Monday, October 26, 2009

Let the thieves live together and let the few really free people spread all over the world.

To break for a moment from the thread of my previous posts, I happened on a couple of outakes from the Integral Movement. The first is what can only be described as a chest-thumping mass-marketing sales email from Ken Wilber, the other an article from an old acquaintance from my Adidam days, Terry Patten, who is now apparently hawking his skills as an "Integral Life Coach", public speaker, seminar giver, and all-around integral philosopher/renaissance man - you all probably know the drill. 

The Terry Patten article strikes me as the most revealing, I suppose in part simply because I knew the guy back in Adidam. My first, gut-level reaction: wow, what an asshole. This guy is a spiritual teacher now? Second, reflecting reaction: hey, that's not fair, give the guy a break, that was years ago, and a lot of people in Adidam acted like assholes. Maybe he's changed since he left (which was years before I did). Third, self-revealing reaction: yeah, but he was particularly assholish towards me, and even after he left Adidam. I mean every time I bumped into the guy he'd make condescending snearing, passive-aggressive remarks couched in spiritualese, revealing himself time and again as a classic new age douche.  Fourth, self-reflecting reaction: get over yourself, Conrad, past is past and who cares who was a douche to you fifteen years ago and counting? Were you any better? Fifth, self-estimating reaction: yeah, I probably was. But if you want to stay that way, stop holding onto these old emotional reactions to people like this. It doesn't help me or them. And anyway, the guy was clearly deeply insecure and somehow felt threatend by me for God knows what reason. Sixth and final reaction: read what the dude has to say and see if it shows any value in itself, or signs of overcoming all that Adidam assholishness we all were immersed in for so long. 

That out of the way, there's the article itself, which brings out a very strange point of view about the spiritual process, or what these guys like to call "integration". Terry offers up this odd question to frame his thoughts:

1. How will we creatively manage the tensions between "purity" and "openness" in the world of leading-edge spirituality?

The question is raised as a lead-in to discuss the ethical qualms many have raised about teachers and leaders in the Integral Movement, and calls that have made to avoid certain teachers whose ethics seem questionable, or to create some kind of self-policing standards within the movement about these matters. Terry seems a bit upset about this issue, I don't know why, or what specific things he's responding to, I don't really follow the Integral Community very much, but I am on mailing lists and I get various things sent to me now and then, and I like reading the Integral Options Cafe website because it has so many good articles there (jeez, they even used to quote and link to some of my posts when I was actively blogging).

The point Terry comes to is a plea for understanding, which is spelled out here:

Both purity and openness are values worth respecting. Either too much openness or too much purity can do damage. So both principles need to be respected, within reason. Staying true to one's principles is essential, and yet refusing to associate with people can erode the spirit of generosity and collegiality so essential to building a movement.

What to say about the false dichotomy presented here? It's an example of the kind of distorted thinking that emerges from a “movement”. In the first place, there is no “tension” between purity and openness, nor need it be “creatively managed”. This is all just plain wrong. There is no conflict between purity and openness, and no need to trade off one for another, to strike some “balance” between the two. To paraphrase Keats, “purity is openness, and openness is purity, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

The dilemma Terry is actually referring to is brought on by false notions of both purity and openness. In the false world of the delusional ego, too much purity can somehow be a “bad” thing. Terry equates the two to “inhalation and exhalation”, saying both “are necessary, but each would be lethal if it were practiced to the exclusion of the other.” As if somehow purity requires being closed down and repressed, and openness requires that we forgo our purity. This is only the case if one's mind has some very deep illusions about what genuine purity and openness are. And unfortunately, in the modern Integral “movement”, these kinds of illusions seem rampant.

Why? Well, one reason is that so many in the integral field, including both Terry and Ken Wilber, are trying to market their ideas and practices commercially, in order to make a living. They have turned their “movement” into a business and commercial enterprise, and not only do they not see the obvious consequences of that, they are intellectually devoted to the idea that this is not only a good thing, but a necessary, “integral” thing. You see, they are just “integrating” business and spirituality, and there couldn't possibly be anything wrong with that, could there?

Well, there really could be. There's a reason why Jesus threw the money-changers out of the Temple, why Ramana and Nisargadatta and other teachers of genuine realization refused to allow people to solicit donations, or commercialize their offerings. Papaji famously said that any teacher who charged money for their satsang was a fraud, and the title of the post was his reply to the question of what he thought about spiritual communities:

“Let the thieves live together and let the few really free people spread all over the world.”

There really are some genuine conflicts in life, and real trade-offs between opposing values. Purity and openness just isn't one of them. But spirituality and commercialism is. This isn't merely some kind of ideological notion that we can toss aside because we live in a new era. It's a long tested truth. Money really does corrupt. Desire really does corrupt. There is a place for money and desire in our lives, we certainly couldn't get by without them, but we always have to be aware of their proper place, and guard what we hold sacred from their corrupting influence. It's not possible to be completely free of their influence, but at the very least it can be greatly minimized. Spiritual teachings, even Ramana's and Papaji's, are best communicated to a wide audience through books, tapes, DVDs, etc., and these cost money and must be sold for money. If one has to rent a hall to give a talk in, it has to be paid for. But that doesn't mean one has to charge admission, one can find patrons who will pay for such things, if they really are of value.

So there's a level of financial need that any set of teachings must fulfill. And yet, everyone who has something genuine to say about spirituality, even lowly bloggers like me, has an obligation to minimize as much as possible the financial dimension of all that. That obligation isn't just to those being taught, but to themselves, because they too will become corrupt if they don't minimize it as much as possible. One need only look at the record of Adidam to see how corrupting money can be to a spiritual teacher, his devotees, and the “movement” they are a part of, to confirm this principle.  

Unfortunately, not everyone who left Adidam learned this lesson. Saniel Bonder is another example of someone who left the finanical corruptions of Adidam only to create his own corrupt spiritual organization and “movement”, charging hundreds and thousands of dollars for dubious teachings about “waking down” enlightenment. These kinds of teachings only debase the genuine process of spiritual life, and turn it into a corrupt and deluding business enterprise. Terry Patten of course had a long history in Adidam, and Ken Wilber was involved with Adi Da from a distance for many years. Both either left or cut their ties at some point, and tried to separate from the corruptions of that organization, but both also seem to have bought into a false notion of what it means to be “inclusive”, or “integral”. Both seem to think that this means merging religion and business together into one :”seamless whole”, as if that would be a good thing for all, and make us more “holistic”.  

Well, news flash, it doesn't work that way. This is a false notion of what it means to be inclusive, integral, and “whole”. I have nothing against business, I've run various kinds of small businesses for much of my life, and there is nothing wrong with that. Business pursuits and the life of a householder are completely compatible with spiritual life, and always has been. But one must always remember that they are distinct domains of life, and simply are not to be mixed, and to the degree that they have to .be combined, it's always best to minimize that as much as possible. Keeping each pure and whole is not a way of creating a false conflict, it's a way of preserving the true nature of each. Nor is it at odds with openness to keep them distinct. Instead, it preserves their integrity, which is the real meaning of the word “integral”. Whatever conceptual notions one might have about the world, even if one tries to go by Wilber's AQAL four-quadrant system, it's simply a false and deluding notion to think that the principle of integralism means literal mixing together of all things into a giant soup. Integralism means respecting the integrity of all the areas of life, and not mixing incompatible elements.  

What I see when I look at these windows onto the Integral Movement, such as Wilber's marketing letter, is a corruption of not only the principles and concepts of integration, but of the individuals involved. Wilber's letter is a dithering document to the destructive power of commercialism, as are most of his recent writings. One can attribute these faults to more than just commercialism, and I don't want to try to figure out whether the chicken or the egg is to blame, but one can clearly see that they work against one another's interests. Wilber's own thinking has long been in decline, and almost in exact inverse proportion to his attempts to turn his philosophy into a commercial enterprise.  

Genuine openness is not a form of naivete. It does not embrace everything without discrimination. Instead, it uses discrimination to keep separate the incompatible elements of life, those which might corrupt or corrode or work against each other. The very word “discrimination” means to separate. And that is not incompatible with “integration”, because it is essential to keep various elements of life separate from one another in order to integrate them properly. It's fine to integrate business and spirituality into one's life, but one does so by keeping them separate, by discriminating between them, and keeping each pure.  

And by the way, it's just as destructive to business pursuits when notions of spirituality are mixed in with them. I have a good friend from Adidam who experienced that first hand, when his multi-million dollar business was destroyed by those in Adidam who tried to take it over and run it according to “spiritual” principles, which it turned out were likewise corrupted in the process. It took him years to recover and restructure his business from scratch, and it's now doing gangbusters.  

I would say to the people who are trying to turn the Integral Movement into a business, why not just start an actual business, if you have those kinds of skills and inclinations, and leave your spiritual pursuits to themselves? Use the money you make in business to sponsor spiritual matters, so that they don't have to be corrupted by commercialization. Don't mix the two, but feel free to patronize your spiritual interests with your successful business enterprises. That's the way it has traditionally been done, and it works very well.  

Of course, the desire to cash in on one's spiritual seeking is often too great for many people to resist, both as purveyers and consumers of this kind of commercial tripe. And so, as Papaji said, the thieves all congregate together, which makes it somewhat easier to avoid. For anyone not involved in these sorts of endeavors, I'd recommend keeping a careful distance. For those who are involved, beware, and reflect on what is going on around you and within you.  


\m said...

I knew Terry Patten slightly and he was always nice to me. I think I was below his radar. I do know of several other people whose experience with him was similar to yours.

You neglected to mention that Terry was a Waking Down teacher for Sandy Bonder for a period of time, so give him the littlest bit of credit for having "left" Sandy. His apprenticeship days are apparently over.

Broken Yogi said...

It's not my intention to make a thorough evaluation of Terry Patten. I'm sure he has many good qualities. I'm just responding to this particular message of his, and the issues it raised. My personal comments were just gratuitous injections of a few memories that came up, and a general reaction to people who seem to me utterly unqualified to be spiritual teachers taking up that role. This would include Bonder and Wilber. I have a hard time understanding how they get away with it, frankly. It's egoic enough to write and offer one's viewpoint about spirituality, but to pretend to be a teacher just to rake in the bucks and adulation, seems a bit much to me. It's good that Terry left Saniel's farcical let's pretend world, but it seems he's just gone on to to join Wilber's version of the same game. An improvement? Not by much.