Monday, April 30, 2007

Gnosis and Outreach

Carrying on from the topic of the last post

First, a current working definition of "integral" that is able to include both Wilber and Aurobindo. By "integral" can be meant they share these qualities:

(a) a spiritual evolutionary worldview,
(b) a "big picture" approach that is both distinct from but also integrates spirituality, philosophy, science, etc, and
(c) self-referential - both use the word "integral".

Not much to go by, and at one point I was ready to give up the possibility of any connection at all, other than that Wilber appropriated Sri Aurobindo's terminology in this context. But Scott Zimmerle and I are currently working on a book which traces the influence of the Integral worldview - or alternatively the Modern Teleological worldview, back to German idealism, and I would add Western esotericism. Note that Whitehead, Teilhard, Blavatsky, Steiner, and many others can also be defined as "integral" according to (a) and (b); with Gebser and the post-wilberians we can add (c) as well.

Anyway, there is an interesting symmetry between the Integral Yoga Community (Aurobindonian) and the Integral Movement (Wilberian/PostWilberian) . Since I have been and still are involved in both, I can talk from experience, or at least as much experience as my own observations may carry, which is not anywhere as much as those qualified in these subjects.

The situation as I see it is like this. Integral Yoga constitutes an authentic spiritual path based on the teachings of two genuine enlightened beings (Sri Aurobindo and The Mother) who can only be approached through spiritual insight. Thus you need some measure of gnosis to begin with, or the whole thing appears meaningless, and can easily be rejected. As with those involved in any spiritual tradition, some may be only "seekers" (the seeker is not the same as the gnostic, because the seeker only knows from a mental or devotional level; e.g. someone is "seeking", then they join a religion or a guru) who feel an affinity. But this affinity is not or not yet the broad certainty and non-contradiction of all spiritual paths that Gnosis conveys. But (again as with any authentic tradition) the core of Integral Yoga people, and many on the periphery, have at least some level of gnosis or insight.

However the Integral Yoga community tends to be quite insular, in that it has not is primarily concerned with Sri Aurobindo and The Mother's teachings, and its effect on the larger world or even the larger New Age community has been slight. The exception is in India where Sri Aurobindo is still seen as an important guru, philosopher, and freedom-fighter, but that is a cultural thing, and I suppose also involves national pride.

What I have said here for Integral Yoga applies by analogy also to every other authentic spiritual tradition - Buddhist, Vedantic, Sufi, Kabbalistic, Taoist, Esoteric Christian, etc etc. I don't mean pop gurus who teach a watered down message acceptable to the secular West. I mean authentic esoteric spiritual traditions.

The opposite or converse of this is shown by the Integral Movement, initiated by and still focused around KW and his teachings. Here there is no transcendent spiritual path, but only mental theory. But there is something that the authentic traditions lack; outreach

The orthodox Wilberian mainstream of the Integral movement has been incredibly proficient in this regard, and indeed in many ways Wilberism resembles a missionary religion. You will never see this sort of marketing involved with an esoteric teaching. Because of their success, the Wilberian integralites have established a decent influence within the New Age and New Consciousness movement, and especially on the internet, and are also very successful - much more than any esoteric teaching - in America and I have heard also in Germany. But this isn't the case everywhere. In Australia Wilberism is insignificant as a "new age" movement. with only a relatively small number of followers. But the situation with Integral Yoga is even worse. Apart from myself and one or two others, Aurobindonianism is totally non-existent!

So we have two diametrically poles within the realm of the "integral". One has genuine spiritual insight, but little in the way of outreach. The other is brilliant at outreach, but the philosophy lacks an authentic spiritual core.

Actually the situation may be changing, at least from the Integral Yoga perspective. Here is a very intersting and promising instance of Integral Yoga outreach.

To come back to the topic back to an Integral Gnostic Community, I hadthe idea, although maybe this is just egotism and forcing things, rather than allowing them to develop spontaneously (whatever that might involve). Anyway I thought that maybe a Gnostic Community might likewise benefit from "outreach". It may be writing books, or webpages, or whatever. In any case this is only something that would be posisble after the original group is established. So first there should be a community of fellow gnostics on-line. They don't even have to be "integral" (sensu the two or three characteristics listed above) gnostics, although that's basically my approach. But others may have different approaches. The important thing is that they are receptive to a higher or deeper, more spiritual and divine, consciousness. People who genuinely see things in terms of going beyond limited mental perspectives, and are attuned to, or aspire to, the Transcendent,

Then, if and when a decent and active community develops online, and depending on the amount of interest these suggestions generate, the next step should be some sort of "outreach". But it is essential always to avoid the dangers of cultism, superficiality, authoritarianism, dogmatism etc. Spiritual principles based on genuine inner guidance and inspiration (not outer authority) should never be compromised. And there is no greater way to destroy an initiative like this than for one or more people involved to get caught up in egotism or competing personalities, or trying to appropriate the community as a vehicle for their own personal agendas or belief systems, whatever they may be. I have been involved in internet forums and I have seen that sort of thing happen, and it is immediately obvious that there is not an atom of genuine spirituality there, it is all ego. Well-meaning ego, with a lot of good will and sincerity, sure. But egotism all the same. The group therefore might be the synergetic result of the sadhana or spiritual aspiration of the participants; spiritual practice that transcends the limited thoughtforms of mental or mental-spiritual teachings, and thus can come to approach and appreciate the Supreme/Enlightment/The Absolute from one, several, many, and/or all, perspectives. A good example of this is given by Sri Aurobindo, and which I have posted on Open Integral.

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Blogger Margot said...

I have just begun my summer writing season and after a long absence from the internet, it is a pleasure to come back online and find this poignant yet congruent article. I was actually looking for Sri Aurobindo's definition of spirituality so that I can explain what it is and what it is not. Thanks again for a great article, Alan. Margot

6:44 AM  

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