Friday, July 14, 2006

Wilber's Newer Model and Transcendentalism

A reader named timbomb wrote:

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"


I wasn't familiar with this lattice, and so went to the link provided to Wilber's intro essay "What is Integral Spirituality", published in 2005, so it represents very recent Wilber views. In it he says:

"Even transcendental knowledge is a four-quadrant affair: the quadranbts don't just go all the way up, they go all they way down as well. It's turtles all the down, and turtles all the way up."

That's clearly a dualistic viewpoint about transcendentalism, and it gives the impression that even non-dualism is not only dualistic, but quadristic in nature.

Wilber seems to be under the sway of both modernism and post-modernism. Atheism, if you will. He sees these disciplines as having swept the rug out from under even the greatest of spiritual traditions:

"We start with the simple observation that the "metaphysics" of the spiritual traditions have been thoroughly trashed by both modernist and postmodernist epistemologies, and there has as yet arisen nothing as compelling to take their place."

So this tells us where Wibler is coming from. He thinks that the great non-dual traditions need to by reworked to make them safe and acceptable to post-modernist minds. I disagree. I think post-modernism needs to get that poker out of its ass and bow its head to the floor, and recognize the greater meanings of the non-dual traditions. But that's as silly as saying that Kings and Princes and Presidents and Dictators need to bow down to non-dualism. It's not exactly going to happen.

Wilber also thinks that the postmodernists have come up with devastating critiques of non-dualism and transcendentalism that can't survive without his AQAL. That too is false. His AQAL does a disservice to both. I have nothing against postmodernism. Some of it is downright silly, but some of it is not. The problem is that it has very little application to non-dualist teachings. It doesn't arise from them, it doesn't address them, and only Wilber seems to think it must. Now, Wilber has tried to mix the two, he's done his best, but frankly it doesn't work. He treats non-dualism as if it is just one among many views. It isn't. It's a singular way of looking at reality, not a multiplex of philsophies. In WIlber's view, that's what makes it partial and in need of modification by other views, bringing it into the tent so to speak, trying to get it to talk to the other views. But this dog just won't hunt. Non-dualism isn't just another view. If non-dualism is true, then only non-dualism is true. If non-dualism is false, then why bring it into the tent at all? The non-dual truth states that all viewpoints are illusory, all philosophies are mere mind, all objects and experience are unnecessary apparitions in transcendental consciousness, and only the Singular Self is real.

The problem there is that by Wilber's AQAL model, this Self-Realization is just an extreme exclusivity of the UL quadrant. And I think that is how WIlber sees non-dualism, as "imbalanced" and in need of balance by the other quadrants. By non-dualism's teachings, the whole of AQAL ia an illusion, including the UL quadrant. I don't see how they are compatible. Putting transcendentalism into Wilber's model means changing it, modifying it using dualistic postmodern tools that make it into something that isn't non-dualism. Not that non-dual realizers much care what Wilber does, but Wilber ought to care what they teach if he is going to try to build a model that aims at non-dual realization. Which is what Wilber seems to be trying to do, ultimately, and also personally. I don't see that it works for either.

As I've said, Wilber is trying to have his cake and eat it. He believes passionately in both developmentalism and non-dualism, and the two simply don't mix, certainly not in the manner he has tried to conceive of. It might be worth a try to find commonality without changing either one in the process, but Wilber knows that won't work, so he thinks he can just change non-dualis into a new, improved, all-inclusive version and actually make things better. Sorry, this just screws up both sides of the equation.

It would be better for Wilber to keep his two passions separate. Its fine to pursue developmental growth. It's also fine to pursue non-dual realization. One won't reach the ultimate advances in either one this way, but one will at least not be greatly deluded about things. Those who become great realizers dont' do both, they just pursue non-dual realizaiton. And those who achieve great feats of development don't usually pay much heed to non-dual notions. They go for the dualistic achievements. Nothing wrong with that. We all do what we gotta do. But it's a formula for frustration to try to combine both.

Now maybe I'm missing some of the nuances of Wilber's new views. Maybe the piece I referred to was just not very complete. If anyone knows more about Wilber's views on non-dualism, let me know. For now though I can't really say I see any great change.

13 comments:

WH said...

As a Buddhist and a fan of integral philosophy, I'm Glad I discovered your blog.

I can't promise to make Wilber make sense, but I can share what I think he is going on about (but by his own admition, he has already transcended and included anything his critics might have to say), or at least what sense I make of it.

The major distinction that I see lacking in your critique is that of states and stages. They used to be somewhat synonymous for Wilber, except that states were temporary and stages were permanent, but other than that they were defined in the same way. Nonduality is for most of us a state exerience (something we can experience during meditation if we are lucky or practice long enough) -- and I think Wilber now concedes that it cannot be a stage of development for the simple reason that it is the nature of reality. Nonduality is the ground of being, it is the always already true Buddha nature inherent in all things. We can tap into it from time to time if we are skilled or lucky, but to truly have that consciousness as the foundation of our relative mind suggests ultimate enlightenment, which even Wilber contends is available to anyone at any time at any level of development.

Where things start to get sticky is with his new "Integral Spirituality," in which he now postulates that enlightenment is not merely maintaining a state experience of ultimate oneness (absolute, nondual, one taste) while still functioning in the relative world, but that to "truly" be enlightened, one must also have achieved the highest possible level of stage development available in one's time and place.

So, in his model, someone who has risen to only the authoritarian/mythic membership stage level (or whatever he is calling it these days), can attain pure nondual consciousness and maintain that consciousness as the ground of being, but still not be enlightened according to his new model. In order to be "truly" enlightened, that person would have to rise through the remaining developmental stages to reach 3rd tier (or whatever Wilber is claiming as the highest current stage of development).

To complicate matters even further, Wilber now claims that the Kosmos is evolving as consciousness evolves -- so that what we consider enlightened now (in his model) will not be enlightened in 500 years. He contends that additional stages of development will unfold as consciousness climbs ever upward. Which means no one will ever reach a nondual "stage" of enlightenment, even if he assumes one exists.

What he seems to be leaving out these days that he used to be very vocal about (maybe he has changed his mind) is the Dzogchen notion that we are always already enlightened and simply must learn to step out of relative reality and into absolute reality to realize this truth. In his older arguments (when he still seemed to mistake nonduality for a stage [I could be wrong about him thinking nonduality was a stage, though that was the sense I had]), nonduality was the ground from which all of the manifest Kosmos arose and toward which relative reality was always evolving.

Does that help clarify the situation at all? Or maybe just more muddled.

Anyway, great blog and I look forward to reading more.

Peace,
Bill

Broken Yogi said...

Bill, thanks for trying to help me out with Wilber.


“...by his own admition, he has already transcended and included anything his critics might have to say”

Yes, that seems to be his way of warding off criticism. But including things that are not compatible with one another and claiming to transcend their contradictions is a trick that doesn't work.

Now, as for the stages/states issue, I don't see non-dualism as either. When people say they have non-dual experiences in meditation, I almost always disagree (to the degree one can about someone's subjective experience). Non-dualism isn't an experience, and it is not a state either. What is experienced in meditation as non-dualism is, in my view, almost always merely an “echo” of non-dual reality, experienced within whatever stage or state the individual is in. Generally, I am getting the impression that many in the integral movement, perhaps Wilber himself, confuse non-dualism with a state of non-differentiation. I feel that this is wrong. An undifferentiated meditative state may seem formless, objectless, and engender a sense of profound unity, but this is not the same as non-duality. It is what I call an “echo”. Andy Smith makes this same mistake, I think, in his paper on my ideas over at Integral World, and in my reply I will flesh this notion of “echoes” out, as well as the confusion between non-dualism and undifferentiated states of consciousness.

“I think Wilber now concedes that it cannot be a stage of development for the simple reason that it is the nature of reality. Nonduality is the ground of being, it is the always already true Buddha nature inherent in all things. We can tap into it from time to time if we are skilled or lucky, but to truly have that consciousness as the foundation of our relative mind suggests ultimate enlightenment, which even Wilber contends is available to anyone at any time at any level of development.”

This is good if true. I haven't come across Wilber actually saying this, however, and some of what I have come across seems to contradict it. I'd like to see what Wilber has actually said in context before making further judgments about it.

“Where things start to get sticky is with his new "Integral Spirituality," in which he now postulates that enlightenment is not merely maintaining a state experience of ultimate oneness (absolute, nondual, one taste) while still functioning in the relative world, but that to "truly" be enlightened, one must also have achieved the highest possible level of stage development available in one's time and place.”

This seems a little forced. Here Wilber seems to be treating non-dualism as a state experience of “oneness” that one “maintains” -by subtle effort I presume - rather than a reality that is incontravertable, while at the same time he sees developmental stages as permanent and senior. This of course is putting the cart before the horse. I think I know why he does this. Like many others, he is trying to work out a model which would explain why people Wilber thinks are enlightened, such as Da, Cohen, Bonder, etc., seem not to be very well developed and have such glaring holes in their character and behavior. Seeing non-dual realization as merely a state one is in touch with, even permanently in touch with, allows one to see the individual as primary, and that their developmental process necessarily continues, with non-dualism merely being one advanced feature of their development. I suspect Wilber likes this model because the alternative would be to downgrade these figures from enlightened to less-than-enlightened.

My own view of enlightenment, and I think it is well-supported in the non-dual traditions, is that it represents a total relinquishment of the individual, including all vasanas and defilements. Why? Because all vasanas and defilements are rooted in the illusory conditional self, if that illusion is truly abandoned, then vasanas and defilements have nowhere to stand. Therefore, in my view, anyone who claims to have full realization, and who yet retains personal vasanas and defilements, is simply deluded. My explanation is that it is possible to achieve profound states of spiritually “undifferentiated” consciousness, which are mere “echoes” of non-dual reality, and confuse them with non-duality itself, and thus presume full realization that is simply not there. This means that the true realizer has no way to “develop” himself, because there is no self to develop. He also appears to have no problems in need of development, even if he does not appear exceptional otherwise. Recent realizers such as Ramana, Nisargadatta, Papaji, and others seem to fit this bill. Other claimants, such as Adi Da, Cohen, Rajneesh, Sai Baba, etc., do not.

“So, in his model, someone who has risen to only the authoritarian/mythic membership stage level (or whatever he is calling it these days), can attain pure nondual consciousness and maintain that consciousness as the ground of being, but still not be enlightened according to his new model. In order to be "truly" enlightened, that person would have to rise through the remaining developmental stages to reach 3rd tier (or whatever Wilber is claiming as the highest current stage of development).”

What I would say about this is that a false realizer would certainly need to undergo further development (though it is more likely that they will degrade, rather than grow, e.g. Da.) but a true non-dual realizer would not. But then, he would not even appear to need to, since he would not exhibit anything in the way of personal vasanas or defilements. Even a realizer living in a mythic culture would not need to rise beyond that if their realization were true.

“To complicate matters even further, Wilber now claims that the Kosmos is evolving as consciousness evolves -- so that what we consider enlightened now (in his model) will not be enlightened in 500 years. He contends that additional stages of development will unfold as consciousness climbs ever upward. Which means no one will ever reach a nondual "stage" of enlightenment, even if he assumes one exists.”

Now this is truly whacky. And how does Wilber presume to know this? Because his model predicts it? All that tells me is that his model is deeply flawed. It does make sense, within the logic model Wilber has created. But that only suggests his model is screwed up and needs to be abandoned. Or at least that non-dualism should be severed from his model and he should let it be what it is, not what he needs it to be to fit into his model.

And yes, he does seemed to have abandoned radical non-dualism such as is found in Dzogchen. God knows why. I think narcissistic personalities all tend to fall apart over time.

So yes this does clarify some things for me. But I'd like to read the sources first, to hear what Wilber says in his own words. Not that I doubt you, but it would be good to see how Wilber has come to these conclusions.

And glad you came across my blog.

WH said...

Here is the link to the new stuff by Wilber. This essay is the foundation to the new book that will be out in October I believe. He talks about some of this stuff in different language in the newest issue of What Is Enlightenment? as well.

Jay Andrew Allen said...

It seems unskillful to lambaste Wilber for not respecting what "the traditions" say on this subject, when in fact there is great dissension within the traditions themselves on what the traditions say. "Nondualism" means something quite different to a yogacharan than it does to a Madhyamakha, e.g.

By your philosophy, how do you relate to the conventional world? It's one thing to say "everything is an illusion". It's another to say it, and still find ways and motivation to pay the bills, cure cancer, etc. Do you consider your approach to spirituality a strictly monastic approach?

Broken Yogi said...

I'm not sure whether it is skillful to lambaste Wilber, but I do think it is justified. You are right that the non-dual traditions differ from one another, but Wilber's approach to them isn't justified, I think, by any of them. He doesn't point to sources for good reason, I think. He refers often to Advaitics such as Ramana Maharshi, but he doesn't seem to incorporate their actual teachings into his model. Instead, he essentially tries to start from scratch, meaning his own ideas about things. Nothing wrong with that, but when his ideas depart dramatically from these authentic source, it makes one question Wilber's model.

The same is true for Adi Da, who is supposedly Wilber's spiritual master. Wilber really seems not to incorporate hardly anything from Adi Da's actual spiritual teachings or cosmology. I'm not really criticizing him for that, it's fine for Wilber to try to be original,and perhaps Da is a very suspect source. Yet if Wilber thinks that Da and Ramana and others are the true spiritual geniuses, I can't help wondering why he departs so often from their teachings and cosmologies and views on matters such as developmentalism. It seems to me that Wilber is deserving of a good trip to the woodshed. But to each his own.

How do I relate to the conventional world? Fairly well, thank you. I play the game like anyone else, I just try not to identify with it so much. I suppose the way I approach life is in a surrendered manner, not expecting anything ultimate from it, not being angry that it doesn't deliver anything ultimate, accepting of what comes and what goes, and loving in the midst of it. I don't live as a monk and see no point in it. And yes, I have plenty of bills to play, two kids in college, a wife, work and business, all the ordinary responsibilities and duties of life. I don't expect anything from all of that, it's just what has to be done. And one day I will die. It all comes and goes. We all end up with nothing to show for it. That's not anything to get upset about. The illusion of the world is not our real life, it is just the play of our minds and karmas and fears and desires. Our real life is deeper than that. We all have heart.

Al said...

It has been a long time since Wilber claimed Adi Da was any kind of master, especially for him. I recall reading an article a year or so ago which was a mea culpa about his previous endorsement and embracing of Adi Da. He certainly hasn't discussed him as an example of anything positive since the early to mid-90s (at the latest).

Broken Yogi said...

al,

That's interesting. I was under the impression that Wilber still had a very high regard for Adi Da's teachings and literature.

But I even when Wilber did regard Adi Da as his spiritual master or Guru, he didn't do much to incorporate Adi Da's teachings or views into his models. In fact, he almost never even discussed them. Was he even then distancing himself from Da? Or did he just never really embrace him in the first place?

Al said...

I'm not sure. I do recall an article by Wilber where he specifically acknowledged that he used to consider Adi Da a great teacher and now, while he still respects his teachings, he sees the problematic nature of Adi Da's life (and lifestyle) and the evidence that he isn't in a place to necessarily teach people.

I apologize for not being more specific on the article. I believe it was on Ken's Shambhala website as an online article (but it might have been printed as well). He did acknowledge that he usually doesn't talk about his relationship towards Adi Da's teachings anymore but the context made it clear that he isn't a follower of his.

Al said...

Found the reference (we'll see if it is as I remember):

http://wilber.shambhala.com/html/misc/adida.cfm/

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