Sunday, November 25, 2007

Buddhism vs Wilberian Integral?

I've been working full time at my new job and seem to have almost no time left over for blogging or anything else. I truly wonder how anyone who works a full-time job can find the time to read or blog. And I am in total awe of anyone who can work full time, have a decent family life, read, and blog regularly. The only way I can see them accomplishing this miracle is by sleeping four or five hours a night at most. But how can most people do this for a long time and stay physically and mentally healthy? I don't think I can do it, and I'm not keen on trying to prove otherwise.

Anyhow, I did manage to read the following e-mail update from the Integral Spiritual Center. I found it an intriguing summary of some essential Buddhist teaching within a Wilberian Integral framework.

The goal of Buddhadharma, says Patrick Sweeney, is to transform ourselves into what we really are. Far from pumping ourselves up to obtain some egoic goal, the Buddhist path leads us in precisely the opposite direction–to dismantle the ways we defend against what we always already are.

This path by which this goal is accomplished is the unfolding of prajna. But what is the starting point? The basic Buddhist view is contained in the teaching of the “four seals of the view.” As Traleg Rinpoche teaches, it is difficult to overstate the importance of right view. With right view, one has a cognitive frame that tends toward realization, toward evolution of consciousness, and toward the deepening of state-stage experience. Without right view, the process of overcoming ignorance becomes very difficult, and more or less hit and miss.

The four seals of existence are impermanence, selflessness, suffering, and nirvana. Basically:

  1. all compounded things are impermanent
  2. all phenomena lack self-nature
  3. all dualistic emotions and experiences are intrinsically painful
  4. nirvana alone is peace, and is beyond concept.

These four seals of the view define all of Buddhist practice. They describe the truth of the actual situation that we find ourselves in, what happens when we contract against it, and what happens when we relax into it.

In truth, Buddhism maintains, the outer world is impermanent. The tradition provides extensive explanations of the manner in which different aspects of the world are changing. There is gross impermanence: the physical cosmos, the solar system, and the earth are constantly changing. There is subtle impermanence: we come together as a result of our parents’ union; we experience an outer world—and inner selves—that are continuously changing. Most of us have gone through several complete revolutions within our own lives. Within and without, we are constantly seeing this truth.

The Buddha taught that not only is the body changing; not only is the outer world changing; but, in truth, there is no permanent witness to these events. When we look at experience closely, we don’t find a permanent ego; we don’t find something independent from experience. There is nothing that stays the same through our experience, nothing unitary or of one nature, nothing special that is the center of the universe.

And yet, we behave precisely as if that were the case! As if “me” existed independently from the world. As if “me” was permanent. As if “me” was one thing….

Our experience now is different than, for instance, when we were twelve. Are we the same? Or are we different? The right answer, of course, is both. Reality is constantly showing us that our emotional reaction to reality is based on an imputation that simply isn’t true. Emotionally, we tend to behave as if we are the center of the universe, as if we are special, as if our needs, desires, goals, dreams and visions are more important than those of any other. When in fact, they are pretty much identical to everyone else’s….

I had some questions as I was reading this. Perhaps someone out there can help me answer them.

First, why do we defend against who or what we "always already are," and who or what does the defending? I can understand how we might be constituted to experience the world as a collection of separate things and events and ourselves as a permanent being separate from this collection, but Sweeney and the wisdom tradition he represents appear to assert that our ignorance of the true nature of the world and ourselves is actively and purposely maintained for some reason. But if so, who or what maintains it, and why? It's often said that the ego does this. But, in the same breath, the ego is said to be illusory. Well then, how can an illusion do anything, much less keep us ignorant of who we really are and what the world really is?

Second, Sweeney says, "When we look at experience closely, we don’t find a permanent ego; don’t find something independent from experience." Yet, if I understand Ken Wilber correctly, there is something--a spiritual Self or Atman--at the center of our consciousness that is separate from the objects of its experience, although, at the highest level of consciousness, this duality of object and subject somehow disappears. How is Wilber's view reconciled with the Buddhist view, or is it? Speaking for myself, I have a difficult time believing in some permanent spiritual essence or Self that experiences worldly impermanence. It seems much more evident to me that there is no Atman or spiritual Self, just an ever-changing constellation of interdependent physical and mental states through which objects are experienced.

I guess in this regard I'm more Buddhist as I understand the tradition than I am Wilberian, or do I not understand Buddhism or Wilber correctly?


Petey said...

Don't waste your time. Buddhist doctrine is only appropriate for Buddhists, and not even really for them. But for everyone else -- especially those of us fortunate enough to live in the West instead of some dopey Buddhist country -- it's surely nonsense. If the statement "nothing is permanent" is true, then it's false, since the statement embodies a permanent truth. It's just exotic pseudo-intellectual nihilist BS.

Tom said...


Re Atman. There is a good analysis of Atman in Buddhism over at wikipedia.

A lot of confusion ensues because of the phases Wilber has passed through. [I think we are at Wilber 5.2 now.] and the changes in Buddha's teaching and the interpretations of different Buddhist sects. Early on, I believe Wilber identified himself as Buddhist, but he stopped doing that a decade or more ago.

Hard to say if you are more Wilberian or more Buddhist. There is the issue of Which Buddhism? Which Wilber phase? I think you are sopping wet from both pools. You can be both.

prajna said...

Unfold my son, unfold!