Author: Clay Stinson Publisher: The NEURAL SURFER Publication date: August 1997
E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to go back to the home base now.
From: "Clay Stinson"
Subject: A SPIRITUALITY THAT TRANSFORMS????? -- An Open Letter to Ken Wilber Date: Wed, 20 Aug 1997 02:26:08 -0500 A SPIRITUALITY THAT TRANSFORMS????? -- An Open Letter to Ken Wilber Ken, I have just finished reading your most recent statement on The Ken Wilber Forum entitled "A Spirituality That Transforms" at: http://www.shambhala.com/wilber/html/enlight.html. This latest public statement by you on Spirituality, Adi Da, Chogyam Trungpa (et al.), elicited many and variegated thoughts and feelings from my reflections upon it. My commentary on some of the key passages and ideas in your latest statement follows below. (1) << …religion itself has always performed two very important, but very different, functions. One, it acts as a way of creating meaning for the separate self: it offers myths and stories and tales and narratives and rituals and revivals that, taken together, help the separate self make sense of, and endure, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. This function of religion does not usually or necessarily change the level of consciousness in a person; it does not deliver radical transformation. Nor does it deliver a shattering liberation from the separate self altogether. Rather, it consoles the self, fortifies the self, defends the self, promotes the self.>> Commentary: What do you mean by "a change of consciousness" and "a shattering liberation" Ken??? These terms are not at all well and clearly defined -- at least not in any ordinary language and common sense way. Turning to the various religious and philosophical "mystical" schools and traditions for a more precise meaning and phenomenology, we find that there is no consensus whatsoever regarding these ideas and the nature of these "liberations". By way of concretely illustrating this point, consider the following: What (i) an educated Shankara devotee, an advocate of Advaita Vedanta, means by these terms and how she interprets any personal mystical experiences, (ii) an educated Theravada Buddhist means by these terms and how he interprets any personal mystical experiences, and (iii) an educated Visistadvaita devotee means by these terms and how she interprets these mystical experiences are, in all truth, quite different. Moreover, in many cases, the content of the beliefs and doctrines, and the interpretations of any personal mystical experiences, are mutually exclusive & mutually contradictory. (2) <<…religion has also served -- in a usually very, very small minority--the function of radical transformation and liberation. This function of religion does not fortify the separate self, but utterly shatters it--not consolation but devastation, not entrenchment but emptiness, not complacency but explosion, not comfort but revolution--in short, not a conventional bolstering of consciousness but a radical transmutation and transformation at the deepest seat of consciousness itself.>> << But with transformation, the very process of translation itself is challenged, witnessed, undermined, and eventually dismantled. With typical translation, the self (or subject) is given a new way to think about the world (or objects); but with radical transformation, the self itself is inquired into, looked into, grabbed by its throat and literally throttled to death.>> Commentary: Really??? This is just unverifiable and unfalsifiable metaphysical verbosity and mystical sloganeering on your part, Ken. Reliable data from neuropsychiatry and neuroscience indicates that these "radical transformations" have a wholly mundane and naturalistic etiology. (4) << Put it one last way: with horizontal translation--which is by far the most prevalent, wide-spread, and widely-shared function of religion--the self is, at least temporarily, made happy in its grasping, made content in its enslavement, made complacent in the face of the screaming terror that is in fact its innermost condition. With translation, the self goes sleepy into the world, stumbles numbed and near-sighted into the nightmare of samsara, is given a map laced with morphine with which to face the world. And this, indeed, is the common condition of a religious humanity, precisely the condition that the radical or transformative spiritual realizers have come to challenge and to finally undo.>> Commentary: Here, Ken, you are simply recommending your version of monistic metaphysics as a kind of "mystical panacea" for human ills, rather than a realistic, courageous, dispassionate, and compassionate life in a very non-magical & non-mystical world. (5) << Still, the number of individuals who are ready for such a path is, always has been, and likely always will be, a very small minority. For most people, any sort of religious belief will fall instead into the category of consolation: it will be a new horizontal translation that fashions some sort of meaning in the midst of the monstrous world. And religion has always served, for the most part, this first function, and served it well.>> Commentary: There is a grain of truth in what you say, but it's not at all what you think Ken. My neurological research reveals that this so-called "very small minority" of individuals "ready" for "The Path" is constituted of persons who already have and/or self-induce neurological damage and neurological dysfunction -- or are neuropsychiatrically ill ab initio. Indeed, and once again, these so-called mystics, meditators, and spiritual "Masters" with the "big realizations" are suffering from various species of (i) brain damage, (ii) epilepsy, (iii) psychosis, (iv) schizophrenia, and (v) debilitating depersonalization disorder, or (vi) some combination of these five. In my case, I was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy as a youth and years later delusively believed myself to be making "spiritual" and meditative "progress" when all my weird "mystical" experiences started (as a result of intensive and protracted meditation practice). To this very day, these experiences are always with me, in varying degrees and forms, and never cease. I do wish, however, that they would stop, forever, and never plague me again. In the case of a good friend of mine (a highly religious and committed priest) who has had some of these "realizations" and mystical experiences, he, too, was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was younger. In the case of Bernadette Roberts (author of "The Experience of No-Self"), she talks about her own personal experiences of "bodilessness", profound "mystical unknowing" + experience of "Oneness" or "nonduality", "subtle energies", and a "dismantling of the continuum of time". Do such experiences constitute profound "mystical realizations" and "enlightenment"??? I say no!!! What her symptoms do actually indicate is a fairly complicated mix of profound neurological disorders, neurological damage, and neurological dysfunction -- a literal reversal, in many ways, of millions of years of the neurological evolutionary biology of the brain and nervous system. Specifically, and to wit, her experience(s) of: (i) "Bodilessness" results from total proprioceptive failure. (ii) "Mystical Unknowing" and the experience of "Oneness" or "nonduality" is little more than a convoluted mix of semantic aphasia + visual aphasia + auditory agnosia + optic agnosia + visual object agnosia. (iii) "Subtle Energies" are, in reality, nothing more than a combination of somatosensory seizures and partial complex seizures which have their roots in temporal lobe and limbic epilepsy and extreme cortex disinhibition. (iv) Her inability to experience time as having a continuum can be accounted for by a blend of time agnosia with a concomitant and serious impairment of memory vivacity. Highly similar states and conditions such as we have here in this third case are well known to medical and mental health practitioners who deal with amnesiacs, Alzheimer's sufferers, and so forth. (6) << This function of religion to provide a legitimacy for the self and its beliefs--no matter how temporary, relative, nontransformative, or illusory--has nonetheless been the single greatest and most important function of the world's religious traditions. >> Commentary: Ken, your allusion and intimation that the world is "illusory" is just your highly oblique and needlessly mystifying way of "smuggling in" your preferred metaphysics for the interpretation of the data of human experience. Put differently, this philosophic sleight-of-hand of yours, Ken, is just your mystical-mystery-mongering and inveterate hierophantic tendencies in action manifested time and time again. It all really boils down to a decree and stipulative definition, by you, that the standard for the Real is as follows: "That alone is Real which exists by itself, reveals itself by itself, and is infinite and eternal." In other words, all that which is not permanent, not timeless, not absolutely all-inclusive, not absolutely integrated, and not absolutely infinite, is relegated by you, Ken Wilber, to the status of the "illusory" and the "unreal". Even the Absolute Idealist and monist F.H. Bradley would be disgusted with you because of the shoddy way you do philosophy -- conflating and confusing as you do (i) the radical contextualist/pragmatist Philosophy of the Present with its *antirealist* views of past and future and *realist* views of the present, with (ii) Whitehead's and Hartshorne's *realist* views of past and present and *antirealist* views of the future, with (iii) the temporally spatializing Eternalistic Theory of Time (i.e., the tenseless theory of time) with its wholly *realist* view of past, present, and future (i.e., past, present, and future have equal ontological status and are fully real and fully determinate). (7) << For those few individuals who are ready--that is, sick with the suffering of the separate self, and no longer able to embrace the legitimate worldview--then a transformative opening to true authenticity, true enlightenment, true liberation, calls more and more insistently. And, depending upon your capacity for suffering, you will sooner or later answer the call of authenticity, of transformation, of liberation on the lost horizon of infinity.>> Commentary: Ken, you know as well as I do that mystical experiences have been used to corroborate every ontology on the planet ranging from (i) the Eternalistic Monism of guys like Shankara, Plotinus, and F.H. Bradley, to (ii) the Qualified Nondualism of Ramanuja, to (iii) the Extreme Dualism like that of Patanjali and Samkhya Yoga, to (iv) the extreme process-pluralism of Theravada Buddhism. Here, you at least implicitly assert and decree that your version of timeless monism is the "correct" worldview and all "authentic" spiritual realizers come to such a "realization" in the end. (8) << … the actual percentage of the Eastern population that is engaged in authentic transformative spirituality is, and always has been, pitifully small. I once asked Katigiri Roshi … how many truly great Ch'an and Zen masters there have historically been. Without hesitating, he said "Maybe one thousand altogether." I asked another Zen master how many truly enlightened--deeply enlightened--Japanese Zen masters there were alive today, and he said "Not more than a dozen.">> Commentary I: Note that the implicit assumption in this case is that Katigiri Roshi is qualified to discern the "deeply mystically enlightened" with you, Ken Wilber, being among such luminously resplendent and preeminent contemplative company. Such utterances as these that you quote from Katigiri Roshi would, if true, make him one of the most "enlightened" of them all!!! -- no?? Otherwise, how could he discern the difference between the "deeply enlightened" from the "moderately enlightened" from the "mildly enlightened" from the "unenlightened"??? Once again, we see that old mystical and cosmic self-promotion and cosmic conceit in action again. How predictable. Commentary II: Ken, there is a bit of truth in what you say about the very small numbers of the "authentically enlightened". However, the grain of truth such as you have discerned here is so infected with your religious and mystical mythology that you can't see it clearly and for what it is. Since mystical experiences have their origin in neuro-epileptic disorders, various psychoses and species of schizophrenia, Near Death Experiences, brain damage that can result from, for instance, untreated Lyme's Disease, and so on, one would reasonably expect that the population of mediators and spiritual "masters" who are "authentically enlightened" and have had "transfigurative" mystical experiences would reflect the relative rarity of these conditions (i.e., neurological and/or neuropsychiatric conditions and disorders) in America and throughout the world. For instance, it is a well-known fact that epilepsy affects roughly one percent of Americans. Now out of all those epileptics, precisely how many will be involved in meditative spirituality? Precious few. And of those precious few involved in meditative spirituality, precisely how many are going to do, literally, hours of meditative practice per day for many years in order to have all those alleged "authentic mystical realizations"? Even fewer -- due to mundane realities such as supporting one's family, putting food on the table, just living life, and so on. Similar considerations apply to those who have brain damage and various species of psychosis and schizophrenia. No wonder, then, that the big "realizers" and "big mystical experience" folk are so rare. MAIN POINT: Ken, neurological and/or neuropsychiatric disorders with attendant "contemplative" and "mystical" experiences hardly constitutes ANY philosophically and scientifically reasonable kind of basis upon which to build a whole philosophy and religion of "enlightenment", a mystical soteriology, and a systematic way of life. (9) <> Commentary I: Ken, your metamessage is coming through quite loud and very clearly: "I, Ken Wilber, have a significant degree of cosmic realization or enlightenment and am among the mystical elect! Spirituality devotees, take serious heed of this, accept my guidance as a cosmic Guru, come follow me, and for heaven's sake buy my books!!" Ken you are simply engaging in that mystical and spiritual self-promotion that we all know and have come to love so well. Indeed, Ken, you are destined for mystical godhood! Commentary II: Ken, your so-called "break through" experience(s) probably involves at least one or more of the following phenomena labeled as "mystical" and/or "Satori" experiences which I draw from my own 15+ years of personal experience with these sorts of things: (i) all kinds of "inner lights", "profound internal silences", profound diminution of internal imagery and internal dialogue, (ii) feeling all types of "flows of energy" throughout the body with pressure experienced in the middle of the forehead and at the top of the head, (iii) global bodily "vibrations" (iv) being forced down a luminous tunnel at tremendous speed with the experience of a "breakthrough" when one reaches the end of it, (v) the quintessential "enlightenment" experience of having the world "shatter" into a trillion pieces, (vi) the luminous and limpid clarity of the so-called "Space-like Mind", (vii) the brilliant, field-of-vision-engulfing, "white light" experience, And so on, ad nauseam. Ken, I too have had these experiences and come to far different conclusions than yourself regarding the same. These phenomena are NOT anything "supernaturally mystical", intimations of SELF or MIND, a timeless and unmediated intuition of the Bradleyan Absolute, or anything of the sort. From what I can gather from my neurological research, ALL these phenomena have a wholly mundane neurobiological etiology. For instance, the sustained "white light" experience, or "entering into the light" through meditation, is a form of what neuroscientists call cortex disinhibition -- the random firing of neurons in the brain. This random firing, in turn, stimulates the visual cortex producing these lights and luminosity's fanatical mystics and zealous meditators talk about. Moreover, the greater the number of neurons firing, the greater is the intensity of the white light. Quantitatively put, with few neurons randomly firing, all one sees during meditation is a small circle of white, to bluish-white, light. With a moderate number of neurons randomly firing, one sees, during meditation, a moderately large circle of light. With all or most of the neurons randomly firing, one sees a circle of light so large, brilliant, and luminous that it literally engulfs the field of vision during the meditation session. The mistake, here, of mystics, meditators, spiritual "masters", and Near Death Experiencers is to identify the "neural noise" or "white light experience" for God, Self, Mind, "mystical realization", satori, etc. Other so-called "mystical" and/or "satori" experiences have explanations just as non-magical, non-mystical, prosaic, materialistic, and neurologically-based. (9) << When Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a great (though controversial) Tibetan master, first came to this country, he was renown for always saying, when asked the meaning of Vajrayana, "There is only Ati." In other words, there is only the enlightened mind wherever you look. The ego, samsara, maya and illusion--all of them do not have to be gotten rid of, because none of them actually exist: There is only Ati, there is only Spirit, there is only God, there is only nondual Consciousness anywhere in existence.>> Commentary: Trungpa is a "great (though controversial)" Tibetan master??? There is only "Ati"??? Well Ken, this specious bit of mystical and cosmic nonsense was used by Trungpa, time and again, to defraud people of precious time, precious money, and precious personal resources. Worse, is the fact that Trungpa used his "Ati" philosophy in far more disturbing ways than just fraud. Specifically and bizarrely, he was a notoriously abusive drunk who regularly had sex with his devotees at the Naropa Institute (et al.) and ordered people stripped naked by hired thugs -- all so that he might better communicate the Tibetan Buddhist "Tantric Teachings". Yeah Ken, what a cosmic sage Trungpa was!!!! (10) <<…Adi Da, another influential (and equally controversial) adept>> Commentary: Politically astute Ken Wilber protects his worldly financial and worldly spiritual status with the devotees of mystical superstitions and Spirituality book purchasers by failing to publicly admit that he was taken in by two Mystical Con Men, viz., Adi Da and Chogyam Trungpa -- especially Adi Da. I suspect that you will do anything so that your cash cow of mystical/spiritual book and future mystical Scripture writing, along with your position as Pope of the New Age Obfuscation, is unaffected -- eh Ken??? It seems to me that all your talk about Spirituality and mysticism as a search for Absolute Truth is just a manifestation of your inveterate mystical windbag propensities and desire for undying vicarious cosmic and mystical renown. If you were a mystical philosopher back around 2000 years ago, you would be telling us that grand mal seizures are caused by demon possession. In modern context, you make the equally wacky claim(s) that all these weird and far out "mystical" experiences are really manifestations, intimations, or direct contact with Mind, Self, Ati, or what not. Well, Ken, they're not -- it's all just a result of "spiritual drug taking" done without drugs, through meditation!!! In light of all the above, Ken, the suspicion must be that a little (in your case, a huge amount of) neuroscientific ignorance and cosmic superstition goes a very long way. By propagating your mystical nonsense and cosmic fairy tales of enlightenment, you mire those in various New Age movements, groups, and especially deeply problematic mystical Cults, in a morass of religious and mystical delusions, metaphysical superstitions, and religious wishful + magical thinking -- all for the sake of that nonexistent mystical goodie that you call "enlightenment". Ken, you have spent so very much of your life in books and "in your head" that you lack even the most basic forms of common sense and knowledge of how the world really works and how people really are -- otherwise, you would not still be endorsing abusive and deranged individuals like Trungpa and Adi Da as cosmically enlightened spiritual masters. (11)<< And this is truly a terrible burden, a horrible burden, because in any case there is no room for timidity.>> Commentary: "Terrible burden"??? "Horrible burden"??? "No room for timidity"??? Anyone who knows what you must know about Adi Da and Trungpa and still endorses both after their deranged and abusive natures and actions have been well-documented time and again is, at least, an exceedingly timid person. Such a specious rallying cry on your part, Ken, is a most transparent and egregious form of hypocrisy. This is hardly appropriate for one whose life and writings supposedly revolve around the search for Absolute Truth. What utter and total BS this stuff you write and say is. (12)<< Let it start right here, right now, with us--with you and with me--and with our commitment to breathe into infinity until infinity alone is the only statement that the world will recognize. Let a radical realization shine from our faces, and roar from our hearts, and thunder from our brains--this simple fact, this obvious fact: that you, in the very immediateness of your present awareness, are in fact the entire world, in all its frost and fever, in all its glories and its grace, in all its triumphs and its tears. You do not see the sun, you are the sun; you do not hear the rain, you are the rain; you do not feel the earth, you are the earth. And in that simple, clear, unmistakable regard, translation has ceased in all domains, and you have transformed into the very Heart of the Kosmos itself--and there, right there, very simply, very quietly, it is all undone. Wonder and remorse will then be alien to you, and self and others will be alien to you, and outside and inside will have no meaning at all. And in at obvious shock of recognition--where my Master is my Self, and that Self is the Kosmos at large, and the Kosmos is my Soul--you will walk very gently into the fog of this world, and transform it entirely by doing nothing at all.>> Commentary: This is mystical grandiosity magnified, literally, to infinity. The most regrettable thing of all in your case, Ken, is that you repeatedly and totally fail to understand one simple fact: It was, and is, precisely, the LACK OF REMORSE in spiritual psychopaths and sociopaths like Trungpa, Adi Da, and Muktananda that was, and is, responsible for their unconscionable, highly abusive, and criminal treatment of others. --------------------------------------------------------- CONCLUDING REMARKS: Anthropologists and sociologists of religion say that homo sapiens are irreducibly religious (thus characterizing humans as "homo religious") and that the world's religions serves the indispensable function of encoding (via ritual, symbol, and myth) those socializing behaviors and modes of thought conducive to social cohesion plus social and individual harmony. Religion, according to this view, gives us a sense of, at least, a cosmic orientation and, more often than not, cosmic purpose and cosmic inspiration as well. Johann Sebastian Bach in his beautiful chorale "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" captures the quintessential best of religious ritual, religious symbol, and religious myth utilizing the figure of Jesus: Jesu, joy of man's desiring, Holy wisdom, love most bright; Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring… The lesson to learn from Bach, anthropologists of religion, and sociologists of religion is that many people need a vision of lofty passions, sublime wisdom, and unbounded love. In literature, music, poetry, and art these supreme values are often embodied. That onto which these values are (often) unconsciously projected can attract people to compassion and love rather than rage, toward hope rather than angst and despair, toward kindness rather than revenge and torture. Unfortunately, it is difficult, if not impossible, for some people to live by principle and the rational evaluation of circumstances alone. Such people need stories, parables, rituals, myths, symbols, and much more, in order to be able to, themselves, embody sublime moral values. In fact, having a model (in any sphere) to emulate is one of the most effective modes of learning. However, religious ritual, religious symbol, and religious myth often exacts too high a price. Such a price as religion (sacred and profane) exacts can be seen in its variegated forms of persecution, intolerance, superstition, dogmatism, hatred, and the violence it engenders in individuals and even whole nations. Moving closer to home, concrete examples of the deleterious manifestations of religion can be seen in religion's various doctrines of Hell, The Heaven's Gate Cult, Adi Da, Chogyam Trungpa, and Muktananda. Well-meaning intellectuals and so-called spiritual masters are by no means immune from the Siren Song of Superstition, unreason, and common-sense-gone-AWOL of religion -- whether exoteric or esoteric. Once one (a) posits the existence of ANYTHING supernatural, paranormal, or "mystical", (b) makes one's alleged salvation contingent upon various belief systems constructed thereon, (c) makes one's whole meaning in life contingent upon such systems, and so forth, one sets oneself up for a potential fall down the Slippery Slope of religious delusions, religious superstitions, endless religio-philosophical speculation, Cult trauma and abuse, mortal fear of violating the alleged commandments of God or the gods (e.g., against masturbation, failing to go to confession) ad infinitum. Ken, you seem to recognize that highly relative and socioculturally-conditioned myths and superstitions are heavily operative at the level of exoteric religion. However, you utterly fail to ask if similar myths and superstitions are operative at the esoteric level of religion. My argument here is that all ideas and doctrines of mystical "enlightenment" constitutes a myth just as untenable as are the myths and superstitions of, for instance, heaven, Hell, levitation, telekinesis, and salvation by Jesus alone. In other words, Ken, you totally fail to give ANY consideration to the very real possibility that ALL mystical doctrines and doctrines of cosmic enlightenment are just a bunch of fanciful nonsense with nothing more to back them up than just a welter of weird neurological experiences had by drug users, epileptics, schizophrenics, psychotics, and the variously brain damaged. FINAL CAVEAT: One of the greatest dangers of religious ritual, religious symbol, and religious myth occurs when religious True Believers take them literally. However, not to take them literally, at some level, robs them of their power to move, change, transform, and transfigure -- both for the better AND for the worse. This is why naturalistic theologies (e.g., Paul Tillich, Gordon Kauffman, and Rudolph Bultmann) and naturalistic philosophies (like that of Tanner Edis at http://www.public.iastate.edu/%7Eedis/homepage.html) will never replace, in the minds and "heart of hearts" of the religious, supernaturalistic religion -- generally speaking. But by remaining loyal to a given species of "the one and only True religion" one runs the risk of making it some kind of final authority. This becomes especially dangerous when True Believers select what they desire from it or even read into it what they choose, and then treat their selection as a divinely instituted pattern. Even the "orthodox" who try to affirm the "total tradition" end up believing all sorts of wacky and untenable myths and superstitions. Whichever way one goes (i.e., the religious "freelancer" or the systematic "orthodox" believer), religious True Believers all too often use such to give a kind of "divine" imprimatur and nihil obstat to a continuum of values, activities, thoughts, and behaviors ranging from (i) the most sublimely moral & ethical ones, to (ii) the most depraved and debased ones. Regards, Clay
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I want to go back to the home base now.