Monday, May 1, 2017

Critiquing the Premise of Ken Wilber's new book The Religion of Tomorrow

Ken Wilber has released a new book titled The Religion of Tomorrow. Here’s a quote from the introduction:
“[G]reat adepts and ancient sages… saw into the core of human beings and discovered… the ultimate Ground of Being, not only of humans but of the entire manifest universe… they saw into the very essence of an ultimate reality that not only anchored all of manifestation but, when discovered… acted to introduce them to their own True Nature, known by many different names, but pointing to the same groundless Ground—Buddha-nature, Brahman, Godhead, Ayn Sof, Allah, Toa, Ati, Great Perfection, the One, Satchitananda, to name but a few… By performing the specific practices and exercises, an individual could… [gain]… a direct introduction to ultimate Reality itself… it was said to be the discovery of the timeless and eternal, spaceless and infinite, Unborn and Undying, Unlimited and Unfettered, the… One and Only, ultimate Reality itself. All in all, they represent one of the great and extraordinary treasures of human history… But they are… becoming less and less influential…. One reason… is that, in the  one or two thousand years since these Great Traditions were first created… a more truly “Integral” spirituality speaks compellingly to [the modern and postmodern] demographic.”
So Ken is making many gigantic assertions. Let’s list them with the obvious questions that are simply ignored by Ken:
  • Past spiritual leaders were great. But how does spiritual discovery indicate greatness? Isn’t this an attempt to manipulate people by glorifying the thing you want to partly promote?
  • They found the ultimate ground of being for the entire manifest universe. But how could you prove that? Where is the evidence? The bigger the claim, the bigger the evidence needs to be.
  • They saw into the essence of ultimate reality and found that their true nature is Brahman, etc. The dictionary defines Brahman as “the ultimate reality underlying all phenomena”, so how can a mere human claim to be that?
  • Spiritual practices lead you to gain ultimate eternal reality. But wouldn’t it be more important to question your motivation for pursuing that grandiose unprovable goal and then to question your assumptions about it?
  • The great traditions are great treasures. Isn’t this just praising the thing you want to partly promote and improve?
  • Ken’s integral spirituality is the next step in this endeavour. Isn’t this self-serving and grandiose? If the ancients found “Godhead”, then why didn’t they know about integral spirituality? Is Godhead’s knowledge limited?

You might say that if you experience these things then you know them to be true. In reply, I would say that you cannot know these things to be true. They might feel intensely true, even revelatory, but that’s not proof.

More importantly, Ken’s overall message is about alleviating our existential angst by searching for God and then developing ourselves further. Instead, I think it’s more important to understand the starting place for such a quest. In other words, what is your essential motivation, assumption, and context? Surely, we need to understand those basics first. Otherwise, we might be building upon a weak foundation. Indeed, I would say that that is precisely what happened and is happening. People seek spiritual revelation, then have spiritual experiences, then form beliefs about oneness or God or whatever, then stay in unsatisfying conflict with others, then seek “integral” development. In this way, everyone stays on the run and chasing some ideal that is never questioned. In short, Ken, like everyone else, avoids the first step and gets trapped at the penultimate step.

Ken has always had a tendency to automatically believe and glorify spiritual realisers. And after so many years in the philosophy game, he has chosen to merely add more to their narratives rather than questioning them.

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