KEN WILBER

Messenger of the Kosmos

by A. V. Ashok

Ken Wilber has raised a body of work (The Spectrum of Consciousness/1977, The Atman Project/1980, Up From Eden/1981, Eye to Eye/1983, A Sociable God/1983, Transformations of Consciousness/1986, Grace and Grit/1991, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality/1995, A Brief History of Everything/1996, The Eye of Spirit/1997, The Marriage of Sense and Soul/1998, One Taste/1999, Integral Psychology/2000 and A Theory of Everything/2000) that is a monumental discourse on consciousness and evolution and a dizzy feat of theory and vision. Down the decades of the twentieth-century, the wisdom of the East has had a hypnotic appeal for several Western minds—like Heinrich Zimmer, Giuseppe Tucci, Alexandra David-Neel, Rene Guenon, Aldous Huxley, Erich Fromm, Arthur Osborne, Lama Anagarika Govinda, Alan Watts, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Fr.Bede Griffiths and Ram Dass. Today, Ken Wilber is the brightest name in the East-West encounter. In a vivacious synthesis of Western thought and Eastern spiritual traditions and a towering meditation on the origin, nature and destiny of consciousness, Wilber has unravelled our ageless enigma: "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" With illuminating wisdom and a glamorous multidisciplinary voice, Wilber has written the biography of consciousness in terms of phylogeny from the Lower Palaeolithic proto-human prehistory of the Australopithecines (6 million years ago) to contemporary postmodernity and of ontogeny from the magical child to the mystical sage.

Wilber's conceptualization of phylogenetic "worldviews" uses Jean Gebser's terminology for the "four major epochs of human evolution"—"the archaic" (6 million to 200,000 years ago), "the magic"(200,000 years ago to 10,000 B.C.), "the mythical"(10,000 B.C. to 1,500 B.C.) and "the mental"(from 1,500 B.C.)—and integrates the insights of Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Erich Neumann, L.L.Whyte, Ernest Becker, Joseph Campbell and Jurgen Habermas. Wilber's narrative of phylogenetic "cultural evolution"(the interiority of the species) begins with the "archaic" which is a pre-temporal condition of "slumber in subconsciousness" or "uroboric" "immersion"/ "embeddedness" in nature in a "material" adualism of absence of distinction between inside and outside, subject and object, self and environment that Wilber calls "Eden." In the "magical" period (of the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon man), the body registered a faint differentiation from nature but a fully differentiated mental self was lacking. The magical "bodyself' or "protomind" though not utterly embedded in nature still carried "adherences" to nature and was "magically intermingled" with nature and restricted to "magic imagery" in a "parataxic mode"(contiguity without connections) and to "primary process" or "magical cognition" in which "objects are perceived as identical if they share outstanding predicates or parts" ("displacement") and in which "the whole and the part" are confused whereby a member of a class of objects cannot be distinguished from the class itself ("condensation"). "Magical" consciousness experienced a proto-temporal sense of a simple present without a tomorrow and was also marked by a self–absorbed omnipotence without an integrative awareness of the "other" that bred perpetual "tribal" conflicts among the magical hunters and gatherers. Language emerged in the late Pleistocene around 50,000 B.C. and in the initial millennia of its evolution it merely generated "palaeologic thinking" or "mythical cognition"—a linguistic mentality "contaminated" by "magical" adherences. In a "prodigious mutation," consciousness became "tensed" with an "extended time" beyond the magical simple present when language peaked around 12,000 B.C. which triggered the awesome discovery of agriculture around 10,000 B.C. that entails "making present preparation for a future harvest." Language enabled consciousness for the first time to traffic in "non-present" entities like the future and the past and in non-sensory/-empirical/-physical symbols that are exclusively mental. This new verbal mind of farming consciousness was an extensive "symbolate" domain of non-empirical mental representations with a "membership" basis. Language made "mythic-membership" consciousness what gave it its name. A shared symbolic community or "polis" made possible by "intersubjective communication (via language)" became the distinctive "arena" of mythic-membership consciousness and "praxis" or social/cultural practice became the distinctive human mode of action. In a "superorganic leap," polis-praxis shifted consciousness from nature and instincts to culture, history, justice, ethics and morality as its definitive realm of identity. Mythic consciousness also acquired an awareness of "miraculous power in a great Other"(gods and goddesses) beyond the narrow magical/tribal sense of blood-bound kinship that unified the earlier warring egocentric tribes into larger ethnocentric Neolithic villagers. The high period of mythic consciousness was the age of the classical mythologies and civilizations: Egyptian, Babylonian, Sumerian, Aztec-Mayan, Indus Valley and Mycenaean. Coming "up from Eden" through countless millennia, consciousness conclusively broke free from its embeddedness in nature and crystallized out of the body in the middle of the second millennium B.C. and "awakened" as an autonomous and self-reflexive ego. The "Hero Myth" at the start of this epoch is symbolic of the emergence of the ego. In these myths of a Hero slaying a serpent- monster invariably to rescue a treasure, the serpent–monster is uroboros and the treasure it guards is "the ego immersed and encoiled in unconsciousness." It is with egoic consciousness that the first scream of anguish over mortality and death is heard and the human condition for the first time began to be experienced as "an insufferable state of sin, exile, or delusion." Egoic consciousness allied with "thought" whose "permanence" neutralized the ephemerality of nature and the body. But in a runaway differentiation, egoic consciousness lapsed into the "dissociation" of an arrogant independence and failed to integrate nature and the body as lower levels in a new compound consciousness. The emergence of the "permanent" ego was accompanied by a deformation of the body. The prana/ elan vital/ libido of the "whole-body" carried a massive sense of mutability and the ego "shrank in terror from the body " and "devitalized" the "whole-body" and "sequestered" it to genital sexuality. Thus arose the disembodied ego and the repressed body of modern times—both "distorted and deformed." Egoic consciousness not only had a "new body "but also a "new time." Mythic time though "extended" was seasonal—after an innings, everything had to start all over again in a cyclic scheme. But now egoic time became "linear"—an indefinitely extending "stretch." However, as the ego was indistinguishable from overweening repressive power, the new limitlessness of linear time became a medium for the overflowing hubris of the ego. But, egoic consciousness had a universalizing solidarity far wider than the ethnocentric fellowship of mythic consciousness and it finally consolidated as "rationality" which is an emancipatory "worldcentric" space of perspectives, possibilities and principles that are valid "not just for me or my tribe or my mythological culture" but for all on a universal scale. With the rise of rationality, mythic believers were replaced by democratic individuals supported and dignified by universal human rights and several new forms of freedom in nation-states based on separation of Church (mythology) and State (reason). In "vision-logic" that supercedes rationality, nation-states unify in transnational post-rational/ "centauric" integration. But today's post-rational international institutions and tools like borderless instantaneous satellite television and the Internet though centauric signifiers carry less than centauric signifieds. It is an error to assume that "the internet is global, so the consciousness using it must be global." The internet is a post-worldcentric technology but "what goes through the Net" is mostly egocentric and ethnocentric consciousness. The development of technology has outpaced growth of consciousness and this discrepancy often breeds catastrophe. Wilber asks: "What good is it if the Nazis have the net?" Earlier, Auschwitz was " the advanced technologies of rationality hijacked by tribalism,…by an ethnocentric mythology of blood and soil and race,… barbaric in its ethnic cleansing." Similarly, "the terror of tomorrow " makes Wilber ask: "Do we really want to colonize space with [ethnocentric] Nazis and the KKK? Do we really want Jack the Ripper living 400 years, zipping around the country in his hypercar, unleashing misogynistic nanorobots?" Apparently in a post-rational early vision-logic informational epoch, the world today is truly "struggling" to safeguard its egoic-rationality: nation–states are detribalizing with "blood cleansing" and are threatened by mythic-rational imperialisms like capitalist globalization and religious fundamentalism.

Wilber's account of ontogenetic development employs as a grid Jean Piaget's classification-- "sensorimotor"(0 to 2 years), "preoperational"(2 to 7 years), "concreate operational"(7 to 11 years) and "formal operational"(11 years and beyond) and uses the formulations of Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Shankara, Freud, Otto Rank, Sandor Ferenczi, Harry Stack Sullivan, Silvano Arieti, and a new generation of American researchers in developmental psychology like Lawrence Kohlberg, Jane Loevinger, Margaret Mahler, John Broughton, Howard Gardner, Robert Kegan, Deirdre Kramer, Susanne Cook-Grueter and Cheryl Armon. Wilber views ontogenetic development as marked by "decreasing egocentrism." A deconstruction of infancy is a prominent note in Wilber's thought. For Wilber, infancy is "the shallowest consciousness," a "primary matrix" of "adualistic" confusion and of "massive" narcissism and not an "unconscious Heaven " that merits adult nostalgia or that deserves to be regained as a paradise lost. The preop child is self-centred in a form of egocentrism that Wilber calls "egocentric magic" and defines as "an early inability to transcend one's own perspective and understand that reality is not self-centred." In the conop stage, the magical egocentric mind turns perspectival and begins " to enter the world of other minds" and learns the rules and roles of its culture and becomes sociocentric, ethnocentric and conventional with a "rule/role" identity. Egocentrism decreases further when the sociocentric self becomes "worldcentric"/postconventional in the formop stage where "one can take the perspective, not just of others in one's group, but of others in other groups." The worldcentric/ rational self can incur "identity crisis": what am I beyond social scripts and universal human rights? Pointing out the insufficiency of egoic-rational consciousness, Wilber wonders: "Has nature laboured these billions of years just to bring forth this egoic mouse?" Beyond the "normal" rational citizen is the "centauric" angst-ridden existentialist in "transconsensus, transmembership, transsocial" authenticity. The "centauric" self or the "total bodymind" experiences itself not as a magical/egocentric cosmos or a mythic/ cultural role or a socially adapted rational ego but as a wider/higher unity of existential "being-in-the-world." Out of its acute vulnerability to the dread of finitude, fragility and nothingness that annuls the inauthenticity of social scripts and rational "bad faith", "centauric"/existential consciousness suffers a desolation of homelessness that only transpersonal homecoming can dispel. Beyond the existential centaur in successive stages of "transpersonal"/ "transmental" evolution of the "Inward Arc" are the "the psychic" with paranormal siddhis, "the subtle" devotional / bhakti saint of the Sambhogakaya /sukshma sarira and "the causal"/ "the nondual" sage of the Dharmakhaya/ karana sarira/ nirvikalpa samadhi and the Svabhavikakaya/ sahaja samadhi. The ishtadeva of the devotional saints "is God as an archetypal summit of one's own consciousness…that Deity which, from the beginning has been one's own Self." The devotional rapture of the saints is a glorious ascension in which "consciousness reverts to, or remembers, its own prior and higher identity." In the causal/ nondual gnosis of the sage, consciousness is "undone" and it "disappears, dissolving back into radiant Emptiness" to become the Freedom of the "unbounded and unlimited, unborn and undying, unseen and unknown" or the "Seer" or the "Witness of all that arises" and "not anything that can be seen." The message of the mystics is that "the eye with which you see God is the same eye with which God sees you" and that in nondual "One Taste" "you will be everything that you see." Moksha or the "coming home" of consciousness is ineffable: "When we are in the eye of Spirit, the I of Spirit, what do we finally see?"

From the Big Bang (15 billion years ago) "which was really the roaring laughter of God voluntarily getting lost for the millionth time" through prepersonal "Eden" and personal Ego to transpersonal/nondual Enlightenment, evolution is for Wilber a lila of the "unfolding" of "Spirit" through "increasingly more conscious forms of Spirit's own self actualization and return to itself." Evolution is "Spirit-in-action" or "God in the making." In the beginning, Spirit in sport "forgets itself and empties itself into creation." In line with Schelling, creation for Wilber is a "falling-away" or "maximum self-alienation" of Spirit, and nature is "slumbering Spirit," mind is "self conscious Spirit" and nondual enlightenment is "realized Spirit." Thus the "direction" of evolution is "from nature to humanity to divinity; from subconsciousness to self-consciousness to superconsciousness; from prepersonal to personal to transpersonal; from id to ego to god." Wilber poetically demarcates his tripartite evolutionary scheme in an axiom: "Nature is unconscious imperfection, God is conscious perfection but poor humanity is conscious imperfection." As humans are "up from beasts and not yet gods" there has never been " a Golden Age of real Heaven on earth" or a "superconscious Eden" in our "actual historic past." For Wilber, the ego is not "a fall from a heavenly or spiritual estate" and history is not "devolution" or a progressive alienation from Spirit or God with each epoch "darker and more sinister and less spiritual." On the contrary, "with the rise of the ego, Spirit is halfway back home" from the prepersonal slumber of Eden and we are invited to "awaken" in transpersonal nonduality as "the eye of Spirit, the I of Spirit" when Spirit "recovers itself absolutely" after its "great search" through the "manifestations" of evolution "to know itself." "We may all take heart," affirms Wilber, "for it now appears certain that you and I came up from Eden so that we may all return to Heaven." The telos of evolution is "the Nondual Heart of One Taste" where "the entire game is undone." For Wilber, the nondual consciousness of a sage like Sri Ramana Maharshi is the homecoming of evolution. Each epoch in evolution has a collectively actualized "average mode of consciousness" and also an "advanced mode of consciousness" accessed by an evolutionary elite. The shamans, saints and sages who have "penetrated" to the psychic, subtle and causal levels of consciousness respectively are "advanced" realizers of the magical, mythic and the mental-egoic epochs of evolution respectively. Collectively, evolution now is just beginning to meagerly unfold into the post-egoic vision-logic stage beyond which lie the psychic, the subtle and the causal stages. Therefore, the shamans, saints and sages of the past "were ahead of their time, and they are still ahead of ours" and as "voices, not of our past, but of our future…whisper to us from the radiant depths of a greater tomorrow."

Wilber also depicts evolution as a saga of "the Atman project " that he defines thus:

…every individual constantly intuits that his prior Nature is infinite and eternal, All and Whole—he is possessed , that is, with a true Atman intuition. But, at the same time, he is terrified of real transcendence, because transcendence entails the "death" of his isolated and separate-self sense…Because men and women…will not accept the necessary death of the separate self sense, they go about seeking transcendence in ways that actually prevent it and force symbolic substitutes…this I call the Atman project.
At one level, Up from Eden is an interpretation of time as the Atman project. Wilber points out that
As long as one holds on to the separate-self sense, one must repress death and its terror. In order to transcend the death terror, one must transcend the self. That is, there is nothing that the self can do to actually get rid of death terror, since the separate self is that death terror—they come into existence together and they only disappear together. The only thing the separate self can do with death is, deny it, repress it, dilute it, or otherwise hide it.
The "denial of death" seeks "continuing and continuing and continuing" in time which is a perversion of one's "timeless" Nature that is "not an everlasting life in time" but a realization that one's real self is not of time but is "prior to time":
…when man denies death , he refuses to live without a future, and therefore he refuses to live timelessly. In denying death he denies the condition of no future, and thus he denies eternity. In short, to deny death is to demand a future—in order to avoid death, man pictures his separate self going forward in time. He wants to meet himself tomorrow.
For Wilber, time is "a substitute for eternity" and is a medium of self-persistence which is the antithesis of self-sacrifice in transcendence. Time is a sign of one's separate self, fear of death, death denial and loss of Atman in the Atman project. Successive structures of consciousness and stages in evolution are "new attempts to gain Spirit in substitutes" and each structure and stage has its own specific "forms of the Atman project" or "immortality symbols" that are substitutes for "true and eternal life in timeless Spirit." For the magical/ tribal hunter, the Atman project took the form of surrender of his finger joints in return for the "moment-to-moment self-perpetuation of the hunt." In the mythic period, agriculture was a "solution" to the "heightened death seizure" that inevitably accompanied the new "extended time" opened by language. Wilber reads agriculture as a form of the Atman project to "buy time" as it safeguarded this newly emerged future from the touch of death and preserved it as a promise of life in time in the form of a reward for present work. Wilber locates the origin of "sacrifice" in the Atman project of mythic consciousness. In the infancy of its differentiating separateness, mythic consciousness was hounded by fearful memories of its earlier predifferentiated/indissociated uroboric/archaic immersion as a "Great Mother." Mythic consciousness sought through sacrifice to expiate its guilt on becoming a separate self and to appease the uroboric Great Mother to "prevent her wrathful Vengeance" on the separate self for differentiating from her in individuating emergence. Through ritualized sacrifice, the "struggling" mythic self attempted to resist the Great Mother's "pull" of "inertia" to revert to uroboric subconsciousness and instead persist in the individuated separateness of mythic consciousness. Wilber distinguishes the biological/ subconscious Great Mother who dominated mythic consciousness through sacrifice from the transcendent/superconscious Great Goddess discovered by a few "heroes" of the mythic period. An "esoteric few" of mythic culture accessed a beginning "Subtle"/ Sambhogakaya awareness of transcendent Oneness underlying the manifold universe incarnated as an Archetypal Deity in the form of a Goddess. Membership sacrifice to the Great Mother involved horrible rites of "brutal victim-sacrifice"—of "literal body death or blood murder"—which were a travesty of "true self-sacrifice"—the sacrifice of the separate self to the Great Goddess that conferred the transcendent realization of "one's timeless and selfless Essence" and "which occurs in the heart, and never involved literal body murder." The "ritual of blood sacrifice"to the Great Mother was the exoteric/ substitutive "horror" of the Atman project of the masses of the average mode of mythic consciousness while the bloodless "true self-sacrifice" in Sambhogakaya bliss of Subtle Oneness through the Great Goddess was the esoteric/ transformative transcendence of the "advanced souls" of the mythic period. Wilber also locates the origin of "murder" as a "substitute sacrifice" of the Atman Project or as a travesty of transcendence in mythic times. Mythic consciousness "extroverted" its "excessive death terror" and became "death dealing" and made others its "victims." Wilber exposes the cruel perversion of "true sacrifice" in murder: it is "a new way to magically avoid death by offering up another being's life as a substitute sacrifice." In the egoic epoch, "thought" which conjured a "crystal unchanging world of concepts" became an agent of the Atman project: "Thought promises eternity by delivering its substitute: permanence." The existential centaur is the first structure of consciousness not to be implicated in the Atman project as " it is the first self-sense strong enough to openly face and confront death."

Of the three thresholds of evolution—prepersonal, personal and transpersonal—the prepersonal and transpersonal are often erroneously "confused and equated" since "both are, in their own ways, nonpersonal"—either the transpersonal is "reduced" to the prepersonal or the prepersonal is "elevated" to the transpersonal. For example, Science, Darwinism and Freud envisage development as rising from prepersonal nature to the "high point" of the rational ego but with nothing beyond and reduce transpersonal experiences to infantile occasions. Religion, Romanticism and Jung envisage humanity as declining from a spiritual paradise to the "low point" of the ego and elevate the prepersonal "subconscious immersion" of phylogenetic and ontogenetic infancy to superconscious glory. "The Pre/Trans Fallacy" is a major protocol in Wilber's thought.

Drawing on Plotinus, Wilber conceptualizes evolution as "the Great Nest of Being." Evolution is a "nested holarchy" of matter, body, mind, soul and spirit in "increasing inclusiveness" or "increasing embrace" whereby every higher level is a "nest" that "transcends and includes its predecessor." One of Wilber's key concepts is Hegel's "aufhebung": "To supercede is at once to negate and to preserve." Each level in evolution preserves its predecessor but negates its "partiality"—body includes matter and is more than matter. But at a "fulcrum" or "switch" from one level of evolution/consciousness to the next, transcendence or "differentiation" can go "out of control" and degenerate into "dissociation" whereby the higher level fails to "include" and instead begins to "repress" the lower level as in the case of the repression of the body (or nature or instinct) by the mind (or reason). Wilber endorses Kant's glorious stress on the necessity for the mind "to rise above nature" into "a rational morality and ethical will not found in nature" and function out of a freedom from lower "biocentric impulses," "egocentric wishes," and ethnocentric affiliations. But Wilber also indicates that mind/reason/ ego has not evolved into differentiated embrace (of nature/body) but lapsed into dissociated repression. Often the misguided "cure" for repression is "regression." Several healers and therapies proceed "from saying that body unrepressed by mind is higher than body repressed by mind to saying that body is higher than mind, period." Wilber designates this recipe to "lose your mind and come to your senses" the "retro-Romantic fallacy." For Wilber, the "cure" for "the problem of the oak" is not to "go back to being an acorn." Echoing Schelling, Wilber forcefully affirms that the wisdom of evolution is to achieve a higher integration beyond mind/reason and not to incur a regression below mind/reason.

Rooted in a sense of the past (phylogenetic and ontogenetic/ collective and individual) as "pre" and "sub" and the future as "post" and "trans," Wilber is a philosopher of "tomorrow's greater embrace" with a call "to us to go beyond what went before," to evolve and "go forward" in the "direction" of the "greater depth" and "unprecedented" higher integration of the future in tune with the unfolding/enfolding "emergence" of Spirit and not to regress through "retro-fallacies" into lower "immersion." Wilber's theory of evolution carries a strong "developmental" prescription of "growth to goodness" and not the nostalgic counsel of "recaptured goodness." This is not to be misconstrued as an outright rejection of the past. Wilber disapproves of the repression of the past by the present as much as the regression of the present to the past: "…one can fully transcend any level only if one fully honours it first: let us come to bury Caesar; let us praise him first." However, though undeniably "we are all the sons and daughters of tribes," the lower levels of our "prerational past" though undeniably "our roots, our foundations" are "yesterday's normality" and not at all an "omega pull" that can take us to tomorrow's "wider depth." It is this transcending evolutionary dynamics that makes Wilber reject the contemporary trend to revive and celebrate magical/tribal/horticultural kinship with nature as a panacea for the contemporary ecological crisis because the tribal state of being "close to nature" was only a "pre" condition of "ignorance"(when even the body was not fully differentiated from nature not to speak of the mind) that was truly a "lack of capacity to devastate the environment on a large scale [that] does not automatically mean presence of wisdom, let alone reverence for the environment." The past should always be successfully integrated with the present (without which individual or cultural or evolutionary neurosis occurs) and not resurrected in retro-romantic revivalism/regression as a solution to the pathologies of dissociation and repression of the present. The present should always look forward to a "trans"-formative future and not look back at the transcended past.

Wilber finds in evolution a "balance" of Eros/Ascent/Prajna ("the lower reaching up to the higher") and Agape/Descent/Karuna ("the higher reaching down and embracing the lower"). Wilber interprets contemporary Eco-romanticism which espouses nature as the "source" of our Being and the "foundation" of our "salvation" as a sign of "Thanatos" or the "drag" of the lower (or the "hijacking" of the higher by the lower) which is a counter-evolutionary act and a setback to the evolutionary Eros of Ascent to higher and wider integration/embrace. Undeniably, the Ego in mad dissociation has degenerated into repressive "Phobos" and dominated nature and precipitated an ecological peril. As a corective, eco philosophies propagate a "return to nature" which is unacceptable to Wilber as it contravenes his vision of evolution in which, as Schelling proclaimed with pioneering insight, mind "transcends" nature but can and must "include" nature in an "unprecedented" "higher union" and not forsake its status of evolutionary subsequence as a "deeper and wider" stage "beyond" nature and regress to a "prior" dedifferentiated immersion in "shallower and narrower" nature. In Wilber's poetics of evolution: "Each stage is true, each succeeding stage is 'more true.' This is not elitist, and it offers no reason for any epoch (even ours) to picture itself as privileged, because it, too, is destined to pass, to be transcended and included in tomorrow's greater embrace."

Wilber calls the Great Nest of Being "the essence of premodernity," and taking cue from Habermas, endorses Max Weber's definition of modernity as "the differentiation of the cultural value spheres" of art, morals and science (or of what Wilber calls "the Big Three—"I, We, It" or "the Beautiful, the Good, and the True" or "Self, Culture, and Nature"). For Wilber, this differentiation constitutes the "dignity of modernity" as art, morals and science could now each "pursue its own truth without violence and domination from the others" in a new unheard of freedom made possible exclusively by the emergence of reason. The differentiation of I and We gave birth to human rights and freedom from subservience to State and Church; the differentiation of I and It inspired an imagination freed from representation to create non-realist art; and the differentiation of We and It promoted discoveries in science unhampered by Church and State. Wilber also speaks of "the Big Three" of modernity as "the four quadrants" that are the four "faces"of Spirit which exist in complex interdependence: the Upper Left quadrant("intentional" or "the inside of the individual" or "I"), the Upper Right quadrant ("behavioural" or "the outside of the individual" or It"), the Lower Left quadrant("cultural" or "the inside of the collective" or "We") and the Lower Right quadrant("social" or "the outside of the collective" or "Its"). Wilber contends that the four quadrants of individual consciousness, cultural backgrounds, objective states and social structures "tetra-evolve," that "each quadrant is intimately correlated with, dependent upon, but not reducible, to the others," that consciousness is "distributed across all four quadrants" and not "located solely" in any one quadrant, and that " Spirit manifests always and simultaneously as the four quadrants" and therefore the "unpacking of God" should occur non-exclusively or non-reductively as an "integral" performance out of "intuitions touching the I and the We and the It domains." However, it is not uncommon for epistemologies to interpret reality in terms of only one of the four quadrants or of the Left-Hand or Right-Hand alone and thereby reductively exaggerate "one-fourth of the story" or "only one half of the story" as "the whole story" and "deny not only the importance but the very existence of the other quadrants." Right-Hand realities (UR and LR) are all exteriors or surfaces and have "simple location"(in "physical spacetime") and can be "'pointed' to with your finger" and be an object of empirical observation. Atoms, molecules, prokaryotes, eukaryotes, neuronal organisms, neural cord, reptilian brain stem, limbic system, neocortex (triune brain), complex neocortex, SF1, SF2,and SF3 are Upper Right (exterior of the individual) levels while galaxies, planets, Gaia system, heterotrophic ecosystems, foraging survival clans, horticultural ethnic tribes, agrarian feudal empires and early nations, industrial corporate states and informational planetary order and value communities are Lower Right (exterior of the collective) levels. Left-Hand realities (UL and LL) defy "simple location" since they are non-empirical interior depths and invite interpretation. Prehension, irritability, sensation, perception, impulse, emotion, symbols, concepts, conop, formop, vision-logic, psychic, subtle and causal are Upper Left (interior of the individual) levels, while physical-pleromatic, protoplasmic, vegetative, locomotive, uroboric, magic, mythic, rational and vision-logic are Lower Left (interior of the collective) levels. Wilber affirms that "surfaces can be seen but depth must be interpreted" and Empiricism and Hermeneutics have been the "the Right and Left Hand Paths" of "every major knowledge quest, East and West alike" and are "the Two Hands of God." All Left-Hand interior realities have Right-Hand exterior "correlates." This does not mean that Left-Hand interiors are not anything other or more than Right-Hand exteriors. But modernity has reduced Left-Hand depths to Right-Hand surfaces and generated a "flatland." In a classic explanation of the example of "the thought of going to the grocery store," Wilber shows the "integral" interrelations of intentional, behavioural, cultural and social manifestations of this "thought." The "interior intentionality" of consciousness (UL) has correlates as "brain states" (UR): "… there was a release of norepinephrine between the neural synapses in the frontal cortex, accompanied by high amplitude beta waves…and so on. All of which is true enough and all of which is important. But that is not how I experienced the thought and I will never actually experience my thought in those terms." Further, individual consciousness is neither exclusively "of the Upper Left or the Upper Right or both together" because it cannot arise in the first place without a "cultural world space" or an "intersubjective circle of mutual recognition"(Lower Left). Individual "intentions" and "thoughts" do not emerge in a "vacuum" nor can they be generated by the "physical brain alone": "My thoughts do not pop into my head out of nowhere, they pop into my head out of a cultural background" and cases of a "wolf boy" show that "the human brain, left without culture, does not produce linguistic thoughts on its own." It is culture that "allows" consciousness, and the whole gamut of capacities of subjective identity is "situated" in "a vast intersubjective world space." For example, language is not exclusively an "intentional"/subjective expression but a "cultural" competence of intersubjective origin: "… I can take a simple word like 'dog' and point to a real dog and say 'I mean that!' What is so remarkable is that you know what I mean by that. Forget the simple empirical pointing. Instead look at the mutual understanding." But this LL meaning of a language (semantics) that is culturally shared by a community (or collective signifieds) has Lower Right collective material/social correlates in the form of the rules of the language (grammar and syntax) and spoken and written words (or collective signifiers). All LL collective/cultural practices are not disembodied interiors but have exterior/observable correlates in the form of LR collective/social structures, institutions and systems.

Wilber advances the view that each of the "levels" of the Great Nest (matter, body, mind, soul and spirit) has four quadrants of manifestations—for example, the intentional self/ I of "mind," the behavioural nature/ It of "mind," the cultural background/ We of "mind" and the social environment/ Its of "mind". Further, not only is any given quadrant one of the four manifestations of a level of the Great Nest, each quadrant as a genre (as UL or UR or LL or LR) has (as indicated above) its own evolutionary history of several stages. Wilber uses the Pythagorean term "Kosmos" to designate the "Totality" of all the levels of the Great Nest each with its four quadrants of manifestation. Wilber also uses the simple shorthand "everything" as a synonym for "Kosmos." As a philosopher of "everything" with "Kosmology" as theme and an "integral" turn, Wilber in his writings from 1995 has focussed on recent evolutionary mishaps in integration of "levels" and of quadrants within a level and has configured an "integral" recipe for evolutionary reconstruction.. In a bold critique, Wilber claims that though the premodern Great Nest is "the collective wisdom of several millennia of the greatest men and women this planet has ever seen," it is quite a "static system" as it conceptualizes its "levels" as "simply and everlastingly pregiven, static, unyielding to the advances of time or the unfolding of development" and as it does not, unlike modernity, possess the "differentiation" of the four quadrants to be able to envision, for example, the intentional self of soul, the cultural background of soul, the objective nature(neurophysiology) of soul and the social environment of soul and to see how these four faces of soul also "evolve through time." Wilber seeks to "modernize" the Great Nest. But modernity itself has most ignorantly "trashed" the Great Nest. Wilber notes that with the rise of modernity in the sixteenth century, the Great Nest "took a colossal hit from which it never recovered." Wilber contends that the "dignity of modernity" turned into a "disaster" in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Wilber interprets the "disaster of modernity" as the "dissociation" or "imperialism" of "monological science" that "dismissed" "the entire interior dimensions" of "consciousness, psyche, soul, spirit, value, morals, ethics and art" as "hangovers from the premodern, prescientific ignorance of humankind" because none of the "subjective and interior domains" of art and morals fell within the "eye of flesh or empirical instruments" of scientific materialism and that "flattened" the "interior realities of the I and WE" to "objective exteriors" and "exterior surfaces." This "collapse of the Kosmos," as Wilber also calls the "disaster of modernity," is tantamount to a "rejection" of "the core" of the interior truths of "all of the world's wisdom traditions" which have served as "the backbone of every human culture prior to modernity. " Wilber views "the modern West" as "the first major civilization in the history of humanity to deny almost entirely the existence of the Great Nest of Being."

Wilber proposes the "integral task" of a synthesis (as in a Hegelian triadic dialectic) beyond premodernity and modernity that would include premodernity and modernity but overcome their respective limitations—the premodern lack of the four quadrants and the modern denial of the Great Nest. This postmodern synthesis/integration of "the enduring truths" of premodernity (or "all-level") and "the good news" of modernity (or "all-quadrant") would generate " all of the levels in the four quadrants…[and] all of the quadrants at each of those levels" or as Wilber succinctly defines it " body, mind, soul, and spirit in self, culture, nature" or as he condenses it even further into an integral mantra: "all-quadrant, all-level,"/ "AQAL." Instead of emerging as such a synthesis, contemporary postmodernity as yet in its "deconstructive" phase has merely compounded the Upper Right "flatland madness" of modernity with another Right-Hand reductionism: Lower Right "aperspectival madness."

Postmodernity is early vision-logic of "integral- aperspectival" consciousness that seeks to deconstruct and transcend the exclusionary, marginalizing, silencing, indifferent and oppressive practices of modernity/rationality. But the "bright promise" of the "inclusiveness" and "diversity" of vision-logic/postmodernity failed and degenerated into "aperspectival madness." Wilber speaks of the "horizontal integration" at any level of consciousness which would entail "an integration of the four quadrants at [that] level" and the converse possibility of the "pathological imbalance" at a level of consciousness when there is "overemphasis on the I, We, It domains." Wilber claims that instead of unfolding in an "all-quadrant" embrace, postmodern integral-aperspectival consciousness "collapsed" to "surfaces, to exteriors, to Right-Hand occasions" and became "crippled" into a Lower Right pluralism or "exterior holism" of aperspectival madness. Instead of an all-quadrant "integralism," postmodernity merely extended the Right-Hand reductionism of modernity in another "twist" on the collapse of the Kosmos as a LR pluralism with a denial of UL depth (the premodern Great Nest) and an exclusive embrace of only LR surfaces/ "interobjective its"(institutions/structures/ sites of ideology and power). Up to a point, Wilber sees the "pluralistic relativism" sponsored by deconstructive postmodernity as an advance over the "universal formalism" of modernity as it has "opened up the world to a richness of multiple voices." Typical of his holarchical view that "each wave of existence [level of consciousness] is a fundamental ingredient of all subsequent waves [levels]" and of his integrative magnanimity to "cherish and embrace" every level of consciousness, Wilber acknowledges (using Don Beck's colour terminology of "memetic" taxonomy of consciousness, cultures and nations that dominates his recent writings) "the many gifts of green." But Wilber indicates in dissent from deconstructive postmodernity that it is "stuck"/ "arrested" in the chaotic incommensurability of "contextual pluralities." It is not enough for postmodernity to merely provide pluralizing liberation from the hegemonic absolutes of modernity; it should " transcend and include its wonderful accomplishments in an even more generous embrace" and "integrate" the Babel of "unrelated" local voices it has freed--as otherwise, each local voice only "expresses and relishes its uniqueness," "revolves around itself, becoming its own universe" and is severely self-absorbed. Unless the many excluded narratives, marginalized identities and silenced voices so "nobly" recovered by the pluralistic relativism of deconstructive postmodernity are integrated into a new higher unity of "universal integralism" or "dynamic dialecticism" or "constructive postmodernity," they will remain merely a "heap" of different contexts and multiple perspectives. Constructive postmodernity can "convert heaps into wholes, fragments into integration, alienation into cooperation."

Wilber's quest for the "unity-in-diversity" of constructive postmodernity is in accord with his Kosmic sense of our "need to keep trying to find the One-in-the-Many that is the form of the Kosmos itself" and it becomes the next evolutionary step in the self-realizing movement of the Kosmos one step closer to the ultimate return of the Kosmos to itself. As "aperspectival madness" is a debasement of the original promise of "all-quadrant, all-level" integralism, Wilber's critique of deconstructive postmodernity carries a strong accent on the unfinished project of postmodernity. Wilber emphasizes the evolutionary urgency of achieving the missed synthesis of the Great Nest of premodernity and the four quadrants of modernity and linking it with a "jump"/ "momentous leap" from the early vision-logic of deconstructive postmodernity of "aperspectival madness" or "dynamic pluralism" which is the "green" final wave of "first-tier thinking" to the middle and late vision-logic of constructive postmodernity of "universal integralism" or "dynamic dialecticism" which is the "yellow" and "turquoise" of "second-tier thinking" beyond which are transmental "third-tier"/"Kosmocentric"stages of coral/psychic and subtle, causal and nondual in as yet unchristened colours of the ultimate destiny of consciousness.

With a prodigious mission of evolutionary rehabilitation that can rescue us from the "disaster of modernity" which has worsened into the contemporary "aperspectival madness" of deconstructive postmodernity and make us fit to go forward in higher emergence, Wilber is a visionary custodian of our teleological tryst with an integral and transpersonal tomorrow. With majestic wisdom and marvellous eloquence, Wilber has been reminding us in book after book that we have laboriously come "up from Eden" and should not, individually or collectively, jeopardize the teleological promise of "tomorrow's greater embrace." A visionary orchestration of multidisciplinary doctrines of diverse thinkers of different times and cultures into a pathbreaking philosophy of the Kosmos, a lofty discourse on the evolutionary meaning of human fate, an erudite narrative of the journey of consciousness through "all our yesterdays" to its "fresh woods and pastures new" of tomorrow, a magisterial presentation of the Kosmos as a teleological play of Brahman, a creative refiguration of the premodern "perennial philosophy" into a paradigm of wisdom for the postmodern wired world, and a sublime meditation in surpassing spiritual prose on eternity and time, the Big Bang and Eden, heaven and earth, the One and the Many, gods and goddesses, pre and trans, higher and lower, inner and outer, left and right, surface and depth, immersion and transcendence, mind and brain, science and spirituality, sex and soul, the child and the sage, I and We, epochs and worldviews, yesterday and tomorrow, atoms and Atman, ego and enlightenment, and Everything and Emptiness, Wilber's achievement is a miracle of prajna and karuna.


A.V. Ashok is Associate Professor in the Centre for English Literature, School of Critical Humanities, Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad 500 007, India. Email: av_ashok@hotmail.com. This essay is a revised and enlarged version of "Wisdom for the Postmodern Wasteland" (Udhayavani Morning News, April 19, 1998) and "Historian of Consciousness" (Udhayavani Morning News, 5 December, 1999).


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