The Spectrum of consciousness: Integral psychology and the Perennial Philosophy

taken from:

The Eye of The Spirit

An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad

Chapter 1: (Shambhala Publications)

By K.W. (e-mail)




This article describes the so called Human Consciousness Project , a "master template" of the various stages, structures, and states of consciousness reflecting the "Perennial Philosophy" of mankind consisting of variations of the world's great wisdom traditions. (compare: "The game of Order"). To the possible corruption of this 'holarchy' the author suggests not getting rid of holarchy per se, but arresting (and integrating) their arrogant 'holons' to overcome the historic and collective derailment in our modern psychology.


     Biological and medical scientists are now in the midst of intensive work on the Human Genome Project, the endeavor to map all of the genes inthe entire sequence of human DNA. This spectacular project promises to revolutionize our ideas of human growth, development, disease, and medical treatment, and its completion will surely mark one of the great advances in human knowledge.

     Not as well known, but arguably more important, is what might be called the Human Consciousness Project, the endeavor, now well under way, to map the entire spectrum of human consciousness (including, as well, realms of the human unconscious). This Human Consciousness Project, involving hundreds of researchers from around the world, includes a series of multidisciplinary, multicultural, multimodal approaches that together promise an exhaustive mapping the entire range of consciousness, the entire sequence of the "genes" of awareness, as it were.

     These various attempts are rapidly converging on a "master template" of the various stages, structures, and states of consciousness available to men and women. By comparing and contrasting various multicultural approaches--from Zen Buddhism to Western psychoanalysis, from Vedanta Hinduism to existential phenomenology, from Tundra Shamanism to altered states--these approaches are rapidly piecing together a master template--a spectrum of consciousness--using the various approaches to fill in any gaps left by the others.

     Although many of the specifics are still being intensively researched, the overall evidence for the existence of this spectrum of consciousness is already so significant as to put it largely beyond serious dispute.

     Moreover, in a rather stunning fashion, it has increasingly become obvious that this overall spectrum is quite consistent with the essential core of the world's great wisdom traditions.

     The "master template" that is emerging from this modern research is therefore able to honor and connect with the essence of the world's wisdom traditions, while simultaneously attempting to update and modernize their insights where appropriate. The goal of the integral approach is thus a judicious blend of ancient wisdom and modern knowledge.

 Let us start with the basics, with those items from the great traditions that seem to have withstood the test of time with flying colors, so much so that they are even making a remarkable comeback in many modern and scientific disciplines.

     And they all hinge on this extraordinary spectrum of consciousness.

 What is the world view that, as A. L. pointed out, "has been the dominant official philosophy of the larger part of civilized humankind through most of its history"? The world view that "the greater number of the subtler speculative minds and of the great religious teachers both East and West have, in their various fashions, been engaged in"? What is the world view that led A. W. to state flatly that "We are hardly aware of the extreme peculiarity of our own position, and find it difficult to realize the plain fact that there has otherwise been a single philosophical consensus of universal extent. It has been held by men and women who report the same insights and teach the same essential doctrine whether living today or six thousand years ago, whether from New Mexico in the Far West or from Japan in the Far East."

     And why is it of interest to integral studies?

     Known as the "perennial philosophy"--"perennial" precisely because it shows up across cultures and across the ages with many similar features--this world view has, indeed, formed the core not only of the world's great wisdom traditions, from Christianity to Buddhism to Taoism, but also of many of the greatest philosophers, scientists, and psychologists of both East and West, North and South. So overwhelmingly widespread is the perennial philosophy--the details of which I will explain in a moment--that it is either the single greatest intellectual error ever to appear in humankind's history--an error so colossally widespread as to literally stagger the mind--or it is the single most accurate reflection of reality yet to appear.

     Central to the perennial philosophy is the notion of the Great Chain of Being. The idea itself is fairly simple. Reality, according to the perennial philosophy, is not one-dimensional; it is not a flatland of uniform substance stretching monotonously before the eye. Rather, reality is composed of several different but continuous dimensions. Manifest reality, that is, consists of different grades or levels, reaching from the lowest and most dense and least conscious to the highest and most subtle and most conscious. At one end of this continuum of being or spectrum of consciousness is what we in the West would call "matter" or the insentient and the nonconscious, and at the other end is "spirit" or "godhead" or the "superconscious" (which is also said to be the all-pervading ground of the entire sequence, as we will see). Arrayed in between are the other dimensions of being arranged according to their individual degrees of reality (P.), actuality (A.), inclusiveness (H.), consciousness (A.), clarity (L.), embrace (P.), or knowingness (G. D.).

     Sometimes the Great Chain is presented as having just three major levels: matter, mind, and spirit. Other versions give five levels: matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit. Still others give very exhaustive breakdowns of the Great Chain; some of the yogic systems give literally dozens of discrete yet continuous dimensions. For the time being, our simple hierarchy of matter to body to mind to soul to spirit will suffice.

     The central claim of the perennial philosophy is that men and women can grow and develop (or evolve) all the way up the hierarchy to Spirit itself, therein to realize a "supreme identity" with Godhead--the ens perfectissimum toward which all growth and evolution yearns.

     But before we get to that, the first thing that we can't help but notice is that the Great Chain is indeed a "hierarchy"--a word that has fallen on very hard times. Originally introduced by the great Christian mystic St. D., it essentially meant "governing one's life by spiritual principles" ("hiero-" means sacred or holy, and "-arch" means governance or rule). But it soon became translated into a political/military power play, where "governance by spirit" came to mean "ruled by the Catholic Church"--a spiritual principle mistranslated into a despotism.

     But as used by the perennial philosophy--and indeed, as used in modern psychology, evolutionary theory, and systems theory--a hierarchy is simply a ranking of orders of events according to their holistic capacity. In any developmental sequence, what is whole at one stage becomes merely a part of a larger whole at the next stage. A letter is part of a whole word, which is part of a whole sentence, which is part of a whole paragraph, and so on. A. K. coined the term "holon" to refer to that which, being a whole in one context, is a part of a wider whole in another. With reference to the phrase "the bark of a dog," for example, the word "bark" is a whole with reference to its individual letters, but a part with reference to the phrase itself. And the whole (or the context) can determine the meaning and function of a part--the meaning of "bark" is different in the phrases "the bark of a dog" and "the bark of a tree." The whole, in other words, is more than the sum of its parts, and that whole can influence and determine, in many cases, the function of its parts.

     Hierarchy, then, is simply an order of increasing holons, representing an increase in wholeness and integrative capacity. This is why hierarchy is so central to systems theory, the theory of wholeness or holism ("wholism"). And it is absolutely central to the perennial philosophy. Each expanding link in the Great Chain of Being represents an increase in unity and wider identities, from the isolated identity of the body through the social and communal identity of the mind to the supreme identity of Spirit, an identity with literally all manifestation. This is why the great hierarchy of being is often drawn as a series of concentric circles or spheres or "nests within nests." As we will see, the Great Chain is actually the Great Nest of Being.

     And finally, hierarchy is asymmetrical (or a "higher"-archy) because the process does not occur in the reverse. For example, there are first letters, then words, then sentences, then paragraphs, but not vice versa. And that not vice versa constitutes an unavoidable hierarchy or ranking or asymmetrical order of increasing wholeness.

     All developmental and evolutionary sequences that we are aware of proceed in large measure by hierarchization, or by orders of increasing holism--molecules to cells to organs to organ systems to organisms to societies of organisms, for example. In cognitive development, we find awareness expanding from simple images, which represent only one thing or event, to symbols and concepts which represent whole groups or classes of things and events, to rules which organize and integrate numerous classes and groups into entire networks. In moral development (in both male and female), we find a reasoning that moves from the isolated subject to a group or tribe of related subjects, to an entire network of groups beyond any isolated element. And so on.

     These hierarchical networks necessarily unfold in a sequential or stage-like fashion, because you first have to have molecules, then cells, then organs, then complex organisms--they don't all burst on the scene simultaneously. In other words, growth generally occurs in stages, and stages, of course, are ranked in both a logical and chronological order. The more holistic patterns appear later in development because they have to await the emergence of the parts that they will then integrate or unify, just as whole sentences emerge only after whole words.

     And some hierarchies do involve a type of control network--the lower levels (which means, less holistic levels) can influence the upper (or more holistic) levels, through what is known as upward causation. But just as important, the higher levels can exert a powerful influence or control on the lower levels--so-called downward causation. For example, when you decide to move your arm, and you do so, all the atoms and molecules and cells in your arm move with it--an instance of downward causation.

     In any developmental or growth sequence, as a more encompassing stage or holon emerges, it includes the capacities and patterns and functions of the previous stage (i.e., of the previous holons), and then adds its own unique (and more encompassing) capacities. In that sense, and that sense only, can the new and more encompassing holon be said to be "higher" or "wider." Whatever the important value of the previous stage, the new stage has all of that plus something extra (more integrative capacity, for example), and that "something extra" means "extra value" relative to the previous (and less encompassing) stage. This crucial definition of a "higher stage" was first introduced in the West by A. and in the East by S. and L.-T.; it has been central to the perennial philosophy ever since.

     Let me give one example. In cognitive and moral development, in both the boy and the girl, the stage of preoperational or preconventional thought is concerned largely with the individual's own point of view ("narcissistic"). The next stage, the operational or conventional stage, still takes account of the individual's own point of view, but adds the capacity to take the view of others into account. Nothing is lost; something is added. And so in this sense it is properly said that this stage is higher or wider, meaning more valuable and useful for a wider range of interactions. Conventional thought is more valuable than preconventional thought in establishing a balanced moral response (and postconventional is even more valuable, and so on). As H. first put it, and as developmentalists have echoed ever since, each stage is adequate and valuable, but each higher stage is more adequate, and, in that sense only, more valuable (which always means, more holistic).

     It is for all these reasons that K., after noting that all complex hierarchies are composed of holons, or increasing orders of wholeness, pointed out that the correct word for "hierarchy" is actually holarchy. He is absolutely right, and so from now on I will refer to hierarchy in general, and the Great Chain--the Great Nest--in particular, as holarchy.

     So that is normal or natural holarchy, the stage-like unfolding of larger networks of increasing wholeness, with the larger or wider wholes being able to exert influence over the lower-order wholes. And as natural, desirable, and unavoidable as that is, you can already start to see how holoarchies might turn pathological. If the higher levels can exert control over the lower levels, they can also over-dominate or even repress and alienate the lower levels. That leads to a whole host of pathological difficulties, in both the individual and society at large.

     It is precisely because the world is arranged holarchically, precisely because it contains fields within fields within fields, that things can go so profoundly wrong, that a disruption or pathology in one field can reverberate throughout an entire system. And the "cure" for this pathology, in all cases, is the essentially the same: rooting out the pathological holons so the holarchy itself can return to harmony. The cure does not consist, as the reductionists maintain, in getting rid of holarchy per se, since, even if that were possible, it would simply result in a uniform, one-dimensional flatland of no value distinctions at all (which is why those critics who toss out hierarchy in general immediately replace it with a new scale of values of their own, i.e., with their own particular hierarchy).

     Rather, the "cure" of any diseased system consists in rooting out any holons that have usurped their position in the overall system by abusing their power of upward or downward causation. This is exactly the "cure" we see at work in psychoanalysis (shadow holons refuse integration), democratic social revolutions (monarchical or fascist holons oppress the body politic), medical science interventions (cancerous holons invade a benign system), critical social theory (opaque ideology usurps open communication), radical feminist critiques (patriarchal holons dominate the public sphere), and so on. 2.

     As I said, all of the world's great wisdom traditions are basically variations of the perennial philosophy, of the Great Holarchy of Being. In his wonderful book Forgotten Truth, H. S. summarizes the world's major religions in one phrase: "a hierarchy of being and knowing." C. T. R. pointed out, in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, that the essential and background idea pervading all of the philosophies of the East, from India to Tibet to China, lying behind everything from Shintoism to Taoism, is "a hierarchy of earth, human, heaven," which he also pointed out is equivalent to "body, mind, spirit." And C. noted that the world's great religions, bar none, "in their different degrees represent a hierarchy of types or levels of consciousness extending from animal to deity, and according to which one and the same individual may function on different occasions."

     Which brings us to the most notorious paradox in the perennial philosophy. We have seen that the wisdom traditions subscribe to the notion that reality manifests in levels or dimensions, with each higher dimension being more inclusive and therefore "closer" to the absolute totality of Godhead or Spirit. In this sense, Spirit is the summit of being, the highest rung on the ladder of evolution. But it is also true that Spirit is the wood out of which the entire ladder and all its rungs are made. Spirit is the suchness, the isness, the essence of each and every thing that exists.

     The first aspect, the highest-rung aspect, is the transcendental nature of Spirit--it far surpasses any "worldly" or creaturely or finite things. The entire earth (or even universe) could be destroyed, and Spirit would remain. The second aspect, the wood aspect, is the immanent nature of Spirit--Spirit is equally and totally present in all manifest things and events, in nature, in culture, in heaven and on earth, with no partiality. From this angle, no phenomenon whatsoever is closer to Spirit than another, for all are equally "made of" Spirit. Thus, Spirit is both the highest goal of all development and evolution, and the ground of the entire sequence, as present fully at the beginning as at the end. Spirit is prior to this world, but not other to this world.

     Failure to take both of those paradoxical aspects of Spirit into account has historically led to some very lopsided (and politically dangerous) views of Spirit. Traditionally, the patriarchal religions have tended to over-emphasize the transcendental nature of Spirit, thus condemning earth, nature, body, and woman to an inferior status. Prior to that, the matriarchal religions tended to emphasize the immanent nature of Spirit alone, and the resultant pantheistic worldview equated the finite and created Earth with the infinite and uncreated Spirit. You are free to identify with a finite and limited Earth; you are not free to call it the infinite and unlimited.

     Both matriarchal and patriarchal religions, both of these lopsided views of Spirit, have had rather horrible historical consequences, from brutal and large-scale human sacrifice for the fertility of the earth Goddess to wholesale war for God the Father. But in the very midst of these outward distortions, the perennial philosophy (the esoteric or inner core of the wisdom religions) has always avoided any of those dualities--Heaven or Earth, masculine or feminine, infinite or finite, ascetic or celebratory--and centered instead on their union or integration ("nondualism"). And indeed, this union of Heaven and Earth, masculine and feminine, infinite and finite, ascending and descending, wisdom and compassion, was made explicit in the "tantric" teachings of the various wisdom traditions, from Neoplatonism in the West to Vajrayana in the East. And it is this nondual core of the wisdom traditions to which the term "perennial philosophy" most applies.

     The point, then, is that if we are to try to think of Spirit in mental terms (which necessarily involves some difficulties), then at least we should remember this transcendent/immanent paradox. Paradox is simply the way nonduality looks to the mental level. Spirit itself is not paradoxical; strictly speaking, it is not characterizable at all.

     This applies doubly to hierarchy (holarchy). We have said that when transcendental Spirit manifests itself, it does so in stages or levels--the Great Holarchy of Being. But I'm not saying Spirit or reality itself is hierarchical. Absolute Spirit or reality is not hierarchical. It is not qualifiable at all in mental terms (lower-holon terms)--it is shunyata, or nirguna, or apophatic--unqualifiable, without a trace of specific and limiting characteristics at all. But it manifests itself in steps, in layers, dimensions, sheaths, levels, or grades--whatever term one prefers--and that is holarchy. In Vedanta these are the koshas, the sheaths or layers covering Brahman; in Buddhism, these are the eight vijnanas, the eight levels of awareness, each of which is a stepped-down or more restricted version of its senior dimension; in Kabbalah these are the sefiroth, and so on.

     The whole point is that these are levels of the manifest world, of maya. When maya is not recognized as the play of the Divine, then it is nothing but illusion. Hierarchy is illusion. There are levels of illusion, not levels of reality. But according to the traditions, it is exactly (and only) by understanding the hierarchical nature of samsara that we can in fact climb out of it, a ladder discarded only after having served its extraordinary purpose.

     We can look now at some of the actual levels or spheres of the holarchy, of the Great Nest of Being, as it appears in the three largest wisdom traditions: Judaeo-Christian-Muslim, Buddhism, and Hinduism, although any mature tradition will do.

     (Let me remind you that these are the levels in the Upper Left quadrant, the levels in the spectrum of consciousness itself. We will, in the following chapters, see how this spectrum plays itself out in the other quadrants as well, cultural and social and behavioral--from anthropology to philosophy to art and literature. But for now we are concentrating on the spectrum of consciousness as it appears in the individual human being, the Upper Left quadrant.)

     The Christian terms are the easiest, because most of us are familiar with them: matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit. Matter means the physical universe as it appears in our own physical bodies (e.g., those aspects of our existence covered by the laws of physics); and whatever else we might mean by the word "matter," it means in this case the dimension with the least amount of consciousness (some would say no consciousness, and you can take your pick). Body in this case means the emotional body, the "animal" body, sex, hunger, vital life force, and so on (e.g., those aspects of existence studied by biology). Mind is the rational, reasoning, linguistic, and imaginative mind (studied by psychology). Soul is the higher or subtle mind, the archetypal mind, the intuitive mind, and the essence or the indestructibleness of our own being (studied by theology). And spirit is the transcendental summit of our being, our Godhead (studied by contemplative mysticism).

     According to Vedanta Hinduism, the individual person is composed of five "sheaths" or levels or spheres of being (the koshas), often compared to an onion, so that as we peel away the outer layers we find more and more the essence. The lowest (or most outer) is called the annamayakosha, which means "the sheath made of food." This is the physical sphere. Next is the pranamayakosha, the sheath made of prana. "Prana" means vital force, bioenergy, elan vital, libido, emotional-sexual energy in general--the sphere of the emotional body (as we are using the term). Next is the manomayakosha, the sheath of manas or mind--rational, abstract, linguistic. Beyond this is the vijnanamayakosha, the sheath of intuition, the higher mind, the subtle mind. Finally there is the anandamayakosha, the sheath made of ananda, or spiritual and transcendental bliss.

     Further--and this is important--Vedanta groups these five sheaths into three major realms: gross, subtle, and causal. The gross realm is correlated with the lowest level in the holarchy, the physical body (annamayakosha). The subtle realm is correlated with the three intermediate levels: the emotional-sexual body (pranamayakosha), the mind (manomayakosha), and the higher or subtle mind (vijnanamayakosha). And the causal is correlated with the highest level, the anandamayakosha, or archetypal spirit, which is also sometimes said to be largely unmanifest, or formless. Further, Vedanta relates these three major realms of being with the three major states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and deep dreamless sleep. Beyond all three of these states is absolute Spirit, sometimes called turiya, "the fourth," because it is beyond (and includes) the three states of manifestation; it is beyond (and thus integrates) gross, subtle, and causal.

     So the Vedanta version of five sheaths is almost identical to the Judaeo/Christian/Muslim version of matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit, as long as we understand "soul" to mean, not just a higher self or higher identity, but higher or subtler mind and cognition. And soul also has the meaning, in all the higher mystical traditions, of being a "knot" or "contraction" (what the Hindus and Buddhists call the ahamkara), which has to be untied and dissolved before the soul can transcend itself, die to itself, and thus find a supreme identity with and as absolute Spirit (as Christ said, "He cannot be a true disciple who hateth not his own soul").

     So "soul" is both the highest level of individual growth we can achieve, and also the final barrier, the final knot, to complete enlightenment or supreme identity, simply because as transcendental witness it stands back from everything it witnesses. Once we push through the witness position, then the soul or witness itself dissolves and there is only the play of nondual awareness, awareness that does not look at objects but is completely one with all objects (Zen says "it is like tasting the sky"). The gap between subject and object collapses, the soul is transcended or dissolved, and pure spiritual or nondual awareness--which is very simple, very obvious, very clear--arises. You realize that your intrinsic being is vast and open, empty and clear, and everything arising anywhere is arising within you, as intrinsic spirit, spontaneously.

     The central psychological model of Mahayana Buddhism is the eight vijnanas, the eight levels of consciousness. The first five are the five senses. The next is the manovijnana, the mind that operates on sensory experience. Then there is manas, which means both higher mind and the center of the illusion of the separate-self. It is the manas that looks at the alayavijnana (the next higher level, that of supraindividual consciousness) and mistakes it for a separate-self or substantial soul, as we have defined it. And beyond these eight levels, as both their source and ground, is the pure alaya or pure empty Spirit.

     I don't mean to minimize some of the very real differences between these traditions. I'm simply pointing out that they share certain deep structure similarities, which testifies eloquently to the genuinely universal nature of many of their insights.

     And so we can end on a happy note: After being temporarily derailed in the 19th century by a variety of materialistic reductionisms (from scientific materialism to behaviorism to positivism), the Great Chain of Being, the Great Holarchy of Being, is making a stunning comeback. That temporary derailment--an attempt to reduce the holarchy of being to its lowest level, matter--was particularly galling in psychology, which first lost its spirit, then lost its soul, then lost its mind, and was reduced to studying only empirical behavior or bodily drives, a restriction that at any other time or place would be considered a precise definition of insanity.

     But now evolutionary holarchy--the holistic study of the development and self-organization of fields within fields within fields--is once again a dominant theme in many scientific and behavioral disciplines (as we will see), though it goes by many names (A.'s "entelechy," to give only one example, is now known as "morphogenetic fields" and "self-organizing systems"). This is not to say that the modern versions of the Great Holarchy and its self-organizing principles offer no new insights, for they do, particularly when it comes to the actual evolutionary unfolding of the Great Chain itself. Each glimpse of the Great Holarchy is adequate; each advancing glimpse is more adequate. . . .

 But the essentials are unmistakable. L. v. B., the founder of General System Theory, summarized it perfectly: "Reality, in the modern conception, appears as a tremendous hierarchical order of organized entities, leading, in a superposition of many levels, from physical and chemical to biological and sociological systems. Such hierarchical structure and combination into systems of ever higher order, is characteristic of reality as a whole and of fundamental importance especially in biology, psychology and sociology."

     Thus, for example, in modern psychology, holarchy is the dominant structural and process paradigm, cutting across the actual (and often quite different) content of the various schools. Every school of developmental psychology acknowledges some version of hierarchy, or a series of discrete (but continuous), irreversible stages of growth and unfolding. This includes the Freudians, the Jungians, the Piagetians, L. K., C. G., and the cognitive behaviorists. M, representing both humanistic and transpersonal psychology, put the "hierarchy of needs" at the center of his system--to mention only a few.

     From R. S. and his "nested hierarchy of morphogenetic fields" to S. K. P.'s "hierarchy of emergent qualities" to B. and C.'s "ecological model of reality" based on "hierarchical value"; from F. V.'s groundbreaking work on autopoietic systems ("it seems to be a general reflection of the richness of natural systems to produce a hierarchy of levels") to the brain research of R. S. and Sir J. E. and W. P. ("a hierarchy of nonreducible emergents") to the social critical theory of J. H. ("a hierarchy of communicative competence")--the Great Chain is back.

     And the only reason everybody doesn't realize this is that it is hiding out under a variety of different names.

     But no matter; realized or not it is already well under way. And the truly wonderful thing about this homecoming is that modern theory can now reconnect with its rich roots in the perennial philosophy, reconnect with not only P. and A. and P. and M. and S. and H. and T. in the West, but also with S. and P. and C. and F. and A. and L. T. in the East--all made possible by the fact that many aspects of the perennial philosophy do indeed seem to be perennial--or essentially universal wherever they appear--thus cutting across times and cultures alike to point to the heart and soul and spirit of the family of humankind (indeed, all sentient beings as such).

     There is, really, only one major thing left to be done, one fundamental item on the homecoming agenda. While it is true, as I said, that one of the unifying paradigms in modern thought, from physics to biology to psychology to sociology, is evolutionary holarchy (see, for example, L., J., H., L., D.), nonetheless most orthodox schools of inquiry admit the existence only of matter, body, and mind.2 The higher dimensions of soul and spirit are not yet accorded quite the same status. We might say that the modern West has still only acknowledged three fifths of the Great Holarchy of Being. The agenda, very simply, is to reintroduce the other two fifths (soul and spirit).

     Once we recognize and honor all the levels and dimensions of the Great Chain, we simultaneously acknowledge all the corresponding modes of knowing--not just the eye of flesh, which discloses the physical and sensory world, or just the eye of mind, which discloses the linguistic and symbolic world, but also the eye of contemplation, which discloses the soul and spirit. (We will return to this important topic in chapter 3.)

     And so there is the agenda: Let us take the last step and reintroduce the eye of contemplation, which, as a scientific and repeatable methodology, discloses soul and spirit. And that integral vision is, I submit, the final homecoming, the reweaving of our modern soul with the soul of humanity itself--the true meaning of multiculturalism--so that, standing on the shoulders of giants, we transcend but include, which always means honor, their ever-recurring presence. Uniting ancient wisdom with modern knowledge is thus the clarion call of the integral vision, a beacon in the postmodern wilderness.

     An acknowledgment of the full spectrum of consciousness would alter the course of every one of the modern disciplines it touches--and that, of course, is an essential aspect of integral studies.

     But indeed the first and most immediate impact would be on the field of psychology itself. I have explored this full-spectrum psychology in a number of books (including The Spectrum of Consciousness, No Boundary, The Atman Project, Transformations of Consciousness, and A Brief History of Everything).

     These books present a view of human development that attempts to incorporate the entire spectrum of consciousness, from instinct to ego to spirit, from prepersonal to personal to transpersonal, from subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious. If nothing animal, human, or divine is alien to me, then no state of consciousness can be dismissed from the generous embrace of a truly integral psychology. In the Preface to the new edition of The Atman Project, I try to suggest why such an integral and inclusive stance is so important.

     The Atman Project was, as far as we can tell, the first psychology that suggested a way of uniting East and West, conventional and contemplative, orthodox and mystical, into a single, coherent, and plausible framework. In so doing, it incorporated a good number of approaches, from F. to B., Gestalt to S., P. to Y., K. to K..

 I began writing The Atman Project in 1976, along with its sister volume, Up from Eden--one covering ontogeny, the other phylogeny. In the almost two decades since writing Atman, I have found its basic framework to be as sturdy and solid as ever, and thus I believe that its general tenets, with a little fine tuning here and there, will continue to be valid for a long and fruitful time.

     A few critics complained that I had simply used various sources in a literary fashion, that my approach wasn't based on clinical or experimental evidence. But this is perhaps a bit disingenuous: the vast majority of theorists that I relied on were exactly those who had pioneered direct clinical and experimental evidence, from J. P.'s method clinique to M. M.r's exhaustive videotaped observations to L. K.'s and C. G.'s groundbreaking moral investigations--not to mention the vast phenomenological evidence presented by the contemplative traditions themselves. The Atman Project was directly based on the evidence of over sixty researchers from numerous approaches, and hundreds of others in an informal way.

     (We will return to, and carefully explore, this integral psychology in chapters 6, 9, 10, and 11.)

     The Atman Project also ended my flirtation with Romanticism and its attempt to make regression into a source of salvation. I had in fact begun to write both Atman and Eden as a validation of the Romantic view: men and women start out in an unconscious union with the Divine--an unreflexive immersion in a type of Heaven on Earth, a paradisiacal Eden, both ontogenetically and phylogenetically; then they break away from that union, through a process of alienation and dissociation (the isolated and divisive ego); then return to the Divine in a conscious and glorious union.

     Human development thus proceeds, so to speak, from unconscious Heaven to conscious Hell to conscious Heaven. I started writing both books to validate that Romantic notion.

     But the more I worked on the books, the more it became obvious that the Romantic view was hopelessly muddled. It combined one or two very important truths with some outrageous confusions, and the result was a theoretical nightmare. Untangling this monstrous mess was a constant preoccupation with me for several years--almost a decade, actually--and marked one of the most turbulent theoretic times of my life. The reason that I have authored so many essays about fallacies--such as the pre/trans fallacy and the single boundary fallacy--is that the Romantics committed many of them, and I, being a good Romantic, had committed them royally; and thus understanding these fallacies from the inside, up close and very personal, I could write some very strong criticisms of them. You are never so vicious toward a theory as toward one that you yourself recently embraced.

     But the crucial error of the Romantic view is fairly easy to understand. Take childhood, for example. The Romantic view, as we said, is that the infant starts out in state of unconscious Heaven. That is, because the infant self isn't yet differentiated from the environment around it (or from the mother), the infant self is actually one with the dynamic Ground of Being--but in an unconscious (or "un-self-conscious") fashion. Thus, unconscious Heaven--blissful, wonderful, mystical, the paradisiacal state out of which it will soon fall, and to which it will always long to return.

     And indeed, the Romantic view continues, sometime in the first few years of life, the self differentiates from the environment, the union with the dynamic Ground is lost, subject and object are separated, and the self moves from unconscious Heaven into conscious Hell--the world of egoic alienation, repression, terror, tragedy.

     But, the happy account continues, the self can make a type of U-turn in development, sweep back to the prior infantile union state, re-unite with the great Ground of Being, only now in a fully conscious and self-actualized way, and thus find conscious Heaven.

     Hence, the overall Romantic view: one starts out in unconscious Heaven, an unconscious union with the Divine; one then loses this unconscious union, and thus plunges into conscious Hell; one can then regain the Divine union, but now in a higher and conscious fashion.

     The only problem with that view is that the first step--the loss of the unconscious union with the Divine--is an absolute impossibility. All things are one with the Divine Ground--it is, after all, the Ground of all being! To lose oneness with that Ground is to cease to exist.

     Follow it closely: there are only two general stances you can have in relation to the Divine Ground: since all things are one with Ground, you can either be aware of that oneness, or you can be unaware of that oneness. That is, you can be conscious or unconscious of your union with the Divine Ground: those are the only two choices you have.

     And since the Romantic view is that you start out, as an infant, in an unconscious union with Ground, you cannot then lose that union! You have already lost consciousness of the union; you cannot then further lose the union itself or you would cease to be! So if you are unconscious of your union, it can't get any worse, ontologically speaking. That is already the pits of alienation. You are already living in Hell, as it were; you are already immersed in samsara, only you don't realize it--you haven't the awareness to recognize this burning fact. And so that is more the actual state of the infantile self: unconscious Hell.

     What does start to happen, however, is that you begin to wake up to the alienated world in and around you. You go from unconscious Hell to conscious Hell, and being conscious of Hell, of samsara, of lacerating existence, is what makes growing up--and being an adult--such a nightmare of misery and alienation. The infant self is relatively peaceful, not because it is living in Heaven, but because it isn't aware enough to register the flames of Hell all around it. The infant is most definitely immersed in samsara, it just doesn't know it, it isn't aware enough to realize it, and enlightenment is certainly not a return to this infantile state! Or a "mature version" of this state! Neither the infant self nor my dog writhes in guilt and angst and agony, but enlightenment does not consist in recapturing dog-consciousness (or a "mature form" of dog-consciousness!).

     As the infant self grows in awareness and consciousness, it slowly becomes aware of the intrinsic pain of existence, the torment inherent in samsara, the mechanism of madness coiled inherently in the manifest world: it begins to suffer. It is introduced to the first Noble Truth, a jolting initiation into the world of perception, whose sole mathematics is the torture-inducing fire of unquenched and unquenchable desire. This is not a desire-ridden world that was lacking in the infant's previous "wonderful" immersion state, but simply a world that dominated that state unconsciously, a world which the self now slowly, painfully, tragically becomes aware of.

    And so, as the self grows in awareness, it moves from unconscious Hell to conscious Hell, and there it may spend its entire life, seeking above all else the numbing consolations that will blunt its raw and ragged feelings, blur its etchings of despair. Its life becomes a map of morphine, and folding itself into the anesthetic glow of all its compensations, it might even manage to convince itself, at least for an endearing blush of rose-tinted time, that the dualistic world is an altogether pretty thing.

     But alternatively, the self might continue its growth and development into the genuinely spiritual domains: transcending the separate-self sense, it uncoils in the very Divine. The union with the Divine--a union or oneness that had been present but unconscious since the start--now flares forth in consciousness in a brilliant burst of illumination and a shock of the unspeakably ordinary: it realizes its Supreme Identity with Spirit itself, announced, perhaps, in nothing more than the cool breeze of a bright spring day, this outrageously obvious affair.

     And thus the actual course of human ontogeny: from unconscious Hell to conscious Hell to conscious Heaven. At no point does the self lose its union with the Ground, or it would utterly cease to be! In other words, the Romantic agenda is right about the second and third steps (the conscious Hell and the conscious Heaven), but utterly confused about the infantile state itself, which is not unconscious Heaven but unconscious Hell.

     Thus, the infantile state is not unconscious transpersonal, it is basically prepersonal. It is not trans-rational, it is pre-rational. It is not trans-verbal, it is pre-verbal. It is not trans-egoic, it is pre-egoic.3 And the course of human development--and evolution at large--is from subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious; from prepersonal to personal to transpersonal; from under-mental to mental to over-mental; from pre-temporal to temporal to trans-temporal, by any other name: eternal.

     The Romantics had simply confused pre with trans, and thus elevated the pre states to the glory of the trans (just as the reductionists would dismiss the trans states by claiming they were regression to pre states). These two confusions--the elevationist and the reductionist--are the two main forms of the pre/trans fallacy, which was first outlined and identified in the following pages. And the crucial point was that development is not regression in service of ego, but evolution in transcendence of ego.

     And thus ended my Romantic fascination.

     Now, there is indeed a falling away from Godhead, from Spirit, from the primordial Ground, and this is the truth the Romantics are trying to get at, before they slip into their pre/trans fallacies. This falling away is called involution, the movement whereby all things fall away from a consciousness of their union with the Divine, and thus imagine themselves to be separate and isolated monads, alienated and alienating. And once involution has occurred--and Spirit becomes unconsciously involved in the lower and lowest forms of its own manifestation--then evolution can occur: Spirit unfolds in a great spectrum of consciousness, from the Big Bang to matter to sensation to perception to impulse to image to symbol to concept to reason to psychic to subtle to causal occasions, on the way to its own shocking self-recognition, Spirit's own self-realization and self-resurrection. And in each of those stages--from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit--evolution becomes more and more conscious, more and more are, more and more realized, more and more awake--with all the joys, and all the terrors, inherently involved in that dialectic of awakening.

     At each stage of this process of Spirit's return to itself, we--you and I--nonetheless remember, perhaps vaguely, perhaps intensely, that we were once consciously one with the very Divine itself. It is there, this memory trace, in the back of our awareness, pulling and pushing us to realize, to awaken, to remember who and what we always already are.

     In fact, all things, we might surmise, intuit to one degree or another that their very Ground is Spirit itself. All things are driven, urged, pushed and pulled to manifest this realization. And yet, prior to that divine awakening, all things seek Spirit in a way that actually prevents the realization: or else we would be realized right now! We seek Spirit in ways that prevent it.

     We seek for Spirit in the world of time; but Spirit is timeless, and cannot there be found. We seek for Spirit in the world of space; but Spirit is spaceless, and cannot there be found. We seek for Spirit in this or that object, shiny and alluring and full of fame or fortune; but Spirit is not an object, and it cannot be seen or grasped in the world of commodities and commotion.

     In other words, we are seeking for Spirit in ways that prevent its realization, and force us to settle for substitute gratifications, which propel us through, and lock us into, the wretched world of time and terror, space and death, sin and separation, loneliness and consolation.

     And that is the Atman project.

     The Atman project: the attempt to find Spirit in ways that prevent it and force substitute gratifications. And, as you will see in the following pages, the entire structure of the manifest universe is driven by the Atman project, a project that continues until we--until you and I--awaken to the Spirit whose substitutes we seek in the world of space and time and grasping and despair. The nightmare of history is the nightmare of the Atman project, the fruitless search in time for that which is finally timeless, a search that inherently generates terror and torment, a self ravaged by repression, paralyzed by guilt, beset with the frost and fever of wretched alienation--a torture that is only undone in the radiant Heart when the great search itself uncoils, when the self-contraction relaxes its attempt to find God, real or substitute: the movement in time is undone by the great Unborn, the great Uncreate, the great Emptiness in the Heart of the Kosmos itself.

     And so, as you read this book, try to remember: remember the great event when you breathed out and created this entire Kosmos; remember the great emptying when you threw yourself out as the entire World, just to see what would happen. Remember the forms and forces through which you have traveled thus far: from galaxies to planets, to verdant plants reaching upward for the sun, to animals stalking day and night, restless with their weary search, through primal men and women, yearning for the light, to the very person now holding this book: remember who and what you have been, what you have done, what you have seen, who you actually are in all those guises, the masks of the God and the Goddess, the masks of your own Original Face.

     Let the great search wind down; let the self-contraction uncoil in the immediateness of present awareness; let the entire Kosmos rush into your being, since you are its very Ground; and then you will remember that the Atman project never occurred, and you have never moved, and it is all exactly as it should be, when the robin sings on a glorious morning, and rain drops beat on the temple roof.

Copyright 1996, 1997, Shambhala Publications


Postscript of The Order of Time:

Althought this article, contrary to the purpose of The Order of time, presents spirituality as an alienation from time: 'the timeless spirit and the timeless soul that must dissolve in the alaya spirit of emptiness for liberation', still the contents are valued as they present a structural time-bound view on the history of the West with its reductionism as coming to an integrative grip with the Perennial Philosophy. It is also important because of its interest in levels of attainment, which is also in accord with The Order. Of course holism and selfrealization do incorporate the dualities of time and matter as well as the absoluteness of soul and spirit. Of course the scientific method is also holistic. (see On the Method by R.D.) Or as P. pointed out in the Yoga Sutra's: at last of the succession of moments one clearly sees the order (the order of time; the spiritual soul). The warning to the 'floating, mystic and vague' timeless spirituality propagated in this article is not to submit to a (romantic as K.W. says himself ) escapist fallacy but to arrive at the liberated state of service to the cause and order of a filognosy of oneness in diversity (specified dualism).

T.H.E. Servant




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