09/17 – Searching for an Integral Vision: Light Bearers, Freedom Fighters and Prisoners in Premodern, Modern and Postmodern Times

Gerard Bruitzman

Gerard Bruitzman

Gerard Bruitzman

Gerard Bruitzman

God became man so that man might become God.
– Saint Athanasius, Saint Augustine, Saint Cyril of
Alexandria, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and many
others (W Perry, 2008, p. 23)

You see yourself as the drop in the ocean, but you are also the ocean in the drop.
– Rumi (online)

I have lived for nearly sixty years now. I remember the Roman Catholic Church in my early childhood before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was, I believed, an actual sacred participation in the Divine Death and Resurrection of the Eternal Christ that had and continues to have momentous significance for the quality and destiny of each and every human soul. I remember my education in Catholic schools, which didn’t make much sense at all, with religion degenerating from open-hearted love for all creatures in God’s creation into the blind alleys of sectarian loyalty, with morality deteriorating from loving service to all beings into rigid systems of blind obedience often reinforced by cruel psycho-physical abuse and indifferent socio-ecological neglect, with science teaching evolution by natural selection regardless of any non-material factors instead of universal cosmogenesis through acts of creative love, and with tribal members of a religion or a science attacking each other and their own dissenters with as much hell as they could unleash either inside or, far too often, outside of the law. I remember my days of naïve idealism at university, when I believed our environment was going to be renewed, social justice was going to be delivered, world peace was going to be achieved, and our planet was going to become a better place for all of us and future generations, despite the considerable evidence for multiple escalating crises in our global civilization. During my journey, I have accumulated my share of biological, psychological, social and cultural (bio-psycho-socio-cultural) hits with some resultant traumas ranging in degrees of significance from surgical removal of my large intestine after decades of bowel disease to frequent periods of socio-cultural isolation at home, school, work and play, due in part to my constant wrestling with my life’s koan—who or what is true?—given to me at Kimba in South Australia, while hitchhiking from Melbourne across the Nullarbor Plain to Perth in 1975, to long periods of immobilizing depression because much of life did not make much coherent sense. Now I’m in the gradual process of coming out of another unsure period of great confusion with this current reading of our human condition that I would like to share with you, if you are interested. I hope you find this discussion useful.

In our discussion, we will locate various groups of prisoners, who accept the status quo, freedom fighters, who want to change the status quo, and light bearers, who contemplate the present dance of light and shade, within premodern, modern and postmodern times respectively. We will do this in the context of an integrative reading of three major considerations: 1) the three eyes of knowing (the eyes of body, mind and heart) that are present in the perennial philosophy, 2) the human knowledge quest in premodern, modern and postmodern times respectively, and 3) the levels of human development through childhood and adulthood towards more inclusive wisdom and heart-centered compassion. In some moments of our discussion, we will connect with the views of Huston Smith, an eminent philosopher of religion and well-versed teacher in the world’s enduring wisdom traditions and for many years a beloved friend of Ken Wilber (Wilber, 2000, p. 300), who said in a candid interview with Samuel Bendeck Sotillos (2013) in Psychology and the Perennial Philosophy, “With regards to Ken Wilber I just disagree with him; this may be close-minded of me but with all due respect to him, I do not think he has the substance to stand up and critique the perennial philosophy” (p. 89). We mention here that, if you are surprised by Smith’s strong opinion, you may need to pause for yourself and start to wonder about the factors that are contributing to the significant variances in Smith’s, Wilber’s, and other integral worldviews that are currently available. Before we proceed into this tentative attempt to provide a provisional integral vision of our global humanity through a comparative discussion of premodern, modern and postmodern times, which includes a brief inquiry into some selected issues in relation to Wilber’s (2012) Integral Theory, I pray you will forgive me for any second or third-person narrow-mindedness or dim-spiritedness on my part that is quite likely to be present in the sequel.

The Three Eyes of Knowing

I am interested in what was true in the past, what is true now, and what will be true in the future. In short, I am interested in what is timeless.
– Huston Smith (Cousineau, 2003, p. xxi).

We begin our discussion by introducing the three eyes of knowing described by Wilber in phase 3 of his work in the 1980s. In his Collected Works, Vol. 3, Wilber (1999b) affirms that the eye of flesh “gives us knowledge of sense objects”; the eye of mind “gives us knowledge of philosophical truths”; and the Eye of Heart (also called the eye of contemplation) “reveals salutary truth, “truth which is unto liberation”” (p. 155). These brief accounts however need to be unpacked to some degree, as shown in table 1, to reveal some of the inherent possibilities that are present in each eye of knowing.

Table 1. The Three Eyes of Knowing.
Table 1. The Three Eyes of Knowing.

Sources: Adapted from Ken Wilber (1999c, 2006), William Stoddart (2012) & Samuel Bendeck Sotillos (2013).

Abbreviations: Adapting from Susanne Cook-Greuter’s (2005) ego development scale, Pre-ego = fusion with bodyself and given family worldspace, 1p = 1st-person view, 2p = 2nd-person views, 3p = 3rd-person views, 4p = 4th-person views, 5p = 5th-person views, 6p = 6th-person views, and np = nth-person views. Adapting from Ken Wilber’s (2006) altitude scale, Inf = Infra-red, Mag = Magenta, Red = Red, Amb = Amber, Ora = Orange, Gre = Green, Tea = Teal, Tur = Turquoise, and Ind+ = Indigo + further degrees of development. HML = high, medium, and low levels of skill at each degree of development.

The Eye of Flesh

The eye of flesh differentiates into five senses to access the sensory features of corporeal worlds. For many people their most important sense is seeing with their eyes, but for many others it may be hearing with their ears, or smelling with their nose, or tasting with their tongue, or touching with their skin, often depending on the bio-psycho-socio-cultural situation in which they are located.

In relation to degrees of competency in the five senses, some people live in very good bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions that provide growth appropriate supports and challenges that prompt them to train intensively each of these five senses and use them in single, plural or altogether ways up to the highest degrees of competency. Many more live in relatively good bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions that allow them to become much more skilled in one or more senses than the other senses. A few can lose one sense such as eyesight in an accident and yet become a rare expert in using the other senses such as hearing and touching, as demonstrated in the life of blind hero Jacques Lusseyran, who became a French underground resistance leader during the Second World War (Lusseyran, 2011).

When we take measurements of the various degrees of competency people may have attained in using each of their five senses, for this discussion, we can differentiate in broad terms low, medium or high degrees of skill, as indicated in table 1.

The Eye of Mind

The eye of mind differentiates into five important faculties to turn sensory and supra-sensory views into images and concepts, constructed readings and interpretations, and transmitted languages of individual and collective meaning and vision. For many people their most important faculty is reason, but for many others it could be imagination, sentiment, will, or memory, depending on the situation interwoven out of all sorts of bio-psycho-socio-cultural factors in which they are located.

Again, as in the training of each of the five senses, many people live in mostly fertile bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions that provide growth appropriate supports and challenges that prompt them to become highly competent in using one or more of the five faculties. Although some people are highly accomplished in using their five faculties altogether with ever greater degrees of integrity, more often than not many people are educated within relatively fertile bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions at home, school, work, or play that favor to a significant degree one or more faculties and neglect to some degree the other faculties. For example, a poet is probably more accomplished in using the faculties of imagination and sentiment than a scientist, who in turn is probably more accomplished in using the faculties of reason and will than the other faculties, with each of them becoming more skillful in using a different type of memory.

Again, as in measuring degrees of skill in each of the five senses, we can differentiate the degrees of skill people may have attained in using each of these five faculties into the broad categories of low, medium or high skill levels. For more sensitive measurements, we can differentiate degrees of skill using our modified readings of Susanne Cook-Greuter’s (2004, 2005, 2010) ego development scale into first-person, second-person, third-person, fourth-person and onto nth-person views (perspectives) or readings (interpretations); and Wilber’s (2006) color altitude scale into levels of vision and interpretation, as listed below. For additional nuance, we can differentiate low, medium or high degrees of skill within each of these degrees of skill.

  • Red, first-person, ‘only I am right’ egocentric views of the senses and faculties
  • Amber, second-person,‘only our group is right & responsible’ sociocentric views of the senses and faculties, include first-person readings of the senses and faculties
  • Orange, third-person, systemic, ‘all humans have rights & responsibilities’ worldcentric views of the senses and faculties, include first & second-person readings of the senses and faculties
  • Green, fourth-person, meta-systemic, ‘rights & responsibilities of interrelated living beings’ worldcentric views of the senses and faculties, include first to third-person readings of the senses and faculties
  • Teal, fifth-person,integrating humanity and nature in planetcentric views of the senses and      faculties, include first  to fourth-person readings of the senses and  faculties
  • Turquoise, sixth-person, integrating humanity and nature in kosmoscentric views of the senses and faculties, include first to fifth-person readings of the senses and faculties
  • Indigo+, nth-person, integrating nature, humanity and Divinity in all-possibility views of the      senses and faculties, include first to sixth-person readings of the senses and faculties

With this basic outline of degrees of skill in the ten powers (five senses plus five faculties) in place, we now add a few amendments. In table 2, we add further complexity by correlating nine different degrees of skill across altitudes of views (perspectives), virtues, cognition, values, and worldview, which you can review at your leisure. At this point we will not go any further into unpacking these somewhat speculative claims about measuring more or less developed degrees of skill in each of the ten powers that each person may develop given growth appropriate bio-psycho-socio-cultural supports and challenges during their lifetime. However we need to point out that it is very unlikely that a person will be able to maximize capability in each of their ten powers and then be able to integrate their ten fully performing powers into a fully functioning human being living in a fully functioning global society during their lifetime. Thus in this specific sense no one is a fully alive integral human being.

We digress from our brief account of the eye of mind to make three important points about the human condition in premodern, modern and postmodern times. First, the life-center column in table 2 refers to three possible ways of human functioning that are present at lower degrees of development. One way is to operate with significant degrees of freedom from bio-psycho-socio-spiritual karma in tune with the Divine Heart or Center of all things in either an impermanent samâdhi experience or a more permanent state of spiritual wakefulness. A second way is to work to redeem an imperfect ego’s bio-psycho-socio-spiritual karma in a re-membering of a Divine Exemplar known in the perennial philosophy as Universal Man (Adam Qadmôn in Kabbalah, al-Insân al-Kâmil in Sufism, Chün-Jên in Taoism, or True King-Pontiff in Christianity), who is an authentic master of body and soul in Divine Spirit (W Perry, 2008, p. 896). A third way is to act out bio-psycho-socio-spiritual karma immersed in complex individual and collective patterns of desires and fears, addictions and allergies, pleasures and pains with an imperfect ego. Needless to say that the third way of living life is prominent throughout human history, increasingly so in modern and postmodern times when the process of Divine Liberation is marginalized to a significant extent within many religious and secular worlds.

Table 2. Levels of Vision and Interpretation of Mind in Individuals and Societies in Premodern, Modern, and Postmodern Times in Maya.
Table 2. Levels of Vision and Interpretation of Mind in Individuals and Societies in Premodern, Modern, and Postmodern Times in Maya.

Sources: Adapted from Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996), Ken Wilber (2006), Michael Commons & Sara Ross (2008), Terri O’Fallon (2011b, 2013) & Mark Perry (2012). Abbreviations adapted from Mark Perry (2012): Imperfect ego = deluded, fallen, sinful, selfish, wounded ego of the imperfect person in need of bio-psycho-socio-spiritual healing, conversion and purification; Perfect ego = ego of the image of God in the prophet or avatara or bodhisattva, the bio-psycho-socio-spiritual model and selfless mold for the reformation of the imperfect ego; Divine Heart = Divine Ego or One Self beyond and within the creative play of the One and the Many.

Second, in postmodern times it has become commonplace to divide human history into three eras: premodern times, the era which is present before the rise of modern science; modern times, the era which coincides with the progress of modern science; and postmodern times, the era which subjects modern science itself to decisive criticism using both intra and extra scientific sources (Sorokin, 1958, 1992; Bortoft, 1996, 2012; Seamon & Zajonc, 1998; Ferrer, 2002, 2008; Nicolescu, 2002, 2008; Christian, 2005; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; W Smith, 2005, 2012, 2013; Morin, 2008; Kagan, 2009; H Smith, 2009, 2012a, 2012b; Caldecott, 2009, 2012, 2013; Bhaskar & Hartwig, 2010; Benedikter & Molz, 2010; Kelly, 2010; Chopra & Mlodinow, 2011; Bryant, Srnicek & Harman, 2011; Nagel, 2012; Sheldrake, 2012; Slaughter, 2012; Molz & Edwards, 2013; Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013; Masters, 2013). Unsurprisingly, many people habitually assume that the premodern, modern and postmodern sequence in itself is a sure sign of progress. We do not agree with this assumption. We observe that many people in postmodern times are not as competent in being fully alive human beings with all of their ten powers operating consistently with higher levels of virtue and centered in a significantly awakened and illuminating Divine Heart as Śhankarâ (c.788-820), Muhyî al-Dîn ibn al-‛Arabî (1165-1240), Jalâl al-Dîn Rûmî (1207-73), Meister Eckhart (c.1260-1327), Dante (1265-1321), and many other Divine Exemplars, Saints and Sages were in premodern times (Needleman, 1974).

Third, it is important to realize that no one can see beyond their current level of understanding in a particular sense or faculty and in their particular aggregate of ten relatively functioning powers. We refer to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, an example of the Great Chain of Being and Knowing, to explain what we mean. Plato points out that there are some people captivated by the passing shadows on the cave wall, some people who break their chains to discover the reasons for the passing shadows, and some people who break out of the cave altogether to discover the true source of light (Cousineau, 2003). Let’s call these three broad groups of people: prisoners, who work to maintain their normal existence and cannot accept the surreal claims of freedom fighters and light bearers; freedom fighters, who want to help prisoners to break free of their chains but in turn cannot accept the incredible claims of light bearers; and light bearers, who do what they can to relieve the suffering of prisoners addicted to their shadows and freedom fighters addicted to their causes.

In the light of this reading of Plato’s myth, we make the following claims. Within each of the various cultural worlds of premodern wisdom, modern science, postmodern cultural pluralism and integrative theory—such as Wilber’s Integral Theory, Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism, or Edgar Morin’s Complex Thought—there are people who operate more or less as satisfied prisoners, who take for granted the current passing parade of their bio-psycho-socio-cultural world, or as agitated freedom fighters, who aspire to change important factors in the parade of their bio-psycho-socio-cultural world, or as gracious light bearers, who understand and celebrate the comparative play of opposites that are interwoven into bio-psycho-socio-cultural worlds (Sharma & Cook-Greuter, 2010; Steckler & Torbert, 2010). We conclude this section on the eye of mind with the observation that all of us have our particular karmic mix of prisoners, freedom fighters and light bearers within ourselves across our various levels of skill in each sense or faculty, and that our particular karmic mix of relatively differentiated functionality functions in a particular mix of bio-psycho-socio-cultural worlds inhabited by one’s self and many others. This being the case apparently no one is a fully functioning human being.

The Eye of Heart

We begin with a definition for the Eye of Heart. According to the perennial philosophy, the Eye of Heart, a point without extension and a moment without duration, is the DivineCenter of a human being (W Perry, 2008). From an external perspective, it is the gateway or sundoor into the formless worlds of Divine Spirit, which is a Unity of Sat (Being), Chit (Consciousness), Ananda (Beatitude or Bliss). From an internal perspective, it is the primal subject that shows, discloses, brings to light, manifests and shines forth the Noumena, Divine Names or Divine Archetypes that are interwoven into the diverse phenomena of created existence (W Perry, 1995). Depending on the symbolism that is being used in a text, it is also called the Supernal Sun, the Eye of Eternity, the Eternal Now, the Navel of the Universe, the CelestialCity, the Resolution of Contraries, the Ultimate Felicity and the SupremeCenter.

We acknowledge that humanity’s wisdom traditions are enduring variations on one universal theme, which is, using Christian symbolism, God—a Unity of Trinitarian Love beyond all opposites and a Unity of Trinitarian Love without opposites (Bourgeault, 2013)—became man—a partial unity interwoven out of unities, polarities, complementaries, oppositions and multiplicities—so that man might become God. To expand a little further, God dis-members or sacrifices Sat-Chit-Ananda so that man might become a child of God within necessarily limited worlds of being, consciousness and bliss interwoven out of interpenetrating unities, polarities, complementaries, oppositions and multiplicities; and with his God-given life man has the lifelong opportunity to sacrifice his current limited bio-psycho-socio-cultural identity so that he might re-member and thus participate more fully in God’s Sat-Chit-Ananda (Campbell, 1968; Oldmeadow, 2004, 2010a; W Perry 2008; H Smith,  2012a).

We turn to Sacred Scriptures, in this case the Mundaka Upanishad, for some inspiration:

Two birds, fast bound companions,
Clasp close the self-same tree,
Of these two, the one eats sweet fruit;
The other looks on without eating.
When a seer sees the brilliant
Maker, Lord, Person, the Brahmin-source,
Then, being a knower, shaking off good and evil,
Stainless, he attains supreme identity (sâmya) (Trans. Robert Ernest Hume).

We offer a reading of this text. The symbolism here refers to ‘two birds’, sunbird and soulbird, the former being a symbol for the Eye of Heart and the latter a symbol for the eye of mind. The first is concentrated inwardly on God’s Sat-Chit-Ananda, on the Supreme Identity of Subject and Object; the second is seduced by the fruits of the Tree of Life as they are presented in outward, phenomenal existence (W Perry, 1995). We note that this ancient symbolism captures the perennial human dilemma about how to live life: does one return from being a particular person to being one with Divine Spirit, or does one get involved in one’s immediate worlds of society and nature, or does one engage this apparent thesis and antithesis in a fully alive, dialectical synthesis?

Table 3. The Role of the Divine Logos in Divine Liberation.
Table 3. The Role of the Divine Logos in Divine Liberation.

Sources: Adapted from William Stoddart (1993, 2012, 2013) and Harry Oldmeadow (2010a).

As we have already done in table 1 for the different degrees of skill in each power of the eyes of flesh and mind, we now consider the different degrees of light and love emanating from the Eye of Heart. We notice that the inward world of God’s Presence, beyond the chatting mind, does not make much ‘sense’ for many people in modern and postmodern worlds, for whom only the outward world of interpenetrating phenomena makes any ‘sense’ in their personal experience. Nevertheless, some people faithfully profess and a few innately understand that the one Spirit behind all forms cannot be proven because “a first cause, being itself uncaused, is not prob-able but axiomatic” (Coomaraswamy, 1990, p. 37). For some of these people, who are actually on the path of theosis or Divine Liberation, the first goal to be attained is solving the lesser mysteries of the integral human state in which time is changed into timelessness and one consciously participates in the Divine Simultaneity of All Things. The second goal to be attained is solving the greater mysteries of God (W Perry, 2008). For these people, the role of the Divine Logos in Divine Liberation is to show the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) from the outward worlds of interpenetrating phenomena through the inward relative worlds of being, consciousness and bliss to a more complete participation in God’s Being, Consciousness and Beatitude, as outlined briefly in table 3 and detailed further in Table 4.

Table 4. A Brief Account of the Five Divine Presences in the Kosmos (macrocosmos), in Human Communities (mesocosmos), and in a Human Being (microcosmos).
Table 4. A Brief Account of the Five Divine Presences in the Kosmos (macrocosmos), in Human Communities (mesocosmos), and in a Human Being (microcosmos).

Sources: Adapted from William Stoddart (1993, 2008, 2012, 2013), Ken Wilber (1999c), Frithjof Schuon (2003), Whitall Perry (2008), Harry Oldmeadow (2010a), Wolfgang Smith (2012, 2013) and Samuel Bendeck Sotillos (2013). Abbreviations: [m] = masculine pole & [f] = feminine pole of Existence.

We conclude this brief section on the Eye of Heart with a few comments in relation to Wilber’s Integral Theory. We observe that Wilber’s Integral Theory tends to highlight the spirit of interpenetrating tetra-bio-psycho-socio-cultural evolution from the Big Bang through levels of increasing complexity in matter, life, mind and spirit towards more integral futures but lowlights the perennial teachings on the Divine Simultaneity of All Things seen by the Eye of Heart (Brown, 2006; W Perry, 2008). The difference is crucial: for many wisdom seekers, a preliminary goal on the path of theosis is to release the knots of both individual ego-centricity and group socio-centricity in order to participate more fully in the Redemption of Universal Man, who, in Christian terms, is the Created Logos or Cosmic Christ; for many subscribers of Integral Theory, the Redemption of Universal Man has limited or no significance, perhaps only as a quaint religious belief and value that may be present at early levels of human development that needs to be outgrown. Now we turn from a brief overview of the modes of the knower (the eyes of body, mind and heart) to a brief overview of the various forms of knowledge found in primarily Western civilization in premodern, modern and postmodern times respectively.

The Human Knowledge Quest in Premodern, Modern and Postmodern Times

Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors—the dreams of our old men, given to them in solemn hours of night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems (medicine people); and it is written in the hearts of the people.
– Chief Seattle (1786–1866) (H.A. Smith, Seattle Sunday Star, 1887).

Premodern Times

Let us begin our brief discussion on the human knowledge quest in premodern times by putting aside for awhile the knowledge claims of modern and postmodern people who are often charged by the latest bio-psycho-socio-techno-logical products. We need to remember that premodern people are not primarily interested in new exciting products. Concerned with the divine condition of their immortal soul in the eyes of God, as shown above in Chief Seattle’s words, they are focused, as given in the title of Ananda Coomaraswamy’s (1984) pivotal essay, “On Being in One’s Right Mind”.

As Coomaraswamy (1984) explains, the most fundamental distinction in the perennial philosophy is, in Latin, “duo sunt in homine” (Aquinas, 1981, II.2, q. 26, art. 4). This means that,

there are two in us: two natures, the one humanly opinionated and the other divinely scientific; to be distinguished either as individual from universal mind, or as sensibility from mind, and as non-mind from mind or as mind from “madness”; the former terms corresponding to the empirical ego, and the latter to our real Self, the object of the injunction “Know Thyself” (p. 212).

The primary knowledge quest for many people in premodern times is, in Eastern terms, samâdhi (i.e., literally synthesis, composure) or, in Western terms, deification or sanctification (i.e., greater participation in God), which is the consummation of the practice of yoga or theosis respectively. With their attention focused on attaining Divine Liberation, devotees of spiritual practices spend their lives working to shift from “humanly opinionated” into “divinely scientific” ways of living within spiritual lineages that are found in the enduring wisdom traditions, as indicated in table 5. Plato, for example, exhorts the soul to “collect and concentrate itself in its Self” (Phaedo 83A, in Coomaraswamy, 1984, p. 212). With reference to the three eyes of knowing, to unpack Plato’s exhortation, the soul (which includes the eyes of flesh and mind) needs to collect and concentrate its ten powers with each power operating with significant degrees of skill in the Self, which, for us, is the ever wakeful Eye of Heart.

The secondary knowledge quest for premodern people is to develop high degrees of skill in using their five senses and five faculties in order to live life well. From nomadic tribes to farming villages to town centers, older generations of spiritual and temporal lords, knights, merchants and peasants educated younger generations into how to develop significant degrees of skill in using their innate ten powers in their intellectual, moral and aesthetic practices of Servile (Practical) Arts and, for the qualified elite, the Seven Liberal Arts (Joseph, 2002; Caldecott, 2009, 2012; Martineau, 2011). At the School of Chartres in France in the 12th century, for example, school masters, some teaching Doctorates in Divinity, taught their students the Trivium of Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric, and the Quadrivium of Music, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astronomy in their transmission of the works of Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, Saint Augustine, et al. Then training in Divinity itself could be continued amidst contemplative orders that were devoted to spiritual practices that purified and illuminated the Eye of Heart in the process of theosis. Chartres Cathedral itself and many other cathedrals with their palpable sense of the sacred are evident demonstrations of the quality of the medieval synthesis of Divine Knowledge (Querido, 1987; Lings, 1996; Keeble, 2005; Burckhardt, 2010). Outside of Western Europe, elders of high accomplishment amongst Australian Aborigines (Elkin, 1977), American Indians (Eastman, 1911; Brown, 1989; Yellowtail, 1991) and other indigenous traditions, and sacred buildings like the Potala at Lhasa in Tibet, the Taj Mahal at Agra in India, the Blue Mosque at Iṣfahân in Iran, Hagia Sophia at Istanbul in Turkey, and the monasteries at Mount Athos in Greece are a few more demonstrations of the high quality of Divine Knowledge present in premodern times.

Table 5. The Human Knowledge Quest in Maya in Premodern, Modern and Postmodern Times.
Table 5. The Human Knowledge Quest in Maya in Premodern, Modern and Postmodern Times.

Abbreviations: Adapting from Susanne Cook-Greuter’s (2005) ego development scale, Pre-ego = fusion with bodyself and given family worldspace, 1p = 1st-person ‘me’ egocentric perspective, 2p = 2nd-person ‘our group’ sociocentric perspective, 3p = 3rd-person ‘all of us, humans’ systemic worldcentric perspective, 4p = 4th-person ‘all of us, interrelated living beings’ meta-systemic worldcentric perspective, 5p = 5th-person ‘all living beings’ planetcentric perspective, 6p = 6th-person ‘all living beings’ kosmoscentric perspective, and np = nth-person ‘Divine Integrity in all-possibility’ perspectives. Adapting from Ken Wilber’s (2006) altitude scale, Inf = Infra-red, M = Magenta, R = Red, A = Amber, Or = Orange, Gr = Green, Te = Teal, Tu = Turquoise, and I+ = Indigo + further degrees of development. HML = high, medium, and low levels of skill at each degree of development.

At this point we need to acknowledge that both primary and secondary knowledge quests during premodern times occur in bio-psycho-socio-cultural worlds saturated with sacred symbols. Walter Andrade provides an illuminating account of the role of sacred symbols:

In order to bring the realm of the spiritual and the divine within the range of perception, humanity is driven to adopt a point of view in which it loses the immediate union with the divine and the immediate vision of the spiritual. Then it tries to embody in a tangible or otherwise perceptible form, to materialize let us say, what is intangible, and imperceptible. It makes symbols, written characters, and cult images of earthly substance, and sees in them and through them the spiritual and divine substance that has no likeness and could not otherwise be seen (Coomaraswamy, 2007, p. 227).

Evidently, many people in premodern times live in sacred universes in which access to the “divine and immediate vision of the spiritual” is made accessible through sacred symbols. In contrast, for many people in modern times the inner sacred significance of religious symbols, images and myths is no longer fully intelligible. We need to ask here: what happened for this to be so?

We respond with the claim that many modern people during their religious and/or secular education are trained into mostly literal ways of reading religious symbols, images and myths that emphasize their outward formal aspects that are perhaps appropriate at second-person levels of human development. But rarely do they have access to multi-layered readings of religious symbols, images and myths, as taught in the Latin Patristic theological tradition by Pope Gregory the Great (c.540-604), Saint Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-74), Dante, and more recently Cardinal Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) and Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88), in which four ways of interpreting sacred symbols are used—namely, the literal (formal) sense which refers to mythic and historical deeds, but veils the three spiritual senses, the allegorical sense which illuminates greater degrees of faith, hope and love in Divinity, the moral (tropological) sense which refers to how to act with deeper degrees of faith, hope and love, and the mystical (anagogical) sense which participates in the process of theosis (deification or sanctification)—which are more appropriate at third-person and higher levels of development. With this double loss of access to the original ‘divine vision of the spiritual’ and the deeper significance of religious symbols, images and myths, for many modern people religion seems to be somewhat opaque and childish with at best second-person, sociocentric, sectarian, one-right-way beliefs and values. They are therefore very susceptible to losing their faith in its efficacy for Divine Liberation. With their loss of a deeply felt sense of the sacred, they increasingly seek alternative consolations in their immediate material and social worlds, which are often disappointingly shallow, lacking significant degrees of subjective, intersubjective and objective depth, dignity, nobility and quality.

The Shift from Premodern to Modern Times

We begin this section by acknowledging that Christian Orthodox monks at Mount Athos, and other sacred centers in the Orthodox world, live in premodern times today in a sacred ambience mostly free of modern and postmodern disturbances (Markides, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2012; Rose, 2011; Damascene, 2012). Granted their autonomy by the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas in 963, Athonite monks have maintained a divine lifestyle based on the process of theosis for over 1000 years, that continues to be a primary divine exemplar for Orthodox Churches throughout the world from Greece to Russia to USA today, living their lives in accordance with the rhythms of ancient Byzantine time with the day starting at sunset, approximately six hours before midnight during Easter celebrations. Many other places, like Tibet before the Chinese invasion in the 1950s, Ladakh in India and Bali in Indonesia before the Western tourist invasion in the 1970s, and much of the Muslim world from Malaysia to Morocco, continue to live or have lived primarily in premodern times in the human quest for Divine Liberation for much of the 20th century. Now we need to ask here: what happened exclusively in Western Christendom to generate the dramatic shift from premodern to modern times?

In our response to this important question, we offer a brief discussion below and another brief outline in table 6. For the interested reader, we mention two important scholars who have provided much more complete responses. Seyyed Hossein Nasr in his Gifford Lectures in Knowledge and the Sacred (1981) and in his Cadbury Lectures in Religion and the Order of Nature (1996) provides a profound account of the desacralization of knowledge in Europe since the Middle Ages using the principles of the perennial philosophy. Philip Sherrard in The Rape of Man and Nature (1987) and Human Image: World Image: The Death and Resurrection of Sacred Cosmology (1992) offers a profound analysis of the eclipse of man in Christian theology, the dehumanization of man in modern science, and the desanctification of nature in modern times, using the principles of the Greek Patristic theological tradition which are celebrated in the works of Saint Maximos the Confessor (c.580-662), Saint Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022), Saint Gregory Palamas (c.1296-1359), and in the Philokalia (1979-95)—which means, the love of beauty—originally compiled by Saint Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain (1749-1809) and Saint Makarios of Corinth (1731-1805), and recently translated from Greek and Russian Orthodox sources into English by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware.

For our discussion, we turn to Whitall Perry’s The Widening Breach (1995) for his stark comparison of the very different understandings of reality that are present in premodern and modern times:

Realism in (premodern times) meant the exact opposite of what the word connotes today. The Schoolmen or Scholastics, who had their start in the establishments of learning founded by Charles the Great (c.742-814), the first Holy Roman Emperor, used the word to mean that all seeming reality in our world is entirely infused by the sole ultimate Reality of the Universals or Ideas as propounded by Plato. These are the informing Essences, Archetypes, Exemplars, and Qualities….The Scholastics taught that the Universals are ante res, in rebus, and post res, meaning that their existence is prior to, within, and subsequent to outward things. The Schoolmen insisted in effect that Realism is ‘an assertion of the rights of the subject’, and this axiom shows the primacy accorded to the subjective pole over the objective during the medieval period.

Realism in (modern times) has come to signify the notion that matter and sense objects have a concrete reality in their own ‘right’, they being considered to embody a true existence independently of Ideas—a position which could certainly be called ‘an assertion of the rights of the object’” (p. 59).

The shift from Scholastic realism based on the subjective pole of existence to modern realism based on the objective pole of existence was the exclusive drama of Western civilization that eventually overflowed into and impacted all other civilizations around the globe from the 16th century onwards. Here we select a few scenes from this drama in relation to the marginalization of the Eye of Heart.

  • In the 13th  century, Saint Bonaventure (1221-74), a Franciscan and a Doctor of the Church, teaches that men and women have three eyes of knowing (flesh, mind, and contemplative heart). However, in the 16th century, amidst many destructive wars of religion many religious and secular authorities consider only two eyes of knowing (flesh and mind) to be legitimate.
  • Thomas Keating in Open Mind, Open Heart (1986) provides a reading of the changes that occurred in the Catholic Church from Pope Gregory the Great  in the 6th century, who declared the proper goal of spiritual practice to be divine contemplation understood “as the knowledge of God based on the intimate experience of His presence” (p. 20), to the peculiar insular position      of Counter-Reformation Catholic orthodoxy, which in the 16th and 17th centuries only authorized contemplative practices within a few  contemplative orders, such as the Benedictines, Carmelites, Carthusians and Cistercians.
  • The Jesuits, established by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in 1540, became a very powerful and influential religious order from the 16th century onwards, promoting intensively both faith and reason, yet restricting the spiritual practice of contemplative prayer to certain forms of discursive meditation, which in effect considerably diminished the spiritual transmission of living traditions of divine contemplation based on the Eye of Heart in the Catholic Church.
  • Henceforth from the 16th century into the mid-20th century, contemplative mystics, such as Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-82) and Saint John of the Cross (1542-91), who made knowledge claims based on the Eye of Heart were considered to be suspect, often subjected to cruel inquisitions by narrow-minded and dim-spirited ecclesiastical or secular authorities, and then either      proclaimed incredibly as Saints, as was the case with the abovementioned Spanish Carmelites, or condemned mercilessly to unforgiving punishments or spectacular deaths for what were now being regarded as unconventional spiritual beliefs, values and behaviors.
  • However later on in the 20th century, especially after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65)      proclaimed a renewal of spiritual practices, access to the Eye of Heart is being regenerated in the Catholic Church. Contemplative monks, such as Bede Griffiths (1906-93), Swami Abhishiktananda (1910-73), Thomas Merton (1915-68), Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010), Thomas Keating (b.1923), John Main (1926-82), David Steindl-Rast (b.1926), Wayne Teasdale (1945-2004), et al, share their contemplative views and practices with non-monastic spiritual      practitioners, and also participate in inter-religious dialogues with masters of meditation and contemplation from Buddhist, Hindu, Sufi, and  other wisdom traditions (Miles-Yepez, 2006; see appendix for Snowmass Conference Points of Agreement).

In sum, Western Christendom’s medieval synthesis, which had been embodied and enacted by great mystics and Saints, like Meister Eckhart, Blessed Jan van Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), Blessed Henry Suso (c.1295-1366), John Tauler (c.1300-61), Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-80), Walter Hilton (c.1340-96), Saint Catherine of Bologna (1413-63) and Saint Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510), began to deteriorate when Christians turned away from Scholastic realism, inner contemplation, the human quest for Divine Liberation, and the process of theosis to become much more interested in the new modern realism, outer observation, and in exploring with their minds and bodies whatever opportunities were available to them in their immediate and expanding natural and social worlds.

Modern Times

One striking feature of modern times that we have already noted is the consistent practice by modern-minded people to limit Reality’s fullness (see table 4) so that it will fit within their particular set of modern assumptions. We observe that the loss of the Eye of Heart does not concern many modern people because their modern worldview does not give the Eye of Heart any legitimacy. This is a clear example of loss of faith, out of mind, out of sight. What does have prominence in a modern worldview is the eye of mind which is used to explore three significant fields of inquiry, which in order of highest to lowest status in modern times are the rational investigation of sensory experience (modern empiricism), the rational investigation of rational experience (modern philosophy), and the rational investigation of religious texts (modern theology). In the following cursory discussion and in tables 5 and 6, we mention a few significant events in the rise of modern empiricism.

The emergence of nominalism in the tenth and eleventh centuries marks arguably the beginning of modern science and the beginning of the disintegration of Western Christendom. What happens is that nominalists, like Roscellinus of Compiègne (c.1050-c.1122) and William of Ockham (c.1285-1349), declare that the world is made of particular individual things (Taylor, 2007; Caldecott, 2009), and that there are no universal essences. Whitall Perry (1995) elaborates on this most crucial matter,

For Ockham there was nothing even to transcend; God could well be ‘up there’, but this world ‘down here’ had it all. For him concepts extra mentum were just that—concepts, and the fewer of them the better, a way of looking at things that was to become designated by others as Ockham’s razor: Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem: “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity”. This angle of vision, known as the ‘law of parsimony’, may have appeared as but a small hole in the dike separating the ‘upper’ from the ‘lower’ waters [in traditional symbolism, ‘waters’ often symbolize possibilities; ‘upper’ for heavenly possibilities and ‘lower’ for earthly possibilities], yet it functioned as a fissure opening onto the quantitative and exterior pole of manifestation, a breach that over the centuries would unloose the whole form of scientific mentality on which the modern world is fabricated.

The razor shaves off what for Ockham is the surplus fat: pare away the flesh, and the skeleton that remains = reality. This corresponds to what Alfred North Whitehead calls the bifurcation concept (pp. 63-64).

Modern physicist, Sir James Jeans (1933) explains the matter further,

All true progress in natural science consists in its disengaging itself more and more from subjectivity and in bringing out more and more clearly what exists independently of human conception, without troubling itself with the fact that the result has no longer anything but the most distant resemblance to what the original perception took for real. (Burckhardt, 1987, p. 22).


Premodern Times

Modern Times

Postmodern Times

Foci of Knowing Divine Spirit, the eye of heart, quality and subjectivity dominate. The usage of the eyes of flesh, mind and heart are related to local bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions. Mortal matter, the eyes of flesh and mind, quantity and objectivity dominate. Divine Spirit, the eye of heart, quality and subjectivity are marginalized from most discourses. Equality and freedom dominate. The usage of the eyes of flesh, mind and heart are self-authorized and related with both local and global bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions.
Sense of Time Time is qualitative, static, vertical, cyclical, and centered on the essential Now. History records the exponential decline in the quality of virgin nature, nomadic and tribal cultures, and religious civilizations from the Krita to Treta to Dvapara to Kali Yugas. Time is quantitative, dynamic, horizontal, linear and accidental. History records the exponential rise in the quantity of scientific knowledge and resultant technological products, especially during the 20th century and into the 21st century. Time is the present now. Neither premodern senses of quality, nor modern senses of quantity, when they marginalize the equality and freedom of the self or the marginalized other, are necessarily foremost in what’s happening now.
Locus of Authority Religion orders life. Universal Man in each human person surrenders the illusions and passions of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil in the quest for Divine Liberation, which involves the salvation of all beings from states of disgrace to states of grace. Science measures material things. Scientists authorize programs of action to solve mainly material problems. Social scientists however struggle with non-measurable, socio-cultural, philosophical, ethical, aesthetic and spiritual problems. Neither religion nor science authorizes the ways people live their lives. Individuals make their own choices from an overwhelming display of diverse premodern, modern and postmodern options, and then authorize their own lives.
Original Condition of Humanity Eastern and Western sources of Divine Revelation declare that Universal Man, made in the image of God (i.e., in the image of Pure Being, Pure Consciousness, and Pure Beatitude), transcends individuality and is a microcosmic abridgement of the entire macrocosmic Universe of Divine Spirit, human soul and body. One current version of scientific naturalism posits that the evolution of life forms, including human beings, is dependent on the emergence of lifeless matter in a Big Bang, then on the emergence of living matter out of lifeless matter, and then proceeds due to natural selection and accidental mutation of genetic material. According to one postmodern worldview, one of many options, everything from the Big Bang to matter to life to mind to spirit in humans and nonhumans is a part of one vast developmental process in which the evolving universe is becoming more aware of its realities and is working to generate integrative global cultures.
Current Condition of


Fallen Man, having eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, loses his innate purity of heart. He finds instead all sorts of conflicts amidst the play of dualities (such as subject-object, spirit-matter, yea-nay, odd-even, right-left, good-evil, heat-cold, light-darkness, life-death, man-woman, sound-silence, pleasure-pain, cause-effect, and so on ad infinitum) and of other multiplicities in diverse fields of discursive knowledge. Within the three cultures of natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, scientific naturalism is being disputed by anti-reductionists, who do not subscribe to materialist, often dogmatic, beliefs and values that reduce reality to just matter, and who demand more credible non-reductionist accounts of key factors like life, consciousness, interiority, mind, subjectivity, values, purpose, existential and ultimate meaning. Postmodern worldviews struggle to gain more credibility due to their self-organized complexity, which prohibits any easy familiarity with their claims, and due to their bold challenges to the conventional beliefs and values of others. Postmodern worldviews tend to claim in legitimizing diversity that every view is relative, and tend to make absolute, imperial demands for no imperialisms, no racism, and no sexism, in self-contradictory ways.
Some Key Issues in Pre-modernity

in Western Europe

From Realism to Nominalism:

For Johannes Scotus Erigena (c.815- c.877) and other Scholastics, realism refers to the Ultimate Reality of Universals or Ideas that infuse the divinely enchanted world. Peter Abelard (1079-1142) and St Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) play important roles in the shift from the synthetic, unitive world of Christian Platonism to the analytical, discursive world of Aristotelianism. Nominalism emerges. William of Ockham (c.1285-1349) and other nominalists oppose Scholastic Realism with the novel claim that there are no universal essences, so the concrete fact becomes the final reality.

Some Key Issues in the Shift from Pre-modernity to Modernity

in Western Europe

From Nominalism to Wasteland:

Shifts from the subjective pole of existence, the primary concern of religion, to the objective pole of existence, the primary concern of modern science, take many steps, some of which are mentioned here. In De Monarchia, Dante (1265-1321) highlights the crucial ongoing contests between the spiritual authority and otherworldly needs of the Holy Church and the temporal power and rightful worldly needs of the Holy Emperor (or church and state in today’s terms) that result in many divisions in Western Christendom. Nicholaus Copernicus (1473-1543) replaces Ptolemy’s geocentric system with his heliocentric system, which is less compatible with Biblical symbolism. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) points out a way from an animistic to a mechanical explanation of the physical universe in which he replaces “spirits” and “anima” (soul) with mechanical forces. Isaac Newton (1642-1727) introduces an experimental philosophy that investigates a “clockwork” world from which God (i.e. Being, Consciousness and Bliss) is exiled. The philosophical assumptions of modern empiricism, scientific materialism and logical positivism dominate the citadels of power in the 20th century, which prompts T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) to lament the widespread loss of meaning in the modern wasteland, where a civilizing education in the seven liberal arts is marginalized.

From the Static, Contemplative, Medieval World to the Dynamic, Rational, Modern Enlightenment: Transitions from the qualitative, interior, medieval world to the quantitative, exterior, modern world involve many changes, some of which are mentioned here. Roger Bacon (c.1214-1292) introduces the concept of experimental science. William of Ockham (c.1285-1349) asserts on provisional philosophical grounds that Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (“Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity”), which in effect over time turns into the controversial bifurcation principle that separates measurable, scientific, ‘real’ things from non-measurable, unscientific, ‘unreal’ things. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) in his new philosophy reduces knowledge from universals to particulars, and works to make wholes out of the sum of the parts. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) uses a new technology, a telescope, to see and do things beyond the normal range of the senses. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) applies mechanical explanations to material and mental things. Rene Descartes (1596-1650) turns the relations between mind and matter into an impassable dualism. David Hume (1711-1776) declares his skepticism about the empirical existence of both mental and material substances. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) explains his theory of evolution by natural selection.  
Some Key Issues in the Shift from Modernity to Post-modernity From Fundamentalism to the Essential & Transcendent Unity of All Things:

The undermining and overwhelming of virgin nature, the guild cultures of arts and crafts, and the longstanding religious virtues of faith, hope and love by modern people who use powerful materialist mindsets to develop superior technological goods prompt a diverse variety of strong reassertions of religious values in the 21st century. Fundamentalists uphold what they maintain to be the only true values regardless of others. Conservatives work to transmit the vital values of their religious tradition onto current and future generations. Liberals seek to make their religious values more relevant in the modern world. Progressives strive to interconnect the religious and scientific values of diverse traditions into a global interfaith network. Contemplatives, such as the Orthodox monks at Mt. Athos, use traditional doctrines and spiritual methods associated with the way of theosis to open the eye of heart to access a divine view of all things. Perennialists, such as Wolfgang Smith (b.1930) and Seyyed Hossein Nasr (b.1933), reaffirm the metaphysical principles and concomitant methods of spiritual realization that reveal the essential metaphysical and cosmological unity of all things, God in all and all in God, using the principle of adequatio between the levels of subject and levels of object, inner and outer, and the laws of analogy to link together different levels of cosmic reality in an integral embrace of the world’s religions, modern sciences and postmodern relativisms. Some thoughtful Christians, such as Stratford Caldecott, propose an anti- nominalist science of the real that re-unites faith & reason, God & nature.

From Disciplinary Science to Transdisciplinary Science:

The emergence of quantum physics produces revolutionary changes in modern science’s readings of the physical world. To mention only two significant factors, quantum indeterminism replaces classical determinism and quantum nonseparability replaces local causality. In the wake of these radical changes in modern physics, many new sciences emerge and then problems arise about the interconnections amongst, and the integration of, these disciplinary sciences. Here are a few proposals. Edgar Morin (b.1921) explores a creative world in which the constitutive interrelatedness of living organisms includes self-eco-re-organizing systems that have processes of order, disorder, interaction and self-organization. David Christian (b.1946) launches Big History, which tells a grand story of the evolutionary emergence of the physical universe, earth, and humanity over 13.7 billion years. Basarab Nicolescu (b.1942) differentiates disciplinary from transdisciplinary knowledge. The former attends to the external world, uses analytic intelligence and binary logic, has no regard for values, and is oriented towards power and possession; the latter works to understand the correspondence between the levels of reality in the external world and the levels of perception in the internal world; uses a new type of intelligence that harmonizes mind, feelings and body; includes values; and is oriented towards wonder and sharing. Mark Edwards and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens (b.1973) envisage the emergence of integral metastudies & metaintegral studies respectively.

From the Universal Modern World to Multiple Worlds within Worlds:

New discoveries within different cultural worlds within and beyond Western Europe confound many modern one-size-fits-all assumptions. Here are a few of them.  Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) authors his three critiques of pure reason (truth), practical reason (morality) and judgment (aesthetics). He however claims with his motto nihil ulterius that there is “nothing beyond” reason. Georg Hegel (1770-1831) lays a dialectical foundation (i.e., the play of thesis, antithesis & synthesis) for an evolutionary understanding of the modern universe. Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) promotes a process philosophy that replaces the classical ideas of space, time and matter with the concepts of organism and event. Jean Gebser (1905-1971) develops an intuition that human history has unfolded and is unfolding through a series of discontinuous mutations of consciousness from archaic to magic to mythic to rational and then onwards to integral. Jurgen Habermas (b.1929) produces a critical theory of communicative action and rationality, a philosophical discourse on modernity, and postmetaphysical thinking. Roy Bhaskar (b.1944) moves beyond both modern empiricism & Kant’s transcendental idealism to create the different phases of critical realism and meta-Reality. Ken Wilber (b.1949) develops his universal integralism through five phases into the current AQAL “all-quadrants, all-levels” model featuring quadrants, levels and lines of development, states, types & zones. Jorge Ferrer (b.1968) champions a participatory spirituality that claims to revision the perennial philosophy & Wilber’s AQAL metatheory.

Table 6. A Coparative Account of Some Important Factors in Premodern, Modern, and Postmoden Times.

To which Titus Burckhardt (1987) responds,

According to this declaration…it is the complete ‘human conception’ of things—in other words, both direct sensory perception and its spontaneous assimilation by the imagination—which is called into question; only mathematical thought is allowed to be objective or true. Mathematical thought in fact allows a maximum of generalization while remaining bound to number, so that it can be verified on the quantitative plane; but it in no wise includes the whole of reality as it is communicated to us by our senses. It makes a selection from out of this total reality, and the scientific prejudice of which we have been speaking regards as unreal everything this selection leaves out. Thus it is that those sensible qualities called ‘secondary’, such as colors, odors, savors, and the sensations hot and cold, are considered to be subjective impressions implying no objective quality, and possessing no other reality than that belonging to their indirect physical causes, as for example, in the case of colors, the various frequencies of light waves….a reduction of the qualitative aspects of nature to quantitative modalities. Modern science thus asks us to sacrifice a goodly part of what constitutes for us the reality of the world, and offers us in exchange mathematical formulae whose only advantage is to help us to manipulate matter on its own plane, which is that of quantity (pp. 22-23).

We add a few more comments in relation to this momentous change from premodern to modern times in which qualitative essences, such as the Supreme Unity and the Supreme Identity of Divinity, humanity and nature altogether, are put out of mind and mathematical objectivity becomes the new criterion for ‘reality’. Some readers may have noticed one significant implication of modern ‘reality’ is that many of the ten human powers in each person are not given their full legitimacy with sentiment and imagination in particular consistently devalued as many modern women know from bitter experience. In modern empirical work, reason has clear primacy with the other faculties usually playing secondary roles; and seeing has clear primacy with the other senses usually playing subordinate roles. Thus, using Cartesian terms, the subjective pole of existence in human beings tends to be reduced to res cogitans, the thinking entity, or even worse the power of instrumental reason, and the objective pole of existence in the natural world tends to be reduced to res extensae, extensive entities in length, breadth and depth that can be quantified into mathematical relations (W Smith, 2012, pp. 182-186). Such is modern empirical ‘reality’ after the use of Occam’s razor (i.e. Ockham’s razor). In table 4, modern empirical ‘reality’ is located in the context of the perennial philosophy’s five Divine Presences; it is placed in the little box at the bottom of the table.

The Shift from Modern Times to Postmodern Times

The human spirit has found it very difficult to be content in recent decades with the ongoing desacralization of religion, due in part to second-person literalisms, the ongoing dehumanization of the human condition, due in part to third-person biological (often genetic) determinisms, the ongoing desanctification of virgin nature, due in part to the economic opportunism of careless consumers, and the ongoing loss of faith in the hegemony of modern science, due in part to third-person scientisms. Life is such a bore in this world emptied of divine graces, like truth, goodness and beauty, that many people crave their occasional thrills for some temporary relief, but each new life-consuming game or brand new technological product is bittersweet, sometimes an exciting pleasure, other times a depressing pain, rarely an abiding joy. The concurrent destruction of many human and natural habitats scares many people into imagining all sorts of dystopic futures (Slaughter, 2012), and they feel so frustrated with all sorts of repeated failures to decisively remedy the ongoing diminution of their human and natural worlds. This is evident for the former in the social problem of stranger danger with many concerned parents restraining their curious children from leaving their home when their kids naturally want to explore unexplored worlds in nature and society, and for the latter in the global post-national problem of climate change given the recent announcement that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to rise from pre-industrial levels of 275ppm to over 400ppm in 2013. From desolate tribes with their premodern loyalties to creative entrepreneurs with their modern enterprises to crusading environmentalists with their postmodern ethics, discontented people can be found everywhere and they are using their political freedoms in egalitarian democracies to escalate their campaigns for all sorts of divergent changes in their bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions.

One person who found he was imprisoned by modern values is Ken Wilber himself. Like many others, he discovered that modern science did not answer his deepest questions. Wilber (2004) writes,

While in late high schools and early college,…my true passion, my inner daemon, was for science. I fashioned a self that was built on logic, structured by physics, and moved by chemistry…. My mental youth was an idyll of precision and accuracy, a fortress of the clear and evident.

And so, as I stood reading the first chapter of the Tao-te Ching, it was as if I were being exposed, for the first time, to an entirely new and drastically different world—a world beyond the sensical, a world outside of science, and therefore a world quite beyond myself. The result was that those ancient words of Lao Tzu took me quite by surprise; worse, the surprise refused to wear off, and my entire world outlook began a subtle but drastic shift. Within a period of a few months…the meaning of my life, as I had known it, simply began to disappear. …I suddenly awoke to the silent but certain realization that my old life, my old self, my old beliefs could no longer be energized (pp. 33-34).

Evidently, Wilber’s first taste of perennial wisdom in reading Lao Tzu’s Tao-te Ching significantly changes his life. However, he soon shifts from his initial readings of the perennial philosophy to creating his own brand of postmodern karma which he eventually calls Integral Theory and Practice. Not fully satisfied with the presentations of perennial philosophy given by Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1968, 1981), E.F. Schumacher (1978), Ananda Coomaraswamy (1975, 2004), Frithjof Schuon (2005), Rene Guenon (2009), Huston Smith (2012a), et al, which assert the primacy of perennial wisdom over modern science, and not fully satisfied with his initiations into Tibetan and Zen Buddhist, Christian and other spiritual practices, which were available in spiritual lineages that often had over-enthusiastic advocates who claimed to have the exclusive one-right-way to Divine Liberation, Wilber diverges from the enduring wisdom traditions centered on immortal spirit (W Perry, 2008) to create his visionary phase 3 integration of his evolutionary neo-perennial philosophy (Wilber, 1983, 1992, 1999c; Visser, 2003) with modern science, especially developmental psychology, and then later on with the employment of additional insights to create his phase 5 integral post-metaphysics centered on the AQAL “all-quadrants, all-levels” habits of his creative mind (Wilber, 2006).

Table 7. A Reading of the Who x How x What Framework in Wilber’s Integral Theory
Table 7. A Reading of the Who x How x What Framework in Wilber’s Integral Theory


Source: Adapted from Ken Wilber (2006).

At this point I need to make a few comments about Wilber’s work, as shown in table 7. In my eyes, it is exceptionally impressive in its visionary attempt to integrate diverse epistemologies (the who of the knower from first to nth-person levels of knowing), diverse methodologies (the how of knowing across the eight methodological zones) and diverse ontologies (the what of the known from first to nth-person worldspaces) across many different levels of human development. So much so, I acknowledge here my profound debt to and heartfelt gratitude for Wilber’s creative work, which I have studied since 1980 and used to a significant degree in this discussion. Yet, when we read his work, we encounter in his divergences from perennial wisdom some awkward lines that reveal some questionable claims. Here we select one significant disproportionate claim, “…when the eye of contemplation is abandoned, religion is left only with the eye of mind—where it is sliced to shreds by modern philosophy—and the eye of flesh—where it is crucified by modern science” (Wilber, 2004, p. 155).

We offer a prompt response. Because he believes that the historical sequence from premodern to modern to postmodern occasions is an evidential evolutionary reality (Wilber, 1999c, 2006), Wilber does not supply in his work a satisfactory critique of modern science and philosophy, centered in quantitative variables, by premodern science and philosophy, centered in qualitative essences, or a satisfactory critique of Integral Theory, centered in vision-logic, by the perennial philosophy, centered in the Eye of Heart. However, when we study the works of Titus Burckhardt (1986, 1987, 2003), Charles Taylor (1989, 2007), Jean Borella (1998, 2001, 2004), Wolfgang Smith (2005, 2012, 2013), Huston Smith (2009, 2012a, 2012b) and Stratford Caldecott (2009, 2012, 2013), six of many accomplished scholars competent in both premodern and modern variants of science and philosophy, we discover what we have attempted to show above that modern science limits itself to objective quantitative factors and that modern philosophy, especially when it associates itself with the interests of modern science, often disqualifies itself from dealing with qualitative essences (Hawking & Mlodinow, 2010; Sheldrake, 2012), whereas premodern sciences and philosophies within the world’s enduring wisdom traditions continue to operate with the qualitative principles of matter, energy, consciousness, light, life, love, truth, goodness and beauty (Nasr, 1981, 1996, 2007, 2010). With these considerations in mind, we ask: how can modern science ‘crucify’ and modern philosophy ‘slice to shreds’ a premodern universal religion that reveals the creative play of the One into the Many, and the Many into the One, even when it has become clouded in the minds of many people from being an immediate contemplative esoteric awareness radiant with light and love as revealed by the Eye of Heart to being an exoteric religious teaching that has become formalized and habituated into an orthodox set of first to third-person beliefs and values by the eye of mind? We defer our answer; however, it is now becoming evident in our discussion that there are some significant problems with the current version of Wilber’s Integral Theory, which we will continue to explore later on.

We now turn to a more general discussion of postmodern times. We provide a short list of some characteristics that many postmodern people have embodied and enacted in their lives, some of which are also mentioned in tables 6 and 8. Many postmodern people tend to have:

  • a belief in evolution, perhaps not a neo-Darwinian variant favored by many modern people, and perhaps not a Spirit-in-action variant favored by Michael Murphy (1993), Roger Walsh (1999, 2009), Wilber (2006), Rob McNamara (2013), and other integral evolutionists, yet they are convinced that they are more evolved in significant ways than most modern people with their limited sciences and most premodern people with their limited religions.
  • a major problem with premodern religion, which is seen to be a source of absolutism,      exclusivism, sexism, racism, feudalism, classism, ethnocentrism, sociocentrism and other sorts of questionable privilege, dogmatic narrow-mindedness and hopeless dim-spiritedness that diminish or deny the dignity, individual freedoms, and equality of human beings.
  • a number of problems with modern science, which is considered to be only one of many possible sources of knowledge with no particular source of knowledge essentially privileged, not the official or only source of knowledge as claimed by many modern people, and when it changes its character, in a common Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde move, from the humility of legitimate scientific inquiry into the imperialism of a one-size-fits-all, third-person scientism.
  • an interest in putting as many premodern, modern, and postmodern options as possible on the table, or since the 1990s on the internet, and then making their own particular choices from a seemingly endless smorgasbord of knowledge options, and then sometimes creating out of their particular selections an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary or integrative theory.

We close this section on the shift from modern to postmodern times with a few lines of sublime poetry. The first set of lines is taken from Frithjof Schuon’s (2006) Songs without Names, and the second set T.S. Eliot’s (1974) Four Quartets:

Science demands pure objectivity —
It demands the elimination of everything that is “I.”
But this is only one aspect of knowledge —
The other aspect is likewise a world for itself;
Seen thus, we are a web of I and thou.
True science is not only quantity —
It also requires the living “I.”
(LVII, Ninth Collection, p. 124)

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
(Quartet 4, Little Gidding)

Levels of Human Development in Premodern, Modern and Postmodern Times

The progress of civilization is not wholly a uniform drift toward better things. Alfred North Whitehead (1926, p. 1).

What we want to make clear in this section is that all human beings start their growth at conception in the soul and body of their parents and continue their growth in their different senses and faculties through many levels of increasing bio-psycho-socio-cultural complexity as far as their bio-psycho-socio-cultural circumstances will allow them in premodern, modern and postmodern times respectively. Put another way, given growth appropriate bio-psycho-socio-cultural supports and challenges during the different phases of their growth in childhood and adulthood, human beings in all likelihood will grow from less to more developed levels in their various capabilities for thinking, feeling and doing in whatever historical era they may live in.

However, we need to keep in mind at least three things: first, many people suffer with significant degrees of non-existent or careless bio-psycho-socio-cultural supports and challenges during the different phases of their growth in childhood and adulthood that limit to various degrees their bio-psycho-socio-cultural growth; second, many people find enough vital inspiration in their lives to make heroic growth generating choices in all sorts of careless bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions; and third, the general bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions for human growth are evidently different in each historical age, as indicated below:

  • In premodern times, the language of symbolism with its multiple levels of significance—communicated through Sacred Scripture, music, architecture, liturgy, and many other art forms, and with the realities indicated by these symbols actualized in various yogas, such as hatha, laya and tantra (psycho-physical training from preliminary to advanced levels), raja (concentration, meditation and contemplation), mantra or japa (divine invocation), karma (works), bhakti (devotion), and jnana  (knowledge)—allows for multi-perspectival and multi-layered readings of oral and written religious texts and for participation in intensive on-being-in-one’s-right-mind, spirit-awakening practices that have nourished the bio-psycho-socio-cultural growth of millions of people for millennia.
  • In modern times, the language of mathematics with its multiple domains of complexity, taught at primary, secondary and  tertiary levels of education, allows for multi-perspectival quantitative      readings of nature and the human condition that are being used by many creative innovators to develop all sorts of technological products for increasingly affluent people in materially privileged societies especially in recent  decades at least until the inescapable limits of heartless material growth on a planet with limited resources that have been all too quickly depleted kicks in with all sorts of unforgiving bio-psycho-socio-cultural vengeance (see, for example, Paul & Anne Ehrlich’s Can a Collapse of Global Civilization Be Avoided? (2013)).
  • In postmodern times, the language of human rights and equality with its multiple levels of interpretation from second to third to fourth-person readings, i.e. from concrete authoritarian to     abstract representative to context-sensitive multicultural forms respectively, as described by John Bunzl (2013), is being championed by all sorts of people who value some form of multi-stakeholder democracy over various forms, either religious or secular, of one-right-way      totalitarian order in their quest to develop better lives and living conditions for themselves and for other human beings, regardless of their race, sex, gender, age, class or creed.

Given these differences in each historical age, we also need to keep in mind that the specific readings of bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions are different at each level of human development in each historical age. To explain what we mean, we present a reading of adult development adapted from Terri O’Fallon’s (2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2013) important work. We describe six levels of increasingly nuanced development in awareness:

  1. A self inhabits first-person views, operations and  worldspaces.
  2. Self and other(s) inhabit second-person views, operations and worldspaces in concrete ways.
  3. Self and other(s) inhabit third-person views, operations and worldspaces, and observe, interact with and ponder the play of first and second-person views, operations and worldspaces in abstract and formal ways.
  4. Self and other(s) inhabit fourth-person views, operations and worldspaces, and observe, interact with and ponder the play of first, second and third-person views, operations and worldspaces in      multiple interconnected contexts.
  5. Self and other(s) inhabit fifth-person views, operations and worldspaces, and observe, interact with and ponder the play of first, second, third and fourth-person views, operations and worldspaces in diverse interrelated developmental constructs.
  6. Self and other(s) inhabit sixth-person views, operations and worldspaces, and observe, interact with and ponder the play of first, second, third, fourth and fifth-person views, operations and worldspaces  in the diverse interactions of horizontal and vertical unities, polarities, complementaries, oppositions, ternaries, and other multiplicities.

What we want to say is that all of these capabilities from first to sixth-person views, operations and worldspaces are present to some degree in some highly developed people in premodern, modern, and postmodern times respectively. Although highly developed Saints and Sages may have been relatively rare in premodern times, nevertheless they evidently existed in some sanctuaries. These extraordinary people demonstrated remarkable gifts for seeing and reading divine, human and natural essences and substances beyond the normal capabilities of the general population, who seemed to have operated with mainly concrete second-person sociocentric tribal readings of traditional oral texts. Have a look at the life and work of, for example, Plotinus (c.205-70), Shabab al-Din Suhrawardî (1153-91), Jalâl ad-Dîn Rûmî, Meister Eckhart, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401-64), or Sadr ad-Dîn Muhammad Shîrâzî (Mullâ Sadrâ) (c.1572–1640) for evident demonstrations of abstract third-person, context-sensitive fourth-person, and sometimes construct-aware fifth-person, and perhaps polarity-aware sixth-person views and readings of bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions (Copleston, 1985a; Kingsley, 2004; Uždavinys, 2009, 2010; Nasr & Aminrazavi, 2010).

In modern times, artists, mystics, scientists and philosophers with high levels of cognitive, affective and behavioral agility also may have been rare amongst the masses of people with mainly concrete second-person and less often abstract third-person views and readings of bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions. Nevertheless, some remarkable creative people, such as William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716), and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), demonstrated consistently context-sensitive fourth-person, sometimes construct-aware fifth-person, and perhaps polarity-aware sixth-person capabilities, at least temporarily when they were in creative states if not more permanently as well earned character traits (Copleston, 1985b, 1985c).

In recent times, some researchers in adult development, such as Robert Kegan (1982, 1994), Susanne Cook-Greuter (2004, 2005, 2010), Kurt Fischer & Thomas Bidell (2006), Michael Commons & Sara Ross (2008), William Torbert (2004, 2010, 2013), Zachary Stein (2010), Otto Laske (2011), Terri O’Fallon (2010, 2011a, 2011b), et al, have attempted to take measurements of levels of development in different skills in adults across many different cultures. What they have found is that very few people operate with some capability for fifth-person or higher views, operations and worldspaces, in presumably relatively privileged growth-supportive bio-psycho-socio-cultural circumstances, and that the majority of the adult population continue to operate with either second or third-person views, operations and worldspaces, in all likelihood in relatively underprivileged growth-restrictive bio-psycho-socio-cultural circumstances. Given these claims, in spite of many of us having been educated into an evolutionary prejudice that privileges postmodern times over modern and premodern times, perhaps we need to acknowledge that the percentage of people with fifth and sixth-person capabilities for compassion and wisdom will be constantly small in each and every generation regardless of which era they may be living in.

Table 8. Premodern, Modern, Postmodern and Integral Times in Individuals and Societies.
Table 8. Premodern, Modern, Postmodern and Integral Times in Individuals and Societies.


Abbreviations: Rea = Reason, Sen = Sentiment, Ima = Imagination, and Mem = Memory.

At this point we need to draw an important distinction between fourth and fifth-person perspectives that is attributed to the work of Abraham Maslow (1968), Clare Graves (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005), Don Beck (Beck & Cowan, 1996), and Ken Wilber (2006), who distinguish deficiency needs from being needs as seen in Maslow’s theory of motivation, or first tier from second tier levels of human development as seen in Beck’s and Wilber’s models. The change from fourth to fifth-person functioning is significant because at first to fourth-person levels people experience an unavoidably strong ‘us, right versus them, wrong’ tension that generates certain conflicts at these developmental levels, however, with fifth-person functioning people know that there are no ‘others’ whatsoever in humanity’s diversity and that therefore all human beings, and furthermore all living beings, are accepted as being sacred members of the planetary community of all beings in universal life and love, or, in Christian terms, the Mystical Body of Christ. Given these research findings, we claim that this shift from fourth to fifth-person functioning seems to be similar to the shift from anima to spiritus in Latin, psyche to pneuma in Greek, an-nafs to ar-Rûh in Arabic, jiva to Buddhi in Sanskrit, from the dualist (or perhaps better said, duellist) suffering inseparable with fallen states to the integral unity of truth, goodness and beauty in Universal Man that is featured in the languages and symbolisms of the enduring wisdom traditions (W Perry, 2008). We have summarized these claims in table 8.

While we are in this reflective mood, we reiterate three claims. First, human beings have five faculties (reason, sentiment, imagination, will and memory), which will grow at different rates for each faculty from first-person to higher levels of functioning when growth appropriate bio-psycho-socio-cultural supports and challenges are available. Second, human beings at the present time are living concurrently in at least three historical eras with many people living in premodern times when their religion is prominent in transmitting qualitative virtues, in modern times when their science is prominent in measuring quantifiable variables, and in postmodern times when there is a critique of premodern and modern factors based on important principles such as individual freedoms or the equality of people(s) or the lack of wholeness in humanity and the community of all living beings on the planet. Third, anyone from premodern, modern and postmodern times has an opportunity in their lives to grow beyond their current individual egocentrism and group sociocentrism at first to fourth-person levels of development to eventually experience and inhabit fifth-person, sixth-person or greater degrees of their Universal Humanity and ultimately the paradoxical fullness and emptiness of their Universal Divinity in, using Christian symbolism, a creative Trinitarian God (Bourgeault, 2013).

With the aforementioned overviews of the three eyes of knowing, the human knowledge quest and the levels of development in premodern, modern and postmodern times in place, we are now ready to use some of the insights garnered in these skeletal overviews in an investigation of some claims that Ken Wilber has made for his Integral Theory and Practice.

A Brief Inquiry into Some Issues in Wilber’s Integral Theory and Practice

There is a common thread of timeless wisdom that runs through all the great systems of spirituality and metaphysics in the world’s religions. All the religions partake of a similar origin in the mystical process of their founders. There is a universal wisdom, a global mysticism, that exists, but it is neither intentional nor systematic. It is the common human dimension of the search for Ultimate Reality, the Divine, and all the experience of it recorded in the various traditions throughout history. – Wayne Teasdale (Pallis, 2003, p.viii).

What we will claim provisionally in this section is that Wilber’s Integral Theory tends to lowlight some important aspects of humanity’s wisdom teachings that distinguish and unite immortal Spirit and mortal soul. If it could use better humanity’s wisdom teachings, which are presented by Whitall Perry in The Spiritual Ascent (2008) in an encyclopedic presentation of perennial wisdom, Wilber’s Integral Theory would then be able to address more incisively two important contemporary problems: scientism—the reduction of humanity’s knowledge from perennial wisdom based on the full liberation of the human person (divine heart, human soul and natural senses altogether) to just modern science based on empirical investigations of the quantitative aspects of natural and human worlds; and evolutionism—the loss of causation from greater to lesser levels of qualities, values, purposes and meanings in the Divine Simultaneity of All Things. We will claim that Wilber’s Integral Theory fails to adequately address these problems because it is itself clouded in its own specific ways by certain forms of reductionism and evolutionism.

Some Issues in Integral Theory and Perennial Wisdom

Let us begin with a reading of what Wilber is attempting to do in his innovative work. At the University of Luxembourg symposium “Research across Boundaries: Advances in Theory-building” in 2010, Mark Edwards gave an illuminating exposition of the intent of Wilber’s work. He writes in Towards an Integral Meta-Studies (2013),

Ken Wilber’s AQAL metatheory is not so much a philosophy but a metatheory. Wilber does not work from first principles to derive a philosophical framework for considering the basic questions of existence. He does not start with questions such as: What is an object? What does it mean to see color? Is there a God? How do we know things? Rather, from the very beginning, Wilber’s approach has been to consider the range of extant theories, philosophies and cultural viewpoints and, through finding connections between these existing perspectives, build a meta-theoretical framework that situates extant approaches within a much larger and more integrative conceptual system. This is a metatheoretical approach and not a philosophical one. Wilber has been at considerable pains to highlight the fact that his understanding of, for example, human development is not a philosophical approach but is based on empirical findings from many different psychological theories of human growth (p. 180).

We do not know to what extent Wilber agrees with this assessment of his work. However, Edwards’ interpretation of Wilber’s work is in our view fairly accurate. Therefore, we will be using it in our case for reductionism in Wilber’s work, which we will now refer to as AQAL metatheory not Integral Theory.

What we find in our experience is that Wilber is certainly steadfast in promoting his AQAL metatheory. Here is an example. Following the “Research across Boundaries” symposium in 2010 and the “Critical Realism & Integral Theory” symposium at JFK University, San Francisco in 2011, in which integral theorists, critical realists, and other metatheorists gathered together to explore each others’ work in open dialogues (Marshall, 2012a, 2012b), Wilber made a significant contribution by throwing his AQAL metatheoretical net over Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism and metaReality in his article In Defense of Integral Theory: A Response to Critical Realism (2013). Alas, in this article, we do not see Wilber standing in the shoes of the other evaluating his or other metatheories from the perspective of the other with the other, which is presumably what a person with fifth-person capabilities, who is significantly free of egocentric and sociocentric biases at first to fourth-person levels of development, centered in the Eye of Heart in the Divine Simultaneity of All Things and not centered in first to fourth-person senses of space-time in the transitions from yesterday to tomorrow, is able to do. Instead, Wilber amounts a ‘defense’ against an imagined ‘attack’ by an ‘other’, which suggests that there is a contest occurring in sorting out the claims of integral theorists and critical realists, especially when each of these metatheories is interpreted as either a third-person system or a fourth-person metasystem. What we would have preferred to see in his inappropriately named article is Wilber playing both masculine leading and feminine accommodating roles in a much more compellingly nuanced dance of light and shade in a fifth-person appreciation of both AQAL metatheory and Bhaskar’s Critical Realism in the field of Maya; but it seems to be too early for that yet.


Figure 1. The Tripartite Division of an Integral Cosmos into Circumference, 7 Intermediate Regions and Center.

Figure 1. The Tripartite Division of an Integral Cosmos into Circumference, 7 Intermediate Regions and Center.

Before we go on to give further details of reductionism in AQAL metatheory, we need to introduce the work of Wolfgang Smith, who is highly qualified in the rare combination of modern physics, philosophy, mathematics, premodern cosmologies and the perennial philosophy, and, with his work on diffusion fields in the 1950s, is credited with providing a theoretical key to the solution of the re-entry problem for space flight. Huston Smith says of him, “Wolfgang Smith is as important a thinker as our times boast” (W Smith, 2012). In his recent work, Wolfgang Smith uses, in my hypothetical view, a fifth-person reading of the principles of the perennial philosophy to both de-mythologize and critique the claims of some very influential scientisms, such as Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s The Grand Design (2010), and then attempts to re-integrate the findings of modern empirical science into perennial wisdom (W Smith, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2012, 2013).

Having said all of that, I need to be clear that I do not pretend that I am able to understand all dimensions nor all details of the sophisticated work of Smith, Wilber, Bhaskar, Hawking, or many others. Moreover, I am not alone in acknowledging my considerable limitations in understanding both the work of others and the mysteries of reality, because, as Smith points out in an infamous quote from Nick Herbert, “One of the best-kept secrets of science is that physicists have lost their grip on reality” (Herbert, 1987, p. 15, in W Smith, 2013, p. 60).

Moving on, Smith affirms the tripartite division of an integral cosmos into corporeal, intermediary and spiritual degrees of reality in ascending degrees of significance (2013, pp. 8-9). We have modified his three-tiered model into a seven-tiered model in figure 1. The center of a symbolic circle represents the spiritual worlds, which in table 4 are the worlds of Beyond-Being, Sat-Chit-Ananda and supra-formal manifestation, the circumference represents the observable universe, and the annular regions in between represent intermediate degrees of light and shade with the darker outer rings indicating increasing degrees of interest in the sensory exoteric world and the lighter inner rings indicating increasing degrees of esoteric insight into the interactions of the observer and the observed that become available towards the center of the symbolic circle. Put into the context of a reading of Plato’s cave, the center coincides with the Sunlight outside of the cave, the circumference coincides with the sensory world of shadows on the cave wall, and the intermediate regions in between coincide with various degrees of insight into the play of light and shade inside and outside of the cave.

With Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1973, 1981, 1991, 2010), Osman Bakar (1999), Rene Guenon (2001, 2009), Marco Pallis (2003, 2008), James Cutsinger (2005), Mateus Soares de Azevedo (2005), Martin Lings & Clinton Minnaar (2007), Harry Oldmeadow (2007, 2010b), Samuel Bendeck Sotillos (2010a, 2010b, 2012), Huston Smith (2009, 2012a, 2012b), and other perennial philosophers, Smith maintains that this understanding of the tripartite cosmos is common property in premodern civilizations around the globe from Zen Buddhists in the far East to American Indians in the far West, but it has been lost in post-medieval Western civilization, which assumed with the founders of modern science that the sensory world is the more interesting, or for many the only, reality. Now, in the views of some commentators, in the wake of the discoveries of quantum physics, post-medieval, post-modern Western civilization has lost its grip on this sensory world, since according to recent estimates the mass of this world is 96% dark matter-dark energy, which no one understands (Sheldrake, 2012).

With all of the above in mind, let me remind you of my life koan: the dilemma of being true! Ask yourself, in relation to premodern, modern and postmodern times respectively, who or what is true, or alternatively, who or what can you hold in your heart, perhaps only a part of humanity, or may be the fullness of humanity, or in rare moments the fullness of Divinity, which includes the fullness of both humanity and nature?

A Prison of Reductionism

Now we are ready to present our hypothesis that there are at least four forms of reductionism operating in AQAL metatheory—a hypothesis, we expect, that will be actively contested in integral circles. These four forms of reductionism are:

  1. Atma reduces to Maya, the Absolute reduces to the Relative, the Infinite reduces to the Finite, Finite realities reduce to AQAL realities
  2. AQAL realities are ruled primarily by modern and postmodern assumptions
  3. AQAL realities are reliant primarily on structuralist theories of human development
  4. Structuralist theories have significant difficulties in dealing with states of consciousness.

We start our discussion with some key metaphysical issues which will be self-evident to some but not all readers. In relation to the first form of reductionism, we say that AQAL metatheory is a relative and finite production within the Divine Dance of Maya, an unveiling of some possibilities and a veiling of other possibilities. It is, like all human productions, including this discussion, at once a gift of freedom for some people and a dangerous threat to the sensibilities of others. Despite his claim to have delivered a theory of everything, Wilber himself also acknowledges that his AQAL views, methods and worldspaces are partial, a set of extraordinary snapshots of what’s happening today, waiting for tomorrow’s surprises. Perhaps we can agree with this point that the range of AQAL possibilities does not embrace all human possibilities. If we don’t agree, see Mark Edwards’ (2010) integral metatheory.

We turn to some other important issues. Before Wilber began his work, Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, Dante in The Divine Comedy and his other works, William Shakespeare in his plays and sonnets, and the Persian philosophers, such as Ibn Sînâ (Avicenna) (c.980-1037), Shabab al-Din Suhrawardî, Jalâl ad-Dîn Rûmî in his Mathnâwî, the supreme work of Persian Sufi poetry, and Sadr ad-Dîn Muhammad Shîrâzî (Mullâ Sadrâ) (Nasr & Aminrazavi, 2010), contemplated the caprices and designs of human life in their visions of all things. Dante in The Divine Comedy (1988), for example, presented a highly influential reading of the spectrum of human experience in his personal quest from painful ignorance in his dark wood through many infernos, purgatories and paradises towards sainthood, which he celebrated in his famous final lines, “my will and my desire were turned by love, the love that moves the sun and the other stars” (p. 347). We wonder: why do Wilber, Steve McIntosh (2007, 2012), Carter Phipps (2012), Jeff Salzman and some other integral theorists not give these and other premodern visions of all things the thoughtful attention that is appropriate to them?

In relation to the second form of reductionism and in response to our preceding question, we observe that Wilber’s thought is influenced significantly by modern and postmodern assumptions that consider that premodern times were mostly archaic in bio-psycho-socio-cultural development. To explain further, Wilber and other integralists believe that individuals in each generation grow from magenta pre-egoic magical-animistic to red first-person egocentric magic-mythic to amber second-person sociocentric mythic to orange third-person worldcentric rational to green fourth-person worldcentric pluralistic to possible higher levels of human development. We agree with them so far, but on the following points we disagree. Wilber and some other integral theorists associate red and amber with premodern times, orange with modern times, and green with postmodern times. What we have attempted to make clear in our discussion, in tables 2, 5, 6 and 8, and in figure 1, is that 1) magenta, red, amber, orange, green and higher levels of human development are present in premodern, modern and postmodern times respectively; 2) orange and green views, operations and worldspaces work with primarily qualitative virtues at the subjective pole of existence in premodern times (W Perry, 2008), with primarily quantitative variables at the objective pole of existence in modern times, and with primarily the individual freedoms and the equality of human beings (or, for some, living beings) in postmodern times; and 3) orange and green views, operations and worldspaces in premodern, modern and postmodern times respectively are the capabilities of a decisive minority of people, who are a spiritual and intellectual elite. (By the way, these elites are often dismissed in a mix of innocent and inflammatory ways by red and amber majorities. Because people in these majorities do not understand what they have not grown up to see, they often defend themselves by ridiculing as stupid or irrational those things that are over their heads in the development of their faculties).

Given these three claims, we re-assert what we have already mentioned above that in their spiritual quests for Divine Liberation some spiritual practitioners in premodern Tibet, at Mount Athos in Greece, and in many other places around the globe have grown through red, amber, orange and green levels of development in certain intellectual, moral and aesthetic virtues to live their lives centered in the Eye of Heart or Supernal Sun outside Plato’s cave of mind and senses (W Perry, 2008). To give one more illuminating example of a premodern master of Divine Liberation, we mention an extraordinary living Divine Exemplar, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who embodies and enacts profound degrees of the divine quality of kindness (Kabat-Zinn & Davidson, 2011).

In relation to the third form of reductionism, we find, with Mark Edwards (2010, 2013) in his integral metastudies and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens (2010, 2012) in his metaintegral studies, that AQAL metatheory is significantly reliant on structuralist theories of adult development, which feature in the upper-left, the interior of the individual quadrant, in his quadrant model, which crosses individuals and societies with interiors and exteriors, as shown in table 9. We understand that Wilber’s theoretical work in the other quadrants has been delayed due to his continuing health problems. We pray he will be able to recover his health and energy, and with time we hope that he will be able to address these quadrants with greater facility in forthcoming texts.

Table 9. Wilber’s Quadrants with his Eight (Four Inside and Four Outside) Methodological Zones

Table 9. Wilber’s Quadrants with his Eight (Four Inside and Four Outside) Methodological Zones

Source: Adapted from Ken Wilber (2006).

In relation to structuralist theories, structuralist research is based on a set of injunctions, which include giving large groups of people a set of questions, organizing their responses into classes, seeing with regularly repeated interventions what happens to these classes of responses over time, and then determining what is happening when changes in the classes of responses occur over time (Wilber, 2006). Many structuralist researchers from Kegan to Cook-Greuter to Fischer & Bidell to Commons & Ross to Torbert to Stein to Laske to O’Fallon have concluded from this sort of research that there is a sequential order of stages in human development that approximates Wilber’s altitude scale and Cook-Greuter’s ego development scale that we have used throughout our discussion.

We point out that structuralist research is very important in our contemporary world because it legitimizes the presence of degrees of subjectivity (or interiority, which is Wilber’s preferred term) and intersubjectivity (or pan-interiority) in individuals and their cultures respectively. However, this work is highly controversial for at least three important reasons. First, as we have noted above, many scientists in modern times marginalize subjectivity altogether. This allows them to formally study human beings as mere objective quantities, sometimes lifeless mechanical entities, without any theoretical concern for their subjective qualities. We understand that this systematic dehumanization of human beings in scientific research and in applications of scientific research is not going to change from being normal ethical practice any time soon as long as subjectivity, and any research related to subjectivity such as structuralist research, continues to be discounted and disqualified. Second, even though structuralist research confirms the existence of growth hierarchies in human beings, such research is unacceptable for many postmodern people, who are not ready to allow grading of subjective and intersubjective qualities in individuals and their cultures respectively. This is so due to their tendency to demonize hierarchies altogether when they put into social practices their ideals of human equality and individual freedom in both local and global affairs. Third, many people in premodern times accept growth hierarchies in human beings usually within the context of their own authoritative bio-psycho-socio-cultural tradition. Only a limited minority of them with third-person or more developed capabilities are ready to allow the experimental findings of structuralist research to inform their traditional views and readings of the human condition. Given these serious objections that have been raised by many premodern, modern and postmodern people against the findings of structuralist research, we can understand why Wilber’s AQAL metatheory, Edwards’ integral metastudies, Esbjörn-Hargens’ metaintegral studies, and any other projects, including this paper, with strong connections to structuralist research will have great difficulties in becoming a significant influence in 21st century affairs.

In relation to the fourth form of reductionism, another concern we have with structuralist theories of adult development is that they generally depend on modern philosophical assumptions that reduce reality to mainly measurable proportions. In using Occam’s razor, for example, they have limited or no interest in the Eye of Heart, plus the waking, dreaming and sleeping states of consciousness, and the qualitative essences and virtues seen by the Eye of Heart. We notice that the structuralist models, developed by Ken Wilber (2006), Allan Combs (2009), Terri O’Fallon (2013), et al, do not include profound accounts of perennial qualitative essences, unconstrained from modern quantitative reductionisms and postmodern egalitarian flatlands, into their considerations. In table 10, we provide a variation on the Wilber-Combs Lattice, which crosses levels of human development with states of being, consciousness and beatitude, which, we hope, will stimulate further discussions.

Table 10. The Wilber-Combs Lattice Re-Visited: Polymorphous Human Development through Many Schools of Karma
Table 10. The Wilber-Combs Lattice Re-Visited: Polymorphous Human Development through Many Schools of Karma

 Source: Adapted from Ken Wilber (2006). Abbreviations: Si = Sight, So = Sound, Sm = Smell, Ta = Taste, To = Touch, Re = Reason, Im = Imagination, Se = Sentiment, Wi = Will, and Me = Memory.

To bring this section together, perhaps we can agree at this point that each of the aforementioned four forms of reductionism limit AQAL metatheory. Earlier on we defined scientism as the reduction of knowledge from humanity’s perennial wisdom based on the full emancipation of the human person—Divine heart, human soul and natural senses altogether—to just modern science based on empirical investigations of the quantitative measurable aspects of natural and human worlds. Now we can appreciate better why AQAL metatheory is not able to sustain an emancipatory critique of scientism. We propose that AQAL metatheory’s dependency on modern research, such as structuralism—given that modern research agendas generally neglect the Eye of Heart and qualitative essences—limits it from being able to shine as much light into the imperial claims of modern scientism as Wolfgang Smith does in his integral work (2003, 2005, 2008, 2012, 2013). Given that this is so, perhaps we can also see why AQAL metatheory is not the emancipatory force in local and global affairs that many of its subscribers claim it to be or claim it is capable of being in the near future; it is imprisoned in Wilber’s specific reading of vision-logic, not fully centered in the Eye of Heart.

We conclude this section with two comments. Given the presence of these four forms of reductionism, plus other possible problems, in AQAL metatheory, we can now better appreciate why Wilber is liable to make his significant disproportionate claims in his writings, as seen in the example given above in which he claims that close-hearted modern philosophy and close-hearted modern science are able to disqualify a premodern religion, even when it is also close-hearted. Moving beyond Wilber’s biases, what we have come to see during the course of our discussion is that the loss of recognition of the Eye of Heart in modern and postmodern times is a crucial factor in understanding why we are living in such dire times confronting our current escalating civilizational crises.

A Prison of Evolutionism

Now we are ready to tackle some issues in AQAL metatheory in relation to evolution. When we go to Integral Spirituality (2006) to access Wilber’s understanding of evolution, we find that he says “evolution seems to involve some sort of “creative allure,” or what Whitehead called the “creative advance into novelty,”” which is driven by “Eros.” A few lines later, we read “the whole point of a post-metaphysics is that it is a strict application of Occam’s razor, refusing to postulate more entities when fewer will do the trick” (p. 236). We certainly favor Wilber’s account of evolution as an universal process of Eros driven creativity over modern accounts of evolution as a strictly material process driven by natural selection, genetic mutation, and other mainly biological considerations. However we suggest that there are many problems with Wilber’s tricky account of evolution. Here are three of them: it has problems with time, Occam’s razor, and the Eye of Heart.

In relation to the problem of time, we have indicated above in table 8 that each level of human development has its particular sense of time. To expand further, a first-person sense of time is tied to the corporeal body; a second-person sense of time is tied to a body of bio-psycho-socio-cultural tradition; a third-person sense of time in modern times is associated with a mathematical variable, like the standard projection of a linear conception of time beginning with the Big Bang and proceeding from 13.7 billion years ago into unseen futures, or in premodern times with a non-mathematical verity like the changing expressions of Eros in the bio-psycho-socio-cultural relations of self or selves with a Divine Other; a fourth-person sense of time is associated with seeing the play of different qualitative and quantitative senses of time (cyclical, linear, relational, et al) in different bio-psycho-socio-cultural contexts; and a fifth-person sense of time is associated with the relatively instantaneous timeless recognition of first to fourth-person moments of both qualitative and quantitative senses of time. We ask you to wonder about which senses of time feature and dominate in Wilber’s account of evolution? Do you agree with us that the modern conception of mathematical linear time seems to overrule all other modes of time?

In giving our account of the different senses of time we have postulated many more entities than many people will be ready to admit in their view of things. Therefore, we must confess that we have violated Occam’s razor, once again, another violation in a series of violations. But we do not see why we must use Occam’s razor as rigorously as Wilber evidently feels compelled to do in his post-metaphysics. For us, Occam’s razor is just a third-person strategy that has been employed in the modern world to cut down the fullness of reality from all-possibilities to a manageable set of preferably measurable possibilities, and a philosophical tool that has an intrinsic bias towards the objective pole of existence at the expense of the subjective pole of existence. We say that this useful philosophical device needs to be used in conscious ways with a nuanced understanding of its limitations. Otherwise, we will have many casualties, including Wilber’s account of evolution, which in using Occam’s razor shaves off recognition of erotic creativity from third to nth-person views, operations and worldspaces in premodern arts, philosophies, sciences and religions (Zarandi, 2003).

In relation to the Eye of Heart, the Hindu tradition refers to a decline in the quality of life from the Krita Yuga, when the Eye of Heart is open, through Treta and Dvapara Yugas to the Kali Yuga, when the Eye of Heart is virtually closed, which corresponds to the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages of ancient Greek mythology. Many Hindus locate our present time in the last phase of the Kali Yuga, in which, in an often mentioned message from the Vishnu Purâna (Oldmeadow, 2010a), people generally disregard the process of Divine Liberation presented in the Vedas in their pursuit of all sorts of intellectual, moral and aesthetic interests which are increasingly disturbed by intellectual, moral and aesthetic conflicts. Since the publication of Up from Eden (1999a) in 1981, Wilber has been marshaling arguments and evidence for his belief in the evolution of humanity from premodern (supposedly prerational) to modern (supposedly rational) to postmodern (supposedly becoming postrational) times. He locates our present living conditions in the first phase of an integral age during which he expects about ten per cent of people (somewhere) will shift from fourth to fifth-person views, operations and worldspaces in an integral revolution that will significantly improve the bio-psycho-socio-cultural living conditions for all living beings on our deeply troubled planet. The question is: will we find in our lives that Wilber’s account of up from Eden in bio-psycho-socio-cultural complexity in human development is correct, or the Hindus’ account of down from Eden in spiritual wakefulness in Divine Simultaneity is correct, or both of them are correct to some degree in the Divine Play of Maya?

We offer some more important comments on the role of evolutionism in AQAL metatheory. We notice that in AQAL metatheory we do not read much about the creativity of Christ, the Divine Word, in the Eternal (Timeless) Now, sacrificing Being, Consciousness and Bliss so that all living and non-living creatures may have some measure of being, consciousness and bliss, and then gifting all living creatures with valuable opportunities to overcome their limited development in their senses and faculties to be able to know and love the Eternal Christ through greater participation in Divine Being, Consciousness and Bliss. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that Wilber provides in Integral Spirituality (2006) in Appendix 1: From the Great Chain of Being to Postmodernism in 3 Easy Steps a reading of the involution and evolution of the Spirit-mind-body universe in which he significantly reframes the premodern conception of the descent and ascent of Being, Consciousness and Bliss. Our problem with Wilber’s account however is that in the Divine Simultaneity of All Things there are first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth-person interpretive readings of the descent and ascent of Being, Consciousness and Bliss in premodern, modern and postmodern times respectively, but his integral vision does not fully admit many third, fourth, fifth and sixth-person readings of premodern arts, sciences and the process of theosis (Divine Liberation, deification or sanctification) that are available in Christianity, Islam, and other premodern traditions (Burckhardt, 1987, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010; Keeble, 2005; Coomaraswamy, 2004, 2007; Caldecott, 2009, 2012, 2013). We read instead in Integral Spirituality that much of religion is trapped supposedly in a second-person “pressure-cooker” with third-person science “sitting on a lid” on top (Wilber, 2006, p. 181), which is another example of a significant disproportionate claim made by Wilber. Earlier on we defined evolutionism as the loss of causation from greater to lesser levels of qualities, values, purposes, and meanings in the Divine Simultaneity of All Things. Because AQAL metatheory fails to discuss the presence, influence and involvement of third to sixth-person qualities, values, purposes, and meanings on people and their societies in premodern times, as seen in neo-Platonism, it is a notable variant of evolutionism.

We conclude this section with two comments. Many groups of scholars have attacked Wilber’s account of progressive evolutionism on various grounds. Material evolutionists with third-person Darwinian assumptions, Biblical creationists with second and third-person religious assumptions, systems theorists with fourth-person metasystemic assumptions, and many other groups consider Wilber’s variant of Eros-driven cosmogenesis incredible. Such is human diversity. Our primary concerns throughout our discussion are that Wilber’s AQAL metatheory and his account of evolution are deficient in recognizing the Divine Simultaneity of All Things in premodern, modern and postmodern times respectively, and in allowing the Eye of Heart to shine with more radiant Divine Light and Love outside Plato’s cave. Such is participation in Universal Man in Divine Spirit.


In man the Spirit becomes the ego in order that the ego may become pure Spirit. – Frithjof Schuon (Nasr & O’Brien, 2006, p. 123)

At the outset of this discussion I mentioned I was born into a Catholic milieu that was both inspiring in giving me a profound appreciation for integral (catholic) truth and devastating in failing in many ways to make integral (catholic) truth a living and loving reality. I have grown up with this tension between vision and practice twisting my life. In agreement with Bede Griffiths (1990), I consider integral (catholic) truth embraces nature’s living and non-living creatures and includes humanity’s diverse arts, philosophies, sciences and religions in premodern, modern and postmodern times altogether in the Eternal Christ, but in practice this integral (catholic) vision is rarely available in everyday living.

In my view, a true integral Catholic would be able to sing joyously with their heart the words of two of Islam’s greatest mystics, Muhyî al-Dîn ibn al-‛Arabî and Jalâl al-Dîn Rûmî respectively,

My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles, a cloister for Christian monks, a temple for idols, the Kaaba of the pilgrim, the tablets of the Torah, and the Book of the Koran. I practice the religion of Love. In whatsoever directions its caravans advance, the religion of Love shall be my religion and my faith. (Stoddart, 2012, p. v)

I am neither Christian nor Jew nor Parsi nor Muslim. I am neither of the East nor of the West, neither of the land nor of the sea….I have put aside duality and have seen that the two worlds are one. I seek the One, I know the One, I see the One, I invoke the One. He is the First, He is the Last, He is the Outward, He is the Inward. (Stoddart, 2012, p. v)

Let me paraphrase: an integral heart holds altogether all creatures great and small in untamed and tamed nature; holds altogether over 200 nationalities represented at the United Nations, plus all other unrepresented nationalities on our planet, with all of their diverse arts, philosophies, sciences and religions; holds altogether all necessarily limited worlds of being, consciousness and bliss interwoven out of interpenetrating unities, polarities, complementaries, oppositions and multiplicities; holds altogether all things that appear, stay for awhile and go in the waking, dreaming and sleeping states; and holds altogether the relative truths, goods and beauties available in contrasting texts like Mehrdad Zarandi’s Science and the Myth of Progress (2003) and Carter Phipp’s Evolutionaries (2012). To be so, I need to be fully open-hearted in Divine Liberation serving the Divine Liberation of all living beings in the creativity of Divine Spirit, not just momentarily but continuously forever more.

I agree with G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), who said in What’s Wrong with the World (1910), “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried” (p. 19). Again I paraphrase, the Religion of Love hasn’t failed; it just hasn’t been lived with an integral heart often enough in any of the world’s wisdom traditions in any era. What I want to see is a Religion of Love with at least fifth-person capabilities that can wisely discriminate and compassionately embrace humanity’s diversity with first, second, third, and fourth-person capabilities in body and mind.

In our discussion we have located various groups of prisoners, who accept the status quo in a particular bio-psycho-socio-cultural matrix, freedom fighters, who want to change the status quo in a particular bio-psycho-socio-cultural matrix, and light bearers, who contemplate the present dance of light and shade in diverse bio-psycho-socio-cultural matrices, within premodern, modern and postmodern times respectively. What we have found, as indicated in table 10, is that every person is a prisoner within the karma of their current bio-psycho-socio-cultural matrix, every person is a freedom-fighter striving for a higher possibility beyond their current karma, and every person can be a light-bearer centered in the Eye of Heart in relation to the development of self and others.

Now in closing this discussion I ask you to forgive me for my many shortcomings in this presentation. I’m afraid that I’ve provided far too many skeletal outlines with the body of many tables not fully explained, although spending some time wondering in them may prompt some surprises; that I’ve not exposed or corrected or overcome various limitations, biases, inconsistencies, and other likely inadequacies; that I’m only capable of this sort of work when I’m in a rare creative zone, but most of the time I’m not as yet capable of this sort of understanding in everyday living; and that I have offended everyone and no one. Let me say: what I’ve seen with my heart at its best I’ve tried to share with you here. I hope you will find it useful in your life and in your work with others.

Let me leave you with this precious image. All of us probably need a hug from the hugging Saint, Mâtâ Amrtânandamayî Devî (b.1953), “Amma,” including those fortunate people providing light, pursuing their cause, or captivated in vision-logic connected with the ITC2013.

I want to thank Bede Griffiths, Huston Smith, Ken Wilber, Hieromonk Damascene, Terri O’Fallon, Maggie McSwiney, Barbara Boxhall, Moss Arnot, Tania Stavovy, Tess Knight, Julieanne Dooley, Ron Laurie, Brendan Cartmel, Russ Volckmann, Mark McCaslin, Johann Reid, John Bruitzman and Johannes Bruitzman, for giving me the vital prompts that I needed to be able to work on this comparative discussion of premodern, modern and postmodern times with a more open integral heart.

Blessed is the man on whose tomb can be written Hic jacet nemo” [Here lies no one] – Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1975, p. 30)


Snowmass Conference Points of Agreement

Beginning in 1984, spiritual teachers from a variety of world religions—Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, Native American, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic—gathered together regularly at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado for inter-religious dialogues. After twenty years of Snowmass conferences, these spiritual teachers authorized and published their points of agreement (Miles-Yepez, 2006, pp. xvii-xviii), which we provide below:

  1. The world religions  bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give      many names.
  2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
  3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
  4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality.
  5. The potential for human wholeness—or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness—is present in every human being.
  6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices, but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.
  7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
  8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate  Reality.

Additional points of agreement of a practical nature:

  1. Some examples of  disciplined practice, common to us all:
    1. Practice of compassion
    2. Service to others
    3. Practicing moral precepts and virtues
    4. Training in meditation techniques and regularity of practice
    5. Attention to diet and exercise
    6. Fasting and abstinence
    7. The use of music, chanting, and sacred symbols
    8. Practice in awareness (recollection, mindfulness) and living in the  present moment
    9. Pilgrimage
    10. Study of scriptural texts

And in some traditions:

    1. Relationship with a  qualified teacher
    2. Repetition of sacred words
    3. Observing periods of silence and solitude
    4. Movement and dance
    5. Formative community
  1. It is essential to extend our formal practice of awareness into all aspects of our life.
  2. Humility, gratitude, and a sense of humor are indispensable in the spiritual life.
  3. Prayer is communion with Ultimate  Reality, whether it is regarded as personal, impersonal, or beyond them both.


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About the Author

Gerard Bruitzman is an independent researcher, who lives in Melbourne, Australia. Gerry has a deep interest in appreciating better the Divine Play of Maya in nature and humanity; participates in activities related to the perennial philosophy, AQAL metatheory, and global sustainability in Australia, United Kingdom, Europe and North America; and holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) in Psychology from Deakin University, and a Master of Management in Strategic Foresight from Swinburne University of Technology.

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