I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to have had a good education in philosophy, theology, comparative religion, psychology and sociology of religion, and so on. This has given me the chance to see how the brightest minds, past and present, have addressed the fundamental question in philosophy: “How am I to live?”
Those smart people haven’t always agreed. In fact, the study of these subjects in college is pretty much an exercise in learning the different schools of thought and how to argue one side against another. In ethics, there are consequentialists and Kantians. In psychoanalysis, there are Freudians and Jungians. And then there are about a million different views of religion.
It wasn’t really until over a decade after I finished my formal study of religion that I encountered the work of the philosopher, psychological theorist, and mystic Ken Wilber. His work was remarkably different because he didn’t care less how exactly one thinker disagreed with another thinker. He was only really interested in what they had in common. How were they looking at the world in such a way that he could understand that in a way they weren’t really disagreeing? He saw that they were only talking past each other, comparing apples to oranges.
For Ken Wilber, there really is something that you might as well call Truth with a capital “T,” to distinguish it from all of the various perspectives that people have about truth. He doesn’t think we ever really are able to talk about Truth or grasp it intellectually without diminishing it to truth with the lower-case “t.” There is Truth. And then there are perspectives on Truth. And we are always, everywhere, taking a perspective.
The most important thing Wilber helped me to realize is that just because we can’t know Truth without taking a perspective doesn’t mean we can’t know Truth fully and absolutely. We absolutely can know Truth, he assures us…and I believed him…because it was something I already knew. The Truth we know fully and completely and confidently is the Truth of our real nature. Ken Wilber sometimes calls this our Ultimate Identity, drawing on an important term from the Hindu spiritual masters and people they’ve influenced. Another important integral thinker, Marc Gafni, drawing on the Hebrew enlightenment tradition, calls this our True Self.
And one thing Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, other integral thinkers, and the entire lineage of mystics and enlightened sages, points us to is the same Truth, each putting that Truth into perspectives…turning that Truth into truths. Because that Truth is something we know with our whole being integrally — body, mind, soul, and spirit — not just intellectually. And we can’t express Truth without taking a perspective because that Truth is always communicated with language in societies that are evolving — biologically, culturally, socially, spiritually — and so every religion and philosophy colors that truth in different and interesting and unique ways.
The Truth of enlightenment is that there is a True Self — our Ultimate Identity or Absolute Spirit — and that there is only one.
So it’s no wonder that Wilber’s integral worldview lacked an interest in dividing the world according to methodologies, philosophies, religions, ideologies, and so on. From the integral vantage point, such divisions could only tell us relative, partial truths…disguising the path to Truth. He saw that the deeper you looked at all of these divisions in thought, the more their boundaries began to blur and hidden patterns of unity began to emerge. Constructing a map of those common threads became his dharma, a pandit’s work that has already produced over 20 major books.
Sean Esbjörn-Hargens reviews Wilber’s dharmic path as follows:
In 1977 American philosopher Ken Wilber published his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness. This groundbreaking book integrated the major schools of psychology along a continuum of increasing complexity, with different schools focused on various levels within that spectrum. Over the next 30 years he continued with this integrative impulse, writing books in areas such as cultural anthropology, philosophy, sociology of religion, physics, healthcare, environmental studies, science and religion, and postmodernism. To date, Wilber has published over two dozen books and in the process has created integral theory. Wilber’s books have been translated into more than 24 languages, which gives you an idea as to the global reach and utility of integral theory. Since its inception by Wilber, integral theory has become one of the foremost approaches within the larger fields of integral studies and meta-theory. This prominent role is in large part the result of the wide range of applications that integral theory has proven itself efficacious in as well as the work of many scholar-practitioners who have and are contributing to the further development of integral theory.
(For a great concise overview of Integral Theory, see this paper.)
There are many potential uses of Integral theory in academic studies and practical applications for people working in a variety of fields (business, law, organizational development, coaching, psychotherapy, etc.) But what concerns me most in Awake, Aware & Alive is the application of integral principles in the realm of World Spirituality.
It is far too dangerous for our world to ignore the many difficult issues we face together. We’re all in this life, this world together…because we are all ultimately one. The root of the problems we face, I believe, is that far too few people know this truth, believe this, and put it into practice. We act as if we are separate beings, when the truth is that we are not.
As Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, and many other people have taught me, an authentic World Spirituality needs to grow out of an integral worldview because no other worldview can do better the task that most needs to be done: show us how we are all really, truly connected and one at a time when vast billions of people act blindly as if we weren’t.