Monday, June 18, 2007

Ken Wilber Comments

In the Comments section of my first blog posting, yomamma initiated discussion of Ken Wilber. I'm not a fan of or an expert on Wilber, but I do think he fails in an interesting way. I'd like to quote here from what yomamma and others have written, add a few of my own thoughts, and invite further discussion in the comments section.

yomamma said...
I read an article that Ken Wilber wrote later, that said he feels, Da missed the boat at some point, not that I want to defend Ken Wilber, he seems to now have transfered his need for guru affiliation and creation to Andrew Cohen.
One of Wilber's books that I did read was Grace and Grit. I was immediately struck by Wilber's arrogance (as a small example, quoting a man on page 150 who refers to Wilber as "the potentially greatest philosopher of consciousness since Freud.") Wilber's work is filled with categories of development with different "altitudes," such that one's spiritual state can be judged higher or lower. This of course allows Wilber to place himself on one of the higher rungs. When Wilber attaches himself to authoritarian gurus (Adi Da and Andrew Cohen), it allows him to bask in their reflected glory, bolstering Wilber's own claims of superior altitude.

My opinion is that people are desperate for meaning and mystery, which is great, but they don't want to practice any number of great traditions that are available without some kind of glamour/power factor involved. it's creepy.
Not just creepy, but ironic. If someone wants mystery, all they need to do is pay a little attention. The world around us is nothing but mystery, starting with the great question of What am I? Grasping at dogmas and ideas is an attempt to understand the unknowable, which obscures a clear appreciation of the mystery.

I read his last book and found it leaving me full of questions, like who decides the validity of this stuff? Is it practiced anywhere? Is it really helpful in any objective way? Is he just blinding me with pseudo science and big words?
Yeah, blinding you with pseudo-science and big words, that's what I'd say.

Anonymous said...
Dogen Zenji, founder of the Soto Zen sect, warned of the hazard of 'gaining mind' and that properly practiced, zazen was never done to attain any sort of result. The problem with the Wilberian approach is to take beautiful truthful elements piece meal from spiritual practices meant to emancipate us from gaining mind, and turns all these elements into a crusade fuelled by gaining mind--to turn oneself into a highly evolved person--according to KW's current specifications.
This hits the heart of the matter. If you want something, you have a problem. Dae Soen Sa Nim used to say that enlightenment is easy to get, difficult to keep. That is, anyone can put time and effort into a meditation practice and get an experience of clear, before-thinking mind. But in the next moment, we may try to capture the experience with concepts, as a way of getting or holding something for ourselves. Clarity isn't a thing that we can get; it's the direction of putting down our ideas over and over, and returning to questioning, to before-thinking.

The medicine to cure a gaining mind is to attend 100% to this moment, trying to act with clarity and compassion in the situation right in front of us. The desire to turn oneself into a highly-evolved person is just more I/my/me thinking. If Wilber is inspiring people to adopt this gaining mind, that's a big big mistake.


stuartresnick said...

The links that a Commenter posted regarding Ken Wilber "Integral" discussion inspired me to check out the blog "Dashh: A Day In The Integral Life" and leave this comment:

It might help to take a moment to return to basics. What is Truth? Truth is appearing in front of us in this very moment. It's prior to words and ideas. Right now, what do you see? What do you hear? What are you doing?

Wilber has done some meditation, practiced some Zen, and had some especially clear experiences of the mind that simply reflects just-now. Then he created all these ideas, these maps, this Theory of Everything. These ideas may be entertaining and of academic interest, but they're entirely different from Zen and other meditation traditions that stress the direct experience of just-now.

Clinging to Wilber's maps isn't compatible with the practice of returning to the Truth of this moment. Thus the conflicts that are expressed in the Integral world.

The resolution can come from throwing away all the ideas, the AQAL etc etc, and returning to clear, before-thinking mind. Look up at the sky and see blue; look at a tree and see green; eat an orange and taste the sweetness; meet a friend and say, "Hi, how are you?" Maps, theories, and ideas will never, ever substitute for the pure clarity of experience.

Peggy Burgess said...

The map is not the territory as they say, still a map can be helpful as long as you don't mistake it for the territory. It seems to me that Wilber perhaps,pushes the edge of believing he has gone to the far shore when he hasn't really been there. so it's all guesswork and opinion dressed up as very important research. It seems the whole integral thing is about influencing things heavily, trying to take an authoritative fist in spritual evolution. Ha Ha!!!!

Anonymous said...

Take a look at an earlier book of Wilber's entitled One Taste.

It purports to be from his journals, but IMO seems more a glamorization of KW's life.

To me, reading One Taste was like reading Vanity Fair or Hello! magazine'

Though supposedly based on diaries, One Taste is quite a different book from (say) the classic diaries of Samuel Pepys (17th century) and James Boswell (18th century), neither of whom intended to publish their writings.

Pepys and Boswell were not the only diarists of their times, many kept journals. But the journals kept by Boswell and Pepys have become cherished by both historians and lovers of history and literature because these two diarists presented themselves warts and all. And both left a record of the times they lived in and persons they knew--warts and all.

Pepys and Boswell describe how they worked late at the office, got yelled at when they returned home, both mention office politics, parties, political and literary squabbles. They both shamefacedly describe how they'd been unfaithful to their wives--and how they could not stop themselves from repeating this.

But..if you take a look at Wilber's One Taste, it is quite a different journal. Unlike Pepys and Boswell's journals, the One Taste collection seems to be PR and to me it made it odd impression. Wilber describes all these friends and associates giving 'brilliant' talkes, 'expressing 'scathing' opinions. Even in this early book, Wilber inveigh's against what is to become his favorite bugbear/straw man 'boomeritis'/narcissism.

Boswell described the ordinary parts of their lives long with the fascinating stuff and they give zestful attention to the non famous people they met, not just the famous ones. It isnt all brilliance and glamor.

Wilber makes it seem spiritual practice is a matter of associating with a celebrity circuit, making friends with spiritual celebrities and 'beautiful people in a spiritual equivalint of the A list party circuit.

Its all very glamorous, very exciting.

Soto Zen is about cultivating ordinary mind, not extraordinary states. Maybe Wilber prefers Rinzai Zen, which has more an emphasis on special states of mind.

Soto grinds any notion of celebrity into the dust. And it doenst do so using dramatic means. You just live like a farmer and keep farmer's hours, and follow a routine, as part of a team. In Soto, when you become head monk (an honor) you also, automatically get the job of cleaning the toilets. In the old days,that meant custody of the latrines.

Wilberian Integral doesnt have that kind of earthiness.

A youngster would get a message of 'God, I wanna be this way when I grow up, and if I do spiritual practice, maybe I can hope to live like this when I grow up.'

And, you are given things to disapprove of and crusade against.

Instead of real Buddhism's message that anger and crusade mentality are afflictive emotions and must be investigated, in the Wilberian scene, you get a license to sneak anger into your spiritual practice, as long as you direct that anger against the matters Wilber has disapproved of--namely boomeritis.

You come to share Wilber's antagonisms, and that's the first step to hoping you can become evolved as he is.

Instead, you risk becoming a foot soldier in whatever battles he gets himself into.

All this is just a personal hunch.

At least the vast majority of those ho are avid Raiders fans know it is only a football team. They dont equate thier partisan emotions with Dharma practice.

stuartresnick said...

Thanks for the comments above, which I very much relate to.

The Korean-style Zen I practice is different from the Soto or Rinzai Japanese style. Although it uses koans, it's like anony's description of Soto in that the focus is always on keeping a clear and compassionate mind moment to moment, rather than the fireworks of special experiences.

When I did my first week-long retreat, I did get a mind-state that stunned and amazed me. But the various Masters in the school that I discussed it with were very clear that special experiences come and go, and any sort of clinging to them is a big mistake.

While I value independence in my practice... I'm glad that I had these teachers to remind me that ordinary, everyday mind is the Way. It seems that Wilber didn't get such help, or didn't listen to it.

Peggy Burgess said...

would not say that Ken Wilber is into special or high states. i think he is into intellectual categorizing, which has it's limits. maybe he is trying to cling to states by inventing more ways to categorize them. but it's very hard to be mindful of all this stuff and to not just use it as another veil between you and reality. Also I found that some of his favorite points of view are not well thought out, like the whole boomeritis and american buddhist criticisms. He seems inarticulate when it comes to really making any other point other then the fact that some things just bug him.