Ken Wilber

Who was Joseph Campbell? What is a myth? What does "Follow Your Bliss" mean? If you are new to the work of Joseph Campbell, this forum is a good place to start.

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Post by nandu » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Martin,

That question was actually rhetorical.

Actually, it's something which plagues me whenever we have an argument on these forums. How can we say someone is "right" and someone is "wrong"? They may be just looking at the issue in different ways.

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Post by Ken O'Neill » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Well, I haven't figured out how to bracket a quote nor get back to who wrote it. My apologies. Here's what I'm replying to:


Ken, while I appreciate your extremly skillful & thoughtful insights, like many other associates, I'm wondering why it should be of any importance, if Wilber has skills in non-Western languages? Did he claimed so? Or does he argue in a way that is only acceptable, as far as the writer has been read the original texts in their original languages? Isn't it possible that his "naivity" in these matter allows him to take up an interesting "Parcivallian" position - the fool's position? Isn't awakening possible in any culture, no matter of we have studied Sanskrit or old Chinese language?

It makes a lot of difference when making comments about technical terms in other languages. Especially Buddhism at this point in history. Standard translations come in the most part from 19th century sources, and those sources relied on philology and projections from Christianity to make sense of non-Western languages. Guess what? In retrospect those pioneers did well for their times, but have not withstood the test of time. Not a one of them was trained within a tradition, instead trained in dictionaries, etc.

Those of us who did their training in Buddhism in Asia had multiple tasks facing us. One was the training itself. And right along with that was language - modern language to communicate with everybody, classical language to make sense of what you're training references. And you simply cannot rely on dictionaries for the classical stuff unless they are dictionaries within the classical language itself. The people who constructed our standard Chinese to English dictionaries did not do the Buddhist training, hence have no understanding of meaning within tradition, starting with meaning within inner training.

The immense explosion of Buddhism in the West has short-circuited a process that in times past took upwards of five centuries to master - the cross-cultural transmission of Dharma. We've jumped from tentative, pioneering English to a "Buddhist hybrid English" insensitive to the very traditions it would profess to adequately and accurately represent. And with that we've adopted the very strange anti-intellectual posture of "Zen" interpreters who obviously spent no time among living Zen traditions requring literacy and steeped in sutras (mythology) and commentarial literature. What we get for it is a very watered down/dumbed down Western Buddhism that is little more than a cult of meditation (which the ch'an masters of the past warned against) and guru worship. Where's the self-determination, inner-directedness, and self-mastery in that?

With the standards so woefully lowered, Wilber or anyone is perfectly free to make whatever wild interpretation they wish to and see it go unchecked.

I'm not alone in this position. Sufis and Jews have voiced the same concerns.


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Post by Ken O'Neill » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Nandu asks:


On 2005-12-03 12:24, nandu wrote:
I have a doubt here. How can one claim that somebody has misunderstood Buddhism (or any other philosophy) unless the person so claiming has perfect understanding? Isn't that too tall an order?

Isn't "understand differently" better than "misunderstand"?

Can one misunderstand medicine? For example, a physician? And would you wish to be among their patients?

Despite the rhetoric of meditation (cf Robert Sharf's Buddhist Modernism & the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience), Buddhism graduates or certifies teachers based on acquisition of skill development.

For example, becoming a Zen roshi requires upwards to 10-15 years of mastery of extremely complex rituals, including koan ritual and rituals including but not limited to what Westerners call "meditation" but invole much much more.

Skills developed are tested - through written examinations and conducting of public rituals, including giving Dharma talks, etc.

The notion of lineage in Buddhism, once the origin myths are stripped away, boils down to leadership training and development for passing the torch from generation to generation. The result is, like the practice of medicine, a kind of board certification of comptency in a broad range of developed skills deemed necessary for representing the tradition and mentoring individuals, families, and groups.

In that sense, relativizing "understanding" of Buddhism is far less possible. Where it is possible lies in the dissonance between traditions.

For example, every time there's an international Buddhist get together, the hot topic among monk's is Pecking Order - who goes in first in the grand entrance, who sits where, etc. I call it "Pecker Order" since that's what they seem to be acting like. And I have flat out refused to be involved in such childish public programs. Theravadans still think they're the oldest - if not "origial" Buddhism - where "original" is purely mythological without a shred of historical justification.

Major dissonance usually occurs between national origins. But there are occasional groups who just don't get along with anybody - the Buddhist fundamentalists. Japan has a number of them.

Most traditions of Buddhism honor one another, seeing differing teachings as jeweled aspects of a bigger picture. And that's because they are rooted in a common mythological tradition, a sort of megamyth of the bodhisattva which remains unexplored here in the West.

In general, tho, the credentialed teachers, board licensed by buddhist traditions, have paid their dues with educations including or equivalent to at least one graduate degree in Buddhism. Those guys usually know there stuff.




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Post by Siddha » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

a cult of meditation (which the ch'an masters of the past warned against) and guru worship. Where's the self-determination, inner-directedness, and self-mastery in that
Ken this seems quite congruent with my perception of Buddhism. Can you please expand on this?


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Post by Robert G. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Martin, I know this isn't the thrust of this thread, and I haven't read him in German, but I always thought Schopenhauer's philosophy a perfect extension of his personality, to the extent that a great many of his conclusions only seem valid to me if you postulate a universal character to his essentially negative emotional and social relationships. In other words, given what I know of him personally it makes sense that he would see things that way, but that's about it.
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

So Robert, Schopenhauer is the next candidate to be knocked down?! <IMG SRC="/forum/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif"> I must admit that I like him somehow. Both the person and his philosophy. Maybe his way of life gave him experience you and I don't have. And if only with poodles!

To answer more seriously: He's one of the first philosophers in the West who helped preparing the marriage between Western and Eastern philosophy. And he was a great author with a special talent for metaphoric speech. Zimmer and Wilber are others bringing forward a Western philosophy, inspired by the East. For one person it may be helpful to study Sanskrit, another writer might get stuck in Indian thinking.

I think we should appreciate all these efforts. India has a great philosophical tradition. The West has it's own. We should learn from the East without disregarding our own tradition.

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Post by Faolan » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Wilber suggested that what Campbell was doing was not in fact revealing the value of myth qua myth. Rather, he was taking mythological material, inherently prerational material, and elevating it to the status of transrational, granting it more depth than it possesses. Thus the pre/trans fallacy accusation.

He said that Campbell was exploring myth in an "as if" fashion, reformulating the motifs and grafting them over a more sophisticated and secularized psychological model, in almost Jungian fashion. That, says Wilber, is not "doing" myth (quotes mine), but is rather a process of the rational mind.

So Campbell gives myth meaning, but in fact, according to Wilber, it is his own creativity and rational mind that gives it meaning.

I thought his comments were interesting.





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Post by Siddha » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I'm still a bit lost here Faolan... From the little I know of Wilbur I can say that he seems to position himself as a sort of Guru who teaches others a path to enlightenment. Campbell in contrast offered no "how to" model. He just shared his views but insisted that his students find their own path. I remember listening to him talk about one speach he was giving, during the Q&A period someone asked him a question that related to applying what he had just said. Campbell was not interested. Since when does an academic in an academic lecture give personal advice. He insisted that the person resolve it for themselves. Is it possible that Wilbur is accusing Campbell of not doing something that Campbell never intended in the first place?
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Post by Faolan » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

From the little I know of Wilbur I can say that he seems to position himself as a sort of Guru who teaches others a path to enlightenment.
Wilber says he is a pandit (A scholar), not a guru, and wishes only to point people toward some practice of meditation, no matter the tradition. He also emphasizes an "integral" practice that would not neglect the body or emotions, etc.
Campbell in contrast offered no "how to" model.
Actually Wilber leaves the "how to" up to the reader.
He just shared his views but insisted that his students find their own path.
Sure, Wilber is fanatical about meditation in any form and regards that as an essential part of an integral spiritual practice. Campbell's meditation was reading books and eating good steaks (and I see nothing wrong with that either, personally).

Since when does an academic in an academic lecture give personal advice.
Campbell most certainly gave personal advice in his lectures, if only by implication. For example, the Heroes Journey cannot be read in context without analogy to one's own life.
He [campbell] insisted that the person resolve it for themselves. Is it possible that Wilbur is accusing Campbell of not doing something that Campbell never intended in the first place?
No, Wilber sees great value in Campbell's work. He felt that Campbell was a brilliant man who was biased toward elevating myth itself to the status of the transpersonal. While Wilber agrees that there are such things as archetypal images, and "truths" in myth, he does not agree with Campbell that the shaman knew these truths in the same sense that an experienced meditator would have apphrehended them.

In this Wilber demonstrates a sort of elistism, and his belief system is in stark contrast to the neopagan community in particular.

That said, I think the two men would have had no problem agreeing on many, many things. They do differ very much in where they place their empahsis. Campbell once said you can tell to what degree a man speaks from his own center by the number of footnotes in his work...and Wilber's books tend to be 50% footnotes. Heh.

As to Wilber spreading commodified Buddhism, that is wholly inaccurate and grossly misrepresents his work. First clue: he is not a Buddhist.

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Post by Siddha » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Wilber says he is a pandit (A scholar), not a guru,
My mistake, I read an article where he interviews Andrew Cohen. He is described as a pandit and Andrew as a guru. I got them mixed up.
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Post by Ken O'Neill » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Wilber is a "pandit?"

And my point is this: he is not a pandit!

How so? Pandit is anglized "pandita" in Sanskrit, refering to a Brahman in the strict sense, to an acharya in the Buddhist sense. In modern Japanese the term ajari is used.

Now, there are some folks who appropriate such terms, coronating themselves as Emperor Norton did in the San Francisco of Barbery Coast days. And later San Francisco had the phony "Dr Ajari" - and his Sunshine Mantra Band, a pseudo Yamabushi. Or "Oso", a name applied to Ragneesh, where an Oso is an honorific title conferred "within" Japanese Buddhism only by consensus among a group of Roshis. To Zennists, Rajneesh followers look to be fools even using the title for that pathetic old guy.

Pandis and archaryas are not self-coronated nor autodidactic. They are vested by a living tradition as its masters of the meaning of words, of the inner significance of teachings. With that, they are decidely not from the smaller class of "meditative monks" - always a minority in those traditions.

Those are the guys who spell out what the Vedas - myths - mean.

Wilber can call himself whatever he pleases, but when the crowds in India split their guts with uncontrollable belly laughs, will he get what the joke is?
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Post by Ken O'Neill » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2005-12-04 21:12, Faolan wrote:
Wilber suggested that what Campbell was doing was not in fact revealing the value of myth qua myth. Rather, he was taking mythological material, inherently prerational material, and elevating it to the status of transrational, granting it more depth than it possesses. Thus the pre/trans fallacy accusation.

He said that Campbell was exploring myth in an "as if" fashion, reformulating the motifs and grafting them over a more sophisticated and secularized psychological model, in almost Jungian fashion. That, says Wilber, is not "doing" myth (quotes mine), but is rather a process of the rational mind.


I have difficulty in swallowing that. First, the Upanishads and classic commentarial literature go a long way in doing that themselves, often in mythic format.

Campbell never mentions Shandao; however, he studied intensely with Eidmann in Japan, and Eidmann was a Shandao specialist. Shandao, following in the tradition of the Nagarjuna of the Jujubibasharon (commentary on the dashabhumia sutra), upholds the view that all the buddhas and bodhisattvas - along with the rest of the characters in sutra/myths - are personification, that they are myths informing metapraxis.

One case is Zen. A Zen master is essentially a highly trained ritual master, while so-called zen meditation is a segment of a larger mythic drama enacted and embodied day after day, year after year.

Wilber may be attempting a postmodern deconstruction of Campbell. However, to successfully undertake that, more than projecting one's own theory on myths and "noble primitives" is required. I'm hard pressed to find Joe adding words of wisdom to mythos; instead, he seems to note those words of wisdom as they spring forth from the dramatic personae, not adding something to them, perhaps only pointing out what we'd otherwise miss.

Now, the two certainly have different histographies. Campbell held to the old 'degeneration and fall' so popular with the Germans and later Gibbons; Wilber is more in line with Michael Murphy's Evolutionary Transformationalist position, probably with roots in Aurobhindo.

Another difference: Campbell read Sanskrit, cotranslated the complete Upanishads in four volumes. As such, he was on top of the source, not basing himself on secondary works and tertiary commentaries.

The other factor I'd call to attention with respect to India. Other than the Vedas, there's no fixed canon. Hence myth is open ended, a process of ongoing mythogenesis. Wendy Doniger has certainly published on this, and Jean Houston's talks sort of include it. Accounting for the feature of gnosis spiritualities that is ongoing mythogenesis doesn't seem to be in Mr Wilber's somewhat privileged euroamerican outlook - the kind that looks to pre-rationals.

Maybe Faolan can shed some light on this: I hope so.
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Post by Siddha » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Ken,

I'm curious, do you believe that there is primarily one path to enlightenment? I might be a watered-down westerner but I take Campbell's "follow your bliss" to mean that each person has a unique path. Thus from my perspective whether Wilbur is a Pandit or not is almost irrelevant. I'm infinitely more interested in the effect reading, hearing or seeing Wilbur has on specific individuals.

Also, the type of path that you seem to be advocating does IMHO not have to apply to every person. I believe that every person has a shot at full enlightenment in this life time, studying an ancient language to read the original text to infer what was intended may be your path, but it doesn't have to be everyone’s.

I can illustrate with a story. Several years ago I read something that really moved me in a Buddhist book. Shortly thereafter I found myself talking to my sister and could not resist but attempt to try to explain it to her. In the end she said something like "I guess I should read more books like that with some admiration towards me." Then out of the blue she went on to describe her week and related several stories that clearly demonstrated the incredible depth of her compassion. I remember at the time thinking "I accidentally made her feel bad with my limited knowledge when I know for a fact that she embodies these ideals on a daily basis without even thinking about it or having to read a book about it?" I felt like quite the FOOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In conclusion, this conversation could have the potential to go somewhere if we began to discuss how a number of different teachers like Wilbur have affected our lives for better or worse. Then we’d really get somewhere. But this back and forth intellectual ping-pong match… I don’t see much value in it. It’s pretty clear that Faolan has found something of value in Wilbur’s teachings and that you have not. Can either of you convince the other? I doubt it. Again, whether he is a pandit or a fool is irrelevant IMHO because ultimately even a fool can give one the piece one needs to arrive at enlightenment! No? I'm always more interested in applied-mythology/spirituality than in debating theory and credentials. On this level I can see someone like Faolan and someone like you having a meaningful exchange that we’d all be able to participate in.


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Post by nandu » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Ken,
You are talking about Buddhism as a skill to be learned, like medicine or engineering. If you reduce enlightenment to something like a university degree, this is acceptable. But if you believe (like I do) that this is a unique path discovered by yourself, developing meditation skills to "understand" Buddhism has no meaning. It shows scholarship, true; but I believe even an "ignorant" person can achieve enlightenment.

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Post by Faolan » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2005-12-05 17:26, Ken O'Neill wrote:
On 2005-12-04 21:12, Faolan wrote:

I have difficulty in swallowing that. First, the Upanishads and classic commentarial literature go a long way in doing that themselves, often in mythic format.
Philosophical hinduism is more sophisticated than the western myths, but Campbell interprets occidental mythology in terms of eastern meanings. Wilber insists that these (occidental and oriental) are actually different levels of understanding "god". He says, based in part on the work of Jean Gebser:

"An archaic God sees divinity in any strong instinctual force. A magic God locates divine power in the human ego and its magical capacity to change the animistic world with rituals and spells. A mythic God is located not on this earth but in a heavenly paradise not of this world, entrance to which is gained by living according to the covenants and rules given by this God to his peoples. A mental God is a rational God, a demythologized Ground of Being that underlies all forms of existence. And an integral God is one that embraces all of the above."

So Wilber says Campbell commits the pre/trans fallacy when he inteprets archaic, magic, or mythic systems in terms of a "mental" or "integral" God concept (especially when that so-called god-concept is in fact nontheistic).

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/153/story_15318_1.html
Wilber may be attempting a postmodern deconstruction of Campbell.
Not really. Wilber believes in levels of spirituality, and agrees with Gebster that "human beings tend to go through at least five major levels of development, which he called archaic, magic, mythic, mental, and integral." Deconstruction tends to eliminate hierarchies of any kind.
However, to successfully undertake that, more than projecting one's own theory on myths and "noble primitives" is required.
To undertake what? Deconstructing Campbell's theories?
I'm hard pressed to find Joe adding words of wisdom to mythos; instead, he seems to note those words of wisdom as they spring forth from the dramatic personae, not adding something to them, perhaps only pointing out what we'd otherwise miss.
I disagree. He finds the essential message "thou art that" in even biblical stories, and insists that the people of the West have misread their own myths for thousands of years. I'd say that is highly debatable.
Now, the two certainly have different histographies. Campbell held to the old 'degeneration and fall' so popular with the Germans and later Gibbons; Wilber is more in line with Michael Murphy's Evolutionary Transformationalist position, probably with roots in Aurobhindo.
I agree that they have different approaches to the subject matter.
Another difference: Campbell read Sanskrit, cotranslated the complete Upanishads in four volumes. As such, he was on top of the source, not basing himself on secondary works and tertiary commentaries.
I don't know that I agree with your definition of secondary works in this case. Is a translation a secondary work if it is a good translation? If so, I never read the Bible, or Freud, or any Herman Hesse novel. And so on.

Also, it's one thing to say that Wilber is not an expert on sanskrit, but quite another to say that he knows nothing of the language. You'd have to ask him, I haven't examined his language studies so closely.
Accounting for the feature of gnosis spiritualities that is ongoing mythogenesis doesn't seem to be in Mr Wilber's somewhat privileged euroamerican outlook - the kind that looks to pre-rationals.
I don't deny that Wilber speaks of "levels" of spirituality, or "holoarchies", and says one transcends but includes the level below. Whether he is right or wrong depends on ones biases I suppose.
Maybe Faolan can shed some light on this: I hope so.
I tried.
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