Friday, June 09, 2006

Is THIS Enlightenment?

“Jesus said succinctly, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” If you want to know how people have progressed on the spiritual path, just watch them in the little interactions of everyday life. Are they patient? Cheerful? Sensitive to the needs of those around them? Are they free from compulsive likes and dislikes? Can they work harmoniously with others? If so, they are evolving, though they may have never had a vision or psychic experience…”
--Eknath Easwaran

“But simply still, I simply cannot stand this criticism of simply anything, let alone “simply,” so simply suck my dick, whaddaya say?…I am long gone, dude, down the road, flying at the speed of thought, looking for yet more yummies to share with readers, and these painfully sluggish critics, dragging their bloated bellies across the ground at a snail’s pace of gray dreariness, can frankly just eat my dust and bite my ass…And even a bald bastard with ambition, I might add, instead of even being able to lay blame where it in fact belongs, which is on its own sorry-ass, first tier, lame-brain case of arrested development, a two-bit, no-fit, nobody-quoting, self-promoting, gas-floating, over-bloating, no-deposit, lame-composite, really lost it, never had it, wanna bees, felled at the knees, first-tier fleas, flick ‘em off his back and never look back…”
--
Ken Wilber

Many have criticized Ken Wilber. They’ve criticized his ideas. They’ve criticized his Integral Institute. And they’ve criticized the way he and his followers respond to this criticism. Yesterday, he replied to his critics, and the Integral world is abuzz. Some praise him for “compassionately” “combining the mind of a bodhisattva with the mouth of a gangsta rapper” and for letting his justifiable frustration loose on his clueless critics without putting on false and simpleminded airs of goodness. But most, I suspect, will find his reply mean-spirited, juvenile, petulant, “dismissive, conceited,” lacking in substance, and damaging to the Integral movement.

As for me, I offer no criticisms, only questions. If I were somehow able to scale the heights of integral practice and awareness that Wilber has, would I conduct myself the way Wilber did in his reply? Was THAT an “integrally informed,” psychologically mature, and spiritually advanced response? Did it successfully refute his critics, vindicate his ideas, advance the Integral cause, or truly benefit him or anyone else psychologically, spiritually, or in any other way?

Can anyone explain how it was or accomplished any of these things? If they can’t, does that mean they’re just not evolved enough? How would Jesus respond to criticism? Buddha? The Dalai Lama? Thich Nhat Hanh? Eknath Easwaran? Mother Teresa? Huston Smith? Are we wrong to hold up these people as role models, as spiritual exemplars? If not, how does Wilber’s conduct compare to theirs? What are we to think of his reply? More importantly, what kind of person do we aspire to be, and how should we try to fulfill that aspiration? By becoming more “integrally informed? By practicing the spiritual disciplines that Wilber practices or recommends? By becoming more like Ken Wilber?

If we feel disillusioned after reading Wilber’s reply, should we not?

23 comments:

Petey said...

What a crude man.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Thanks to this post, I researched Ken Wilber and read about him at Wikipedia. Then I visited his website and was quite impressed. The site itself is awesomely artistic and delightful to navigate -- and oddly suited to this complex and brilliant man.

I don't claim to comprehend his philosophy any more than I can fathom the thinking behind onecosmos, but do recognize the rage of an artist who is not trying to please and the frustration he experiences when confronted by critics who just don't get it. This is not to justify his language, etc., but like others who achieve their place in the consciousness of their times, Wilber clearly can express what he wants to in the way that he chooses.

Thanks for writing about him.

Nagarjuna said...

Hi, FFH. I'm glad that my post led you to start becoming acquainted with Wilber. The recent controversy notwithstanding, I agree with you that he's a "complex and brilliant man," and it seems to me, although I don't claim to be in a position to definitively judge these matters, that the integral philosophy he's in the ongoing process of developing is an almost miraculously ingenious work of integration and systematization of essential cross-disciplinary knowledge and wisdom.

Having said that, I don't know what to make of his recent response to his critics. I agree with you that he has the "right" to say virtually anything he wants, and perhaps those who praise what he said "get it" because they are at higher levels of development along several key lines of consciousness than I am. But I confess that I don't "get it." I don't see how Wilber's response is a manifestation of anything that any of us should be praising or should want to emulate.

I understand that Wilber, for all his knowledge, wisdom, and accomplishments, is still a human being with human emotions, and I don't expect him to act like an idealized saint or sage. Well, maybe, deep down, some part of me does expect him to act like one, and maybe this is wrong of me and is distorting my personal reaction to his response. But I nevertheless understand that wisdom or high consciousness development doesn't necessarily manifest in ways that correspond to the narrow stereotypes we see in the media or concoct in our own fantasies. Still, I don't understand how Wilber's recent conduct expresses anything approaching wisdom or advanced consciousness of any kind or how it did anything but inflict long-term harm on the integral cause. And I'm personally disappointed and sad to have seen it happen and hopeful that Wilber and the rest of us can do better than that in the future.

Despite what's happened and how I feel about it, I'll continue reading and studying Wilber's system and using it as a "road map" for navigating the world's knowledge and wisdom unless and until I find a better map. But I'd be lying if I said that my enthusiasm and optimism haven't been dampened at least a little by recent events.

Some would no doubt consider this a good thing, and maybe it is. Perhaps we all need to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism in the way we view our saints and sages, pandits and gurus, and their spiritual and philosophical pronouncements.

Namaste,
Steve

Finding Fair Hope said...

Steve, I think the mistake is in wanting to iconize the individual with the idea rather than following the idea. Anyone as "out there" as Wilber is not going to be trying to charm anyone into accepting his viewpoint. He says he loves criticism as long as it somehow addresses what he is really saying, but his nastiness is inspired by what he considers illegitimate interpretation of his work -- and the reduction of it to oversimplification and misinterpretation. His line of philosophy is over my head, but I accept that it is not his job to explain it to me. I had something of the same reaction to Bob Godwin at first, but after all my trying I came to the conclusion that it was not something I could agree with. Wilber is another case entirely, and I haven't given him enough time or thought to decide if I am up to his brain waves.

It's like Jackson Pollack or Ad Reinhardt -- anyone can look at the paintings and react. Putting the effect into words reduces the experience; it would take a genius. Besides, the work speaks for itself. When a critic takes it on he sounds moronic, so he calls the work moronic instead. Then the artist reacts.

I guess it's why we write blogs.

Nagarjuna said...

FFH, I agree with you that we shouldn't "iconize" people. But I believe that many of us do it anyway, and that critics may be correct in pointing out that there's entirely too much of it going on in integral circles. That is, too many of us may be letting our conscious or subconscious iconization of Ken Wilber blind us to possible flaws in his methodology, scholarship, and ideas.

They also argue, perhaps with more validity than Wilber has begun to acknowledge, that a number of writers Wilber attacks in his remarks have expressed substantive and valid criticisms or at least questions regarding his work. Frank Visser, the man Wilber most roundly, and, I think, unfairly criticizes in his post, points to some of them in his recent response to Wilber on his Integral World website.

Now Wilber may say that he "loves" valid criticism, but his actions could be perceived as suggesting otherwise, and he may too readily dismiss most criticism, valid and invalid alike, with the Godwinian rationalization that they "just don't get it" or "aren't at my level" of understanding.

Beyond that, I'm having difficulty appreciating how his "nastiness" in response to what he sees as "oversimplification and misinterpretation" of his work is a legitimate and laudable reaction of one who is considered to be highly advanced spiritually as well as cognitively. His reaction may be very "human" in the sense of expressing very human emotions in the face of continuing criticism, but I don't see that this unchecked emotional expression is necessarily something to hold up as exemplary rather than regrettable.

As Wilber himself has pointed out, one can be highly developed along some lines of consciousness, including the spiritual line, and less so along others, including the emotional and social ones, such that Wilber's remarks don't necessarily disprove his spiritual advancement or invalidate his ideas.

But those insulting remarks still don't seem to me to be praiseworthy or helpful except possibly in the sense I suggested at the end of my previous reply to you. That is, in reminding us that Wilber the person is not perfect, they also serve remind us that we shouldn't reflexively accept his ideas as perfect.

Namaste,
Steve

Petey said...

I don't know. Compared to Bob's elegant and witty style, Ken writes like someone who was raised in a barn. Doesn't his ham-handed prose make you cringe? One mark of the sage is that his manner of expression will be proportionate to the loftiness of the subject under discussion. Wilber has plenty of ideas, but if they aren't rooted in realization, then it seems to me that they are worse than useless, for they will mislead many gullible souls that innocently idealize his big brain and mistake it for enlightenment. But intelligence is not Truth, otherwise intelligent people wouldn't disagree on what it is.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Sounds kinda like saying that if Jackson Pollack had really been an artist he wouldn't have dribbled paint all over his canvases.

As for me, I think there's sometimes a place for ham-handed prose as well as the awesomely elegant turn of phrase. David Mamet or Noel Coward? There's a place for both -- but nobody said they both have equal appeal to all.

Petey said...

FFH--

What you are saying about the stage or about painting may be valid--in reality it is not, but that's a separate issue--but to write of the divine beauty, one must be be able to communicate in such a manner that the form is the content. This is one way we discriminate between the sage and the rascal. It is a faculty that God in his mercy has implanted for your own protection. It is what allows the discerning soul to recoil at the barbarisms of a Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, et al. As in all forms of knowledge, it is really a matter of adequation betwen subject and object. David Mamet is not William Shakespeare, Maddonna is not Bach, and Ken Wilber is not Shankara or Meister Eckhart.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Whoa. Did I say that David Mamet is Shakespeare? I love what you say, to write of the divine beauty, one must be be able to communicate in such a manner that the form is the content. A beautiful sentiment, but to use it as a way of condemning all contemporary expression but one's own seems self-serving at best.

I am not a philosopher, just an older woman who remembers when grace was a requirement in writing. I've seen those walls tumble down and will use any tool I can grasp to get a greater understanding of life on this plane, even if it's just a flash of brilliance from an unexpected source. I am aware the world is full of charlatans and not a few fools; I try to avoid them just as most intelligent people do.

What Petey says is true, I'm sure. I look at a menu of truths and do not see any one of them as absolute and exclusive. I've got a long way to go, but I think I have a few years left. And try as I may I don't expect to possess the Truth with a capital "t" just by accepting one version of it.

Finding Fair Hope said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nagarjuna said...

“Petey,” your altar-ego DOES have an “elegant and witty style.” But so does Wilber at times. Sometimes, his prose is even sublime. And perhaps his “manner of expression” in the post at issue WAS “proportionate to the loftiness [or lack thereof] of the subject under discussion.”

I agree with you, in principle, that ideas about spiritual truth need to be “rooted in realization” to be useful, but how do we decide that they are or are not so rooted? Could it not be said that it takes a realized soul to know one, and that realization may express itself in ways that the unrealized soul will fail to appreciate for what it is?

Or is there truly such a thing as realization? If there is, what is it? And is Wilber wrong to suggest that there are different lines of development and that one can be advanced or realized along the spiritual line and far less advanced along other lines?

As for Ken Wilber not being Shankara or Eckhart, how do we truly know what they were all of those centuries ago? Perhaps they boinked little boys and tortured kittens to death or, at least, had human flaws as glaring in their own way as Wilber seems to. As much as I want to believe in the “purification” of enlightenment or realization, the older I get and the more I see, the more skeptical I become that it’s substantially more than a quixotic ideal, and the more I’m inclined to accept the AQAL model of different lines of development of varying degrees of independence.

Nevertheless, a part of me, quixotic though it may be, longs to believe in the perfection of realization and to see it express itself with an unfailing “grace” and “divine beauty” that seems commensurate with its “loftiness.” And I still can’t fathom how anyone could find these wonderful qualities praiseworthily present in Wilber’s post and not be at least a little disappointed that they're not.

Namaste,
Steve

Petey said...

Sorry. I was just trying to reinforce your instincts about Wilber. We'll just have to agree to disagree about the merits of his prose style. Me, I cringe when he tries to self-consciously elevate beyond his automobile owner's manual style. I can't imagine any writer who would't find "Booomeritis" unreadable. He makes Ayn Rand sound like Proust.

Anonymous said...

"As Wilber himself has pointed out, one can be highly developed along some lines of consciousness, including the spiritual line, and less so along others, including the emotional and social ones, such that Wilber's remarks don't necessarily disprove his spiritual advancement or invalidate his ideas."

To my thinking if one is "highly developed along a spiritual line" he would also, out of the necessity of his/her spiritual development be highly developed in his/her emotional and social "line".
My brief exposure to Wilber leads me to believe that he, not unlike petey's alter-ego, thinks more highly of himself than he ought.

Petey said...

You're probably right about both men. The only difference I can discern is that Bob is a happily married family guy and doesn't have a dysfunctional personal life. Oh, and Bob thinks Deepak Chopra is a con-artist and a fraud, whereas Ken thinks very highly of him.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say that you were identical twins, I said that you both thought more highly of yourselves than you ought. As far as I know the resemblence may end there...
BTW, from my POV the spiritual system THAT YOU HAVE CREATED for yourself is no better than Chopra's.

Nagarjuna said...

Anonymous, it's tempting to think that high spiritual development would be impossible without high development along most other lines or that it would uplift someone along other key lines, but, as I've indicated previously, I'm less and less sure that this is true.

"Petey," I agree that "Boomeritis" was not the best thing I've ever read. And, while I don't have any strong opinions about Deepak Chopra either way, I wonder why Bob thinks he's a "con artist and a fraud."

Namaste,
Steve

Gagdad Bob said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

If spirituality moves us closer to God and if by becoming more spiritual we better reflect the likeness of God than by necessity we will be more perfect in the other areas of our lives. Please note that I did not say we would be perfect but that we would be more perfect...

Petey said...

I'm with anonymous. That is the cold truth, Wilber's high-mined pseudo-spiritual blah-blah notwithstanding. It's much harder to be a good husband and father than to read a bunch of books and then vulgarize them for a bunch of empty-headed new-age ninnies.

Anonymous said...

There you go petey: "By thier fruits you shall know them."

Nagarjuna said...

"Petey," if we are to believe "Grace and Grit," it sounds as though Wilber was an extraordinarily good husband under the most trying of circumstances. And if we are to believe what he writes about his intense spiritual practices and experiences over the decades, it sounds as though he's done a lot more than just read and "vulgarize" a lot of books.

Namaste,
Steve

Petey said...

I suppose one marriage out of three isn't bad. That's a .333 average, which is great for baseball, and after all, there is that song, "Love is Like Baseball."

Nagarjuna said...

Didn't Buddha "bat" a paltry .000? And who's to say what Shankara or Eckhart would have batted if they had stepped up to the plate? :-)