to actually develop in this direction would be focusing on your consciousness in the present moment, not on goals for the future.

Well that is the practice these people advocate in a nutshell. Not trying to develop themselves, but simply investigating the nature of their own consciousness directly, with no goal in mind other than getting to the bottom of it. Yes, that process develops over time, and there may be some stages to it, and even some types of approach (surrender or self-enquiry), but they aren't anything like what Wilber describes at all, nor does what Wilber describe intersect with this approach, even though he likes to think it does. He's just confusing effects with the primary practice, and going for the effects. I recall something Da once said, defining tragedy as “making primary a principle that is purely secondary,” and I think Wilber's approach is just such a tragic setup for a fall.

Broken Yogi said...

Kang,

Yes, you are right, I was trying to go a bit easy on Wilber, in part because I like the guy, and he's having a hard time it would appear. No need to pile on.

Your comments on organization are right on. That old joke definitely applies, not just externally, but internally as well. Wilber's whole philosophy could be said to be an example of someone seeing a little bit of truth, and trying to "organize it", meaning, systematize it. Having seen where that led Da, I don't have great hopes for Wilber seeing through himself any time soon. That whole loka of teaching styles, Da, Wilber, Deida, Bonder, Cohen, etc., all seem to be examples of the same primary error, of wanting to organize and personalize truth, rather than simply losing oneself in truth.

As for eevelopment, non-dual teachings are about That which does not develop, does not change, is not born, and cannot die. How on earth anyone imagines they can create a "system" of levels and progress towards that is quite befuddling. And yet so many do, there must be some good explanation for it.

kang said...

Hi BY. You said:

How on earth anyone imagines they can create a "system" of levels and progress towards that is quite befuddling. And yet so many do, there must be some good explanation for it.

Well, that may be exactly the trap of maya, no? An explanation!!! My kingdom for an explanation!

We could respond several ways, such as --

Actually, there are many, many explanations, including Wilber's. Some explanations are good (sattvic) in that they point toward a freedom from explanations/dogma, others not so good in that they reinforce the ignorant sense of egoic substance.

But explanations themselves just sit there in their own place, like skin on pudding. Nothing more than an insecure place to plant the ego.

I love that Niz quote you wrote just above. Is there a difference between "knowledge," which turns out to be false, and explanations of all this phenomena? I wouldn't say so.

I like the sense of maya as "measurement." And how does measurement come to be? We have to arbitrarily establish some standard by which to measure things. It's like picking one stick to measure another stick. Then we can say, "That stick is three sticks long." Could it be anything more than that? It's the way of egotism, no?

So this actually happens, and seemingly wondrous things get built up in that way, but they all fall apart, too, as you have said. Maya is real in that way, but self-created by an inherent process. The standards of measurement are not immortal absolutes. The absolute (Reality) is said to be such because it is immeasurable, inherent, Self, nondual, eh, eh???!!!

kang said...

You know, I never read Wilber, never have, never will. The stink of his oeuvre stands out several feet from the dust jacket of his books. But I read some of the rants you mentioned in your blog entry, and if they are not the product of a demented, adolescent moron then there is no such thing. A clever moron, to be sure, but gad, what a putz.

If this interests people, and apparently it does, including its many variant systems, cosmologies, and bullshit fundamentalist inerrant texts full of useless ranting, what can ya do?

It's a thick, dense layer of fog separating those people from reality (even though it has no real substance to it at all). What can anyone do except warn against having anything at all to do with such pseudo-scholastic tripe and its pompous, puffed-up beyond all reason purveyors.

Broken Yogi said...

Kang,

I like what you said about explanations and measurement as maya. Perhaps put the two together? People create systems and levels and so forth as an expression of maya, the urge to "measure" experience. It's the same impulse that reduces the infinite to a hollow shell of a bodu-mind. No wonder it doesn't get anyone anywhere. It's an instance of its own problem.

Anyway, I must confess to you the same problem with reading Wilber. I actually broke down a year or two ago and bought a copy of Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, which was billed as his magnum opus, and decided to force myself to read the guy. It was like doing drudge homework for a class in mindforms. I kept expecting, any page now, that he was going to say something brilliant and insightful and mind-blowing, I guess because of his reputation, and it never happened, never even came close, and became obvious it never would. What a disappointment. As I say, he's clearly a second-order thinker, not first rate by any means, and I just don't get what all the fuss is about. As for his blog piece, I have to say that I'm not against his spewing out some frustration, but I've seen some really good flames before, and this wasn't one of them. It's second-order flaming to boot. I just don't think the guy has the chops any way you splice it. But he does have huge energy and drive and ambition, and a feel for what the world wants in a "thinker" these days. He's very talented in marketing himself also, and that counts for more than substance these days.