INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber



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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY ELLIOT BENJAMIN

ON KEN WILBER'S
INTEGRAL INSTITUTE

AN EXPERIENTIAL ANALYSIS

Elliot Benjamin, Ph.D

There have been a number of people who have expressed serious concerns and misgivings regarding the cult dangers of philosopher Ken Wilber's Integral Institute (c.f. [1]). These criticisms have generally focused upon Wilber's harsh comments regarding scholars who disagree with his philosophical opinions. This has become increasingly more evident with the development of the Integral Institute website and especially Ken Wilber's private website (c.f. [1], [2]), although there was quite an uproar in academic circles in the aftermath of Wilber's aggressive and condescending remarks toward his critics in both his 1995 acclaimed book “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” and his 2003 novel “Boomeritis.” (c.f. [3]).

To Wilber's credit he did engage in highly constructive dialogue early on with his most prominent academic critics, as evidenced in the 1997 book “Ken Wilber In Dialogue” (c.f. [4]). However, it appears that with the launching and development of Integral Institute over the past few years, there is now sufficient reason to examine both the asserted guru characteristics of Ken Wilber as well as cult dangers of Integral Institute. It is with this purpose in mind that I wish to apply the tri-perspective experiential analysis that I have described in my “Modern Religions” book (c.f. [5]) to Ken Wilber's Integral Institute.

Meeting Ken Wilber

Since my tri-perspective analysis is based primarily upon my own experience, a crucial component for me is my private encounter with Ken Wilber in his Denver apartment in November, 2003. Having read a number of his books and having felt tremendous impact and inspiration from his writings (c.f. [6]), I decided to fly out to Denver to meet personally with Wilber, as my mathematical interests in applying my pure mathematical knowledge to his Integral theory of shifts in levels of consciousness (c.f. [7]) gained me this invitation. I spent 5 or 6 hours with Wilber in his Denver apartment, including 2 hours of private conversation. The openness, friendliness, graciousness, intellectual stimulation, and respect he showed me was totally amazing to me, especially since at that time I had not published any of my writings on spirituality and cults or anything for that matter aside from mathematics or mathematics education. I left my visit with Wilber feeling both privileged and “high,” determined to develop myself as a philosopher in my own right, get my philosophical articles on spirituality and cults published, and to become involved with Integral Institute.

The main purpose of Integral Institute was to engage people in incorporating the “four quadrants” of individual (intrinsic), behavioral (extrinsic), cultural, and social in all academic endeavors: including psychology, sociology, religion, politics, education, medicine, law, philosophy, anthropology, etc. (c.f. [8]). At that time there was also a strong interplay between Integral theory and Spiral Dynamics theory (c.f. [9]) to describe the levels of consciousness of both the individual and society, and an emphasis upon people becoming “second tier” thinkers, which essentially means to be able to take the viewpoints of all different levels of consciousness. Although recently Wilber has become much more detached from Spiral Dynamics as a comprehensive descriptive Integral theory model (c.f. [10], at the time of my meeting Wilber I was aware (deep down) of a kind of Us. vs. Them dichotomy regarding the “highest” levels of consciousness of the truly Integral thinkers. However, I must admit that I was so taken with all the Ken Wilber books I had read and my meeting with Wilber himself, that I did not pay much conscious attention to this preliminary note of personal warning.

Soon after my meeting with Wilber, I visited with one of the higher ups in Integral Institute in New Jersey, and became even more “high,” as this person was extremely complimentary of my ideas and self-published books, and led me to believe that there was a place for me in the upper echelons of Integral Institute. My Group Theory/Consciousness article got accepted for Allan Combs' Integral Consciousness domain in the Integral Institute website (c.f. [7]) and after a while I worked through the complications and challenges to have my Integral Mathematics article accepted in Integral Institute's prestigious AQAL (All Quadrants All Levels; the crux of Integral theory) internet journal. This process included a long phone editing conversation with Ken Wilber himself (and his close associates), and Ken even made arrangements to send me his Integral Spirituality manuscript (c.f. [10]) before it was officially published; needless to say I was quite honored.

However, while all this excitement and upward mobility and potential for me progressing in Integral Institute was happening, there were some simultaneous contradictory events going on that were starting to trouble me. For one, the costs of Wilber's seminars that began in 2004 were extremely expensive, even surpassing the costs of the Avatar workshop which I had written about with serious concerns regarding its cultish characteristics (c.f. [5], [11]). I had in fact made the initial agreement to attend this seminar in Colorado but changed my mind after taking stock of my realistic finances and discussing the matter with an old friend who had participated with me in an evening event in New York City to discuss the work of both Ken Wilber and controversial guru Andrew Cohen (c.f. [12]). But even more troubling to me, I knew that Wilber had had some kind of disciple relationship with a far more controversial guru who I had no doubt was extremely dangerous to his followers. I am speaking of Adi Da, originally known as Free John amongst other names (c.f. [13], [14]), and I had broached discussing Wilber's involvement with him in our private meeting. Wilber explained to me that his involvement with Adi Da was minimal, and that he broke away when Adi Da became more bizarre and suspicious (c.f. [14). However, I did not think that Wilber had a real understanding of the cult dangers of certain new age spiritual organizations, especially Scientology, both from my meeting with him as well as from his writings in the book Spiritual Choices (c.f. [15]) which he personally recommended that I read, and from his exuberant previous praise of Adi Da (c.f. [13], [14]).

But these were still relatively minor incidents to me, until I attended the 2004 ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) (c.f. [16]) conference in Edmonton, Canada. At various times during this conference I found myself talking openly about the wonderful spiritual development possible in Integral Institute without any cult dangers, but some of the responses I got from people were less than enthusiastic and were actually rather disconcerting. In addition, as I found myself raving about Ken Wilber to my personal friends and acquaintances, I could see that people were taking me with a grain of salt, looking at me as if I were following a “guru.” I was gradually becoming aware that there were strong viewpoints in both Ken Wilber and Integral Institute that I did not completely agree with, including Wilber's openness to gurus, appreciation of diverse and contradictory political stances, his condescending attack on the “new age” sensitivity people, rather viscously referred to by Wilber as the “Mean Green Meme” (c.f. [17]), as well as the extremely complicated and abstruse development of his four quadrants into eight “zones,” where each quadrant has an inner and outer “perspective,” as outlined in the Integral Spirituality manuscript that I had been privileged to read (c.f. [10]). Wilber also included more of his Integral Mathematics symbolism in this manuscript (c.f. [10], and although I managed to incorporate enough of this in my Integral Mathematics article to satisfy Wilber and his AQAL editors, I knew that my heart was not really in it, and his new theories seemed too abstract and contorted to me in regard to its potential of being applied effectively in practical situations.

But I was not yet ready to get off the Integral bandwagon. Allan Combs, a prominent author on consciousness in his own right (c.f. [18]) and a close colleague of Wilber as well as one of the leaders in Integral Institute, had submitted my article on Art And Mental Disturbances (c.f. [19]) to the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, where it is presently being considered for publication. Although Combs' Integral Consciousness domain in Integral Institute has not materialized and I was doubting if my Group Theory/Consciousness article was ever going to appear on the Integral Institute website, I considered my positive association with Allan Combs to be an indication that Ken Wilber and Integral Institute was still safe and legitimate for me. However, as my direct contacts with the higher ups at Integral Institute became briefer and less and less frequent, my disillusionment began to increase. Approximately a year ago I was contacted by someone who read my "Spirituality & Cults Experiential Analysis" article on the Integral Science website (separate from Integral Institute; c.f. [20]), conveying to me the serious concerns many people were having about the guru and cult dangers of Ken Wilber and Integral Institute, and suggesting that I apply my experiential analysis to Integral Institute. I was not ready to do so at the time, but after being contacted by this same person a year later who now is conveying to me how these concerns have become increasingly escalated (c.f. [1]), the timing is right for me, based upon two recent experiences.

After having read Wilber's Integral Spirituality manuscript, I decided to try to assimilate his current ideas about his eight zones and perspectives into my Spirituality & Cults article in order to progress from the Integral Institute approved designation of being “Integrally Informed” to official acceptance in the AQAL journal, as my Integral Mathematics article had successfully gone this route. I must admit that not the least of my reasons for doing this was the prospect of having another phone conversation with Ken Wilber, as this was the last part of the editing process to have an article accepted in AQAL journal. I knew (deep down) that what I was trying to do was rather staged and artificial for me, as I did not truly believe in or appreciate the usefulness of Wilber's new ideas that I was trying to incorporate into my article. Sure enough, my article was not received well by the AQAL editor, and I was invited to rework the article for the purpose of making it “Integrally Informed,” as it was explained to me that it was far removed from AQAL journal standards.

Needless to say, I was not enthused at this invitation, and I responded in a rather lukewarm way, leaving it as a vague possibility in the distant future. I also asked when my Integral Mathematics article would be available to the public, and I have not heard back from this editor. This experience did remind me of the dictionary of Integral Institute terms that had been sent to me by the AQAL editor to prepare me for my phone conversation with Wilber to discuss my Integral Mathematics article six months ago. And how when I did talk to Wilber, he was not too happy about my lack of thorough understanding of the distinction between “quadrant” and “quadrivium” (c.f. [10). Yes--I felt somewhat like I was “in school,” trying to learn the “right way” and being the apprentice of the great philosopher. In my deepest self I knew that this was no longer right for me; it was not what I meant by the description I gave to my own philosophy of life: Natural Dimension.

But the final break for me has occurred this past week as I returned to Denver, not to meet again with Wilber (my request to do so was not taken seriously by the higher ups in the organization), but to lead a panel workshop at the 2006 ICSA conference, entitled “Coming Back To Religion And Spirituality After Spiritual Abuse.” I took the leap and finally decided to enter the public arena, promoting my “Modern Religions” book, talking openly about Scientology, and in the same breath I found myself quite naturally talking about my recent involvement with Ken Wilber and Integral Institute. Yes--I was starting to think about the possibility of there being cult dangers in the organization.

Experiential analysis of Integral Institute

And finally this brings me to my tri-perspective experiential analysis of Integral Institute. I won't go through all three scales that I have used in detail, although the interested reader can find this in my related article and book (c.f. [5]). But to give a brief generic description of the first two scales, my first scale is the Anthony Typology (c.f. [15]), and there are three categories in this scale: multilevel/unilevel, technical/charismatic, and monistic/dualistic. Multilevel refers to authentic spiritual experience whereas unilevel refers to more mundane psychological or material gain. Technical refers to processes or techniques whereas charismatic refers to mystique and charisma of a guru figure. Monistic refers to non-judgmental openness to all people whereas dualistic refers to an Us vs. Them elitist dichotomy. Suffice it to say that although the Anthony Typology has been helpful to me in understanding the cult dangers (or beneficial qualities) of a number of what I have referred to as new age spiritual organizations (c.f. [5]), this is not tremendously helpful to me in evaluating Integral Institute. The reason is that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what categories in the Anthony Typology in which to place Integral Institute.

Ken Wilber's writings are enormously complex and brilliant, full of ideas as well as recommended techniques and practices. But there is also the tremendously impactful and forceful presence and mystique of Ken Wilber himself, in his full 6' 6'' bald rather intimidating grand stature. Integral Institute is certainly open to all people who are interested, but there is most definitely the “right” way of being fully integral, second tier (or third tier), highest level of consciousness, etc. Perhaps the most I can say with confidence about Integral Institute in the Anthony Typology is that it is in the Multilevel category, in the context of representing an authentic potential of spiritual experience.

In regard to the second scale which I referred to as the Wilber Integral Model (c.f. [5]) I would place Integral Institute in-between the rational and trans-rational continuum, which I have described as a continuum from pre-rational to pseudo-rational to rational to trans-rational, along the lines of Wilber's previous writings (c.f. [5], [6], [8], [10]). However, one can start to see some alarms as there is little historical continuity with religious traditions, the emphasis being upon a modern assimilation of all spiritual and religious viewpoints. In addition, Integral Institute is most definitely run by Ken Wilber in what I consider to be a benevolent authoritarian manner, somewhat similar to the way in which Neale Donald Walsch runs his Conversations With God organization (c.f. [5], [20]. [21]). I do not see any phasing out of Wilber's leadership during his lifetime. Thus, the lack of historical continuity and phasing out of leadership are red flags to me for Integral Institute in Ken Wilber's own Integral model.

But lastly and most critically, the 15 item scale I have used and refer to as the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale (c.f. [5], [20], [22]) is what I generally place the most importance on. The following 15 items are what I utilize, averaging the ratings on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest rating.

  1. Internal Control: amount of internal political power exercised by leader(s) over members.
  2. Wisdom Claimed: by leader(s), amount of infallibility declared about decisions.
  3. Wisdom Credited: to leaders by members, amount of trust in the decisions made by leader(s).
  4. Dogma: rigidity of reality concepts taught, of amount of doctrinal inflexibility.
  5. Recruiting: emphasis put on attracting new members, amount of proselytizing.
  6. Front Groups: number of subsidiary groups using different name from the main group.
  7. Wealth: amount of money and/or property desired or obtained, emphasis on members' donations.
  8. Political Power: amount of external political influence desired or obtained.
  9. Sexual Manipulation: of members by leaders(s), amount of control over the lives of members.
  10. Censorship: amount of control over members' access to outside opinion on group, its doctrines or leader(s).
  11. Dropout Control: intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.
  12. Endorsement Of Violence: when used by or for the group or leader(s).
  13. Paranoia: amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies, perceived power of opponents.
  14. Grimness: amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or leader(s).
  15. Surrender Of Will: emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions.

For the above items, the number assigned to the item is based primarily upon my own experience with Ken Wilber and Integral Institute over the past two and a half years:

Internal Control: 4

Wisdom Claimed:

9

Wisdom Credited:

6

Dogma:

8

Recruiting:

4

Front Groups:

1

Wealth:

5

Political Power:

5

Sexual Manipulation:

1

Censorship:

5

Dropout Control:

1

Endorsement Of Violence:

1

Paranoia:

5

Grimness:

3

Surrender Of Will:

1

AVERAGE SCORE:

3.93

This average score of 3.93 is comparable to the average scores of the six new age spiritual organizations which I have placed in Neutral territory, in-between Mild Cult Danger and Favorable Spiritual Benefits (c.f. [5]). Specifically these average scores on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale are:

A Course In Miracles: 3.53
International Cultic Studies Association: 3.53
Conversations With God: 3.73
Self-Realization Fellowship: 3.73
Tikkun (new age primarily Jewish organization) 3.80
Reiki: 4.13

Based upon some of my higher ratings in the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, my ambiguous ratings in the Anthony Typology, and some of my red flags in the Wilber Integral Model, I would say that there are definitely things to be cautious and observant about in Integral Institute, not the least of which is Ken Wilber's strong ego and harsh criticisms of many of those who disagree with him. However, in a similar manner to the conclusions I came to regarding both Conversations With God and Reiki (c.f. [5), I will give both Ken Wilber and Integral Institute the benefit of the doubt and place this organization in Neutral territory regarding cult dangers vs. beneficial spiritual characteristics. From my own experience, the new age spiritual organizations that I have described as having Miid cult dangers are est, Eckankar, Gurdjieff, and Twelve Step Support Groups (c.f. [5]. I do feel confident that Ken Wilber and Integral Institute do not belong in this category, and certainly not in the Moderate cult danger classification in which I placed Avatar and Divine Light Mission, or in the High cult danger classification in which I placed Scientology and the Unification Church (c.f. [5]). However, I most definitely do not think that Integral Institute belongs in the Favorable category in which I placed my experience with Neopaganism or the new age spiritual workshops I have done at Omega Retreat Center or Kripalu Yoga Center (c.f. [5]).

Perhaps a significant variable to determine if my Neutral placement of Integral Institute is justified or somewhat naive will be the response (if any) I receive from them based upon the exposure of this article. Given that I have decided to make all my writings on the cult dangers of new age spiritual organizations readily available to the public, I have little qualms about making this article available as well. It will be interesting to see if my Group Theory/Consciousness and Integral Mathematics articles will still appear on the Integral Institute website (assuming my articles would have eventually appeared there ordinarily), as I have certainly made some critical statements about both Ken Wilber and Integral Institute. But make no mistake about it; for those people concerned in regard to the cult dangers of Ken Wilber and Integral Institute, at this point I do not see anything serious enough to be very alarmed about. As far as my present knowledge can determine, if you do not like what you see at Integral Institute then you can disengage without repercussions. Big egos, strong ideas, and harsh criticism of opponents are not the same as cult dangers, and if I ever have anything to add to this appraisal I will not hesitate to do so in the future.

NOTES AND REFERENCES

1) See www.integralworld.net

2) See www.integralinstitute.org and www.kenwilber.com

3) See Ken Wilber's books “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” (Boston: Shambhala, 1995) and “Boomeritis“ (Boston: Shambhala, 2003).

4) See Donald Rothberg and Sean Kelly (editors), “Ken Wilber In Dialogue” (Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, 1998).

5) See Elliot Benjamin, “Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis And Exposé” (Swanville, Maine: Natural Dimension Publications, 2005): available by contacting the author at ben496@prexar.com. My tri-perspective analysis is also available as a long article on-line; see Elliot Benjamin, “Spirituality And Cults: An Experiential Analysis” in The Ground Of Faith Journal, 2005 (thegroundoffaith@hug.co.nz).

6) See Elliot Benjamin, “On The Philosophy Of Ken Wilber” in Inner Tapestry Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2005 (www.innertapestry.org).

7) See Elliot Benjamin, “A Mathematical Group Theoretical Model Of Shifts Into Higher Levels Of Consciousness In Ken Wilber's Integral Theory” in www.integralscience.org, 2004.

8) See Ken Wilber, “A Theory Of Everything” (Boston: Shambhala, 2001).

9) See Don Beck & Chris Cowan, “Spiral Dynamics: Managing Values, Leadership, And Change” (London: Blackwell, 1996).

10) See Ken Wilber, “Integral Spirituality” (Boston: Shambhala, 2006).

11) See Elliot Benjamin, “On Avatar” in ICSA E-Newsletter, 2005 (http://cultinfobooks.com).

12) See Andrew Cohen, “Living Enlightenment” (Lenox, MA: Moksha Press, 2002).

13) See Adi Da's books “The Dawn Horse Testament” (San Rafael, CA: The Dawn Horse Press, 1985) and “Scientific Proof Of The Existence Of God Will Soon Be Announced By The White House!” (Middleton, CA: The Dawn Horse Press, 1980). Note that this last book includes a forward by Ken Wilber.

14) See Geoffrey Falk, “Stripping The Gurus” (www.angelin.com/trek/geoffreyfalk/ blog/blog.html, 2005) for a particularly scathing expose¢ on both Adi Da and Ken Wilber, in addition to many other gurus and spiritual leaders.

15) See Dick Anthony, Bruce Ecker, Ken Wilber (editors), “Spiritual Choices” (New York: Paragon House, 1987).

16) Note that ICSA was originally AFF (American Friends & Family), having changed its name to ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) in March, 2005.

17) See Ken Wilber's books “Boomeritis” and “A Theory Of Everything” (book information in [3] and [8]).

18) See Alan Combs, “The Radiance Of Being” (New York: Omega Book, 1995).

19) See Elliot Benjamin, “Art And Mental Disturbances” (available by contacting the author at ben496@prexar.com). A shortened version of this article is “The Artistic Theory Of Psychology” in Inner Tapestry Journal, 2006 (www.innertapestry.org).

20) See Elliot Benjamin, “Spirituality And Cults: An Integrally Informed Analysis” (www.integralscience.org, 2005).

21) See Elliot Benjamin, “On Conversations With God” in ICSA E-Newsletter, 2004.

22) Please see the Cult Danger Evaluation Frame rating scale in Isaac Bonewits, “Real Magic” (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weisner, 1971).


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