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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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. 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.