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Metaphysics (literally "after (not "beyond") physics", pertaining to the arrangement of Aristotle's writings) means the study of the essential nature of reality, which in western philosophy means the rational investigation of questions about existence, being, God, the universe, knowledge, ethics, etc. It is an often amorphous and misunderstood term that is used in various popular contextes to mean pertaining to non-physical or supra-physical reality. As used here the term refers to inquiry into the nature of reality, existence (e.g. the nature of the Self etc), and especially realities of a supra-mundane nature (higher dimensions of existence, planes of consciousness, etc). These are topics dealt with in Esotericism and many of the Wisdom Traditions in general.

Subdivisions of Metaphysics

Conventional Metaphysics Current Integral Paradigm
the study of being
understanding the "map" of reality (being) and consciousness (here defined as fourfold)
the Dynamics of Being
the study of God and questions about the divine reality)
The Nature of the Absolute Reality (parame - which means the the Supreme reality in Sanskrit).
Universal science n/a

In terms of Western Philosophy, Metaphysics deals with thorny questions like the relationship between mind or spirit and body (the "mind-body problem"), the problem of free will and determinism, the nature of God (Theology) and of the World (Cosmology), the nature of Being (Ontology), and so on. In other words, questions concerning the meaning of existence.

Of course, academic philosophers, no longer being part of the original "Wisdom Tradition" of Pythagoras and Plato and Plotinus, cannot really answer these questions, because these questions cannot be answered, proved, or disproved, by rational physical or physicalist means alone. However they do come up with interesting and diverse intellectual arguments, and these can certainly be incorporated into a larger integral worldview.

Metaphysics traditionally is divided into the fields of Ontology (the study of being or existence as such), Theology (the study of God or Gods or the Absolute Reality and questions about the divine reality) and Universal science or the study of so-called first principles, which underlie all other inquiries.

Although esotericism and occultism are commonly referred to, or refer to themselves, as metaphysics, this is not strictly correct, because metaphysics is very much an intellectual, philosophical, theoretical discipline. This is not to deny there is some overlap, and most esoteric teachings do deal with at least some metaphysical issues.

Moreover, because this section does indeed deal with Ontology and Theology, it could be defined as metaphysics, albeit a very esotericy and occultic sort of metaphysics, which would be most unlikely to be accepted within current academia (but then, neither would most of this essay).

The Metaphysical Alternative

It has become trendy among academics of scientistic and post-modernist persuasion to debunk metaphysics, because it deals with things that cannot be "proved" by or to the Physical Mind. But, as already pointed out, so called rationalist physicalism itself rests on a number of unproved, irrational, and yes, metaphysical, assumptions (Tart 1975b).

The difference between the reductionistic (anti-metaphysical), holistic-physicalist (post-metaphysical - e.g. Wilberian), and esoteric-metaphysical positions can be illustrated by means of the following example:

A person reports experiencing transcendent states. While he or she does so, his/her brainwaves are recorded. The mystical experiences are associated with the same type of brain waves each time.

We thus have two items of data: the phenomenological report of the experience itself, and the scientific data of the accompanying neurological states. Form this there are three possible explanations.

There is no reason why only one of these explanations should be correct, and the others wrong. Just as the Absolute Truth does not negate or invalidate the relative Truth, so the monistic position does not disprove dualism, holism, or physicalism. Rather, all can be seen as different perspectives of reality, according to the specific "level" of consciousness.

Thus, even though Metaphysics, for a long time the mainstream, has become marginalised by secular physicalism, which has replaced religionism as the dogma of our age, this need not always be the case. Hence an updated and wholistic, integral and phenomenological-based metaphysics can serve as an alternative to both reductionism and "post-metaphysics", and play a useful role in the development of an Integral Paradigm.

An Individual Undertaking

In the past, metaphysics, like so much else, has been presented as dogma. Especially in the context of a religion (say as theology) or an esoteric system, a metaphysical theory is laid down, and this is then taken as something to be followed. Fortunately philosophy, being a field that encourages independent enquiry, does not expect one to hold to this or that form of metaphysical theory, but rather to question and come to one's own conclusions. But even there, the grand tradition of philosoophy is limited by the need to conform to the consenus paradigm, whether this be Christianity in the Medieval West, Buddhism or Vedanta in the East, physicalism today, or whatever

In the spirit of freedom that must be at the center of any true Participative and Integral Paradigm (and indeed will be, as long as that paradigm is based on a peer-to-peer foundation instead of authoritarian dogmatism), no metaphysical system and no map of reality should be accepted as final. Rather, these are just suggestions and points of view, useful classification schemes and thoughtforms, which should never replace direct spiritual or empirical experience. And that goes for the metaphysical system presented here as much as for any other metaphysical system or theory.

Ultimately, metaphysics becomes an individual undertaking, and every outer activist and inner explorer of consciousness and reality, every sadhak (spiritual aspirant) and gnostic, creates their own roadmap of reality and spiritual transformation, based on their own personal experiences, building on those who have gone before but, ideally, not being limited by past dogmas.

On this page is my own metaphysical "map" of reality. This should not be taken as something dogmatic or final, or even necessarily to be believed in. Sure I think it makes a lot of sense, and aspects of it may even be True, in that they may provide a reasonably accurate approximation of the structure of Reality. But that doesn't mean it absolutely does. This metaphysic is simply proposed as a hypothesis, something that you - or for that matter myself in six months or a year or two or five years time - may have a much better version of or alternative to. One of reasons I am proposing this "map" of reality here is to show that there are useful alternatives to the Wilberian "post-metaphysical" AQAL map. If the Integral Paradigm is to escape the trap of becoming yet another religion or dogma (which I refer to as "Wilberanity", after the predominant influence of Ken's thought in the theoretical aspect of the Integral Movement) then alternatives are required, so that people can explore and choose for themselves. What is proposed here is one theoretical alternative to the AQAL diagram. This will hopefully encourage discussion, contemplative and noetic exploration, and a multiplicity of view points, moving integral theorising away from the trap of monolithic centralisation and towards its true form of peer to peer egalitarianism.

So, with those words by way of explanation, what follows is a speculative "theory of everything" "map of reality".


note - Amazon links are top the current edition, the edition cited may be out of print

Chalmers, David (1995) The Puzzle of Conscious Experience, Scientific American, December 1995, pp. 62-68 - online version

Heron, John (1996) Co-operative Inquiry, London, Sage, (An extract from Chapter 1 - Co-operative inquiry and participative reality; this is also reprinted in P/I: Pluralities/Integration #67 (April 25, 2005))

The Mother (Mirra Alfassa) (1979- ) Mother's Agenda (Engl. transl) Institute for Evolutionary Research, New York, NY (13 vol set)

Odin, Steve (1982) Process Metaphysics and Hua-Yen Buddhism, State University of New York Press, Albany

Ouspensky, P.D. 1977, In Search of the Miraculous, Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, New York & London

Israel Regardie, Cris Monnastre, Carl Weschcke , The Golden Dawn: A Complete Course in Practical Ceremonial Magic (Llewellyn's Golden Dawn Series)

Shear, Jonathan, ed. (1997) Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem, MIT Press

Smith, Huston. (1977) Forgotten Truth: The Primordial Tradition. New York: Harper & Row.

_____ (1975b) Some assumptions of orthodox, Western Psychology. In C. Tart (Ed.), Transpersonal Psychologies. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 61-111.

Wilber, Ken (1997) An integral theory of consciousness from Journal of Consciousness Studies, 4 (1), February 1997, pp.71-92 - online version

_____ (2000) Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, Shambhala Publications 1995, 2nd revised edition 2000

_____ (2000b) A Brief History of Everything, Shambhala, Boston & London, 1996, 2nd edition 2000

_____ (2002) Boomeritis, Shambhala. For an excellent presentation of Moshe Kroy's methodology here, see online extract (scroll down) on this page

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