About Integral Zen

What is Integral?


If you don’t know something exists you won’t go looking for it. If you don’t fully understand the human condition, you can never fully understand the real dilemma you face. And most importantly you will have no way to truly understand how you can overcome what’s really in your way.

The AQAL map (All Quadrants All Lines) was developed by the philosopher Ken Wilber over 30+ years. It shows us the dimensions and features of our own being at this point in our evolutionary history. The AQAL map is the best map we have so far of the complete human being, and is inclusive of all facets of human knowledge, from hard science to depth psychology, from cultural studies to economic theory, from stoic atheism to unity consciousness.

Integral theory is complicated, yes. But so are we. It honors the most complex thing we have yet discovered in the entire cosmos: ourselves. Integral theory parses knowledge into 4 Quadrants (Interior-individual, External-individual, Interior-Collective, External-collective) to help us not impose our preferred view on the rest of the world (in what’s called “Quadrant Absolutism”).

It includes and honors 1st 2nd and 3rd person spiritual perspectives (or Buddhism, theism, and pantheism), so we can meet our fellow practitioners and wisdom holders in a place of mutual understanding and trust, rather than secret bias and judgment.

Lines of development and multiple intelligences help to explain why we have such a hard time understanding each other, because we are unable to fully see the person in front of us, and so we project, distort, and manipulate.

Shadow states and shadow selves help to explain why we have such a hard time understanding ourselves, because we can only see that which is conscious. The rest remains hidden in shadow, influencing behavior, creating reactive patterns, and distorting reality.

States of consciousness help us understand the meditative traditions, from shamanic journeying to visions to unity with the entire cosmos. It allows us something very rare: to place ourselves, with the help of an experienced guide, on the map of our own evolutionary unfolding. This allows us to understand the kinds of practices, both relative and absolute, we need to fully awaken from our dream of a separate self.

For an in-depth introduction to Integral Theory, see our The Whole Spectrum of Shadows Self-paced Course (Intermediate).

What is Zen?


In Rinzai Zen Buddhism, we practice zazen (sitting meditation), kinhin (walking meditation), as well as study koans with a Zen master or authorized teacher. We practice being completely present with whatever arises in our awareness.

In Sanskrit there are three facets of Zen: dharana (concentration), Dhyana (pure non-evaluating awareness) and samadhi (unreasonable joy). We turn our gaze inward and face everything. We face the discomfort, the ugliness and the darkness as well as the beauty and the joy.

We practice sitting without moving in stillness, in eloquent silence, until we begin to notice how we have been deluded by our conditioning. As we begin releasing what we are attached or even addicted to, a deeper longing begins to bloom.

It is by facing our own delusions and attachments, without turning away. that we gain insight into our own true nature, which is nothing less than the true nature of all reality. This awakening enables us to move with greater clarity and compassion in the world.

For an introduction to our meditation teaching framework, you can take our Introduction to Meditation for Beginners Self-paced Course.

Traditional Buddhist teachings include:

The Three Marks of Existence

  1. Impermanence
  2. Suffering
  3. No self

The Four Noble Truths

  1. There is suffering in the world
  2. There is a cause to the suffering
  3. There is a way to end suffering
  4. The way to end suffering is to follow the Eight Fold Path

The Eight Fold Path

  1. Right View — Clear selfless intention
  2. Right Thought — Pure unpolluted thought/feeling
  3. Right Speech — Spontaneous authentic speech
  4. Right Action — Real compassionate action
  5. Right Livelihood — Conscious livelihood that creates no suffering
  6. Right Concentration — Persistent disciplined effort 
  7. Right Meditation — Pure effortless unperturbable Awareness  
  8. Right Samadhi — Liberating Unreasonable Joy

Doctrine of Two Truths

This teaching emphasizes the absolute and relative nature of existence. The Prajnaparamita Sutras and Madhyamaka emphasize that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Ultimate reality is present in the daily world of relative reality — but this is not obvious to most of us. Maps for practitioners are given inside of the Five Ranks of Tozan and the Oxherding Pictures.

Doctrine of True Self

Zen has always had a Doctrine of the True Self. The True Self is the Unity of the Absolute Self and the Relative Selves. Zen implicitly includes a recognition of the relative self. What Zen can really use is a more explicit Doctrine of the relative self (or more accurately, the relative selves).

Integral Zen sets out to better define this relative part of our journey than tradition Zen has managed to do. Or, as Junpo Roshi has said: “Traditional Zen is the perfect vehicle for Waking Up (spiritual insight) and Growing Up (emotional maturity) — if you live in 18th Century Japan.”

3 Poisons

Zen, and especially Integral Zen, places strong emphasis on the 3 poisons of the mind. Ignorance, attachment, and aversion. These historic teachings are finding strong clinical support in cutting-edge attachment theory and the neurobiology of trauma on the human brain. The 3 poisons have lasting effects on human consciousness, bonding patterns, unconconscious attachments (and revulsions), and the ability of a practitioner to not only access a deep state of awareness (kensho) but to stabilize that state into a way of being.

What is Integral Zen?

At Integral Zen, we use the zazen, kinhin, and koans from traditional Rinzai Zen. We also use the Five Training Elements and the transformative practice of Mondo Zen™ to re-orient, mature and enlighten our ego and our emotional bodies. In addition to these, we add the conceptual framework of Integral Theory and more rigorous forms of individual and collective psychological shadow work.

With Integral language and a deep meditative practice, we are able to discuss complex topics with greater understanding, clarity, and compassion. By using Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, including his AQAL map – all levels, lines, types, states, and quadrants – the territory of our lives comes alive.

This map allows greater compassion for ourselves and others, since it empowers us to stop imposing our unconscious assumptions about the world onto nearly every place we touch it. And yet, the map is not the territory, and Integral Zen is ruthless in its distinction between intellectual understanding, experiential understanding, and spiritual insight.

Meditative practitioners with deep spiritual insight often suffer from a too-partial view of the cosmos. Integralists with sophisticated maps of the world often suffer from a lack of experiential insight about the true nature of their minds.

The complexity of an evolutionary, 21st Century spirituality cannot be understood without a common language. An Integral View, combined with a stable spiritual insight, greatly enhances the level of clarity, predictability, and understanding within our community. We are able to more profoundly connect with ourselves and each other.

We understand our own Zen practice through an empowering yet humbling lens that allows us to understand better what we have realized, and what we have yet to discover.

Integral Zen and Personal and Collective Psychological Shadow

The process of awakening is the very process of making what is unconscious, conscious. But we cannot enlighten the parts of our mind that we cannot see, no matter how deep our spiritual insight or how vast our intellectual knowledge.

You can be deeply awake or a great scholar, and still be a reactive and petty jerk in your own life! In our experience, a person’s ability to fully awaken is directly tied to his or her ability and willingness to face psychological shadow material. If you’re human you have it, without exception.

Integral Zen recognizes that each one of us has aspects of his or herself that are undeveloped, no matter the depth of spiritual insight. Within the unique paths that have led us to where we are, there are steps that are often missed. Therefore we examine what steps were missed in our own development. We then choose to consciously make room for and encourage each other to develop in these specific areas.

Integral Zen includes many forms of psychological shadow work to illuminate our disowned and false selves. When we disown part of ourselves we automatically create a lie, a story about who we are that is not true. This is what Jung called the persona, Voice Dialogue calls the primary self, and Wilber calls the false self. When this shadow, the disowned self, is reintegrated into the personality, there is no need to continue to lie to ourselves. The false self is seen through, discarded and replaced with a more authentic sense of self that includes the disowned parts.

For an introduction to shadows and shadow work, take a look at our Shadow for Beginners Self-paced Course or The Whole Spectrum of Shadows Self-paced Course (Intermediate)