Enlightenment.com: Id like
to talk to you about a problem that I have had with respect to
you for a long time: Why it is that more people don't
acknowledge the grandeur, beauty, immensity, and magnificence
of your theoretical system? It is completely and absolutely
obvious to me that you've done a better job of what you've set
out to do than anyone else ever has. Comparisons -- well, I
don't know about comparisons to Hegel and Kant, but certainly
to William James -- seem to me to be totally appropriate at
this point. Your marriage of science and mysticism, your
bringing together Western development psychology and Eastern
spirituality, your ability to bring so many, many theorists
into rough alignment through your "orienting generalizations"
and fantastic organizational skills -- it's all unsurpassed.
So, what I'd like to know is, given that, why is it that so
many people -- it's not just that people end up getting pissed
off at you, but why is it more people aren't willing to read
and acknowledge you?
Ken Wilber: Let me say that there might be a couple of
correct reasons that people are put off.
A lot of what I'm saying could be wrong. We have to
acknowledge that a lot of what I'm saying could be wrong, and
people look at it and go "No, no, wrong, wrong, no, just
Second item, of course, is that some people, at least on three
books out of twenty books, there were some footnotes that were
polemical, and some people have objected to those. I think
that that's a red herring myself, but I think it has to be
acknowledged that it made it difficult for some people to get
into the argument because they were put off by this aspect in
three of these books.
That said, then, I would go to reasons in my favor, of why I
believe some people have trouble with it. And, obviously,
these are self-serving reasons.
The first that I've found is that if I just look at the people
that respond to my work versus those that don't, there's a
general pattern. The people who respond to my work are those
that have read just about as much as I have. They know what's
out there, and they're very familiar with a large number of
the things that I'm bringing together. And so they realize the
importance of including all of these various types of
approaches and systems and ideas, and trying to bring them
under one umbrella.
E.com: You are providing a better map than anybody else
KW: That kind of thing. People like Michael Murphy, who
himself has done comparable kind of work. Someone like that
will just look at it and get every single sentence from
beginning to end. He just completely groks the whole thing and
adds stuff to it along the way.
Most of the criticism that I get comes from people that I
think haven't done enough homework to realize why some of
these things need to be included. The amount of research, for
example, on the developmental aspects of the psyche
cross-culturally -- there's been an enormous amount of
research on that -- most of it tends to be just tossed out by
I have a general rule which gets into the second problem with
why people have difficulty with my work, which is my general
rule is that everybody is right. And so I have a very
different approach to bringing together different philosophies
and different psychologies, which is that every single system
ever offered has some degree of truth in it. As I
sometimes put it, no mind can produce 100 percent error.
Unfortunately, most of my contemporaries approach philosophy
in this fashion: I've got a particular idea and everybody else
E.com: Right. It's either/or. Period.
KW: Yes, basically, that's the approach. Everybody is
right. Even the materialists and the reductionists. They have
very important things that need to be included. So I ask more
a meta-question, which is "What system or pattern can honor
the most number of truths from the most number of
E.com: So you never met a question you didn't like?
KW: Just like Will Rogers. And that's actually the
truth. So people find behaviorism to Marxism to atomism --
there's some parts of all of that that I try to, in a very
loose sense, based on orienting generalizations, say, you
know, let's just skip all the details right now ... generally
speaking, these people are right about this general thing.
Let's just make room for that. Let's put that over here. And
the Buddhists -- they're right, let's put that over here. And
all those physicists, OK, let's put them over here.
Once you do that, you get this sort of composite map, and
clearly nobody wants to confuse the map with the territory,
but just as well you don't want a f***ed up incomplete map.
E.com: You want the best map you can get.
KW: Right, which is what most people give you. So,
unfortunately, it therefore takes a lot of homework to be able
to relate to what I'm doing. People have to see the importance
of honoring every known truth. If they don't have that
impulse, they'll settle for a lesser, partial truth, because
it's easier on them. It's not hard. They say, "Well, I'm a
Buddhist, and everybody else is wrong," and that's the way it
is. Well, I don't know about everybody else, but I'm not going
to get into it with them. So, I understand that impulse, but
it's not the impulse behind my work.
The third thing I would say in my self-serving defense is that
the research pretty clearly indicates that you have to be at
second tier before these problems will even exist for you.
Blue and Orange and Green [memes] aren't interested in
integral, comprehensive maps. That doesn't make sense to them.
There's something very dramatic that happens when people move
into second tier, into Yellow and Turquoise. All of a sudden
big pictures are the only things that satisfy. Because there's
a comprehensiveness, there's a fullness, there's a drive to
integrate and to honor and to include all these various
approaches, and systems, and truths.
E.com: Once you've left the farm and seen these other
things, you can't just ...
KW: You can't go back.
The Two Truths Doctrine
E.com: Here's a question from an Enlightenment.com
The issue I circle around most frequently and find increasing
difficult to reconcile concerns the relationship between the
nature of philosophical and intellectual inquiry and the
Buddha mind, prior mind, or the true nature of the mind spoke
of as the point of realization in many of the non-dual
traditions, including particularly Dzogchen. Namkhai Norbu,
probably the world's most renowned Dzogchen teacher, states
that although philosophies come and go and intellectual
answers rise and fall, they are transient, distracting and do
not lead to any kind of satisfactory or worthwhile
understanding. Rather, genuine knowledge and its resulting
liberation arises from simply observing the mind and body, and
the energy of which they are composed, to identify the
mirror condition beneath. How, then, might this be
reconciled with both the direction and purpose of your
developmental model (if at all), and what are the consequences
in your view if these perspectives do not, in fact, coincide?
Many thanks and much love to you, Jon Sillis.
KW: [Laughter.] Excellent points. The only way we can
answer this is to again rely on the two truths doctrine: the
notion that there is a relative truth, or relative truths in
the world of Maya and manifestation, but underlying all of
that there is an absolute or ultimate or non-dual truth. When
Namkhai Norbu is talking about the nature of the mind, he is
talking about absolute truth, ultimate non-dual truth, which
is the truth of one's ever-present awareness, moment to
moment. That can be investigated quite regardless of what your
philosophy is, or your psychology is, and so on.
E.com: Just shut up and look.
KW: Shut up and look. That's the basic, fundamental
instruction for the non-dual schools. It's just shut the f***
up and look. [Laughter.]
E.com: The injunction that you can test.
KW: It is a little bit more specific. The ultimate
injunction for the non-dual realization is not that you can
get to a state where you have a non-dual awareness, but that
there is something about your state right now that is already
one hundred percent aware of it.
KW: So all we're going to do is keep pointing to it
until you see it. We're not going to bring anything into
existence that isn't already here one hundred percent. If you
hear my voice, and see the table, and you're noticing sounds
that are going on, that is the enlightened mind. That is one
hundred percent of the enlightened mind.
Now, the reason that you don't go "Wow, I see it" is that you
are too distracted by the objects that are occurring in that
mind moment to moment. You focus on the objects passing by and
you forget who the actual seer is or the witness of these
objects, and so that appears that it is not present, but in
fact it is ever present.
] At what point can you start to convert it into permanent
realization? I believe the evidence suggests a minimum
requirement is second-tier [or advanced] psychological
development to convert a passing state into a permanent trait
of realization. That's an empirical question for us to find
that's what we're going to actually try to get some
evidence on so we can help people move down this path as fast
as they possibly can.
It's pretty clear that low levels of development cannot
permanently realize satori. This is where all of a
sudden we can't just dismiss the relative realm, we can't just
dismiss psychological stages, because it appears they are
going to have an important role to play in how well we can
realize this non-dual nature of the mind. That's one part
The second part is that even if somebody has a very powerful
and permanent realization of the non-dual ever-present mind,
they still have to manifest and express that through their
conventional personality and their conventional philosophy.
The more balanced and integral and full-bodied their
philosophy, the more adequate they are going to be in
conveying it and helping to make sense of the world. It
doesn't really help a whole lot to have a great understanding
of the nature of the mind if you can't convert that into
educational policies, or policies for business or politics or
for the real-world where real human beings live.
So, in addition to having an understanding of and an awakening
to the absolute, non-dual nature of the mind, you want to have
an expression that is as integral and comprehensive as
possible because it is going to be more effective in the real
world. In the best of all possible worlds, we want to combine
both, the relative and the non-dual, to give a more
comprehensive approach to the topic.
Tackling the Difficult, Liberating Issues
E.Com: One reader asked, "Why have you only really
focused on the interior contemplative spiritual practices when
many other spiritual traditions the sacramental traditions,
the collective traditions of social service, the behavioral
traditions of devotion, hatha yoga, sacramental family life,
the artistic spiritual traditions of calligraphy, music, etc.
-- can be so beautifully and easily explained and presented
within the collective and behavioral domains of your model?"
He thinks that the exoteric traditions should get more play
KW: Yes, I think he is exactly right, and he is himself
doing writings that are addressing that lack. And I think from
what I've seen that he is doing a very good job of it. One of
the reasons, one of the things that I tend to focus on, are
the hard theoretical issues that there aren't a lot of good --
I tend to focus on some of the hard theoretical issues that
need attention, let's say. Difficult issues. Once I come up
with something that at least appears to be a solution, or a
first approximation, then I tend not to be as interested. I
tend to move on to the other tough issues.
E.com: Here's another question: The traditional goal of
Eastern religion and esotericism is moksha, freedom
from rebirth, in the form of samadhi and nirvana.
Are these types of goals relevant for modern humans? Can they
be restated in forms that are consistent with the modern and
dominant scientific world view?
KW: Yes, I think any time you have a state that offers
liberation from life's suffering, it's relevant. I don't think
anybody would want to forgo a capacity for great liberation,
including somebody in the modern world. The difficulty, of
course, is how then do you bring that into the everyday world
in a way that has some sort of relevance. I think that's where
the general notion of the bodhisattva tends to make a
great deal of sense. Which is namely, you, after thoroughly
realizing the formless state of nirvana, bring that
realization to bear on every form that arises. The impulse
that accompanies that is something known as compassion. So the
driving force becomes, "I have been fortunate enough to find
some kind of liberation, freedom, fullness in my own being.
How can I communicate that to others in a way that benefits
It's not very different than if somebody came along to you and
gave you a billion dollars. Most people's initial impulse is,
"I'm going to share that with some other people that need it."
It's the same thing if you get a really profound awakening
experience. It's not, "Oh, I'm going to get away from the
world," it's "Oh, somebody gave me a billion dollars. I'm
going to go out and share it." And that's generally what
happens with people who have that kind of realization. They
are moved, in a very, very profound way, to share the wealth.
And that's what happens.
So the pressing concern right now is something we talked about
a little bit earlier. Yes, once you've found the nature of the
mind, once you've found nirvana, once you've found this
formless ever-present state, what do you do in the relative
realm? And what you do is you try to go in with as integral
approach as possible and start to have an impact on the
educational system, on the political system, the business
system, and so on, so that those systems become conducive to
states of realization and liberation. Obviously, it's a tall
order, but that's no reason not to engage it.
E.com: No. It might be the purpose of being here.
KW: [Laughter.] Somebody might say that, yes.
Taking the Magic out of Mysticism?
E.com: The other piece of this is that you better than
anyone, perhaps, have championed the inner realms, your left
side, subjectivity, the interior dimensions. Although you've
fought like hell to bring it back into legitimate discourse,
the very act of producing a logical system of the magnitude
and beauty of your system, for some people, ends up taking the
mystical, interior, sparkly, magical, chaotic, divine nature
right out of it. Somehow, for them, your logic sucks the
mystery and beauty right out of reality. It's almost as if the
Apollinian cancels out the Dionysian and I don't think there's
a way you can win on that.
E.com: And it's not your fault ...
KW: No, I understand. Here's what ...
E.com: And it puts them off. They go, "Hey, he's not
got like this radiant, luminous ..." But it's all there,
obviously you do, but they don't read it and get excited the
way they do about authors whose names we won't mention who
write stuff that is not even close.
KW: First of all, if that's all that I did, or if I
actually thought that this rational reconstruction of the
trans-rational was a be-all and end-all in itself, then these
people would be completely right. Logic does suck the life out
of any of the trans-rational realms. And so, obviously, you
don't want to do that. But at the same time, you don't want to
just ignore, oppress, marginalize rationality and logical
analysis. That's also an important part of manifestation. So
what you want to do basically is have an integral approach
that includes all of those aspects.
And if you take -- one of the things that we're going to do
for example, I think people are going through it now -- if you
just take the poetic pointing-out instructions from my books,
and you just put those all together in one volume, then
there's no quadrants, there's no levels, there's no lines,
there's no development, there's none of that. There's just
pointing to this ever-present awareness, that you are, and
that you have been eternally, and at how you can actually
awaken and realize that and have that manifest throughout your
life. And if you just read those sections, then it's entirely
different. Then it's nothing but Dionsysian sort of ecstasy,
basically. There's no logic, there's no stages, or realms, or
any of that kind of stuff.
E.com: Just like reading Grace & Grit [Wilber's
best-selling memoir of the death of his wife, Treya]. It's a
totally different ...
KW: A totally different experience.
E.com: ... take on who you are.
KW: Exactly. But part of what you want to do, at some
point is, if you're trying to make room in the conventional
realm for any sort of dharma, or any form of trans-rational
awareness, and since rational professors, so to speak, take
all of that as being completely hallucinatory nonsense, then
somebody has to go in and sort of have it out with these guys
on the rational level. And say look, hey, there's abundant
reason to acknowledge these higher trans-rational states.
But of course I have to be rational to do that part of the
argument. And that's what I do. And it's fine. We'll do
Derrida. We'll do Foucault. And we'll do Heidegger. And we'll
do Russell, and you know, whatever game you want to play. And
when you've done all of that you'll see that it doesn't
Something else is going on here. There are trans-rational
states and stages of which we have an extraordinary amount of
evidence, and by cutting yourself off from that you are
cutting yourself off from your real nature. Now, somebody has
to do it; it's an ugly job. I've decided to step in and do my
best on that part. But it doesn't mean that I think that
that's the only thing you have to do. And frankly, it's hard.
I'll be glad when I don't have to do that any more. It sucks.
I just want to write mindless poetry and bad novels.
[Laughter.] And I can too.
E.com: Yes, I know.
KW: [Laughter.] I can write as bad a novel as the next
The Burden of Fame
E.com: Well, that's a nice segue here for me to ask you
just a few personal questions. The first is, "Why you?"
Comparisons to Hegel, the "Einstein of Consciousness"-- even
if they are only half right, how do you feel about the fact
that you are the world's most influential and popular
psycho-spiritual theorist? How's it feel to have so many
people reading and absorbing your words? Is it heady? Do you
just think of yourself kind of like as a normal guy with a dog
that snores or do you ... is it hard not to get inflated?
KW: Yes. It's one of those things ... I tend not to think
about it. It's like people who have an overnight success. It's
one thing if you're like a rock band, and you're together for
a week and then you have a hit single, and then on the next
day you're the cover of Time magazine or something.
That must be very unbalancing. But most of the bands, like the
Beatles or something, they were out there ten years, day in
and day out.
And so, I wrote my first book when I was 23. And I went
through a period of, kind of inflation and unbalance, because
so many projections are put on you that you are both demonic
-- I'm much more demonic than some people would think I am --
and also there are positive projections going on. And what
tends to happen is that some way, sooner or later, you really
have to address that. And I don't think I was a particularly
fast learner in that regard. But I've had such a long time --
I've had thirty years, basically. So even somebody who is kind
of slow, like me, in that area, I'm pretty OK after ...
E.com: It wasn't like all of a sudden you had fifty
million dollars ...
E.com: overnight and ...
Working-Day Satori Blues
E.com: So Ken, what do you love most about what you do?
People want to know that. They want to know what makes Ken
Wilber happy on a day-to-day basis.
KW: Well, a couple of things. One is there is - an
analogy I kind of use is it's like a guitar. And there's the
string on the guitar, and there's the box behind it that gives
resonance to it. And whenever you awaken your own soul or
spirit, that's like strumming the strings. That's the actual
where the sound comes from. But there's a greater -- that's
the ultimate sort of bliss and reward and awareness and
understanding and truth and goodness comes when you strike
There's another kind of satisfaction comes from having the box
on the guitar resonate and give depth and expression to the
sound from the strings. And what my writing does for me is,
after I strike these higher chords, through my own spiritual
practice, my writing is the box behind it that can give it a
resonance. It can flush it out. It can give it a manifest form
that makes the sound even richer. The sound still comes from
the strings, still comes from the soul or spirit -- the mind
can be the box on the guitar, it can give expression to it.
It's very very fulfilling in that sense.
So, I'm not trying to think my way into spirit. I made that
very, very clear from the beginning. You have to do spiritual
practice to get to the trans-rational. You cannot use the
rational to get to the trans-rational. Spiritual practice gets
you to the trans-rational. But then you can get a rational
expression too. You can also express it in dance, or painting,
or poetry as well, and that's very important. But you can also
do it ... you can give a rational expression to it.
And I continue to find that even as I say, with enlightened
teachers, they benefit from this kind of philosophy because it
gives them a bigger box for their guitar. So the strings, when
they strike them -- well, there's this little, bitty
non-integral box behind the strings. And I continue to be
struck by how even really great, realized teachers need an
integral philosophy to be the box to express the music of
their soul and spirit. Because it doesn't come with the
territory. It does not come with the territory. You have to do
the work to understand all quadrants, all levels, all lines,
and so on. And so what I enjoy doing is giving that kind of
form to it, because it allows a more comprehensive expression
of spiritual understanding. So that part I like.
The other part I like is that it makes a difference in
people's lives, and that's important to me.
E.com: When you're writing, though, on a day-to-day
basis, do you have flow states the way Csikszentmihalyi talks
about them? Do you disappear into an altered work state ...
what John Lilly called it, I think something like your
"working-day satori." You go places like that?
E.com: You love the actual work of providing the ...
KW: I'm not ... I'm very ambivalent about the actual
process because it is very physically painful. I get it in --
in fact I think pretty weird states. I process information at
a very, very spooky rate. Most of the books I've written, a
lot of people know, it's really only a couple of weeks to
write each of these books. And it never takes longer than
about three weeks to write these books. They generally are
fully formed by the time I sit down and write them. And the
actual writing process is uncomfortable because I will go
sometimes just around the clock, basically. It's a very very
E.com: It sounds like a purgative experience, and you
don't have any choice but to be the vehicle through which this
great writing happens.
KW: It just ... because so much information is there, in order
for it to be coherent, I have to stay in that working day satori. I think it's a fine phrase that Lilly has ... was it
... is that what it was?
KW: Working-day satori or working satori or workday
E.com: No, I've got it. It's "professional satori."
KW: Professional satori. What I think is in the
non-dual state ... it could be flow, but frankly, I think you
can have flow on gross, subtle, causal, and non-dual planes.
This is a non-dual flow, there's no question about it. And
it's very, very intense. So, it's not a favorite time for me,
that part of it.
E.com: Hmm, that's interesting. Everything has its
KW: Yes, yes.
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