Wilber’s Integral Spirituality – Part V: Wilber through the spiritual lens

by editor

Wilber and Integral Spirituality – The topic has been much discussed since the publication of the book Integral Spirituality in the year 2006. Integral Spirituality questions the future of spirituality in a modern and postmodern world where “metaphysical” is out of context and rationality rejects everything mythical. The series of posts on “Wilber’s Integral Spirituality” analyzes the postmetaphysical phase of religion and the integral spiritual vision of Wilber as prescribed in his work, Integral Spirituality. We analyzed the need for religion to move out of metaphysics in Part I, the Wilber-Combs lattice in Part II and Part III, the criticism against Wilber in Part IV and now, we have come to the Part V of the series. In this post, we will reflect on Wilber’s integral and spiritual perspectives and what different people opine about the same.

Our previous post, “Wilber’s Integral Spirituality – Part IV: A Critical Overview” was primarily inspired from Wilber’s illustrious critic Frank Visser’s essay titled,  “Lord, Give Us Integral, But Without the Hype: A Review of Integral Spirituality”. It glossed over the defects of Integral Spirituality, right from the typographical errors to flaws in style to disruptions in the integrated presentation of the topic to lack of research/rational examples. In this post, we will analyze the “integral spirituality” prevalent throughout the work of Wilber.

Integral Spirituality in Wilber’s work: Wilber has been explained in multifarious ways – his work has been compared to a comprehensive map of knowledge which explains the development of human consciousness and what lies in the future. But Graham Ross looks at Wilber through a different lens altogether – he perceives Wilber and his work through the language of metaphors. In his article, “The Integral Spirituality of Wilber”, Graham Ross appreciates Wilber’s work through metaphorical filters like “resonating reminder of spirit”, “integral spiritual vision”, “a guide to spiritual practice”, “a spiritual meta-system”, “interpretive maps of spiritual experience” and as a “kosmic spiritual mandala” etc. There’s reason for this analysis, he opines, is that Wilber cannot be constricted to one particular metaphor given his prolific volume of work.

1. The Spirit is immanent: Not every writer on integralism has this capacity to inspire readers and remind them of our Oneness and spiritual self. Ross says, “Within the body of Ken Wilber’s writings are many passages which share this inspiring capacity: reminding me of ways of being that I value and aspire to. They come from places of deep authoritative knowing in Wilber, and are identified variously in spiritual traditions as One Taste, Original Face, Emptiness, Suchness, Witness and ever-present awareness. Most striking are those written in a lyrical, at times languid, poetic style which alludes to ineffable qualities of transcendent spiritual experience.”

These reminder-elements are dispersed throughout his work – it can be the simple, straightforward first-person voice like in his One Taste “Worked all morning, research and reading, while watching the sunlight play through the falling snow. The sun is not yellow today, it is white, like the snow, so I am surrounded by white on white, alone on alone. Sheer Emptiness, soft clear light, is what it all looks like, shimmering to itself in melancholy murmurs. I am released into Emptiness, and all is radiant on this clear light day.”

Or, it can be in second-person voice like in this line, “Let us, then, You-and-I, recognize together who and what we are. And I will be with you until the ends of the world, and you will be with me, for there is only One Self, which is the miracle of Spirit.” Sometimes spiritual inspiration is pregnant in the third-person voice when Wilber describes the ecstatic transcendence, “And there, hidden in the secret cave of the Heart, where God and Goddess finally unite, where Emptiness embraces all Form as the lost and found Beloved, where Eternity joyously sings the praises of noble Time, where Shiva uncontrollably swoons for luminescent Shakti, where ascending and descending erotically embrace in the sound of one hand clapping – there forever in the universe of One Taste….” Ross says that these lines are poignant reminders of the spirit, and carry the spiritual elements found in the works of philosophers and thinkers like Jiddhu Krishnamurti, Eckhart Tolle, the Dalai Lama and others. And it is these dense and discursive descriptions and writings that work as “resonating reminders of spirit”.

2. Everything is integrated: Everything is connected, integrated and influenced by every thing else. There is no separate entity. All we need to comprehend things is to integrate. As the blogger Brian Hines puts it, “Wilber’s vision doesn’t exclude anything. Which makes great sense. Why throw out obvious aspects of existence?… Wilber, bless his integral soul, is trying to show that nothing needs to be excluded from human knowledge and experience. What we need to do is figure out how it all fits together.” Wilber himself raises this in a question in his Integral Spirituality: “What if we took literally everything that all the various cultures have to tell us about human potential – about spiritual growth, psychological growth, social growth – and put it all on the table? What if we attempted to find the critically essential keys to human growth, based on the sum total of human knowledge now open to us? What if we attempted, based on extensive cross-cultural study, to use all of the world’s great traditions to create a composite map, a comprehensive map, an all-inclusive or integral map that included the best elements from all of them?” With such an integration, the “pressure would be off. No need to agonize over whether to embrace modern science or ancient religion, matter or spirit, body or mind, break dancing or meditation, whiskey or herb tea.” (Brian Hines).

It is such integration that Wilber attempts to achieve throughout his works. He wants to put every other field on one table and form a comprehensive map of things. His writings indicate, as Brian Hines puts it, “It’s all a part of life. It. I. We. Objective. Subjective. Communal. Different ways of experiencing existence. All just as it/I/we should be.”

3. Integral Vision & Praxis: Ross also identifies the metaphor of “integral vision” in Wilber’s works. Wilber’s work The Integral Vision (2007) is an expression of the inherent integral spirituality in his works. As Ross puts it, “In general terms, Wilber’s integral vision is a spiritually-informed image which can be shaped in imagination. With a spiritual-tinge, it indicates particularly how things have been for humans in the past, are now, and might evolve in a positive future.” Wilber draws upon all the known systems and models of growth and makes them into a comprehensive map. His map can be “distilled” into five most important factors. These five factors are not abstract concepts, but can be accessed by anyone who has “contours of consciousness”. The four or five factors are – “states of consciousness (awake, sleeping, dreaming); developmental lines of development (cognitive line of development; interpersonal line of development); levels of development (pre-operational level/stage – Piaget; conventional stage of moral development – Kolberg); and, types of personality (extrovert; masculine; intuiting – Myers-Briggs). The fifth factor, namely quadrants, is less familiar and is the most unique of Wilber’s contributions in this set of five.”

Similarly, Wilber offers insights on certain things – especially, the confusion between stages and states of consciousness. A person’s awareness can be described in terms of quadrants, levels/stages, lines, states and types. Add to it the AQAL and the Wilber-Combs Lattice. You get an integral vision that leaves no stone unturned.

Ross says that Wilber can be read to help navigate through states of spirituality – in brief, Wilber’s works are a guide to spiritual practice. Brian Hines opines that reading Integral Spirituality offers insight into meditation and its effects – especially, it answers the question, “Why lots of spiritual practice doesn’t necessarily produce lots of personal change?”​. This is because no current system of meditation offers guidelines on how to move from one developmental stage to another. Wilber puts it clearly: “The point is that a person can have a profound peak, religious, spiritual, or meditative experience of, say, a subtle light or causal emptiness, but they will interpret that experience with the only equipment they have, namely, the tools of the stage of development they are at.” For instance, if a person at the Amber level is experiencing a spiritual high, he may interpret it as magical than as spiritual. But the response for the same will be different with a person from Turquoise or Teal level.

Wilber’s writing: Ross feels that Wilber’s voluminous work overtime can be construed as “mandala-like akin to Jung’s building of the Tower and drawing of mandala ritual”. Since most of his writings are results of his far and wide reading and knowledge, Ross adds that, his writing keeps improving, rendering more spiritual value to its readers. His hard study and incubation generate works that are an “assembling of complex verbal mandala”, and mirror archetypal patterns     throughout the world. Such a critic who knows the way to understand the Kosmos, says Ross will be full of “Clusters of concepts, the AQAL framework, streams of discourse, diagrams and charts, summate to this as a tangible, yet ongoing achievement. Concurrently, he reveals a certain sacred, Bhoddhisattva motivation (Reynolds, 2006) and inner being while doing this work, from time to time, close to a numinous experience. I sense this most in his poetic flourishes mentioned previously.”

“Wilber’s Integral Spirituality” is a series of posts on integral spirituality, Wilber-Combs Lattice and the need for postmetaphysical religion. You can read the Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV to know more.


1. Graham Ross: “The Integral Spirituality of Wilber”

2. Frank Visser’s “Lord, Give Us Integral, But Without the Hype: A Review of Integral Spirituality” here

3.  Thomas Maxwell’s “Integral Spirituality”

4.Jan Brouwer’s “The Wilber-Combs Lattice Revisited”

5. Wilber Revisited: From Wilber I to Wilber V – Wilber Phase V

6. Frank Visser: “My Take on Wilber-5”

7. Wilber’s Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World

8. Brian Hines: “Say ‘yes’ to reality, denying nothing”

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