|STRIPPING THE GURUS||
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To be thought enlightened, one must appear not only certain that one is, but certain about most everything else, too (Kramer and Alstad, 1993).
KEN WILBER IS THE “LONG-SOUGHT EINSTEIN of consciousness research,” having been generously regarded as such since the late 1970s.
Ken Wilber is “a genius of our times.”
Ken Wilber is “the foremost theoretician in transpersonal [and integral] psychology.”
Ken Wilber is “the world’s most intriguing and foremost philosopher.” To wit:
The twenty-first century literally has three choices: Aristotle, Nietzsche, or Ken Wilber (Jack Crittenden, in [Wilber, 2000]).
Michael Murphy maintains that, along with Aurobindo’s Life Divine, Heidegger’s Being and Time, and Whitehead’s Process and Reality, Wilber’s Sex, Ecology, Spirituality is “one of the four great books of this [twentieth] century” (Integral, 2004).
Ken Wilber is “an American bodhisattva pandit.”
Ken Wilber is “one of the most important pioneers in the field of consciousness in this century.”
Ken Wilber is “a source of inspiration and insight to all of us.”
Ken Wilber is “the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times.”
Ken Wilber is “the most cogent and penetrating voice in the recent emergence of a uniquely American wisdom.”
Ken Wilber is “the most influential integral thinker in the world today.”
One need not search far at all to find glowing endorsements of the work which the esteemed Mr. Ken Wilber has done over the past quarter of a century in consciousness studies. Indeed, the latter three of the above recommendations can be found, as of this writing, on the home page of Wilber’s own website (http://wilber.shambhala.com). The first two, further, come from one of his own (1991) books, via his late wife’s diaries. Two others are only a click away from his home web page, nestled in an adoration-filled “update” on the value of his work, written by one of his long-time students.
Wilber began writing his first book at age twenty-three, having dropped out of postgraduate biochemistry studies in 1973 to pursue that activity. The Spectrum of Consciousness was rejected by twenty publishers over a three-year period (Schwartz, 1996) before finally being accepted by the Theosophical (Society’s) Publishing House. Since then, Wilber has written over a dozen books. He has also acted (past tense) as an editor for both ReVision magazine and the New Science Library imprint of Shambhala, and had his Collected Works published by the same press.
Now in his mid-fifties and residing in Boulder, Wilber has recently founded and assumed the presidency of the Integral Institute (www.integralinstitute.org), with its affiliated Integral Naked forum. Guests of the latter have included spiritual luminaries such as Andrew Cohen, Deepak Chopra, Carolyn Myss, Michael Crichtonsee Mooney (2005) for Mr. Jurassic Park’s environmental unconsciousnessand the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. Since 1995, Wilber’s integral “Four Quadrant” model of reality has been put to use by psychological, business and political leaders in America and beyond. (Those four quadrants embrace the subjective, objective, intersubjective [i.e., cultural] and interobjective [i.e., social] lives of all relative wholes or “holons”a term coined by Arthur Koestlerin the cosmos.)
While Wilber’s isn’t the [only] integral model, his work must certainly be taken into account in any discussion of anything “integral.” To not do so is negligent and tantamount to discussing relativity theory without Einstein, existentialism without Nietzsche or the Captain without Tennille (Berge, 2004).
As with Wilber’s academic accolades, one need not search far at all to find indications of his high spiritual attainment. Indeed, already by the mid-’80s, Wilber (1991) could lay claim to “fifteen years of meditation, during which I had had several unmistakable ‘kensho’ [i.e., ‘glimpse of enlightenment’] experiences, fully confirmed by my teachers.”
Of course, nearly every “enlightened” individual we have seen thus far has made fully comparable claims. That is, it is rare to find a respected spiritual figure who has not received confirmation, from his own teachers or gurus, of his minor and major enlightenment experiences. Thus, “Kensho Wilber” is part of a large class, not a small one, in that regard. Indeed, Muktananda confirmed Adi Da’s first adult experience of nirvikalpa samadhi in 1969 ... not so long after Da’s early-’60s “astral moon cannibal slave” visions. (Da himself reaffirmed the validity of those insights in the mid-’90s.) Such endorsements, then, mean absolutely nothing, in terms of evaluating whether any given individual is enlightened or simply wildly deluded.
Nevertheless, Wilber’s kensho experiences later blossomed into the nondual “One Taste” state:
I was conscious for eleven days and nights, even as the body and mind went through waking, dreaming, and sleeping: I was unmoved in the midst of changes; there was no I to be moved; there was only unwavering empty consciousness, the luminous mirror-mind, the witness that was one with everything witnessed. I simply reverted to what I am, and it has been so, more or less, ever since (Wilber, 2000a).
Not even the Dalai Lama can sustain nondual awareness through deep sleep, Wilber informed me, as he can (Horgan, 2003a).
By any reasonable logic, that nondual realization would place Wilber among the mere thousand (or however many) “truly great Zen masters” throughout history, both in his own mind and objectively. That is so even should there be states of realization beyond the One Taste experience, i.e., potentially making it not “the highest” possible understanding.
“All good things must come to an end,” howeverincluding, apparently, the eternal, “always-already” One Taste realization:
After attaining this [One Taste] ability in 1995, Wilber sustained it until about a year ago, when a nasty staph infection left him bedridden for six months. “I lost a great deal of access to it,” he said, but “it’s slowly coming back” (Horgan, 2003a).
Wilber has made his name in the world as an academic or pandit, not as a guru-figure with disciples. We might begin, then, by examining the dynamics present in the relation of the work of Wilber and his admirers to the rest of their profession.
Fortunately, we have access to a very significant “test case” in that regardthat of Wilber versus de Quincey.
Dr. Christian de Quincey (www.deepspirit.com) is a professor of philosophy at John F. Kennedy University in California. He is also the managing editor of the IONS Review, published by the Institute of Noetic Sciences. (IONS was in turn founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell, fan of Muktananda.) In late 2000, he published an unsolicited critique of Wilber’s integral philosophy and emotional character in the peer-reviewed Journal of Consciousness Studies (JCS).
Wilber (2001) responded with over forty single-spaced pages of attempted demonstrations as to how de Quincey had misrepresented his work and his character.
De Quincey (2001) volleyed with a twenty-eight page “refutation of the refutation.”
One of Wilber’s students, Sean Hargens (2001)also a member of the Integral Institutethen replied with fifty-plus pages of text to “refute the refutation of the refutation.” In it, he simultaneously and reasonably asserted de Quincey’s tendencies toward passive-aggressive behavior (in his writings), and reliance on pop psychology in his character analysis of Wilber’s “nasty tone.”
And there the matter has rested.
It is not my purpose here to attempt to evaluate those authors’ respective criticisms of one another. Life is too short for that. Rather, I would simply like to note several allegations which de Quincey has made regarding the “behind the scenes” aspects of the relevant processes. Those may then give one pause when considering the overall health of the consciousness studies field. In particular, they may cast some doubt on the aspects of that field which closely surround Wilber and his followers, shaping as that proximity does the allowed discussions around them.
In commenting on how Wilber may have obtained pre-publication knowledge of the detailed contents of his original submitted paper, de Quincey (2001) has suggested:
[Wilber’s] friend Keith Thompson, evidently, had passed along a series of private and confidential email exchanges between Thompson and me. I had included Thompson in the group of prepublication reviewers, and had lengthy online conversations with himparticularly about I-I [i.e., intersubjectivity]. However, I explicitly prefaced our exchanges with a request that the contents of our conversations be kept confidential, and should not be shared. Thompson agreed, and said he would honor my request.
Not only did he “approach” Wilber and “warn” him of “severe distortions,” Thompson used the content of my emails to write a critique of my Wilber critique, which he sent off to JCS, suggesting that either his paper be published as a Wilber review instead of mine, or perhaps alongside mine. Not surprisingly, the JCS editor saw right through the ruse. Thompson took this underhand action without informing me, clearly breaching a confidential agreement between us. Very unprofessional. A clear case of “Wilber police” mentality. (Thompson, and his friend and Wilber acolyte Sean Hargens, later tried a similar tactic to suppress publication of another article on Wilber I’d written for IONS Review!)
Any devoted disciple would, of course, have behaved in the same way, in defending his guru-figure’s “honor.” That is, dissenting opinions are never allowed, and an (alleged) broken promise is a small price to pay for preserving the sage’s public image.
Given all of the above, one further cannot help but wonder: Did Wilber himself know about those alleged attempts at suppression?
Recall: According to de Quincey, their mutual friend Keith Thompson was in contact with both of them after allegedly breaking his promise of confidentiality to de Quincey. He was also the same individual who reportedly suggested to JCS that they publish his analysis of Wilber’s work, rather than de Quincey’s review. Would Thompson have gone forward with that, without bouncing the idea off Wilber first?
If Wilber did know about Thompson’s alleged plans, his acceptance of that way of doing things, even if that acceptance meant simply doing nothing to stop Thompson, would be absolutely chilling. The real Einstein, for one, would never have stooped to such poor behavior.
Ironically, Wilber (2000a) had earlier voiced his own attitude toward the need for a free exchange of ideas within the consciousness-studies marketplace and elsewhere. That was given in terms of the importance of passionately communicating your vision, Kierkegaard-like, regardless of whether you are right or wrong, that it might be heard and adjudicated by a reluctant world.
One wonders, though: Would Wilber and Keith Thompson allow de Quincey equally valid passion in speaking his own vision, without (Thompson allegedly) covertly attempting to stop the publication of the latter’s disagreeable ideas?
Regardless, contrary to Wilber’s impassioned but misled plea, being right does matter. For, being wrong only makes it more difficult for correct ideas to be heard above the prevailing cacophony. Everyone who has ever done fundamental, thrillingly original work in any fielde.g., Einstein, David Bohm, Benoit Mandelbrot (via fractals), etc.has discovered that the hard way. For, the established misunderstandings place literally decades of resistance into the path of the acceptance of right ideas. That Wilber has encountered far less “wailing and gnashing” of scholarly teeth speaks much more to the relatively conservative, synthetic and frequently derivative nature of his own (esp. early) ideas than to anything else.
Notwithstanding his reputation as a brilliant academic, Wilber has grossly misrepresented basic, high-school-level concepts in evolutionary theory, in Chapter One of his (1996) A Brief History of Everything. Those misunderstandings have been analyzed devastatingly by David Lane (1996). The most damaging issues uncovered there relate to Wilber’s expressed reluctance to believe that “half a wing” is better than none. In kw’s own words:
Take the standard notion that wings simply evolved from forelegs. It takes perhaps a hundred mutations to produce a functional wing from a lega half-wing is no good as a leg and no good as a wingyou can’t run and you can’t fly. It has no adaptive value whatsoever. In other words, with a half-wing you are dinner.
Richard Dawkins (1986), however, has elucidated the long-established facts of biology, regarding such “half-wings” and the like:
There are animals alive today that beautifully illustrate every stage in the continuum. There are frogs that glide with big webs between their toes, tree-snakes with flattened bodies that catch the air, lizards with flaps along their bodies; and several different kinds of mammals that glide with membranes stretched between their limbs, showing us the kind of way bats must have got their start. Contrary to the creationist literature, not only are animals with “half a wing” common [i.e., they are not automatically “dinner”], so are animals with a quarter of a wing, three quarters of a wing, and so on.
Indeed, Darwin himself, in his (1962) Origin of Speciesfirst published in 1859recorded as much:
Look at the family of squirrels; here we have the finest gradation from animals with their tails only slightly flattened, and from others ... with the posterior part of their bodies rather wide and with the skin on their flanks rather full, to the so-called flying squirrels.... We cannot doubt that each structure is of use [i.e., has adaptive value] to each kind of squirrel in its own country.
Nor does that exhaust the examples, even just from Darwin’s own long-extant (1962) catalog:
If about a dozen genera of birds were to become extinct or were unknown, who would have ventured to surmise that birds might have existed which used their wings solely as flappers, like the logger-headed duck (Micropterus of Eyton); as fins in the water and as front-legs on the land, like the penguin; as sails, like the ostrich; and functionally for no purpose, like the Apteryx? Yet the structure of each of these birds is good for it, under the conditions of life to which it is exposed....
Completely contrary to Wilber’s deficient understanding, then, although “half a wit” may not be better than none, half a wing certainly is. Even penguins and ostriches know as much.
From being completely wrong about that elementary idea, Wilber goes on to confidently assert that “absolutely nobody” believes the “standard, glib, neo-Darwinian explanation” of chance mutation and natural selection anymore. In reprint editions (e.g., 2000c), that statement has been modified to read that “very few theorists” believe this anymore. Even being thus watered down, however, it still has no point of contact with reality:
[Wilber’s claim] is complete rubbish. Almost everybody who knows anything about biology does still believe this! (Carroll, 2003).
Dr. Lanewho has taught Darwinian evolution at a university levelthen (1996) pertinently assessed Wilber’s comprehension of evolutionary biology:
Wilber does not seem to understand that the processes of evolution are blind. He wants to have it “open-eyed” as if natural selection all of sudden wakes up when it hears that a “wing has been formed” (better start chugging) or that an “eye has been completed” (let’s fine tune now). Natural selection does not “start” when the eye is formed; it works all along without any conscious intention whatsoever.
Not to sound like a groggy professor, but if Wilber turned in [his written ideas] to me as a college student trying to explain the current view of evolutionary theory, I would give him an “F” and ask to see him in my office.... Wilber has misrepresented the fundamentals of natural selection. Moreover, his presentation of how evolution is viewed today is so skewed that Wilber has more in common with creationists than evolutionists, even though he is claiming to present the evolutionists’ current view....
What makes Wilber’s remarks on evolution so egregious is ... that he so maligns and misrepresents the current state of evolutionary biology, suggesting that he is somehow on top of what is currently going on in the field.
And Wilber does it by exaggeration, by false statements, and by rhetoric license.
And how have Wilber and his entourage reacted to such eminently valid points? As Jack Crittendenwho used to co-edit the ReVision journal with Wilberput it (in Integral, 2004):
Wilber has not been believably criticized for misunderstanding or misrepresenting any of the fields of knowledge that he includes [in his “Theory of Everything”].
That statement, of course, has been false since at least 1996, given Lane’s wonderful work and the fact that Wilber’s “Theory of Everything” most certainly includes basic evolution. Clay Stinson (1997), likewise, has given quite “believable” criticisms of kw’s ideas regarding enlightenment, from a skeptical perspective.
Wilber’s treatment of the late David Bohm, too, leaves much to be desired. For the details of that unprovoked nastiness and gross misrepresentation, please see this book’s Appendix. To make a long (and relatively technical) story short: The average high school or freshman university science student could do better than Wilber has done, in propagating his arrogant and wholly wrong understandings of even the most basic ideas in Bohm’s ontological formulation of quantum theory.
Wilber nastily accuses Bohm of purveying “simplistic and dualistic
Ironically, Wilber himself has suffered much misrepresentation of his work by others. Indeed, in the midst of his claims that he greatly values “responsible criticism,” he has opined:
[Often] somebody will give a blistering attack on, say, Wilber-2, and that attack gets repeated by others who are trying to nudge me out of the picture (Wilber, 2001; italics added).
Wilber goes on to assert, probably reasonably, that misrepresentation of his work is present in over 80% of the published/posted criticisms of it.
Bohm’s work too, however, involved a chronological development of the ideas (or Bohm-1, Bohm-2), etc. When Wilber criticizes Bohm for his own wrong perceptions in seeing tacked-on “epicycles” in the latter’s work, then, he is doing very nearly exactly what he rightly will not accept in argument from his own critics. (Wilber’s detractors are focusing, in his above claim, on discrediting an older version of his work which he has since improved upon. He himself, by comparison, is effectively criticizing Bohm for having made comparable improvements in his [Bohm’s] own later work. Those are not identical positions, but at the very least they show Wilber being intolerant of behaviors in others which he gladly accepts from himself. And indeed, Wilber’s “streams” of developmenta later addition to his integral psychological modelare much closer to being arbitrary “epicycles,” grafted onto his core, chakra-oriented model after the fact just to fit new data, than were any of Bohm’s later iterations of the ontological formulation of quantum theory.)
One might conclude, then, by parity of argument, that in behaving thusly Wilber is trying to nudge Bohm “out of the picture,” even without being consciously aware of that.
“What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” after all.
Likewise, Wilber (2001) quotes Keith Thompson to the effect that, given the various “studied” misrepresentations of kw’s work, none of which involved mere differences of interpretation, it becomes difficult to not attribute “bad faith” to Wilber’s critics.
By parity of argument, though, one must then allow for equal “bad faith” on the part of Wilber himself, in his studied misrepresentations of Bohm’s ideas. For none of those, too, can be reduced to differences of interpretation.
Further, contrary to Wilber’s claim that he “greatly appreciate[s] responsible criticism,” he has (to my knowledge) totally ignored Lane’s (1996) devastating deconstruction of the numerous invalid aspects of his worldview. By contrast, he did find time to respond (1999) in excruciating detail to Heron’s (1997) more recent critique of his psychological model, and even later to Hans-Willi Weis (Wilber, 2003a) and de Quincey (Wilber, 2001). Of course, those responses were given in contexts where, unlike the situation with Lane, Wilber could show, at least to his own satisfaction, that the criticisms of his ideas were not valid.
In defending his own published polemics, Wilber (2000) has recently offered the following misleading explanations:
Sex, Ecology, Spirituality is in some ways an angry book. Anger, or perhaps anguish, it’s hard to say which. After three years immersed in postmodern cultural studies, where the common tone of discourse is rancorous, mean-spirited, arrogant, and aggressive ... after all of that, in anger and anguish, I wrote SES, and the tone of the book indelibly reflects that.
In many cases it is specific: I often mimicked the tone of the critic I was criticizing, matching toxic with toxic and snide with snide. Of course, in doing so I failed to turn the other cheek. But then, there are times to turn the other cheek, and there are times not to.
As for the dozen or so theorists that I polemically criticized [in the first edition of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality], every single one of them, without exception, had engaged in “condemnatory rhetoric” of equal or usually much worse dimensions (Wilber, 2001; italics added).
Bohm, however, although not mentioned in SESexcept in that his (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order is included in the bibliography, though being mis-dated there as 1973, the year of publication of one of the papers which later became a chapter in that bookis an exception to that self-absolution. For, he never stooped to any such nasty, snide behavior toward Wilber. Thus, the above rationalizations cannot be validly applied to justifying Wilber’s unduly vexed comments about Bohm’s consistently honest, humble and insightful work. The most that Bohm was ever “guilty” of was in having simply never responded to Wilber’s original (1982), off-base but relatively well-tempered critique, nothing more provocative.
What are the odds, then, that Wilber’s polemics in other contexts can be excused as being altogether noble attempts to “spiritually awaken” others? Or as having arisen only from others having “started” the mud-slinging? A betting man would not, one supposes, wager in favor of that.
Conversely, what are the far better odds that he is simply not being psychologically honest with himself as to the basis of his anger, cloaking it instead in a veneer of high ideals?
In further defending his behavior toward others, Wilber (1999) has written:
Even in my most polemical statements, they are always balanced, if you look at all of my writing, by an appreciation of the positive contributions of those I criticize.
Sadly, that claim, too, is untrue. For, in no way did Wilber provide any such balance himself in his own (1998 and 2003) attempted demolitions of Bohm, or anywhere else throughout his life’s work. It is difficult, after all, to “appreciate” what you have not understoodas Wilber proves in his (1982) critique. That is so, particularly if the potential validity of the competing ideas seems to threaten your own high place in the world. (Wilber may have feebly tried to “appreciate” Bohm’s work there, but he certainly did not succeed, instead at best misrepresenting and damning it with very faint praise relative to its Nobel caliber. If kw’s misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Bohm’s work there and elsewhere, as documented in the Appendix to this book, were actually valid, Bohm’s ideas would indeed threaten his own. Properly understood, however, they do not.)
Wilber (2001) then poses the rhetorical question as to his own motivations for lashing out at others:
Did they do anything to possibly bring it on themselves, or was this just a unilateral case of me being rotten to the core?
In the case of his dissing of Bohm, however, it absolutely was demonstrably a “unilateral case” of Wilber “being rotten to the core.” For, Bohm never provoked Wilber in any way, except by being right (and silent, even while alive; and moreso since then) where Wilber has been embarrassingly, confidently and verbosely wrong.
Ken jokes that “being called the foremost theorist in transpersonal psychology is like being called the tallest building in Kansas City” (in Wilber, 1991).
The above could be simply an unconvincing attempt at self-deprecation, or a posing at humility, meant to endear himself to an attractive woman. (The stacked one to whom it was told actually ended up becoming Wilber’s second wife.) Or, it could be a not-too-veiled shot at the unimpressive work of his “shorter building” peers in transpersonal/integral psychology and, more recently, the broader field of consciousness studies. Probably some of both. Regardless, Wilber need not have published the above observation, taken from his now-late wife’s diaries, if he were uncomfortable with how it could be understood by others. And both of the above interpretations of subtext are completely predictable and reasonable, for anyone who wishes to look.
Horgan (2003a) then offers an observation regarding Wilber’s overall attempts at being liked, with which one cannot easily argue:
His self-deprecating asides [in One Taste, e.g., re: chili] seemed aimed only at making us admire his modesty.
Indeed, Wilber (1991) has given analyses of himself which could well be taken as substantiating Horgan’s conclusions:
I think everybody should love me, and when someone doesn’t, I get nervous. So, as a child, I overcompensated like crazy. Class president, valedictorian, even captain of the football team. A frantic dance for acceptance, an attempt to have everybody love me.
More recently, and with far less of an attempt at false humility than in his “tallest building in Kansas City” days, Wilber (2003a) has stated his own attitude toward at least one of his critics, as follows:
I’m sure if [Hans-Willi] Weis would read my work in this area [of authoritarian control and the like in New Age movements, on which points Wilber is consistently and wildly wrong, as we have seen and will sadly see much more of] that he could find something to hate about it, too, and we are all eagerly looking forward to his next round of criticism, although I’m sure that I will be forgiven if I don’t respond, since I might have more important things to do, like feed my goldfish.
One might take that condescending, lame attempt at “half a wit” as an implicit admission by Wilber that, in other cases too, when he has disagreed with but not responded to other authors’ ideas, it was simply because he had “more important things to do.” That is, they did not merit a response from him.
How, then, would such a person be likely to react if he were to suddenly find himself on the receiving end of the same behavior, in apparently being “ignored until he went away”? Would he perhaps unconsciously take that behavior as being driven by the same motivations as he himself has openly admitted to possessing? That is, would he take it as his colleagues evidently feeling that they had “more important things to do” than to waste time explaining things to him?
Would he then perhaps feel sufficiently insulted by that as to periodically lash out at the people who have not “given him his due,” in the form of a responseany response? (Without receiving an answer, after all, one feels as though one does not exist in the other person’s world. As Jean-Paul Sartre put it, “I am seen: therefore I am.”)
Would such a long-term lack of response further perhaps even leave him feeling confident that he could lash out in unprovoked nastiness, without having to worry about the targets of his insults “hitting back”? (As Matsakis  observed in a different context, in discussing “express[ing] your anger in a letter,” never to be mailed: you “can be as nasty as you want without worrying about it backfiring on you.”)
Would that not account for his continuing, and wholly unprovoked, mistreatment of the late David Bohm?
Interestingly, by Wilber’s own (1991) admission:
[W]hen fear overcomes me, my ordinary lightness of outlook ... degenerates into sarcasm and snideness, a biting bitterness toward those around menot because I am snide by nature, but because I am afraid.
Bohm’s ideas, again, would not have been felt by Wilber to fearfully threaten his own place in the world, had he properly understood themexcept in that anyone doing superior work to his own, as Bohm was performing even while Wilber himself was literally still in diapers, could have displaced him from his high position as the “emperor of consciousness studies.” Having thus grossly misunderstood even the popularized versions of that brilliance, thoughfor whatever combination of subconscious motivations and conscious blunderingthe fearful Wilber has, predictably, treated Bohm (and his memory) with nothing but unkindness.
Do you imagine, then, that he would behave any more nobly toward his contemporary peersor loverswere they to equally threaten his high place in the integral world by doing far superior work to his own? Or would he more likely misrepresent their work as unapologetically and insultingly as he has done of Bohm’s, thereby “nudging them out of the picture”? And what friends might then stand by his side to claim, even years after the fact, that he had committed no such misrepresentation, even when the incontrovertible facts say exactly the opposite?
Whether one is “captain of the football team” or the “Einstein of consciousness studies,” the potential loss of that valued status would bring great fear to the surface. That is so, just as surely as the original gaining of the position, in high school as in middle or old age, would be done with at least the subconscious goal of having “everybody love you.”
So, one last time for old time’s sake, I am going to sink into that horrible vitriol which has marked my entire writing career, and say that I think all of those folks [who criticize me and my work] are a bunch of randy toadies and ninny bunnies (Wilber, 2001).
“Randy toadies and ninny bunnies.” Interesting.
“Randy” means sexually aroused or rude; a “toady” is not simply an endearing term for a toad, but rather refers to a flatterer or sycophant; and a “ninny” is a fool or simpleton.
The unintentional comparing of his critics to a “bunch of sexually aroused sycophants” is interesting, no? As Freudian slips go, at least.
If Wilber thinks that his detractors see him from such a complimentary perspective, how must he imagine that his fans view him?
We all learned and applied the Pythagorean theorem in high school, in a form very closely resembling the following:
The sum of the squares of the lengths of the sides of a right-angle triangle is equal to the square of the length of the hypotenuse.Wilber’s own (1996) infamous version of the same principle, however, instead reads like this:
[T]he sum of the squares of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the hypotenuse.
It is clear what Wilber is trying to say here, but only because we all learned the theorem itself in high schoolhis actual statement is meaningless nonsense. (Succeeding editions of the book have, of course, corrected that text at the start of its Chapter 13.)
Interestingly, the real Einstein worked out his own, innovative proofbeyond what was given in his self-studied “holy geometry book”of exactly the Pythagorean theorem ... at age twelve. Of course, Albert also managed to be viewed, nearly universally and in spite of his poorer private behaviors, as a “Jewish saint,” rather than an “arrogant asshole” (Wilber on himself, in [Horgan, 2003a]). He further did that without resorting to unconvincing false modesty, and even while doing unparalleled work as a real genius, as opposed to being merely the “tallest building” in a prairie town. There is a lesson in there somewhere. It is, indeed, a lesson in remaining humble and subject to correction, not simply by one’s awed and overly respectful peers, but rather in the face of truth.
Significantly, then, Albert’s most frequent answer to questions put to him in public, on wide-ranging issues which he was, by his own admission, not sufficiently informed to be certain of his opinions, never entailed an attempt to oracularly bluff his way through in order to maintain his status as an “Einstein.” Rather, his most frequent response was simply, and admirably, “I don’t know.”
By contrast, to sustain the feeling that one is a contemporary genius even amid wholly embarrassingly missteps and misrepresentations of high-school-level ideas cannot be easy, from any psychological perspective.
Despite the “Pythagorean Fiasco,” Wilber is currently in the process of developing his own (root) branch of mathematicsan “integral calculus of indigenous perspectives”:
As far as I can tell, this primordial mathematics appears to be the root mathematics from which all others are abstracted abstractions [sic] (Wilber, 2003b).
Well, perhaps. More likely not, in my opinion, but perhaps.
In any case, one cannot help but wish the man well in his “new branch of mathematics” endeavorin which he is currently all of “3% done.”
And perhaps, given his history, light a candle.
[Wilber] excoriates the suggestion of some New Age authors that we can overcome any disease or hardship if our faith in our own minds is strong enough; this claim, Wilber points out, implies that it is our fault if we cannot cure our own cancer (Horgan, 2003a).
The belief that we can “overcome any disease or hardship if our faith in our own minds is strong enough,” or via laying-on-of-hands flows of healing energy from others, is indeed found throughout the New Age communityeven though no convincing scientific evidence of that possibility exists. And certainly, if either of those abilities are anything more than imaginationor even if psychic phenomena in general existthere can be few if any limits to what the human mind can do. Nor is such an attitude so far removed from Wilber’s own belief system as one might assume from the preceding quote:
Ken Wilber, as eager as he is to project a scientifically conservative image, once stated, “I’m sure [psychic phenomena] exist” (Horgan, 2003a).
Or, as Wilber himself elsewhere (1991) put it:
As I lay in bed, I noticed a series of subtle energy currents running through my body, which felt very much like the so-called kundalini energy, which, in Eastern religions, is said to be the energy of spiritual awakening, an energy that lies dormant, asleep, until aroused by an appropriate person or event.
In describing, to his second wife, his own experiences in a session with a laying-on-of-hands healer, he expounded further:
I could definitely feel the energy moving.... I think something actually does happen with gifted healers (Wilber, 1991).
If such energy flows exist, however, there is no reason why their intensity could not be increased by relevant practice, to affect oneself or others in both spiritual awakening and in profound healing, e.g., even of cancer. (Conversely, in the same view, a long-term restriction of such flows within one’s own body could indeed result in illness, as Brennan  and many others have asserted.) Indeed, that increase is the very basis of the claimed temporary and partial transmission of enlightenment via shaktipat and darshan:
Since shakti is the divine energy, and since the guru is concerned with the transference of divine power, the use of that energy in such a transfer produces an immediate impact. That is shaktipatthe almost instantaneous transfer of divine energy, by touch or word or even look, from the guru to the [disciple] (Brent, 1972).
Further, with regard to the claimed power of the mind in healing, as the widely admired Aurobindo (1953)one of Wilber’s evident heroeshimself put it:
It is my experience and the [spiritual partner] Mother’s that all illnesses pass through the subtle consciousness and subtle body before they enter the physical. If one is conscious, one can stop it entering the physical, one can develop the power to do so. We have done that millions of times.... Self-defense may become so strong that the body becomes practically immune as many yogis’ are.
Wilber’s second wife sadly died after a long battle with cancer, providing the context in which he was first confronted in a highly emotional way with often crassly applied New Age “blaming/responsibility” ideas regarding disease. (Having lost my own mother in the same way, I deeply sympathize with the suffering and support entailed.) He himself further weathered a mysterious, exhausting illness (RNase Enzyme Deficiency Disease, REDD) for several years in the mid-’80s, the long-term effects of which, as of 2002, again had him largely bedridden. He also suffered through the aforementioned six-month staph infection, in which he lost access to the always-already (but apparently not-right-now) One Taste state. Those points are surely not irrelevant to his attitude toward the power of the mind with regard to cancer and other illnesses, as expressed above, just as Cohen’s perspective on responsibility and victimization cannot be independent of his own “accidents.”
It is one thing to disparage New Agers for being “regressive” or “pre-rational” in their reliance on astrology, etc. But why be so bothered by them simply ascribing more power to the human mind in the potential for healing than you feel is appropriate? And if Wilber really has no tolerance for the “pre-rational” idea that we can heal our illnesses through the power of our own (or of others’) minds and the associated encouraged energy flows, why does he (2002a) have his third (ex-)wife “doing industrial strength reiki” on him, in battling the effects of his REDD? (If she can truly direct the flow of subtle energies, or even if Wilber himself can genuinely feel those beyond mere imagination, there is a cool million dollars waiting for either of them at www.randi.org. Short of their demonstrations of those claimed skills in a properly controlled environment, however, the much more likely explanation, for any betting man or woman, is that they are both simply imagining the beneficial effects of her “healings.”)
Of course, while insisting that “something actually does happen with gifted healers,” Wilber has simultaneously disputed their interpretations of the effects of the subtle energies which they purport to be able to move. But if such healers can actually see auras and chakras, and move subtle energies, how could they so utterly misinterpret the results of their related attempted healings? For, those purported results would surely be visible in exactly the same auras. (Brennan , for one, explicitly claims exactly that clear, unmistakable visibility.) Thus, there is precisely nothing that is open to “interpretation” in those healers’ claims. Nor should one feel the least bit comfortable in accepting the existence of subtle energies simply for one’s own easily fooled or imagined experience of those in non-double-blind environments, as is the case when kw vouches for their existence ... or touts the value of the Q-Link pendant, for that matter.
Beyond that, Wilber’s aforementioned excoriating of New Age believers for their innocent position on healing cannot be meant simply to “spiritually awaken them.” On the contrary, their denigrated view simply demands more responsibility than he evidently wishes to ascribe to human actionsincluding his own and those of his late wife. Indeed, that belief in the power of the mind, whether valid or not, is no more (and no less) pre-rational or magical than is Wilber’s own acceptance of psychic phenomena, and his own acknowledged (even if merely imagined) perception of subtle energy flows, from claimed healers and otherwise.
Wilber’s second wife actually entertained similar ideas to these (with regard to responsibility), at a point where she felt that he was blaming her for his lack of interest, at that time, in book writing:
[H]e may not want to feel responsible himself, it might be easier for him to think it’s [my] fault. What might be behind that? Maybe he’s afraid it’s his fault. Maybe he doesn’t want to take responsibility for his not writing....
Later that day I checked this scenario out with Ken, but very gently, no blame. He gave me a gold star, I hit it pretty close on the nose (in Wilber, 1991).
In any case, such patterns of behavior as Wilber admitted to his own late wife never confine themselves to any one aspect or incident in a person’s life. Rather, they shape all aspects of one’s existence, whether one is consciously aware of that or not.
Of myth and magic, now, Wilber (2000b) has stated:
Unless otherwise indicated, when I use the word “mythic” it refers to preformal, concrete-literal mythic images and symbols, some aspects of which are in fact imbued with cognitive inadequacies, for these myths claim as empirical fact many things that can be empirically disprovede.g., the volcano erupts because it is personally mad at you; the clouds move because they are following you. These preformal mythic beliefs, scholars from Piaget to Joseph Campbell have noted, are always egocentrically focused and literally/concretely believed.
Consider, then, Wilber’s (1991; italics added) own attitude toward the possible effect of his second wife’s death on the weather, where 115 mph gale-force winds beat the surrounding area at exactly the point of her passing:
The winds, I suppose, were coincidence. Nonetheless, the constant rattling and shaking of the house simply added to the feeling that something unearthly was happening. I remember trying to go back to sleep, but the house was rattling so hard I got up and put some blankets around the windows in the bedroom, fearing they would shatter. I finally drifted off, thinking, “Treya is dying, nothing is permanent, everything is empty, Treya is dying....”
That, as a simple reporting of facts, is fine. However, years later, in his (2000a) journals, Wilber “coincidentally” reprinted a letter he received from the spouse of a hospitalized, terminal cancer sufferer, who had been touched by Treya’s story:
As [my wife] died in the afternoon a great storm and strong rain came up. And I saw a great grey cloud going upstairs from her body and drifting away out of the opened window. After twenty minutes the storm was over.
It is difficult to imagine Wilber including that specific letter in his reprints without it being implicitly in support of a “cosmic” nature to his own experiences. That is so even in spite of his previous “I suppose” (as opposed to a skeptical/rational “of course”) regard for the “coincidental” nature of the winds blowing during his wife’s death. After all, with the “great storm and strong rain” being explicitly associated with a “great grey cloud” rising from the dying person’s body in the latter case, could it really have been just coincidence for a similar storm to have arisen in his own wife’s death? (If Wilber thought that that grey cloud and accompanying storm were pre-rational nonsense, he need not have included them in his own reprint of the letter. For, they are not at all essential to the man’s story. Indeed, he need not have reprinted the fan letter at all, were it not to support his own magical/mythical wishes.)
If Wilber’s winds (or Da’s “corona”) were real parapsychological phenomena, beyond mere coincidence or imagination, that would mean that real magic exists, in the ability of human thoughts, intentions and/or emotions (i.e., subtle bodies) to affect the physical world. And in that case, New Agers could not rationally be excoriated for believing in such things. Rather, they should then instead be celebrated for having “correctly” divined and appreciated that aspect of reality. (The fan’s wife made no recorded claim to be highly realized, yet still purportedly manifested that windy “magic.” Thus, such claimed phenomena could not be restricted here only to siddhis accompanying “great Realizers,” etc.)
Short of Treya’s death actually having affected, via real magic, the same winds which blow not merely for Wilber but for all of us, his implicit view of that phenomenon
is simply reflective of mythic and magical thinking. That’s okay, but it’s not rational and if Wilber were to critique his own episode he would see it (via his spectrum psychology paradigm) as being “immature” (less inclusive, less rational, etc.)....
Thus when I said Wilber was being narcissistic in his analysis of those winds, I was using the very adjective that Wilber himself on several occasions has used to illustrate a pre/trans fallacy, a mistake where the New Ager or whomever in question sees something mystical when it was merely mythic, where someone sees something paranormal when it was merely normal (Lane, 1996).
Note that Lane insightfully spotted that point a full four years prior to Wilber’s reprinting of the “grey cloud” fan letter.
In relation to all of the above paranormality, further consider the following recent perspective from Wilber (2003) himself, in expounding on the nature of the chakras in his “comprehensive theory of subtle energies”:
I will ... simply use one example: the overall summary of the chakras given by Hiroshi Motoyama.
Wilber then goes on to explain, for his own demonstrative purposes, Motoyama’s standard and non-controversial “theories of the chakras,” from his book of the same name. (Motoyama himself is founder and president of the California Institute for Human Science: www.cihs.edu.)
There is, however, much more to Motoyama’s (2000) Karma and Reincarnation worldview than that:
Ritual offerings of food and water are truly effective ways of helping beings suffering in the astral dimension, particularly the souls of people who have recently died. When we place an offering upon the altar, we don’t expect it to disappear because we know that someone who has died cannot eat physical substances. When we expand our field of vision into the higher dimensions, however, we can actually see spirits consuming the offerings. They are consuming the “ki” [i.e., the chi or prana] of the food and water, the astral energy of the objects that exists even before the object manifests into the physical world.
One assumes that Wilber would not himself endorse these latter claimsof spirits eating subtle energy, etc. If not, however, why not? If Motoyama’s clairvoyant perceptions of the chakras are taken as valid, why would his comparable perceptions, through the same subtle senses, of ghosts and astral gods not be taken as equally valid? Did he see the chakras validly and clearly, but hallucinate everything else? If not, how can you justify “picking and choosing” only what you want to believe from those perceptions?
Of course, if such phenomena as Motoyama describes really do exist, a lot of what Wilber denigrates as being “pre-rational” or the product of regressive magical or mythical thought would not be so. Rather, it would instead be appealing to aspects of reality which simply do not fit into his own theories. That point would apply specifically to sacrifices to nature spirits or to human ghosts who could very conceivably actually be “personally mad at you.” Indeed, Motoyama (2000) describes exactly such appeased ghostly anger in the very same book, along with his psychic interactions with water and tree spirits:
Yoichi had been dead for 800 years, yet his tortured spirit was still able to affect me when I began to build our retreat center. We began to pray for his soul in the Shrine. After three years of such prayers, his resentment dissolved and I no longer experienced any negativity.
I could see that the Spirit of the tree was grieving about its impending doom.
I saw that the Water Spirit was understandably outraged and was retaliating by causing the family its present problems.
It is no large step from tree and water spirits to volcano and cloud spirits; if the former were to exist, surely the latter would, too. And according to Motoyama, the former do indeed exist, as surely (or unsurely) as do the chakras which in turn figure into Wilber’s theories of psychological/spiritual development and subtle energy.
Stepping further out from there into New Age la-la land, then, Wilber (2003b) has bravely conjectured:
Internality is the form of spacetime’s self-prehension, a self-organization through self-transcendence (to put it in dry third-person terms), orin first-person terms much more accuratethe love that moves the sun and other stars.
“Love will keep us together.”
Interestingly, the tail end of the above block quote is actually taken, without attribution, from Dante’s Divine Comedy. The overall block itself comes from a series of excerpts from a forthcoming planned book in Wilber’s “Kosmos” trilogy, the first installment of which was his Sex, Ecology, Spirituality“one of the most significant books ever published,” according to Larry Dossey. And later in that very same online series is where Wilber (2003) most recently accuses David Bohm of purveying “simplistic notions” and “epicycles” in his Nobel-caliber reformulation of quantum mechanics.
‘Cause obviously, a “love that moves the sun and other stars” is way more grounded in clear thinking than is an implicate order which follows from the mathematics of quantum theory, right?
There is, unfortunately, still more which must be noted about Wilber’s relationship with Adi Da.
In an aforementioned open letter to the Da community, Wilber (1998a) expressed his opinion that Adi Da is “the greatest living Realizer.” He did that while yet admitting that, not having experienced satsanga with Ramana Maharshi or other past great sages, he could not say with “personal authority” that Da was the greatest Realizer ever.
In his foreword to Inner Directions’ recent (2000) reissue of Talks with Ramana Maharshi, however, Wilber offers no such caveats to his “personal authority.” That comes in spite of his having never sat with, or even met, Maharshi:
“Talks” is the living voice of the greatest sage [italics added] of the twentieth century.
One may well be impressed by Maharshi’s “unadorned, bottom-line” mysticism of simply inquiring, of himself, “Who am I?”in the attempt to “slip into the witnessing Self.” Likewise, his claim that “Love is not different from the Self ... the Self is love” (in Walsh, 1999) is sure to make one feel warm and fuzzy inside. Nevertheless, the man was not without his eccentricities:
[T]he Indian sage Ramana Maharshi once told Paul Brunton that he had visions of cities beneath the sacred mountain of Arunachala where he resided all his adult life (Feuerstein, 1998).
Indeed, in Talk 143 from Volume 1 of the infamous Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (2000)the very text upon which Wilber has above commentedwe find:
In visions I have seen caves, cities with streets, etc., and a whole world in it.... All the siddhas [“perfected beings”] are reputed to be there.
If the choice is between that and “astral moon cannibal slaves,” we could indeed side more safely with Maharshi. Were such subterranean cities to be taken as existing on the physical level, however, they could not so exist now or in the past without previous, historic “Golden Ages” and their respective civilizations, with those civilizations being more advanced than our own. That idea, however, is generally explicitly taken as being the product only of magical/mythical thinking and the like:
[T]he romantic transcendentalists ... usually confuse average-mode consciousness and growing-tip consciousness, or average lower and truly advanced, [and] use that confusion to claim that the past epochs were some sort of Golden Age which we have subsequently destroyed. They confuse magic and psychic, myth and subtle archetype (Wilber, 1983a).
The question then becomes: Do you believe that “all the siddhas” are living in (even astral) cities and caves, beneath one particular mountain in India? (Mountains are actually regarded as holy in cultures throughout the world, and as being symbols of the astral spine. To take their holiness and “natural abode of souls” nature literally, however, is highly unusual.) If not, was the “greatest sage of the century” hallucinating? If so....
Or, even if not:
All the food [in Maharshi’s ashram] was prepared by brahmins so that it should remain uncontaminated by contact with lower castes and foreigners....
“Bhagavan always insisted on caste observances in the ashram here, though he was not rigidly orthodox” [said Miss Merston, a long-time devotee of Maharshi] (Marshall, 1963).
[Maharshi] allowed himself to be worshiped like a Buddha (Daniélou, 1987).
“Greatest sage”for whom “the Self is love,” but lower castes and foreigners evidently aren’t, in spite of his supposed impartial witnessing of all things equally, and in spite of the fact that he was not otherwise “rigidly orthodox” or bent on following religious proscriptions.
Not finished with giving unsolicited ratings of spiritual personages he has never met, on the simple basis of their extant writings, Wilber (2000a; italics added) recently had this to say about Aurobindo:
When it was also understood in the East that the Great Chain [or ontological hierarchy of Being, manifesting through causal, astral and physical realms] did indeed unfold or evolve over time, the great Aurobindo expounded the notion with an unequalled genius.
In Wilber (2002)“Sidebar A” to his Boomeritis novelhe further has one of that book’s characters refer to Aurobindo (1872 1950) as “the world’s greatest philosopher-sage.” One might try to argue that that sidebar is only a “character” speaking from a perspective which Wilber himself does not hold. Boomeritis, however, was originally written as a non-fiction work, which Wilber only later decided to transform (with questionable success) into a “true story, loosely based on fiction.” Plus, in his earlier (1980) Atman Project, he already had Aurobindo designated as “India’s greatest modern sage.” And, more recently, in his foreword to A. S. Dalal’s (2000) A Greater Psychology, he has again averred that “Sri Aurobindo Ghose was India’s greatest modern philosopher-sage.” Likewise, in his own (2000b) Integral Psychology, he has Aurobindo appointed as India’s “greatest modern philosopher-sage.”
So, if there’s one thing we can safely conclude....
Georg Feuerstein, among others, fully shares Wilber’s complimentary evaluation of Aurobindo. Bharati (1976), however, offered a somewhat different perspective:
I do not agree with much of what he said; and I believe his Life Divine ... could be condensed to about one-fifth of its size without any substantial loss of content and message.... [Q]uite tedious reading for all those who have done mystical and religious reading all their lives, but fascinating and full of proselytizing vigor for those who haven’t, who want something of the spirit, and who are impressionable.
For my own part, I would say largely the same about Adi Da’s Only-Written-By-Him books, in his “Dawn Horseshit” days and otherwise. Further, as so often happens, it appears that much of “what is good is not original, and what is original is not good,” even in Da’s theoretical teachings:
Adi Da’s worldview is summarized in his teaching of the seven stages of life [as expounded in his Dawn Horse Testament], a series of levels of development. This worldview, clearly, is not original. It resembles in some respects Gurdjieff’s seven types of men (which itself borrowed heavily from still earlier teachings) (Smith, 2001).
Such uncredited (and obviously derivative) borrowing, further, apparently did not stop with Da Teacher:
It is possible to look at [Wilber’s] early but seminal book The Atman Project and see how his idea of successive stages of psycho-spiritual development grew out of Da’s seven stages of life thesis (Kazlev, 2003).
Aurobindo himself, in any case, whether a “great philosopher” or not, could well be viewed as having wobbled mightily about the center, if one were to consider his purported contributions to the Allied World War II effort:
Sri Aurobindo put all his [e.g., astral] Force behind the Allies and especially Churchill. One particular event in which he had a hand was the successful evacuation from Dunkirk. As some history books note, the German forces refrained “for inexplicable reasons” from a quick advance which would have been fatal for the Allies (Huchzermeyer, 1998).
Other admirers of Aurobindo (e.g., GuruNet, 2003) regard that Allied escape as being aided by a fog which the yogi explicitly helped, through his powers of consciousness, to roll in over the water, concealing the retreating forces.
Aurobindo’s spiritual partner, “the Mother,” is likewise believed to have advanced the wartime labor via metaphysical means:
Due to her occult faculties the Mother was able to look deep into Hitler’s being and she saw that he was in contact with an asura [astral demon] who is at the origin of wars and makes every possible effort to prevent the advent of world unity (Huchzermeyer, 1998).
When Hitler was gaining success after success and Mother was trying in the opposite direction, she said the shining being who was guiding Hitler used to come to the ashram from time to time to see what was happening. Things changed from bad to worse. Mother decided on a fresh strategy. She took on the appearance of that shining being, appeared before Hitler and advised him to attack Russia. On her way back to the ashram, she met that being. The being was intrigued by Mother having stolen a march over him. Hitler’s attack on Russia ensured his downfall....
Mother saw in her meditation some Chinese people had reached Calcutta and recognized the danger of that warning. Using her occult divine power, she removed the danger from the subtle realms. Much later when the Chinese army was edging closer to India’s border, a shocked India did not know which way to turn. The Chinese decided on their own to withdraw, much to the world’s surprise. Mother had prevented them from advancing against India by canceling their power in the subtle realms (MSS, 2003).
Nor were those successful attempts at saving the world from the clutches of evil even the most impressive of the Mother’s claimed subtle activities:
She had live contacts with several gods. Durga used to come to Mother’s meditations regularly. Particularly during the Durga Puja when Mother gave darshan, Durga used to come a day in advance. On one occasion, Mother explained to Durga the significance of surrender to the Supreme. Durga said because she herself was a goddess, it never struck her that she should surrender to a higher power. Mother showed Durga the progress she could make by surrendering to the Supreme. Durga was agreeable and offered her surrender to the Divine (MSS, 2003).
The Mother further believed herself to have been, in past lives, Queen Elizabeth of Englandthe sixteenth-century daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Also, Catherine of Russia (wife of Peter the Great), an Egyptian Queen, the mother of Moses, and Joan of Arc.
Her diary entries reveal that even during her illness she continued through her sadhana to exert an occult influence on men and events (Nirodbaran, 1990).
[The Mother] is the Divine Mother [i.e., as an incarnation or avatar] who has consented to put on her the cloak of obscurity and suffering and ignorance so that she can effectively lead ushuman beingsto Knowledge and Bliss and Ananda and to the Supreme Lord (in Aurobindo, 1953).
In the person of [the Mother], Aurobindo thus saw the descent of the Supermind. He believed she was its avatara or descent into the Earth plane. As the incarnate Supermind she was changing the consciousness on which the Earth found itself, and as such her work was infallible.... She does not merely embody the Divine, he instructed one follower, but is in reality the Divine appearing to be human (Minor, 1999; italics added).
India’s independence from British rule followed soon after the end of WWII. Aurobindo himself marked the occasion in public speech:
August 15th, 1947 is the birthday of free India. It marks for her the end of an old era, the beginning of a new age....
August 15th is my own birthday and it is naturally gratifying to me that it should have assumed this vast significance. I take this coincidence, not as a fortuitous accident, but as the sanction and seal of the Divine Force that guides my steps on the work with which I began life, the beginning of its full fruition (in Nirodbaran, 1990).
This, then, on top of his believed Allied war efforts, was the grandiose state of mind of “the world’s greatest philosopher-sage.” Note further that this, like the Mother’s diary entries, was Aurobindo’s own documented claim, not merely a possible exaggeration made on his behalf by his followers. For all of the private hubris and narcissism of our world’s guru-figures, it is rare for any of them to so brazenly exhibit the same publicly, as in the above inflations.
And, as always, there are ways of ensuring loyalty to the guru and his Mother, as Aurobindo (1953; italics added) himself noted:
[A student] had been progressing extremely well because he opened himself to the Mother; but if he allows stupidities like [an unspecified, uncomplimentary remark made by another devotee about the Mother] to enter his mind, it may influence him, close him to the Mother and stop his progress.
As for [the disciple who made the “imbecilic” remark], if he said and thought a thing like that (about the Mother) it explains why he has been suffering in health so much lately. If one makes oneself a mouthpiece of the hostile forces and lends oneself to their falsehoods, it is not surprising that something in him should get out of order.
To a follower who later asked, “What is the best means for the sadhaks [disciples] to avoid suffering due to the action of the hostile forces?” Aurobindo (1953; italics added) replied: “Faith in the Mother and complete surrender.”
[Physical nearness to the Mother, e.g., via living in the ashram] is indispensable for the fullness of the sadhana on the physical plane. Transformation of the physical and external being is not possible otherwise [italics added] (Aurobindo, 1953).
Such teachings, of course, provide a comparable reason to stay in the ashram as would the fear of being pursued by negative forces such as Trungpa’s “furies” upon leaving. In all such cases, whatever the original motivations of the leaders in emphasizing such constraints may have been, there is an obvious effect in practice. That is, an effect of making their disciples afraid to leave their communities, or even to question the “infallibility” of the “enlightened” leaders in question.
As with other important spiritual action figures, of course, the exalted philosopher-sage known as Aurobindo did not evolve to that point without having achieved greatness in previous lives:
Sri Aurobindo was known in his ashram as the rebirth of Napoleon. Napoleon’s birthday was also August 15th.... In his previous births, it was believed he was Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Krishna and many other persons too. Someone asked Sri Aurobindo whether he had been Shakespeare as well, but could not elicit an answer (GuruNet, 2003).
Being an incarnation of Krishna would, of course, have made Aurobindo an avatar, as he himself indeed explicitly claimed (1953) to be regardless. As we will see more of later, however, there is competition among other spiritual paths for many of those same reincarnational honors.
Further, da Vinci lived from 1452 to 1519, while Michelangelo walked this Earth from 1475 to 1564. Given the chronological overlap between those two lives, this reincarnation, if taken as true, could thus only have been “one soul incarnating/emanating in two bodies.” That is, it could not have been da Vinci himself reincarnating as Michelangelo. Thus, the latter’s skills could not have been based on the “past life” work of the former.
Or perhaps no one ever bothered to simply look up the relevant dates, before making and publicizing those extravagant claims.
At any rate, the purported da Vinci connection does not end there:
Evidently, then, not only was Aurobindo allegedly the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci, but his spiritual partner, the Mother, claimed to be the subject of the Mona Lisa portrait.
“Since the beginning of earthly history,” the Mother explained, “Sri Aurobindo has always presided over the great earthly transformations, under one form or another, under one name or another” (Paine, 1998).
For my own part, however, statements such as thatnot to mention conjectures as to which individual is the “greatest living Realizer,” etc.remind me of nothing so much as my own growing up with a hyperactive cousin who could not stop arguing about which was the “strongest dinosaur.” My own attitude to such conversations is simply: “Please, stop. Please.”
In any case, even such “great earthly transformers” as Aurobindo still evidently stand “on the shoulders of other spiritual giants”:
It is a fact that I was hearing constantly the voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail [in 1908] in my solitary mediation and felt his presence (Aurobindo, 1953).
Aurobindo and his Mother again claimed to have single-handedly turned the tide of WWII, and asserted that the former sage has “presided over the great earthly transformations” for time immemorial. If one believes that, the impressiveness of the spirit of Vivekananda allegedly visiting him in prison would pale by comparison. The same would be true for the idea of Aurobindo being “the world’s greatest philosopher-sage.” For, the yogi made far more grandiose claims himself, and indeed could therefore have easily taken such contemporary recognition of his greatness as being little more than “damning with faint praise.”
But then, that only goes to show the importance of differentiating between the “greatest Exaggerator” of all timewhere Vivekananda himself, “a true master of hyperbole” (Kripal, 1995), merits considerationand the “greatest living Exaggerator.”
At any rate, short of believing that Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s vital roles in WWII were exactly what they themselves claimed those to be, there are only two possible conclusions. That is, that both he and she were wildly deluded, and unable to distinguish fact from fiction or reality from their own fantasies; or that they were both outright fabricating their own life-myths.
So: Do you believe that one “world’s greatest philosopher-sage” and his “infallible” spiritual partnerwho herself “had live contacts with several gods,” teaching them in the processin southern India radically changed the course of human history in unparalleled ways, simply via their use of metaphysical Force and other occult faculties?
I, personally, do not.
As with his probable misrepresentations of Aurobindo’s work, Wilber’s understanding of Carl Jung’s ideas regarding archetypes has been seriously questioned by the Jungian psychologist V. Walter Odajnyk, in Appendix A of his (1993) Gathering the Light. Indeed, Odajnyk there explicitly regarded kw as having an “erroneous view” of Jung’s position:
Wilber’s criticism of Jung’s notion of archetypes is misinformed. Contrary to what Wilber states, Jung does refer to the archetypes as “the patterns upon which all other manifestations are based”....
[Further,] contrary to what Wilber claims, Jung does not locate the archetypes only at the beginning of the evolutionary spectrumthey are present both at the beginning and at the end....
The spirit Mercurius is the archetype that expresses the notion, stated much too generally by Wilber, that “the ascent of consciousness was drawn toward the archetypes by the archetypes themselves.” Far from being a criticism of Jung, this was Jung’s discovery and not Wilber’s....
[Likewise,] it is Jung and not Wilber who first proposed clear distinctions among “collective prepersonal, collective personal, and collective transpersonal” elements of the psyche [cf. Wilber’s celebrated “pre/trans fallacy” insights].
I am aware of no response by Wilber to Odajnyk’s concerns. And I personally am in no informed position to evaluate who of those two is properly representing Jung’s thought. Nevertheless, if past experience is any indication, that shy silence on Wilber’s part, coming on the heels of the many other documented misrepresentations by him of others’ work, would place the smart money on Odajnyk’s perspective being valid, at least on the above points.
And note that Odajnyk’s critique, too, was given well prior to Crittenden’s assertionfirst made in 1998, and reprinted by Wilber’s own Integral Institute in 2004that no such “believable criticisms” have ever been made of kw’s work. Further, Odajnyk’s book was put into print by Wilber’s own long-time publisher, Shambhala. Thus, kw could not reasonably have been unaware of its existence. (Shambhala“the leading publisher of Buddhist books in the western world”also publishes Trungpa’s writings. Its president and editor-in-chief, Samuel Bercholz, has served as a trustee of the Naropa Institute [Shambhala, 2004].)
Odajnyk’s comments on Wilber’s early work, too, are worth noting:
When it comes to psychological development, we know that it is possible to point out a person, or a culture, with highly evolved intelligence and consciousness while his, or its, instinctive, emotional, and ethical development lags far behind.... In other words, it is possible to have a higher consciousness that is “transcendent, transpersonal, and transtemporal” and a personal unconscious that is “instinctive, impulsive, libidinous, id-ish, animal, ape-like.” I know that for Wilber [in his early work, pre-1981] this is not possible by definition, but definition is theory.
Wilber’s more recent (see 2000e) psychological model includes more than a dozen “streams” of development, or quasi-independent “lines”of cognition, needs, sexuality, motivation, self-identity, etc. Those lines were first introduced by kw (1998) in his “Wilber-3” phase, beginning in the early ’80s. And such epicyclic streams/lines do indeed now allow for individuals to be simultaneously at, for example, a high level of cognitive or of psychic/spiritual development, but a low moral stage.
[Adi Da] makes a lot of mistakes. These are immediately reinterpreted as great teaching events, which is silly (Wilber, 1996a).
We saw earlier that, in Wilber’s world, Trungpa’s “Merwin incident” was an “outrageous, inexcusable, and completely stupid mistake” on the part of the master. In the same world, however, the more-revered (by Wilber) Adi Da’s far worse alleged behaviors are simply “mistakes” without pejorative adjectives. His followers, further, are evidently to blame for being “silly” in taking those as “great teaching events.” Such a regard, of course, completely overlooks the fact that, if one is truly “completely surrendered” to a guru-figure, there are no possible criteria which one could use to distinguish between valid “teaching events” and “mistakes” on his part. (Plus, Da has again reportedly told his followers that he “can do no wrong” [Feuerstein, 1992].) Rather, it is all equally “divinely inspired,” and all equally done “for the benefit of all sentient beings.”
Further, to the pathetic excuse that the most objectionable events in any community may have happened “twenty years ago,” the proper response is: If we have learned one thing from the French, it is plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. That is, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” What, then, has changed in the psychologies of people who would have allowed such reported atrocities to occur in the first place, and hardly blinked a collective eye at the instruction to “keep it quiet”? (A quick glance at the Daism Research Index at Lightmind  discloses that nothing whatsoever has changed in that regard.) Would you trust such “miraculous corona”-seeing people with your mental and physical health? Would you surrender completely to such guru-figures and their obedient followers? (Short of that complete surrender, you are still “resisting the grace of the Avatar.” Why are you resisting? Ah, ego.)
Wilber’s own writings give no indication that he has ever been spiritually disciplined over an extended period of time in a “crazy wisdom” environment. (By “an extended period of time” is meant a minimum of six continuous months. At one point, he was considering  taking a three-year meditation retreat at an ashram run by Kalu Rinpoche, but evidently never actually did so.) He has attended satsanga at the feet of Adi Da on the Mountain of Attention. But surely even he must realize that there is a huge difference between spending a few days or weeks as a guest in such an environment, versus being trapped there for months or years.
Further, according to Georg Feuerstein in Lowe (1996), Da himself predictably has a strong “interest in enlisting the assistance and allegiance of the rich and famous.” (Feuerstein was Da’s spokesperson in the 1980s, and is a past editor for the Dawn Horse Press.) That is, a vested interest in enlisting persons such as Ken Wilber and Ed Kowalczyk. (The latter is the lead singer of the band Live, who had earlier named his pet turtle “Murti,” after Krishnamurti, and was “transported into a state of wonderment and awe” by at least one of Da’s vastly overrated books.) Also, New Age composer Ray Lynch, plus one of Pearl Jam’s former drummers, and writer Lee Sannella. And:
We were told that [Da] tried to approach Madonna, and draw her in as a devotee (Elias, 2000).
As to the difference between being in any such community as a “star” versus as a peon, Bailey (2003) explained:
For most devotees, a visit to the [Sai Baba] ashram means sitting in the darshan lines looking on, wishing and hoping for interaction, whilst listening to the stories others tell. This is very different to being “in there”seeing how things work behind the scenes.
The same is true, of course, of every other ashram, under every other spiritual leader under the corona-surrounded sun:
Even journalists who would come to write exposés on the doings at [Rajneesh’s ashram near] Antelope would come out feeling, The place is really a nice place, those people are really fine people (Strelley, 1987).
[A]t the center of Moonism is the requirement of secrecy ... we had heard only a carefully devised elementary lecture [when first visiting our daughter in Moon’s community] (Underwood and Underwood, 1979).
[W]hen government visitors, doctors, even our attorney ... came to Jonestown we put on a tremendous show for them. The guests were wined and dined with foods we never got to eat. In fact, when they looked into our faces we really were happy because on these special occasions we, too, got better food and we worked only half a day (Layton, 1998).
The tours were entirely staged, with church members rehearsed in their roles, outfitted in borrowed clothes to look the part, and coached ahead of time on what to say.... If a visit went off successfully and the outsider went away impressed, Jones would switch to a new role. He would stand before the congregation and mock the visitor, imitating his or her voice, repeating questions asked and laughing at how the women visitors had brushed against him suggestively (Singer, 2003).
Well-meaning individuals thus duped even prior to Jones’ flight to Guyana included Jerry Brown, activist Angela Davis, future San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and President Carter’s wife, Rosalyn. On the basis of similar “dog and pony” shows, Oregon journalist Kirk Braun (1984) wrote “a highly favorable book on ranch life” in Rajneeshpuram (Gordon, 1987). And astonishingly, one of the daughters of Congressman Leo Ryanwhose cold-blooded murder by Jones’ men in Guyana precipitated the infamous cyanide poisoningslater became an ardent follower of Rajneesh, living in the Oregon ashram.
Contrast all that we have seen so far, then, with Wilber’s (1983; italics added) ridiculous presentation of his own limited, short-term experiences:
I have been a participant-observer in almost a dozen nonproblematic new religious movements, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist. In none of those groups was I ever subjected to any harsh degree of authoritarian pressure (discipline, yes, pressure, no). In fact, the authoritarian pressure in these groups never even equalled that which I experienced in graduate school in biochemistry. The masters in these groups were looked upon as great teachers, not big daddies, and their authority was always that of a concerned physician, not totem boss.
Rajneesh, it seems, would have agreed:
The people who believe in God are really the people who cannot trust in themselves. They need a father figure, a Big Daddy (in Gordon, 1987).
Bhagwan, of course, was no such “Big Daddy” himself, as he emphasized (Gordon, 1987) even years after the Oregon debacle.
“Concerned physicians,” though, do not typically tell you that, if you leave their care to see a different doctor, you will “suffer unbearable, subtle, continuous anguish, and disasters will pursue you like furies” (cf. Trungpa), etc. Nor are they generally involved in the alleged creation of pornographic films. And when was the last time a doctor bedded your spouse or partner, on the completely untenable pretense of enlightening both him/her and you?
As the Mill Valley Record (Colin, et al., 1985) further reported:
One woman says that repeated group lesbian sexual acts, involving dildos, took place under [Adi Da’s] command as late as 1982. Another woman says she has sustained permanent cervical damage as a result of participation in similar incidents.
“Concerned physicians.” And note again how, incredibly, Wilber’s assertion that “‘crazy wisdom’ occurs in a very strict ethical atmosphere” was made in 1996, a full decade after news of Da’s “problematic” (Wilber’s word) alleged activities had become public! It also came well after Osel Tendzin’s transmission of AIDS to his followers, knowing full well that he was infected with HIV but refraining from informing his sexual partners of that.
“Strict ethical atmosphere,” indeed. If “denial is more than just a river in Egypt,” Wilber should start walking like an Egyptian any day now.
Of course, with regard to “concerned physicians,” there is always the remote possibility that Wilber’s medical and scholastic experiences might have been of such a horrific (or orgiastic) nature as to leave even the likes of Stephen King (or Hugh Hefner) frozen with fear (or envy). Short of that unlikelihood, however, his attempts at relating ashram life to “concerned physicians” and “graduate-school stress” need not (and should not) be taken the least bit seriously. For, in no way do those ingenuous claims even come close to matching the readily available, relevant information.
One may embark on any series of short-term “intensive retreats,” experiencing grand spiritual realizations during those periods. That, however, again does not even begin to count, as far as perceiving the real pressures put on long-term, non-celebrity members of spiritual communities. To put it more flippantly: You may spend a couple of weeks in India, but that doesn’t make you an East Indian. For, in Jung’s terms, all the time you were there, you were “breathing bottled air,” or seeing everything from within a pre-existing Western, rational perspective. Such a “vacation” cannot in any way be compared to growing up within the environment, or even to spending years or decades in it.
If all of that leaves one wondering what specific relationship Wilber has to Adi Da and his community:
Wilber told me he was a “Friend” of the [Adi Da] groupa non-committed involvement (Lane, 1996).
[T]o be a “Friend” of the Johannine Daist Communion one should contribute $70 or more and subscribe to The Laughing Man Magazine (Lane, 1996a).
It is, indeed, only from such a safe distance that one could make completely unrealistic, purely theoretical assertions such as the following:
[T]he true sangha always retains access to, and retains an appropriate place for, rational inquiry, logical reflection, systematic study of other philosophical frameworks, and critical appraisal of its own teachings in light of related areas (Wilber, 1983b).
Note, however, that Adi Da’s, Trungpa’s and Cohen’s communities were/are all undoubtedly “true sanghas,” by any reasonable definition, and certainly would have been such in Wilber’s view. Indeed, the communities of nearly every spiritual leader discussed at any length herein would have qualified as “true sanghas,” offering “authentic, transformative spirituality.” The only possible exceptions to that would be Rajneesh and Scientology, and of course Jim Jones, the Hare Krishnas and the Moonies. Yet, as we have seen, all indications are that in no way could the teachings be “critically appraised” in any of those environments without severe reported negative consequences.
Overtly displayed skepticism [cf. “critical appraisal” or non-conformity] might be a barrier to entering the Vajrayana [in Trungpa’s sangha]. One Seminarian drank a toast to Vajra hell at a party, was reported to the staff, and found himself questioned very closely before they would allow him to proceed.... I told my interviewer that if I had cause to leave the organization I would do so, and I did not believe the furies of Vajra hell would offer me anything to compare with the pain of divorce. This display of independence made me a doubtful candidate, and I had to pass a second interview (Butterfield, 1994).
If you resisted Free John, it meant you were failing to live up to his teaching (Jaclyn Estes, in [Neary, 1985a]).
Estes was formerly one of Da’s “inner circle of wives,” living in the community from 1974 to 1976.
Likewise, consider Andrew Cohen’s reported infantile response to the journalist who dared to note the irony between his hairstyle versus the shaved heads of his followers. Where, exactly, is the room for “critical appraisal” of the teachings in such a constricted environment?
The committed, long-term residential relationshipevidently absent from Wilber’s experienceunder any such guru-figure, is exactly where the real problems with “Rude Boy” behavior, and the associated isolation and authoritarian control, would start to show. Such a lack of long-term residence further avoids daily discipline to exactly the same extent as would one’s following of an “Ascended Master,” no longer present on the earthly plane, as is common in New Age circles. The positive aspect of each of those, however, is that you are then just bowing before an “imaginary guru.” Far worse to surrender your better judgment to someone of flesh and blood who has a great deal to gain from your unthinking obedience.
After being burned once with Adi Da, however, Wilber has inexcusably gone back for more with Andrew Cohen. That is, he has gone back there via safely endorsing Cohen from a distance, as he did with Adi Da, without actually living under their respective disciplines. (Cohen proudly put his own grandiosity into printoffering glaring warning signs, for anyone who wished to see themas early as 1992. Has Wilber still not read those early books, even while endorsing the more recent ones? Or, if he has read them, how could he imagine that Cohen’s near-messianic view of himself would not find its way into his reported treatment of his disciples? To be the “foremost theoretician in transpersonal and integral psychology,” and not have been able to see that, strains credibility. Anyone passing Psych 101 should have been able to do better.)
To make that same gross mistake twice is, quite frankly, an indication that one doesn’t learn very quickly. Or, perhaps, that the same, celebrated “rude” behavior is too latently present within one’s own psychology, and is simply looking for a vicarious outlet.
Either way, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Of course, if stick-swinging “Rude Boys” who’ll “roast your ass” (“breathing fire” over “hot coals” while “frying your ego,” etc.) are really what get you hot....
In any case, none of that lamentable behavior on Wilber’s part could do anything to lower the regard given him by his friends and followers, or even touted by himself for himself:
On a practical level, Wilber’s greatest contribution may be as a critic of teachers, gurus, techniques, ideas, and systems that promise routes to encompassing truth but are in fact incomplete, misleading, or misguided. “I’m the guy,” Wilber told me only half-jokingly, “who comes in after the party and tries to straighten up the mess” (Schwartz, 1996).
In any such self-appointed cleaning, however, one must take care that one does not accidentally knock over the half-empty bottles from the night before, or carelessly dump the ashtrays onto the floor, lest one create an even greater mess than one began with.
One need not be the “Molly Maid™ of consciousness studies” to see that.
In the end, then, David Lane (1996) put it very well:
When it comes to guru appraisements, Wilber is just plain naïve. He is as gullible as the rest of us and given his track record with Da perhaps more so.
What is perhaps so worrisome about all of this, of course, is that Wilber does not show the kind of level-headed discrimination that is necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff. It would be one thing to admit to a bit of “greenness” (e.g., “Hey, I am a sucker when it comes to perfect masters”), but it is quite another to pose like you are a seasoned veteran of the guru wars.
More recently, Wilber has contributed a philosophical commentary track for the DVD version of the Matrix series of movies, at the invitation of the Wachowski brothers.
If he’s done as well there as in his other endeavors, Hollywood may never recover.
None of the above readily researchable concerns, again, have had any effect at all on Wilber’s admirers and students, as one of the latter (Reynolds, 2004) has recently and disconcertingly demonstrated:
One of the more useful ways that I envision Ken Wilber and his work is to see him as a bodhisattva serving the enlightenment of other sentient beings.... Having worked under his tutelage for nearly a decade, I have personally seen the commanding power and adeptness to which he pursues this aim....
I like to see Wilber as a modern-day human-embodiment of Manjushri.
Manjushri is a “perfectly enlightened Buddha,” and is the Buddhist “Lord of the Word,” i.e., the figure is a god.
Manjushri, as god of the Word, is the universal icon of the liberative power of the Word (Thurman, 1991).
Of course, in any non-Buddhist context, “liberating Words” would be seen to refer to the averred literal cosmic sound of Om or the Word of God, not to any mere physical writings as Reynolds takes them. But that is a separate issue.
Adulation such as the above, from Reynolds, could have come equally well from the mouths of any of the loyal followers of any of the spiritual teachers we have already met herein. And indeed, such behavior constitutes part of the problem with Wilber’s increasingly revered place in the world. Worse, Reynolds’ praise, as of this writing, exists just a single mouse-click away from the home page of Wilber’s website. That is, the link to it is displayed prominently on that home page with, one may safely assume, Wilber’s explicit approval and sanction for that obeisance.
Red-flag, rapidly-losing-perspective (in my opinion) things like that, plus kw’s previous excited endorsements of various indefensible “Rude Boys,” may well leave one feeling somewhat sick to one’s stomach. There is, however, a partial antidote. That is, individuals who may by now have very reasonable and understandable concerns about the caliber of Wilber’s confidently given but frequently baldly wrong advice may wish to meditate on the following cleansing idea, courtesy of the former NFL star quarterback Joe Theisman:
Nobody in the game of football should be called a genius. A genius is somebody like Norman Einstein.
Cheers, then, to the “Norman Einstein of consciousness studies.” And condolences to the “Wilber of physics” and the “Wilber of mathematics,” not to mention the “Wilber of evolution,” whoever they may be, given the man’s radically embarrassing, F-grade performance in each of those fields.
Put another way: If you’re going to be an arrogant know-it-all, trashing other people’s ideas while claiming that it’s for their own spiritual benefit, it behooves you to get it right. Screwing up on basic, high-school-level ideas, while grossly misrepresenting the genuinely brilliant work of your primary competitor, is bad enough. (Bohm was a near guru-figure to the New Age movement in the 1980s, for the application of his implicate order to the “physics and consciousness” arena. Wilber has enjoyed a similar position in the related area of transpersonal/integral psychology during and since the same period. Thus, the designation of “primary competitor” is quite appropriate.) But when one stoops to indefensibly encouraging others to “surrender completely” to one or another “Jonestown”-like (kw’s comparison) figure on top of that, one crosses a line from mere laughable ignorance into dangerous stupidity.
One would expect more from a compassionate and wise (metaphorical) “incarnation of Manjushri,” no? And would one not also have expected more from the academic peers and graduate-degreed admirers of such a “sage,” who should have called him to serious task for those various gross and indefensible mistakes and misrepresentations beginning a full two decades ago? Yet, then as now, to admit that the life’s work of the widely recognized, heroic “Einstein” of your own professional field has more gaseous holes in it than a twenty-pound Swiss cheese, too, could not be easy, from any psychological perspective.
Indeed, there is the very real risk that ardent admirers of Wilber will read about the problems with his work and character cataloged herein, find some convoluted rationalization to insist that those inarguable issues “can’t be so,” and proceed to dismiss the rest of the equally documented (alleged) problems with the other forty or so “enlightened” individuals covered in these chapters, as being equally “unlikely.” Many of those fans have already done as much with Adi Da and Cohen, after all, having been reassured by Wilber that those are two of the “greatest sages” on the face of the Earth.
[M]ost men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious [reported] truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
We all get fooled for short periods of time, or even for years. Hell, for two months after I first read Wilber, I too bought into the idea that he was an “Einstein.” (Ah, “to be that young again.”) But to get fooled for the rest of one’s life, investing huge amounts of emotional energy into maintaining that fiction, is in no way a good thing. And to further base one’s professional standing on that, in a visibly public commitment which one cannot back out of without invaliding the bulk of one’s own life’s work, is when things become, as Wilber would say, “problematic.”
Wilber and his supporters in the Integral Institute may not like [criticism such as Jeff Meyerhoff’s (2003) book, Bald Ambition], but if they are really serious about getting beyond what is looking more and more like a [so-called] cult surrounding Wilber, they better get used to it (Smith, 2004; italics added).
[I]t appears that Ken Wilber stands as judge, jury and executioner when it comes to the matter of who is, and who is not, integral enough....
[H]ow integral is an institution that excludes dissenting voices? Isn’t such an exclusion of dissent itself also evidence for a lack of true Integralism? (Peckinpaugh, 2004).
For more on that same topic, including an openly “antagonistic and arrogant response” from one of Wilber’s blindly loyal fans to a respectfully stated concern, see Taylor (2003). There, Wilber’s Integral Naked website is (rightly, I believe) categorized by critics as being constituted of “a bunch of poseurs at an intellectual masturbation party”a group of “good ol’ boys chewin’ the fat and slingin’ back the whiskies.”
Don Beck’s (2005) alarmingly intolerant view of the WHAT enlightenment??! website fares no better. For there, he reportedly regards the disillusioned former admirers of Cohen executing that blog as being both “cowards” and “bottom dwellers who have nothing to contribute.” (By contrast, the calm and cogent response given by the custodians of that site, at the same URL, hits so many nails on the head, so concisely, it’s inspiring.) That “insightful, second-tier value meme” perspective naturally comes from one of the fathers of Spiral Dynamics®, himself being another founding member of the Integral Institute.
Of course, I myself am (thankfully) no part of the Integral Naked “intellectual circle jerk” communityled by the “Pee-Wee Herman of consciousness studies”and so can neither directly confirm nor deny the worrisome allegations made by Smith and Peckinpaugh. Beck’s reported response above, though, could certainly be taken as substantiating their concerns. Indeed, any frightened yet devoted disciple, baselessly convinced that he can spot psychological and spiritual pathologies from a mile away, and closing ranks around his spiritual hero(es), could have written a comparably hysterical diatribe with equally minimal provocation.
Beck himself, astonishingly, “made over sixty trips to South Africa, working with those who were dismantling apartheid,” and offering his spiraling, dynamic insights there (Wilber, 2001b). Makes ya wonder.
Further, regarding tolerance for dissent, etc.: Wilber (2004a) claims to be party to “extensive discussions and criticismsat [the accredited Integral University] especiallywhere those who know the kw version of an integral model, definitely criticize it freely, extensively, and cogently.” (Cohen’s What Is Enlightenment? magazine, too, has recently arranged to partner with The Graduate Institute in Connecticut, in an accredited program of studies: www.learn.edu/wie.htm. Disturbing, to say the least.) But recall, kw has equally insisted that any “true sangha”e.g., Da’s or Cohen’s or Trungpa’swould similarly allow for a “critical appraisal of its own teachings.” So one might be justified in doubting the man’s ability to see clearly on that point, particularly in situations where he himself is deeply emotionally involved. How, then, could anyone take him at face value when he claims, with equal confidence, to find free and open criticism in his own community? (Wilber [2004a]writing in all lower case, in an evident over-compensation for Da’s Excessive Use of Capitalizationhas promised to soon be posting “dozens of hours of critical debate” on the forthcoming Integral University websites. We shall see.)
Conversely, Wilber has failed to see even obvious extreme alleged “cultic” behaviors in the communities of other admired sages in which he has participated. Do you imagine, then, that he would be able to recognize the same characteristics in his own surroundings, were he to slip further into functioning as the “cultic hero”? (A pandit can thus function just as well as a spiritual guru can, as numerous psychotherapy and political “cults” have long proved. As Albert Einstein himself expressed  the latter: “One strength of the communist system ... is that it has some of the characteristics of a religion and inspires the emotions of a religion.”)
I actually know of at least two “cult-aware” individuals (not including David Lane) who have personally met with Wilber in recent years. Both tried to get him to understand the dangers involved in the guru-disciple relationship, particularly when it is enacted under “crazy wisdom” or “Rude Boy” scenarios.
The result? Not even a dent in that thick, half-centuried chrome dome.
So it’s not as though Wilber hasn’t been told, in that regard. Rather, there are simply myriad topics where the man just doesn’t get it, no matter how cogently you try to “dialog” with him. I would not personally imagine, then, that the situation could be so different when it comes to kw’s “Theory of Everything” and the Integral Institute itself, in spite of his ardent protests to the contrary. For, he surely will have viewed the aforementioned guru-disciple relationship conversations as being a “dialog,” too, comparable to the purported “free, extensive and cogent” discussions regarding his integral model. And yet, he evidently learned nothing from them, even when he should have been a student, not a confident teacher, to others possessing a far greater understanding of the relevant issues than he himself has ever had.
A “question and answer” session where one person “has all the answers,” is in no way a “dialog.” And yet, judging from the real-life examples which Wilber himself (2004) explicitly gives, he clearly thinks it is. For there, kw does over 80% of the talking, and is never wrong, in patiently explaining to his (fairly silent) conversational partner how the latter has failed to understand his integral notions.
So, to summarize this section: Wilber apparently sees “critical appraisal” where there is none. He has also shown himself to be blind to extreme alleged “cultic” behaviors and abuses, confidently asserting that those do not exist even in situations where others have claimed that they clearly do. (From that blinkered perspective, various communities could only have “become very problematic” at some point after his endorsement of them, rather than being so all along. That is, at the time of his approval, everything must have been “exactly as he claimed.” Just so.) Further, he evidently mistakes the sound of his own voice for a meaningful exchange of ideas with others.
“Dialog” like that, the world does not need more of.
This is not dialog as Plato, Galileo, Berkeley, or Hume used dialog: to put forth opposing viewpoints and criticize them. Wilber is only interested in putting forth his own viewpoint.
Interestingly, Michael Murphy, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Cohen, Richard Baker and Saniel Bonder are all founding members of Wilber’s Integral Institute (2004).
Bonder co-edited Da’s Garbage and the Goddess, and co-wrote the preface for that same book, wherein the evidently believed-by-him claims of “miraculous coronas” and the like are explicitly given. The other co-writer of that text, Terry Patten, is now co-director of Integral University’s Integral Practice Center (Integral, 2005). So presumably it’s just a matter of time until Wilber, too, starts manifesting coronas that aren’t there, with those being “fully confirmed” by the members in good standing of his integral community.
And that collection of “wise men and sages,” with Wilber’s help as their respected and spiritually evolved nondual leader, is going to “save the integral world,” via cogent dialog or otherwise?
God help us.
And yet, to hear Wilber himself (2004) tell it, that same environment is not only the picture of psychological health, but a veritable gathering of independently thinking and academically brilliant individuals:
[T]ake a look at the scholars who are the hosts and cohosts of [Integral University]. Do you really think these people are “yes men”? The only way that criticism will work is if you can demonstrate that hundreds of the finest scholars in the world are obsequious ass kissers. Ah, gimme me [sic] a break.
Again with the ass fixation....
But “finest scholars in the world”? Hundreds of them?
(Granted, there are many names among the nearly two hundred founding members of the Integral Institute and its affiliated Integral University which I do not recognize. Of those which I do, however....)
The spine-lengthening (i.e., Ramakrishna-believing) Murphy? The ayurvedic Chopra? (See Wheeler ; van Biema ; Ross [2005b].) The near-messianic Cohen? The “seduced-by-luscious-blondes,” Disneyland-visiting Baker?
Or, speaking of “fine scholars,” how about Joe Firmage, the software expert and UFO aficionado (Klass ; Phipps ) who first endowed the nonprofit Integral Institute in 1997, to the tune of one million dollars (Integral, 2004)? Or the astral-voyaging, remote-viewing Marilyn Schlitz (Atwood ; Gorski )? Or Larry Dossey, wishful-thinking promoter of faith-based healing and misapplied “quantum nonlocality” in medicine?
Yes, all are founding members of the Integral Institute, whose belief systems relate directly to their participation in that forum. Indeed, all but the software entrepreneur Firmage have their areas of “professional expertise” overlapping significantly with their roles in the integral community.
Or how about Gary Schwartz, the University of Arizona researcher who sincerely believes that the claimed mediums he has tested are talking to the dead? That is, he takes them as genuine psychics rather than as persons who, it has been reasonably suggested, could much more likely simply be doing “twenty questions”-like “cold reading,” or having other sources of bias seep into the results. (See Carroll [2004a], ; Wiseman and O’Keeffe ; Randi , [2001a], [2001b]; and Schwartz , for his response to Randi.)
Also from Schwartz’s (2002) Afterlife Experiments bookwith a foreword by Deepak Chopradetailing the same research:
[What] I affectionately call spirit-assisted medicine ... could also be true. As health care providers become better skilled at communication with the other side, medical practices could be enhanced through guidance and assistance from departed physicians and therapists.
And why not? But wait, there’s (2002) more:
In addition to instructing jurors not to discuss the trial with friends or relatives, will judges [in the future] advise juries not to confer with deceased friends and relatives about the case? Or might they, on the contrary, insist that jurors attempt to communicate and seek advice from the departed?....
A victim’s afterlife testimony could be a critical factor in determining the conviction or acquittal of the defendant....
Doctors in the future will need to seriously entertain the possibility that their patients do not show up for their sessions alone. What if a therapist’s client is bringing along one or more deceased persons to his sessions?
Yes, “What if?” (Is it not frightening to consider that one’s innocence or health could someday be in the hands of people like thesewho make Shirley MacLaine look level-headed by comparisonand their “verified, genuine mediums”?)
Rather more reasonably, the skeptical Dr. Ray Hyman (2003) has given his evaluation of Schwartz’s startlingly poor experimental design and interpretation of data in his testing of alleged mediums:
Probably no other extended program in psychical research deviates so much from accepted norms of scientific methodology as this one does.
“Finest scholars.” Fit and able to “cogently” criticize Wilber’s own “brilliant” workin which they have found precisely none of the absolutely glaring issues cataloged herein.
Schwartz has also done much comparable “living energy,” feedback-related theorizinge.g., (1999) with Russek. That wishful thinking includes facile defenses of crystal healing (see Randi [2001b] for contra), out-of-the-body experiences and homeopathy. (Against homeopathy, see Park ; Stevens ; Jarvis ; and Randi [2001d], [2002a], [2002b], [2003b], [2003c], [2003d].) All of those aspects of “alternative medicine,” however, have failed to show their purported effects in numerous properly controlled studies, in spite of Schwartz’s (1999) “theorizing” as to why they “should” work, e.g., in terms of “systemic memory”:
Water has been around a long time, and water, like everything else, accumulates history to various degrees. Virgin water can be created in the laboratory, and it will not have the history of water that has been around for millions of years. Virgin water, though pure, may be lacking the “soul” of water that has been around a long time. Does the age of water influence the level of life expressed through it? Maybe. It is worth remembering that physical life, as we know it, requires water.
Yes, “worth remembering.” Yet, of Schwartz’s “virgin water” book, Marc Berard (2001), like Hyman after him, opined:
[I]t seems that [Schwartz] is not all that familiar with some of the elementary concepts and practices of proper research, and he shows a shocking lack of understanding about basics outside his field.
“Finest scholars! Hundreds of ‘em! You can’t hardly swing a dead cat for hitting one it’s so ass-kissing academically integral in here, I’m telling you!! Step right up!!! Right inside this tent!!!!”
Anyway, Dr. Schwartz’s level of attention to detail overall seems to rival Wilber’s. Or perhaps my local library and bookstore have simply failed to stock the texts by “Susan Blakemore,” “Houston Smith” and “Fritz Capra,” to which he so approvingly refers.
And how does the professional work of Schwartz and his colleagues relate to Wilber’s, not merely for Schwartz being a founding member of the Institute’s Integral Medicine department, but beyond? Wilber himself (2003) explains:
The major theorists addressed [in my “comprehensive theory of subtle energies”] include Rupert Sheldrake, Michael Murphy, William Tiller ... Deepak Chopra, Hiroshi Motoyama, Marilyn Schlitz, Larry Dossey, and Gary Schwartz, among others. I am a great fan of all of those theorists, and much of this integral theory has been developed over the years in discussion with many of them.
Earlier in that very same “Excerpt G” reference is where Wilber most recently trashes David Bohm for allegedly purveying “simplistic notions” and “epicycles” in his Nobel-caliber reformulation of quantum theory.
For Sheldrake’s work, see Randi (2003a), (2004); also Marks and Colwell (2000), and Robert Baker (2000). William Tillerwho wrote the preface for Itzhak Bentov’s (1977) Stalking the Wild Pendulumfares no better in the skeptical analysis; cf. Randi (2003e). The mystical Bentov himself was instrumental in introducing the spoon-bending Uri Geller to Andreija Puharich, and thus to Russell Targ and Harold Putoffthe “Laurel and Hardy of Psi,” in Randi’s (1982) reckoningback in the ’70s (Sannella, 2001).
Ironically, Wilber’s relatively error-free (1999a) The Marriage of Sense and Soul, on the integration of science and meditation-based religion, received a complimentary review (Minerd, 2000) in Skeptical Inquirer. Indeed, Minerd closed his evaluation with the comment that Wilber’s writing was “refreshingly free of the pontifications, careless generalizations, and self-admiration indulged in by other writers.” (Uh ... that statement may have been true of that one book, but it is certainly not applicable to large chunks of the man’s work before or since then. Indeed, in the “Further Reading” section of even that specific text, Wilber suggests both his  A Brief History of Everything and his  The Eye of Spirit as being worthy of exploration. The former contains his misunderstandings of basic evolution and of the Pythagorean theorem; the latter presents the second of his studied misrepresentations of David Bohm’s work. “Careless” does not begin to describe. And “self-admiration” and “pontification”? Let me count the rosaries!) Minerd also opined that “devotees of Wilber ... would be a group of people that skeptics could, if not quite embrace, at least live alongside very easily.”
Ach, if he only knew. Yet, the likes of Wilber and Schwartz are, in all seriousness, the best that mysticism-influenced consciousness studies has to offer, to argue for its validity. (Amazingly, although Wilber elsewhere completely ignores the skeptical objections to the work of many of his “fine scholars,” he actually quotes approvingly from Martin Gardner, regarding the Anthropic Principle, in his Marriage of Sense and Soul. So, contrary to what one might reasonably assume from the rest of his work, he does at least realize that the skeptical position exists, even if entirely disrespecting it in practice.)
Thankfully, Minerd did note disapprovingly that Wilber “implicitly accepts the reality of mystical experiences, and it is sufficient for him that his scientific mystics test their internal experiences against nothing more than each other’s internal experiences. How this would eliminate group bias or error is not discussed.” I have yet to find that obvious and devastating point addressed by Wilber himself anywhere in his own writings, before or since that review.
For, consider Aurobindo’s or Maharshi’s internal visionary experiences. As we have seen, both of those mystics were community-verified as being “authentic” and, indeed, as being among the very best in the world. (They are Wilber’s “favorites” for a reason, after all.) And yet, in the most reasonable and generous interpretation, and in my own opinion, neither of them could distinguish between their own fantasies and “real” spiritual experiences. Had they, and others like them, been from the same spiritual tradition, those fantasies would surely have largely conformed to what they had been commonly taught they should experience in meditation. That, however, would make them no more real, even though being verified by each other and by the entire community.
Interestingly, comparably flawed arguments as Wilber’s, in favor of the “scientific” nature of meditation-based religion, were put forth by Itzhak Bentov in the 1970s:
I am lucky to have met several people whose [meditative] experiences have been similar to mine, so that I have been able to compare my information with theirs. To my great surprise, our experiences agreed not only in general, but also in many unexpected details. This knowledge appears, therefore, to be consistent and reproducible.
(Wilber  quotes from other published aspects of Bentov’s work. It is therefore likely that he was aware of the earlier  book from which the above quote is drawn. Or, if he wasn’t, as the “foremost theoretician in transpersonal psychology” he certainly should have been.)
Yet, Richard Feynman (1989) more reasonably noted:
[T]he imagination that things are real does not represent true reality. If you see golden globes, or something, several times, and they talk to you during your hallucination and tell you they are another intelligence, it doesn’t mean they’re another intelligence; it just means that you have had this particular hallucination.
Further, a shared delusion, based on a common self-fulfilling expectation of experiencing “talking golden globes” or otherwise, is obviously no more real than is a hallucination confined to a single individual.
Wilber’s vaunted “community verification,” in practice within any closed environment, actually amounts to little more than an appeal to popularity and conformity. For, you can only be a “success” within those walls by seeing what the guru-figure and his “more spiritually advanced” (than you) disciples tell you that you should be glimpsing. Even the external experience of loyal followers seeing “miraculous coronas” and the like, while skeptics were reportedly demoted for not seeing/imagining the same, has proved exactly that.
Sound objective research is not relevant to the true believer. In place of evidence and scientific validity, things are said to work ... by using social pressures to persuade people that they did work; i.e., by gradually interfering with the individual’s ability to evaluate information (Penny, 1993).
If the same purported sages were actually able to prove their claimed abilities to see auras, do verifiable astral remote-viewing or manifest objective coronas, for example, in a properly controlled environment, one might have some basis for confidence in the reality of their other internal experiences, even if those subtler experiences were not otherwise scientifically testable. (There is, after all, no a priori reason why everything should be “scientifically testable,” in the physical laboratory or otherwise, in order to be “real.”) But short of that, Wilber’s hope that any amount of community verification might sort fact from fiction in mystical claims falls flat on its face. For, there are clearly no controls whatsoever in place to guard against meditators simply experiencing what they expect to experience, and then viewing that as a confirmation of the truth of the metaphysical theory previously taught to them.
Without a satisfactory demonstration of the reality of such spiritual experiences, integral “Theories of Everything” might as well be theories of leprechauns, unicorns and Santa Claus. That is, one struggles to find more certain truth-value in them than in, say, L. Ron Hubbard’s “science fiction religion,” or Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Impressive monuments to human imagination, to be sure; but hardly worth devoting a lifetime to creating, much less deserving of being taken seriously as mirrors of “authentic spirituality.” That is so, particularly when the authors of the same wide-ranging integral ideas can be conclusively shown to have misunderstood and misrepresented so many of the established fields on which they base their “cutting edge” theories. Indeed, that would be a huge problem even were it not for the fact that the transpersonal data set, which they are creating their theories to explain, could hardly be more uncertain, i.e., as to which elements of it (if any) are valid, and which are spurious. Thus, even when reasoning clearly from that bad data, they end up effectively producing airtight arguments to prove how many integral angels can dance on the head of a pin, etc.without having first bothered to properly ascertain whether such angels, and their auras and subtle energies, even exist.
The community verification of truth in the hard sciences, too, is far from perfectwitness the decades of deafening silence given to Bohm’s exemplary work, in a “freezing out” which has only recently begun to thaw. But relative to the nonsense which gets passed off as being “real” in terms of spiritual perceptions, there is truly no comparison. Indeed, even if meditation measurably advances one through known stages of psychological development (Wilber , [2000d]; Alexander and Langer ), there is no necessary parapsychological claim to that. Thus, it does nothing to support the idea that mystical experiences are “real.”
In any case, one cannot help but further wonder: Might Wilber’s own student, Mr. Brad Reynolds (2004), also be one of the aforementioned “finest scholars”? Or does he still have too much to learn from “the master”? Whether or not, his hagiographic take on kw’s purported brilliance is nothing if not blatant “randy toady ass kissing.” Yet, the compassionate “incarnation of Manjushri” has surely not seen the latter obvious point on his ownmeaning that he would not likely recognize the same dynamic in any of its more subtle presentations by other potential “yes men.” Nor, evidently, has Wilberthe “Macho, Macho Man of consciousness studies”seen the way in which his own lips have been tightly suctioned onto Da’s and Cohen’s respective posteriors, obviously being unable to think clearly for his own excitement in that compromising position.
Well. Regardless, if I could find all of these documented problems with kw’s work and character in a mere several hundred hours of research, why could “hundreds of the finest scholars in the world” not have done radically better, with their own existing, professional expertise? Why is it that, when it comes to attempted criticisms of Wilber’s work, they consistently “strain at the gnat and swallow the elephant”? Are they unconsciously holding back, as “yes men,” so as to not offend “one of the thousand greatest Zen realizers of all time,” and a “genius” to boot? Or do they really not know any better than to swallow whole “the emperor’s new theories”?
Or is it, perhaps, both?
We have seen far too much tolerance given toward the likes of Da, Cohen and Trungpa, by Wilber and those so unfortunate as to take his foolish ideas on the subject of gurus and disciples seriously. In the face of all that, one begins to suspect that no small amount of the gushing and ejaculating that goes on with regard to “greatest Realizers,” etc., might likely derive from the related hope that, the more one celebrates one’s own heroes, the more others may celebrate you as their hero in the same unquestioning and hyperbolic manner. That is, such behavior would be part of Wilber’s admitted goal of having “everybodyspecifically, Da and his followers, herelove him.”
Yet ironically, such chronic, indiscriminate exaggeration could only have exactly the opposite effect. For, its “crying/praising wolf” nature effectively reduces any merely lukewarm or balanced praise from kw, to the status of a relative insult. It also makes it impossible to know what in his writings deserves to be taken seriously, and what should rather be regarded as mere unfounded hyperbole, not worthy of serious analysis. (His excessively flattering evaluations of female attractiveness suffer from the same problem. And thereby do “7’s” and “8’s” become “10’s” in the Wilberian system of mathematics.)
Wilber’s posting of Reynolds’ (2004) “randy toadying” on the home page of his own website, comparable to his own childish attitude with regard to Adi Da, certainly does nothing to dispel the above “tit for tat” suspicions: “See? This is how you should treat me.”
Or as Kate Strelley (1987) noted after having left Rajneesh’s Poona ashram to be feted as a celebrity at a relatively minor center in England:
[W]hat I really got off on was the fact that I was now being treated in the way I would treat Sheela.
One could substitute the name of any guru-figure or foolish pandit for the one-time respected administrator Sheela in that, and it would apply just as well.
Of course, in any such context, you could not then speak out properly against even the radical shortcomings in your own one-time heroes, as that would then license your followers to do the same to you. That is, the only way to “teach” others how to treat you with proper respect would be to continue to speak publicly with exaggerated regard for the idols. That must continue even long after it was obvious that they were complete screw-ups, and even if one could, when pressed, admit to the latter when safe from the public eye.
In private correspondence with me (and in person), Wilber has admitted that “Da is a fuck-up” (his words, not mine) (Lane, 1996).
Of course, it may also be that Wilber is simply so desperate for his hero Adi Da’s approval, love and attention that he will (publicly) do everything in his power to retain that. But that would be even less flattering than the above explanation, as an explicitly immature, dependent stance.
Still, as Stephen Butterfield (1994) noted:
In the guru/disciple relationship, [the] self-conscious longing for acceptance, regarded as a form of devotion, operates to intimidate the student into deference.
And then, from the deferential Wilber (1998a):
I affirm my own love and devotion to the living Sat-Guru [i.e., Adi Da].... I send ... a deep bow to Master Adi Da.
Wilber himself, interestingly, had elsewhere and earlier (in Anthony, et al., 1987) mocked followers who view their spiritual leader as being a “perfect master”:
[H]ow great the guru is; in fact, how great I must be to be among the chosen. It is an extremely narcissistic position.
Indeed it is, particularly since the difference between “perfect master” and “greatest living Realizer” is hardly wide enough to let slivers of light from, say, a fleeting corona, slip through. That minimal difference, further, is essentially irrelevant in this context. For, one will again obviously feel extremely special for being noticed or chosen (e.g., to write forewords) by any “greatest” Realizer, even if the latter is not “perfect.” “Extremely narcissistic” is thus absolutely right, but for the integral goose as well as for the gander.
People look to gurus as a way to get self acceptance. If they can get acceptance from the guru, then of course they must be okay. The more powerful and magical and mystical the guru is, the more valuable his/her acceptance is. Therefore, the tendency is to elevate the guru to superhuman mythical god-man status (Radzik, 2005).
Another former follower of Da Fuck-Up expressed his own perspective (in Bob, 2000) with comparable insight:
Hell, saying he’s realized at all may be just a way to make myself seem less of a sucker for biting, and to avoid dissing people I respect who are still into him.
Notwithstanding all that, as late as 1998 Wilber was still publicly defending Adi Da, even after having reportedly given the “fuck-up” evaluation in private at least two years earlier. Most likely, what he means is that Da is a “fuck-up” along moral lines or the like, but is still the “greatest living Realizer” along spiritual lines of development. As little chance as there is of the latter idea being true, it would at least partially avoid charges of hypocrisy against Wilber, for saying one thing publicly but another privately.
Of course, that would still not settle the question as to how “surrendering completely,” even in a “mature” way, to an admitted “problematic [i.e., Jonestown-like], damn fool, fuck-up” (kw’s words, all), could possibly be a good idea. And note again that all of those evaluations were given by Wilber himself well prior to his “deep, devotional bow” to the Master, above. Such behaviors could only have a psychological, never merely a “logical,” basis and explanation.
If speaking out against decades of such lingering stupor presented as wisdom requires us to be “rude,” so be it. After all, to do less than that would make us guilty of exhibiting “idiot compassion.” And if there is one thing we do not want to be accused of, it would have to be that. Especially since the alternative is to be allowed to express one’s “Rude Boy” side, for the “benefit of all sentient beings.”
People’s lives and mental health are at stake in all this. “Fucking up” is not an option.
After all that, one is reminded of Sokal and Bricmont’s (1998) observation, in their discussion of the recent, bumbling forays of postmodernists into scientific theorizing and commentary:
[W]hen [alleged] intellectual dishonesty (or gross incompetence) is discovered in one parteven a marginal partof someone’s writings, it is natural to want to examine more critically the rest of his or her work.
Indeed. For, as with issues of responsibility and the like, such characteristics never confine themselves to merely one small part of a person’s life or quasi-professional work, but rather profoundly shape all aspects of it.
I personally am again in no position to give an informed evaluation as to whether Wilber has equally garbled postmodernism, or the various branches of psychology to which he frequently refers and claims to have synthesized into a coherent spectrum, as he has done for other fields.
Another one of the founders of Spiral Dynamics, Christopher Cowan (www.spiraldynamics.org), however, is in such a position, at least with regard to Wilber’s comprehension of SD. And his knowledgeable position is indeed this:
[Wilber’s presentations of Spiral Dynamics] twist the theory and contain glib over-simplifications and biases ... which reflect neither the nuances nor the intent of this theory. There is frequent confusion of values with Value Systems. He also seems to have trouble differentiating the levels of psychological existence from personality traits ... and grossly misunderstands and overplays the “tier” notion....
Much of the material demonstrates a very limited grasp of the underlying theory ... he’s wrong far more often than there’s any excuse for. Thus, the supposed SD foundation on which he builds so many arguments is fundamentally, fatally flawed....
[Wilber] is putting out impressive-sounding junk and nonsense that must be undone if the integrity of the model is to be protected. There’s no excuse for it (Cowan, 2005).
Because Wilber tries to apply but doesn’t actually understand Gravesian theory, he confuses the levels/colors like a novice. He doesn’t know Green from Orange or Yellow. Thus, the elaborate arguments he lays out are constructed on quicksand.... And because he sounds authoritative, newcomers to SD will believe they’re getting a valid overview of Graves/SD from Boomeritis (Cowan, 2002).
We would, though, have expected no less than all that from Wilber. At least, based on what we’ve seen so far. (The man’s simplistic fixation on an imaginary “Mean Green Meme” fares no better in the light of a proper understanding of SD, as Cowan and his associates have pointed out, in his [2005a] and elsewhere.)
The fact that Wilber’s transpersonal and integral “believer” peers have long endorsed his work unfortunately means nothing. For, they have equally failed to take him to task for any of the gross errors documented herein, evidently having been utterly snowed by his imperial presentation.
As one amazon.com reviewer of Wilber’s books then wondered out loud:
People like von Daniken [re: UFOs] and Velikovsky say a lot of things that seem quite plausible to the layman, but scientists with specialized knowledge in the relevant fields treat them as a joke. Is Wilber the philosophical equivalent of such figures?
Interesting questions, all. For, to coin a phrase, “A Wilber’s knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
Significantly, following his (1998) misrepresentations of Bohm’s work, and even while utterly failing to respond to Lane’s (1996) devastating deconstruction of his foibles, Wilber himself expressed the following confident opinion:
Until this [“straw man,” in kw’s case] critique is even vaguely answered, I believe we must consider Bohm’s theory to be refuted.
By parity of argument, then, until Wilber has even vaguely answered this critique....
I have tried to be, in my writing, very critical, very discriminating, very sharp, very intense....
Every now and then you simply get tired of having to prove every sentence you utter. I think I’ve earned the rightafter a dozen booksto simply suggest a world [e.g., in a novel] without having to prove it! (Wilber, in [Visser, 1995]).
If Wilber’s confident misstatement of high-school-level ideas in evolution and geometry were the only problem with his “suggested” worldview, one might charitably overlook that.
If his (and his friends’) provably false insistence that he has never been “believably criticized” for misrepresenting anyone else’s work were the only problem, one might cut the man some slack.
If his gross and consistent “straw man” misrepresentations of the ideas of his primary competitor, the real genius David Bohm, were the only problem....
If his admitted “arrogant asshole” attitude, enforced from a position as an allegedly unparalleled spiritual “genius,” were the only problem....
If his excoriating of New Agers for purportedly narcissistic and regressive/magical beliefs which he himself is every bit as guilty of holding were the only problem....
If his notion that he has been consistently “critical” and “discriminating” in his writings, or the implication that he has “prove[d] every sentence” therein (!), were the only problem....
If his unsupportable belief that he is cleaning up more of a mess than he is making were the only problem....
If his apparent silence in the face of his friends’ alleged protective/suppressive behaviors were the only problem....
If the increasingly fawning view of his followers toward him (and his seeming approval of that) were the only problem....
If his oracular, “personal authority” evaluations of “sages” whom he has never met, on the mere basis of their extant writings, were the only problem....
If his decades-long disregard for the difficulties with the guru-disciple relationship and its associated “problematic” behaviors were the only problem....
If the often-violent imagery in his characterizations of the allegedly positive aspects of reported brutal spiritual discipline at the hands of one or another guru-figure (which he himself has never undergone to any meaningful degree) were the only problem....
If his indefensible endorsements of Adi Da in particular over a two-decade-plus period were the only problem....
Sadly, however, none of those are even close to being the “only problem” with the clothes on the (integral naked) “emperor of consciousness studies.” (The means of gaining increased access to that reclusive but enlightened, great spiritual being, are described at Integral [2004a]. All it costs is a mere $10,000 for your membership in “The President’s Circle.” Join today.) Indeed, those dozen-plus issues cast severe shadows across Wilber’s entire professional work, notable aspects of which would again literally earn him failing grades even at a high school level. If he and his admirers (including the esteemed, and steaming, Dr. Beck) really want to “deal with the Truth no matter what the consequences,” roasting each others’ asses in whatever “Rude Boy” or macho ways, they can start with that.
For, you see, Ken Wilber is not a genius.
Ken Wilber is not a “bodhisattva pandit.”
Ken Wilber is not “the world’s foremost philosopher.”
Ken Wilber is not even a “cogent and penetrating voice.”
Ken Wilber is simply a tall building in a small, prairie towna big, overfed goldfish in a small, isolated bowl; a nasty, condescending, narcissistic ninny bunny in the blight-ridden garden of consciousness studies.
Incidentally, it was only Wilber’s (2003) specific gross misrepresentation of Bohm’s ideas, discovered by me on a July weekend with nothing better to do than poke through his sprawling website, that got me started on looking in detail for other problems with his work. Had he known enough to keep his careless generalizing, self-admiration and pontification to himself on those points, I would never have begun writing the Appendix for this book, and then the present chapter. I would even have let his equal misrepresentations of Bohm’s work in his (1998) Eye of Spirit slide, were it not for his continuing, unprovoked, nasty mistreatment of that late, truly great scientist, and subsequent proud and loud gloating at purportedly having “superior” ideas.
Indeed, when I began going through those online postings, I had already recovered sufficiently from my previous reading of Wilber’s other insulting misrepresentations of Bohm to once again tentatively take him seriously. I did not go into that adversarially, in spite of the fact that Wilber, in the first edition of the above (1998) book, ignorantly dismissed Bohm’s implicate and explicate order-related ideas as being “extremely confused notions.” Proper research, however, easily discloses that, on every point where Bohm and Wilber disagree, it is kw who is “extremely confused,” not Bohm.
There is a lesson in there somewhere. But not an easy one to learn, for the “Icarus of consciousness studies.”
We are all allowed our honest mistakes, after all, without being publicly humiliated for them. But when one stoops to using those very same gross errors as a means of ostensibly proving, from the perspective of alleged genius, that others of far greater intelligence and insight are guilty of incompetence in purveying “simplistic notions” and “bad physics,” while one simultaneously and utterly indefensibly encourages others to follow one’s own “good advice” and “surrender completely” to one or another “holy fool,” something’s gotta give.
For my own part, I have nothing at all against even the most “arrogant assholes” in this worldI am nearly one myself, after allprovided simply that, in behaving as over-the-top know-it-alls, they manage to consistently get it right (cf. Adams, 2004). Indeed, I personally consider humility in the face of pervasive human ignorance to be in no way a good thingalthough humility in the face of truth, and the willingness to retrace one’s steps at any point should they turn out to be misled, is obviously quite another matter.
Likewise, I have nothing but admiration for the real geniuses in this world, who have gotten their prestige honestly. But to get the perks of fame and fortune via misrepresentation, mountainous hyperbole and (alleged) suppression of dissent, within an environment where, if one hopes to fit in, one must see things that aren’t even there (e.g., coronas, unparalleled genius, etc.), is truly pathetic. Yet, still not half as abysmal as the following allegation, posted anonymously on Wilber’s own Integral Naked forum:
[I visited] Ken’s house with a group of students and [was] surprised by his pantomimed masturbation and his laughing but quite frequent requests for blowjobs from the audience.
That’s not an integral philosophy, it’s an adolescent cry for help.
Regardless, who within the integral community of the “Einstein of masturbation” could even refuse to group-laugh at his sad attempts at humor, much less deeply question his “genius” and life’s work, and still remain a member in good standing there? When even a minimally thorough analysis finds not merely superficial, “fixable” errors in that, but rampant, gross misunderstandings and inconsistencies, to the point where one cannot afford to take even the simplest of his claims “on faith”what to do? Who would even want to be a member of such a community, knowing how much is hopelessly wrong with the professional work of even its “brightest lights” and “finest scholars”?
After all that, to go through life as such an arrogant know-it-all as Wilber has been, dangerously fucking up on the simplest things while being completely unaware of his own cluelessness in that regard, and eagerly lapping up the feting which is apparently “no more than his due” ... that is worthy of respect and admiration, nada.
Or, to put it another way: You wanna play “Rude Boy”? Fine: This is how it’s done. (And again, for those admirers of kw who might take offense, feeling that any of this has been too harsh, or finding their own emperor-centered worldview threatened by it: “The greater the offense, the bigger the ego.”) Except that here, in contrast to Wilber’s own bungling “straw man” execution, all that is required in order to cut others down to a very small and inadequate size is to present their detailed and directly quoted work in the harsh light of clearly reasoned and properly researched day.
And, as Wilber’s own innuendo-laced Integral Naked website would surely be the first to note, such size does matter.
Or, to put it another way: Don’t start something that you’re not prepared to finish ... Big Boy.Note further: Wilber’s misrepresentations of basic evolutionary theory were/are executed in a field in which he is actually bachelor-degreed, having taken an undergraduate double major in biology and chemistry (Wilber, 1991). (His brutal and inexcusable mistakes in Bohmian physics, however, appear to be self-taught.) Evidently, then, those gross errors do not arise simply from kw’s subsequent attempts at being a John Stuart Mill-like polymath. For, his training in biochemistry would surely have covered basic Darwinian evolution. And given his talent for messing up confidently on undergraduatenay, high schoollevel ideas, even in such areas where he has received formal training and testing, and done postgraduate work, it is not likely that his equal screw-ups in myriad other “erroneous zones” can be blamed simply on him “trying to know too much.”
And that penchant for confident bumbling, demonstrated equally in guru-related, life-mangling contexts as in relatively ivory-towered ones, is of course the real difficulty with “the Strange Case of Ken Wilber.”
The Cohen-defending Don Beck (2005) charitably finds an “absence of cynicism” in Wilber. What he is really seeing there however, I think, is an utter lack of discrimination and an astonishing inattention to detail on kw’s part. Also, a dangerous immaturity when it comes to guru-related matters. Plus, the documented willingness of Wilber to close his eyes to reality, and conversely “make things up out of thin air” to suit his preferred theses. (Cf. his misrepresentations of basic evolution, of Bohm’s work, and probably of Aurobindo’s ideas as well. Further, while those glaring issues may be “peripheral” to the core of Wilber’s integral work, the same absolutely cannot be said for his misrepresentations of Jung or of Spiral Dynamics. Likewise, the failure of subtle energies and bodies to show themselves in properly conducted tests leaves one with very little to be confident about in the transpersonal levels of Wilber’s objective and interobjective quadrants. That is so, even in the unlikely event that he has accurately represented others’ research, there.)
That foolish combination easily accommodates Wilber’s wish to include (and be loved by) everyoneexcept level-headed skeptics, of which there are precisely none among his founding members. It is true that Dossey, Schwartz and Sheldrake are all advisors/associates of the Skeptical Investigations groupwww.skepticalinvestigations.org. So too is Brian Josephson (see Randi [2003d], [2003f]). And that organization does ostensibly aim to “promote genuine skepticism.” It does not, however, in my opinion, succeed. Not even close. Rather, the consistently weak caliber of argument there is exactly as one would expect from such a team of thinkers.
Correspondingly, Wilber’s integral theories have him willingly “finding room” for nearly every half-baked, inadequately tested, unsubstantiated claim made by his “finest scholars.” (Cf. afterlife experiments, subtle energies, chakras, morphogenic fields, alternative medicine, etc.)
As a quasi-academic pursuit, one’s embracing of the work of Schwartz and Sheldrake, for example, may do no worse than make one a laughingstock. Where the “guru game” and alternative medicine are concerned, however, the same bald lack of even rudimentarily informed skepticism can be, quite literally, fatal. (Somebody get that man a subscription to Skeptical Inquirer. Quick, before it’s too late.)
And unlike so much of Wilber’s work, that’s no exaggeration.
Some of Sai Baba’s or Adi Da’s claimed miracles might (for purposes of argument) have been genuine. Even “astral moon cannibal slaves” could exist in some system of logic or metaphysics, however unlikely that prospect may be.
Likewise, one cannot easily prove that there are no Barbie® dolls on the moon. For, however thoroughly one might have searched and come up empty, there could always be places one has missed, where the dolls and “white crows” might be hiding.
Unlike those issues, however, there is no room for debate or interpretation in the fact that claims about half-wings having “no adaptive value whatsoever,” or that “absolutely nobody” believes the neo-Darwinian explanation of evolution anymore, or that David Bohm’s work is full of “simplistic notions” and “epicycles,” are all stunningly wrong. Further, they are the products of no mere (relatively excusable) hallucination or brain-chemistry imbalance. Rather, they are the evident result of an inexcusable failure to do even minimally adequate research before pontificating all over the brand new carpet.
Correspondingly, as we have seen abundantly by nowand as I myself again discovered only in the process of researching and writing thisWilber’s own work is absurdly overrated. Indeed, it is so in direct proportion to his own inarguable penchant for hyperbole, gross misrepresentation, and embarrassing misunderstandings of high-school-level ideas. And, the people who thus overrate him, and whom he in return considers to be “fine scholars” are, more often than not, seen as nothing of the sort by established coherent thinkers.
(Note: One cannot be rated more highly than as an “Einstein” in one’s field. And it is probably not possible to do worse in any academic pursuit than to get high-school-level ideas wrong, and still have one’s work be published. In the contrast between those two extremes, then, it is quite likely that kw, in his worst moments, is the most overrated person on the face of the Earth. Seriously.)
Wilber clearly considers himself to be an expert on all things spiritualnot to mention (2000a) on music, movies, fashion, interior decorating, art, media, politics, ecology, etc., etc., etc. Much worse, he is, in my opinion, dangerously ignorant about even the most obvious dynamics of the guru-disciple relationship, and of its close cousin, the emperor-subject relationship. If he winds up creating a full-blown personality “cult” around himself, he will surely be the last one to know. That is, if he manages to establish a relatively closed environment, rife with deferential students clearly feeling “how great I must be to be among the integral chosen people” of a great and proud “incarnation” of one or another Buddhist god ... in a community with no tolerance for real skepticism or demand for proof of the woolly claims being made there by the “spiritually advanced” leaders ... and alleged attempts at suppressing information which is uncomplimentary to the higher-ups ... um, where to be able to “take the heat” in getting the crap beaten out of you (verbally) is viewed as a measure of your spiritual worth ... and, um, and an inner circle champing at the bit to discredit even mild critics of the leaders there as being “cowards” or worse....
Shitthey started out with such good intentions, didn’t they? Where did it all go wrong? (By the end of the “Gurus and Prisoners” chapter here, mapping psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s classic prison study to the reported behaviors in ashrams and other relatively closed thought-environments, we will have a fairly thorough answer to that question.)
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