This week I want to explore – through guests posts and my own – a provocative claim: That to be spiritual and authentically in the world, one ought to consider a nondual outlook on life, the universe, and everything. In this post, I present an interview excerpt with developmental map-maker Ken Wilber that has a fresh take on “Why would a good God create a world with evil and suffering?” It’s one of best answers to this question I’ve ever read, and I think even a mystically-inclined Calvinist (a la the Puritan Jonathan Edwards) would find resonance with it. You be the judge.
PATHWAYS: Why does Spirit bother to manifest at all, especially when that manifestation is necessarily painful and requires that It become amnesiac to Its true identity? Why does God incarnate?
Ken Wilber: Oh, I see you’re starting with the easy questions. Well, I’ll give you a few theoretical answers that have been offered over the years, and then I’ll give you my personal experience, such as it is.
I have actually asked this same question of several spiritual teachers, and one of them gave a quick, classic answer: “It’s no fun having dinner alone.”
That’s sort of flip or flippant, I suppose, but the more you think about it, the more it starts to make sense. What if, just for the fun of it, we pretend—you and I blasphemously pretend, just for a moment—that we are Spirit, that Tat Tvam Asi? Why would you, if you were God Almighty, why would you manifest a world? A world that, as you say, is necessarily one of separation and turmoil and pain? Why would you, as the One, ever give rise to the Many?
PATHWAYS: It’s no fun having dinner alone?
KW: Doesn’t that start to make sense? Here you are, the One and Only, the Alone and the Infinite. What are you going to do next? You bathe in your own glory for all eternity, you bask in your own delight for ages upon ages, and then what? Sooner or later, you might decide that it would be fun—just fun—to pretend that you were not you. I mean, what else are you going to do? What else can you do?
PATHWAYS: Manifest a world.
KW: Don’t you think? But then it starts to get interesting. When I was a child, I used to try to play checkers with myself. You ever tried that?
PATHWAYS: Yes, I remember doing something like that.
KW: Does it work?
PATHWAYS: Not exactly, because I always knew what my “opponent’s” move was going to be. I was playing both sides, so I couldn’t “surprise” myself. I always knew what I was going to do on both sides, so it wasn’t much of a game. You need somebody “else” to play the game.
KW: Yes, exactly, that’s the problem. You need an “other”. So if you are the only Being in all existence, and you want to play—you want to play any sort of game—you have to take the role of the other, and then forget that you are playing both sides. Otherwise the game is no fun, as you say. You have to pretend you are the other player with such conviction that you forget that you are playing all the roles. If you don’t forget, then you got no game, it’s just no fun.
PATHWAYS: So if you want to play—I think the Eastern term is lila—then you have to forget who you are. Amnesis.
KW: Yes, I think so. And that is exactly the core of the answer given by the mystics the world over. If you are the One, and—out of sheer exuberance, plenitude, superabundance—you want to play, to rejoice, to have fun, then you must first, manifest the Many, and then second, forget it is you who are the Many. Otherwise, no game. Manifestation, incarnation, is the great Game of the One playing at being the Many, for the sheer sport and fun of it.
PATHWAYS: But it’s not always fun.
KW: Well, yes and no. The manifest world is a world of opposites—of pleasure versus pain, up versus down, good versus evil, subject versus object, light versus shadow. But if you are going to play the great cosmic Game, that is what you yourself set into motion. How else can you do it? If there are no parts and no players and no suffering and no Many, then you simply remain as the One and Only, Alone and Aloof. But it’s no fun having dinner alone.
PATHWAYS: So to start the game of manifestation is to start the world of suffering.
KW: It starts to look like that, doesn’t it? And the mystics seem to agree. But there is a way out of that suffering, a way to be free of the opposites, and that involves the overwhelming and direct realization that Spirit is not good versus evil, or pleasure versus pain, or light versus dark, or life versus death, or whole versus part, or holistic versus analytic. Spirit is the great Player that gives rise to all those opposites equally—“I the Lord make the Light to fall on the good and the bad alike; I the Lord do all these things” [MM note: I think Wilber is conflating Isaiah 45:7 with Matthew 5:43-48 – but his point still stands.] —and the mystics the world over agree. Spirit is not the good half of the opposites, but the ground of all the opposites, and our “salvation,” as it were, is not to find the good half of the dualism but to find the Source of both halves of the dualism, for that is what we are in truth. We are both sides in the great Game of Life, because we—you and I, in the deepest recesses of our very Self—have created both of these opposites in order to have a grand game of cosmic checkers.
That, anyway, is the “theoretical” answer that the mystics almost always give. “Nonduality” means, as the Upanishads put it, “to be freed of the pairs.” That is, the great liberation consists in being freed of the pairs of opposites, freed of duality—and finding instead the nondual One Taste that gives rise to both. This is liberation because we cease the impossible, painful dream of spending our entire lives trying to find an up without a down, an inside without an outside, a good without an evil, a pleasure without its inevitable pain.
PATHWAYS: You said that you had a more personal response as well.
KW: Yes, such as it is. When I first experienced, however haltingly, nirvikalpa samadhi—which means meditative absorption in the formless One—I remember having the vague feeling—very subtle, very faint—that I didn’t want to be alone in this wonderful expanse. I remember feeling, very diffusely but very insistently, that I wanted to share this with somebody. So what would one do in that state of loneliness?
PATHWAYS: Manifest a world.
KW: That’s how it seems to me. And I knew, however amateurishly, that if I came out of that formless Oneness and recognized the world of the Many, that I would then suffer, because the Many always hurt each other, as well as help each other. And you know what? I was glad to surrender the peace of the One even though it meant the pain of the Many. Now this is just a little tongue taste of what the great mystics have seen, but my limited experience seems to conform to their great pronouncement: You are the One freely giving rise to the Many—to pain and pleasure and all the opposites—because you choose not to abide as the exquisite loneliness of Infinity, and because you don’t want to have dinner alone.
PATHWAYS: And the pain that is involved?
KW: Is freely chosen as part of the necessary Game of Life. You cannot have a manifest world without all the opposites of pleasure and pain. And to get rid of the pain—the sin, the suffering, the dukkha—you must remember who and what you really are. This remembrance, this recollection, this anamnesis—”Do this in Remembrance of Me”—means, “Do this in Remembrance of the Self that You Are”—Tat Tvam Asi. The great mystical religions the world over consist of a series of profound practices to quiet the small self that we pretend we are—which causes the pain and suffering that you feel—and awaken as the Great Self that is our own true ground and goal and destiny—”Let this consciousness be in you which was in Christ Jesus.”
PATHWAYS: Is this realization an all-or-nothing affair?
KW: Not usually. It’s often a series of glimpses of One Taste—glimpses of the fact that you are one with absolutely all manifestation, in its good and bad aspects, in all its frost and fever, its wonder and its pain. You are the Kosmos, literally. But you tend to understand this ultimate fact in increasing glimpses of the infinity that you are, and you realize exactly why you started this wonderful, horrible Game of Life. But it is absolutely not a cruel Game, not ultimately, because you, and you alone, instigated this Drama, this Lila, this Kenosis.
PATHWAYS: But what about the notion that these experiences of “One Taste” or “Kosmic Consciousness” are just a by-product of meditation, and therefore aren’t “really real”?
KW: Well, that can be said of any type of knowledge that depends on an instrument. “Kosmic Consciousness” often depends on the instrument of meditation. So what? Seeing the nucleus of a cell depends on a microscope. Do we then say that the cell nucleus isn’t real because it’s only a by-product of the microscope? Do we say that the moons of Jupiter aren’t real because they depend on a telescope? The people who raise this objection are almost always people who don’t want to look through the instrument of meditation, just as the Churchmen refused to look through Galileo’s telescope and thus acknowledge the moons of Jupiter. Let them live with their refusal. But let us—to the best of our ability, and hopefully driven by the best of charity or compassion—try to convince them to look, just once, and see for themselves. Not coerce them, just invite them. I suspect a different world might open for them, a world that has been abundantly verified by all who look through the telescope, and microscope, of meditation.
PATHWAYS: Could you tell us….
KW: If I could interrupt, do you mind if I give you one of my favorite quotes from Aldous Huxley?
KW: This is from After Many a Summer Dies the Swan:
“I like the words I use to bear some relation to facts. That’s why I’m interested in eternity—psychological eternity. Because it’s a fact.”
“For you, perhaps,” said Jeremy.
“For anyone who chooses to fulfill the conditions under which it can be experienced.”
“And why should anyone wish to fulfill them?”
“Why should anyone choose to go to Athens to see the Parthenon? Because it’s worth the bother. And the same is true of eternity. The experience of timeless good is worth all the trouble it involved.”
“Timeless good,” Jeremy repeated with distaste. “I don’t know what the words mean.”
“Why should you?” said Mr. Propter. “You’ve never bought your ticket for Athens.”
PATHWAYS: So contemplation is the ticket to Athens?
KW: Don’t you think?
PATHWAYS: Definitely. I wonder, could you tell us a little bit about your own ticket to Athens? Could you tell us a little about the history of your own experiences with meditation? And what is “integral practice” and what does it offer the modern spiritual seeker?
KW: Well, as for my own history, I’m not sure I can say anything meaningful in a short space. I’ve been meditating for twenty-five years, and I suspect my experiences are not terribly different from many who have tread a similar path. But I will try to say a few things about “integral practice,” because I suspect it might be the wave of the future. The idea is fairly simple, and Tony Schwartz, author of What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America, summarized it as the attempt to “marry Freud and Buddha.” But that really just means, the attempt to integrate the contributions of Western “depth psychology” with the great wisdom traditions of “height psychology”—the attempt to integrate id and Spirit, shadow and God, libido and Brahman, instinct and Goddess, lower and higher—whatever terms you wish, the idea is clear enough, I suspect.
PATHWAYS: As an actual practice?
KW: Yes, the actual practice is based on something like this: Given the Great Nest of Being—ranging from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit—how can we acknowledge, honor, and exercise all of those levels in our own being? And if we do so—if we engage all of the levels of our own potential—won’t that better help us to remember the Source of the Great Game of Life, which is not other than our own deepest Self? If Spirit is the Ground and Goal of all these levels, and if we are Spirit in truth, won’t the whole-hearted engagement of all these levels help us remember who and what we really are?
Well, that is the theory, which I realize I have put in rather dry terms. The idea, concretely, is this: Take a practice (or practices) from each of those levels, and engage whole-heartedly in all of those practices. For the physical level, you might include physical yoga, weightlifting, vitamins, nutrition, jogging, etc. For the emotional/body level, you might try tantric sexuality, therapy that helps you contact the feeling side of your being, bioenergetics, t’ai chi, etc. For the mental level, cognitive therapy, narrative therapy, talking therapy, psychodynamic therapy, etc. For the soul level, contemplative meditation, deity yoga, subtle contemplation, centering prayer, and so on. And for the spirit level, the more nondual practices, such as Zen, Dzogchen, Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, formless Christian mysticism, and so forth.
Read the rest of this interview with Wilber over at Integral Life, or check out One Taste: Daily Reflections on Integral Spirituality. Also see Radical Incarnation: Thoughts on Nondual Spirituality by Matthew Wright here on the blog, and my series on The Way of the Heart with Cynthia Bourgeault.
And tell me, dear reader: Does this way of seeing the interplay between divinity and the world resonate with you? God manifesting reality so as to “not have dinner alone”? Why or why not?
Other posts in the Nondual Week series:
Radical Incarnation: Thoughts on Nondual Spirituality by Matthew Wright
Nondual Week: Ken Wilber on ‘One Taste’
Nondual Week: Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It?
Nondual Week: Panentheism – Perichoresis – Christology: Participatory Divinity
Nondual Week: David Henson on ‘How Hinduism Saved My Christian Faith’
The “not having dinner alone” bit doesn’t really resonate with me as it feels too anthropomorphic and seems to not allow for the absolute perfection/peace of God as Ultimate Reality. And it feels too “linear”… there was a (once upon a) time when God realized God was lonely, and then God decided to manifest a world. I don’t think that kind of temporality applies to God in God’s essence.
Instead, I like to let it be a bit more mysterious and eternal, this dance of divine manifestation in time and form. Just as “the Absolute” is playing hide-and-seek in this relative world of form, just so “the Relative” is playing hide-and-seek as the Absolute! This dance is eternal and there is simply no causality to it, no “before” (i.e., “before God got tired of having dinner alone).
In Trinitarian fashion, I identify the Absolute/Unmanifest with the Father, and the Manifest with the Son (the Son is the “mirror” in which all of the Divine qualities/potentialities, existing in the unmanifest “Ground” of the Father, come into being). And the Spirit is the manifesting principle that unites these two poles of Being in a single, unitive Reality. Because we believe the three “persons” of the Trinity are co-eternal and co-equal, there is no “before” or “priority” to any of this!
I agree with Matthew. I think that’s an unhelpful analogy. It makes it sound like we’re just here to satisfy some need of a bored and boring God.
Agreed, Matthew. Great post, Mike. What are your opinions concerning his integral life practice? How do you think it relates to spiritual formation?
Hi Joel – great question. I think that insofar as we conceive of ‘spiritual formation’ as a set of practices, ILP fits very nicely into this framework – indeed, I would even say that ILP is more holistically spiritual (and even ‘biblical’) than our often more-abstracted visions of what spiritual practice look like. Because, for instance, ILP values bodily exercise as just as important as prayer or contemplation – “bodily exercise profiteth little,” eh? Too often, Christian spiritual formation takes place from the neck up. I’d recommend checking out this book for more.
I would also suggest that the dimension of longing that Ken describes (God “not wanting to have dinner alone”) does exist… vibrating just above God’s unspeakable essence, which is absolute perfection and fullness, completely beyond any division of subject and object. It is out of this initial vibration of longing that the division of Reality into Lover and Beloved arises and the dance of divine duality begins. But there is no causality or priority to any of this! And this dance from fullness into longing and duality is one integral movement/whole without beginning or end 🙂
Thank you Matthew, beautifully stated. This idea of God as being lonely is to me silly and simplistic. The very concept of loneliness is human not divine. When we really learn to be alone without being lonely is when we become free. The entire universe may be this just this ever expanding desire to know self. And desire to know self is very different than a much more limited concept of a desire to not be alone. It seems to be this attempt to understand which inevitably changes that which we attempt to understand, thus the infinite cosmic cycle. Being the many aspects of God we are still the one. So we are never alone and neither are we ever separate. God can exist in both states and likely always has, in fact in every possible state, just as we see with quantum mechanics. My guess is this is just the very beginning of our understanding, the duality also is unique to humanity at this level of conscious where we think in terms of the one and the other. To think that a creator of which we are a part miraculous enough to create this reality is bound to such duality seems well… silly.
I am stoked to see more and more about KW. I got way into him about 10 years ago and his thinking continues to be a guiding voice for my own work. I have waited for his ideas to seep out wide. Thanks for this.
You’re welcome, Landon! And you might be interested to know that Wilber’s organization, Integral Life, has been adding a lot more Christian voices in recent years. F’r instance see Coming Home: An Integral Christian Practicum.
I was about to disagree with you based on your first sentence, Matthew, but then I read on & realized that I’m mostly in agreement. 🙂 I don’t like to dismiss anyone’s ways of describing God as “too anthropomorphic” because a.) We’re anthromorphs ourselves, b.) If we buy into the idea of revelation, then God condescends to the modes of perception that we’ve been created/evolved to have, and c.) the speaker (in this case Wilber) himself might be speaking analogically. Further, I find (not in you, but in general) a privilaging of Far Eastern/nonpersonal conceptions of God/Spirit/The Universe/Ultimate Reality over Middle Eastern and Western conceptions of God as personal and communicative. As far as I can see in my limited practice, experience, and speculation, that’s an arbitrary privileging – one that makes perfectly good sense if you’re a Buddhist, but not an inherently logical, bedrock dogma (or dharma) – particularly if you come from a “people of the Book” who sees the universe as relational and therefore God as both personal and communicative.
That rant aside, I agree that God ought to contain within Godself absolute peace and perfection – especially if you see God not as some isolated monad, but (as you and I do) as Triune, as Community-within-Godself. With that premise, everything you say here regarding form and play, the dance between the Absolute and Relative, makes perfect, illuminating sense. Amen, Shalom, and As-Salamu Alaykum!
Mike, I submit myself to your critique/correction! And I think you’re right, that Wilber would say that he is speaking analogically. As a human analogy, the “divine loneliness” is not without merit… my main caveat was its seeming exclusion of a sense of complete wholeness & peace (which, of course, also mysteriously contains this love-longing, all in one dynamic, heart-breakingly perfect reality!). I think it’s always helpful to point out that we’re speaking by way of analogy (although, perhaps it should be assumed, since it’s all we’ve got!).
I’m with you on holding onto our anthropomorphisms; I find that devotional language/practice is one of the most powerful tools in my own prayer tool-kit. I used to not know how to work with it, as it seemed too “dualistic” and “anthropomorphic,” but I’ve since found, through simply surrendering myself to this kind of language, that it can open my heart like nothing else, and I just let my brain be bypassed!
The problem used to be questions like: “Well if there’s only God, then who am I praying to? Myself? How can I be in “relationship” with my own deepest reality?”, etc. Now I don’t worry about any of that, and I just let my dualistic words of love-longing tear me open to this awesome Love that is beating at the heart of everything 🙂
One more aside: I’ve found that Sufi and Hindu thought in particular nicely bridge the East/West, personal/impersonal, dualistic/nondualistic conceptions of God–and because of that, they’ve cracked my prayer-life open in profound ways. Rumi and Ramakrishna, for example, strike a beautiful balance in this regard; Rumi was a profound devotee of God as the Beloved, and yet was completely willing to dissolve into that space beyond any individuality; Ramakrishna maintained a deep relationship with God as Mother, and yet also experienced Reality as the impersonal Brahman of the Vedantists. These two have shown me that it never needs to be an either/or!
Beautiful and helpful dialogue Matthew and Michael, et al. I’m beginning to feel myself submitting again to anthropomorphisms, but it is difficult.
And I’ve also noticed that however much over the last decade I’ve appreciated and benefited from Far Eastern conceptions of God and approaches to life, a relational universe and God is the best conception for me.
Relatedly, I am keen on learning how to live and work with others in authentic inclusivity (especially in terms of religious/spiritual differences), where we are strengthened by our differences/similarities, so that we share deeper connectedness/unity and also help each other serve better in our various roles in our organization. Living into this reality takes much intentionality and patience and learning, among other things.
Wilber’s integral approach could be improved by becoming even more integral, I think.
Epistemologically, when we “transcend but include” all quadrants [AQ] and all levels [AL], it would be best to do that at all times [AT]. And by “time” I mean “kairos” not “chronos,” which is to say – not at every moment in time, temporally, but – every time we fully realize a value, axiologically.
This distinction is subtle but important. What it means is that a truly integral interplay of quadrants and levels is required for all optimal human value realizations. No quadrant or level, alone, is sufficient and all are necessary for every significant value realization. Wilber, contrastingly, tells us that there are different realms of knowledge and different modes of knowing, each realm or mode both necessary and sufficient for yielding valid knowledge. That’s not true integrality, just a mere inclusivity.
I’ll provide an example. We could divide human knowledge up into 4 methods or types of questions: 1) descriptive – What is that? 2) evaluative – What’s that to us? 3) normative – What’s the best way to acquire (or avoid) that? 4) interpretive – How do we tie all of this back together (re-ligate)? Each method is distinct, hence autonomous. But all are necessary to complete the picture and fully realize a value. We could say, then, that these questions (probes) are methodologically-autonomous but axiologically-integral.
We might more broadly conceive the descriptive as our sciences, the evaluative as our cultures, the normative as our philosophies and the interpretive as our great traditions. We could describe their integral relationship thus: The normative mediates between the descriptive and the interpretive to effect the evaluative.
What’s the difference? Without this important nuance, religion can claim a special gnosis – not just interpreting reality, but – describing reality. This isn’t new; it’s fideism. Science, for its part, would not only describe but also interpret reality, which is not a new conflation but a tired old scientism. They’re suggesting, then, that each of these these different methods are both methodologically and axiologically autonomous.
The nondual, epistemically, entails the robustly relational aspect of human value-realization. It describes the enjoyment of fellowship, of simple awareness. It goes beyond our dualistic problem-solving epistemic suite (empirical, logical, practical, moral, etc) but not without it. For example, we could conceive of a nondual value-realization in terms of a spousal mysticism, which is caught up in the throes of ecstasy with our Bride (let’s not be coy, we’re talking about “knowledge OF” in the Biblical sense). Sticking with that particular example of the nondual, one dualistic value-added contribution might be realized in terms of some “knowledge ABOUT” our love-partner; for example, we could suggest that that knowledge about our love-partner came about as we determined beforehand that it was not, rather, our wife’s identical twin sister to whom we were going to be making love (persistent & seductive as she had been over the years, the little devil).
I’ll return with a few comments on the nondual from an ontological perspective.
As we consider the nondual realizations of the East, we must be clear in distinguishing between epistemology (how do we know what we know?) and ontology (what’s the basic stuff of reality?). The nondual realization, itself, speaks to neither epistemology nor ontology but, instead, of an ineffable phenomenal experience (which characteristically leaves one with little of which to effable). The take-away is practical more so than theoretical, existential more so than metaphysical and conveys a sense of radical solidarity, which then produces the fruit of an immense compassion. If you meet the metaphysical Buddha on the road, kill her, I say.
The West has a tendency to process Eastern experiences through metaphysical lenses. Now, the nondual experience does arise in the context of practices, which are epistemically fraught. But those practices have implications much more so dealing with how it is we SEE reality and much less so dealing with how it is we PROCESS reality. Those practices gift us with perceptual purity and conceptual clarity but do not otherwise involve conceptual map-making. They help us fruitfully engage our participatory imaginations (or hometown knowledge – that skillset that gets us around town while meeting our needs with great ease but which may not, with equal facility, otherwise allow us to provide an out-of-towner with a clear set of directions to this or that destination, notwithstanding our own long familiarity with same).
Wilber’s nondual theology/theodicy has undeniable ontological implications and it’s no better (really worse in some ways) than many other onto-theology projects, as I see it. The chief problem that I have with mixing metaphysics and theology is that we come off proving too much, saying more than we can possibly know, telling untellable stories. That’s not living with paradox; it’s trying to banish mystery because we cannot bear the anxiety of reality’s ambivalence toward us and ambiguity for us.
Don’t get me wrong; I say we should let a thousand metaphysical blossoms bloom. But their value-added take-away is in framing up our most pressing questions and most insistent longings, orienting us existentially to Whomever it is that might answer them -not academically & theoretically with formulaic answers, but – relationally & compassionately with a consoling Presence.
So, of course, we will have our sneaking suspicions metaphysically but we best leave them in the form of vague questions and not definitive answers (even those answers conveyed allegorically):
1) How can the Creator interact with creatures if we do not together participate in some type of Divine Matrix of the same STUFF (forget the root metaphors: being, substance, process, experience, etc)? The placemarker I use for this question is intra-objective identity.
2) How is it that the Creator and creatures dance together in an inter-subjective intimacy?
3) How can each of us best grow integrally with intra-subjective integrity?
4) If there is something wholly transcendent, ontologically, certainly, we cannot successfully DESCRIBE it (even though we might successfully REFER to it) due to its inter-objective indeterminacy?
Now, there is truly something to Moltmann’s “tzitzum” and Simone Weil’s “divine delimitation” and the Kabbalistic “shrinking of God” that also appeals to me in Wilber’s creation theology/theodicy. But we can improve this account, I believe, with a healthy dose of apophatic theology, such as can be found in Robert Cummings Neville’s approach to the One (indeterminate) & the Many (determinate vis a vis the act of creation).
Theodicy problems arise from the presumption that we know more about God’s essential nature/divine attributes than we could possibly know, especially vis a vis Her supposed moral character (a truly anthropomorphic move). The problem of human suffering, even when supposedly dismissed on theoretical grounds, will always perdure practically. Even a workable academic solution will not ever be existentially satisfying? In the end, most come across as cruel, anyway? Ultimately, we just do not know WHY things are wrong or exactly HOW they will be set right but can only live our lives with hope because of WHO it is who told us THAT everything will be alright?
Finally, there is nothing magical about preserving paradox. We do not know ahead of time (a priori), in any given encounter of paradox, which we can 1) dissolve via a paradigm shift 2) resolve via some Hegelian dialectic 3) evade for all practical purposes 4) exploit by maintaining its creative tensions. This is to make the point that some dualistic realities are not illusory but real (good and evil) and, while we may not be able to satisfactorily account for their origin, theoretically, we definitely must approach them with the practical goal of evading them (through more than denial or wishful thinking). Even though explicitly asked, neither the Buddha nor Jesus satisfied our theodicy questions, theoretically, but they did both offer practical prescriptions grounded in a new way of looking at reality: nondually. This assertion invites much nuance but …
As usual, John, you’ve given me lots to process. I will hopefully be back to weigh in soon!
This is fantastic. I’ve been listening to Wilber’s The One, Two, Three of God from Sounds True, and slowly reading his Brief History. Anyway, last week it occurred to me that Spirit is not good. It kind of popped into my head out of seemingly nowhere and it made me stop short. Then I realized it wasn’t saying that Spirit is bad either. Spirit simply is. So this: “Spirit is the great Player that gives rise to all those opposites equally” really resonates.
This: “Is freely chosen as part of the necessary Game of Life. You cannot have a manifest world without all the opposites of pleasure and pain. And to get rid of the pain—the sin, the suffering, the dukkha—you must remember who and what you really are. This remembrance, this recollection, this anamnesis—”Do this in Remembrance of Me”—means, “Do this in Remembrance of the Self that You Are”—Tat Tvam Asi. The great mystical religions the world over consist of a series of profound practices to quiet the small self that we pretend we are—which causes the pain and suffering that you feel—and awaken as the Great Self that is our own true ground and goal and destiny—”Let this consciousness be in you which was in Christ Jesus.”” is a lot to consider. It makes me cry and smile at the same time.
I’ve been writing a post about the problem inherent in blaming God for the perceived ills of the world – the question of who is really responsible and I think that I should just instead point people over here to read this post of yours, Mike.
How about a both/and, Tana – I’d like to hear your thoughts about blaming God for everything, and you can point folks to this post of “mine” – which is actually a post of Ken’s. 🙂
Glad you’re enjoying The 1-2-3 of God; I’ve been thinking about trying Leslie Hershberger‘s ‘Coming Home‘ course.
If you’re interested in further exploring the perspective of Spirit-as-the-play-of-opposites, I’d recommend Everything Is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism. I’ll be exploring Jay Michaelson‘s thought sometime this week on the blog, I’m sure.
Jonathan Edwards might resonate with this? I’ve not read him cover to cover, but I’ve read a couple of his books and there ain’t nothin’ in here I’d see resonating with him at all.
Kevin! I’m so glad you rose to the bait. 🙂 Years ago, when reading either the Religious Affections or some of Edwards’ journals, it struck me how poetically, mystically, and effusively that Edwards believed that God is – present tense – all and in everything. Lately, this conversation has been heating up in Reformed circles, either intrigued or disturbed that their American patron saint might have seen God as ubiquitous and all-pervasive. See Jonathan Edwards’ Panentheism and Was Jonathan Edwards A Panentheist? to get this conversation going…
So Jonathan Edwards might conform to one of the legion definitions of the most meaningless theological term ever? 😉
> you are one with absolutely all manifestation, in its good and bad aspects, in all its frost and fever, its wonder and its pain. You are the Kosmos, literally.
That God infuses all creation is a definition of panentheism. That I infuse all creation is another definition of panentheism, or maybe a corollary with mixed reception, but putting Edwards in that pool doesn’t really mean much. Either way, I’d like to be a fly on the wall when Mr. Edwards was asked to interact with this statement!
“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is an immensely opposite statement to the one above. That sermon was not Edward’s clearest or deepest statement of the profound difference he taught existed between man and God, but it’s consistent with everything else he wrote. Claiming Edwards would resonate in any way with any of Mr. Wilbur’s key statements above is a non-starter.
As for me, I’ll go with this quote:
> Do we say that the moons of Jupiter aren’t real because they depend on a telescope? The people who raise this objection are almost always people who don’t want to look through the instrument of meditation, just as the Churchmen refused to look through Galileo’s telescope and thus acknowledge the moons of Jupiter.
Do we say infinite, charming, ever-transforming, hexagonal patterns are cosmic reality because we see them in a kaleidoscope? Mr. Wilbur’s convinced his kaleidoscope reveals things that ARE. I am not.
I gave myself heart and soul to meditation for 10 years, and found every forensic result they promised was absolutely true. It’s calming. It’s performance-enhancing. It profoundly alters your outlook on life.
Every spiritual claim of meditation I found fruitless. In the fires of tribulation it did nothing for me, so I went back to scripture to find out what I was doing wrong. Instead of finding my errors in meditation, I found meditation is simply not in the Jewish or Christian bible. I’ll concede instantly it’s all over the extra-biblical texts, but it’s not in the bible. Anywhere.
I started practicing the prayer taught in scripture and immediately noticed all the effects the scripture promises.
We’re all different, and I love and respect many brothers and sisters whose testimony differs from mine. I believe in calisthenics, even though they’re not in scripture. Same for calculus, painting, and telescopes. That meditation helps many cope with life I accept. But meditation’s not taught in the canon of scripture, and other much more useful practices are.
Let me suggest a distinction between the unitary and the unitive.
When we’re talking vaguely about the STUFF of primal reality, we intuit that it all somehow has to share certain attributes in order for it to be able to interact, otherwise our accounts will suffer what the philosophers call a “causal disjunction.” How could a Creator, Whom we only describe metaphorically, ever interact with creatures if all we have to work with are analogues? Try to have an analogy tonight for supper and see if that fills you up! This refers, then, to a putative UNITARY being, hence INTRA (within) OBJECTIVE (an object).
At the same time, when talking about the self as a true agent, it violates common sense long before it becomes a metaphysical conundrum to deny the reality of authentically interacting subjects. This refers, then, to our UNITIVE strivings, hence INTER (between) SUBJECTIVE (persons).
Combining these insights we might affirm a panentheism. I call it a vague panSEMIOentheism because this meta-critique is a step away from the more metaphysically robust panentheisms, which rely variously on different root metaphors like substance, process, being, experience and so on. In other words, it is a semiotic realism, which suggests that, even though I’ve only offered a putative heuristic with some vague placeholders that lack robust descriptions (root metaphors), still, those placeholders might very well make successful references to a putative primal reality in a way that we can realize some SIGNificant value vis a vis our God-talk.
To be sure, much of what we seem to take away in our more Eastern-like experiences of the Indeterminate Ground of Being (just for example) seems to correspond to an experience of absolute unitary being (cf. Andy Newberg, neuroscientist) or intra-objective identity. Our more Western-like experiences of a determinate Creator and creation seem to correspond to an experience of our unitive strivings or inter-subjective intimacy.
Interestingly, people who’ve experienced either/both the unitary or/and the unitive come away with a profound sense of solidarity & compassion for all sentient reality and deep gratitude for all reality. These general categories are much too facile though for authentic interreligious dialogue for there are prominent devotional elements in the East (bhakti and such) that affirm the value of our intersubjective experiences.
Most of the valuable take-aways from Western encounters with the East have been in the realm of practices and asceticisms, more epistemic than ontological. There’s more to be had by the West, though, in further cultivating the Eastern wisdom of remaining silent on all things metaphysical as it pertains to God’s essential nature? Not that the West doesn’t have a great apophatic tradition of its own. Let’s just say it’s been under-employed in many circles, just like our contemplative tradition, the reawakening of which remains in its infancy (post-Merton).
Was I too harsh on Wilber? I see the self as a quasi-autonomous agent, free-enough to realize values and not as some vestige of divine amnesia. In other words, there is a true ontological distinction from which we realize value, inter-subjectively, vis a vis God and other persons in our UNITIVE strivings. This is not to deny — but to held in a creative tension with — the notion that we and God, in some mysterious way, also share some of the very same “stuff” from which we may have issued forth vis a vis primal reality, creatio ex nihilo notwithstanding. Otherwise, whither any divine interactivity?
I’ve always thought the Hesychasts of Mt Athos might have been on to something with their distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies. Maybe they were on to something — not in a robustly metaphysical way, but — and providing us a vague meta-critique? So, I’m only suggesting that Wilber’s account would be fine once sufficiently nuanced.
I’d also like to affirm Cynthia Bourgeault’s notion that our experience of “constriction” is an encounter with a sacrament and all that that would efficaciously entail! It matches my intuition that we, as co-creators, amplify risks to augment values. I’m not suggesting that those values that are derived from all of the suffering attendant to that risk-taking could not have been gotten some other way (how could we know?), only that there IS value and I embrace it even as I positively eschew the suffering and would love to realize values without having to make sacrifices! Some day we’ll all understand … cried Fogelberg. I adamantly maintain that that day hasn’t arrived and that no theodicy is good that does not contain a huge measure of MYSTERY.
Thanks Mike. This is wonderful.
My introduction to Wilber came by way of a close friend. Six or seven years ago four of us would get together for weekend hikes. One of us was reading Richard Rohr. Another was reading Ken Wilber. I was reading Robert Pirsig. I’m not quite sure why I never picked up on Wilber back then. I recall feeling that Wilber’s approach to this one great mystery that we were all working our way into and through and out of was too technical, too impersonal, almost sterile.
If this interview is any indication of his latest publication I’ll have to buy the book.
Isn’t it funny how even the most learned and practiced luminaries of our time can change in just a few short years? 😉
Seriously though I think I’m ready to take the dive. With any luck I may even develop a daily practice…God willing.
re: the case for the sacramentality of creation as informed by Edwards, my dear late fellow Yat (NOLA native), Donald L. Gelpi, S.J. published: Incarnate Excellence’: Jonathan Edwards and an American Theological Aesthetic,” Religion and the Arts 2 (1998) 423-42
this is great. it puts perspective on the whole of the universe. thank you! ~Namaste~
I find this thought interesting, but I’m a little resistant at the same time.
I’ve considered similar things before – Kabbalah offers a very similar thought process, for instance. Certainly the biblical conception of God is primarily of creator – the one who wants diversity, who wants newness and otherness. In the bible, God is always moving outward, always bringing newness into being. And I see this as addressing the why of suffering, and the why of existence. So I would agree with the “not dining alone” sentiment. God is the one who always wants someone new at his table.
But the other thought process gives me pause. If I understood it correctly, the implication is that to truly remember who we are is to remove the separateness, and return to the original undivided state. In this scheme, it means that God is playing the game of self-delusion, and spiritual awareness means game over.
I would prefer to think that God’s creation and outward moving is permanent, that life and spiritual awareness do not “end the game”, but actually build towards something new and better. I would prefer to think that life is not an illusion, but is part of an actual move to attain something significant.
Of course it’s all metaphor. Why one is preferred over another has more to do with context and perspective than anything else.
RE: Nondual Week: Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It? | Mike Morrell – January 31, 2012 – want to follow up yesterday’s Ken Wilber interview with this blast from the past – something I wrote for the previous iteration of TheOOZE
It would be difficult to improve on that BLAST!
Let me offer a strategic note re: interreligious dialogue
If one accepts that, formatively, in most traditions, belonging precedes desiring which precedes behaving which is last followed by believing …
If those desires are largely formed by practices which engage us participatively and holistically …
If so much of the early stages of the journey within most of our great traditions thus entails evaluative attunement to reality via participatory praxes prior to any interpretive indoctrination via conceptual map-making and is thus much more nonpropositional than propositional …
Then there is an INTERFAITH BONANZA that awaits us if we would only [BRACKET] the [propositional elements] of our interfaith exchanges, at least at the start, to lead with the nonpropositional (practices)…
Then, when we do begin to engage the propositional elements of our respective traditions, there is yet a further INTERFAITH BONANZA to be enjoyed if we would only [BRACKET] our [Christology], at least at the start, to lead with our pneumatology (the Spirit)!
Now, some might offer the objection that many doctrines are inextricably intertwined with certain practices and that may well be true but, for all sorts of reasons (some listed above), the converse is manifestly not true.
If we’d approach interfaith exchanges in this manner, we’d have so much to celebrate in the way of belonging, desiring and behaving and even regarding some rudimentary shared beliefs regarding the Spirit! And this could help pave the way for a more fruitful dialogue regarding the propositional elements of our faiths, which are not unimportant.
Importantly, even the term inter-religious dialogue reveals a certain rationalistic, dualistic hegemony in its emphasis on the dia-logical. I now prefer the term inter-faith exchange because it goes beyond the logical and propositional, but not without them, to include the more robustly relational and nondual approaches to such human value-realizations as solidarity and compassion.
Finally, I don’t advocate this approach only for the academic and theological guilds but feel strongly that we need to popularize it and make it more accessible, perhaps through storytelling vehicles like The Shack. In a country and a world so torn apart by destructive polarizations that are grounded in religious differences, this strategy for engaging the religious-other could be a viable route to more peace, less war.
Thanks Johnboy. Yes to inter-faith exchange (and your explanation) and yes to the need to popularize/make accessible to all.
Thanks for featuring a post on nonduality and Ken Wilber! I am getting more familiar with Ken Wilber…I am currently reading Lew Howard’s great book “Introducing Ken Wilber: Concepts for an Evolving World” simultaneously with Integral Life Practice.
Ironically enough I just posted an article on my blog today featuring an excerpt from Wilber and discussing the reality of nonduality…here’s the link if you are interested:
I’m definitely going to be coming back to your blog to read future articles! 🙂
Awesome Jessica! I’m checking this out. Thanks for reading – and coming back! 🙂