Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Non-dual holes in Wilber's pre/trans fallacy

Wilber's pre/trans theory is one of his earliest and most successful “scores”. It's a major part of his AWAL thoery, and on the surface, it's a fine principle to acknowledge. In the wider world of knowledge and discussion of religion, it certain has great merit. Again, it's basically a form of common sense, and in common situations, it works fine. Wilber's deconstruction of Joseph Campbell's theories of mythology has much merit to it. But let's be honest, JC just isn't all that bright a guy, and his understanding of mythology, while a great contribution to the field, isn't terribly profound. Wilber is right to criticize Campbell's view as lacking discrimination between pre-rational and post-rational. Why do I say this? Because Campbell is a rationalist himself, as Wilber points out, using the rational mind to uncover the hidden wisdom within mythology.

But that's the problem with Wilber's pre/trans theory; its only really valid application is to rationalist academics and people like us: sophisticated religionists from a rational-minded culture who are trying to figure out life, and religion, and higher spirituality. For people like us, who are basically functioning from the rational mind, the pre/trans-rational fallacy is a huge stumbling block that needs to be understood, and we need to be sure we don't make this common mistake. The problem comes when it is universalized as a comprehensive understanding of the ordering of the universe, and a map of all knowledge is created on its basis, such as AQAL.

The AQAL map puts all mythology beneath the rational mind, and all “higher” wisdom above the rational mind. This makes sense if you are basically seated in a rationalist point of view. But assuming that reality is so structured is a much bigger step, and making that leap assumes faith in ourselves as true exemplars of the pattern of reality. I'm not trying to downplay the importance of the rational mind, as Campbell does, but I don't see it as central and profoundly necessary as Wilber does. It's necessary to me, Wilber, Campbell, and others like us, because it's such an important part of the life we live, but that doesn't mean that it is central to reality, or the structure of development itself in the universe.

This again ties into the problems Wilber has in assigning non-dualism to the “top tier” in his AQAL map. As I've suggested, non-dualism isn't on the map at all, much less on the top tier. Putting non-dualism on the top tier introduces all kinds of fallacies, including that it requires him to put it in the “trans-rational” category, and since mythology is in the “pre-rational” category, the two simply don't mix. In other words, from Wilber's point of view there's no way to go from mythical to transrational to non-dual without passing through the rationalist stage.

There are big problems with this ordering, however. First of all, most non-dualist traditions are heavily steeped in mythological language and archetypes. We need only mention Shiva, Shakta, Rama, Krishna, celestial Buddhas, etc. Wilber tries to explain this away by suggesting that those who were involved with “higher” wisdom, especially of the non-dual variety, treated these mythical references with dispassionately rational understanding that they were simply representations of higher wisdom, and not to be taken literally or even figuratively. They were able to discriminate between the literalist interpretations of the pre-rationalist mythologizers and the trans-rational meanings contained in these mythic archetypes.

What then are we to make of these words of Ramana Maharshi, one of the pre-eminent non-dual Adepts of our time, and rightly acknowledged by Wilber as such:

Q. Are the Gods Ishwara or Vishnu and their sacred regions Kailasa or Vaikuntha real?

M. As real as you are in this body.

Q. Do they possess a phenomenal existence, like my body? Or are the fictions like the horn of a hair?

M. They do exist.

Q. If so, they must be somewhere. Where are they?

M. Persons who have seen them say that they exist somewhere. So we must accept their statement.

Q. Where do they exist?

M. In you.

Q. Then it is only idea – that which I can create and control?

M. Everything is like that.

Q. But I can create pure fictions, e.g., hare's horn or only part truths, e.g. Mirage, while there are also facts irrespective of my imagination. Do the gods Iswara or Vishnu exist like that?

M. Yes.

Q. Is He subject to cosmic dissolution?

M. Why? Man becoming aware of the Self transcends cosmic dissolution and becomes liberated. Why not Iswara who is infinitely wiser and abler?

Q. Do devas and pisachas (angels and demons) exist similarly?

M. Yes.

Q. How are we to conceive of Supreme Consciousness.

M. As that which is.

Now, according to Wilber, Ramana would have to be guilty of a pre/trans fallacy here, in accepting the literal existence of mythical beings such as Iswara and Vishnu, and acknowledging that they have bodies and live in heavens as real as our bodies and our worlds. The catch of course is that Ramana understands all this from the non-dual perspective, which knows all such things as arising within the Self. Still, he is literally saying that Gods and angels and demons exist every bit as much as we do. What to make of this?

Also, consider the experience of Papaji, who became one of Ramana's chief disciples, and probably the most widely acknowledged realizer among them. From the time he was a little boy, Papaji had almost daily visions of various Gods and Goddesses. He literally spent hours almost every night playing with these Gods and Goddesses, and his brothers and sisters remember him talking and interacting with people they couldn't see. This continued on into his adulthood, his spiritual practice consisting of constant remembrance and invocation of Rama and Krishna. When he first met Ramana he was not impressed, because he didn't seem very devotional, and he left in disgust to spend a few weeks on the other side of Arunachula playing with Krishna and other Gods and Goddesses. It wasn't until he met Ramana again and bragged to him about his visions that Ramana told him that any God he could see couldn't be the real God, that Papaji began to have his doubts about his experiences. And within a few months, Ramana had provoked a crisis in Papaji which led to his sudden awakening.

But until that awakening, Papaji couldn't help but take his visions literally. Who could blame him? I wake up every day and see my wife, and have for the last 23 years. She doesn't seem like a vision to me, she seems to be solid reality. Similarly, if I woke up and saw Krishna every day, I'd take him as real also. It's not as if Papaji were stuck in some pre/trans fallacy. He wasn't just contemplating mythical archetypes and confusing them with everyday reality. He was experiencing archetypal figures as part of his everyday reality. He wasn't schizophrenic or psychotic either. He was a high-functioning officer in the army, a quartermaster with huge responsibilities and a highly rationalistic mind capable of sorting out and dealing with huge numbers of details of everyday life. And yet when his day was done, he would go to his quarters and play with Krishna and other Gods and Goddesses all night.

Papaji saw through the illusory nature of these Gods and Goddesses not by using the rational mind, but by using non-dual wisdom and awakening beyond them. His rational mind told him these Gods and Goddesses were perfectly real, that they did in fact exist and that the world did in fact include real Gods and Goddesses, which were not merely mythical representations of higher wisdom, but were actually embodied beings of a supernatural form.

So there's a big difference between Joseph Campbell and Papaji. Campbell assumes that the myths contain higher wisdom of an archetypal nature, and that the mythic cultures knew how to “decode” these things. Campbell fetishizes the mythic principle, giving it more importance that it deserves, simply because non-dual realizers managed to appear within its culture. Wilber points out that mythic cultures mistakenly take these archetypes to be real characters, and that leads to all kinds of trouble. He sees the realizers as transcending the mythic culture within which they arose, but he assumes that they had to enter a rationalist stage before doins so. He assumes that all of mythology is based on a pre-rational understanding of things, except for those who see through the masks and are able to “read the code”. But what if these mythical archetypes aren't just pre-rational concoctions, or trans-rational symbols? What if those archetypes have a living psychic reality, one as real as our own lives and world? What if there is indeed interaction between these worlds? This would certainly blow the pre/trans fallacy out the window, at least as a universal model for the nature of the larger world. It would still apply within the culture of rationality, and even there only in relation to purely belief-oriented "fundamentalist" mythic viewpoints, but outside that culture, it may make little or no sense, and I mean not even rational sense.

The truth is, non-dual realization has traditionally appeared within mythic cultures for thousands of years, and it has yet to make any verifiable appearance within the modern rationalist world. I'm not suggesting that non-dual realization is incompatible with rationality. It's clear that modern realizers are quite capable of rational discourse and functionality. And yet Ramana's words and Papaji's experience suggest that they don't particularly buy into the importance of the rationalist pardigm, even as a stepping stone to realization. Great realizers have appeared in the past without passing through the “pre-trans” phase, but have instead realized non-dual reality wholly within mythically based cultures, and not by coming to some rationalist point of view about these myths and moving beyond that, but by taking the myths as real, and yet transcending all appearances nonetheless. I'm not suggesting some superiority for mythological religions, but they seem to be no obstacle to non-dual realization, and do not seem to require some highly rational phase of development to be passed beyond into non-dual realization.

This supports my contention that non-dual realization can begin anywhere on the AQAL map, on whatever ladder or map anyone might propose, and that it can complete itself without passing through any other necessary steps. Yes, most Adepts are at least marginally rational, but that's only the Adepts we know about because they have left a written record behind, or talked about their realizaiton, which is a way of self-selecting for rational capabilities. Other Adepts seem to never leave the jungles or forests. They may have little or no rational capabilities. And what of non-humans? There's plenty of traditions which acknowledge various animals as having achieved non-dual realization without of course having the higher rational and conceptual capacities of humans. Some traditions claim a human birth is necessary, but I know of no realizers themselves who make such claims. They merely point out that those who are born in human form need human Gurus, and suggest that those who are born with other forms get Gurus of that form. The point being that non-dualism isn't part of the evolutionary map, that you can get off the map at any time, and that in fact you must if you want realization. Even those who literally see Gods and Goddesses must get over that, not through rationalism, but through non-dual truth. And this is the case for everyone. Those who are situated in the rational mind won't get past it by contemplating transrational integralism, but by contemplating non-dual truths. Since we are situated in the rational mind, it's fine to use that rational mind to contemplate non-dual truth. That's why it's good to think and read and talk about these matters to some extent. And its fine for realizers to use the rational mind of words and rational arguments to present non-dual truth to us. Non-dual reality can be communicated by whatever form of communication is available to living beings of whatever capacity. So there's no need to vilify the rational mind. But let's not pretend it's of greater inportance than it is, just because it's important to us. It's a kind of narcissistic parochialism to assume others, even to assume that human beings need to become rationalist first before they can become prerational.

But once we have become rationalist, we can't just toss it away. That would be a true mistake. We have to approach non-dualism using our rational minds, just as those in a mythical culture needed to approach the non-dual using their mythical minds. That's why it worked for them. And for us - and I assume anyone reading this blog has got to be seriously immersed in the rational mind, or they couldn't possibly get this far – there are excellent arguments made about non-dualism by realizers who use very rational and logical arguments for it. Not because rational arguments are universally necessary, but because that's where we are in the scheme of things. Wilber has that much right. He just doesn't quite understand that where we are on the map has nothing to do with how ready we are for non-dualist teachings, it only describes the method to be used for communicating them. Likewise, there's no social class or culture or intellectual pedigree or color scheme necessary for understanding and responding to non-dualism. Nisargadatta was not exactly one of the leading figures in religion before he became realized. Papaji never bothered reading books. Ramana was barely educated. Hui Neng was illiterate. The list goes on.

So the basic point is that Wilber's misunderstanding of non-dualism and its relation to his AQAL map, or any map, really, leads to all kinds of problems, including pre/trans problems.

Likewise, the words of Ramana and the experience of Papaji suggests something very unsettling to us rational minded characters about the nature of even conditional reality. If Gods and Goddesses really do exist, we need to somehow take that into account, just as we take such scientific truths such as global warming or holes in the ozone layer seriously. Maybe we were unaware of their existence of importance before, or dismissed them as merely mythical creations, but what if they really are in some way real? Shouldn't that require that we not place “mythicism” in some pre-rational scheme? We could certainly place mythic beliefs in a pre-rational category, but mythical realities seem to belong in a rational category, as being real factors in our lives. Seems silly, I know, but perhaps not so. Common sense only makes sense of what we already think we know. It doesn't apply to things we don't know about yet, or things we only think we know about.

The point is that we shouldn't assume that cultures based on principles that seem “lesser” to us than the rational mind are dwelling solely on unreal things, or mistakening psychic archetypes for literal realities. Of course, it doesn't mean that all mythic practices are real and necessary. Most seem to be bullshit in one form or another. But a lot of our culture's practices seem to be bullshit also. We shouldn't judge other cultural forms as being bullshit without acknowledging the universality of bullshit. Clearly science beats out mythology as far as physical processes go. But perhaps there are truths in mythical beliefs about Gods and Goddesses that are actually true, not just as psychic metaphors, but as literal truths. I wouldn't really know, but I wouldn't necessarily doubt it either.

This plays into Da's whole theory of universal “patterning” as the basis for conditional reality and its ordering, but that's a topic for another day. Still, it's an approach that offers a lot of advantages over Wilber's system. Til then.


Anonymous said...

BY, if you've not already done so, I highly recommend obtaining and reading 'The Light at the Center: Context and Pretext of Modern Mysticism' by Agehananda Bharati. (He also wrote an autobiography, entitled 'The Ochre Robe')

Bharati was born in Austria, learned Sanskrit and textual analysis, mastered several modern Indian languages and had several nondual realizations (Bharati calls them 'zero states')

Bharati became a sanyassi monk in India and later was able to meet and interview many other religious figures who had experienced nondual states. Bharati also found that in India, religious professionals spoke in a coded language in which they made it seem they were in states of nondual realization 24-7, including when talking about it.

Bharati reported the following:

*One cannot be articulate when describing nondual realization. One has to exit the state before one can discuss it--or do much of anything else.

*One cannot directly trigger nondual realization. (He would have completely disagreed with Wilber's contention that one reaches nondual realization by passing through developmental phases.)

* Nondual realization does not necessarily make you a better person or make you all knowing in secular matters. As Bharati put it, a person who is crabby will be crabby after nondual realization; a nice person will still be a nice person.

*Bharati contended that nondual realization is, essentially, aesthetic, hedonistic and has nothing to do with morality and does not by itself, support any particular ideology or political program. He also noted a persistent and worrisome trend toward authoritarianism amongst the Hindu religious establishment. Having survived the Nazi occupaton of Austria, Bharati could identify this sort of thing quite quickly.

Bharati also gives detailed information on how people become recognized as gurus in India.

His book can be painful reading because Bharati was very, very upset that so many seekers were being exploited. He can be a pain in the butt to read, but he wrote that way from concern for people's welfare.

kang said...

It struck me this morning that the problem we have is not with nonduality. The problem we have is with duality.

It is actually impossible to evolve a stable point of view in duality. We cannot create a lastingly secure sense of egotism.

Cosmic dissolution is not far off in time, it's absolute -- moment to moment.

What HAS been evolved is a capacity for the self-delusion implicit in the sense of continuity, thinking this moment is the same as last moment and I am the same also. These delusions inevitably break down.

Even considering the root "I-sense" we have to ask, is this continuous? Is it immortal? Did it have a beginning?

If it had a beginning, it has an end. Therefore it cannot be continuous. If we look at babies, it's pretty clear that the "I-sense" isn't there. Basically, it's learned. Parents and society project it into them, thinking this is what's needed to function productively. This is what starts all the trouble and struggle of trying to maintain an "I-sense" immune to temporal insecurities.

It all fails and so we have to question whether reality is actually that (hence "nondualism"), whether our pseudo-achievement of an ever-shifting pseudo-objectivity (duality) is worth the effort.

Broken Yogi said...


Thanks for the book tip. I've ordered it used from Amazon, will look forward to reading it. I would think that almost all Hindus esoterics would disagree with Wilber's notion that the non-dual is to be achieved through a developmental process. Still, he somehow thinks its important to do the developmental work so that when you become realized, you are a more "rounded character". Why that's important I'm not sure, but perhaps the Da experience has him shaken.

Personally, I don't necessarily accept the notion that people who say they are in non-dual "states" are actually fully realized on the order of Ramana. I think there are lots of lesser samadhis and partial truths along the way that can convince people that they are enlightened when it is not the case. I'm sure there are plenty of such people in India. It's not just a western problem, though I have yet to see any westerners who seem to have fully gone through the whole process, e.g., transcended all samskaras and vasanas. In India you at least have a few examples of that, I believe (Ramana, Nisarg, Papaji, etc.) It's not just that they had good characters beforehand, and remained good characters after. It's that they let everything go, and this is why they have good character. Hanging on to pieces and parts of oneself produces bad character in one way or another. Letting go produces a natural sattvic disposition. People who claim to be realizers but who don't exhibit deep sattvas are pretty suspect in my view, though of course one can't enforce such a rule by rote. Still, it weeds out most of the pretenders.

Broken Yogi said...


Yes, duality is problematic, so many decisions to make, so many choices! There are so many possible maps that could make sense in their own right, and creating the ultimate, universally true map seems a vain enterprise, which makes it attractive to some and repulsive to others.

Continuity is a problem in duality because one is identified with one out of many choices. The mind is constantly flickering between possibilities. It can't stay fixed with one forever, not even one body-mind. There are always better ones out there. Our fixations wax and wane, not only because what we identify with changes and dies, but because that is the nature of the dualistic mind. We create what we identify with, then get tired of it, then complain that nothing is permanent and lasting. It is our attention that is not permanent or lasting. We are playing games with ourselves, and blaming the game. We are attention, and attention simply isn't constant, it moves from one thing to the next, it creates one thing after another to move to. It can't sit still. This is why we need to bring ourselves to a stop, get off the bus, and simply be quiet. That was Ramana's recommendation: Be Quiet. Until then, we are just making a lot of noisy choices to be pre-occupied with ourselves.

Anonymous said...

BY, if at some point you decide to publish these essays in book form, I'd gladly purchase a copy.

BTW I first heard of Bharati through reading an essay entitled 'The Strange Case of Paul Franklin Jones'.

No need to reply if busy. Keep writing but dont let the blog wars burn you out. You're developing into a very fine voice and you're able to speak from a long-time practitioner's perspective--which is a valuable perspective.

Find a way to keep writing without losing that.

Broken Yogi said...


I'm flattered that you think these pieces of mine should be published, but really, they are just amateur ruminations, and I'd be rather embarrassed to treat them as anything more than that. I do think of writing something more thought through at some point, but God knows if I'll ever develop anything worth taking further. One never knows, of course. Thanks anyway. and I hope I can continue to improve.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps another way to understand the stages like mythic, rational, trans-rational is they involve activation of different capacities within, almost like activating different chakras or centers.

This as opposed to adopting a culture or a worldview.

You're right that many realizers did not adopt a rational worldview, all oriented around science.

But, if they really clarified their internal world fully, by seeing through the mechanisms of dualistic confusion, then we can speculate that all internal capacities, including for utterly clear thought, were fully activated.
They had a capacity to be fully rational.
This is different than a non-realized, mythic person, in that they filter all experience through a mythos, and a combination of fear and confusion would make it difficult to be fully rational, even as an exercise. (of course they could grow into it)

In this sense realizers have passed through or fulfilled the rational stage.

One could also speculate that they would be able to come to grips with a highly rationalistic person quite easily, in that the realizer would be so fluid, curious, etc.

Some of Wilber's discussion of all this in developmental and historical view focusses a lot on the cultural evolution, and so there's cultural bias.

Most realizers have said that the culture does not matter, other than advocating simplicity and kindness.

What's funny also, is that a non-realized person who is culturally rationalistic, could quite likely still have lots of confusion in their rational capacity; and a realized person who is culturally mythic, could have an entirely clear and activated rational/logical capacity.

Which makes the cultural bias all the more ridiculous.

Broken Yogi said...


I think your notion of activating centers and inherent capabilities in the total body-mind is more accurate than looking at it as a stage progression.

In other words, yes, the non-dual approach spontaneously activates and empowers and harmonizes the basic capacities of the body-mind in the course of transcending the body-mind. I don't see this as a process of stages as Wilber or Da do, but simply of a simultaneous "blossoming" in a simple and effective way.

I think you are right that this means realizers did develop rational capacities in the course of their sadhana, even if they did so in a mythical culture. But I don't think it means that they passed through a rational "stage", if by that designation we mean that they passed through a phase in which rationality dominated their outlook. I think it's pretty clear that most did not go through that full "stage", but were either dominated by mythic or transrational viewpoints, and not very commonly rational viewpoints. Rationality seems to have been a tool they have used, rather than a viewpoint they passed through, unless of course that "passage" occurred quite rapidly and did not produce any lasting sense that rationality was something of great importance to the process, except perhaps in being able to communicate a rational dharma for some of them (not all of them seemed to care about that).

WHereas, for Adepts appearing in mythic cultures, which really is almost all of them, rationality was not that big a deal, either in their own sadhana or in their teachings. They instead seemed to spend a great deal of time working with mythic imagery itself, devotion to Krishna say, or Devi worship. Shankara spent most of his time singing hymns to the Goddess, not composing abstract advaitic dharma.

But all this could simply be the product of the culture itself. Adepts appearing in a rational culture such as ours might work it differently. And looking at someone like Nisargadatta, who came out of India's mythic culture but also taught westerners, shows some differences. His teachings of westerners was quite different than his work with native Indians. With westerners, he produced highly rational arguments, while he related to Indians on a simpler, devotional level. Obviously he had the capabiities for both, but used what was best suited for his audience. It doesn't mean he went through a "rational" phase at some point in his own sadhana, but it does mean that his capability for rationality was awakened, if not in the course of his sadhana, then after his realization.

So yes, activation seems to be a better model for development than stage progression. What Wilber calls stage progression is still meaningful, but really it is simply a fixation on one possible capability that is activated in the course of sadhana.

timbomb said...

Hey BY, you're aware that Wilber makes a similar critique about his early work himself now, right? I think your criticism of the earlier stuff has a lot to it.

Wilber's recent stuff (last 8 years or so) doesn't put any of the spiritual states at the end of the developmental sequence. These days (since at least Boomeritis) he tends to arrange the structural stages and the states on this picture he refers to as the "Wilber-Combs Lattice"