Monday, December 25, 2006

Getting started on the Integral paradigm

As you may know, I've been working on a book tentatively titled The Integral Paradigm (I may still change this title), based on the idea of an Integral Philosophy or worldview and praxis incorporating common elements of Sri Aurobindo, Ken Wilber, and others, and building on themes in my two essays on Integral World, as well as comments and discussions on Open Integral.

And I just felt I was getting nowhere. In other words, there just isn't enough common denominator to even define an Integral worldview, as opposed to say a New Age worldview. And as I argue in my essay, the Integral movement, especially the Wilberian Integral movement, cannot even be distinguished from the New Age sensu lato (see Wouter Hanegraaff New Age Religion and Western Culture, SUNY 1998). There just isn't enough of a common denominator between Aurobindo and Wilber to constitute a worldview. This was brought home to me even more clearly in discussions on Open Integral - see the threads The Integral movement - new page at Integral Wiki and What does the Integral Movement represent? which made me question whether there even is such a thing as an Integral Movement. There is a Wilberian Integral movement, an Aurobindonian Integral Yoga community, etc etc. Sure. But an Integral movement over and above all these? Forums like Open Integral and SCIY may or may not be able to define the Integral Movement. And sure one can construct a mental viewpoint based on the "big three" of Aurobindo, Gebser, and Wilber, or even on one of these alone, but it would be mental only, arbitrary, artificial, a mere construct, not a real revelation.

Anyway, I was thinking about this, trying to figure what to do. Should I just scrap the whole idea as unworkable? Just forget this integral stuff and go back to straight Esotericism?

And then the answer came to me, on Christmas late afternoon. A sort of Christmas epiphany one might say (I spent Christmas on my own apart from my animals).

The solution is simple. For an Integral worldview I have a strong nucleus. That strong nucleus is (or will be in my book) the essence of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother on this.

e.g. Sri Aurobindo's teachings might be summed up as

o The Supermind as the link between the static, infinite, and perfect Absolute (Sachchidananda) and the lower three worlds of matter, life, and mind.
o Man is a transitional being (i.e., evolution doesn't end with the mental)
o This Yoga begins where all the others end
o Integral Yoga involves the transformation and divinisation of the entire being
o The transformation is not just individual but collective, involving the entire terrestrial (i.e. physical) evolution

(note that this is just my own tentative listing; more knowledgeable students of Sri Aurobindo than I would probably have a more accurate list)

For The Mother one might add

o The importance of spiritual virtues like Faith, Aspiration, Surrender etc
o The bringing to the fore of the Psychic Being
o The Supramental Force is (and has been since 29 February 1956) already established on the Earth, it just needs to be attuned to
o The transformation is through the Cells of the Body (Satprem's "Mind of the Cells" - incidentally I find The Mother's quotes here far more useful then most of Staprem's commentary)

(again, this is just my own incomplete and preliminary list)

In this context then, and as a starting point, "Integral" means the spiritual and divine transformation initiated by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, and the associated theory and practice that might be included in this. This does not exclude Wilberian, Genserian, Teilhardian, and other paradigms, because as I said the Aurobindonian definition is selected, rather than a vague lowest common denominator approach, in order to get the ball rolling.

So I am not trying to enforce an Aurobinbdonian fundamentalism here, because any form of literalism means that there can no longer be growth and transformation. But at least this way I have my starting point.

Now, you may ask, why not start with the Wilberian definition? Since we are looking only for a starting point, not as a delimiter? Well, here's the definition of Integral from the Integral Institute (thanks to Joe Perez for this quote)

What's "Integral"? It simply means more balanced, comprehensive, interconnected, and whole. By using an Integral approach--whether it's in business, personal development, art, education, or spirituality (or any of dozens of other fields)--we can include more aspects of reality, and more of our humanity, in order to become more fully awake and effective in anything we do... "Integral" is not only a "theory of everything," but involves new ways of working, loving, creating, playing, and interacting in a complex and evolving world--it's a worldview for the 21st Century.

Now, no disrespect intended to Wilberians, all to whom I have associated with have shown a lot of integrity (even Backface was acting in a more reasonable and civil manner in his most recent post), but this definition does not work for me.

Why not? Because,looking beneath the surface, the impression I get (and I emphasise that this is only the impression I get, you may get a totally different impression) is that ultimately it is about lifestyle, about New Age sensu lato, about the where you go next once you have an affluent career and lifestyle and all the material trappings that come with success in Western consumerist society, about a better way of the limited outer personality and body doing things, only about the way in which this small finite personality is made more balanced, interconnected, etc while remaining in the state of avidya. Mention is made to "new ways of working, loving, etc" but how does this differ from what you would find advertised in any New Age / Human Potential workshop?

Don't get me wrong, these are fantastic goals, and certainly our current world with its short-sided, greedy, exploitative, shadow-projecting ugliness is destroying the Earth desperately needs more people who uphold them. And what the Integral Institute talks about (although it's cultic devotionalism means it may have difficulty in applying it!) are the sort of attitudes can save the Earth, if everyone were to adopt them (that's a big if, but...). So I am not saying there is anything wrong with these goals, not at all. I 100% support all the things the Integral Institute mentions. I am just saying they are too limited, too tiny, too unimaginative, too exoteric, for me.

Why aim small, when you can aim high? Why aim only for trying to be harmonious and interconnected in the workplace, when you can realise the Supermind (the Supreme Godhead) in the cells of your body? Why strive only for better ways of loving and playing, when you can reverse entropy?

Of course, it is very much much easier to be harmonious in the workplace than to reverse entropy. The little goals are achieved before the big goals are. Rome wasn't built in a day, and maybe the Wilberian goals are necessary prerequisites before one can hope for anything like what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother promised. Although for me personally, it's the path of Sri Ramana that's the preliminary stage, each to their own. Perhaps these can all be arranged hgirarchically:

e.g.

o mundane consciousness which is unsatisfactory (the ordinary consciousness of most people)
o a more harmonious mundane consciousness (Wiilberian, New Age, etc)
o realisation of the Silent Self, shunyata, enlightenment, liberation, union with God, whatever (Sri Ramana, Buddhism, genuine Sufism, other authentic teachings)
o Supramental Transformation (Sri Aurobindo and The Mother)

So to get back to the question, why start with the Aurobindonian stance rather than the Wilberian, my reply is simply that (to me) the Aurobindonian is more majestic, more awesome, more inspiring, more provocative, more inclusive, and more amazing and more profound in every way then any other teaching and any other praxis. And that is why, in my book on the Integral paradigm, I am using as the foundation and point of reference the Aurobindonian revelation. Starting with that first, and considering all the others (both "integral" and non-integral). Of course, who knows, I might decide to change things again, but so far this feels right.

The current plan of my book is

o Introduction - What is Integral, problems of definition, the Aurobindonian message
o Biographies and teachings - a list of people both included and not included in the integral movement, and who have either influenced and inspired me in my understanding and development of this Integral paradigm, or who are worthy of inclusion, regardless of what I might thing at present (I might have to get some feedback regarding this latter). Not that not everyone here need be famous, they might just be people I get a good vibe about, even people I have met on the Internet ;-) This is not a definitive review, only my own personal account
o Exoteric praxis (Wilberian and other, e.g. the Integral Institute quote above, and similar themes) - personal and social transformation; Integral lifestyle, Social transformation, sentient rights (Animal Liberation etc), Integral Art, "spiritual cross-training", etc etc
o Esoteric praxis - inward transformation, the Inner Being, the spiritual path (I don't mean superficially, I mean the real deal), leading to liberation, and a brief mention of dangers along the way, such as the Intermediate Zone; the culmination here is liberation such as is taught by Sri Ramana and others. Where all other yogas end, where Integral Yoga begins.
o The Integral/Supramental Transformation

Most of these themes have already been covered or will be covered in my material posted on Frank's Integral World website; so essentially I am elaborating upon that. The only original element will be the biographies, and even there some of these have already been referred to briefly in my essays or their seminal ideas mentioned - e.g. Tielhard, Haskell, Gooch, Wilber, etc. I'm also going to include here several communities - specifically Zaadz and Integrative Spirituality, although the latter looks a lot less like a community and more like an amazing idea by some Wilber-inspired people that unfortunately did not really catch on; regardless, the ideas of the anonymous authors of that site deserve a mention; they certainly have inspired me in several points (I was interested to find that Joe Perez independently mentioned them on Open Integral), despite my criticisms with certain problems they may have.

As my book is written I will post extracts on this blog and on my Zaadz blog; not the whole manuscript, just some stuff here and there, to get people's feedback and to give everyone an idea oif the sort of content. Basically it will be, as mentioned, like the material on Integral World, but with more detail, and some of the more abrasive polemics toned down (what's suitable for the internet isn't necessarily suitable for a book!).

6 Comments:

Blogger ebuddha said...

Alan,

I have no doubt that Aurobindo was the premiere spiritual philospher of the early 20th century. The issue with using Aurobindo as a model, it seems, is the lack of incorporation of the last 50 years of progress. Psychology has gone well beyond Freud and Jung, no matter the giants those two are.

Now, that is a square that can easily be circled, and probably what you are attempting to do, by STARTING with Aurobindo. Is there continuing research into Aurobindo's techniques, improvements, incorporations of new understandings, etc?

10:23 AM  
Blogger m alan kazlev said...

Hi ebuddha

you said

"The issue with using Aurobindo as a model, it seems, is the lack of incorporation of the last 50 years of progress. Psychology has gone well beyond Freud and Jung, no matter the giants those two are."

Yes, this is an interesting question! But the problem here is that we are talking about two totally different realities.

What Sri Aurobindo says is timeless. It pertains to the Supreme, the Absolute Reality, God if you will (although I dislike that term because of the exoteric religious connotations, old man in a cloud, only way is through the true church, giving out authoritarian rules in some revealed scripture, etc).

50 years of progress in science, philosophy, psychology, historical criticism, etc etc pertains to the world of the relative intellect, the outer material world. It is not that this is not included in the Aurobindonian compass, it is only that it is one smallpart of the whole.

The situation is different with Freud and Jung. Great genuises that they were, they were still working at the level of the rational intellect. Like explorers of the unknown, but the world they explored is still accessible to our understanding.

Jung certainly touched on the greater reality; he is one of the very few of the 20th century who did. This is probably why many in mainstream psychology are still uncomfortable with him. But Jung's interpretations, a biologiacl racial memory, are nonsense, as any biologist will tell you. So Jung was trying to put a materialistic slant on things. Like Wilber, he was a bridgebuilder and he tried to dsefine non-empirical things in the language of scxience out of a desire to appear respectable to mainstream academia (and like Wilber, he never did become so, but instead established his own "sacred tradition" if one might call it that). It's only in his older years, when he was no longer concerned with what his collegues thought of him, that he could be himself. That's when he spoke about synchronicity, psychoid archetype, things that were beyond the compass of secular knowledge.

In the intervening 50 years, has any Jungian improved on Jung? Ok you have people like James Hillman, Jospeh Campbell, etc. But has anyone in that tradition gone beyond Jung?

So the myth of progress doesn't apply. It's not like Edison or Tesla or Henry Ford or the Wright Brothers or Baird or other great technological pioneers, and that technology surpassed them and their were more advanced gizmos.

It's not like pure science where you have a Newton or an Einstein and others come along and refine and build upon their discoveries, using experimental method and empirical observation,or even a thought experiemnet, like how Einstein went beyond Newton with the discovery of Relativity.

The only person who was equal to Sri Aurobindo was Mirra Alfassa, the Mother. And yes it is interesting taht she did go beyond him, if you compare the Mother's Agenda (transcribed by her devotee Satprem) with the Aurobindonian corpus, she put what he said philosophically into practice. But since she left her body, there has been no-one of that level.

Is there continuing research into Aurobindo's techniques, improvements, incorporations of new understandings, etc?

Research implies the limited external consciousness. I might equally ask, has there been any research and improvements in the techniques that the Buddha taught? That Rumi taught? That Bodhidharma taught? That Sri Ramana taught? That's what I mean, it's a misplaced metaphor

But as for incorporations of new understanding, well, that's different. There is also the possibility of greater external insights. Not just commenting, but bringing more things together. That's what I'm trying to do for example. Perhaps that's what the mainstream integral movement is also doing. This is the promise I see in the Integral Movement, and the reason I feel affiliated with it. It's not that anyone there can be another Aurobindo, or another Maharshi. But it is possible to take the outer forms of what these great sages taught, and try to put it together in a greater perspective.

And of course, to do this, one needs to start somewhere. One can start from one's own rational midn, but then why is what one says better than what anyone else says? There are just endless arguments, the mind turning around but not arriving at a higher truth.

That's why I prefer to start with the teachings of the greatest sage(s) I can find. And if there were any greater Sages then Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, I would without a microsecond hesitation switch to their perspective and use that as a starting point isntead. So far I haven't found any, but I am open to all possibilities.

Not sure if that answers your question. The problem truly is about acknowledging both the transcendent Supreme and the relative world, both, together. Reconciling the two, without contradiction. That's the real paradox.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Askinstoo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Joe Perez said...

hi alan - i'm looking forward to reading more aurobindo next year. i feel a kinship with your thoughts on autobindo, wilber, etc, but hesitate to comment more because my knowledge of aurobindo is superficial. but I have studied Hegel in some degree of depth, and I find Aurobindo's prose to be more or less of the same difficulty. That is to say, extremely "abstract." And yet it is beautiful, more so than ... well, very much so. I hope you can find a way to communicate Aurobindo's genius in more plain language.

joe

12:05 AM  
Blogger m alan kazlev said...

Hi Joe

I have to say I have found ideas in your blog very helpful in further developing and widening my understanding of Integral and the Integral movement.

Yes much of Sri Aurobindo's writings are heavy in style, perhaps because of his English private school upbring. Interestingly his Letters on Yoga (it's since been published under another title, On Yoga or some such) are very easy to read; they're just extracts from letters to disciples, replying to their questions (unfortunately the disciples letters are not included, so the complete context is at times hard to follow).

It took me a long time to learn how to read S.A.'s heavier books like The Life Divine and Synthesis on Yoga. I eventually realised you have to read just small parts here and there, whatever line or paragraph grabs your inspiration, and allow your inner being to be receptive to and uplifted by the Meaning behind the words. It's the same with reading Ramana Maharshi, or any great sage. Approached on that level, Sri Aurobindo isn't abstract at all! I could never read his books from cover to cover, but Tusar seems to approach them in a more scholarly way, and that's fine too.

If you would like a good idea of what he is on about, but don't want to have to plough through hundreds of pages of philosophy, I would recomend just read the last four chapters of The Life Divine. That way you go straight to his message of spiritual evolution pure and simple!

For a while now I have felt more of an affilation with Synthesis of Yoga, which is more practical and mystical than philosophical in approach.

Then I discovered Sri Ramana, who is even more important to me now, as he teaches the realisation of the non-dual Self, which is necessary if one is to then progress to the stages beyond that, which is what Sri Aurobindo teaches (these stages, culminating in the Supreme individual and collective Realisation of the Supramental Godhead, are all described in those last four chapters of The Life Divine). Of course, for us ordinary mortals, even Self-Realisation (basic Enlightenment) is a huge task!

For me philosophy is mostly of little interest, perhaps because of that abstract quality that you refer to, although I appreciate for some it is a genuine sadhana (spiritual path)

The way I tend to communicate what Sri Aurobindo taught is to focus on the practical and mystical side of the teachings, and their implications for the integral paradigm and the Earth as a whole. Of course that leaves out all the more purely philosophical and intellectual stuff, as well as all the poems and the political and social commentary. But Sri Aurobindo is like an ocean, and it isn't possible to encompass the whole ocean. One can only splash in the shallows. It's like that when approiaching the teachings of every truly great sage.

3:09 AM  
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2:31 PM  

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