Monday, December 24, 2007

More on Ken Wilber

Back in June I posted some thoughts on author/philosopher Ken Wilber. Today I found myself at Wilber Watch, a blog dedicated to an open-minded assessment of his work. I'd surfed there from Integral World, where a new posting What Good is Half a Wing? critiques Wilber's views on evolution.

From my tiny exposure to Wilber's work, here's the issue as I see it. Wilber tries to integrate the world-views of science and religion. In the process, he attacks the view that evolution is driven by random mutations. He equates "randomness" with a claim that our existence happens by accident. He mocks this view in his blog with statements like:

Also, as you point out, referring to random chance really means "I have no idea what is going one here"--and that is really what, in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, I call the "philosophy of oops," as you rightly note. This is a huge hole in the mere chance and selection argument.

In the same post, Wilber offers as "the alternative" his view that the evolution of our world must be driven by a force which he calls "Eros."

I say: originally, there's no spiritual and no material, only our just-now experience, beyond words and thoughts. We create distinctions like spiritual/material or scientific/religious with our thinking, and then can struggle forever to integrate or balance the two. But if we put down the thinking that creates the split, then the sky is blue, sugar is sweet, and a dog goes "woof!"

After reading and pondering this debate, I added this comment to the newest posting on Wilber Watch:


I've just read the posting that anony commenter #3 points to. In it, Wilber writes:

... my point lies in a different direction, which is what these critics miss: the necessity of a self-organizing force (or Eros) intrinsic to the universe.

Is Wilber saying anything here? Or is he just playing with words? That is: "self-organizing force intrinsic to the universe" means that there's something that causes this experience we're having. That has no meaning unless we examine what that "something" is. Do we know?

Metaphorically: if you're drinking water, it doesn't matter whether you call it "water" or "aqua" or "H-two-O." Those are just different names that don't touch its nature. What is "Eros" other than a name?

Scientists will say that this "something" is "randomness." That's a name meaning we don't know the first cause. A true mystic will say exactly the same thing, that the fundamental cause is a complete mystery. If the mystic calls it "God" and the scientist calls it "randomness," that's no real difference.

For Wilber to call it "Eros" makes no difference either... except that he claims that "Eros" is something he does understand. He has ideas, his "theory of everything," that he claims does capture the fundamental cause with his thinking.

So that's the real point. Do we believe that Wilber's thinking mind has really captured a knowledge or understanding of why there's something rather than nothing? Or is he just too arrogant or too frightened to face the mystery, and instead (like a religious fundamentalist) opts to grasp some speculation and pretend that he knows what he really doesn't?

As Socrates told us long ago, the mark of true wisdom is to understand that you don't know.

Like myself, I believe Wilber has done some serious Zen practice, and for at least one moment, experienced immersion in that unknowable thing. After such an experience, the true direction of the Zen tradition is to recognize that it's not a thing that can be held by thoughts, knowledge, understanding.

Rather, it's something to be recognized fresh in each moment, in this moment, in our just-now experience, before-thinking. And we can also lose it at any moment when we miss that experience in favor of some idea, some "theory" about it. Isn't that what Wilber is making a career out of doing?
Merry Buddha's Enlightenment to all, and a Happy Winter Solstice.

36 comments:

Stephen said...

This is excellent input and if Berkeley was across the Hudson from Manhattan I'd offer you the beverage of your choice. I have almost the same reaction to Ken Wilber's thinking.

My way of saying this is in these lines:

Either to fleeting dust we shall descend
Or to some dreamy future yet be tossed
Redemption is not knowing where we go
And not pretending what we cannot know

I am agnostic regarding the massive penumbra of things we cannot know. I come at it as someone who's absorbed the rants of Nietzsche and the Hitchens-type critiques of the church.

That said, I think Wilber errs considerably is in not taking this Western theological tradition into serious consideration and considering that it would be hard to create a truly integral vision that excluded two billion people.

All he has done so far is to suggest that the mystical contemplative tradition has merit. This says nothing to billions who are not fundamentalist and whi already may intuit universal and integrative reality, but not one that pretends to be comprehensive and links to a highly technical spiritual mode.

I will link to this blog and I hope you will carry this effort on. If you have done any writing on gambling, I would be interested as well and that's a concern of mine too.

Cheers, S

Anonymous said...

Wilber is trying to create a tribe, with himself at center.

He is, IMO essentially an entrepreneur. And he associates with problematic people like Andrew Cohen.

On the World of Ken Wilber forum on lightmind someone wrote

Quote:
When you demand nothing of the world, nor of God, when you want nothing, seek nothing, expect nothing, then the supreme state will come to you uninvited and unexpected.
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj


Anyone who markets themselves persistently and super-aggressively, running websites, blogs, publishing magazines, constantly networking with other consciousness-entrepreneurs, ever seeking new recruits, or like KW, who go about spray-painting their initials upon every blank wall offered by the world's great spiritual traditions---

That kind of activity would cancel out any flicker of enlightement the person might formerly have had. Its a far cry from 'demanding nothing'.

Empire builders and self promoters of this ilk automatically fall outside of Nisargadatta's definition.

Stuart said...

Many thanks to the two previous commenters. Steven, you're writing from the other side of the country from me (though I'm a product of a Philadelphia-area upbringing). And I believe you're well versed in a Christian tradition that I'm not very familiar with.

So I much enjoy and appreciate how you say:

Either to fleeting dust we shall descend
Or to some dreamy future yet be tossed
Redemption is not knowing where we go
And not pretending what we cannot know


It seems that, coming from a different perspective, you're pointing to the same "don't know" that I encounter when I bring up the Big Question.

Anonymous (commenter #2) quotes Nisargadatta:

When you demand nothing of the world, nor of God, when you want nothing, seek nothing, expect nothing, then the supreme state will come to you uninvited and unexpected.

I'm right with Nis for the first part of that quote. When we demand, seek, and expect, when we cultivate the mind that wants to "get something," we sow the seeds of suffering. The medicine is to find our clear, compassionate mind, seeing the world just as it is, along with the question, "How can I help all beings?"

I'm not so sure about the end of this Nis' quote, though. It's easy for this statement -- "the supreme state will come to you" -- to promote a gaining mind. But why speak of gaining something? The experience of this moment is Truth; it's everything and all we've got.

If we imagine some different, more "supreme" state that may or may not "come to" us... that's just thinking. Whatever state has appeared just-now is already complete.

Anonymous said...

Quote:
Scientists will say that this "something" is "randomness." That's a name meaning we don't know the first cause. A true mystic will say exactly the same thing, that the fundamental cause is a complete mystery. If the mystic calls it "God" and the scientist calls it "randomness," that's no real difference.

* * *

Randomness (or any other ultimate explanation) could be called a placeholder for 'don't know', but it's certainly not equivalent to 'don't know' and is in no way agnostic. An espouser of randomity is a believer who is convinced that things came about by accident pure and simple, with no true mystery, no mysterious force, no intelligence and no purpose involved. A person may well refer to 'God' as first cause without any clue as to what that really means - except that something quite different is involved than mere accident. Though our words can not alter the reality of a situation - they codify and signal an enormous difference in how we orient ourselves towards it.

Stuart said...

Anony wrote:
An espouser of randomity is a believer who is convinced that things came about by accident pure and simple, with no true mystery

Could you clarify what you mean by "accident"? I've seen Wilber use that word in this context. I've heard many Theists say things like "The universe didn't happen by accident." But I'm not sure what precise meaning is intended.

I sometimes use the word random. It'd be in contexts like, "When you throw dice at a craps table, the results are random." The meaning is: no one knows what numbers will come up on the next roll.

Maybe someday there'll be an amazing machine that'd analyze all the physics behind dice-throwing, such that you'd push some buttons and it'll tell you to bet on snake-eyes. When that happens, then craps will no longer be a random game. Till then, it is random.

I don't understand why, for instance, you'd use the word "accident" as if it were equivalent. I'd use the word "accident" if I get a result different from what I intended. Like I meant to pour water into a glass, but I accidentally missed the glass and it went all over the floor.

At the heart of existence are events that are "random," meaning we don't know their cause, we don't know "why," so we can't predict them with any certainty. What's the intention when you change "random" into "accident"?

Stephen said...

When you throw dice, the results are not exactly random. They are based on immutable odds, which is why casino's flourish.

Also, there is nothing outside the roll -- including most pertinently one's own mental processes -- that affects the results.

Often if the result is good, I will attribute it to my prescience or to positive fate, but I think the fecundity of the human mind is the culprit. When the result is bad or not particularly good or bad, we allow it to pass or attribute it (wrongly) to exterior forces. We spin God and fate from inside, which to me means that if God exists God is part of us, not something outside or above.

I don't think horizontal and vertical charts can change that.

Anonymous said...

Quote:
Could you clarify what you mean by "accident"?

Ah, good idea. The word 'accident' in this context is somewhat different than the word used to signify a goof up, the unintended results while executing an intention. Here it's used pretty much as a synomym for 'random', signifying an action that neither executes any intent nor is affected by any other outside determinant. Stephen has addressed this pretty well already. A person espousing randomity says he can't predict the outcome in any instance, but he maintains he knows why that outcome is unknowable and it's not a mystery to him. He's saying he positively 'knows' there's no determining 'reason' for the single phenomemon, that it occurs in the absence of both outside determination and anything remotely 'mysterious'. He further maintains that there remains nothing more to be known or said on the subject in principle. Mystery solved; there is no mystery, nothing 'unknown' of any importance left. It was precisely this sort of conviction that led Einstein to make his famous objection to Quantum theory. Although no instance can be predicted, collections of instances can be predicted statistically, according to probability. This fact gives the espouser of randomity all the predictive capacity (aka, 'knowing') he requires in any practical way. He knows all he needs to know - and as for the rest, considers it a metaphysical question that he's already dealt with and retired. Unlike someone who might default to 'God' as the ultimate reason for things which he cannot understand, the believer in randomity does not believe there is any such thing as a real ultimate reason he does not understand.

I hope that helps clarify the idea a bit.

Stephen said...

Not to go way off topic, but because I much appreciate the interplay, this discussion has me wanting to zap all the talk about horizontal and vertical -- KW lingo and also in theology immanent and transcendent.

I think we're essentially moving toward a notion (for me anyway) of the mind itself being where what we call immanence and trancendence take place. This way one can have a sense of the divine (whatever that is) without it meing a metaphysical proposition. And, redemptively, without having to build up an unprovable superstructure beyond what we can see and touch and experiment with. Does this make sense?

PS: I suppose one could say KW's grids are all internal, but most certainly theology (Western Brand) has not held that view. Point being, it could.

Steven Sashen said...

I think Ken does something similar to many neo-Advaita teachers, and that's what I call "Offering a little something with your nothing."

In the Advaita world, this is done by saying things like "You are already enlightened," or "There is no YOU to become enlightened," or "There's nothing to do other than drop the idea that there's something to do."

You've pointed out how KW does something similar.

To say, "there's nowhere to go" and then present any sort of path, or to say, "it's beyond words" and then give any sort of label seem, ultimately, little more than a sales pitch.

Because, they each generate in the listener the sense that the teacher knows/understands/has something that the listener doesn't.

And there's no experience that the listener does or even CAN have that truly match the teachers words, because those words are more poetic and metaphoric than descriptive.

And then, thanks to our 100,000 years of cognitive evolution which effortlessly puts us on a mission to seek what we think we want (or what we think will make us happy in an imagined future), we find ourselves coming back to satsang, trying to master KW's complex cosmology, or, sometimes, sitting on our butts watching our breathing when we may be more happy watching the first season of Arrested Development on DVD.

Martin Gifford said...

Stuart wrote: "As Socrates told us long ago, the mark of true wisdom is to understand that you don't know."

Yes, we do not know and can never know because knowledge requires omniscience which human beings lack.

A charitable view of Wilbur is that he is advancing human evolution by creating tools for evaluating goals, methods, experiences, and concepts.

And in my expierience his writing can even trigger mild psychedelic experiences. But Wilburites mistake those experiences for enlightenment.

However, his ideas are so convoluted that it's not very useful as a tool. It becomes a insiders' intellectual wank.

I disagreed with Wilbur's assumption that humankind's worldviews are evolutionary steps. I said past worldviews are only the pointless consequences of ignorant survival-level thinking. For that I got thrown off the site!

Stephen said...

The 2007 Jessica Yu documentary Protagonist is an excellent footnote to this discussion. It deals with the quest for certainty and attendant problems. If you have Netflix you can watch it online.

Best, S

Stuart said...

Stephen said...
I think we're essentially moving toward a notion (for me anyway) of the mind itself being where what we call immanence and trancendence take place.

There's the experience of just-now, which is beyond words and ideas, but which we each perceive for ourselves. When thinking appears, it creates all the dualities: immanence and trancendence, spiritual and mundane, divine and material, good and bad, interior and exterior, and all the rest.

Isn't this in harmony with Stephen's statement above re "the mind itself..."?

This way one can have a sense of the divine (whatever that is) without it meing a metaphysical proposition. And, redemptively, without having to build up an unprovable superstructure beyond what we can see and touch and experiment with.

The pure and clear thing has a zillion names (e.g. "Just-now" or "Divine" or "Truth" etc etc). The experience itself is before all names, all words, all ideas. Whatever we add to it with our thinking is only a metaphysical proposition, an unprovable superstructure.

When Zen Master Joju was asked for the meaning of Zen (equivalent to asking What is God, Truth, or Mind?) he famously answered, "The cypress tree in the garden." He was pointing that which he could see and touch and experiment with in that moment. It was his way of cutting through all thinking, ideas, speculations.

(And thanks for mentioning the documentary "Protagonist," Stephen. It's a new one for me; I've added it to my Netflix list and will report on it after I watch.)

Steven Sashen said...
I think Ken does something similar to many neo-Advaita teachers, and that's what I call "Offering a little something with your nothing."

In following a teacher or teaching, we may get attracted by pointers like "everything is already Truth"... but then also swallow whatever dualistic ideas get thrown on top of it.

Guru Adi Da (whose group I've visited) is notable, since in the 80s Wilber swallowed Da's dogma whole, urging all his readers and students to "confess the Realization that Master Da is."

Da's teaching always begins by pointing to our experience of this moment as "always, already" being Truth. Then, by some strange hocus pocus, Da buries that clarity in a mountain of ideas about Himself having a special, higher status as Avatar or whatever.

Many of the "advaita" teachers do include in their teaching some decent pointers to "this moment is already Truth." Then they obscure it with ideas about a special "awakening" experience that some have but others don't.

(When the alarm clock goes off in the morning, you can see and hear and touch etc; you can take a shower and know if it's cold; you can taste your coffee and know if it's hot. That "awakening" is already enough.)

they each generate in the listener the sense that the teacher knows/understands/has something that the listener doesn't.

The words and ideas of teachers don't automatically generate beliefs in the listener. We always have some choice in how we keep our thinking just now. Do we hold and cultivate the idea that we need to know, understand, or get something special in order to be complete?

There are so many different teachers and teachings in the marketplace of ideas. When we ourselves, consciously or otherwise, choose how we look at the world, we can always find some teacher to reinforce what we want to think.

we find ourselves coming back to satsang, trying to master KW's complex cosmology, or, sometimes, sitting on our butts watching our breathing when we may be more happy watching the first season of Arrested Development on DVD.

Not that there's anything wrong with attending satsangs, mastering cosmologies, or sitting on butts. And God knows I'm in favor of watching Arrested Development.

Whichever thing we happen to do, there's always the question of intention: "Why do that?" The default life-direction may be to seek happiness for ourselves... and that too can be questioned, since we don't even know what this "self" is!

All things are already Truth... and when we're hungry we eat, when we're tired we sleep. How do we deal with whatever suffering appears moment to moment? Buddhist teaching is: If our direction is to get something for ourselves, it creates suffering. If our direction is to perceive clearly and respond compassionately ("How can I help?"), it removes suffering.

Martin Gifford said...
in my expierience his writing can even trigger mild psychedelic experiences. But Wilburites mistake those experiences for enlightenment.

Lots of folks, including me, get enraptured for a while by these special "wow" experiences. The hippies of the 60s were the same way: LSD trips are fascinating and worthwhile, but why not perceive Truth in ordinary, everyday life also?

Truth is whatever we perceive, whatever we're doing, in this moment: Look at the sky and see blue; look at the tree and see green; eat an orange and taste sweetness; meet a dog and hear "woof"; talk to a friend and ask "How are you today?"

[Wilber's] ideas are so convoluted that it's not very useful as a tool. It becomes a insiders' intellectual wank.

I'll admit a personal, karmic aversion to convoluted theorizing (I quit college philosophy after one year to pursue experiences that weren't so strictly intellectual).

For people who enjoy the theorizing, it may be OK, depending on the intention. For me, my reaction is similar to Martin's feeling that it's an "insiders' intellectual wank."

I disagreed with Wilbur's assumption that humankind's worldviews are evolutionary steps. I said past worldviews are only the pointless consequences of ignorant survival-level thinking.

Maybe evolution is driven by DNA's agenda, which is solely about survival. But must our true self buy into DNA's agenda? Isn't there a clarity that appears only when we put down this relentless drive to preserve the "I"?

Stephen said...

The name net widens with the addition of Franklin Jones (aka Adi Da aka aka)... I read him much more deeply than Wilber several decades ago and was highly impressed by a single concept which is similar to the concept we seem to be coalescing around -- ignorance. The liberation of not needing to theorize and so forth.

Unfortunately it soon became obvious that, Da Free John (as he was known then) was inclined to play messianic games. I had done a sort of theological-journalistic book on Jim Jones (irony, the similar names) and found through Bay Area contacts that Adi Da was seen as being in somewhat the same ballpark abuse-wise.

Experience with both Joneses led to the conclusion that messianism itself is one of the major reasons for the failure of Christianity to accomplish what Jesus appeared to be teaching -- nonviolence, etc.

There is a developing messianic tone to the entire integral project and it is Web-driven.

I think the temptation of new messiahs is to think they can do it better. In Wilber's case, he is plying the track of academic respectability. But, interestingly, he is being vetted by discourse online and this may actually help whatever is worthy in the integral outlook to be liberated from its identity with messianic impulses and corporate entities. Isn't integral what we used to call universalism?

Best. S

Martin Gifford said...

Stuart wrote: "Isn't there a clarity that appears only when we put down this relentless drive to preserve the "I"?"

But isn't there more to life than that?

This is the question that Wilber and Andrew Cohen claim to be interested in.

What happens after "enlightenment"?

Advaitans just say to go on with your ordinary life. I think they interpret their "realisation" to mean there's no doer or whatever.

It doesn't satisfy me.

Surely enlightenment should mean a drastic change of lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

All the stuff Wilber and his buddies produce is driven by what Zen terms 'gaining mind.'

And that is why it is futile in the end.

For whatever reason, KW IMO seems driven, driven driven. He seems driven to gain mastery and that craving is insatiable.

So his output will appeal to anyone who, unconsciously, craves to gain a sense of mastery.

I tried looking at One Taste. The book made it seem that spirituality is a big A list party, lots of delicious bitchy gossip. Time and again, KW refers to various friends of his whose opinions and work are 'scathing' and 'brilliant.'

You get the feeling of joining an in crowd if you get involved with KW's stuff--an illusion that you've been let in past the velvet rope and given entry into an exclusive club.

Lots of us feel lonely as hell and anyone who can generate a feeling of craving-for-masteru coupled with a feeling of having found and joined an elite club of Highly Evolved or Rapidly Evolving People--something creating that sort of impact will have a powerful appeal.

But..this is all just craving and entanglement, gussied up to look like fulfillment. It looks like spiritual practice but is an addiction instead--what a previous commenter termed a 'wank.'

Just note how often KW upgrades his system. Its like Microsoft. You can never catch up, because new complexities are constantly being added. It generates a constant rat race of trying to keep up.

It is impossible to settle one's mind and body and gain equanimity if someone is constantly changing their Grand System, causing their devotees to keep panting to keep up with it. And constantly throwing hissy fits like the Wyatt Earpy tirade that caused months of discussion about whether KW intended this as a test or was just having a bad hair day.

Genuine spiritual practices and teachers dont foster such a climate of whim and turbulence.

When not tampered with, Zen offers the same basic tools of practice, and the only thing you find changing are your own inner states--not the tools of practice.

You are given the opportunity to get bored and stay bored.

Stuart said...

Stephen said...
messianism itself is one of the major reasons for the failure of Christianity to accomplish what Jesus appeared to be teaching -- nonviolence, etc.

Jesus taught about loving, helping and forgiving all people. We can embrace his teaching by acting according to those principles. Whenever we fall short, we can just keep on trying in each new moment.

I think the "failure of Christianity" is that some people neglect to practice love and forgiveness themselves, but instead focus on worshipping Jesus as an icon. By putting Jesus on a pedestal so far above us, we create a distance between our ordinary life and Jesus’ teaching. We may treat “love and forgiveness” as things to worship from afar, rather than a direction for our lives right now.

This does seem similar to Adi Da and many similar groups. A few people look at what the teacher is pointing to and try to live it themselves. While others worship the guru as someone separate, higher, different than us. The "center" becomes some idea about the guru, rather than our own moment to moment lives.

Martin Gifford said...
But isn't there more to life than that?

All I've got is this moment: sitting at a laptop typing a blog comment. If I want something more or different, I could of course imagine all sorts of memories, fantasies, hopes, beliefs, etc. But I choose to attend to just-now, moreso than following the dreams of thinking.

What happens after "enlightenment"?

I'd be more inclined to look into what's happening right now. We could imagine all sorts of future scenarios, but why? We could cultivate all sorts of ideas about "enlightened" and "unenlightened," but why?

It doesn't satisfy me.

Dissatisfaction is always rooted in the thought "I want something." Typically, we put time and effort into chasing the things that we want. But getting what we want offers only brief satisfaction. Even people who win the lottery are only happier for a few months.

Eventually, we look into other options. We can examine what this "I" is that wants something. We can meticulously watch "I want something" till it's recognized as a thought that appears and disappears like a cloud. We can turn our attention to this moment, and to helping others, rather than wanting to get something for ourselves.

Surely enlightenment should mean a drastic change of lifestyle.

If you want to make a drastic lifestyle change, you can just do it any time. I don't think it requires holding ideas about enlightenment. Generally, though, looking into our own thinking is more powerful than changing outer lifestyle.

Anonymous said...
When not tampered with, Zen offers the same basic tools of practice, and the only thing you find changing are your own inner states--not the tools of practice.

You are given the opportunity to get bored and stay bored.


I resonate with this whole post from Anony. Ideas and theories about practice can be endlessly fascinating, but the real effect comes from doing it. I recall my first Zen retreat: actually doing the practice had so very little to do with all the ideas and theories I'd heard about it.

Doing the practice means sitting with whatever appears: happiness, sadness, satisfaction, frustration. And most definitely boredom. It's boring because there's nothing to do but stare at the floor (in Japanese-style, they stare at a wall, but in my Korean-style, it's the floor).

That simple, boring, unchanging floor is a great teacher. Whenever the floor gets fuzzy, I know it's not really the floor, but my thinking that's fuzzy. That simple, unchanging, boring backdrop is vital: it's what makes it possible to most clearly perceive each mind movement for what it is. Thinking appears and creates one universe after another… then inevitably disappears, returning to just sitting, seeing the floor, breathing in, breathing out.

Martin Gifford said...

Stuart wrote: “I choose to attend to just-now, moreso than following the dreams of thinking.”

I’m glad the Beatles didn’t do that.

Stuart wrote: “We could cultivate all sorts of ideas about "enlightened" and "unenlightened," but why?”

Agreed. If people don’t say enlightenment means X (the usual mundane living), I won’t say it means Y (dynamic creative living).

Stuart wrote: “We can turn our attention to this moment, and to helping others, rather than wanting to get something for ourselves.”

What if we helped everyone? What if God struck us all wise and no longer in need of further help? There is an alternative to “wanting to get something for ourselves”. It’s Creative Living!

Stuart wrote: “If you want to make a drastic lifestyle change, you can just do it any time. I don't think it requires holding ideas about enlightenment.”

Agreed. But my point (in response to the view that post-enlightenment living is similar to pre-enlightenment living) was that enlightenment should mean dynamic creative living. It should be a revolution: moving from sleep to wakefulness, and from delusion to liberation are big changes!

We are intelligent aspects of life with an infinite number of potentials. Without the blocks of illusion, those potentials should manifest freely.

Those who maintain there's no doer and all the other rationalisations are interpreting their so-called enlightenment with their limited mind.

Stuart said...

Stuart said:
We could cultivate all sorts of ideas about "enlightened" and "unenlightened," but why?

Martin Gifford said...
Agreed. If people don’t say enlightenment means X (the usual mundane living), I won’t say it means Y (dynamic creative living).

What's been written by me or commenters that you've interpretted as "enlightenment means (the usual mundane living)"? Who's made such a statement anywhere?

David said...

Hi Stuart,

Thanks for your interesting post. It's a great subject. As a fan of Ken Wilber, I'm going to take another perspective on this.

For one thing, I think we have to get clear on the two truths doctrine of Buddhism. From the Wikipedia article on the subject:

“The Two Truths Doctrine in Buddhism differentiates between two levels of truth in Buddhist discourse, a "relative", or commonsense truth, and an "ultimate" or absolute spiritual truth. Stated differently, the two truths doctrine holds that truth exists in conventional and ultimate forms, and that both forms are co-existent.”

When we say things like this:

"But if we put down the thinking that creates the split, then the sky is blue, sugar is sweet, and a dog goes 'woof!'"

We are, of course, giving the absolute truth. But the absolute truth is never a good answer for a relative question. When Ken talks about Eros, he is trying to answer a relative question: What makes the world go round, evolve, etc.? "Not two" would be the absolute truth, but it would not be a good answer to the relative question.

So, Ken does spend a good bit of time on the absolute truth of things, but most of his work is on the relative side of the street, the other half of the two truths doctrine. So, from a Buddhist perspective, we might place his work in the context of the 4 or 8 noble truths--undertanding the relative world and right action in it.

When the Buddha and Nagarjuna were around, they believed time was basically cyclical. They didn't really understand evolution. But now many people are understanding that the world evolves, and, more importantly, the world evolves towards greater complexity and integration. This is an amazing thing, but true if we take a look at it.

Anywhere we look, evolution has gone from atoms, to molecules, to ogranisms. Never anyone has there been an excecptin. Always it has proceeded in this way. There are many examples of this. Look at that way our modes of transportation have evolved: from swimming, to rafts or dugout canoes, to sailboats, to steamships, to deisel ships, to nuclear-powered ships. Never has there been a variation in that order. Never, of course, did a society begin with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Increasing complexity and integration.

People have gone from walking, to riding horses, to riding horse drawn carriages, to coal-powered trains, to cars, to propeller airplanes, to jet airplanes, to rocket-powered space shapes. Increasing complexity and integration.

Individuals all pass through similar stages: pre-ration, rational, post rational. No one learns to rationalize first; no one is born rational; everyone is born pre-rational, then learns reason (hopefully), and then some more of on to post-rational. This is all on the relative side of the street of course.

Cultures pass through the same stages. No culture ever started rational. Every culture started at prerational, went to rational (maybe), and now many some are post rational. Increasing complexity and integration. We can see the same thing if we look at the development or evolution of any facet of life.

Look at Europe: it went from cave dwellers, to warring tribes, to feudal nations, to nations, now we see the beginnings of the European Union--increasing complexity and integration everywhere we look, notwithstanding a little disintegration and decadence here and there.

So, Ken Wilber wants to come up with a theory, a way of understanding the relative world, that reflects this insight of increasing complexity and integration: thus Eros. Random mutation is not a very good explanation once we see the pattern of increasing complexity and integration. Eros and AQAL don't answer all the questions; Ken doesn't say they do, but he's trying to improve our understanding a little bit, improve our theory of the world and evolution a little bit, and I think he does.

Why is this important for, say, a Zen practitioner? How do we know what is right action? How do we know what is compassionate? We can only know if we consider evolution, and we only understand evolution if we understand increasingly complexity and integration. So, will this action further evolution? Will it help someone or something integrate more with life, evolve? Will it help the child move from first grade to second, from second to third? Adults can continue to evolve like that, even though we're out of school, mostly: increasing complexity and integration--that's the shorthand for it, but it means more than that: greater love, flowering, happiness, compassion, etc.

So, if we aren't cognizant of Eros, the grain of the universe, we won't know what's compassionate. Of course Buddhists have been basically cognizant of evolution and increasing complexity all along, but now we're becoming more aware and conscious of it, especially with Wilber's work. So we can just be better boddhisatvas with this, knowing better how evolution unfolds. We can better know what's of value with our boddhistava work. It doesn't add much to the absolute truth; the old teachings are pretty good with that already.

You make a great point about the default life direction people have--if they don't take up the compassion part; they are most likely just doing the usual cultural thing about chasing after money and sex and comfort. There's something similar with Eros--the default worldview can sometimes be nihilistic, or materialistic, narcisistic. Eros/AQAL as a worldview highlights the value of evolution--the evolution of political systems, care for the environment, people, etc. It puts the evolution of these things right up front. So, a big part of our compassion--not necessarily all of it--will go towards these things: helping people and systems learn, evolve, etc.

Hope that was clear,

All the best,

David

David said...

Hi Stuart,

Also, Ken responded to the "What Good is Half a Wing?" critique in a blog post:

http://www.kenwilber.com/blog/post/390?page=6

Best,

David

hard at work in the lab said...

I am critical of Wilber, but for very different reasons. I don't have a problem with him analyzing and dividing etc. After all, he is writing a critique of scientific process--to criticize something you have to stand apart from it. Sure, critique might create all sorts of boundaries and divisions etc. that do not exist at an absolute level since they are just concepts, but at a relative level, having a map that does draw boundaries can be useful for relative purposes. I'd even go so far as to say that we could live in a better relative world if more people employed more discernment, discretion, and other forms of dualistic thinking.

I tend to think that much of Wilber's criticism of science as it stands today is valid, to the extent that he's pointed out that the scientific method relies on a "monological" process that eschews any subjectivity. At the same time, his ranting about the evolution of the cosmos, probably cribbed from Andrew Cohen's notes, is just so much more narcissitics boomer "spiritual" fodder. Which is fine. maybe after a lifetime of doing things like voting for Ronald Reagan and living in exurban developments the boomers need to do some navel-gazing. And if the Wilbernator wants to found a cult along these lines, that's fine too. I believe that marketing that "Intergral" schtick, much of which I consider to be inadvertantly misleading (and I hope people fascinated by it stop shelling out debt-notes for this 21st Century Scientology) isn't the most compassionate choice, but hey, it could be worse.

"When thinking appears, it creates all the dualities: immanence and trancendence, spiritual and mundane, divine and material, good and bad, interior and exterior, and all the rest."

How is thinking, which is just like the sensations of the alarm clock, shower, etc., any different from those sensations? Both arise out of conditions, are not self, and pass away, just like sensations.

Stuart said...

Hi, David, I’m happy you posted here. As a fan of Ken Wilber, you offer a different perspective, widening the scope of discussion.

David said...
“The Two Truths Doctrine in Buddhism differentiates between two levels of truth in Buddhist discourse, a "relative", or commonsense truth, and an "ultimate" or absolute spiritual truth.

Using our thinking, we can make all sorts of opposites: Spiritual vs Mundane, Subject vs Object, Relative vs Absolute, and so on. But why make these dualities? Rather than speaking of two truths, I'd say we have our experience, and then lots of different ways we can choose to think about it.

What are you doing right now? Is it relative or absolute? What’s the point of overlaying experience with a Relative/Absolute duality? (I'm not claiming that there's never any usefulness to that sort of dualistic thinking; I am saying that I fail to see what it is.)

When we say things like this: "But if we put down the thinking that creates the split, then the sky is blue, sugar is sweet, and a dog goes 'woof!'" We are, of course, giving the absolute truth.

That Zen-style sentence (“…the sky is blue…” etc) isn’t intended to promote ideas about absolute truth. It’s a pointer to our before-thinking experience. Before thinking, there aren’t any ideas (e.g. relative, absolute, truth, emptiness, etc).

from a Buddhist perspective, we might place his work in the context of the 4 or 8 noble truths--understanding the relative world and right action in it.

The Buddhist perspective is that all things are temporary, appearing and disappearing, changing non-stop. This thing called “I” is itself a temporary cluster of thinking. Clinging to anything (“I want something”) is the cause of suffering.

As a direction for right action, we take the question “How can I help all beings?” and look for the correct way to do so in each moment. The starting point is the just-now experience, rather than idea that we bring to it.

I’ve spent a number of hours reading Wilber, and enjoyed some if his ideas about how the world is constructed and how different philosophies fit together. But what is there in Wilber that adds to the life-direction outlined above?

Ken Wilber wants to come up with a theory, a way of understanding the relative world, that reflects this insight of increasing complexity and integration: thus Eros. Random mutation is not a very good explanation once we see the pattern of increasing complexity and integration.

It’s a straw man to suggest that random mutations explain complexity. What explains complexity is the randomness of procreation (we never know exactly which characteristics will pass to offspring) along with the non-randomness that determines if these offspring live long enough to procreate. I believe it was Dawkins who summarized it as “Life results from the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators.”

The beauty of this “natural selection” explanation is that it’s so simple to explain and understand, and that it shows how increasing complexity can arise out of simplicity. Unlike Creationist ideas, it doesn't require an intelligence or intention to drive the process.

What has Wilber offered that improves on Natural Selection? What is “Eros” except another word for “randomness” or “we don’t know”?

So, if we aren't cognizant of Eros, the grain of the universe, we won't know what's compassionate.

“Compassionate” means to see through the dream of “I/my/me,” so we don’t create the wall between ourselves and others. When we ourselves are hungry, we eat; so when someone else is hungry, we give them food.

I’m not “cognizant of Eros” in the slightest. How does "Eros" add to the view of “compassion” above?

Eros/AQAL as a worldview highlights the value of evolution--the evolution of political systems, care for the environment, people, etc. It puts the evolution of these things right up front. So, a big part of our compassion--not necessarily all of it--will go towards these things: helping people and systems learn, evolve, etc.

What’s our purpose, why do we live in this world? Doesn’t it all boil down to suffering and the removal of suffering? The medicine that Buddha pointed to is to awaken to a clear perception of this very moment.

When I perceive suffering in myself or others, I’m less likely to look for some way to change, develop, and evolve into something else. I’m more likely to point to a clear acceptance of just now.

Sure, I’m happy that there are people working to, e.g., find new medicines so we can live longer and healthier. But no amount of advancement will fix the problem of suffering at its root. That can only come from awakening to this moment.

In any case: thanks again for stimulating the conversation. I've noticed before that I kind of cringe at the "two truths, absolute and relative" style of understanding, so it's interesting for me to look into it.

Stephen said...

Since the subject of how we might describe the basic force in everything has been mentioned, I want to mention what Albert Schweitzer said: We are life that wills to live midst life that wills to live. Apart from being a doctor in Africa he also was a philosopher and a recognized Biblical scholar. If eros comes from Wilber as a sort of foundational term, I am prompted both to remember this from Schweitzer (the foundation of his teaching of reverence for life) and also to think of Nietzsche's will to power. My personal sense is that we cannot name the foundational energy or reality at all and that the closest we have gotten is in the voice that rose from the burning bush and said I am who I am and I will be who I will be.

I think eros suffers because of its being just one of three Greek terms for love. The others are agape and philia I think. Among the three eros is physical and sensual. Fine, but that definition seems reductionist if applied to the foundational reality.



Cheers, S

Stuart said...

hard at work in the lab said...
How is thinking, which is just like the sensations of the alarm clock, shower, etc., any different from those sensations? Both arise out of conditions, are not self, and pass away, just like sensations.

The difference is significant from the perspective of suffering and the removal of suffering. Sensations themselves are never suffering. It's the thinking, "I don't like this; I want it to be different" that's the root of suffering.

In practice, we watch both sensations and thinking appear and disappear with clear awareness. But when it comes to the issue of suffering, thinking plays a special role. Very often, we can change our thinking much easier than we can change sensations. And changing thinking has a much greater effect on our lives.

If I'm in an airplane and get anxious, and I get sensations like a pounding heart etc, I find I can't do much to change the sensations directly. But by changing my thinking, it has a great medicinal effect on the emotional fear, even before the sensations themselves change.

David said...

Hi Stuart,

"Rather than speaking of two truths, I'd say we have our experience, and then lots of different ways we can choose to think about it."

You sound like Ken Wilber! He says there is the nondual, and then there is the world of perspectives.

"What’s the point of overlaying experience with a Relative/Absolute duality?"

I think the two truths doctrine helps us avoid certain pitfalls. It's not common to find this particular pitfall among Buddhists, more likely to find it in Advaita, but some people will object that we have to be compassionate, offer ourselves for service, etc. They'll say, "What others? What others? You're thinking dualistically!" And then they're off chasing their desires and avoiding their fears. The same thing can happen with time, evolution--"Time doesn't exist." "What evolves?"

Generally, it just keeps people answering relative questions with the absolute truth, which is often kind of a copout answer to a relative question.

" The Buddhist perspective is that all things are temporary, appearing and disappearing, changing non-stop."

This is where some people think Buddhism needs to be updated. What the Buddha and Nagarjuna saw was that time was cyclical--winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall-with no ryhme or reason to the whole thing. So, by all means if that is the case, get off the wheel; that will end suffering.

But things are not only changing, they are evolving--our political systems, our economic systems, our social systems, individually and collectively.

Over time we can see that this evolution has brought about less suffering--woman and minorities, for example, suffer less than they do 100 years ago. Children aren't put in coal mines to work, etc. So, actually what's changing matters--needs attention in a pointed way. That's a big part of compassion, and we will do a better job if we see the evolutionary perspective.

You make a good point about the starting point being the just-now experience, but what sort of understanding do we bring to it? If we don't hold the evolutionary perspective, we might just want to make things nice on the surface, for example, rather than working for deep systemic change and evolution.

In other words, there are many ways to lessen suffering. One is spiritual teachings like Buddhism, but another is helping systems evolve--economic systems, personal systems, political systems, etc. Because evolution can lessen suffering--and deevolution will worsen it--the world of form is more than just maya. It needs to be developed.

Some people will see this and think, "You're just wanting something. This is just another desire." But according to this way of thinking, this is what the dynamic aspect of being is really interested in. We're not putting this interest in evolution on it; it is inherently interested in evolution. After all, according to this view, it is this energy, this impulse, that created the universe. This does run up against some traditional Buddhist philosophies, but many Buddhists are embracing it. Nagarjuna didn't understand evolution, that the world is evolving--he couldn't have. No one did in his day. So it's up to Buddhists now to evolve Buddhism to reflect this new understanding. But of course, not everyone has to believe it just that way--the important thing is to realize we live in an evolving world and that we are evolving along with it. This understanding helps us align better with it.

So it just focuses and clarifies the life direction you outlined; it's not fundamentally different.


What KW thinks that biological evolution can't explain is basically that we went from dirt to Shakespeare--in all cultures. In all cultures, we evolved from rocks to scientists, Buddhists, artists, etc. In KW's words, "That's pretty frisky dirt!" The biological evolutionaries and the New Atheists don't really have a satisfactory answer to that. It's quite amazing that 13.7 billion years ago it was just matter, and then there was life, and then mind, and now art, science, etc. It's just been a great flowering, a great mystery.

So Wilber's view just includes an inherent self-organizing impulse, an inherent intelligence if you will, an evolutionary intelligence, not some God that's outside the process.

The way you explain Dawkins doesn't make it sound terribly different. What Dawkins doesn't seem to include is a directionality in the whole thing. Have you seen this article?

http://www.wie.org/j35/real-evolution-debate-intro.asp

“Compassionate” means to see through the dream of “I/my/me,” so we don’t create the wall between ourselves and others. When we ourselves are hungry, we eat; so when someone else is hungry, we give them food."

That's good, I think, but some people need to step back and evolve the way we produce food, do it more efficiently, more healthfully, improve (evolve) our distribution methods. What you described is like the micro view, which is important of course, the personal dharma, etc., but the macro view is also important.

"When I perceive suffering in myself or others, I’m less likely to look for some way to change, develop, and evolve into something else. I’m more likely to point to a clear acceptance of just now."

I think that's a very important view, but I don't think that it's complete--at the same time, things need to evolve; we need to be willing not only to accept but to work for the sake of evolution. For example, our children need to graduate from one grade to the next, grow bigger, stronger, healthier. Injustices in various systems need to be correctd, etc. We need to do both. If we don't, the less fair-minded people will do those things for us.

Of course you're right about awakening to this moment being what will ultimately uproot suffering, but it will all work better if the world we live in is more evolved. That is, we will have a stronger platform for spiritual practice if the world is more evolved--if the economy is more fairminded, if people don't have to go fight wars, if we don't have to be concerned about safety every time we go outside our apartment, if the food is healthy and uncontaminated, if the air is clean, etc.

I enjoy your comments and your blog.

Best,

David

Stuart said...

David wrote...
You make a good point about the starting point being the just-now experience, but what sort of understanding do we bring to it?

No understanding, only questioning. What am I? How can I help this situation?

there are many ways to lessen suffering. One is spiritual teachings like Buddhism, but another is helping systems evolve--economic systems, personal systems, political systems, etc.

Sure, we need to act in the world of economics, politics, and relationships. This can be done with a deep humility, a recognition that there are limits to our knowledge of what’s best. We don’t need grand ideas about what the world ought to be evolving into.

according to this view, it is this energy, this impulse, that created the universe.

I’ve got no problem in admitting I don't know what created the universe. I like "don't know" better than any philosophical speculation.

What Dawkins doesn't seem to include is a directionality in the whole thing.

We don’t need to "play God" by pretending we know or control the directionality of the whole thing. Each of us has a job -- responding clearly and compassionately to the situation in front of us. I think that's enough.

What you described is like the micro view, which is important of course, the personal dharma, etc., but the macro view is also important.

I write computer code for a living. I always start by creating tiny little steps to accomplish tiny little tasks. Then slowly these little steps start to fit together, from the bottom up, till it becomes something that can solve complex problems.

That’s my model for living. I try to do what I can for the situation right in front of me, the situation I’m most familiar with. I'm don’t like grand visions about what's best for everyone else, for the world, for the universe.

our children need to graduate from one grade to the next, grow bigger, stronger, healthier.

This is a fine metaphor to express how I see it. Say you’ve got a 10 year old, and you naturally want him to grow up well. You could start out with a vision of how he should be at 13. There are plenty of books, plenty of theories of development, that'll tell you what a 13-year-old should be like. And then you could guide the child towards this ideal of the teenager he ought to evolve into.

Here’s a different option. See your child just as he is, right now. That’s only possible if you put down all the books and theories and ideals. Then, based entirely on how he really is, try to help him live happily and wisely and kindly day to day. And 3 years later, the teenager he’ll be will reflect that day to day attention.

gniz said...

Also, we could say that as much as the world/universe is evolving towards complexity, it is also becoming defuse and breaking down.

Eventually everything dies.

To make the conclusion that the entire point of this is to "evolve" is sort of like saying the entire point of a human life is to "get to age 40."

Perhaps the whole point is to die well...

Stuart said...

gniz said...
Also, we could say that as much as the world/universe is evolving towards complexity, it is also becoming defuse and breaking down. Eventually everything dies.

Somewhere on the Integral World site, I recall reading a critic who said that Wilber's work is all about growth & development... but that's only half the story of existence. We also need to look at how everything gets old & decays & falls apart.

It got me thinking about how Wilber's metaphors are always something like a ladder, where people and cultures and everything are always ascending towards more "altitude" (greater complexity and integration). Whereas Buddhist metaphors are always like a circle, everything going around and around, so each moment is as much a "destination" as any other.

Back when, I wrote about this, how all Zen teaching is symbolized in the circle, here (http://home.comcast.net/~sresnick2/circleTalk.htm).

To view existence as if it were all about growth and development... would be like climbing Mt Everest without any thought about how after reaching the peak, you still have to get back down, which is half the journey! It's the half of the journey where most climbing tragedies take place.

Now that I'm middle-aged, that other part of the journey, the part that comes after the peak of development, where you begin the trek back towards emptiness, is of particular interest.

gniz said...

Stuart,

Broken Yogi at www.brokenyogi.blogspot.com made that argument first, i believe.

My apologies for not citing him specifically when i wrote that comment (i was too lazy).

David said...

David: "You make a good point about the starting point being the just-now experience, but what sort of understanding do we bring to it?"{

Stuart: "No understanding, only questioning. What am I? How can I help this situation?"

There is always some level of understanding when someone acts. For example, say a husband is a chronic drinker and drives drunk. One wife thinks it's compassionate not to do anything about it because "it's his life"; the other ultimately decides it would be more compassionate to call the police and get him booked from drunk driving before he kills himself or someone else.

There are different levels of enlightenment: one can have, for example, a pre-rational enlightenment, a rational enlightenment, or a post-rational enlightenment. One can have a selfish enlightenment, a caring enlightenment, or a universally caring enlightenment. These are the kinds of distinctions made in integral, based on observation, evidence, etc.

"We don’t need grand ideas about what the world ought to be evolving into."

Someone needs to think macro and do a little planning. Not everyone has to do it, but some people do. There are also some things that we can say the world should be evolving into, such as, greater fairness, less selfishness, greater compassion.


"I’ve got no problem in admitting I don't know what created the universe. I like "don't know" better than any philosophical speculation."

That's good, but then when we do act we are acting from some sort of philosophical speculation, whether it is a mythical speculation with no evidence to back it up, the materialist speculation with some evidence to back it up, or the integral speculation with the most evidence to back it up. Acting from some sort of speculation is absolutely inevitable whether the person is aware of it or not. Usually people think if they are acting on the speculation that everyone else believes in, they are not really acting on a speculation, but in fact they are. It's just a popular speculation that the culture accepts as "the truth."

"We don’t need to "play God" by pretending we know or control the directionality of the whole thing. Each of us has a job -- responding clearly and compassionately to the situation in front of us. I think that's enough."

Saying the each of us has a job and should respond clearly and compassionately is no less playing God than observing that the universe has directionality and that this might inform our actions.

"Here’s a different option. See your child just as he is, right now. That’s only possible if you put down all the books and theories and ideals. Then, based entirely on how he really is, try to help him live happily and wisely and kindly day to day. And 3 years later, the teenager he’ll be will reflect that day to day attention."


That's a very good perspective and one that is often lacking in our day. However, the wisdom one brings to the situation will depend to some extent on how well a person understands childhood development and adult development. You can buy a dog and give him all the love and attention you possibly can, but I would bet that--given the same amount of love and attention--a proffessional dog trainer with lots of experience would end up with a healthier and happier dog who was also better trained.

"Somewhere on the Integral World site, I recall reading a critic who said that Wilber's work is all about growth & development... but that's only half the story of existence. We also need to look at how everything gets old & decays & falls apart."

It's not accurate to define evolution as equal parts of development and decay because each century so far has seen greater development and integration than the century before. If there were growth and decay in equal parts, we would never have seen any development, but we have seen profound development over the centuries.

Okay, this may sound polemic, but this is the Buddha's own truth: 90% of what is written on Integral World is not written with a sound understanding of Ken Wilber's work. This includes what Frank Visser writes, of course. Ken Wilber and fans of his work don't take that stuff seriously because they see right away that they aren't really understanding his model or its place in the world. Usually they are writing from a relativistic position that objects to a hierarchy of levels or stages.

Buddhist metaphors are great, but usually they refer to what Ken Wilber calls states, not what he calls stages or structures. Those circular metaphors all refer to to the nondual state. Most spiritualists who object to AQAL are missing this differentiation--between states and stages. If you would like to learn about these distinctions, you can see this link:

http://www.wie.org/j33/guru-pandit.asp?page=2

Best,

David

gniz said...

"It's not accurate to define evolution as equal parts of development and decay because each century so far has seen greater development and integration than the century before."

This is a bit simplistic, i think, because you are only looking at human evolution. What about all of the species that have gone exinct? Humans are babies compared to many other species, including some long since gone from the planet.

It seems to me that this kind of evolution you are describing does not want to incorporate the true life cycle of humans, which does eventually end in death--whether its the death of you and me, or the eventual death of the race, the planet, and the universe.

I dont say it to be grim, i say it because it seems to be a natural part of life.

Stephen said...

As I read this interesting and nicely civil interplay, I tend to think alongside, not being that interested in going with the whole Wilber program and being reasonably happy with the course I've been on -- which is somewhat eclectic but rooted in a concern to criticize and perhaps help redefine Christian tradition.

Two notes:

I believe it was Martin Buber who said that things go forward in a spiral. This may be pertinent to the need to see evolution or progress in terms of how it actually may occur.

I have been reading a bit in Pascal's Pensee. Ironically if you do not type Blaise Pascal into Google you will end up with only four first page results for this remarkable person, who was close to having invented the first digital calculator.

I think some of Pascal's entries are almost a carbon copy of things that have been expressed here. He seems to wish to underline our basic incapacity to see beyond a quite narrow scope. While he is highly debateable in his theological utterances, I suspect he is remarkable in the degree to which his perception of "everything" o borrow a Wilberism is in synch with profound scepticism about the possibility of there being a scientific basis for metaphysical propositions.

Sorry if these comments seem tangental. I am enjoying these posts.

PS: A Buber reference and a quote:

http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=459&C=381

The history of cultures is not a meaningless cycle but a spiral ascent to the point ‘where there is no advance or retreat, but only utterly new reversal -- the break-through.’ (l and Thou, op. cit., p. 56. Except here, Smith changes ‘reversal’ to ‘turning’ in the 2nd edition.)

gniz said...

BTW, I do agree that in many ways culture does appear to evolve, and that feels like a positive thing to me on a personal level.

That doesnt mean that I decide to try and force MY particular passions or viewpoint into some kind of universal dictum.

I like that things seem to progress, politically, spiritually, and so forth. Thats great.

But thats just one little viewpoint, and the notion that it somehow encompasses EVERYTHING is not viable in my opinion.

For one thing, HUMANS are only a small part of the overall equation and our cultural machinations dont necessarily equate to EVERYTHING.

Beyond that, as I say, we are subject to decay and death, and although there may be "spirals" going on, that wont go on indefinitely. And i dont ascribe it any particular universal importance.

gniz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stuart said...

gniz said...
This is a bit simplistic, i think, because you are only looking at human evolution. What about all of the species that have gone exinct?

Zen Master Seung Sahn used to remind us that when we long for world peace, we're only talking about human world peace. Maybe when the animals get together and chat, they long for all those humans (who cause them so much troubles) to kill each other, and that would be their world peace.

In any case... it looks like we humans are at the top of the heap at the moment. That makes it seem like we're on a path to endlessly developing and evolving onward and upward... but maybe that's just because we haven't seen the downward spiral of our species yet.

its the death of you and me, or the eventual death of the race, the planet, and the universe.

I dont say it to be grim, i say it because it seems to be a natural part of life.


It's only "grim" if we're attached to life. Taking up "Dharma" means looking at what's true, regardless of whether it seems grim at first glance.

I've got a few friends who push the envelope, do things like spend months with Shamans in the Peruvian jungle, chugging down mind-altering brews. They tell me that in their sub-culture, lots of people believe that the world as we know it ends in 2012 (something about the Mayan calendar), with the final spiral beginning this year.

Rational people may claim that there have always been such doom-sayers. That's true of course... yet I can't shake the fact that the doom-sayers can be wrong a million times; they've only got to be right once.

Anyway, where it brings me to now is: I don't know exactly when the world will end... but it seems pretty damn clear that this personality I call "myself" will only be around for a few more decades. So one way or another, it's time to make peace with the cycle of all things appearing from emptiness, then returning to emptiness.

I like that things seem to progress, politically, spiritually, and so forth. Thats great.

Yeah. Here in Berkeley, it's fashionable for the Lefties to talk as if the world is going down the toilet. In my view, when we look at the sweep of history -- slavery, superstition, bigotry, poverty, holocaust, violence -- the present is a big improvement over the past.

It's just that, as I say above, mabye this sense of improvement and advancement comes from only seeing part of the story. Sometimes, deer on an island thrive for generation after generation... till suddenly the grass runs out and it's curtains very quickly. It all seems to be going really well, right up till the end.

David said...

I am a simple man who at the age of 50 re-entered my local community college. I signed up for a psy class of which the focus was on Wilber's philosophy. I enjoy the spiral dynamics and that truth has so much to do with a persons stance. Having read the "A brief history of everything"/ "Integral Life Practice" and listened to multiple YouTube videos to the point of exhaustion, I am left scratching my head. I wonder who is this person speaking/writing to? Who is his audience? Often I find that my time spent with him is like having Charlie Brown's teacher squawking at me in undefinable tones!