This book is offered as an explorer’s source book in the mapping of the various psychological problems inherent in Sri Aurobindo’s integral sadhana and Ken Wilber’s integral psychology. The purpose of this book is not to extol or decry one of the two integral thinkers at the cost of the other. This comparative study, therefore, does not aim at setting one approach against the other, but at showing how the two could be complementary in spiritual psychology and human nature.
There are possible dangers in working with the spiritual and psychological domains simultaneously, and the various pitfalls are extensively elaborated in this book, because knowing about them can lessen the dangers. However, in this attempt at clarification of the different problems related to Sri Aurobindo’s and Ken Wilber’s visions, the clarification itself does not constitute a solution to the problems involved in their models.
A few preliminary questions may be helpful in order to avoid certain confusions. Are Ken Wilber’s and Sri Aurobindo’s integral views simply two parallel approaches aiming at the same end but using a different language, or do they have the same ideas about developmental areas but differ in their concepts of growth? Are there many pitfalls in prematurely trying to juxtapose the two approaches, and are they two separate directions in which human life is moving? If yes, are the divergences essentially a matter of terminology, or do the differences affect a genuine plurality of problems?
This comparison does not magnify differences without acknowledging the overlap in issues, as both theories share considerable common ground. Nevertheless, it is not the author’s intention to yoke Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical yoga psychology to Ken Wilber’s integral psychology, even though it seems that there are some important insights that are similar. Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine and The Synthesis of Yoga are mainly works on Yoga and only indirectly on psychology.
The author has tried to use a language that is comprehensible to the laymen without falling into generalities. In spite of this, the contents of this book may not always be easily digestible.
This study comprises three parts, which are subdivided into twelve chapters.
Part One gives the background information, which is needed for parts Two and Three.
The first chapter commences with a brief overview of some of the fundamentals of the aim and nature of psychotherapy as well as some of its limitations. Psychotherapy aims at helping clients to grow and promoting insight and inner freedom. It can be seen as an initiating process for the development of an integrated ego, and its constructive application can be used as a bridge or adjunctive aid to help seekers to a turning point on the spiritual journey.
However, it seems that most brands of psychotherapy focus only on one or some aspects of human functioning and are, therefore, severely limited in the degree to which they are capable of enlarging the client’s awareness and modifying man’s behaviour.
Chapter two elaborates on the relation between conventional psychotherapy and traditional spiritual discipline. Both approaches are concerned with human suffering and self-analysis through a change of automatic patterns of awareness and thinking from which much human suffering originates, yet they differ regarding the fundamental nature of reality and the concept of the self. Nevertheless, in their partially overlapping areas of interest the two approaches can be complementary aspects of the process of self-realisation. Each approach has its own importance; each may be regarded as a different stage in the course of the seeker’s development.
The spiritual journey has its challenges and difficulties and embarking on the spiritual path is, therefore, not something to jump into naively.
Chapter three discusses the metaphysical nature of spiritual discipline and the metaphysical nature of the self. A spiritual discipline is not based on an uncritical acceptance of certain doctrinal interpretations; it demands an initial acceptance of the prescribed methods, but at a later stage, with knowledge and insight, the researcher may be able to debate certain issues which are related to a specific spiritual discipline. In looking at the metaphysical nature of the Self, as distinguished from the psychological nature of the self, the author describes the concept of the Self as explored in the Upanishads, Advait Vedanta, Patanjali’s Yoga, Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical system, and conventional Western psychotherapy.
The fourth chapter deals with the transpersonal movement and gives a general overview of transpersonal psychology, transpersonal psychotherapy and transpersonal psychiatry.
The transpersonal movement, as a subject for scientific investigation, affirms that the transpersonal realm is not the exclusive domain of priests, yogis or mystics but also of scientists; it is an open system undergoing continuous development. In this development it brings together the ancient wisdom of all the great spiritual traditions of the world and the pragmatism of modern Western science.
Transpersonal psychotherapy is an approach to healing through the integration of the physical, vital, mental and spiritual aspects of the person. The spiritual dimensions and potentials of the seeker are explored from a psychological perspective. In transpersonal psychiatry the mystical experience can be transformative and healing, and the transpersonal psychiatrist, who treats individuals with a spiritual orientation, acknowledges the link between the biological and spiritual aspects of man.
Part Two elaborates extensively on Ken Wilber’s integral psychology and Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical yoga psychology.
Chapter five describes the main works of Ken Wilber, from his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness, to his latest work, A Theory of Everything, so that the reader gets a better understanding of Ken Wilber’s multidisciplinary approach.
In the sixth chapter the author examines briefly some of the main works of Sri Aurobindo (The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Human Cycle and Letters on Yoga), the aim of his integral Yoga and the concept of integral transformation. The aim of the practitioner of integral Yoga must be the possession of God, to be as perfect as God in His being, and to live a divine life on earth so that all mankind may attain the same divine perfection. Sri Aurobindo’s integral transformation enables the spiritual seeker to live in the Divine not only in the absorbed ecstasy of trance, but also to live the Life Divine on earth at all times, in all parts and elements of the beingphysically, vitally, mentally and spiritually.
The seventh chapter describes and attempts to analyse Sri Aurobindo’s concept of the psycho-spiritual nature of man, in terms of the various layers of consciousness and in terms of the different parts of the being. This classification is helpful for psychological self-knowledge, discipline and practice, but should not be erected into too rigid a formula. As these things run very much into each other, a synthetic sense of these powers is as necessary as the analytical.
In the eighth chapter insight is gained into sadhana in integral Yoga and its difficulties. Sadhana as a science of spiritual discipline is a conscious effort to find God or the divine within and to transform one’s whole nature. Sri Aurobindo’s integral sadhana, as an intensive preparation for a divine life or Gnostic kingdom of heaven on earth, is not an easy sadhana. The path of integral sadhana is steep and does not avoid regions of darkness. Its difficult, complex course is not a path for any ordinary seeker to follow, but only for those who accept to seek its aim and for those whose inner strength is supplemented by the true aid of the Guru. However, Sri Aurobindo maintains that those who are sincere, faithful in heart and rely only on the Divine will arrive at the kingdom in spite of all difficulties.
Part three attempts to render a critical and constructive dialogue between Ken Wilber and Sri Aurobindo regarding their integral views and their metaphysical vision.
Chapter nine opens with a comparison of conventional psychotherapy and integral sadhana. Systems of psychotherapy and Sri Aurobindo’s sadhana include the development of insight and increasing awareness pertaining to aspects of behaviour of which the seeker has been more or less unaware. But for Sri Aurobindo, psychological difficulties do not disappear by mind’s brooding on them; he wants the seeker to put one’s whole stress on faith, aspiration and surrender to the Divine Will, as it is from something outside and above the difficulties that the solution must come.
After discussing the role of the ego and the place of God in transpersonal psychotherapy and in integral sadhana, the author concludes this chapter with a comparison of transpersonal psychotherapy and integral sadhana. Both approaches take consciousness as the true subject matter of psychology but, unlike transpersonal psychotherapy, Sri Aurobindo’s yoga of integral perfection regards man as a divine spiritual being involved in mind, life and body, and his Yoga aims not only at the realisation but also at the perfection of the seeker’s divine nature. Integral sadhana and transpersonal psychotherapy can be viewed as complementary, however, each representing different levels of health and growth, and each simply dealing with different ranges of human development.
Chapter ten offers a critical evaluation of Ken Wilber’s commentary on the limitations of Sri Aurobindo’s integral Yoga. Does Sri Aurobindo make a sufficiently strong link between his spiritual objectives and social, economic, cultural and scientific goals that can be tested by established social or scientific criteria? The answer lies in Sri Aurobindo’s views on science, metaphysics, culture, religion, the relation between the individual and collectivity, sociology and ethics.
The eleventh chapter examines Ken Wilber’s critical interpretations of various aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical vision, and concludes with a critical estimate of Ken Wilber. It may be useful to compare various aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s vision with his own ‘all-quadrant, all-level’ model but, when they are applied to life, are the similarities used in the same way in both systems?
The concluding chapter presents a critical summary of Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical yoga psychology and the place of psychopathology in it. Sri Aurobindo is not an academic psychologist, but a Yogi who takes psychology in his stride. Are the psychological aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical vision, which are based on the practice of his integral Yoga, applicable to the discoveries of clinical psychology, or contemporary applied psychology?
In a critical estimate of Sri Aurobindo’s integralism, the author asks himself if Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical vision is able to withstand the rise of Western psychology’s scientific development, and if the followers of Sri Aurobindo’s vision are able to use certain contemporary ideas in a constructive manner without deconstructing the major contents of his vision.
It takes a brief look at the ashramites of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, seen through the eyes of a long-time ashramite and at Auroville, ‘the city of human unity’, through the eyes of this author who lives in Auroville.
The reflections and critical comments at the end of the last three chapters are not meant as an “attack” on their vision, but as an elucidation of their agreements and disagreements, and a genuine appreciation of their integral approach.
Psychology has become a ‘dusty discipline’. It is being eaten alive by the scientific approaches of the Right-Hand quadrants (such as cognitive science) and it is being dissolved and deconstructed by the mean green meme in the Left-Hand quadrants. It [psychology] seems to be on its last legs.
A direct experiential and experimental psychology seems to be demanded if psychology is to be a science and not merely a mass of elementary and superficial generalisations with all the rest guesswork or uncertain conclusion or inference. We must see, feel, know directly what we observe; our interpretations must be capable of being sure and indubitable; we must be able to work surely on a ground of sure knowledge.
In a recent interview with Shambhala Publications, Ken Wilber officially announced his resignation from the transpersonal psychology movement and his withdrawal from his work as a consulting editor of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. He resigned because of differences with the major role players of the transpersonal movement, which have led to an impasse in which none of the factions has much to offer the others and where they will likely never to be able to agree with each other. These divisions within the ranks are related to their idea of the nature, scope and role of transpersonal psychology. There is also a great deal of disagreement as to what constitutes transpersonal psychology. Ken Wilber categorizes the four major factions of transpersonal psychology as:
1.the magic-mythic group, which tends to confuse prerational mythic forms with transrational formless Spirit (New Age);
2.the altered states group, which looks at temporary nonordinary states, avoids development, stages and sustained practices (retro-Romantics);
3.the postmodernists, with their pluralistic relativism, criticise universalism and the perennial philosophy, which finally leads to boomeritus;
4.the integral school incorporates the essentials of all the other schools “but that is exactly what is sharply disputed by all of them”.
Ken Wilber, set forth the theory that integral psychology will no longer be affiliated with the transpersonal movement and will be referred to, from now on, as an integral approach wider than any particular approach to psychology. The many positive and brilliant insights and contributions of these four approaches have to be included in a more integral approach but taken by themselves, they lead to difficulties because each of them ignores other equally important aspects of the psyche.
Differentiating the first-tier and second-tier approaches within his integral model, Ken Wilber felt a need to establish the Integral Institute, in an attempt to bring together second-tier thinkers who will use integral solutions to today’s problems in education, medicine, politics, business, ecology, spirituality and art. In an announcement of the formation of the Integral Institute, he describes it in this way: “Integral Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the integration of body, mind, soul and spirit in self, culture and nature. This integral vision attempts to honor and integrate the largest amount of research from the greatest number of disciplines—including the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, ecology), art, ethics, religion, psychology, politics, business, sociology, and spirituality. Integral Institute is dedicated to the proposition that piecemeal approaches to the world’s problems—war, hunger, disease, famine, over-population, housing, technology, education—not only no longer help but often compound the problem, and they need to be replaced by approaches that are more comprehensive, systematic, encompassing—and integral.”
The members of the Integral Institute, using integral approaches to all the above-mentioned fields, “are trying to position themselves as surfing the front crest of that rising incoming wave of second-tier consciousness”. The younger generation will receive training in all aspects of integral thinking and integral practice and carry on the integral vision in the future. The gathering of second-tier researchers and integral theorists creates some sort of sanctuary where integral second-tier research and writing can occur and where they can come together to share their ideas and experiments.
The general vision that guides the Integral Institute is mainly based on the all-quadrant, all-level model, a union of subjective (I), intersubjective (we) and objective (it) dimensions of reality. This four-quadrant model is able to examine parallel developments in each quadrant, i.e., developmental stages in each quadrant correspond with developments in the others. At the moment there are four hundred members and various branches (psychology, business, politics, medicine, education, art, spirituality and media) and each of them has its “core teams”, gifted and influential integral theorists and researchers in a specific area. Each of the branches is giving and receiving research from all the others, as the findings of one field will have direct relevance to other fields.
At times, Ken Wilber’s all-quadrant, all-level model, which attempts to integrate the scientific system approach and metaphysical system speculation, has the tendency to be immune to criticism. In two published interviews of Ken Wilber with Shambhala publications, entitled On Critics, Integral Institute, My Recent Writing and Other Matters of Little Consequence and Do Critics Misrepresent My Position? as well as in the introductions of The Collective Works, he gives the reader a detailed explanation regarding the various criticisms he has received and the motives for the discriminative and argumentative attitude found in his later works.
For Ken Wilber, a healthy scepticism rather than blind faith or a critical and sometimes even polemical attitude is a proper guide for him on the road to truth. An integral vision can never flourish in the domain of deconstructive postmodernism or of pluralistic relativism infected with the emotional narcissism of the baby boomer generation. He claims his occasional polemical and sarcastic tone in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality; A Brief History of Everything and The Eye of Spirit was necessary in order to remove the major barriers to a universal integralism. Ken Wilber assumes that most of the critical reactions to his works largely reflect a green-meme (first-tier) attack on his second-tier thinking.
In the introduction to Volume 8 of The Collective Works, he defends himself, as follows, in a rather emotional tone: “In today’s climate of postmodern pluralism, since there is no such thing as objective truth, then arguments are conducted almost entirely by attacking the subject who holds the beliefs. … the easiest way to fight this integral view is not to engage the ideas and evidence head on, but simply to try to discredit me as a person (the two most common forms: I don’t fit their version of spiritual, and I am apparently slightly more authoritarian than Mussolini). Those charges are made exclusively by people who have never met me, which I think speaks volumes. … Moreover, my work is such an imposing structure, many theorists feel that in order to make their own contributions, they have to differentiate themselves from me by attacking me – the only way they can make a name for themselves is by tearing me down. … I have one major rule: Everybody is right. More specifically, everybody— including me—has some important pieces of truth, and all of those pieces need to be honored, cherished, and included in a more gracious, spacious, and compassionate embrace. … My critical writings have never attacked the central beliefs of any discipline, only the claims that the particular discipline has the only truth—and on those grounds I have often been harsh. But every approach, I honestly believe, is essentially true but partial. And on my own tombstone, I dearly hope that someday they will write: ‘He was true but partial’.”
Most of Ken Wilber’s criticism in these three books is directed towards the green-meme approach, and is an attempt to get green to examine their own views more extensively. Ken Wilber expresses his anger at the deconstructive postmodernists through his second-tier criticism of the first-tier green wave. Most of the hostile criticism he received came from the greens, who look at his second-tier views but see nothing except their first-tier stage. Ken Wilber assumes that these green critics simply project their own shadows onto him.
In an Online dialogue between Ken Wilber and Allen Combs, on their differences regarding states and structures of consciousness Allen describes such an attack on Ken Wilber as follows: “it is no honor to original thinkers of the caliber of Plotinus, Sri Aurobindo or Jean Gebser to lump them into a kind of jargon-laden transpersonal soup with Great Chain of Being as the stock, as if their original writings could really be geometrically compounded in some uncompromised fashion. Syncretism (the idea that all great religions and philosophies are at the same core) was popular in the late days of antiquity, and is again popular today. Perhaps it contains a serving of truth, but boiling everyone down into the same pot does not do justice to their all-important individual flavors. It gets worse…. Wilber’s efforts to glue a stack of subtle planes on top of integral consciousness in order to make it more spiritual is like pouring sugar into spring water to make it more clear.”
In a reply to this attack Ken Wilber writes; “Actually, in my ‘whole model’ there are the temporary states, the levels of consciousness, and the various developmental lines that move through these levels. Combs is here completely confusing them, and thus once again claims that I don’t differentiate them. What Combs is doing, I believe, is using the phase-2 model presented in Up from Eden, as most of his attacks do. I accept those attacks, belatedly, as accurate criticism of a view I held 15 years ago… he [Allen] is not very good at interpreting even the major themes of my work beyond the Up from Eden period.”6
Ken Wilber does admit that much of the misrepresented reviews of his work are related to the huge amount of his written material which makes it hard for anyone to grasp it accurately. In his multiple perspectives on different issues, Ken Wilber outlines several different meanings of the topic and he includes all of them in his integral theory. Merely focusing on one of his simplified or popularised statements often creates misleading accounts of his real position. To get a whole picture one has to read at least six or seven of his books, including the endnotes as they present his technically correct but often obscure views.
Fortunately, he has also received negative but accurate and constructive criticism from second-tier readers. Those criticisms that he found valid were incorporated into subsequent writings. The major aim of his works is to help start a dialogue, not to finish it.
All the criticism related to misrepresentations of his work has spurred him to start teaching his materials and disclosing his views personally to the outside word.
Ken Wilber’s style of argument and his harsh critique of those who offer thoughtful and critical reflections and who disagree with parts of his integral model are not always appreciated by his opponents within the transpersonal movement. It is often difficult for them to relate Ken Wilber’s engagement in critical discourse on the vision-logic level with his dismissive commentaries and sometimes combative attitudes which are contrary to transpersonal values and discriminating wisdom. Polemical language could be counterproductive to the effort to reach a deeper insight if it lacks cooperation and sympathy for the critical views of his opponents.
When Ken Wilber incorporates Sri Aurobindo’s ideas in his comprehensive theory, he does not always quote Sri Aurobindo’s writings directly, and it is often not clear which aspects of Ken Wilber’s ideas are originally his own and which ones he borrowed from Sri Aurobindo and other integral thinkers.
In his attempt ‘to transcend and include’ in order to differentiate his own from narrower or less inclusive approaches, is Ken Wilber paying sufficient attention to the overall aim of that which he differentiates? He frequently attempts to find parallels with Sri Aurobindo’s integral approach but, while doing so, he often leaves out the profound differences between the two approaches.
The aim of Ken Wilber’s integral approach is One Taste, where the individual merges with the unified consciousness of the non-dual Spirit. In One Taste, “subject [as the unmanifest world of empty consciousness] and object [the manifest world] are both distinct realities and aspects of the same thing: a true unity-in-diversity.”
In the realisation of One Taste, having completely transcended the world of Form, consciousness awakens to a radical embrace of all Form, i.e., there is a perfect union of the manifest and unmanifest and the finite world is included in the infinite Spirit. Ken Wilber, like Shankara’s Advait Vedanta puts “this ultimate ‘transcend and include’ as follows:
This world is illusory
Brahman alone is real
Brahman is the world.
The absolute Self, as pure radiant Emptiness, seems to be the goal and ground of the entire manifest world. But this view does not solve the problem between the ultimate Reality as emptiness and the illusion of objects/subjects in the other three quadrants. When he relates consciousness to depth, Ken Wilber does not mean depth which is qualifiable, such as sensation, perception or intention, as these particular levels of depth are all forms of consciousness. According to Ken Wilber, “Consciousness is not a thing or a process—we can just as well, with William James, deny that it even exists, because it is ultimately Emptiness, the opening or clearing in which the form of beings manifest themselves and not any particular manifestation itself. … The Being of beings is depth, which, being unqualifiable as such, is finally Emptiness as such (consciousness as such).”9 Consciousness is, therefore, not an emergent quality but it allows qualities to emerge.
Emptiness is the central philosophy in Ken Wilber’s integral approach, and this Emptiness is radical Spirit itself. Emptiness does not have any parts, it leaves everything exactly as it finds it, but in its manifestation it takes different forms. Thus Emptiness manifests as a series of dimensions or levels; the spectrum of levels is the relative truth, and the vast expanse in which the spectrum appears is emptiness, or absolute truth. In the nondual realisation the individual experiences both of them simultaneously, i.e., expressing the ultimate reality in the relative world.
As mentioned in the last paragraph, Ken Wilber’s nondual approach has a strong parallel with Shankara’s nondualistic approach. Like Shankara, Ken Wilber could also not incorporate the absolute truth, Atman- Brahman, in the relative truth, the Great Chain of Being.
In one of his latest interviews with Shambhala, Ken Wilber maintains that “the ultimate nondual Ground is not the end limit of evolution; the ultimate Omega is not the highest rung of the ladder, but the ever-present Ground of all the rungs”. So it seems that Spirit is not the highest level. Nevertheless, if Spirit is not the end of the line, there is no acknowledgement from Ken Wilber of what may be beyond this experience. He does not explain where and how this evolution will end. If infinite Spirit is the actual Ground of all four quadrants, then how does the quadrant model, as a manifestation of the Absolute, integrate and incorporate this Absolute? What is Ken Wilber’s driving force of evolution, and where is the unifying principle at the end of it? Is the uniting consciousness of the quadrants model the Divine Force?
For Ken Wilber, Emptiness and Consciousness are just two names for the same reality. Consciousness as depth increases with the complexity of forms in the ascending scale of development, until it experiences itself at the level of One Taste, where it is liberated and has no further need for forms. But what is the relation of Consciousness as Emptiness and the irreducible quadrant model of manifest existence? Relating the realisation of the Ultimate reality with Emptiness does not seem to bridge the status of the forms in the other three quadrants. In the realm of manifestation we are never without these quadrants, but in the formless there are no quadrants. If these quadrants are absorbed into emptiness, does that mean that they are ultimately illusionary?
Ken Wilber’s valuable contribution of his four quadrant model is based on the claim that in order to change the world and to effect a radical change in the human condition it is not sufficient to either change behaviour, or consciousness, or culture and social institution, but it is essential to recognise the importance of all the four quadrants.
Ken Wilber’s integral approach does not only focus on the relative or manifest planes in order to arrive at relative solutions, as this would leave out the infinite Spirit as the ground of all four quadrants. He is aware that ultimate solutions are not found in relative mental constructions, but in the development of the nondual pure awareness of One Taste that persists through waking, dream and deep sleep states. A full understanding of any solution involves therefore the development of consciousness that discloses the supramental states of nondual awareness. In Ken Wilber’s integral Kosmic framework the four quadrants, as the forms of the manifest phenomenal world on the relative plane, ultimately arise from nondual Spirit. Only by going beyond the forms into the formless realms are contradictions dissolved and only then is the seeker able to realise Oneness with the entire Kosmos.
Sri Aurobindo acknowledges the existence of the transcendent nondual Spirit, One Taste, but it seems that Ken Wilber overlooks Sri Aurobindo’s idea of the Supermind as a creative Conscious-Force.
In the metaphor of vertical height or the ascent of consciousness into the superconscious, Ken Wilber does mention Sri Aurobindo’s supermind, but he uses it in a different context.
In his Advait-Buddhist approach, Ken Wilber is bound by the adherence of nondual monism, but Sri Aurobindo’s Supermind, as a dynamic aspect of the divine, is not the same as Ken Wilber’s Vedantic Atman. Sri Aurobindo attempts to solve the problem of the linkage between the Absolute and the relative by positing a transitional substratum between the two, i,e., the Supermind. Creation is the descent of the Absolute Spirit into the Supermind and this involution leads to evolution, the ascent of matter to Supermind and finally to Sachchidananda. The Absolute in its creative energy, though timeless and non-spatial, manifests itself as the Supermind, which mediates Sachchidananda to the multiplicity of the manifest world.
For Sri Aurobindo, the supreme Reality is basically Consciousness and it contains within itself a Consciousness Force which, when manifested, becomes an active, dynamic Creative-Force. This creative Consciousness Force of Brahman is responsible for the process of evolution. This Force, as the Becoming, is the action of the Conscious Being and its results are forms of that Conscious Being, i.e., matter, life, mind, soul and spirit. Consciousness Force, as an expression of the universal force of life, manifests as physical energy in matter and emotional energy in all living beings. This consciousness Force, as an expression of evolved consciousness, is able to interact with any form up to subatomic levels, though it is not dependent on forms.
Only the supramental consciousness can bring about an integral transformation and transform the human life into a divine life. Such transformation cannot be reached merely through a process of spiritual ascent of consciousness but needs the descent of this higher spiritual consciousness into life and matter in order to transform each and every aspect of existence.
In Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga, this supramental Consciousness-Force is the real force for the transformation of the postmodern stages of development, unlike Ken Wilber’s psychospiritual development, which culminates in the liberation of a nondual pure consciousness.
Sri Aurobindo relates the final goal of the spiritual path in terms of evolution of the human race living a divine life. In integral sadhana, once One Taste, the formless One, is realised, the seeker must bring down this realisation to the exterior world and change the conditions of life upon earth until an integral transformation is accomplished. Sadhana in integral yoga is a means to expedite the descent of the supramental Consciousness-Force. As the Consciousness-Force descends in matter and radiates, it seeks fit instruments to express and manifest itself. The more the instrument becomes pure and opens up to the divine Force, the better are the results. The aim of integral yoga is therefore not merely liberation from life, but a total transformation of life and action on earth, as well as a total transformation of the human being on every level. By consciously participating in the process of evolution the seeker is able to create a divine life on earth.
It seems that Ken Wilber offers the reader the individual’s liberation from life, but not the individual’s total transformation of life.
Though Sri Aurobindo did not support Shankara’s Advait Vedanta’s view regarding the illusion of the world, Ken Wilber could argue that Sri Aurobindo was also not able to solve the problem between the Ultimate Reality in the Formless supra-ethical realm and the status of the relative forms in the ethical realm.
Sri Aurobindo claims that the relative ethical realm is real, but this realm is not the essence of life; it functions merely as a palliative which leaves the roots of the problem untouched and, therefore, needs to be transformed beyond itself. The relative forms of manifestation have no illuminating aim, they are ineffectual means of changing human life and have no power to transform the human race, i, e., in the supra-ethical realm there is no need for ethics, as ‘we do not live in an ethical world’. In other words, the Absolute is not bound by ethics, and Sri Aurobindo denies the underlying identity between the ethical and supra-ethical realm.
Moreover, if the Supermind is the active principle of creation of human life, then it is also the creator of man’s ethical life. If matter and Spirit are real, then the world and the ethical nature of man are as real. In order to affirm the Supermind, Sri Aurobindo also has to affirm man’s ethical activities.
In his metaphysical justification, Sri Aurobindo moves to the divine origin of human tendencies, the Ultimate Formless, where these human tendencies are transcended so that the sadhak is liberated from their limitations or divisions. In doing so, he ultimately denies the integral power of these human qualities for the full life of man.
The practice of his yoga needs not only individual effort but also the influence of the Divine Grace or the direct guidance of a Guru, who represents to the disciple the divine wisdom and conveys to the seeker something of the divine ideal.
Ken Wilber admits that he is not a Guru but a pandit. A Guru accepts devotees and when the compassion of the Guru meets the devotion of the disciple then the Guru absorbs the karma of the devotee. The intense bond between the Guru and devotee is an important part of the devotee’s awakening and transformation. Ken Wilber does not take people as devotees or disciples and work with them personally because he does not want to be a Guru and enter into a therapist/client relationship with people.
He admits that he is not qualified “to wrestle with people over their spiritual destinies”. He tries instead to legitimise spiritual practice within Western secularised culture and to find an academic basis for it. As a writer he may reach thousands of people, and his intellectual approach (at the integral vision-logic level) to spirituality, combined with his integral transformative practice makes him an ideal Western pandit.
Ken Wilber’s integral psychotherapy aims not at a mere development and integration of the surface empirical self, but also at the discovery of the central being (Atman). His integral transformative practice includes exercises on all the major levels of the human bodymind— physical, emotional, mental, social, cultural and spiritual. However, this leaves out Sri Aurobindo’s complementary, interdependent intrapsychic processes of aspiration and surrender to the Divine, which depend on faith in the existence of the soul that is conscious of God. Along with this foundation, Sri Aurobindo emphasises an uncompromising movement of rejection of all egoistic habits and insistences, which can be achieved by the realisation and control of the psychic being. When sadhaks are in touch with their psychic being, it becomes possible to open and uplift their whole “lower nature” to the Divine and it becomes possible to purify the external nature. After its purification, the surface nature is able to function as an instrument fit for the manifestation of the divine in one’s life, which then becomes a ‘life divine’. Once one’s psychic being has come to the fore, the sadhak must simultaneously try to transform the external world by bringing down the divine into it. This means that the sadhak’s effort to transform him or herself must have the corresponding effect in stimulating cultural, social and educational transformation.
By moving from Wilber-II to Wilber-III and Wilber-IV and adopting his all-quadrant, all-level model, Ken Wilber was not denying Sri Aurobindo’s integral vision but enriching it. Ken Wilber’s integral vision is, therefore, not based on a total rejection of the old Aurobindonian ideals, but he claims to bring this old vision in tune with new realities.
This lack of completeness may be interpreted as an omission on the part of Sri Aurobindo’s insights but, in fact, he did not overlook the social, cultural and scientific context in the process of transformation to the divine life. His metaphysics include a socio-cultural orientation and in his writings these issues are definitely one of his major concerns, although they were not his central or ultimate concern.
In the last chapter of The Live Divine, Sri Aurobindo elaborates extensively on the collective aspects of his integral vision. In order to manifest the divine life on earth it is necessary that a group of supramental beings must manifest a new kind of collective life where they are no longer guided by their egoic tendencies but by the supramental Truth-consciousness.
In The Human Cycle and Foundations of Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo deals systematically and comprehensively with the social and cultural life of man, indicating the effects of the individual’s spiritual development upon the evolution of man’s socio-cultural life. Sri Aurobindo discusses in detail the interaction between the evolution of the Upper Left quadrant and the transformation of the Upper Right, Lower Right and Lower Left quadrants. He brings the Consciousness-Force to all aspects of life enabling the psycho-spiritual evolution and transformation of the collective. For Sri Aurobindo, the evolutionary purpose of earthly existence is fulfilled when the collective is inhabited with those individuals who have attained the supramental stages of development, which is the basis for a collective divine life here on earth. No doubt, Sri Aurobindo did emphasise the ‘individual subjective quadrant’ as this determines and is an expression of the ‘objective quadrant’.
Ken Wilber’s all-quadrant, all-level approach aims at a multi-causal analysis without reducing one to the other. For Ken Wilber societies and individuals occupy different quadrants on the same levels of existence, but other transpersonalists maintain that societies may be considered higher than their individual members; the former has many more properties not found in their individual members, i.e., human societies determine the probabilities of their individual members.
Ken Wilber claims that his integral model is a refinement of Sri Aurobindo’s integral view as it provides an opening to the contributions of Western psychology and psychotherapy, and is set in the context of the all-quadrant all-level model. Ken Wilber maintains that without integrating these contributions Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga remains limited and partial. However, could it be that some of the weak areas that Ken Wilber identified are more closely related to Aurobindo’s disciples than to his vision? As long as Aurobindonians remain enclosed in Sri Aurobindo’s revealed teachings, treating them as final truths, and refuse to link Sri Aurobindo’s integral Yoga with contemporary scientific research and practical concerns, it remains impossible for them to gain insight into Ken Wilber’s critical questioning and his assumed improvement of Sri Aurobindo’s vision.
Without integrating the developments and insights from other systems of contemporary Eastern spiritual disciplines and modern Western psychology, merely preserving and repeating the original psychological insights of Sri Aurobindo limits the scope of his yoga psychology and makes his vision exclusive.
The author, while critically examining the core assumptions and claims of each, tried to overcome this barrier by giving equal importance to the integrative perspectives of both Sri Aurobindo and Ken Wilber, by sympathetically exploring the points of convergence as well as points of divergence in the two views.
Ken Wilber outlines “a dozen different fields of consciousness studies, all of which need to be brought together in an integral view: cognitive science, introspectionism, neuropsychology, individual psychotherapy, developmental psychology, psychosomatic medicine, nonordinary states of consciousness, Eastern and contemplative traditions, quantum consciousness approaches, and subtle energy research. … each of them has something extremely important and valuable to say. And that means, inescapably, that we will measure our progress towards a truly integral orientation based precisely on our capacity to include, synthesize, and integrate all twelve of those important approaches … anything less than that simply cannot claim the adjective integral.”15
In his attempt to unify all the various aspects of human knowledge, Ken Wilber honours the scientific and spiritual dimensions of man. If the disciples of Sri Aurobindo omit a dialogue about the insights gained through these twelve approaches and maintain that such components are merely palliatives which leave the ordinary consciousness fundamentally the same, and that a radical change from the ordinary consciousness to the divine consciousness is only possible through the practice of integral Yoga, then it becomes difficult to bridge the gulf between Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical yoga psychology and modern Western psychology as an academic science.
In his integral approach, Sri Aurobindo never overlooked historical contributions in other fields of knowledge, and it is up to his followers to integrate the benefits and contributions of contemporary postmodern Western and Eastern psychology.It may be necessary that the integral views Sri Aurobindo once held have to be modified by his followers in the field of present-day knowledge. Ken Wilber’s current integral views may likewise soon be seen as naïve. That’s why further revision of both integral approaches is necessary for future application to each seeker’s unique life and circumstances.
Before arriving at giving Ken Wilber credit for his integral reconstruction of science, based on the quadrant model, it may be useful to refer once more to his integral approach to science, consciousness, and spirituality.
In order to arrive at a spiritual science of the transcendental realm, Ken Wilber meaningfully distinguishes ‘narrow’ science, which uses sensorimotor experiences tied to a rational analysis, from ‘broad’ science, which uses empiricism in a wider fashion, including direct mental and spiritual experiences as presented to consciousness. Each science is based on the investigation of its specific objects or phenomena. In their truth claims, both types of science share the three common tests for knowledge: injunction, experience and confirmation, though each has it’s own domain and its own degree of certainty.
Besides this distinction between ‘narrow’ and ‘broad’ science, Ken Wilber also classifies various levels of science which he relates to the various levels of consciousness: sensory or gross science refers to narrow science, whereas mental or subtle science and spiritual or causal science refer to interpretative and spiritual phenomena respectively.
For Ken Wilber, different stages of consciousness development require different spiritual approaches. On its pre-rational level, spirituality can best be approached through image, metaphor and faith in myths. At the rational stage, spirituality involves a rational scientific approach through faith in reason. At the transrational level, spirituality shifts from the contents of the mind to the contents of the spirit and can best be approached through direct practice.
This transpersonal spirituality is akin to Ken Wilber’s postmetaphysical science; its conclusions are not based on dogmatic theories but on the evidence of those individuals who have demonstrated developmental competence confirmed by reconstructive science.
This postmetaphysical view is meaningfully described by Ken Wilber as follows: “although all of the contemplative traditions aim at going within and beyond reason, they all start with reason, start with the notion that truth is to be established by evidence, that truth is the result of experimental methods, that truth is to be tested in the laboratory of personal experience, that these truths are open to all those who wish to try the experiment and thus disclose for themselves the truth or falsity of the spiritual claims—and that dogmas or given beliefs are precisely what hinder the emergence of the deeper truths and wider visions. … the claims about these higher domains are a conclusion based on hundreds of years of experimental introspection and communal verification. … These spiritual endeavors, in other words, are purely scientific in any meaningful sense of the word, and the systematic presentations of these endeavors follow precisely those of any reconstructive science.”17
For Ken Wilber, each higher level of complexity is not a predetermined or fixed set of levels, through which each and every individual must pass on one’s own realisation, but an open field of developmental potentials for higher functioning. Only when the higher or subtle levels of consciousness emerge or unfold in various people does it become something of a fixed level and a cosmic pattern with universal features for future development.
In Sri Aurobindo’s yoga psychology we deal with subtle, flexible materials that exceed common physical science. Its field is wider than modern psychology, as it includes experiences beyond sense perception and beyond rationality; i.e., it uses subtler inner senses and intuitive perception to evaluate those experiences pertaining to higher states of consciousness. Through this direct psychological instrumentation, the seeker can arrive at certain data and results that can be equally verified by ‘sure data’ and by the results of other sadhaks, like Ken Wilber’s reconstructive science.
To test the validity of spiritual experience, Sri Aurobindo’s yoga psychology uses a method that is similar to Ken Wilber’s research methodology in the higher levels of consciousness. It requires a genuine knowledge through the accumulation of direct experience or apprehension of data (direct apprehension), an all-round actual practice (instrumental injunction), and an intuitive discrimination for its verification (communal confirmation or rejection). Any sadhak who is not prepared to go through the vast field of spiritual phenomena has to accept the guidance of the Guru until the seeker has accumulated sufficient experience and knowledge of the inner and higher subtle forces.
From what is described above, it should be clear that in his integral approach to science and spirituality, Ken Wilber does not only correlate the various types of science with his four quadrant model, but he also correlates major levels of science with the various levels of human existence: sensory, mental and spiritual. By incorporating the higher spiritual realm in his model, he creates an academic basis for a spiritual worldview, and his model offers a scientifically reliable understanding of spirituality. This does not mean that he reduces spirituality to rationality, on the contrary, in his postmetaphysical approach he does not reduce the higher realm to mere science. Science is only the exterior (it) of Spirit, Spirit seen subjectively becomes the “I” of Spirit, whereas Spirit seen intersubjectively becomes the “We” of Spirit.
Ken Wilber does not want to mystify plain facts and he uses his quadrant model in order to explain his theory of everything without merely using a transcendental hypothesis. His comprehensive theory construction tries to unite all kinds of desperate facts together and his postmetaphysical approach has a necessary relation with the present facts of life. In the practice of spiritual discipline, the results of academic research go side by side with the results of the search for one’s inner being. However, ultimately, only Spirit (the depths of one’s inner being without objects, thoughts, space and time) is the evidence for Spirit.
Sri Aurobindo, like Ken Wilber, is not denying scientific development and the pragmatic truth which science offers to humanity. He preserves the truths of material science and its real utilities in the final harmony, although many of its existing forms have to be broken or left aside.
Sri Aurobindo, unlike Ken Wilber, attributed his spiritual achievements mainly to the practice of his integral yoga and not to the help of academic empirical research. His metaphysical vision is hardly based on the objective approach which is related to observable facts and sense experience. On the contrary, his subjective approach is more related to intuition, insight and introspection, which make his concept of man highly metaphysical and speculative for those people who are not able to move beyond the rational realm.
Aided by his overall spectrum model of human development, Ken Wilber’s approach is able to demonstrate the nature of a bona fide authentic spiritual movement. In his all quadrant-all level model all waves and streams of development, and states and types of consciousness, can be disclosed by reputable non-reductionistic researchers who are working with second- and third-tier conceptions.
What is the present state of Sri Aurobindo’s disciples? Are those who have moved to second-tier consciousness (yellow and turquoise) ready to open up to the conclusions from researchers working with second or third-tier conceptions, using premodern, modern and postmodern sources? Researchers working with these conceptions may be able to investigate certain developmental events which may turn ‘pathological’ in the process of realisation of the Aurobindonians’ ideals. The effect of such pathological events on new levels needs to be critically reviewed. What happens if the upward movement to self-realisation and self-transcendence begins to go sour when the followers demand allegiance to the Guru’s worldview without their own rational and logical inquiry and postconventional needs?
It is the polemic that may wake many up from spiritual slumber, and a dialogue with second-tier researchers may stimulate a much-needed conversation around crucial issues.
Sri Aurobindo had no intention of becoming a ‘traditional Guru’. As a phase-specific authority, he guided the devotees during the awakening of their true self. As a teacher Sri Aurobindo is a virtual necessity on the road, but at some point in the journey, when this centre of the Self was awakened, Sri Aurobindo’s authority as a guru gradually diminishes. He did not encourage dependency on his legacy, nor did he cultivate dependent devotees. On the contrary, he emphasised the disciples’ using their own spiritual resources to find the true guidance within, rather than binding the disciple on his ideology.
By overestimating the authority of and a paternalistic dependence on Sri Aurobindo’s integral views, the devotees ignore the constantly evolving character of Sri Aurobindo’s vision, as well as its capacity for diversity and flexibility. Aurobindonians must be aware that the contexts of any system are constantly shifting. Sri Aurobindo’s integral vision, like Ken Wilber’s integral theory, is an open-ended system and how it evolves does not depend on Sri Aurobindo’s views, but on the attitude of his followers in the Ashram and in Auroville. Those Aurobindonians who like to remain faithful to his tradition should nevertheless be able to readjust or partially refine Sri Aurobindo’s open-ended system in order to integrate the discoveries and the demands of contemporary social, cultural and scientific developments that had been hitherto unknown.
The limits of the Aurobindonians reasonableness are often painfully exposed by their unwillingness to let dogmatic habits go unchallenged. Are they not opening their approach to outside research and evidence because it does not fit their prevailing convictions and belief system, or are some genuine aspirants able to experiment with and integrate the results of psychological, social, cultural, and economical sciences, as well as with the technological and information revolution, with the overall metaphysical insights as expounded by Sri Aurobindo?
Are Aurobindonians reducing Sri Aurobindo’s vision to mere dogmatic theories and thereby becoming counterproductive? It is the spirit of free inquiry which is able to unsettle dogmatism and comfortable beliefs. This spirit of free inquiry finds its expression not only in the fields of physical science and technology, but also in fields beyond its narrow departments. Those Aurobindonians who do not easily accept the spirit of critical inquiry into Sri Aurobindo’s vision may easily produce a mood in which they omit any general rational scrutiny.
A critical analysis regarding certain aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical views is often qualified by his devotees as academic fundamentalism, but the true test of a great vision is always able to bear criticism. Anti-intellectualism reduces independent judgement formation, and makes room for “flatland” reductionism, i.e., when intellectual knowledge is merely used for limited purposes it often leads to anti-intellectualism, as it reduces the many-sidedness, diversity and complexity of knowledge to one-sided and simplistic views. Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical yoga psychology is not based on unreflected acceptance; critical questions about various aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s vision are not meant to offend Aurobindonians or drive them into distraction, on the contrary, through re-examination of basic beliefs and self-criticism the followers of Sri Aurobindo may be able to add some creative insight and novelty to Sri Aurobindo’s integral vision.
Could it be that in their committed spiritual idealism, the disciple’s intellectual laziness contributes to the collapse of serious argument and dialogue regarding the relevance of Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical views in contemporary cultural, psychological and social sciences? Attachment to Aurobindonian ideals may become problematic if the devotees of Sri Aurobindo are not able to free themselves from the exclusive identification of their specific idealistic perspectives. In their fixation on Sri Aurobindo’s ideals, Aurobindonians may not be able to appreciate other metaphysical perspectives, which hinders the development of a cosmic truth vision. Spiritual openness is essential in Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical yoga psychology, i.e., the ideal of a spiritual life integrates new experiences and new understanding (combined with a demanding experimentation and empiricism) in the exploration of an evolving scheme of ideas. In order to remove serious obstacles in the genuine inquiry towards new depths – through spiritual dialogue – there should be sufficient place for critical scrutiny and questioning of claimed truths, rather than excessive agreement and passive faith. Sri Aurobindo does not present his integral vision as a finished creed or dogma to be accepted without questioning, but as a subject of experiment and research.