Ken Wilber and Sri Aurobindo: A Critical Perspective
by Rod Hemsell
Part One – Wilber’s Early Works
Ken Wilber’s work now spans two decades, from The Atman Project (1980), to A Theory of Everything (2001), and it includes some 20 books. In most of these books Sri Aurobindo’s work, especially The Life Divine and The Synthesis of Yoga, are referenced, and his language of integral transformation and spiritual evolution is frequently used. It seems to many, in fact, that Wilber has done an outstanding job of incorporating Sri Aurobindo’s ideas in a way that makes them accessible to a very large audience. For Wilber is widely read in America today, and Sri Aurobindo’s books are not even published in this country.
But it is rather extraordinary at the same time, that in all those thousands of pages, there is hardly a page all together of direct quotes from Sri Aurobindo, very little that is direct commentary on his work, and the references are usually to a list of names, among which Sri Aurobindo is included. To give a typical example, from Integral Psychology (2000), “Like all truly great integral thinkers – from Aurobindo to Gebser to Whitehead to Baldwin to Habermas – he (Abraham Maslow) was a developmentalist.” And so, one might well ask what actually remains of Sri Aurobindo after his ideas are incorporated, along with all of the other many sources that Wilber’s genius has so skillfully worked into his voluminous synthesis, and what is there that is truly Wilber’s? In fact, it may be noted that the other illustrious sources that Wilber frequently refers to are also generally not quoted directly; one must either already be familiar with them, or else assume that Wilber is doing them justice.
The goals of this essay, therefore, are to present a summary of various essential aspects of Wilber’s work, hopefully in a way that makes it more accessible to those who are not already familiar with it, and then to submit these aspects to a critical comparison with specific related aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s work. (“Work” is used here in a dual sense: the written work of these authors, and the practical thrust, purpose, intent of their writing in the context of our actual human predicament.) For those who are familiar with both authors, there will be little that is new or unknown here. But the critical perspective that I hope to present should help to clarify the relationship of Wilber’s writing to that of Sri Aurobindo, and it should highlight the unique contribution that each has made to their common project: the evolution of consciousness. I shall assume that most readers of this essay will not be terribly familiar with the writings of Wilber.
2. The Atman Project
Wilber is a transpersonal, developmental psychologist, who has attempted to map the entire territory of human development – “the evolution of consciousness” – through time, and to formulate a comprehensive theory of the processes, stages, and mechanisms of that development. His method is historical, analytical and contemplative: he attempts to synthesize all the relevant views of philosophy, psychology, and religion, East and West, in support of what he calls an “integral theory of consciousness.” Let me hasten to say that one can only respect and admire the persistence, scope, clarity and integrity of purpose with which he has carried his project forward. It seems to have begun with the theory that he calls “the Atman Project,” and although it appears, from the scope of his writings, that he has moved well beyond that point in his own development, let us begin there.
In the very first sentence of the Preface to that book, Wilber states the theory:
… development is evolution; evolution is transcendence…; and transcendence has as its final goal Atman, or ultimate Unity Consciousness in only God. All drives are a subset of that Drive, all wants a subset of that Want, all pushes a subset of that Pull – and that whole movement is what we call the Atman-project: the drive of God towards God, Buddha towards Buddha, Brahman towards Brahman, but carried out initially through the intermediary of the human psyche, with results that range from ecstatic to catastrophic.
At the very outset, Wilber also states a corollary of this theory, for which he is well known, – the “pre/trans fallacy,” which qualifies his position with respect to the developmental theories of both Jung and Sri Aurobindo. If, as Wilber says, the evolution of consciousness spans three broad stages from pre-egoic to egoic to transpersonal, a spectrum of development that is recapitulated in every human being, it is a mistake to confuse the pre-egoic, unconscious, uroboric stage with the transpersonal, integrated, transcendent stages of development, as if the higher consisted in a return to and recapture of the lower. This seminal distinction marks the point of departure for Wilber, sets the direction of all his future work, and establishes the terminology that he will use. For the student of Sri Aurobindo, this may call to mind occasional remarks made by Sri Aurobindo about Western psychology, to the effect that it tries to explain the lotus by analyzing the mud. Wilber seems to agree with this sentiment. A few excerpts from The Atman Project will illustrate this development in his thought.
The infantile fusion-state is indeed a type of “paradise,“ as we will see, but it is one of pre-personal ignorance, not transpersonal awakening. The true nature of the pre-personal, infantile fusion state did not dawn on me until I ran across Piaget‘s description of it: ‘The self at this stage is material, so to speak…‘ And material union is the lowest possible unity of all – there is nothing metaphysically “high“ about it; the fact that it is a unity structure, prior to subject-object differentiation, erroneously invites its identification with the truly higher unity structures which are trans-subject/object. At the point that became obvious to me, the whole schema that I had presented in RE-VISION(a journal of transpersonal psychology edited by Wilber) re-arranged itself…
I have reserved “uroboros“ for the pre-personal state of infantile material fusion (along with “pleroma“); “centaur“ is now reserved strictly for the mature integration of body and ego-mind, and “typhon” is introduced for the infantile period of pre-differentiation of body and ego (Freud‘s “body-ego“ stages); “transpersonal“ refers strictly to the mature, adult forms of transcendence of the ego-mind and body; my use of the terms “evolution“ and “involution“ has been brought into accord with that of Hinduism (e.g., Aurobindo), and my original use of those terms (based on Coomaraswamy) has been replaced by the terms “Outward Arc“ and “Inward Arc.”
In the next few pages of the prologue to The Atman Project, Wilber presents the first of many diagrams of psychological development, describing the Outward and Inward Arcs. The Outward Arc of development includes the sequence: pleroma, uroboros, bodyego, membership-cognition, early and middle ego/persona, late ego/persona; the Inward Arc of development includes the stages: mature ego, biosocial bands, centaur/existential, subtle, causal, Atman. These consecutive stages of ascending development are also presented in the form of a chart.
|3||Axial-body||Physical||Beginning of safety||Impulsive|
|7||Early egoic||Reasoning mind||Belongingness||Conformist|
|8||Middle egoic||Physical ego||Conscientious conformist|
|9||Late egoic||Idea mind||Self-esteem||Conscientious|
|11||Biosocial centaur Existential centaur||Higher mind||Self-actualization||Autonomous Integrated|
|12||Low subtle||Illumined mind||Transcendence|
|13||High subtle||Intuitive mind|
This conception of the stages of development will evolve in Wilber’s writing through many versions and many books, but will retain the same basic structure. And it will frequently be compared with other developmental models. For example, at the end of The Atman Project, Wilber provides several charts that compare his system with some twenty other similar developmental models. I have reproduced here a chart of Wilber’s system based on his comparisons with just three other frequently mentioned models. As I said, these comparative models have been elaborated and have evolved throughout Wilber’s work, and he uses them effectively to illustrate his point. The general idea of psychological development, the way that it has been drawn from a variety of sources, and, most importantly, his inclusion of the higher mental and spiritual ranges, roughly in accordance with Sri Aurobindo’s system, are made sufficiently clear.
The major thesis, and the method to be applied in establishing it, are immediately set forth in The Atman Project (p. 2-3):
Modern developmental psychology has, on the whole, simply devoted itself to the exploration and explanation of the various levels, stages, and strata of the human constitution – mind, personality, psychosexuality, character, consciousness. The cognitive studies of Piaget and Werner, the works of Loevinger and Arieti and Maslow and Jakobson, the moral development studies of Kohlberg – all subscribe, in whole or part, to the concept of stratified stages of increasing differentiation, integration, and unity. Having said that much, we are at once entitled to ask, “What, then, is the highest stage of unity to which one may aspire?“ Or, perhaps we should not phrase the question in such ultimate terms, but simply ask instead, “What is the nature of some of the higher and highest stages of development? What forms of unity are disclosed in the most developed souls of the human species?“ The problem with that type of question lies in finding examples of truly higher-order personalities – and in deciding exactly what constitutes a higher-order personality in the first place. My own feeling is that as humanity continues its collective evolution, this will become very easy to decide, because more and more “enlightened“ personalities will show up in data populations, and psychologists will be forced, by their statistical analyses, to include higher-order profiles in their developmental stages. In the meantime, one‘s idea of “higher-order“ or “highly-developed“ remains rather philosophic. Nonetheless, those few gifted souls who have bothered to look at this problem have suggested that the world‘s great mystics and sages represent some of the very highest, if not the highest, of all stages of human development.
…Let us then simply assume that the authentic mystic-sage represents the very highest stages of human development – as far beyond normal-and-average humanity as humanity itself is beyond apes. This, in effect, would give us a sample which approximates “the highest state of consciousness“ – a type of “superconscious state.”
In accordance with this assumption, Wilber includes in his developmental model, as we have seen, an upper tier of higher stages of consciousness: “low subtle,” “high subtle,” “low causal,” “high causal,” and “ultimate,” corresponding roughly to the upper categories defined by Sri Aurobindo. Wilber frequently reduces his upper tier to four categories: psychic, subtle, causal, nondual. And he often explains these by comparison with the Buddhist categories: Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya, Svabhavikakaya. (His sources for this terminology appear to be, primarily, Evans-Wentz and D.T. Suzuki.)
In both The Atman Project and its successor, Up from Eden (1981), Wilber devotes most of his thesis to a detailed description of the unfolding of the lower stages of human development, from the uroboric and typhonic to the mental egoic and centauric levels, utilizing familiar Freudian and Jungian concepts and terminology. In Up from Eden, the exposition deals primarily with the cultural myths and symbols that indicate a parallel development in the collective psyche of humanity. And in both books, the dynamics and the mechanics of involution and evolution that underlie and drive the process of psychological unfolding called the Atman-project are elaborated. In this theory, the traditional psychoanalytic dynamics of repression and sublimation, and the playing out in the human psyche of the struggle between Life and Death, Eros and Thanatos, are shown to be, rather than the repression of sexuality, the repression of the soul through the involution of spirit, and its sublimation in the stages of evolution back towards spirit. A few selections from these early books will serve to illustrate Wilber’s argument and style, as well as to bring us up to speed with this psychoanalytical way of viewing the human psyche.
The ultimate psychology is a psychology of fundamental Wholeness, or the superconscious All. At any rate, let us simply note that this Wholeness…is what is real and all that is real. A radically separate, isolated and bounded entity does not exist anywhere.
It follows, then, that to erect a self-boundary or barrier, and hold a separate-identity feeling against the prior Wholeness, not only involves illusion, it requires a constant expenditure of energy, a perpetual contracting or restricting activity. This of course obscures the prior Wholeness itself, and this…is the primal repression. It is the illusory repression of universal consciousness and its projection as an inside-self vs. an outside-world, a subject vs. an object. …
Because man wants real transcendence above all else, but because he cannot or will not accept the necessary death of his separate-self sense, he goes about seeking transcendence in ways, or through structures, that actuallyprevent it and force symbolic substitutes. And these substitutes come in all varieties: sex, food, money, fame, knowledge, power – all are ultimately substitute gratifications, simple substitutes for true release in Wholeness. …This attempt to regain Atman consciousness in ways or under conditions that prevent it and force symbolic substitutes – this is the Atman-project.
…The neonate begins to realize that the environment and his self are not one and the same. The infant starts to recognize that something exists apart from his self, and this “global something“ we call the “uroboric other.“ …uroboric incest is the tendency to fall back into embryonic and pleromatic states – we would say, the desire to unite with the uroboric other and sink back into pre-differentiated oblivion. …
In other words, uroboric incest is simply the most primitive form of Eros, the most archaic and least developed form of the Atman-project. Uroboric incest is the tendency to seek out that lowest-level unity of all – simple material embeddedness, wherein all conscious forms melt back into the utter darkness of the prima materia.
…But as soon as the self is strong enough to accept the death of the uroboros, as soon as the self can surrender or die to the exclusively uroboric incest, then Thanatos outweighs Eros, uroboric translation ceases and transformation upward ensues. (p. 112-114)
The Atman-project in the Typhonic Realms
…But as the organism itself begins to mature physiologically, and especially in its capacity for imagery, the primitive uroboric self-feeling begins to shift to the individual bodyself, and the uroboric other begins to focus as the “mothering one.“ The infant thus begins to grow out of the purely pre-personal and uroboric realm into the typhonic plane of existence, where it will face the existential battle of being vs. nullity, a battle centered around the figure – now loving, now terrifying, now benevolent, now devouring – of the Great Mother…the infant at this stage translates his situation (in images) so as to present itself as the center of the cosmos by – as psychoanalysis puts it – “incorporating“ or “swallowing“ the world (the Great Mother), or just initially the “breast“ in image form.
And so the infant proceeds to translate his self and his world, attempting to gain some sort of prior Unity. In this manner, then, we can view the stock in trade phenomenon of psychoanalysis: infantile thumb-sucking. For by virtue of the magical primary process which, as we saw, dominates this body level, the infant can translate the Great Environment or Great Mother into the breast-image into the thumb-image, and thus…he can pretend to unite himself with his world. …To find Atman, to find Unity, the infant eats the world, the Great Mother. (p. 114-116)
Before going on to Wilber’s attempt to explain this psychoanalytic picture of development in terms of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of evolution, and then putting the Atman-project in a more critical perspective, I would like for us to look briefly at Wilber’s characterization of the Great Mother/Great Goddess transformation, in Up From Eden (1981). In this book, the author applies the Atman-project theory to the evolution of human society and culture, which is documented in detail and moves along a similar path of unfolding, from the uroboric to the typhonic to the mythic-membership stage. The latter is parallel to the next stage of ego differentiation in the individual, beyond the typhonic body-ego: the formation of an early stage mental-ego, which takes place primarily through verbal development and various forms of parental fixation. So for mankind and its cultures, the uroboric Eden is superseded by the typhonic, magic-hunter stage, and then by the mythic-membership stage, which includes the emergence of agriculture, ritual sacrifice, and symbolic religion. As in individual development, these stages of social development are all, of course, successive substitutes – “substitute subjects, substitute objects, substitute sacrifices, immortality projects, cosmocentric designs and tokens of transcendence” – for the real unity of the Atman.
Wilber’s account of the historical transition from the practice of physical sacrifice made to the Great Mother, to symbolic sacrifice made to the Great Goddess, is presented as a definitive example of the upward evolution of consciousness in early human societies, and is particularly relevant in the context of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual philosophy, as a few brief excerpts should show.
The Great Mother/Great Goddess
The Great Mother, then, is initially representative of global, bodily, separate, and vulnerable existence in space and time, with consequent desires for a Great Protectress and consequent fears of a Great Destroyer. And it is not hard for me to imagine that something very similar occurred to mankind on the whole as it emerged from its collective slumber in the uroboric Eden. …The Great Mother came thus to represent bodily existence itself, matter and nature, water and earth, and life and death in the naturic realm.
…To the primitive it was obvious: the menstrual blood flow of the woman continues periodically throughout her maturity – except when she is pregnant. And thus it is this “withheld“ menstrual blood that is being converted into the form of a living baby and new life. And therefore the Great Mother needs blood in order to bring forth new life. And this equation was supplemented by the otherwise quite accurate perception that bodily life depends on blood: take away blood, and you take away life. For either or both of these reasons, the conclusion was obvious: just as the earth needs rain to bring forth crops, the Great Mother needs blood to bring forth new life.
When we put these two symbolic equations (of the dead and resurrected lunar-god consort and the blood sacrifice for life) together, we straightforwardly arrive at the perfect logic of the early rites of human sacrifice: the symbolic consort (human or animal) is sacrificed in blood to the Great Mother, dies, and is resurrected (after three days according to many myths). In fact, the Great Mother follows the dead god-consort into the dark underworld, and there effects his resurrection, thus ensuring another cycle of new life and new fertility and new moon. In the sacrifice itself, the god-consort is actually uniting with the Great Mother, and thus himself is reborn or resurrected (becoming in the process, the father of himself.)
For the essence of the Great Mother is that she demanded the dissolution, the sacrifice, of the separate self. Let us note that: the Great Mother demands the dissolution of the self. But the self can dissolve in two entirely different directions: one, it can dissolve in transcendence, it can fall forward into superconsciousness. But two, it can dissolve in regression, in a falling back into the subconscious, in an obliteration of personality and not a transcendence of it. And whereas, for a very few, the Mother was, and still is, the portal to subtle superconsciousness, the way to transcend the personality, she was for most that terrible form of inertia which prevented the emergence, out of the uroboros and typhon, of a truly strong personality.
Put in a different way: a given rite, ceremony, sacrament, or myth can function as a symbol, in which case it evokes higher levels of self and reality, or as a mere sign, in which case it simply confirms and strengthens the same mundane level of self and reality. That is, a given rite or sacrament can serve as a symbol of transformation or as a sign of translation. The first function is properly religious (esoteric), and works to undermine or dissolve self in God consciousness; whereas the second function is merely substitutive, and serves to perpetuate and strengthen the self sense by securing magical substitutes for God. (p. 119-135)
This very severely abbreviated example, is only one among many myths recounted in Up From Eden to illustrate the evolution of human societies and cultures, and to illustrate the mechanism of repression and sublimation of the self which the Atman-project theory endeavors to explain. But this particular example is important to include here especially because of the central importance of the Divine Mother as Mahashakti or Supermind in Sri Aurobindo’s cosmology, and as Tranformative Force in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga. It is curious, however, that Wilber never mentions this aspect of Sri Aurobindo’s work, that I am aware of. And I find this omission significant in particular because Savitri is not only Sri Aurobindo’s most important written work, but in it the goddess both symbolizes and concretely illustrates the spiritual level of the myth that Wilber interpreted at the ritual and symbolic levels in an early, pre-modern society. But the “spiritual” level of interpretation, which would show the Great Goddess also to be a “real force” for transformation at the post-egoic, and post-modern stage of development seems to have been missed – an oversight which I believe has bearing on Wilber’s application of Sri Aurobindo’s concept of involution and evolution, and on our interpretation of that application, to which we shall now turn.
In both of the books that we have been considering in Part One of this essay, The Atman Project, A Transpersonal View of Human Development, and Up From Eden, A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution, Wilber has formulated his theory of the Atman-project in great detail. And near the end of both books he has included a section on Involution and Evolution, where he has made reference to Sri Aurobindo. This is an especially important aspect of Wilber’s theory because it provides the philosophical basis, the essential reason and meaning for the unfolding process of the Self in evolution. Without such a basis, the traditional theory of repression and sublimation based on sexuality, like Darwin’s theory of evolution based on natural selection, both of which lack the notion of a “telos” – a purpose and direction (other than ‘survival’ or ‘pleasure’), would seem just as adequate. It is for this reason, I believe, that Sri Aurobindo devoted his major philosophical work, The Life Divine, to establishing just such a metaphysical basis for his theory of the evolution of consciousness, – in order to achieve a more meaningful, more adequate, more profound explanation of the basis of human life and existence in general. The question here is whether Wilber has succeeded in providing his theory of psychological development with the foundation it needs, by his application of the theory of evolution drawn from Sri Aurobindo.
Wilber introduces the subject, the “what” of involution and evolution, in The Atman Project, like this : We have already examined evolution, which is the movement of the world towards Brahman-Atman. Involution is, more or less, the opposite of that – it is the movement whereby Brahman throws itself outward to create the manifest worlds, a process of kenosis or self-emptying which, at the same time, is a process of pure act and pure creativity. As evolution is movement from the lower to the higher, involution is a movement from the higher to the lower – a movement which “enfolds“ and “involves“ the higher levels of being with the lower.
…in order for evolution – which is the unfolding of higher structures – to occur at all, those higher structures must, in some sense, be present from the start: they must be enfolded as potential, in the lower modes. …And the story of involution is simply the story of how the higher modes came to be lost in the lower – how they came to be enwrapped and enfolded in the lower states.
And then, in order to tell the story of the “how,” Wilber turns immediately to The Tibetan Book of the Dead and its account of the soul’s journey in the “in between.”
Thus, there are two major bardos or “in betweens“ – one occurs as a series of temporal events lasting up to 49 days after physical death, and the other occurs now, moment to moment. And the Tibetan tradition adds one simple and crucial point: these two bardos are the same. What happened to you before you were born is what is happening to you now. …
Immediately following physical death, the soul enters the Chikhai, which is simply the state of the immaculate and luminous Dharmakaya, the ultimate Consciousness, the Brahman-Atman. …
The soul falls away from the ultimate Oneness because “karmic propensities cloud consciousness“ – karmic propensities means seeking, grasping, desiring: means, in fact, Eros. And as this Eros-seeking develops, the state of perfect Oneness starts to “break down.“ …Contraction and Eros – these karmic propensities couple and conspire to drive the soul away from pure consciousness and downwards into multiplicity, into less intense and less real states of being. …right here the soul is starting to move from the highest state into lower states, which means that involution itself has just started.
… at each stage of involution, the soul constructs a substitute self and a substitute world. The causal, the subtle, the mental and the bodily – all were created as substitute formations to present the self as deathless, god-like, immortal and cosmocentric. …
But since each of these “steps down“ is accompanied by a swoon of forgetfulness, the entire sequence is rendered unconscious – rendered unconscious – not destroyed, not removed, not vacated… Which means: all of the higher levels are present, but they are simply forgotten… And, very simply, the result of that entire sequence of forgetting is the ground unconscious. Thus enfolded and enwrapped in the ground unconscious of the newborn lie all the higher states of being.
And here, finally, is the other meaning of the Bardo, of the In Between, and if you feel that “reincarnation“ or “rebirth“ is unacceptable, then this might be easier to accept… not only did the whole involutionary series occur prior to one‘s birth, one re-enacts the entire series moment to moment. …This moment to moment phenomenon we call “microgeny“ – the micro-genetic involution of the spectrum of consciousness. Each moment, the individual passes through the entire Bardo sequence – ultimate to causal to subtle to mental to gross – and he remembers only to the extent he has evolved. If an individual has evolved to the subtle realm, then he will remember the gross, mental, and subtle aspects of consciousness, but he will not remember the causal and ultimate aspects of this moment‘s experience: they remain in the emergent unconscious, awaiting emergence via remembrance. Evolution is simply the interception of micro-involution at higher and higher stages: the more evolved a person is, the less involved he is. (p. 160-175)
Now, Wilber has said repeatedly throughout this originally lengthy and detailed description of the “how” of involution, that it is “simply” put. But it is nevertheless obviously quite complicated. Moreover, I have omitted the explanation of the Eros/Thanatos struggle that mediates the remembering at each moment of ascent and descent. It is described as a vertical struggle between the pull of Atman at one end and Contraction at the other, and a horizontal struggle between Eros at one end and Thanatos at the other. The developing soul is driven by Eros towards substitutes, until it can die to that drive and be pulled away by Thanatos, so it can then emerge upward towards Atman before contracting back down to a lower level of Eros-substitution. The downward movement of the soul in involution is like a ball bouncing down stairs on an elastic band, until it reaches its nadir and then begins to be pulled in all directions by its karmic propensities.
The whole process looks remarkably like a description of what makes the wheel of karma spin. And perhaps it suggests more questions than it answers, not least of which is the big “Why”? But before we attempt to find that one out, it is interesting to note that on the page where we left off, there occurs the one and only reference to Sri Aurobindo in this section, and a quote. Wilber writes: The higher modes can emerge because, and only because, they were enfolded, as potential, in the lower modes to begin with, and they simply crystallize out and differentiate from the lower modes as evolution proceeds. This is exactly what Aurobindo means when he says: “Since this Consciousness [ultimate Brahman-Atman] is creatrix of the world, it must be not only state of knowledge, but power of knowledge, and not only a will to light and vision, but a will to power and works. And since mind, too, is created out of it [Atman], mind must be a development by limitation out of this primal faculty and this…supreme consciousness [that “development by limitation“ is precisely involution] and must therefore be capable of resolving itself back into it through a reverse development by expansion [and that is evolution].
The highlights and brackets in this quote are all Wilbers, and the reference is to a selection from The Life Divine included in an anthology of Indian Philosophy edited by S. Radhakrishnan (1973, p.598). It is possible to trace it back to the original, which is in The Life Divine, Chapter XIV, The Supermind As Creator. There, Will and Mind are capitalized. The “consciousness” that is being spoken of is Supermind, not Atman. The last sentence reads, “And since Mind too is created out of it, Mind must be a development by limitation out of this primal faculty and this mediatory act of the supreme Consciousness.” Sri Aurobindo then goes on to say, “For always Mind must be identical with Supermind in essence and conceal in itself the potentiality of Supermind, however different or even contrary it may have become in its actual forms and settled modes of operation. It may not then be an irrational or unprofitable attempt to strive by the method of comparison and contrast towards some idea of the Supermind from the standpoint and in the terms of our intellectual knowledge. …Supermind is the vast self-extension of the Brahman that contains and develops. …It possesses the power of development, of evolution, of making explicit, and that power carries with it the other power of involution, of envelopment, of making implicit. In a sense, the whole of creation may be said to be a movement between two involutions, Spirit in which all is involved and out of which all evolves downward to the other pole of Matter, Matter in which all is involved and out of which all evolves upwards to the other pole of Spirit. …The first business of Mind is to render “discrete,” to make fissures much more than to discern, and so it has made this paralysing fissure between thought and reality. But in Supermind all being is consciousness, all consciousness is of being, and the idea, a pregnant vibration of consciousness, is equally a vibration of being, pregnant of itself; it is an initial coming out, in creative self-knowledge, of that which lay concentrated in uncreative self-awareness. It comes out as Idea that is a reality, and it is that reality of the Idea which evolves itself, always by its own power and consciousness of itself, always self-conscious, always self-developing by the will inherent in the Idea, always self-realising by the knowledge ingrained in its every impulsion. This is the truth of all creation, of all evolution.”
I have followed out this quotation at some length in order to show the depth and scope of the ideas of involution and evolution in Sri Aurobindo’s thought, from which Wilber seems to have drawn only a portion of his understanding. What he has left out, or not grasped, and which is of considerable importance to this Vedantic conception, is the idea of Supermind as the Creatrix, the Mediatrix, or creative Consciousness-Force of the Brahman responsible for each moment of the involutionary/evolutionary cycle. And the stress here is on Conscious Being, and on Existence, which is all inclusive. In Sri Aurobindo’s conception, this process of involution and evolution is conscious, harmonious, divine, at every level. It is only Mind which experiences the illusion of fragmentation, and the Ego which experiences the separate-self, and Life which undergoes the struggle of Eros/Thanatos. But the reality is quite other than the interpretation given to it by Mind focusing on these various levels of experience, until it is able to rise into that which is its container and its real originating substance. It is possible that Wilber could have derived the notion of involution and evolution from this paragraph, but not the complicated process of forgetting and remembering that he has constructed, and not the microgeny which gives rise to the spectrum of consciousness.
According to Sri Aurobindo, the so called “structures of consciousness” or levels of the Great Chain of Being, in Wilber’s system, are inherent aspects of Conscious Being, enfolded and unfolded, by the creative Will-Force inherent in them.
In his chapter on the same subject in Up From Eden, which he also concludes with a quote from Sri Aurobindo, the focus is on the larger, cosmic and collective as well as individual human picture, and he comes closer to the problem of the “Why,” while stressing the positive role of the illusory ego-mind in its evolutionary ascent from the unconscious to the superconscious. He still doesn’t endow the process with much dynamism or will-power, but he does seem to credit the Brahman with a little more responsibility and creative gusto, at least initially.
He writes, in the section titled Involution and Evolution, To begin with, we need only recall that all esotericism subscribes to the view that reality is hierarchal, or composed of successively higher levels of reality (or, more accurately, levels of decreasing illusion), reaching from the lowest material plane to the ultimate spiritual realization. This is the universal Great Chain of Being, …some of the major links (of which) are: 1) physical, material nature, 2) the biological body, 3) the lower mind (verbal membership), 4) the advanced mind (egoic conceptual), 5) the lower soul (psychic level, Nirmanakaya), 6) the higher soul (subtle level, Sambhogakaya), 7) the Spirit (as Limit, Dharmakaya), and 8) the Spirit (as Ground, Svabhavikakaya).
According to this cosmology/psychology, the ultimate Brahman-Atman periodically “gets lost“ – for the fun and sport (lila) of it – by throwing itself outward as far as possible: to see how “far out“ it can get. …But in so doing, in initiating this great sport and play, Spirit temporarily “forgets“ itself and thus “loses“ itself in successively lower levels. That is, since Spirit successively “forgets“ itself in each descending level, each level actually consists of successively decreasing consciousness. The Great Chain thus descends from superconsciousness to simple consciousness to subconsciousness. (p. 300)
He later rephrases this notion of the creative beginning of evolution with a more Western, mythological image: We have seen two major events, both of which have been described, appropriately enough, as “falls“ – the scientific fall and the theological fall. And we put the two falls together in this fashion: beginning approximately 15 billion years ago, the material cosmos – which represents the most alienated form of Spirit – blew into sole existence with the Big Bang, which was really the roaring laughter of God voluntarily getting lost for the millionth time. That was the limit of involution, and it represented the epitome of the theological fall – the illusory separation of all things from Godhead. From that point on, evolution back to Spirit began, an evolution which produced, in the actual course of history and prehistory, successively higher-order levels – mineral, plant, lower animal, primate, man – but all were still in a state of original sin, or apparent alienation from Spirit. (p. 311-312)
Harking back to the “pre/trans fallacy,” Wilber has given an interesting interpretation in this section of his book to the myth of the Fall. He speculates that the original (theological) Fall was in fact the involution of Spirit, while what he calls the “scientific” Fall occurred, symbolically, in the departure from the Garden of Eden, when mankind realized its vulnerability and separate-self sense, left the uroboros stage, and began the awakening of ego-mind, which is the real beginning of the ascent back to Spirit. To support this thesis, he draws on three philosophical authorities – Hegel, Berdyaev, and Sri Aurobindo.
He writes, “I am not alone in this overall view. Sri Aurobindo, India‘s greatest modern sage, has written on just this viewpoint – Brahman getting lost in involution and then evolving back – from matter to prana to mind to over-mind to super-mind and Atman, and he sees it occurring cosmologically as well as psychologically. (p. 313)
This historical development, or actualization of Spirit by Spirit, occurs, according to Hegel, in three major stages (stages which correspond precisely with our realms of sub-, self-, and super-consciousness). The first is that of Bewusstein, which is bodily awareness, or the sensory perception of an external world without any mental reflection or self-consciousness. It corresponds with our subconscious realm (uroboric and typhonic). The second phase is that of Selbstbewussen, self-awareness and mental reflection – our realm of self-consciousness. More specifically, during this period of self-consciousness there occurs, according to Hegel, “the unhappy consciousness,“ the “divided consciousness,“ “self-alienated“ – because of the stresses involved in self-consciousness itself. This is our “fallen egoic consciousness,“ the scientific fall, whose genesis we have traced. Hegel‘s third phase is that of Vernunft, or transcending knowledge, “the synthesis of objectivity and subjectivity,“ Spirit knowing Spirit as Spirit, which for us is the superconscious. (p. 314-315)
Berdyaev zeroes in on the precise heart of the historical Eden and Paradise: “Not everything was revealed to man in paradise, and ignorance was the condition of life in it. It was the realm of the unconscious. …After the Fall [self-] consciousness was needed to safeguard man from the yawning abyss below [the Devouring Mother]. But [self-] consciousness also shuts man off from the superconscious, divine reality and prevents intuitive contemplation of God… And in seeking to break through to superconsciousness, to the abyss above [the Void], man often falls into the subconscious – the abyss below. In our sinful world consciousness means… dividedness, pain and suffering… Unhappy consciousness can only be overcome through superconsciousness.“ (p. 316-317)
We can finish this section with a concluding remark from Aurobindo, for he expressed precisely the same sentiments: “For actually we see… the universe start with a subconscious [state] which expresses itself openly [but with minimal or “superficial awareness“]. In the conscient [self-conscious realm] the ego becomes the superficial point at which the awareness of unity can emerge; but it applies its perception of unity to the form and surface action [this misapplication of Unity to “the surface form“ is precisely the Atman project] and, failing to take account of all that operates behind, fails also to realise that it is not one in itself but one with others. This limitation of the universal “I“ [Atman] in the divided ego-sense constitutes our imperfect individualised personality. But when the ego transcends the personal consciousness, it begins to include and be over-powered by that which is to us superconscious; it becomes aware of the cosmic unity and enters into the transcendent Self [Atman]. (p. 318)
Again, the quote is taken from Radhakrishnan (1973, p. 587), and it can be traced back to The Life Divine, Chapter V, The Destiny of the Individual. And again, a number of questions can be raised in the context of Wilber’s interpretation. The first sentence in the original says, “For actually we see that the Many objectivised in form in our material universe start with a subconscious unity which expresses itself openly enough in cosmic action and cosmic substance, but of which they are not themselves specifically aware.” And where he puts Atman in brackets, the original continues “which here cosmos expresses by a multiple oneness.” The first problem to be addressed, I believe, is that for Wilber, and also for Hegel and Berdyaev, here in our world of subjectivity and illusory separate-self sense, Brahman/Spirit has been lost to itself and forgotten by us. This is undoubtedly the problem “from below” so to speak. But it is an illusion of the ego, not a truth of the Brahman. Just on the other side of this surface, just above this limitation of Mind, and also just below in Life and Matter, is the Brahman as Supermind. It is an underlying unity, as well as a transcendence to be realized, “which expresses itself openly enough in cosmic action and cosmic substance” or in that world of form and matter which to the ego-mind seems other. The reality, as Wilber mentioned in the beginning, is Wholeness, which always seems to be the point of view and emphasis of Sri Aurobindo when speaking of the involution of that One in all forms of Consciousness. But the point of view of involution and evolution expressed by Wilber always seems to convey the idea of polar opposites and separation from the source. Involution is always only a movement backward and downward, evolution a very halting and painful movement forward and upward.
And if the source is, as he has suggested, the playful spirit of Brahman losing himself in unconsciousness, where does the journey back lead? An answer is given in The Atman Project: Development or evolution is simply the unfolding of these enfolded structures, beginning with the lowest and proceeding to the highest: body to mind to subtle to causal.
We already saw that in evolution each of these structures emerges as a substitute gratification, and is abandoned when it ceases to gratify. And we can see now that each of them emerges as a substitute in evolution because each was created as substitute in involution. The self can climb back up this involved chain of substitutes only by tasting them, finding them lacking, accepting their death, and thus transcending them… a highly evolved being will escape involution altogether: at the first stage of the Clear Light – it will not contract in the face of God nor recoil from the embrace of eternity; and, refusing to create any substitute subjects or substitute objects, it will never again be reborn as a separate self… (p. 174)
The second problem, then, is that for Wilber the embrace of God occurs only in the final return from this difficult process and liberation from the cycle of involution and evolution, while for Sri Aurobindo the Divine Embrace is the involution and evolution itself, this whole process of enfolding and unfolding is the Self embracing Existence. On either side of the quote taken by Wilber from The Life Divine are these sentences, which indicate both its origin and where the process leads, according to Sri Aurobindo: “The transcendent, the Supracosmic is absolute and free in Itself beyond Time and Space and beyond the conceptual opposites of finite and infinite. But in cosmos It uses Its liberty of self-formation, Its Maya, to make a scheme of Itself in the complementary terms of unity and multiplicity; and this multiple unity It establishes in the three conditions of the subconscient, the conscient and the superconscient. …The liberation of the individual soul is therefore the keynote of the definitive divine action; it is the primary divine necessity and the pivot on which all else turns. It is the point of Light at which the intended complete self-manifestation in the Many begins to emerge. But the liberated soul extends its perception of unity horizontally as well as vertically. Its unity with the transcendent One is incomplete without its unity with the cosmic Many. …But we can attain to the highest without blotting ourselves out from the cosmic extension. Brahman preserves always its two terms of liberty within and of formation without, of expression and of freedom from the expression. We also, being that, can attain to the same divine self-possession.”
The third problem is whether, even after co-opting the idea of involution, the Atman-project sufficiently accounts for life as we experience it here in the Ignorance, and answers the Why question. It is certainly true and common to all yoga practice that it is necessary to die to the sense of separateness in order to experience unity. But is the yin/yang dance of Eros/Thanatos and the mechanism of substitute gratification capable of explaining the infinite array of “subjective” impulses, actions, choices, thoughts, decisions that take place at every moment in the life of every human being on earth, as well as the equally boundless permutations of the lithosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and so on, that form the “objective” context of the evolution of consciousness? And are the seemingly passive pulls of the opposite poles of Contraction and of Atman-telos enough to justify this complex machinery of existence and keep it in motion? Or, rather, isn’t the Atman-project an attempt to explain both human development and the evolution of the cosmos by reducing them to a mechanistic model based upon the fairly traditional Buddhist concepts of karma and rebirth?
In his more recent and central works, such as Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995), and the others that follow from it: Eye of Spirit (1997) and Integral Psychology (2000), – which seem to me to be much more sophisticated, more philosophical in the true sense of the word, stylistically more interesting, and filled with stimulating and relevant ideas – the Wilber paradigm gets fully developed, along with a more detailed “integral theory of consciousness.” And while he continues to draw significantly upon the thought of Sri Aurobindo, at the same time the contrast between their points of view continues to become clearer and more precise, along with the elements of a possible explanation of the difference. While this will be the focus of my study in Part Two, I will mention here just one example to illustrate the point, and it is a point with which I think Wilber would not disagree. In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, Wilber takes on the philosophical problem of subjectivity vs. objectivity, drawing extensively on the history of Western epistemology, while attempting a synthesis of Vedanta and Vajrayana. And he ultimately seems to stick to a dualistic model of consciousness and world, form and spirit, even while extolling Nondualism. For example, he says in a note on page 538 in this book of more than 800 pages (SES): My own claim is that the distinction interior/exterior is not an emergent quality, but rather exists from the first moment a boundary is drawn; exists, that is, from the moment of creation. What most panpsychists mean by consciousness or mind is not what I mean by consciousness, which is depth. Because consciousness is depth, it is itself literally unqualifiable. …When I say that consciousness or depth is unqualifiable, I mean, in a strong sense, to evoke the Mahayana Buddhist notion of shunyata, or pure Emptiness, …pure Emptiness and pure Consciousness are synonymous.
I believe that this statement is in clear contrast with Sri Aurobindo’s fundamental spiritual and metaphysical position with regard to Consciousness. For example, without going into a complex discussion of the principles of Purusha and Prakriti, I would counterpose a simple argument from The Life Divine, admitting of course that it is an over-simplification of an issue that probably cannot be resolved by the mental faculties: “Existence is in its activity a Conscious-Force which presents the workings of its force to its consciousness as forms of its own being. Since force is only the action of one sole-existing Conscious-Being, its results can be nothing else but forms of that Conscious-Being; Substance or Matter, then, is only a form of Spirit.” (1949, p. 216)
Ken Wilber and Sri Aurobindo – A Critical Perspective
Part Two – Wilber’s Central Works
In Eye of Spirit, Wilber fully reiterates the bipolar, ten to twenty level model of involution and evolution, which he calls the “spectrum of consciousness,” as formulated in The Atman Project. And he now refers to that late seventies-early eighties model as the Tibetan/Aurobindo/Wilber II model, or the Aurobindo/Wilber II model, or sometimes simply the Wilber II model, while explaining the further evolution of the model into Wilber III and Wilber IV, as presented in the books published in the nineties. The basic innovation in Wilber III is the addition of the multiple lines in an individual’s psychological development which proceed through all the levels but may do so at different rates, such as the affective, cognitive, moral, interpersonal, social, intellectual, aesthetic, creative lines of development, etc. He explains this psychological consideration in the new model as follows: “In the same social domain, and in a single transaction, a person can, for example, be at a very high cognitive level of development, while simultaneously being at an extremely low level of moral development, with an unconscious fixation at an even earlier affective stage. …The Wilber II model fails dramatically in accounting for those facts – because it fails, in general, to distinguish carefully enough between levels and lines, and further to account for just what is preserved, and what is negated, in evolution (by which he refers to transitional structures of consciousness such as the archaic, magic, mythic, etc. which are dropped, he believes, as higher formations emerge, while preserving the basic “enduring” structures).” (p. 213)
The Wilber IV model, which was first elaborated in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (SES), makes a quantum conceptual leap from the simple vertical scale of individual consciousness to a four-quadrant model which includes all of the physical, social, and cultural dimensions of human consciousness. Wilber explains this rather remarkable breakthrough in Eye of Spirit, as follows: “…consciousness actually exists distributed across all four quadrants with all of their various levels and dimensions. There is no one quadrant (and certainly no one level) to which we can point and say, There is consciousness. Consciousness is in no way localized in that fashion. …It is true that the Upper Left quadrant is the locus of consciousness as it appears in an individual, but that’s the point: as it appears in an individual. Yet consciousness on the whole is anchored in, and distributed across, all of the quadrants – intentional, behavioral, cultural, and social. If you “erase” any quadrant, they all disappear, because each is intrinsically necessary for the existence of the others.” (p. 273)
A version of this four-quadrant model of the spectrum of consciousness is reproduced below, and constitutes the developmental paradigm for Wilber’s “integral theory of consciousness.” If we can imagine a series of five concentric circles, labeled from the smallest to the largest – matter, life, mind, soul, spirit, – and superimpose this image on the four-quadrant graph, at appropriate intervals, then we will see how the “basic enduring structures” of consciousness get further subdivided into the ten to twenty developmental levels most commonly presented in the various Wilber models. On this map, however, the outer, transpersonal rings of soul and spirit would fall outside the box.
(The All-Level, All-Quadrant Paradigm)
On other models, several of which appear in the recent publication, A Theory of Everything (2001), the soul and spirit circles are included, with the corresponding levels of development in the UL quadrant of integral self, then holistic self; in the LL quadrant integral culture and holistic culture; in the LR quadrant integral commons and holistic meshworks; and in the UR just another level of corresponding physiological organization (SF4, etc.). If we look around the circle from quadrant to quadrant we will see, for example, that Typhonic culture corresponds to the Emotional level of individuual development, to the Limbic system, and to pre-tribal Clan society. Similarly, the Rational type of culture corresponds to Formal mind, to the appropriate physical structures, and to the Nation State organization of society. In this diagram, Vision-logic represents the optimal level of general evolution today, with its corresponding Centauric (individualistic and pluralistic) culture, and a Global (informational) society. In some models, the vital-body ring corresponds roughly to the levels of “pre-modern” individual, cultural and social development; the mental ring corresponds to the “modern” and “post-modern” levels of rational and centauric development, and the soul and spirit rings would include “post-post-modern” developments, as yet hardly conceivable.
This more comprehensive, integral or holistic paradigm makes it possible to interpret every domain of human existence developmentally; it can be used as a tool for evaluating and categorizing systems of interpretation, such as those which reduce knowledge to just one quadrant and thereby exclude other essential aspects of the picture; and it can be used to predict the further development of a particular level of consciousness in any quadrant. For example, this system makes it irrational to expect individuals at the symbolic and archaic levels of development to quickly assimilate the values of a pluralistic, vision-logic community and vice-versa. Certain steps could be prescribed, on the basis of such an analysis, however, to bring about the necessary development, through education, social and economic organization, psychological counseling, spiritual practice, etc., to make their mutual assimilation eventually possible. According to Wilber, in A Theory of Everything, the four-quadrant integral development paradigm is being applied in exactly this way by development organizations in the Third World to re-evaluate their short and long term strategies.
I must apologize for this rather crude and over-simplified rendering of the Wilber IV model, and I strongly recommend that anyone who is interested should read Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and Eye of Spirit, in order to appreciate the unfolding of this theory of development and the many interesting avenues of thought that flow from it. For our purposes here, it is especially important to grasp two aspects of the theory, and to examine them in relation to Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and Yoga. One aspect is that it purports to be an “integral theory of consciousness.” The other is that it is used to predict a certain direction for the future evolution of human consciousness.
The picture of consciousness that emerges with the integral development paradigm is that of a vast ascending scale of structures comprised of bodies (UR), minds (UL), cultures (LL), and societies (LR), all evolving through the same basic levels of development in the so-called Great Chain of Being. And it is this whole field of interrelated structures and systems that somehow locates, carries, or embodies “consciousness.” The higher the developmental level of structural complexity and integrity, the higher the level of consciousness.
Of course, the perennial question remains as to the nature of the two terms of the equation and their relationship: consciousness and the structures or forms that house it: mind and body, subject and object. And Wilber is certainly aware of the problem. One of the primary functions of the four-quadrant paradigm is to show how the methodologies of the sciences tend to address only the right “objective” quadrants and reduce all knowledge to its structures (which Wilber calls the “flatland” of modern rationalist culture). The more “subjective” methodologies of psychology, metaphysics, hermeneutics, aesthetics, on the other hand, tend to occupy themselves with left-quadrant structures to the exclusion of the more easily quantifiable domains on the right. The “integral theory” calls for the mutual recognition and inclusion of all quadrants and aspects of the complex picture of existence as we know it through experience.
In Integral Psychology (2000), the mind-body, subject-object enigma is addressed in depth and with particular clarity. I would like to quote Wilber here at some length in order to frame this important issue, as well as to gain the further elucidation of the integral paradigm that he provides in this discussion.
In the chapter titled “The 1-2-3 of Consciousness Studies,” Wilber writes: The first major problem that a truly integral (all-level, all-quadrant) approach helps to unravel is what Schopenhauer called “the world-knot,“ namely, the mind-body problem (p. 174)
The materialist reduces the mind to the brain, and since the brain is indeed part of the organism, there is no dualism: the mind/body problem is solved! And that is correct – the brain is part of the organism, part of the physical world, so there is no dualism; nor are there any values, consciousness, depth, or divinity anywhere in the resultant universe. And that reductionism is exactly the “solution“ that the physicalist imposes on reality, a solution still rampant in most forms of cognitive science, neuroscience, systems theory, and so on: reduce the Left to the Right and then claim you have solved the problem
But the reason most people, even most scientists, are uneasy with that “solution“ – and the reason the problem remains a problem – is that, even though materialism announces that there is no dualism, most people know otherwise, because they feel the difference between their mind and their body (between their thoughts and their feelings) – they feel it every time they consciously decide to move their arm, they feel it in every exercise of will – and they also feel the difference between their mind and their Body (or between the subject in here and the objective world out there). …
There is a distinction between mind (formop) and felt body (vital and sensorimotor), and this can be experienced in the interior or Left-Hand domains. It is not a dualism, but is rather a case of “transcend and include,“ and almost every rational adult has a sense of the transcend part, in that the mind can, on a good day, control the body and its desires. All of that is phenomenologically true for the Left-Hand domains. But none of those interior stages of qualitative development (from body to mind to soul to spirit) are captured when “body“ means Right-Hand organism and “mind“ means Right-Hand brain – all of those qualitative distinctions are completely lost in material monism, which does not solve the problem but obliterates it.
The dualist, on the other hand, acknowledges as real both consciousness and matter, but generally despairs of finding any way to relate them. “Mind“ in the general sense of “interiors“ and “Body“ in the general sense of “exteriors“ seem to be separated by an unbridgeable gulf – a dualism between subject and object. And at the level of formal operational thinking (or reason in general), at which the discussion usually takes place, the dualists are right: inside and outside are a very real dualism, and attempts to deny that dualism can almost always be shown to be facile, a semantic sleight-of-hand that verbally claims that subject and object are one, but which still leaves the self looking at the world out there which seems as separate as ever.
This is where the transrational stages of development have so much to offer this discussion. In the disclosure known as satori, for example, it becomes clear that the subject and object are two sides of the same thing, that inside and outside are two aspects of One Taste. How to relate them is not the problem, according to the clear consensus of the many individuals who have tapped into this wave of development. The problem, rather, is that this genuinely nondual solution is not something that can be fully grasped at the rational level. …
Those who develop to the nondual stages of consciousness unfolding are virtually unanimous: consciousness and matter, interior and exterior, self and world, are of One Taste. Subject and object are both distinct realities and aspects of the same thing: a true unity-in-diversity. But that unity-in-diversity cannot be stated in rational terms in a way that makes sense to anybody who has not also had a transrational experience. Therefore, the proof for this nondual solution can only be found in the further development of the consciousness of those who seek to know the solution. (p. 180-181)
…But how do we proceed to unsnarl the world-knot if we have not yet reached these higher stages ourselves, and if we cannot expect that others will have done so? We can at least begin, I suggest, by acknowledging and incorporating the realities of all four quadrants. That is, if we cannot yet ourselves – in our own consciousness development – be “all-level“ (matter to body to mind to soul to spirit), let us at least attempt to be “all-quadrant“…
It is not enough to say that organism and environment coevolve; it is not enough to say that culture and consciousness coevolve. All four of those “tetra-evolve“ together.
That is, the objective organism (the Upper-Right quadrant), with its DNA, its neuronal pathways, its brain systems, and its behavioral patterns, mutually interacts with the objective environment, ecosystems, and social realities (the Lower Right), and all of those do indeed coevolve. Likewise, individual consciousness (Upper Left), with its intentionality, structures, and states, arises within, and mutually interacts with, the intersubjective culture (Lower Left) in which it finds itself, and which it in turn helps to create, so that these, too, coevolve. But just as important, subjective intentionality and objective behavior mutually interact (e.g., through will and response), and cultural worldviews mutually interact with social structures, as does individual consciousness and behavior. In other words, all four quadrants – organism, environment, consciousness, and culture – cause and are caused by the others: they “tetra-evolve.“ …
As we have seen, the subjective features of consciousness (waves, streams, states) are intimately interrelated with the objective aspects of the organism (especially the brain, neurophysiology, and various organ systems in the individual), with the background cultural contexts that allow meaning and understanding to be generated in the first place, and with the social institutions that anchor them. …
Accordingly, in writings such as “An Integral Theory of Consciousness,“ I have stressed the need for an approach to consciousness that differentiates-and-integrates all four quadrants (or simply the Big Three of I, we, and it; or first-person, second-person, and third-person accounts: the 1-2-3 of consciousness studies). (p. 183-184)
This seems to be the theory in a nutshell, and there are a few quick observations that I would like to make before putting it into a more critical perspective. “Consciousness” is frequently associated with subjective states throughout Wilber’s discussion, and is placed in the context of, or in relationship to, objective states – physical, cultural, and social. Consciousness consistently has the connotation of “perception,” “awareness,” “cognition,” “intention,” (and we might as well add the more traditional terms judgment, imagination, ratiocination) in short, the functions usually associated with Mind. Although it is clear that these functions coexist with, and are mutually determined by interactions with, culture, society, and the material body, they remain distinct, (as he says above, “distinct aspects of the same thing”) and therefore the problem with which the discussion began seems to have been merely restated rather than solved.
The modern and post-modern philosophies of idealism and phenomenology have handled the problem in much the same way. Wilber has not moved far, if at all, from the widely held philosophical views of both East and West that consciousness and matter, mind and body are simply two aspects of the same thing. Both are necessary to existence as we know it and to any reasonably complete description of that existence: nothing is, in any absolute sense, exclusively either subjective or objective. The four-quadrant paradigm is, therefore, a reasonably accurate way of understanding and depicting such a manifold world. Moreover, it suggests, and supports with compelling evidence, that it is an evolving world that it describes, with clearly defined stages of development and the possibility of yet higher levels of the interaction of matter and spirit to be realized.
How then does this form of integralism compare with that of Sri Aurobindo? Is the problem of consciousness/matter, mind/body dualism handled in any significantly different way by Sri Aurobindo? And does the higher, transrational, nondual level of consciousness defined and predicted by Wilber differ appreciably from Sri Aurobindo’s conception of the spiritual consciousness to be realized in the next stages of evolution?
The answer to each of these questions will depend, in fact, upon what we might call the metaphysics of consciousness, which is of course the subject of The Life Divine. In that treatise, Sri Aurobindo demonstrates with a variety of arguments based on intuition, reason, and Vedanta, that Existence is Consciousness, Consciousness is Energy, and the so-called Great Chain of Being, at every level – matter, life, mind, soul, spirit – is an expression of Conscious Being. In a particularly compact and luminous formulation of this concept of Reality and its process, he writes:
“Existence is in its activity a Conscious-Force which presents the workings of its force to its consciousness as forms of its own being. Since Force is only the action of one sole-existing Conscious-Being, its results can be nothing else but forms of that Conscious-Being; Substance or Matter, then, is only a form of Spirit. The appearance which this form of Spirit assumes to our senses is due to that dividing action of Mind from which we have been able to deduce consistently the whole phenomenon of the universe. We know now that Life is an action of Conscious-Force of which material forms are the result; Life involved in those forms, appearing in them first as inconscient force, evolves and brings back into manifestation as Mind the consciousness which is the real self of the force and which never ceases to exist in it even when unmanifest. We know also that Mind is an inferior power of the original conscious Knowledge or Supermind, a power to which Life acts as an instrumental energy; for, descending through Supermind, Consciousness or Chit represents itself as Mind, Force of consciousness or Tapas represents itself as Life. Mind, by its separation from its own higher reality in Supermind, gives Life the appearance of division and, by its farther involution in its own Life-Force, becomes subconscious in Life and thus gives the outward appearance of an inconscient force to its material workings. Therefore, the inconscience, the inertia, the atomic disaggregation of Matter must have their source in this all-dividing and self-involving action of Mind by which our universe came into being. As Mind is only a final action of Supermind in the descent towards creation and Life an action of Conscious-Force working in the conditions of the Ignorance created by this descent of Mind, so Matter, as we know it, is only the final form taken by conscious-being as the result of that working. Matter is substance of the one conscious-being phenomenally divided within itself by the action of universal Mind, – a division which the individual mind repeats and dwells in, but which does not abrogate or at all diminish the unity of Spirit or the unity of Energy or the real unity of Matter.” (LD, 1949, p. 216-217)
In this concept, subjectivity and objectivity are merely two aspects of consciousness, through which being knows itself; and Mind is the principle of this illusion of separateness and division, not only the cause of limiting and dividing knowledge in evolving minds, but the mediating principle for the descent of Spirit into substantial form.
“If we go back to the spiritual basis of things, substance in its utter purity resolves itself into pure conscious being, self-existent, inherently self-aware by identity, but not yet turning its consciousness upon itself as object. Supermind preserves this self-awareness by identity as its substance of self-knowledge and its light of self-creation, but for that creation presents Being to itself as the subject-object one and multiple of its own active consciousness. Being as object is held there in a supreme knowledge which can, by comprehension, see it both as an object of cognition within itself and subjectively as itself, but can also and simultaneously, by apprehension, project it as an object (or objects) of cognition within the circumference of its consciousness, not other than itself, part of its being, but a part (or parts) put away from itself, – that is to say, from the center of vision in which Being concentrates itself as the Knower, Witness or Purusha. We have seen that from this apprehending consciousness arises the movement of Mind, the movement by which the individual knower regards a form of his own universal being as if other than he; but in the divine Mind there is immediately or rather simultaneously another movement or reverse side of the same movement, an act of union in being which heals this phenomenal division and prevents it from becoming even for a moment solely real to the knower. This act of conscious union is that which is represented otherwise in dividing Mind obtusely, ignorantly, quite externally as contact in consciousness between divided beings and separate objects, and with us this contact in divided consciousness is primarily represented by the principle of sense. On this basis of sense, on this contact of union subject to division, the action of the thought-mind founds itself and prepares for the return to a higher principle of union in which division is made subject to unity and subordinate. Substance, then, as we know it, material substance, is the form in which Mind acting through sense contacts the conscious Being of which it is itself a movement of knowledge. …But Mind by its very nature tends to know and sense substance of conscious-being, not in its unity or totality but by the principle of division.” (LD, 1949, p. 218-219)
In one of the later chapters of The Life Divine, titled “Reality and the Integral Knowledge,” Sri Aurobindo makes explicit what his form of “integralism” means, makes clear the point of view which justifies the philosopher Haridas Chaudhuri labelling this philosophy “integral non-dualism,” and outlines the project of his Yoga Philosophy to heal the division, not only of Mind but of Existence, through a return to and a descent of Supermind.
“This then is the origin, this the nature, these the boundaries of the Ignorance. Its origin is a limitation of knowledge; its distinctive character a separation of the being from its own integrality and entire reality; its boundaries are determined by this separative development of the consciousness, for it shuts us to our true self and to the true self and whole nature of things and obliges us to live in an apparent surface existence. A return or a progress to integrality, a disappearance of the limitation, a breaking down of separativeness, an overpassing of boundaries, a recovery of our essential and whole reality must be the sign and opposite character of the inner turn towards Knowledge. There must be a replacement of a limited and separative by an essential and integral consciousness identified with the original truth and the whole truth of self and existence. The integral Knowledge is something that is already there in the integral Reality: it is not a new or still non-existent thing that has to be created, acquired, learned, invented, or built up by the mind; it must rather be discovered or uncovered, it is a Truth that is self-revealed to a spiritual endeavor: for it is there veiled in our deeper and greater self; it is the very stuff of our own spiritual consciousness, and it is by awaking to it even in our surface self that we have to possess it. There is an integral self-knowledge that we have to recover and, because the world-self also is our self, an integral world-knowledge. A knowledge that can be learned or constructed by the mind exists and has its value, but that is not what is meant when we speak of the Knowledge. …An integral spiritual consciousness carries in it a knowledge of all the terms of being; it links the highest to the lowest through all the mediating terms and achieves an indivisible whole. …An integral knowledge presupposes an integral Reality; for it is the power of a Truth-consciousness which is itself the consciousness of the Reality.” (LD, 1949, p. 565-566)
If we view the four-quadrant, all-level, paradigm of development in the context of this conception of a vast integral Reality of Conscious-Being, we have to conclude that the “Integral Theory of Consciousness” is at least not the same as a theory of integral consciousness. In fact, the reduction of the cosmos to a four quadrant developmental model may very well be a valid aid to the mind in coming to terms with the problems of psychological development and the evolution of consciousness. But it seems obvious that such a map of the territory does not lead necessarily to what Sri Aurobindo describes as an integral consciousness, and to what Wilber identifies as a second-tier or transpersonal consciousness. An integral consciousness might be able to understand or represent the world in terms of such a map, but the map doesn’t even indicate the possibility of such an integral consciousness. And it appears that Wilber would probably agree with this observation. In Eye of Spirit, the book in which he perhaps reaches the highest levels of thought and insight, he writes: Integral philosophy itself is of the mental domain, and cannot by itself, with its mental devices alone, step beyond that sphere. But it firmly acknowledges the role of contemplation in generating data, and it takes that data into account in its own coordinating and elucidating activities. If it does not itself deliver meditative data, it firmly acknowledges the existence of that data. It is mandalic reason at its finest and most encompassing. …Integral philosophy thus mentally coordinates the Good, and the True, and the Beautiful, weaving a mandala of the many faces of Spirit, and then invites us to take up spiritual practice itself, and thus finally meet spirit face to face. (p. 94-95)
It is in this book, too, where Wilber ventures farther than elsewhere into the realm of spiritual practice and contemplation, and reveals through a number of inspired passages something of the second-tier experience of transpersonal reality as he envisions it. And though still not attempting a metaphysics of this reality, he gives enough information for us to be able to establish a contextual perspective. He writes:
…the ultimate reality is not something seen, but rather the everpresent seer. Things that are seen come and go, are happy or sad, pleasant or painful – but the Seer is none of these things, and it does not come and go. The Witness does not waiver, does not wobble, does not enter that stream of time. The Witness is not an object, not a thing seen, but the everpresent seer of all things, the simple Witness that is the I of Spirit, the center of the cyclone, the opening that is God, the clearing that is pure emptiness.
There is never a time that you do not have access to this Witnessing awareness. At every single moment, there is a spontaneous awareness of whatever happens to be present – and that simple, spontaneous, effortless awareness is ever-present Spirit itself. Even if you think you don’t see it, that very awareness is it. And thus, the ultimate state of consciousness – intrinsic Spirit itself – is not hard to reach but impossible to avoid. …
Thus, as you rest in the Witness, you won’t see anything in particular. The true seer is nothing that can be seen, so you simply begin by disidentifying with any and all objects.
I am aware of sensations in my body; those are objects, I am not those. I am aware of thoughts in my mind; those are objects, I am not those. I am aware of my self in this moment, but that is just another object, and I am not that.
Sights float by in nature, thoughts float by in the mind, feelings float by in the body, and I am none of those, I am not an object. I am the pure Witness of all those objects. I am Consciousness as such. …
And so we rest in this state of the pure and simple Witness, the true seer, which is vast Emptiness and pure Freedom, and we allow whatever is seen to arise as it wishes. Spirit is in the Free and Empty Seer, not in the limited, bound, mortal, and finite objects that parade by in the world of time. And so we rest in this vast Emptiness and Freedom, in which all things arise. (p. 288-290)
In Vajrayana Buddhism, the ultimate nature of Mind is emptiness. Consciousness, conscious of itself, the Witnessing Purusha of the Sankhya philosophy – the akashara purusha – is the Self, Atman, and the realization of this ultimate reality is liberation. It is apparent from this clear description of the meditation practice suggested by Wilber, that for him too, this is the ultimate reality, the realization of the true nature of Self and Spirit.
But if ultimate reality is Emptiness, then what is the status of all of those subjects and objects in the other three quadrants and in all the lower levels of development that are mapped by the integral theory of consciousness? If consciousness is emptiness, then is all the rest of the map ultimately illusion? Does this form of “nondualism” simply negate the form and substance of everything that arises within its purview, or absorb it into its emptiness? And if so, then how does this point of view account for the continued arising of form and its circumstantial, physical, vital and mental conditioning of the witness by its objective appearances?
These are of course the questions that are raised by this traditional interpretation of spiritual truth when it is challenged, as it has been as a secondary theme throughout The Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo, and also by the philosophy of the Gita. It is the classical question of the nature and relationship of Purusha and Prakriti, and it seems inevitable that it be raised very seriously in any attempt to reconcile Vedanta and Vajrayana. In an early chapter of The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo says, “…the first thing we have to ask ourselves is whether that force (matter, energy, motion, “the Becoming”) is simply force, simply an unintelligent energy of movement or whether consciousness which seems to emerge out of it in this material world we live in, is not merely one of its phenomenal results but rather its own true and secret nature. In Vedantic terms, is Force simply Prakriti, only a movement of action and process, or is Prakriti really power of Chit, in its nature force of creative self-conscience? On this essential problem all the rest hinges. [My emphasis]” (LD, 1949, p. 75) And not only does a complete metaphysical theory of consciousness hinge on the question; it is also essential to a thorough psychology of development and to a spiritual practice that seeks the higher evolution of consciousness. If it is not answered, then the problem is not really solved and we are left with what Wilber referred to earlier as “a semantic sleight-of-hand.”
The place where Ken Wilber comes closest to a systematic treatment of the issue is in his philosophy of “interiors” and “exteriors,” which I mentioned briefly at the end of Part One. Since this is indeed the question on which all the rest hinges, let us look closely at the argument presented in Chapter Four of SES. There he says: Spinoza, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Whitehead, Aurobindo, Schelling, and Radhakrishnan are just a few of the major theorists who have explicitly recognized that the within of things, the interiority of individual holons, is in essence the same as consciousness, though of course they use different names with slightly different meanings.
I will not, at this point, get involved in the philosophical nuances of those various positions, which are inextricably bound up with the problems of pansychism and historical solutions to the mind-body problem…Rather, I will, for the time being, take a more generalized position and simply say that, for me, the within of things is consciousness, the without of things is form.
Or, as we put it earlier, the within of things is depth, the without is surface. But all surfaces are surfaces of depth, which means, all forms are forms of consciousness.
Further, I don’t want to haggle over whether the very lowest holons are totally or only mostly devoid of rudimentary forms of consciousness, or prehension. First, there is no lower limit to holons, so there is no rock bottom to serve as a standard. Second, they are all forms of depth, so the actual amount of consciousness in them is a completely relative affair. Thus, whatever we take at present as the lowest or most primitive holons (quarks, for example), I will simply say that they have the least depth, the least consciousness, relatively speaking, and I will, with Whitehead, call that form “prehension.“ You are free to call the lowest levels “totally inert“ if you wish, and pick up the argument from there.
Let me emphasize that it really does not matter, as far as I am concerned, how far down (or not) you wish to push consciousness. Whitehead, as we said, saw prehension as the irreducible “atom“ of existence. Mahayana Buddhism maintains that literally all sentient beings possess Buddha Mind, and liberation involves a realization of that all-pervading consciousness. Lynn Margulis, the noted biologist, believes that cells possess consciousness. A handful of scientists think that plants show protosensation. Animal rights activists insist that most animal forms show rudimentary feelings. And I suppose most orthodox theorists don’t really see consciousness emerging until primates and usually humans.
But my main point is not where precisely to draw the line – draw it wherever you feel comfortable – but that the line itself involves preeminently the distinction between interiority and exteriority. (p. 111-112)
The theory of interiors and exteriors is graphically represented by the four-quadrant paradigm which shows that the levels of the left quadrants are the interiors of the corresponding levels of the right quadrants. The interiors are the shared feelings, meanings, values expressed by or perceived within the exterior forms. Consciousness increases with the complexity of forms up the ascending scale of development until it experiences itself at the uppermost, transpersonal level and is liberated. What drives this progressive emergence of consciousness in the evolving structures and processes is apparently the Atman-project. How the “interiors” and “exteriors” are related, and how they mutually interact is not explained, nor is the fundamental two-fold nature of existence, nor how the process of unfolding is maintained after the consciousness is liberated. The theory of interiors and exteriors is a “metaphor” of conscious existence, rather than an explanation. And it appears that the material or mechanical force of Prakriti, on the strucutural side of the equation, carries the soul or Purusha along in its progressive unfolding until, at the top levels of physical, social, and cultural evolution,
it is liberated and has no further need of or attachment to the exteriors. And, therefore, it is impossible to predict what forms these exteriors will take in the future evolution of a second-tier, integral culture. This is the fundamental problem with such a theory of consciousness with respect to the prospects of a higher evolution of life on earth; it is a problem that Sri Aurobindo has repeatedly identified with both Buddhism and Sankhya philosophies.
Wilber reveals this paradox in a note on psychic and spiritual consciousness in SES: Pure subtle level mysticism thus has few actual referents in the gross (natural) world. …Causal-level mysticism…has no gross or subtle referents; it has no referents at all, except its own self-existing emptiness. And nondual mysticism is the identity of Emptiness and all form, so its referents are whatever is arising at the moment…. …The psychic is on the border between the gross and subtle states. As such, not only is it the home of all sorts of various preliminary and initial mystical phenomena…, it is itself the broad transition state from gross to subtle. (p. 608-609)
This conclusion regarding the nature of spiritual development is perhaps the reason why Wilber’s fundamental paradigm of development tops out at the vision-logic level. It seems that after touching the low subtle or psychic plane he drops back to a mental plane and translates, to use the Atman-project terminology, his own urge to higher development into the only level of consciousness and form that still appears to him to have a sufficient engagement with the substance of experience to make a difference. Therefore, he says: It is the integrative power of vision-logic, I believe, and not the indissociation of tribal magic or the imperialism of mythic involvement that is desperately needed on a global scale. For it is vision-logic with its centauric/planetary worldview that, in my opinion, holds the only hope for the integration of the biosphere and noosphere, the supranational organization of planetary consciousness, the genuine recognition of ecological balance, the unrestrained and unforced forms of global discourse, the nondominating and noncoercive forms of federated states, the unrestrained flow of worldwide communicative exchange, the production of genuine world citizens, and the enculturation of female agency (ie., the integration of male and female in both the noosphere and the biosphere) – all of which, in my opinion, is nevertheless simply the platform for the truly interesting forms of higher and transpersonal states of consciousness lying yet in our collective future – if there is one. (SES, p. 187) …Centaur/vision logic – the languages of depth and development …tend to be dialectical, dialogical, network oriented, developmental (evolutionary in the broadest sense) – in short, the languages of depth and development. As I indicated, this volume is intentionally written in these languages. (p. 622)
It is at this point that the sharp contrast becomes most evident between what might be called the weak or intermediate form of integral nondualism put forward by Wilber, and the much stronger and more radical form of integral nondualism of Sri Aurobindo. For the latter, only the highest spiritual evolution of consciousness can bring about a substantial, lasting and integral transformation of the life of humanity on earth. And such an evolution is possible because that highest divine Supermind is also the basis of existence, the resolution of the Purusha/Prakriti enigma, and can not only be reached through the process of a spiritual ascent of consciousness, but also can then descend through a higher spiritualized mind into life and matter to transform every aspect of existence.
It is evident that Wilber has not accepted this principle or integrated it into his theory of the evolution of consciousness and, therefore, that the theory remains inadequate with respect to both the metaphysics of Conscious-Being and the possibility of a further, supramental evolution of that consciousness on earth as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo. At the same time, Sri Aurobindo’s point of view, which appears always to be looking from Supermind down the ladder of involution, rather than up from a position of higher psychic or spiritualized mind, sees the position defined by Wilber as a valid standpoint within the emergent framework of our evolving mentality. For example, he says:
“A line divides Supermind and Overmind which permits a free transmission, allows the lower Power to derive from the higher Power all it holds or sees, but automatically compels a transitional change in the passage. The integrality of the Supermind keeps always the essential truth of things, the total truth and the truth of its individual self-determinations clearly knit together; it maintains in them an inseparable unity and between them a close interpenetration and a free and full consciousness of each other: but in Overmind this integrality is no longer there. …Purusha and Prakriti, Conscious Soul and executive Force of Nature, are in the supramental harmony a two-aspected single truth, being and dynamis of Reality; there can be no disequilibrium or predominance of one over the other. In Overmind we have the origin of the cleavage, the trenchant distinction made by the philosophy of the Sankhyas in which they appear as two independent entities, Prakriti able to dominate Purusha and cloud its freedom and power, reducing it to a witness and recipient of her forms and actions, Purusha able to return to its separate existence and abide in a free self-sovereignty by rejection of her original overclouding material principle. … Our human mental consciousness sees the world in sections cut by the reason and sense and put together in a formation which is also sectional; the house it builds is planned to accommodate one or another generalized formulation of Truth, but excludes the rest or admits some only as guests or dependents in the house. Overmind Consciousness is global in its cognition and can hold any number of seemingly fundamental differences together in a reconciling vision. …What to the mental reason are irreconcilable differences present themselves to the Overmind intelligence as coexistent correlatives; what to the mental reason are contraries are to the Overmind intelligence complimentaries. …The Overmind is a principle of cosmic Truth and a vast and endless catholicity is its very spirit; its energy is an all-dynamism as well as a principle of separate dynamisms; it is a sort of inferior Supermind, – although it is concerned predominantly not with absolutes, but with what might be called the dynamic potentials or pragmatic truths of Reality, or with absolutes mainly for their power of generating pragmatic or creative values, although, too, its comprehension of things is more global than integral, since its totality is built up of global wholes or constituted by separate independent realities uniting or coalescing together, and although the essential unity is grasped by it and felt to be basic of things and pervasive in their manifestation, but no longer as in the Supermind their intimate and ever-present secret, their dominating continent, the overt constant builder of the harmonic whole of their activity and nature. (LD, 1949, p. 256-259)
It would seem that Wilber has a clear intuition of this higher plane of reality, which in Sri Aurobindo’s psychology is to be found above a highest intuitive mind, and that it would be possible for Wilber’s subtle psychic and vision-logic inspiration to pass upward into the Higher Mind and Overmind planes easily and naturally. It also appears that his theory of psychological development is borne out to a considerable extent by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as exemplars of superconscious evolution, the premise with which the Atman Project began. But, let us note, Sri Aurobindo is as yet the only spiritual visionary to have outlined in detail the nature of a divine consciousness, life, and society to be realized as the result of the descent of the Supermind, and to have developed a Yoga for hastening that descent. The Mother is as yet the only Yogi to have deliberately facilitated that descent and transformation, and focused its creative energy on the establishment of a universal township based on the philosophy of spiritual transformation and its promise of the evolution of a new species. It is not unlikely that Ken Wilber, in his pursuit of the integral spiritual vision, will at some point access the higher planes of consciousness of which he is already vaguely aware, and that his concern for humanity as a whole, in all its many levels and modes of expression, will translate into pragmatic applications to further the general project of human evolution. We may look forward with positive anticipation for signs of that development in the “later works,” some of which have already been announced. As yet, however, it is to Sri Aurobindo that we must turn for a definite indication of both the process and the likely outcome of this highest and noblest human endeavor:
“When there is a complete silence in the being, either a stillness of the whole being or a stillness behind unaffected by surface movements, then we can become aware of a Self, a spiritual substance of our being, an existence exceeding even the soul individuality, spreading itself into universality, surpassing all dependence on any natural form or action, extending itself upward into a transcendence of which the limits are not visible. It is these liberations of the spiritual part in us which are the decisive steps of the spiritual evolution in Nature. …or the nature may obey the psychic entity’s intimations, move in an inner light, follow an inner guidance. This is already a considerable evolution and amounts to a beginning at least of a psychic and spiritual transformation. But it is possible to go farther; for the spiritual being, once inwardly liberated, can develop in mind the higher states of being that are its own natural atmosphere and bring down a supramental energy and action which are proper to the Truth-consciousness; the ordinary mental instrumentation, life instrumentation, physical instrumentation even, could then be entirely transformed and become parts no longer of an ignorance however much illumined, but of a supramental creation which would be the true action of a spiritual truth-consciousness and knowledge.” (LD, 761-762)
Wilber is right when he says that the ultimate resolution of the mind-body problem, and the ultimate understanding of spiritual nondualism, can only be achieved by a higher than rational, contemplative thought. But there are different levels of transrational and transpersonal consciousness, which result in different conceptions of nondualism. The conceptions of the Brahmavidya and of Dzogchen are important examples of such differing views. Textual comparisons such as those undertaken here indicate the need for further research into these transpersonal realms of experience, and into the traditions that have systematically developed such knowledge. It appears that the work of Ken Wilber and of Sri Aurobindo diverges along fairly traditional lines of psychological and spiritual development: the one ending in “liberation” and the other in “transformation.” This is a distinction that has been emphasized throughout his writings by Sri Aurobindo and constitutes the most prominent contrast between his and Wilber’s work.
Intrinsic to Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of the Brahman, with Supermind as the Conscious Force of the Brahman, and therefore both the creative energy and the immortal self of all creation, is the principle of involution. But in this view, involution entails the descent of infinite and eternal principles – Supermind, Overmind, Mind, Life, Matter. These are therefore eternally self-existent planes of Divine Being, not only involved in the evolving universe as potential, but, more importantly, as the overseeing and underlying universal support of the evolving planes, pressing down upon them from above to bring forth their evolving forms in Time and Space. Without these essential, universal divinities, so fundamental to the Vedic knowledge, how could the infinite diversity and integrality of the forms of life and mind have emerged? And how could the embodied soul become cosmically conscious of universal life and mind and of the eternal forms of Truth, Beauty, and the Good, and the Godheads of the Overmind – Divine Love, Power, Joy, without entering into such ideal, divine planes? Even Plato would consider these Ideal Forms self-existent and therefore irreducible to a quadrant or to any or all of the particular forms of temporal unfolding. Without these principles, how would a psychic transformation of consciousness be possible, by which we might look out over the commons and witness, not merely a myriad of sensorimotor instruments performing rational-scientific operations in order to manifest substitute gratifications, nor an essential emptiness of being in the soul, but divine force embodying, however imperfectly, through minds, lives, and bodies the vibrations of an all-creative divine love and light? And yet, the Atman-project does not take this principle of descent into account, and therefore relies upon a linear, bipolar, and mechanical process of expansion and contraction to bring forth the infinite diversity of being in space and time. This is the second major contrast that we find when comparing the theories of involution and evolution of Ken Wilber and Sri Aurobindo.
The third important contrast in the critical perspective that a textual comparison of the works of these authors provides is found in the form of thought and language that each uses to express his vision. Wilber’s is, as he points out, dialogical, analytical, and contemplative, and aims at a psychological interpretation of existence from a synthesizing mental perspective. Sri Aurobindo’s is metaphysical and supramental, and attempts the spiritual interpretation of existence, on the basis of thought and language that originate on a spiritual plane of consciousness beyond mind. As he says in a chapter of The Life Divine, “…the intellect must consent to pass out of the bounds of a finite logic and accustom itself to the logic of the Infinite. On this condition alone, by this way of seeing and thinking, it ceases to be paradoxical or futile to speak of the ineffable: but if we insist on applying a finite logic to the Infinite, the omnipresent reality will escape us and we shall grasp instead an abstract shadow, a dead form petrified into speech or a hard incisive graph which speaks of the Reality but does not express it. Our way of knowing must be appropriate to that which is to be known…(LD, p.293) This characterization is especially true of the language of Savitri, but it is also evident in many passages of The Life Divine which have the clear intention to express the vast and integral truth of the Brahman.