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Ken Wilber's "Two Truths" Monism

Few writers who submit to mainstream (as opposed to New Age) journals, as well as write for the general individual - the intelligent layman - have such a passionate and engaging, enthusiastically spiritual style as Ken Wilber. In the conclusion of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, the book that ushered in the Fourth phase of his work (AQAL), he writes ecstatically

"See the Kosmos dance in Emptiness; see the play of light in all creatures great and small; see finite worlds sing and rejoice in the play of the very Divine, floating on a Glory that renders each transparent, flooded by a Joy that refuses time or terror, that undoes the madness of the loveless self and buries it in splendor. Indeed, indeed: Let the self-contraction relax into the empty ground of its own awareness, and let it there quietly die. See the Kosmos arise in its place, dancing madly and divine, self-luminous and self-liberating, intoxicated by a Light that never dawns nor ceases. See the worlds arise and fall, never caught in time or turmoil, transparent images shimmering in the radiant Abyss. Watch the mountain walk on water, drink the Pacific in a single gulp, blink and a billion universes rise and fall, breathe out and create a Kosmos, breathe in and watch it dissolve."
Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, also in external link Do Critics Misrepresent My Position? - A Test Case from a Recent Academic Journal (scroll down - has the above passage and more, at the bottom of the page)

The following therefore is not in nay way intended as a criticism of Wilber's spiritual realisation; as indeed I fully acknowledge Wilber as a fellow Gnostic. Rather it is concerned with the way that the mental framework, memetic background, and conditioning that accompany one interpretation of that realisation can create a "bias" in an otherwise very impressive universal system of knowledge

It is almost always the case that a philosopher or a scientist or an esotericist's theories and conclusions are determined not only by the empirical and/or phenomenological facts that they are working with, but their own underlying thoughts, opinions, biases, idiosyncracies, and personal evolution, in addition to cultural-memetic background. These underlying presumptions are not often articulated, but are there behind the scenes shaping things. As a classic example, Freud was guided by Victorian puritanism to look for sex everywhere in the subconscious, so every dream symbol was ultimately reduced to a phallic or vaginal metaphor. From this came entrenched biases in psychoanalysis that took decades to correct.

Now, it is one thing for a specialist in one area to have biases, but when a proponent of a universal system has them, the whole universal paradigm becomes slanted. This, I humbly suggest, is the reason for the limitations (and ultimately the failure to beyond duality) in Ken Wilber's Integral Vision.

At the bottom of Wilber's understanding is a form of monistic nonduality that is usually referred to (by his critics) as Advaitin and/or Buddhist, but in fact is derived from the teachings of his guru, Adi Da (and only secondarily from Ramana Maharshi, whose exposition of Advaita became very popular among educated New Paradigm thinkers).

Wilber has been closely associated Adi Da for some two decades. Although the more extreme cultic behaviour in Da and his followers led him to a sort of love-hate relationship with the community, and with Da's manner of teaching, he is still full of praise for the World Teacher himself. About Da he says " he is one of the greatest spiritual Realizers of all time" and even after his public criticism on his website affirms his "love and devotion to the living Sat-Guru".

This is not to deny that Wilber has since incorporated or been inspired by other nonduality teachers, as he certainly has. He has also moved to distance himself from Da, although never actually rejected him. But the fact remains that certain of Wilber's basic ideas - such as the psychospiritual developmental path (based on Da's "Seven Stages of Life", but incomparably more detailed) and the centrality of a nondual worldview.

We can see now why Wilber is unable to look beyond a "Two Truths" monism, and why he even repeats Da's mistakes and limitations (e.g. in external link his claim to have (intellectually) surpassed Sri Aurobindo's teachings, despite his great admiration for the latter). Wilber is unable to go beyond the Da-friendly non-dual teachings such as Advaita Vedanta or Mahayana, and this, as Arvan Harvat points out in his A Glance at Ken Wilber's "A Brief History of Everything", prevents him from seeing the richness and profundity of more subtle and complex doctrines of Hermetic, Lurianic Kabbalistic and other esoteric-cosmological teachings, or practical transpersonal systems like Assagioli's psychosynthesis. Not reject the position of Da, Vedanta, Vajrayana, and Zen, but rather incorporate alongside and add to those profound but non-emanationist teachings a fully esoteric-occult cosmology.

For all his genuine attempt at a rigorous methodology, Wilber is still bound to and limited by his own preferences. I'm not saying these preferences are bad, mind you, just that they are no better and no worse than anyone else's preferences, and there is no justification for using them as the foundation for a new and rigorous Universal Science (For what it's worth, here are my suggestions on what foundations such a universal science may be based on).

Again, to re-emphasise, I am not in any way denigrating or denying the great simplicity, wisdom, and profundity of the monistic realisation, whether in its Advaitin metaphysical or Mahayanist anti-metaphysical forms, and which I see as a very profound truth theat lies at the heart of any Theory of Everything, and cannot be ignored. But what I do suggest here is that the reason why the Wilber-IV/V or AQAL fails to achieve a true integral synthesis of One and Many is because - for all his sincerity, authentic spiritual insight, gnosis, and light, and Mahayanist realisation (in his current post-metaphysical phase) - Ken seems unable to access a higher cosmognosis required to establish unity in all this duality. Instead, he remains entrenched in the Two Truths of a four-quadrant double holo-dualism on the one hand, and a nondualist Mahayanist-Daist Atman/Shunyata/God on the other.

There is a strong parallel here with Shankara, the most influential of Indian philosophers and founder-systematiser of Advaita Vedana. Through his voluminous commentaries, Shankara created a synthesis of all the philosophies of his day. But even so, this still remained the "relative truth", in contrast to the "absolute truth" that is the supreme Atman-Brahman. The same "two truths" epistemology one finds in Shankara and his predecessor the Buddhist master-dialectician Nagarjuna, one also finds in Ken Wilber's writings. In external link Toward A Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies (scroll down) - (from an online draft of volume 2 of the Kosmos trilogy Kosmic Karma; volume 1 of that trilogy was Sex, Ecology, Spirituality). he states the importance of abiding by The Two Truths Doctrine.

Great thinkers and teachers and the four quadrantsOn the one hand Wilber's teachings are as firmly monistic as that of any advaitin. On the other, it seems that his teachings have become more dualistic. At least in Wilber I and II the Absolute was still part of the Great Chain of Being. In Wilber IV, this realisation is lost, and (as can be shown in the diagram on the left) enlightened beings like Buddha, Plotinus, and Aurobindo, are grouped with psychologists like Freud and Jung, and psycho-developmentalists like Piaget, in the Interior-Individual quadrant. In no way do I wish to denigrate the genius of Freud, Jung, and Piaget, but really, psychology is not the same as spiritual enlightenment, or esoteric cosmology. This is why AQAL, despite its name, does not live up to its own promise. Rather than having everything integrated and connected, the AQAL diagram has not, and apparently cannot, incorporated the Absolute. If this statement is in error and any of Ken's students can elucidate on this, I would ask ask them please to contact me.

There is also a more negative side to Wilber's monism - an underlying discomfort with material existence (as this is essentially "maya") which it could be argued is the reason for his strong dislike of spiritual ecology and neo-paganism. As Gus diZerega writes:

"While Wilber frequently emphasizes that, seen from an enlightened perspective, everything is holy and divine, he also evidences a deep and incessant undercurrent of intense dislike, even fear and contempt, for the physical world and all its works. This attitude repeatedly arises throughout his writing. . . .

. . . I believe Wilber is torn between two contradictory spiritual paths, one seeking to escape the world, the other to love both it and the divine within and beyond it. . . . This conflict, I think, is the reason for Wilber's core dislike of both deep ecology and nature spirituality. . . . "
Gus diZerega - Ken Wilber's Critique of Deep Ecology and Nature Religion: A Response html summary - full pdf

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 19 June 2004, last modified 7 October 2009