Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Frank Visser, a psychologist of religion, founded IntegralWorld.net in 1997 (back then under the name of “The World of Ken Wilber”). He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. He is the author of the first monograph on Ken Wilber and his work: “Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of many essays on this website.
Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Reflections on Ken Wilber's The Religion of Tomorrow (2017)
Part I: The Involution/Evolution Cosmology | Part II: From Atom to Atman | Part III: A More Adequate Spectrum of Colors? | Part IV: What Is It Like to Be a Super-Nova? | Part V: Rational Reasons to Believe in Spirit? | Part VI: Is Darwin Really 'On Our Side'? | Part VII: Climbing the Stairway to Heaven
THE WHOLE SERIES: FREE DOWNLOAD AS PDF
Reflections on "The Religion of Tomorrow", Part III
A more adequate
|INTEGRAL THEORY||SPIRAL DYNAMICS|
|" T H I R D T I E R"||" S E C O N D T I E R "|
|" S E C O N D T I E R "|
|" F I R S T T I E R "|
Comparing the two columns of this table, one can now clearly see what changes Wilber has made in the original SD-model:
- BEIGE is replaced by INFRARED
- PURPLE is replaced by MAGENTA
- BLUE is replaced by AMBER
- YELLOW is replaced by TEAL
- “Third Tier” colors have been added
Only RED, ORANGE, GREEN and TURQUOISE have been retained in Wilber's model.
Contrary to the SD-model, Wilber's model explicitly recognizes a Third Tier, which demarcates the transition from personal to transpersonal, "super-integral" or spiritual levelsagain, not just a regular stage transition, but one of larger importance. Another "leap", even more momentuous than the one from First to Second Tier. Though Graves apparently did speak of a possible Third Tier, he expected YELLOW and TURQUOISE first to be followed by four Second Tier colors, the first three of which were tentatively labeled CORAL, TEAL and AUBERGINE. Thus, the six Second Tier stages would match the six First Tier stages, as some kind of higher "primes" (with Third Tier giving "double primes")resulting in a rather kabbalistic scheme.
Wilber, however, thought it appropriate to have Third Tier start earlier then Graves imagined:
The Third Tier interpretation of Wilber has been opposed by both Beck and Cowan as non-Gravesian. However, Cowan stated on his website about the existence of a possible Third Tier (which would again consist of six stages, according to Graves): "That such levels would come to be was pure conjecture on Dr. Graves' part as he projected what might be if human nature continued on track." Wilber, at least, seems to have found a meaningful and empirically based re-use of this Third Tier concept, given his life-long study of the transpersonal stages of development and methods of personal transformation.
What might surprise many integral students is that for Wilber the TEAL and TURQUOISE stages are not spiritual in any sense. Using his terminology, they represent the low and high versions of "vision-logic", a form of cognition representative of the mind-body integration of the so-called centaur-stage. The "super-integral" stages of Third Tier are decidedly spiritual in nature.
Wilber provides some (unsubstantiated) data about the prevalence of these Second and Third Tier stages:
More specifically commenting on the classical SD-color scheme, Wilber elaborates on the misplacement (rainbow-wise) of YELLOW and VIOLETand adds that this misplacement is not without consequences.
If this is indeed the case, it highlights the importance of meticulously sticking to the color sequence found in nature. A better color sequence, Wilber feels, would be one in which we go from "raw" and "rough" energies to more "rarefied" and "refined" energies:
Wilber's new color scheme seems to conform to that rule: we go from warm, reddish colors (actually many hues, more on that later) to the more cool, bluish colors, culminating into ultraviolet and white. Note how Wilber appeals to popular notions about color psychology here. An interesting difference is that in classical SD warm and cool colors alternate (which effectively forms the Spiral). Wilber has completely stripped this spiraling motive from his color scheme. (Again, that the stages should show a spiraling sequence between warm and cool colors, or from I-stages to We-stages, is an empirical question we won't go into now).
The Yoga/Tantra color scheme
So let's turn to the color scheme of yogic and tantric psychology, to see if Wilber's new model fares better then classical Spiral Dynamics. A search on the internet for "chakra-psychology" brings tons of images detailing the chakras and their supposed corresponding colors. As far as I can tell, they all confirm to the following arrangement:
As always, a wealth of historical information is also give on the Wikipedia page on Chakra. The chakra-concept can be found in Eastern traditions (Hindu Tantra, Vajrayana Buddhism, Bon, Qhigong and Indonesian and Malaysian metaphysics) as well as Western schools (Western adaptations of Hindu traditions, Eastern Orthodox tradition of Hesychasm, New age and esoteric groups).
For ease of comparison, let's put the color spectrum next to it, to see if, indeed, rainbow colors have been assigned to chakras here, in the very same order. The spectrum ranges from lower frequencies (Red) or long wavelengths to high frequencies (Violet) or short wavelengths, and the seven spectral colors match the seven chakras one by one. This makes intuitive sense, if the symbolism (or energy behind it?) represents a refinement process ascending from matter to Spirit.
Another Wiki page on the chakras provides us with historical background about the chakras, and how they came to us in the Westand tells us that most contemporary Eastern teachers are using the Western interpretations of ancient texts:
It is the shakta theory of 7 main chakras that most people in the West adhere to, either knowingly or unknowingly, largely thanks to a translation of two Indian texts, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, by Sir John Woodroffe, alias Arthur Avalon, in a book entitled The Serpent Power.
This book is extremely detailed and complex, and later the ideas were developed into what is predominant western view of the Chakras by the Theosophists, and largely the controversial (in theosophical circles) C. W. Leadbeater in his book The Chakras, which are in large part his own meditations and insights on the matter.
That said, many present-day Indian gurus that incorporate chakras within their systems of philosophy do not seem to radically disagree with the western view of chakras, at least on the key points, and both these eastern and western views have developed from the Shakta Tantra school.
The website repeats Wilber's arguments about having the colors right, or you would otherwise risk energetic consequences:
It is claimed to be very important to know the right color tone for a specific area because the wrong hue of color can allegedly do different things to the energetic system. Yet different systems differ in the colors they ascribe. The colors above simply represent, in order, the colors of the rainbow. In other words, all monochromatic colors. (emphasis added)
Wilber's Stage-Chakra Correspondences
Wilber provides stage-chakra correspondences in The Religion of Tomorrowin Chapters 9, 10 and 11, where he discusses the "dysfunctions" of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd tier developmental stages. The stage-chakra correlations are briefly mentioned at the start of each paragraph discussing the separate stages.
When we now add the traditional chakra-colors, based on the research on color terminology we have done above, this results in the following table of correspondencesor should we see "non-correspondences"?:
|" T H I R D T I E R " - Super Integral|
|WHITE: Supermind||Chakra 7: VIOLET|
|" S E C O N D T I E R "|
|Chakra 6: INDIGO
|" F I R S T T I E R "|
|Chakra 5: BLUE|
Chakra 4: GREEN|
Chakra 3: YELLOW
Chakra 2: ORANGE
Chakra 1: RED
The obvious color mismatch between these two systems is painful to the eyes. Only the root-, the sacral and the crown-chakras seem to match Wilber's choice of colors; the rest is completely out of synch.
One wonders why Wilber would claim that his color-scheme exactly matches the color spectrum of the rainbow. While it does better than the SD-model in this respect (but as said, it was never the intention of the founders of Spiral Dynamic to give the colors "any metaphysical significance or derive the colors from chakras or any other system"), there seem to be serious mismatches here.
- YELLOW is missing from Wilber's scheme
- BLUE is missing from Wilber's scheme
- Therefore, the First Tier levels are dominated by RED/ORANGE
- TEAL/TURQUOISE do not match with INDIGO
- GREEN is out of synch with the Green chakra.
It is quite remarkable, for starters, that, except for GREEN, almost all Wilberian First Tier stages are assigned to RED or Reddish colorsfrom deep-crimson red to various shades of orange. Weren't they "low frequencies of raw, 'violent' color associated with anger, hatred, and so forth"? What if Integral Institute were to release "bio-machines" based on his understanding of the chakra-colors, say, to stimulate the Heart chakra, wouldn't that "backfire badly when any actual energies were used"?
And what on earth has happened to BLUE (throat chakra) and YELLOW (solar plexus), two important traditional colors, which are not only spectral colors but primary colors at that. If I were to design a color scheme that closely matches the traditional colors, I would definitely ensure these are included. Also because, as every painter knows, you can't make either green or orange without yellow on your color palette.
Another way to put this is: in the yoga/tantra chakra-color model, all three primary colors (RED, YELLOW and BLUE) and their secondary colors (ORANGE and GREEN) make up the human personality. Higher qualities are expressed by non-primary (or even secondary) colors INDIGO and VIOLET. This seems quite balanced and in accordance with the light spectrum. Wilber's model, in contrast to this, paints the human personality with one primary color (RED) and two secondary colors (ORANGE, derived from YELLOW/RED and GREEN, derived from YELLOW/BLUE). As said, the primary colors of BLUE and YELLOW are completely missing. Higher qualities are now expressed by TEAL and TURQUOISE (an echo of Spiral Dynamics, but somewhat at odds with the light spectrum, both making up for the absence of BLUE), followed by the super-integral colors INDIGO and VIOLET. The overal reddish-coloring of the human personality is deeply problematic in this new presentation, not only in terms of color theory but also according to the yoga/tantra list of colors.
If accurate and realistic color-matching is so important, and Wilber stresses the point several times in The Religion of Tomorrow, this mismatch needs to be accounted for. The newly introduced TEAL color in no way matches the INDIGO color assigned in yoga psychology to the Third Eye chakra. This would be fatal for any model that places high value on a close correspondence between chosen colors and "natural" colors, especially for the much expected TEAL structure! Only the colors at the extreme ends of the spectrum seem to have some resemblance.
SHOWING YOUR TRUE COLORS
One could of course pragmatically (or desperately?) hold on to Wilber's colors even though they contradict the yoga color schemes, but something doesn't add up here. There simply are no other sources for these chakra-colors then the ones we have pointed toand they don't support Wilber's choices, even if he claims they do. And it's not a simple matter of "all models are wrong" (or "right") in my opinion. Models can be more and less informative, depending on the context in which they are used. The context at hand is human psycho-spiritual development. In that sense, the original SD-colors seem superior, because of their direct psychological appeal. Wilber justifies his choice of colors indirectly (erroneously, as we have seen) through an esoteric tantric theory about rainbow colors and chakras.
Wilber can carelessly write things like:
But for Shiva's sake, the traditional schemes do have a unique place for YELLOW, and it's definitely not "in the red/orange range"although that may be true for Wilber's reddish bottom half of the palette, where he seems to have run out of yellow and blue paint. No, YELLOW is traditionally seen as to correspond to the solar plexus or third chakra.
Casually as ever, Wilber writes in conclusion:
Wilber claims he has always been on the chakra-trail ever since his first bookat least implicitlybut why is the alignment so hopelessly wrong, even after four decades?
But calling classical Spiral Dynamics "an inadequate scheme" seems misplaced, given the incoherence of his current color-system:
"Addressing" the classical SD model while ignoring the meaning of the various colors, and the reasons why they have been chosen, comes across as vandalismand I understand the strongly negative reactions of the founders of Spiral Dynamics to these efforts. It says much about the other-worldly stance of Wilber that the main reason for his color changes that Wilber mentions, is that their possible use in "biomachines" (e.g. electronic meditation devices) might cause unforeseen effects. Compare this to Spiral Dynamics, which has put much efforts in trying to make a difference in the real world, especially in conflict areas such as South-Africa and the Middle-East. The standard SD colors apparently never posed a problem.
But presenting a revised scheme, claimingwithout any references to tantric sources, ancient or modern"I explicitly introduced a more adequate spectrum of colors that match a real rainbowand thus, according to Tantra, more accurately match the actual energies at these various levels of development", is asking too much of my imagination. Wilber's revised color scheme may perhaps not be "totally off according to the tantric traditions", but it seems to be an awkward hybrid between the original Spiral Dynamics model and the rainbow/chakra color spectrum. Wilber's new color scheme lacks the expressiveness of the Spiral Dynamics colors and the natural accuracy of the rainbow coclors.
Given his claims to accuracy, this is an area that seriously needs to be looked into:
- Wilber's new color scheme shows a (kind of) rainbow pattern, as it ranges from red to blue/violet hues.
- However, it doesn't match the color scheme of yoga/tantra tradition at the chakra level, many colors are way off.
- Therefore, if colors should be very stage-specific (for energetic reasons), the new model breaks down.
- It would would only work in a very general sense, since the colors range from warm-red to cool-blue: energizing => soothing => inspiring.
- Compared to SD and the yoga/tantra model the colors of Wilber's model are less distinct and informative, especially in the personal stages.
- The primary colors Yellow and Blue are absent, and Reddish colors are way too prominent, in Ken Wilber's new color scheme.
- The disproportional preponderance of reddish colors in this lower part (covering 4½ chakras!) is a point of concern, both from the standpoint of color psychology and from the perspective of esoteric tantric subtle energy doctrines.
As it stands now, Wilber's new color scheme is neither evocative nor accurate.
 "Maslows Hierarchy of Needs", www.wikipedia.org
 C.W. Graves, "Humanity prepares for a momentous leap", The Futurist, 1974, pp. 72-87.
 A historical overview of this period can be found in Albion M. Butters's essay "A brief history of Spiral Dynamics" on this website.
 "FAQ Colors and Terminology", spiraldynamics.org.
 "Teal Organizations", www.reinventingorganizationswiki.com
 "Levels of Existence", spiraldynamics.org
 "Chakra", www.wikipedia.com
 "Chakra", psychology.wikia.com.
MORE ON THE CHAKRAS
See also: M.Alan Kazlev, "The Rainbow Theory of Chakras", www.kheper.net, which traces many of these contemporary chakra-color theories to the work of English-born Christopher Hills, a spiritual philosopher and researcher, "co-discoverer of the protein-rich plankton spirulina" (L.A. Times) and author of Nuclear Evolution (1970). (Thanks to Oliver Griebel and Silvio Wirth for pointing me to this page).
"Although the psychological aspects of this theory did not catch on, the idea of matching the seven chakras with the seven colours of the spectrum was so appealing that just about every book on the chakras written since then show the chakras in rainbow colours." (kepher.net)
Another great read: "The 6 Most Important Things You Never Knew About Chakras", www.thewayofmeditation.com.au.
“So, we’ve barely scratched the surface of this subject. No, I’m not kidding. It’s really complex, as you can gather by taking a look at the scholarly literature, like Dory Heilijgers-Seelen’s work, or Gudrun Bühnemann‘s. It takes uncommon patience and focus to even read such work, let alone produce it. So here’s what I hope will be the result of this post: some humility. A few less claims to authority when it comes to really esoteric subjects. Maybe a few less yoga teachers trying to tell their students what the chakras are all about. Heck, I’m humbled by the complexity of the original sources, and that’s with twelve years of Sanskrit under my belt.” (Chad Foreman)