Ken Wilber and Doshin Roshi interview

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© 2017 Ken Wilber

Questions asked of Ken Wilber by Doshin Roshi in preparation for a live interview on transformational communities at Findhorn, Scotland in October of 2017.

What are some contributions that the Transformational Communities of today have made to the world?

The Great Wisdom Traditions generally distinguish between what they call the “Two Truths Doctrine”—namely, men and women have two major types of truth available to them—they have a relative truth, and they have an ultimate Truth. Relative truth involves things like the truths of science. So if I say, “Water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom,” that is a relative truth. And it is true, it’s correct; in this relative, manifest, finite world, water is indeed made of hydrogen and oxygen. But there’s also ultimate Truth—or spiritual Truth or infinite Truth or timeless and eternal Truth—and in ultimate Truth, water is not made of hydrogen and oxygen, water is made of Spirit—or Godhead, or Goddess, or Brahman, or Tao, or Buddhanature, or Ein Sof, and so on.

Now both of those are true, and both of those truths are desperately needed. Throughout history, there have been cultures that have tried to get by on just one of those truths, and the results have not been good. And starting with the Western Enlightenment, the modern West made two major moves: one, it tended to reject ultimate Truth altogether, and yet two, it made some stunning advances in relative truth. In ultimate Truth, the West simply rejected the notion that was anything like an infinite Ground of All Being, a God or Goddess that was our own truest reality and our own deepest Self. Any sort of infinite ultimate Reality was denied, and there was only the manifest, finite, conventional, everyday, secular world—and the claim that {quote} “God is dead” rang out across Europe, and humankind was left entirely on its own to face existence. This new world has been called everything from “the disenchanted universe” to the “dis‑qualified universe” to “one‑dimensional humans.”

Now there were versions of ultimate Truth that definitely deserved to be let go of. Some early versions of God were what has been called “mythic‑literal,” which means that they were myths that were taken to be literally and empirically true. So Moses really did part the Red Sea, Lot’s wife really was turned into a pillar of salt, God really did rain locusts down on the Egyptians, and so on. There is nothing deep or metaphorical or transcendental about any of those myths. They’re just childish forms of cognition, and Jehovah in many ways was actually no different than, say, Zeus or Apollo or Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Those are all myths, but they are hardly good examples of ultimate Truth. So the modern West was right to reject all those childish versions of myth. But it got so excited in this effort that it really did throw the baby out with the bathwater. Not just childish mythic versions of ultimate Truth, but all versions of ultimate Truth—including the Waking‑Up versions of Enlightenment, Metamorphosis, Moksha, satori—all of those were summarily tossed out the window, and the disenchanted universe was upon us.

But in the realm of relative truth, there was a genuine explosion of important discoveries—start with the fact that virtually all of the modern sciences just burst onto the scene—modern physics, modern chemistry, modern biology, modern geology, and so on. This would eventually do everything from plopping a person on the moon to increasing the average lifespan of all people on the planet by a stunning 3 decades. It was truly extraordinary.

But even within a relative truth, the view of the world that emerged here was not truly complete or inclusive or comprehensive—it’s view of the world has been called “scientific materialism,” and it was just that—it saw the world as consisting of nothing but matter, and then only matter that could be seen objectively with the 5 senses or their extensions (microscopes. Telescopes, and so on). So of that legendary trinity of the “Good, the True, and the Beautiful,” scientific materialism was only interested in objective material Truth, and it completely tossed out the Good and the Beautiful entirely. In fact, any sort of interior realities were denied real existence—values, goals, aesthetics, spirituality, virtues, love, care, compassion—none of those were real anymore. So with all of the good that the modern sciences brought, they also brought a devastating reduction in the richness of human potentials—truly, just devastating. From that point on, the modern West limped forward—with no God, no values, no interiors, no morals, no Good, no Beautiful—a world with no ultimate Truth at all and an anemic disenchanted relative truth.

So cut to the 1960s, cut to Findhorn, cut to the human potentials movement, to the rise of transformational communities around the world. This whole period has been called that of postmodernism—of multiculturalism, diversity, inclusion, sensitivity. The previous major epoch was called “modernity” or “modernism”—and this recent epoch, coming right after that one, was “after modernity” or “postmodernity” or “postmodernism.”

And the postmodern communities of transformation, including Findhorn, did two profoundly important things: in relative truth, they introduced an enchanted world instead of the disenchanted wasteland; and in ultimate Truth, they simply brought back ultimate Truth itself—they realized that it definitely does exist and that it is central to any sort of a life well lived. In short, they brought a Spirit of enchantment. And this changed everything, absolutely everything.

When it came to re‑enchanting the world, what did these postmodern Transformational Communities do?

There were an enormous number of approaches that these communities introduced, covering a great number of different areas. But a central issue—probably the major issue—concerned the whole notion of hierarchy. A hierarchy is a system of ranking, where certain values or traits are taken to be higher than others, and those “others” are taken to be lower, or inferior, or more primitive, or less valuable. Postmodernism came to see ranking or hierarchy as central to virtually all of the modern world’s social ills, oppression, and suffering. History itself was seen as a playing out of various nasty and oppressive hierarchies that arbitrarily judged others to be inferior, or primitive, or less valuable. The entire list of things that postmodernism took to be very, very bad is a list of dominator hierarchies. These included slavery, where certain groups were simply treated like property and bought and sold. Or patriarchy, where women were treated as if they were slaves, the property of this or that male. And entire social systems were homophobic, or prejudiced toward homosexuals; or xenophobic, hating all cultures other than their own; or imperialistic, invading and conquering other cultures; or colonialistic, militarily treating other cultures as mere extensions of their own. And even in everyday activities like business organizations, there is generally just one person—almost always a male—sitting on top of an organizational hierarchy and giving orders to everybody else.

For postmodernism, the vast majority of human beings were sitting on the bottom of one or more of these oppressive and dominating hierarchies—and, for those humans, the world indeed was dis‑enchanted, pale and anemic in its opportunities and its rewards. Even the typical, normal person had a entire set of inner hierarchies that were always criticizing and controlling them—“you can never do anything right, you’re worthless, you should do this and you shouldn’t do that, what an idiot you are”—and this definitely disenchanted their interiors.

So a major way that postmodernism worked to re‑enchant peoples’ lives was to {quote} “flatten the hierarchies”—get rid of these vicious ranking systems that judge people to be superior or inferior, worthwhile or worthless, good or bad, and start treating everybody as being truly and deeply equal. And help people get rid of their interior judgments and criticisms and negativity, and help them find a deep and abiding center of absolute peace. Likewise, in community organizations—from everyday businesses to places like Findhorn—definitely “flatten the hierarchies,” move to create work environments that acknowledge and respect the true equality of all beings in nonjudgmental, non‑ranking ways.

That re-enchanting of the world (in relative truth) was especially helped by the introduction of a spiritual realm (in ultimate Truth). This ultimate Truth was not a childish mythic‑literal story, but an actual practice of Waking Up—that is, all human beings (all sentient beings, actually) were seen as perfect expressions or manifestations of an ultimate Spirit, and this ultimate Reality was the truest and deepest Self of everybody. The whole aim of a contemplative path of realization was to transform consciousness from a relative, separate, contracted, and suffering ego to an awakening of one’s own deepest Reality, which was not other than infinite Spirit itself, radiant, timeless, infinite, and all‑inclusive. This realization of one’s truest and ultimate Self was called (as we earlier mentioned) Enlightenment, Awakening, Metamorphosis, Moksha, fana, satori. Sufis called it “the Supreme Identity,” because it was a discovery of the fact that one’s own deepest Self was actually one with infinite Spirit—this Supreme Identity is the discovery that ultimate Truth lies in the deepest core of your own being. And this discovery absolutely helped with the re‑enchanting of the world.

Thus, overall, the discovery of the “Spirit of an enchanted world” is what the postmodern communities of transformation brought to the world, and it truly marked one of the major transformations in all of humanity’s evolution.

Are these Communities struggling today with some common problems? And if so, what are they?

Well, if you look at this whole area of “enchanting the world” by “flattening all hierarchies” or “deconstructing all hierarchies,” it wasn’t clear, at the start, exactly how this should be done, and if there were ways that could actually be harmful. This “getting rid of all hierarchies” and actually treating absolutely all people “equally” was a relatively new experiment in humankind’s history. But these postmodern communities—as well as the entire academic force of postmodern philosophy—began exactly to try and act as if no judgmental rankings should be made at all, anywhere. No value was better than another value—all were perfectly equal (or “egalitarian”), so what’s true for you is true for you and what’s true for me is true for me, and that’s it. So in postmodern philosophy, there actually was a massive attempt to redo philosophy entirely without using any sort of value judgments at all. Even judgments like, “Science is real and novels are fictional”—even that distinction was denied. There simply is no difference—no hierarchy—between what ordinary people call “truth” and “fiction.” It was aggressively maintained that science was no more true or real than was poetry or fantasy—seriously. This got taken to such extremes that we are now in what has been called a “post‑truth” or “post‑factual” world. Every single view you want is taken to be equally true, and that gets rid of those hierarchies between right and wrong, good and bad, true and false. So whenever you see a hierarchy, you simply deny it. All those nasty rankings are finally gotten rid of, and totally.

The same thing was happening in ordinary, everyday reality. We’re not supposed to make any negative judgments about anybody, or any belief, or any culture (this was called “multiculturalism,” the idea that all cultures are absolutely equal)—EVERYBODY is radically and totally equal.

That seems to be a little bit extreme….

Well, it does, doesn’t it? If everybody is completely equal, does it mean, for example, that we are to totally and equally accept the Nazis? And what about the KKK? Treat them with equality and complete acceptance as well? Somehow, something seems to be a little bit off about the idea of getting rid of all ranking, getting rid of all hierarchies, all judgments. In some way, certain hierarchies or rankings actually seem useful and important. In some ways, things like the Nazis and the KKK are indeed “not good” or they represent “lesser” values in some sense.

So some hierarchies are indeed bad, but some seem to be very good and very important. And simply trying to get rid of all hierarchies was a bad idea; and worse, the desire to get rid of all hierarchies appeared to be deeply self‑contradictory as well. For example, we saw that the postmodern philosophers were, virtually all of them, claiming that truth was irrelevant, that there really wasn’t any truth, truth was just a fad, like a hem‑length in fashion, it doesn’t have any real meaning. But what this is actually saying that it is the truth that there is no truth. If the postmodernists are correct that there is no truth, then what the postmodernists themselves are saying has no truth, and thus there is no reason whatsoever that I should take what they are saying seriously—if what they are saying is correct, then their entire viwpoint itself is just another worthless hem‑length.

Everywhere, the extreme denial of all hierarchies was starting to backfire badly. Business consulting firms spent 3 or 4 decades helping businesses to “flatten all hierarchies,” and businesses had done exactly that—with very mixed and in many ways unsatisfactory results. Getting rid of SOME hierarchies, or at least “softening” them, definitely seemed to be a good idea; but simply getting rid of all hierarchies was turning out to be disastrous. And so the question started to arise in all sorts of areas: if not all hierarchies are totally bad, then which of them are bad and which of them are relatively good?—and most importantly, how can you tell the difference? That became the crucial question

So how did that problem show up in the postmodern Transformational Communities?

Well, notice that another word for the attitude that postmodernism brought to the scene is “egalitarian”—and that means “completely equal.” So that’s another word for treating everybody absolutely equal, for not making any judgments or rankings about people, for getting rid of all hierarchies and all rankings, for not saying that “this thing is BETTER than that thing.” And this egalitarian attitude was something that deeply pervaded the Transformational Communities. If you were in one of these Communities and you made a really negative statement about some race or some sex or some nationality or, really, any group at all, that was a major no‑no. So treating everybody equally and not making any negative judgements or rankings or hierarchies was something that was practiced by all of these Communities. It was an actual exercise: “develop non‑judgmental awareness.”

So take a Transformational Community like Esalen. There is a saying at Esalen, and it’s taken to represent their core philosophy—namely, “Nobody captures the flag at Esalen.” In other words, nobody has the truth; no single approach is taken to be the one and only correct approach—instead, all approaches are taken to be taken equally and Esalen supports them all.

But again, the same self‑contradictory question arises: does that mean Scientology is to be equally embraced? How about Southern Baptists? The fact is, Esalen embraces none of those approaches. It absolutely does not think that they are all equal and are all to be equally embraced. Esalen thinks that egalitarian approaches are better, or higher, or more valuable, or more ethical. In other words, Esalen has a hierarchy, it has a ranking, and that hierarchy, that ranking, puts egalitarian approaches on top of nonegalitarian approaches. That is itself a deeply hierarchical approach—but it’s a standard postmodern contradiction, because, although it is itself hierarchical, it officially and loudly condemns all hierarchies.

And that’s where the postmodern approaches—virtually every single one of them—started to get in real trouble. They were hierarchical approaches that aggressively denied all hierarchies. And this meant that their own stances were self‑contradictory; it meant that they themselves were doing what they strongly maintained you absolutely should not do. In other words, their own stances were actually self‑condemning. So a famous feminist claimed that all ranking across the board was bad (and the cause of all social ills), and it should be roundly condemned; and what was good and to be embraced was partnership, which should be widely advanced. But she failed to see that her view itself was a very strong ranking. She had a hierarchy that condemned hierarchy.

If you walk around with such a self‑condemning worldview, things start to feel quite bad for you, and you develop a constant attitude that is self‑critical, negative, horribly judgmental—and you can get depressed quite rapidly. But there’s no way for you to know why this is happening, because you don’t have any idea what is actually causing it. Generally, you’ll simply intensify the attitude that you presently have, thinking that the problem is just that you’re just not being egalitarian enough. So a self‑condemning horizon that’s frozen and tasteless and depressing tends to arise in front of you, and your life can become unpleasantly empty. And all of this is with the very best of intentions and a heart of real gold. But for reasons that you usually don’t understand, you’re deeply critical of the very existence you yourself are trying to lead. It makes no sense, and you wonder what you’re doing here at all. It’s just that, something is really off, and you don’t know what.

What does it take to transform this stuckness into a real liberation so that all sentient beings can thrive?

Well, to start with, we need to really look into that whole question of how some hierarchies can indeed be very bad, and yet some seem to be very positive and definitely needed. This is a central question in virtually every area of life. After all, exactly why is it that groups like the Nazis are indeed so bad? Why are they on the lowest levels of almost any civilized person’s hierarchies? It would be good to know the reasons for this. And likewise, if there are good hierarchies—helpful and ethical forms of ranking—then how can those be fully incorporated into Transformational Communities? This is really at the very core of your own day‑to‑day awareness—what kind of judgments and rankings are you making, and why?

One of the ways to begin here is by looking at how this problem ended up affecting feminism, which we had earlier mentioned. But feminism, after all, was one of the main postmodern movements; it looked at the nasty side of hierarchies that were created by the patriarchy and looked for ways to instead introduce a true equality in the relations between the sexes and their roles in society. So equality was central here, as it is in all postmodern movements. And the way that feminism started was with the standard postmodern stance—namely, all hierarchies are bad. As we mentioned with the previous feminist, all rankings are bad, period. Hierarchies are the source of oppression, inequality, social ills, suffering, enslavement, the feminists claimed. And it is the very nature of the patriarchy, the feminists claimed, that caused all of these dominator hierarchies—these were essentially the products of men, they maintained. The feminists pointed to the work of researches such as Carol Gilligan, an iconic feminist who, in a book called In a Different Voice, presented research showing that, when it came to things like morals, men and women reasoned differently. Men tended to think hierarchically, and women tended to think non‑hierarchically (or relationally). And thus clearly men—and the patriarchy—are the source of all dominator hierarchies, since only men are involved in hierarchies to begin with.

But as the feminist movement went forward—condemning all hierarchies wherever they were found—the inherent self‑contradiction in such an approach increasingly came to fore. This was bound to happen, and the reason for it could actually be found in Gilligan’s book itself. Because her first major point was indeed that men tend to think hierarchically and women tend to think non‑hierarchically. But the second major point in that book was that, according to Gilligan’s research, both men and women grew and developed through 4 major hierarchical stages (her words). That is, women’s non‑hierarchical thinking itself developed through 4 hierarchical stages. And right there was a huge opening into understanding just what types of hierarchies are truly bad and what types are actually good and desirable. So what did Gilligan find?

The 4 hierarchical stages that Gilligan found were named as follows: stage 1 she called “selfish” (the women cares only for herself); we also call this stage egocentric. Stage 2 Gilligan called “care” (the woman extends care from herself to her main group—her family, clan, tribe, nation, religion, and so on—not all groups, that’s too big a developmental jump, just her own closest group, so there’s a strong “us versus them” mentality—so we also call this stage ethnocentric). Stage 3 Gilligan called, not “care” but “universal care” (because here the woman does extend care from her group to all groups, to all human beings, so for the first time in development all human beings are treated fairly, regardless of race, color, sex, or creed)—so we also call this stage worldcentric. And finally, the 4th and last stage Gilligan called “integrated” (since the woman integrates both masculine and feminine modes of thinking; we also call this integral).

So right there clearly is a type of hierarchy that is definitely a good thing. Each higher stage is more inclusive, more caring, more loving—and less excluding, less marginalizing, less dominating. I mean, all of the values that the postmodern Transformational Communities truly embrace and value are found in the higher stages of that growth hierarchy (the worldcentric and integral stages), and virtually all of the values that are seen to be unethical and nasty—including the ethnic-promoting Nazis and the KKK—are found in the lower stages of that hierarchy (egocentric and ethnocentric). Even better, these values are shown to actually be inherent parts of an overall growth and development sequence. In other words, these values are the product of a growth and development path that basically all human beings go through—so this tells us directly how these different values can actually be produced.

All of a sudden, this kind of research—and by the way, over the past several decades, literally hundreds of research projects have looked into these developmental stages, and the vast majority of them have confirmed these general results (and some of these have been tested in over 40 different cultures, including Amazon Rain Forrest tribes, Australian aborigines, Mexican workers, Harvard professors—all with the same general results). But this type of research gave a very straightforward explanation of the values that postmodernism embraced, as well as the values that it condemned. It embraced values from the worldcentric and integral stages—namely, values that treated all people fairly and equally (regardless of race, color, sex, or creed), that believed in inclusiveness, diversity, opportunity, that were not oppressive, not colonialistic, not imperialistic. And it condemned values that were ethnocentric and lower—that were racist, or sexist, or misogynistic, or homophobic, or imperialistic or colonialistic.

Suddenly, this was an explanation for all of the hierarchies that were good, desirable, ethical, and valued; as well as the hierarchies that were indeed nasty, oppressive, domineering, and unethical. When postmodernists were making their own hierarchical judgements about what was good and what was bad, they were almost always using the higher levels of this growth hierarchy; and the types of hierarchies they were condemning almost always came from the lower levels of this hierarchy. All of sudden, all of this made sense.

These are referred to as growth hierarchies and dominator hierarchies….

That’s right. Further research clarified these hierarchies in great detail. It was understood that there are indeed two major types of hierarchies—called growth hierarchies and dominator hierarchies. Dominator hierarchies are all the really nasty things that postmodernists say they are—domineering, oppressive, enslaving. The higher you go in a dominator hierarchy, the more people you can oppress and dominate. But growth hierarchies are exactly the opposite. The higher you go in a growth hierarchy, the more inclusive, more caring, and more loving you are. And just as important, the only people who want to even use dominator hierarchies are those who are on the lower levels of a growth hierarchy (that is, ethnocentric or lower). And the only way you get rid of a dominator hierarchy is to move to a higher level on a growth hierarchy. That is, the only way you stop the use of a dominator hierarchy is by moving from an ethnocentric stage to a worldcentric stage in the growth hierarchy. Either way, you’re involved in a hierarchy—so just make sure it’s a healthy, positive, growth hierarchy.

So if you deny all hierarchies, then you deny all stages in those hierarchies, and therefore you’d get rid of all worldcentric values. There would be no difference between the worldcentric values that treat all people equally and the ethnocentric values of the Nazis that put blood and race and skin color first. That was the actual net effect of trying to “flatten all hierarchies”—flatten all differences between worldcentric and ethnocentric, they’re all to be treated absolutely equally. And this was—and is—the disaster of a postmodern, post‑truth world. And the pioneering Transformational Communities, which were at the forefront of postmodernism, crashed into that major problem early on. Nobody captures the flag meant get rid of all hierarchies. They didn’t understand that, no, actually, they themselves were valuing and embracing the higher worldcentric levels of a growth hierarchy, and they were rejecting the lower ethnocentric stages of prejudice. All values are NOT equal at Esalen; they do not accept Nazis and the KKK and white supremacists; and they don’t accept approaches to human potentials that claim that they, and they alone, have the one true approach. Esalen rejects those ethnocentric, limited, partial approaches, and instead embraces a worldcentric, inclusive, diversity-embracing set of values. Something does indeed capture the flag at Esalen—and it is the worldcentric and integral stages of a growth hierarchy. But unfortunately Esalen claims that it has no such rankings, no such hierarchies, no such developmental values, and thus it doesn’t even understand its own stance accurately. This is not a confusion you want to see in a center that aims for the farther reaches of human nature.

You mentioned Carol Gillligan’s growth hierarchy. Are these actually evolutionary stages? Can they be put in an evolutionary context?

Yes, definitely. In a book called Integral Psychology, I look at over 100 different developmental models, and what is so striking is that, although these models all have important differences, you can see the same basic 6‑to‑8 or so stages of development show up again and again. No matter how different the models are, these same basic stages keep showing up; they are clearly central. Of course, some models have a bit fewer stages (like Gilligan’s), and some models have more stages, but the same basic ones keep appearing.

Gilligan’s stages are still true, but some models have simply found a few substages in her major stages; those major stages are still there, but they can be subdivided. One of most important subdivisions, according to most models, is one found in the worldcentric or universal‑care stage. And this simply divides that major worldcentric stage into two substages, which we have already seen: namely, the modern and the postmodern. Both of those stages are worldcentric or universal in nature, so both of them escape the ethnocentric prejudice and bigotry of earlier stages. The main difference is that the modern worldcentric stage has an emphasis on science, rationality, freedom, and progress; while the postmodern worldcentric stage emphasizes relativism, egalitarianism, equality, and multiculturalism.

So overall, in very general terms, stage 1 is still selfish or egocentric. Since it is the earliest and most primitive stage, its cognition is what Freud called “primary process”—this has, like dreams do, a very magical atmosphere (and here “magic” does not mean some sort of actual paranormal power, but just an infantile word magic, where to alter your thoughts about a thing or a person magically alters that person—like with voodoo, where if you make a doll representing a person and then stick a pin in the doll, the real person is magically hurt). So some models actually call this stage “magic” or “magic/egocentric.”

Then the next major stage we already mentioned: it’s the mythic‑literal stage. And here, too, this doesn’t mean myth in any deep or metaphorical or transcendental sense, just a simple and literal sense—Moses really did part the Red Sea, and so on. Because this stage cannot yet take a universal perspective, it is indeed stuck in a limited ethnocentric view, and this is a real problem. It’s also why the world’s great mythic religions, which were ethnocentric, did not object to slavery. It was only with the emergence of the first worldcentric stage—with the modern West—that slavery was first outlawed. In a 100-year period, from around 1770 to 1870 slavery was outlawed in every major industrial-rational country on the planet, the first time anything like that had ever happened. But this is the power of worldcentric over ethnocentric.

Following the emergence of the modern worldcentric stance, we have, during the sixties, the emergence of the postmodern worldcentric stance. And those stages up to postmodern are where the bulk of humanity exists today. But there is yet another, even higher stage just starting to emerge, and that is the stage beyond postmodernism, which—as we saw with Gilligan’s model—is the integrated or integral stage. What makes this stage so stunningly original is that, all of the previous stages (magic, mythic, modern, and postmodern) each think that their truth and values and are the only truth and values that are genuinely real; all the others are misguided, infantile, or just plain wrong. But the integral stage thinks that all of the previous stages are important, if for no other reason than that each of them is a major stage in an overall path of complete human growth and development, and none of them can be deleted or ignored. Clare Graves, a pioneer in developmental studies, called this integral stage “cataclysmic” and a “monumental leap in meaning.” This is today’s leading edge of evolution, and it is so radically new and evolutionary, it promises to remake human nature itself profoundly.

So there is a little bit more complete list of the major stages of human growth and development: magic to mythic to modern to postmodern to integral. As for whether these are part of an evolutionary unfolding, simply notice that Jean Gebser—a pure genius in developmental studies—maintained that historically you could see 5 major stages of human and cultural evolution to date. And what were these 5 stages? Magic, mythic, modern, postmodern, and integral. Same basic stages. Now there’s a lot of evidence other than that, but you get the point: yes, these stages—which each person in today’s world goes through—are the same basic stages that humanity as a whole passed through in its own historical development.

You mentioned the spiritual transformation called Waking Up. How does that transformation relate to this process of Growing Up?

Incredibly important question. Human beings do indeed have both of these major transformations available to them—they can both Wake Up and they can Grow Up. These are not at all the same. Waking Up refers to the process of discovering ultimate Truth (we saw that that transformation has been called Enlightenment, Awakening, Metamorphosis, Moksha, fana, satori, and so on). It represents a human being transforming from a limited identity with their separate, isolated, fragmented conventional self (often called the “ego”) to a discovery of their Supreme Identity, which is an identity of their deepest Self with infinite Spirit itself (Godhead, Goddess, Brahman, Tao, Emptiness). And Growing Up, on the other hand, refers to the process that the relative self goes through as it matures and develops. Human beings have what are called “multiple intelligences” (cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, moral intelligence, bodily intelligence, and so on)—and each of those multiple intelligences or lines of development moves through those same basic 6‑to‑8 stages or levels of development (magic/egocentric to mythic/ethnocentric to modern/worldcentric to postmodern/worldcentric to integral). Again, evidence gathered in over 40 different cultures has demonstrated that all human beings go through those major stages or levels of development.

Now if we are followers of some of the great paths of Liberation—that is, the esoteric spiritual practices that aim for Waking Up, Enlightenment, Satori (paths such as Zen, Vedanta, mystical Christianity, Kabbalah, Sufism, and so on)—then we might be tempted to simply dismiss that Growing‑Up developmental path, since it is dealing only with the conventional world, the world that the paths of Liberation maintain are illusory, not real—they’re all just maya, they’re all part of samsara, not nirvana, so who needs them? Well, it turns out to be a little more complex than that. Because virtually all of the paths of Liberation are nondual—that is, the world of nirvana and samsara are actually nondual or not‑two. As the Heart Sutra puts it, “That which is Emptiness is not other than Form, that which is Form is not other than Emptiness”—in other words, “That which is nirvana is not other than samsara, that which is samsara is not other than nirvana.” And that means the Two Truths are actually not‑two. Oh, they are definitely different, but at a deeper level, they are two different dimensions of the same underlying Wholeness. And that means that we have to integrate the path of Waking Up with the path of Growing Up. Because both of them are equally important and a crucial part of an ultimate Nondual reality.

This becomes especially significant because recent research has indicated that, if you have a major Waking‑Up experience, you will interpret that Waking‑Up experience according to the stage of Growing Up you are at. This is a staggering discovery. And worse, those two are entirely independent—you can be very high in Waking Up and yet very low in Growing Up, or vice versa. And that changes everything, really. And it unmistakably does point to the absolutely equal importance of including both Growing Up and Waking Up for any truly authentic Realization. And if we’re not including both of these, then clearly we are not truly comprehensive, complete, full and truly whole—we are, in fact, broken people, and history, at every point (up to now), is a record of broken human beings. No matter how many Waking‑Up realizations we had, if we didn’t include a Growing‑Up component (which not a single religion did), then we were not complete, not full, not whole—we were, in fact, broken people. And that has been our history—the history of brokenness—right up to this point.

But the great paths of Waking Up do not seem to be aware of this at all. Are they all wrong?

It’s not that they’re so much wrong as they are historically situated. The states of Waking Up are all direct, immediate, 1st‑person experiences; so if you have an experience of being one with the entire universe in love and bliss, you will definitely know it. But when you are at a particular stage of Growing Up—and all of us are—you actually have no idea that you are. You can’t see these Growing‑Up stages by looking within, or introspecting, or meditating. These stages are much more like the rules of grammar. Every person brought up in a particular culture ends up speaking that culture’s language quite accurately. They put subject and verb together correctly, they use adjectives and adverbs correctly, and in general they follow that language’s rules of grammar quite accurately. But if you ask any of them to write down what those rules are that they are following so accurately, virtually none of them can do it. They have no idea they are following all those rules, let along what they actually are.

The stages of Growing Up are all exactly like that. When you are at a stage of Growing Up, and you are following its rules quite accurately, you have absolutely no idea you are doing that. None. This is very different from the states we experience in Waking Up, which are fully conscious and always directly known, and thus humans were aware of these Waking‑Up states going back tens of thousands of years, at least to the earliest shamans. But the stages of Growing Up are so hard to see, they weren’t even discovered until around 100 years ago. This is much too recent to be included in any major spiritual system (most of which are a thousand or more years old)—and, indeed, not a single religion anywhere in the world has any detailed understanding of the stages of Growing Up. Not one of them.

This is what we pointed out earlier: since not a single spiritual system anywhere in the world fully includes both Growing Up and Waking Up, then humanity, for its entire history up to this point, has been producing nothing but broken people. Should the great Transformational Communities take up as one of their major goals the transmissions of systems of practice that fully taught their members how to both Wake Up and Grow Up, this would catapult these Communities back into the very forefront of leading-edge evolution that they enjoyed 50 or 60 years ago, but have lately, I’m sorry to say, fairly well lost. The super leading-edge today is to experience Waking Up and interpret it, not from the postmodern stage, but from the leading-edge integral stage—Clare Graves “cataclystic” and “monumental leap of meaning,” taking these Communities out of being stuck, as they are now, in what has actually become an old, musty, yesterday consciousness—that of postmodernism enchantment—and jolt them to the very highest leading-edge of an advanced Waking Up interpreted by the highest integral stage of Growing-Up evolution—placing these Communities, once again, at the very front of evolution itself, pointing the way to humankind to likewise follow their own highest possibilities and truest potentials.

The thrill would be back, the idealism would resurrect, the ecstatic joy of helping humanity would return tenfold, drenching the Heart with radiant love, laminating the mind with glorious wholeness, pushing forward humanity’s gorgeously deepest dreams—just like in the old days—but there’s nothing old about this—and it would include a radical openness and invitations to younger generations across the board—Gen X, millennials, and iGen, all welcome, to be set afire by the most glorious vision and thunderous goal even to cross humanity’s path.

So can you give some examples of how a Waking‑Up experience will be interpreted by the stage of Growing Up that you are at?

Be glad to. Start with the egocentric stage. You can be at an egocentric stage of Growing Up and still have a real Waking‑Up experience. The problem is, you might realize that your real Self is a Kosmic consciousness or a Supreme Identity or a Christ consciousness, but you believe that you, and only you, actually are Jesus Christ. Sadly, our institutions are full of such unfortunate souls. Ram Das tells the story of his brother, who was institutionalized for just this reason. Ram Das said as soon as you met his brother, you could immediately see that he had had a very genuine and very deep realization of his own Supreme Identity or Christ consciousness, but he simply could not acknowledge that this is true for anybody else (including Ram Das!). So this is a real Waking Up—the person directly realizes their own Supreme Identity and feels a true Oneness with the entire world—but they interpret this through a very low, egocentric level of Growing Up—only they can have this experience.

As the person continues to grow, they expand their circle of identity and care from themselves to their group. They move from egocentric to ethnocentric. If they’re Christian, for example, they will recognize their True Self (or Christ consciousness) and experience a genuine Oneness with the entire world—but they will think that only those who have accepted Jesus as their personal savior can have this Waking Up. Other people might think that they have had this Waking‑Up experience, but they really haven’t—in fact, it is very likely that their realization is demonic in its source—but it’s not the real thing, whatever it is. So here we see a genuine Waking Up, but interpreted through an ethnocentric stage—only individuals who belong to their special group can also have this saving Grace.

But if the person keeps growing, their identity will expand yet again, this time from ethnocentric—or just their special group—to worldcentric, or a solidarity with all groups, with all humans, and thus for the first time in development, they strive to treat all people fairly regardless of race, color, sex, or creed—a shift from “us” to “all of us.” Slavery becomes profoundly objectionable at this modern worldcentric stage. For the same reason, Jesus Christ is no longer seen as the one and only son of the one and only true God, but is realized instead to be just one World Teacher among many other World Teachers, all of whom have something important to teach us. So if a person has a real Waking Up at this modern worldcentric stage, it will be interpreted through that high level of Growing Up—that of a worldcentric stage.

Now, at the next major stage, the postmodern worldcentric, there emerges this intense emphasis on equality—it is felt that there are no distinctions between any sorts of truths or values—all are to be treated absolutely equally (and allowing absolutely all values—no exceptions, no judgments, no rankings—to rush back onto the scene, and this was felt to fully re‑chant the world, one of the main aims of postmodernism; but, as we saw, this didn’t so much re‑enchant the world as drown it in aperspectival madness and the inability to distinguish between dominator and growth values). And the downside here is that, if you have a Waking‑Up experience at this postmodern stage, you will not distinguish in any way between relative truth and ultimate Truth. In ultimate Truth, all things and events and individuals are absolutely equal—they are all completely equal manifestations of the Great Perfection, they are perfectly equal manifestations of Godhead, of Goddess, of Spirit. So in ultimate Truth, there is truly no difference between say, Adolph Hitler and St. Teresa—both of them are perfect manifestations of Emptiness. And in ultimate Truth that is absolutely true. But in relative truth, believing that is a total disaster. It’s a catastrophe. So if you don’t have a really clear understanding of nonduality, then it will simply cement your belief that your relative stage of postmodernism and its values are saying the very same thing as Zen, or Vedanta, or Kabbalah, or Christian mysticism—and that, indeed, is a disaster. To equate postmodern values with nondual realization is about as confused as you can get. But if you do so, you’ll have a politically correct notion of Spirit with all values being perfectly equal, and you’ll think God itself agrees with you.

This will be cleared up at the next major stage, the integral stage. Here, because all previous stages are included and integrated, this stage understands that there are both dominator hierarchies and growth hierarchies, and you want to include that understanding in any basic awareness that you have. To be at an integral stage of Growing Up is not the same as actually Waking Up—these are still two different things—but the integral stage is the stage of Growing Up that will give the very best and most accurate interpretation of any Waking Up that you have. Remember that any Waking Up will be interpreted by the stage of Growing Up that you are at (whether that is egocentric, ethnocentric, modern, postmodern, and so on), so make sure that your Growing‑Up stage is the most inclusive, most embracing, most comprehensive that it can be (ideally, the integral).

One of the names of a growth hierarchy is a “holarchy.” This is taken from the term “holon,” which means a whole that is also a part of a larger whole. So the common growth hierarchy that we see in nature—namely, from quarks to atoms to molecules to cells to organisms (and that is the major growth hierarchy that evolution itself has undertaken)—each stage of that growth hierarchy is a whole that becomes a part of the whole of the next higher stage. So a whole atom becomes part of a molecule, a whole molecule becomes part of a cell, a whole cell becomes part of an organism, and so on—and these were called “holons” by Arthur Koestler—each of them is a “whole/part,” a holon, and the growth hierarchy itself is a holarchy. This especially emphasizes how growth hierarchies differ so dramatically from dominator hierarchies. All human growth hierarchies—including the ones we are outlining here—are holarchies—and because in holarchies the whole of one stage becomes merely part of the greater whole of the next stage, then all the holarchies demonstrate stages that increasingly have more wholeness, more unity, more complexity, more consciousness, more care, more love, more compassion. And we have empirical data showing just that.

So how should the Transformational Communities actually put this into practice?

As far as an individual is concerned, the ideal goal of a Transformational Community could be explicitly stated as: aiming for a transformation to an actual experience of Waking Up (which covers ultimate Truth) and a transformation to an integral stage of Growing Up (which covers relative truth). And because those are actually not‑two, both of them should be primary goals of any genuine Transformational Community. Thus, a fully awakened Spirit animating a truly holarchical world of wholes within wholes within wholes indefinitely. And that is a genuinely re‑chanted world without the massive self-contradictions of postmodernism, and this one is gloriously driven by the very highest of Waking Up and the very highest of Growing Up, sitting on the very leading edge of evolution itself.

This also insures that both paths of transformation—both Waking Up and Growing Up—are fully included in any Transformational Community.

As it is now, while most Transformational Communities are aware of Waking Up, virtually none of them are aware of Growing Up. And this is especially problematic because many of them are, in the Growing-Up path itself, fixated at the flatland, postmodern stage (flatland because they’ve worked hard to flatten all holarchies). They have a strong emphasis on the equality of all people, but they don’t know at all the actual path which is the only way to actually get to that equality awareness. Individuals, we have seen, are born at the selfish and egocentric stages of awareness; they are not at all born with an all‑inclusive, diversity‑loving, equality consciousness—that is the result of at least 4 or 5 major stages of holarchical growth. And those postmodernists who deny that growth holarchy simply denies any real path to equality consciousness—it’s deeply suicidal. So make that growth—that Growing Up path—an explicit goal of your Transformational Community practice.

And take it even further—go from a postmodern worldcentric stage of Growing‑Up to that “cataclysmic, monumental leap in meaning” of the integral stage of Growing Up. In the sixties and seventies, the Transformational Communities were at the leading edge of evolution, as they went from a modern worldcentric stage to a postmodern worldcentric stage—they were blazing pioneering geniuses in this area. But that was over 50 years ago, a half-century ago. Today they have largely fallen behind this glorious role. The leading edge has passed beyond them on to the integral stage, and too many individuals are still trying to make a flatland postmodern view work. And flatland will in no way let you move to the leading-edge of evolution—flatland will, in fact, pretty much collapse all such efforts (which, unfortunately, is pretty much exactly what we see today).

But the integral stage is now pretty strongly the leading edge of today’s evolution, and all evidence points to the fact that it is indeed a staggeringly monumental leap forward, the likes of which humanity has literally never seen before. There are simply no precedents for the stunning comprehensiveness and inclusiveness of integral awareness, and especially when it is combined with a genuine Waking‑Up awareness, it promises to profoundly remake the world as we know it.

Let’s call a Waking‑Up consciousness by the name “One Taste”—so that the awareness of one’s Supreme Identity is a nondual or One‑Taste awareness. The point is that a One‑Taste awareness (in Waking Up) interpreted by an integral stage of development (in Growing Up)—in other words, an Integral/One Taste—is the best and brightest of both Waking Up and Growing Up, and in every sense it is on the very most leading of the leading‑edge of evolution. This is where the Transformational Communities were in the sixties—although evolution, as it always does, has moved on. They can still be at that edge today, and fully carry out their original dream and goal, to be the harbinger of the next stage of evolution of humanity at large. They’re becoming just a bit faded now; but they can step up to the further reaches of their own nature by stepping into this new evolutionary space, and living it as a true ideal for humanity everywhere to emulate. There truly is no higher or deeper goal than this, to stand at the very leading edge of both Waking Up and Growing Up and demonstrate to the entire world the stunning benefits of a transformation to such a consciousness.