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Ken Wilber's Integral Philosophy and the Failure to Incorporate Occultism

A problem in Ken Wilber's attempt to create an integral system of thought is in lack of insight into occultism and occult phenomena. This is not to say that Wilber denies the experiences, only the metaphysical status of such phenomenon. His thesis is that occultism and occult experiences pertain to earlier, "pre-personal" stages of the development of consciousness. It might even be suggested that he rejects occultism as a mature (Vision-Logic) stage of consciousness is also the same reason he regards the current ecospirituality paradigm as regressive: a combination of the pre-trans fallacy and western reductionistic chauvinism. In both cases, rejection of these authentic phenomena as mature (personal to transpersonal) stages of consciousness constitutes a rationalist bias goes against the fundamental principles of his own method of enquiry.

I say that Wilber rejects thes ethings as constituting mature stages in the development of consciousness, because the strength of his approach is that Wilber himself does not reject anything in toto. This, the essence of the "Integral" methodology, is the proposition that "everybody is right" in some way, and no-one is completely wrong. Thus one should distinguish between criticising and disagreeing with certain points in a certain system and tossing that whole system out the window, which he pretty much never does.

Yet even allowing for this sympathetic attitude, Wilber still follows the western secular psychology of Freud and other psycho-developmentalists, in seeing occultism as a sort of infantile wish-fulfillment. Interestingly, the only psychologist who speaks highly of occultism is Jung (there is the Google Search "famous story of Freud and Jung's falling out over this matter), whose ideas and insights Ken tends to see as pertaining to the "Pre-" phase of development; hence his rejection of his own early (Wilber-I) thought. Wilber's main criticism of Jung is concerning the status of the archetypes, which he sees as being prepersonal, not transpersonal, and considers the Jungians mistaken in elevating them to transpersonal or transegoic realms (See Amazon com Integral Psychology and Eye to Eye for more on this, especially the endnotes.)

For perhaps similar reasons, Wilber criticises elements of the work Stan Grof (although he still has thehighest regard for Grof, and agrees with him on many points).

The fact that Wilber affirms "external link subtle energies" does not make him an occultist, for his subtle energies are still based on the assumption of a physical substrate. His holons include a physical substrate, and he doesn't seem to refer to (although if I am in error here I am happy to be corrected) the concept of realities of a totally non-physical nature, including realities of this nature that are of a superhuman status (archetypes, gods, and so on)

Wilber does certainly acknowledge the siddhis and powers of advanced yogis, but I would say only because this is part and parcel of the Eastern worldview and also one of Da's 7 stages. This yogic occultism is specifically defined as trans-rational, and hence considered efficacious, as opposed to the pre-rational fantasy of the magical thinking and shamanic and tribal peoples, all of which he lumps together. However, there seems to be no reference at all to the development, teachings, and occult practice of 19th and 20th century Hermeticism in any of Ken's work. As one Amazon reviewer (see Thinkingheart Original Contribution, January 18, 2004 on Link to Amazon com Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, by Frank Visser,] wrote:

"I haven't read all of Wilber's writings, but from what I have read there seems to be a major avoidance of the Western esoteric tradition, with the possible exception that Wilber once wrote that he admired Rudolf Steiner's writings. By esoteric I don't mean Western mysticism, which Wilber covers well enough, but the strand of Kaballism, Rosicrucianism, Anthroposophy, Theosophy, Alice Bailey, etc. There is a vast amount of material there dealing with involution, evolution, stages of consciousness, and so forth, that should rightly be incorporated into a fully integral spirituality. I have found that most Wilberians and Integral thinkers in general show little interest in the occult traditions, and most occultists show little interest in Integral studies. This means we have two almost exclusive strands of practioners trying to cover very similar ground without communicating much with each other. The result is not healthy in my view.

I imagine Wilber avoids the Western esoteric tradition because it does not play well with academics, whom he is trying to reach. But Visser appears to have a Theosophical background and may will be a thinker capable of championing an expansion of integral thought that embraces the esoteric and occult as well as the usually religio-mystical traditions. "

This may indeed be in part because of a desire to appear respectable to academia (Jung had the same attitude, and I feel it stuffed up his teachings majorly), but in that case, why is Ken against Frank Visser? Another reviewer on the same page (Daryl S Paulson "Don't Let Wilber know you read this", May 19, 2004 ) suggests an explanation

"Visser...has done a great job in explaining the works of Ken Wilber. Yet Wilber denounces this book because of Visser's affinity for Theosophy. Wilber is not a theosophist or a Alice Bailey follower even though his first two books were published by the Theosophical Society. Interestingly, Wilber wrote the forward to this book. Wilber, and rightfully so does not want to be categorized as a Theosophist. He has worked many years to bring legitimacy and validity to transpersonal studies through hardcore analysis and synthesis of the sciences, the humanities, and philosophies. Some think he is overly sensitive to being labeled a new ager or even a theosophist, but given the trashing he has received concerning many of his books, it is probably founded."

My position on this is that as soon as you compromise in this way, you lose integrity. Ken claims to present a revolutionary method incorporating all of human knowledge, yet if indeed he is shying away out of fear of offending the sensitivities of academics (and i do not know if this is the case, but it is one explanation), such a stratergy is of no avail, because they will (and do) reject him anyway. If he is indeed making an effort to appear academically correct, then he is making the same mistake Jung did. And like Jung, he ends up in a dubious position, neither respectable academic nor true esotericist. And whilst esotericists always speak highly of Jung, who was an explorer of consciousness (like Stan Grof today), they tend to be very dismissive of Wilber. But Wilber, unlike both Jung and Grof, is not so much an explorer of phenomenological experiences, but a systematiser, albeit a visionary one (like Hegel perhaps, who he admires). Too way out for conservative academia, too straight-laced for true esotericists, he could perhaps be said to be carving his own niche, a new integral paradigm, as well as building a bridge between the two worlds.

For all the misgivings I might have about certain elements of Ken's approach and methodology, I do see him as a force for change, and a force for the good. Not everyone can be a full-on explorer. There are some who trailblaze, and others who build bridges. Both are necessary.

External link (and more on this topic):

external link Integral Magick Notebook

by Fenwick Kaidevis Rysen. Fenwick, or Kaidevis as he is known online, seems to be the only person apart from myself who is presenting a serious critique of Wilber regarding his denial of occultism and lack of understanding in these subjects. See e.g. Regarding the Lack of Occultism in Wilber's Integral Model, and the Role of an Integral Magick which includes a reference to this page (it's nice to know that my ideas have helped in further developments in the integral movement :-)). See also external link Interview with Fenwick K Rysen

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page uploaded 24 June 2004, last modified 18 July 2005