Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Transcending identification and all spiral paths

For some reason I keep wanting to write about the Wilberian integral theory. First, let me repeat that I'm not opposed to most of what Wilber says and thinks. I don't even know most of what he says. I'm not opposed to developmental theories either. I think they are important and useful. I just think they need to reflect realities rather than nice neat theories.

As said already, I don't think mixing developmental theory with non-dualism works. But I can understand the desire to make it work. When I was younger I too thought it would be a good project to try to bridge the gap between academia, western philosophy, and spirituality, and to extend the reach of spiritual development beyond the backwardness of western monotheism to eastern non-dualism. That's part of why I became involved in Adidam. I imagine similar notions attacted Wilber to Adi Da also. It took me decades to grasp that the project doesn't work. I was helped along by Da's own breakdown into such an extreme of fundamentalist megalomania that I had to start asking some very basic questions about what went wrong. Part of that involved a study of cultism and fundamentalism, and part of it involved a study of more pure non-dualist teachings. And part of that led me to question many of the features of Da's teachings, not just the obvious cultist errors. One of those features was the whole developmental model. At first I simply looked at the insufficiencies of the seven stages model. It's obvious that the seven stages model carries with it all kinds of political and cultic baggage, but that alone isn't enough to discredit it. What really breaks it down is the whole notion of developmentalism itself and its relation to non-dualism.

To give Adi Da credit where credit is due, he doesn't actually subscribe to his own seven stages model. He just uses it to criticize other teachers and teachings. His own model for spiritual development has a relation to the seven stages model. but basically it doesn't go by the same stages and levels. It's a complex model, and not worth going into here, but its still a developmental model. It has some serious defects to it, but it at least goes partway towards trying to resolve the "you can't get there from here" problems of Wilber's developmental model. He seems to understand something of the problem of trying to practice the development of our human potential as a springboard to non-dual realization, that this simply doesn't work, because it places too much attention on the conditional self. His idea is to introduce what he considers the primary non-dual practice - contemplation of the Guru - as the context of all other practices. The problem is that he mixes this practice in with all kinds of problem-solving attention to the most mundane level of nonesense - not just personal development nonsense, but ridiculous forms of "service" to the Guru, cultic worship of the Guru, etc. But at least there's the seed of a true approach there. With a better Guru, one without all kinds of egoic needs and demands, the principle could hold true.

That principle is brought out most effectively in the non-dual teachings of some of the other modern teachers I've come across. In the teachings of Lakshmana Swami, an enlightened devotee of Ramana, the Guru-devotee relationship is considered supremely effective. His principle devotee, Muthra Sri Sarada, practiced nothing but devotional surrender to him. In her case, the process completed itself in just four years, and she realized the Self at the age of 20. It contained none of the nonsense one finds in Adidam, and a relationship of simple integrity and one-pointed practice. Devotional surrender of this kind is not different from enquiry itself, it's just a different form of the same basic practice. But the principle is that one does just that, and essentially not much else except for basic common sense and support. There's no grand developmental modelling necessary, no oedipal considerations necessary, no passing through all kinds of stages and levels. Of course, to be sure, there's got to be some kind of growth in the process of surrender in her case, and that probably does involve growth through some kinds of levels and maturity. Just not of the variety and complexity that either Da or Wilber describe.

The non-dual process isn't the same as the human evolutionary developmental process. Wilber doesn't seem to understand that. He seems to look upon non-dual realization as the ultimate stage of human development, like Da, whereas it isn't within the evolutionary process at all. It's a transcendent step outside the evolutionary process. It can take place at any time within the evolutionary process, from the lowest to the highest phase of complexity and development. Among humans, it generally appears only when a basic maturity takes place, but not much more than that seems to be required. The sign of it is not great evolutionary development, but a disenchantment with evolutionary potential and its promises of ever "higher" achievement. Human evolutionary development is a great and good thing, but that's the problem - greatness and goodness are dualistic qualities. Non-dualism is neither great nor good. It transcends them.

That said, I have no problem with developmentalism itself, with helping it along as best as we can. If Wilber can help that process, bully for him. I can't really say how good Wilber's integral theory and map are. I do see some basic problems with it, just at the level of structure. As mentioned, I see a lack of appreciation for the cyclical nature of development. Wilber tries to include this by describing a spiral of development. But this doesn't take into account the fact that spirals are just a way of travelling in circles, and don't ever get anywhere. The idea, I guess, is that if you keep spirally outward, eventually you will get to infinity. After infinite time passes, unfortunately. But this doesn't acknowledge that levels can be lost, that as far as one might spiral outward, one will eventually spiral back inward. Whatever goes up, must come down. This should be a fundamental law of any integral theory that really wants to be taken seriously. This truth is found in many spiritual traditions. In Hinduism, for example, it is acknowledged that there are great heaven worlds that one can attain, but that even these are only temporary, and eventually one will fall back into human birth, or even less. So development does travel in spirals, ups and down.

I'd like to suggest another kind of spiral, using a different set of standards. When I was doing astrology for Adi Da and readings for others, I noticed the spiraling phenomena, but I conceived of it differently. Instead of looking at development in terms of "progress", I used Da's concept of the self-contraction, and the release thereof, to describe development. So the outward "spiralling" was measured in degrees of release of the self-contraction. I modified that at a certain point by seeing progress in terms of freedom from identification with the observed phenomena. Thus, a stage of development was not "passed through" by achieving some level of proficiency in that stage, or attaining the point of view of that stage, but quite the opposite - not identifying with that stage anymore, not identifying with that category of content anymore, releasing that point of view, and not identifying with that point of view. That process doesn't put you into the next higher stage, it just sets you free from some conditional view. Being released from one view doesn't mean that you are released from all views. In fact, trying to release oneself from one view at a time results in being bound even more deeply to them. As Ramana says, the only view that, if released, releases all views, is the view of the "I" itself, the feeling of "I"-ness, the source of all other views. So practice isn't about playing the developmental game with levels and growth, but really its about releaseing the core identification with the "I". Everything else is just part of the processs of riding the wave of consciousness up and down from crest to trough.


kang said...

Well, this is very nice. Of course, you don't need my support on this, but what the hey, it doesn't hurt, does it?

Actually, I don't think there is anything I would add to what you've said here. "Releasing the core identification with the feeling of 'I' ". Indeed!!! Brilliant.

So we must (ironically) view these developmental apologists as immature, mustn't we? But that implies that they will mature into enlightenment, which would give credence to a developmental view. Or is it more accurate to say they are a phenomenon of maya? I support the latter. One continues striving toward a mirage as long as there is hope that it will quench our thirst. When the contrary is realized, all striving and willful developmental progress come to an end.

That brings up another question that came to mind while I was reading your entry. There must be some operative notion in these developmentalists that "free will" is true, that they can choose or not to engage in the process. Oh, it is all nothing more than elaborations on the feeling of "I" after all, isn't it.

It all becomes moot once that root is recognized and released.

Broken Yogi said...


It is nice to get feedback, especially of the positive variety!

You're right that there's no sense in considering the developmentalists as "immature". They are just going down a particular path of seeking that suits them for karmic reasons. It's a samskara is all. I'm of the view that virtually all paths of seeking are pretty much the same, and all of them eventually burn themselves out, and reveal their inadequacy. At that point, they begin to fall in on themselves, and that's when this core practice of feeling and releasing the "I" sense comes more and more into consciousness, and begins to crowd out everything else. So it's not as if there's a particular path of seeking that is closer to that than any other path. We can "burn" out while seeking beer and cigarettes just as well as while seeking higher stages of consciousness. And many realizers have basically jumped off at that stage. I was corresponding with a guy at Ramanashram recently who pointed out that the saint who actually made tiruvanamalai famous 4 centuries ago waa a thief and general bad guy who suddenly just threw it all away and went down the non-dual path to realization. Similar stories hold=s true for some of the great mahasiddhas of the past.

Papaji used to say that the spiritual path you take up, the practices you take on, are completely beside the point, what matters is the intensity of your desire and need for freedom. It's that impulse that actually carries you through to realization, not the path. Eventually, all paths end up at self-enquiry, not because that's the developmental peak, but because when everything else falls apart, that's all that's left. It's at the bottom, so to speak, of everything.

So Wilber I would say is really not doing so bad in that sense. True, his developmental model is wrongly conceived, and it simply won't get him to enlightenment, but the intensity with which he pursues it speaks well for him.

Papaji used to practice devotional worship all day long, doing the Ram mantra 100,000 times a day, until one day he just couldn't do it anymore. THe words wouldn't come, he couldn't even think the thought Ram. So he went to Ramana for help, explained the situation, and Ramana asked, "How did you get here today?" Papaji said he took the train from Madras. Ramana asked, "Where is the train now?" Papaji said, "It's gone back to Madras." Ramana said. "It's the same with your mantra. It's taken you as far as it can, and now you don't need it anymore, so it has gone away." Ramana then gave him the most basic instruction in self-enquiry, and in a flash Papaji realized the Self. He said later that it was obvious that his practice of mantra and devotion had actually done nothing for him in itself, it was just the sheer intensity with which he engaged it that brought him to the "end of the line".

So I don't think that we can really look down on anyone's search. Some seem more ridiculous than others, but none get to the goal. Only the intensity that results in complete frustration with the path of seeking gets one to the door, and only enquiry into one's self-nature opens the door. But we can of course become completely disenchanted without our seeking at any time. One need not wait. But complete disenchantment is indeed necessary. That's why I say the "developmental" path, if you could call it that, for non-dualism, is a negative one, the dropping away of all things, all levels and ideas and conceptions, all seeking, not the fulfillment or the integration of them. Unless of course one conceives of integration itself in purely negative terms, which I don't think Wilber does. The old Hindu/Buddhist view of all levels and attainments as simply vasanas or samskaras is the correct view, and enlightenment is the nirvanic ending of all such things, which is the same as simply practicing radical self-enquiry or self-surrender.

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