A Critique of Ken Wilber
(This critique was written in 1985 as a letter from Norelli-Bachelet to Patricia Heidt, PhD
I picked up Wilber's No Boundary which I only had time before to skim through. This time my attention was drawn to the last two chapters which represent the culmination of the process he is postulating. Why I started with chapter 9 is also because he mentions that Assagioli's work inspired much of it. If you could send me his Psychosynthesis I would appreciate having it.
My reading set off a series of perceptions which only became further confirmed as I read on. When I started it became clear why you found inspiration in Wilber's work and by reflection, why you then gravitated to this one. He feels the need like everyone else to bring about a synthesis. But, and it is a big BUT, what is the real nature of synthesis. It is clear that any honest and perceptive person today realises that a holistic way is now demanded and is the only solution. So each in his own manner is trying to bring about the desired 'synthesis'. They proceed to do this exclusively on the basis of the existing material. Wilber's is a classic case and is perhaps one of the better trials. But it fails. It breaks down and cannot, will never reach its goal.
While reading last night I was overtaken by the question: What is wrong? In what way is my work different? As I read I thought very strongly of you. I could not help but wonder why, though he appeared to be saying all the right things, you could not find satisfaction through his approach. That is, he wants psychotherapy to integrate the spiritual or transcendent, and he appears to do just that. But as I read, the gnawing question pursued me: What is wrong? Why is it that though what he writes of the transcendent reality is right on, somehow it is off! That is, it is off when you seek to make of these perceptions the basis of the 'new way', the synthesised, integral way.
Patricia, the truth of the matter is this: people both in the East and West regard spirituality as static. They have got trapped in this cage because of an immature understanding of time and consequently of space. In other words, the breakdown in the effort or the postulation comes when they have to deal with the Divine Mother, quite simply. That is, the body of the Absolute. In fact they don't deal with it at all.
Wilber is so clear in this: the Transcendent is beyond time and hence that experience is timeless and as such is unchanging. Whereas in my work the stress at present is precisely to reveal that same Absolute in change. None of the schools in existence have done this. The result is the great chasm I have described at the end of chapter 9 in Volume 2 of The New Way1 and of course elsewhere in my works, especially in Volume 3 of The New Way.2
Wilber then seeks a synthesis on the basis of the known and existing schools and experiences and realisations. This is when the attempt collapses because a true synthesis can only be brought about when a new and higher realisation or revelation comes. To give an example, The Gnostic Circle is describing just such a synthesis. How is this accomplished? In the book, I am presenting that new seeing and experience which in its revelation has the capacity to integrate all that has previously been done in the field of cosmic harmonies. This could never be accomplished if I were limited to the known in the field. Indeed no such synthesis has been possible in the past precisely because this other new way had not manifested.
And why had it not manifested? This is where the controlling power of Time comes in, and it is precisely what everyone is overlooking or refusing to look at, or erroneously perceiving. What happens then in this synthesis I have presented? You have an entirely new vision which brings with it a new method expressed in the diagram of the Gnostic Circle itself. And the nature of that diagram is such that its very essence is synthesis. Thus you are constantly dealing with an integrated perception (and realisation) of the three major levels of reality as experienced here on Earth: Transcendent, Cosmic and Individual - God, cosmos and man/soul. In this synthesising act something entirely new and hitherto unmanifested has come into being. It is solely on the basis of that new thing that this desired synthesis and integration can come about.
Wilber proceeds on the basis of the known, believing as everyone does that in the realm of spirituality or the transpersonal as you would call it, there is one experience, immutable and eternal - because one is precisely dealing with the element that is unchanging and hence does not suffer the effects of the flux and flow of the changing dimension. This is the crux of the problem. To put it succinctly: it is a denial of the Mother, just as I have written in The New Way of Woman4 and elsewhere.
No one can deal with this cosmic body because its essence is change and in change there is no permanency and all the rest. Everyone believes that the transcendent-spiritual can never be touched by that. In this precisely lies their idea of freedom.
But you realise that this basic premise is exactly the reason why what Wilber is seeking to accomplish can never come about. He can never really bring about a synthesis which he realises fortunately must be the way. This failure makes itself known by the culmination of his work in chapter ten which I shall deal with anon. At this point I can say that the failure to really know synthesis of all the levels has brought him to see in Da Free John what is not there at all. There is only immense chaos, mixture and a fictional 'newness'.
Wilber's experience can have only led to such a condition and miss-seeing. It is obvious since he has jumped from the immanent Transcendent (what I call the Core/Seed) to the Beyond, not realizing that in the process he has failed to perceive the Cosmic Body in the middle! Oh, how that cosmos is really so disturbing! And this is why Time is denied in the spiritual quest. They may claim the contrary. Wilber does so himself. But one writes one thing, just words, yet the total vision reveals the failure to integrate this most important element.
It is interesting. Recently I had occasion to write you about the Hindu 'Purusha'. I didn't realise that you wouldn't know the term since it is such a common one in spirituality. Now in reading Wilber's book I see that you do know the concept. It is the 'witness consciousness' he describes there in chapter nine. That is precisely the translation. But this is where I found the
chasm in Wilber's presentation. Mind you, it is common to every single thinker and realiser he has mentioned in his book as having influenced his thoughts - Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi and others. He writes on page 137: "All that is required (to attain the poise of the Witness Consciousness) primarily is but one understanding: whatever you can see cannot be the Seer. Everything you know about yourself is precisely not your Self, the Knower, the inner I-ness that can neither be perceived, defined or made an object of any sort. Bondage is nothing but the misidentification of the Seer with all these 'things' which can be seen. And liberation begins with the simple removal of this mistake." (Wilber's Italics.)
Well this clearly and emphatically describes the origin of the split which is the sole reason for humanity's distress. Yet Wilber sees just the contrary. For him and all the others this detachment will solve the dis-ease. Yet I tell you that it is precisely because in India they stopped at this very realisation that we have reached our impasse. This is where Sri Aurobindo comes in.
It is interesting because Wilber appreciates Sri Aurobindo but only peripherally. It cannot be otherwise since Sri Aurobindo has put his finger right on the problem. But to be honest, Wilber and all the other seekers could not follow Sri Aurobindo into the realm of integration and the Supermind because Sri Aurobindo's work taken alone, disconnected from the contributions of the 6 and the 3 powers (precisely the Cosmic and Individual Divine) cannot provide the answers. His is the Transcendent (9) overview.
In that incarnation it was not meant to be anything else; he was not to deal with the cosmic or the individual levels. Yet it is precisely in those that all 'that can be seen' has to be "divinised". But what does this mean? In the next paragraph Wilber writes: "These (everything that can be considered to be in flux in the human being) all can be seen and thus are not the Seers." Do you realise what that statement implies?
It is almost horrific because of the terrible contradiction it reveals. What is seen (that is measurable) is not the Divine or identifiable with the Transcendent Self which is the "ray of the Divine" as he has described it on page 138. He goes on in the same paragraph: ". . . For it is finally, ultimately, profoundly God alone who looks through your eyes, listens with your ears, and speaks with your tongue." Well isn't this what I have written about - the human 'eye that sees' being the means by which and through which the Absolute knows and enjoys itself?
And yet have I stopped there and discarded all that this very Absolute is experiencing in this sublime Act? This is the crux of the misconception Wilber and all the others suffer from. He reveals this clearly in the lines that end this chapter which he says is the 'message' of all the ways, from Jung through all the saints, sages, mystics and schools - Eastern or Western: "At the bottom of your soul is the soul of humanity itself, but a divine Transcendent soul, leading from bondage to liberation, from enchantment to awakening, from time to eternity, from death to immortality." ("Transcendent soul" is a contradiction in terms.)
Here we go - all the "negatives" of his lineup are precisely the very areas in which I have revealed the Divine. Everyone of them. Do you see the almost unsolvable dichotomy that Wilber unknowingly has unmasked in these lines? For example he writes that the transcendent soul (?) leads humanity from "bondage to liberation". In my work I have shown the erroneous ideas we have of 'bondage' and that what we consider bondage is simply due to false identification, quite dissimilar from Wilber's idea of dis-identifying (as also his idea of boundaries).
This becomes clearer in the next qualification: "from enchantment to awakening". Here begins the 'negative' I am most involved with - maya, which in the spiritual/transcendental schools, as well as all religions, is illusion and the magical enchanting power that keeps human beings asleep and unawakened. I have revealed the Divine Maya and taken us back to the ancient Vedic understanding of the Divine Measure - for the root of the Sanskrit word 'maya' is precisely 'to measure'. You see, if you pursue Wilber's thought, to do so would be "unspiritual" and would conflict with what all the sages and mystics have said and revealed (except Sri Aurobindo) - "enchantment" or maya is a bane and stands opposed to awakening. Do you see the point?
His whole book is an effort to reach a synthesis or an integration of all the approaches, yet he reveals the very scourge he seeks to overcome! Let us continue: ". . . from time to eternity". This is the classic split, the age old dichotomy - time versus eternity. All things born in time are impermanent, subject to decay and have nothing to do with that transcendent self. But what of this Act that Wilber has attributed to God - seeing with our own eyes, hearing with our ears, and so forth? All of this takes place in time and precisely because of it. It is time itself that is the vehicle by which the Absolute engages in this act, and nothing other than Time.
To appreciate this and to have it serve as the foundation of our realisation one must know the supramental way, which is a harmony precisely of the One and the Many, the Unity and the Multiplicity, the Point and the Circle. Wilber here reveals the exact opposite realisation. He is describing the very heart of the cause for which we are a mortal race. It is the incapacity to harmonise and integrate these elements, and the pitting of one against the other that precisely culminates in his next polarity - "from death to immortality".
The pathetic thing is that this lineup can lead only to death, never immortality. In his few lines that I have here quoted you have the concise summary of the cause for all our distress and the explanation of why until now we have not succeeded in finding a way out. Sri Aurobindo's 'death' was to work out this knot. His rebirth has brought into manifestation on Earth the final principle, the Fourth - that of Integration or the One/1.
I am writing you this out of deep concern. My contact with you has had a singular meaning for me, my work, which I don't know if you are aware of. It has given me the opportunity to assess the condition in the world in a very special area. That is, where the secular meets the spiritual or the scientifically-based quests seek to join the yogic methods of dealing with the human consciousness and the Divine. From our contact I have been led to see the impasse that has been reached.
But this is no different than what I have been facing here in India in the so-called higher realm of the Spirit. Spirituality in India has reached the very same impasse. My task here is even more difficult than it might be in dealing with the Western counter-phenomenon. Dogmas exist in both - hard, entrenched. Now I see that psychoanalysis is incorporating the very same dogmatic, fossilised beliefs that at present are plaguing spirituality. This is nothing other than what I refer to in my work as inertia and the hardened mass of the past, the product of disharmonious Time. The realisation that overcomes this impasse is Simultaneous Time, on the basis of a new alignment which brings the experience of Whole Time.
None of this is in evidence in the effort Wilber is engaged in. I take him as a representative of the actual condition, a sort of symbol of the present position. It is evident that a crossroads has been reached, and my concern is that, gathering from what I read in Wilber's work and the influence he undoubtedly wields, the wrong direction has been assumed. This means that all the effort that researchers and seekers in the West are putting into the quest to reach the poise that can bring about a real breakthrough will prove useless, and worse yet, will go to consolidate the misery and accelerate the collapse.
I am writing you all this because I am wondering if anything can be done about it, effectively done. Are there people engaged in these activities who are ready to face the implications of the impasse and the wrong direction and courageously explore the new and real realm of harmony and integration? Perhaps this can only be found in women, I don't know. You see, Wilber's presentation is the classic masculine approach and postulation. What I am presenting as a continuation of Sri Aurobindo's initial revelation is truly the 'new way of woman'. This is what the Mother and I are adding. Could Wilber understand, or is it already too late? I wonder how he would take this letter for example? It is so vitally important. We are dangerously near the collapse. We stand on the brink. There must be a decisive intervention now.
It is so clear. Whenever Wilber mentions Sri Aurobindo he makes no mention of The Mother. This is a farce. Nothing of Sri Aurobindo can really be understood unless taken in conjunction with the Mother's work and contribution. Likewise nothing of the Mother can really be understood if it is not taken in conjunction with the work of the Third in the line. But Sri Aurobindo being the 9/Transcendent of the Line, you can understand why, especially here in India, so many stop with him and go no further. Hence they can never see nor apply the principle of Supermind in the world.
This is the new, the entirely new world Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have described. Patricia, I don't know if you can grasp what I am writing here. You see, if Thea5 penetrates, if it succeeds (and it is destined to) in overcoming the obstacles it faces, it will render null and void and irrelevant every 'conclusion' that has been reached so far. None can stand up beside this New Way. None.
And this is the problem. We encounter it in the very next chapter. Wilber starts by quoting Ramana Maharshi: "There is neither creation nor destruction, neither destiny nor free-will, neither path nor achievement; this is the final truth." (Italics mine.) The final truth! - and this means the denial of woman - of the Mother. In this conclusive, final statement, Ramana has entombed creation. Truth can only be found beyond it, for all the play of the gunas6 is an illusion. This conclusiveness is what is upturned in the new way of Supermind.
We are dealing with a true perception, only incomplete. Ramana perceived the fallacy of cause and effect - one thing done to reach another. The Mother saw this same thing and I have discussed it at length in chapter X of the Commentaries of The Magical Carousel. I too am aware of the problem causation poses but I found the answer in time, in the core of time where there is absolutism. This brings us to the most exciting aspect of Supermind. It lies in simultaneity and wholeness.
It is evident that what I see and have recorded in my books is not something that came into existence when I saw it. In fact all of my seeing concerns the act of Becoming for which extended Time is the imperative. In a very profound sense my seeing is crucial because only then is this harmony of gnostic time and all the events related thereto integrated as part of the manifestation. Thus it is not my seeing that causes the event. Nor has the event caused my seeing. The two are together because they have evolved from the same involved Seed. There, causation and hence distance and division, lose their meaning entirely. This is the New Way - a completely new poise of the consciousness that not only renders obsolete Ramana's sayings but every other 'conclusion' reached so far.
Above all there is no denial involved. It is not a summit reached through a process of negation or denial of one thing to attain another, as Wilber has done in the passages I quoted. Ramana has carried this to the ultimate extreme - a total obliteration of "all that moves".
Now I have finished the last culminating chapter and I wonder at the human being, the human condition, what it will accept meekly because it is 'authoritative'. This last chapter makes a mockery of the whole book. If I were to have seriously followed all the therapies laid down by Wilber in his program to finally reach the transpersonal and what he considers the primary reason for being, the root of existence as it were - by this last chapter I would be ready to shoot myself. In fact, what has all that labour signified? What is the culmination of the hard work to attain self-knowledge and individuality?
It is for non-being, dissolution of the self and destruction of the individual. This is fantastic. No one protests since this is the word of the authority, the spiritual authority. If you were influenced by Wilber it is no wonder you reached the end of your tether. What is worse, this accepted authoritative spiritual achievement has resulted in the near destruction of the Earth. Do you realise that there is no other finality but this one possible, if our spiritual quest ends in dissolution.
It is only logical then that at a certain stage in evolution when collective and individual stand face-to-face at the crossroads, this individual experience of dissolution is going to be taken up and played out in the collective consciousness level, and we will act out that same dissolution and obliteration on the material plane.
Laboriously Wilber carries us through all the levels to reach the heights. Much of what he writes, many of the techniques to overcome resistance are so right. However there remains one big overall flaw. That is the direction of the quest. He, as all other paths, carries one beyond. This is evident by his desire to reach a boundaryless state. For this, dissolution of the Self is imperative. Then we must perforce ask: what was the meaning of it all? What is the purpose in this experience? We live in material creation. Don't you see that in all these paths, psychoanalytical or whatever, spiritual too, after all the right things are said and done we have come no closer to understanding the purpose of creation than what we knew in the beginning? On the contrary.
Wilber may be very happy with his conclusion, but I tell you it is appalling and is directly related to the reason why as a civilisation we stand on the brink of total annihilation. Indeed the only overall purpose to life in this material creation that emerges from his study is to provide a means to escape from it. What a farce!
At the end there is almost a desperate obsession to escape the cosmos, time and all that moves. There is indeed an obsession with time and so all the apparent emphasis is on a present in order to escape movement which goes hand-in-hand with the experience of time. When he and others write of the eternal now of the present, the ultimate aim is to escape time itself by this 'stillness' and immobility that seeks to obliterate time. He gets drastic in this by demanding the classic 'no movement to get anywhere'. This compression and the breakdown of resistance leads or results finally in the dissolution of the self.
Comical! All that effort to find the self and individuality only to finally obliterate it. Don't you see the madness? Can't you see how this is finally the root of all the present aberrations, something that has been in the making for over 6000 years? What is alarming is for me to see that all the labor that the WEST has been engaged in to develop individuality, which in a sense is its contribution via psychoanalysis and the like, is going to be rendered futile by this adoption of the old spirituality. How else to call it? It is old and now irrelevant. Instead of finding the new in the East, it is adopting the old which totally contradicts all the work done so far.
My concern is that if we keep denying the cosmos, seeing it as Ignorance and not Truth we are hastening our collective demise. When Krishnamurti can say: "Truth cannot be exact; what can be measured is not truth", then we know the matter is serious.