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The Lower-Left of AQAL

This week on Integral Spiritual Center....

Critiquing the AQAL Approach - Vidyuddeva/Ken Wilber
Roadblocks - Fr. Thomas Keating

Critiquing the AQAL Approach (audio)


Ken Wilber has his share of critics.  But how substantial are their critiques?  In this week’s featured audio, Ken addresses one of them, which maintains: the AQAL integral approach is a belief system, rooted in his own longtime practice of Buddhism.

This critique is based on the postmodern insight that assertions can never be taken apart from their context.  The context of the AQAL assertion, so goes the critique, is inescapably that of a longtime Western Buddhist practitioner. The Quadrants component, for example, bear a similarity to—and are therefore derived from—the Three Jewels of Buddhism (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), and states (gross/subtle/causal) are a direct descendent of the states that Buddhist practice has mapped out for millennia.

Ken acknowledges an appreciation for what this argument is getting at, but he feels that it doesn’t hold, for a number of reasons.  First among them:  the methodology through which AQAL theory was formulated in the first place.  For over three decades, says Ken, he has looked carefully for the deep structures that underlie the surface features of manifestation.  Rather than attempt to unify, for example, Buddhism and Christianity—let alone science and religion—he has attempted to observe as much of manifestation as possible, then answer the question:  what kind of Kosmos must this be, to support the arising of all these forms of manifestation?  His task—albeit ambitious—has essentially been to reverse-engineer the Kosmos.

There’s no doubt, in this example, that the four quadrants resemble the Three Jewels of Buddhism.  But the four quadrants show up in all sorts of places in the Kosmos—for example, the Big Three (Truth/Beauty/Goodness), the pronouns “I,” “We,” “it,” the Holy Trinity of Christianity, etc.  Ken’s contention is that the deep structure underlying these surface features or manifestations is indeed the interior and exterior of the individual and collective.  Similarly, the states of consciousness experienced in Buddhist practice bear a remarkable similarity (or deep structure) to those experienced in other traditions (as pointed out by William James and Evelyn Underhill over a century ago).  Despite the various ways they are phenomenologically experienced, their exteriors appear to be practically identical.

With respect to the general question of answering his critics, Ken points to legitimate criticism as an essential element to the five major iterations of his thought.  These sorts of criticisms—and the effort to accommodate them in successive models—have been precisely the driving force of his thought for three decades.  Ken even goes so far as to joke that he’ll steal truth from anybody!  He is attached, he says, to the truth—not to what he has written about the truth.  And while he can’t necessary respond to his critics in real time, the substantial criticisms are normally addressed, and credit given where credit is due, in his next book.

AQAL, says Ken, is explicitly a map. Some critics take it as the territory itself, then criticize it as a belief system—an obvious inaccuracy.  Some critics dispute the map itself, though it’s difficult to find anything in manifestation that the map fails to hold.  In the end, manifestation happens, and AQAL—with its five irreducible elements—is perhaps one of the most helpful ways of looking at it….

Roadblocks (video)


Inevitably on the spiritual journey, we'll encounter roadblocks.  Father Thomas Keating discusses some of these—and how to approach them—at the Autumn 2006 Integral Contemplative Christianity seminar.
Published Saturday, May 10, 2008 12:20 AM by rollie

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