I've got mixed feelings about Ken Wilber.
Sometimes he strikes me as a self-absorbed guy who's fervently marketing his Integral Philosophy as the answer to every question, even though it strikes me as a conceptual exercise without much reality meat behind it.
I wasn't planning to renew my subscription to "What Is Enlightenment?" when the magazine changed it's question mark spots and became EnlightenNext, an even more brazen vanity massager for Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen -- who call themselves the "guru" (Cohen) and the "pandit" (Wilber).
But the sample issue that came in the mail had an interesting guru-pandit dialogue on "The Interdynamics of Culture + Consciousness." This is an area where Wilber makes pretty good sense.
When it comes to consciousness, we can talk about absolute consciousness and we can talk about relative consciousness... so absolute consciousness is indeed pure consciousness. It's not a thing; it's not an object; it's not a mist. If you have to think about it at all, it's a vast open emptiness in which all objects arise.
...But that's just the absolute component. What have become so important, as we have started to create an East-West integration, are the relative aspects of consciousness. And these relative aspects have to do with how you interpret that absolute experience of consciousness.
...So you can have a full-blown satori, or consciousness experience, but depending on where you are in this developmental scale, you'll interpret it according to different values.
You can interpret it in a magical, or egocentric, fashion: "I and I alone have this pure consciousness." You can interpret it in a mythic, or traditional, value structure, which is the next major stage, and believe that this experience is given just to one group, one people, or one chosen tribe.
And so on, with other stages providing the foundation for other interpretations.
Which leaves us with the crazy multiplicity of religions, each taking what likely is the same experience of love and connectedness with the cosmos, and framing it in a unique conceptual fashion.
Christians ascribe their uplifted feelings to Jesus. Followers of a mystical meditation system consider that the guru's grace is responsible. New Age types sense the presence of an angel or spirit guide working behind the scenes.
The interpretation of a spiritual experience is as important, or more important, than the spiritual experience itself. That sounds kind of shocking at first, but the more you think it through, the more you realize it is exactly right on the money.
I believe Wilber is correct up to this point. But then he goes further: arguing that there is a highest and best way of interpreting spiritual experiences, and -- no big surprise -- it happens to be his very own Integral Philosophy.
The integral structure is the value structure that is basically the truest to the real nature of absolute consciousness.
Well, I doubt it.
How likely is it that the universe, which Wilber likes to call Kosmos, is arranged or structured in exactly the fashion that a 21st century Homo sapiens named Ken Wilber has intellectualized it to be? Not very.
Of course, any description of How Things Really Are is going to fall short of how things really are. Words aren't reality. Nobody, including Wilber, seriously disagrees about that.
But some conceptual models come closer than others to reflecting the universe as it is (in contrast to how a human mind would like it to be, or imagines it to be). This is the goal of science: to describe as accurately as possible how the natural world works.
It's also the goal of Rolf Sattler, who emailed me recently. He said:
I would like to let you know that on my website www.beyondWilber.ca I published a book entitled Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond. In the first part of this book I discuss some of the most fundamental limitations of Wilber’s map, and in the second part I present a dynamic mandala that overcomes them.
Sattler is an interesting guy. For some (obvious) reason I like his silver-haired bearded appearance. He's a retired botany and biology professor who is very much into Taoism, Yoga, and such-ness.
His overview of why it's necessary to go beyond Wilber's model of the cosmos makes good sense to me.
Wilber loves organized hierarchies where things are neatly nestled in tidy relationships with other things. This may capture the mechanical aspect of the universe, but life, consciousness, and ultimate reality (whatever the heck it might be, or not be) seem much less amenable to Wilber's conceptualizing.
So Sattler's summary of his downloadable book strikes me as a better reflection of the cosmos, in all of its mysterious glory, than Wilber's often dry-as-dust model of quadrants, levels, holons, and whatnot.
I haven't done more than skim through the book. What I've read about Sattler's "mandala" approach to modeling reality sounds good, though.
Contemplating the mandala does not only provide insight into reality, the Kosmos, but also communion with it. As we become aware of the source in the empty center of the mandala, we can realize that this center is the center of the Kosmos and ourselves. Thus, the centers of the mandala, the Kosmos, and ourselves coincide—they are one center, not in a spatial or temporal sense, but in the sense of the unnamable mystery that pervades all existence.
Contemplating the mandala can also be liberating in several ways: instead of being caught in only one meaning of each concept, we can move freely to other complementary meanings; instead of being caught in only one way of relating the circles of concepts, we can entertain other complementary relations; and instead of being caught only in the manifest world cut off from its source, the empty center, we can see everything in relations to the source which bestows sacredness on the Kosmos including ourselves.