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

Has anybody here read the section of Ken Wilber's book "Sex, Ecology, Spirituality" that criticized Campbell's work?
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Post by art » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

hey i read it but i dont think he was necessarily critizing, he was correcting. To me, and this may be an uneducated generalization, it seems to me that what Ken Wilber is doing is trying to correct silly unknowing misnomers and mistakes, contradictions that appear in major philosophers work. I think what Wilber was pointing out was that Campbell was 'guilty' of commiting the pre/trans fallacy.

Ken Wilber, i believe, is putting the literary broken mirror back together, so that we may be actually able to conceive of Spirit, without contradiction.

?

drekn?

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

Image

That's from a link on the above website... :wink:
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Post by Barry » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Nice observation Art.

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

I'd like to know, AlOberhousler, how you have managed to show a picture on your reply. I've tried several times with very disappointing results. How are you doing it?

I was going to show a picture of Ganesha as an example of a composite; animal and human diety; an evolution.

(picture no longer available as the site has been changed)

There, I've tried again but it has failed.

....no it hastn't. Alright!
The picture is up and here is a link to a site about India; History and Myth, via Sri Lanka : http://www.lankalibrary.com/

I've read a bit of Ken Wilbur and I see a need for comparisons and a need to look at the characters in myth and religion to see why these characters have evolved.

The Egyptian dieties survived because the places where they were created were successful. Less successful dieties were forgotten, lost, because the environment did not support its inhabitants. You see an amlagamation of animal and man in Egyptian dieties also.

Image

from Tour Egypt Site:
http://touregypt.net/featurestories/mixed.htm

Philosophy and Myths evolve, is it not so?



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

In my opinion, Wilber has to be taken with great care. I find no indication that he has skills in non-Western languages while he does have a penchant for interpreting words in non-Asian languages with often poor understanding of their meaning.

I'm not saying this to split hairs. As a Buddhist teacher I gained my "transmission" or certification the old fashion way. We didn't have Western Dharma centers offering watered down and dumbed down versions of Buddhism. We had to learn Asian languages with sufficient competency to "understand" (that's the verb satori in Japanese, adhisthana in Sanskrit) the "inner" meaning of a text. As such, our learning corresponds to what the French understand as "esoteric" - that turning about in the seat of consciousness occuring when the meaning of something is suddenly transformed to symbolic, metaphorical, mythic. Such learning requires an interplay of cognitive, emotive, contemplative, and transpersonal skills.

I personally feel his popularity comes from an inventive imagination along with no one filling the gaps left behind by Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell!

Reading Wilber on Buddhism is, for me, a rehash of the strata of popular misinformational ilk that fills pages of popular magazines, growth center retreats, and an immensely profitable popular book publishing industry. That is, commodified Buddhism. When one notices such shallowness in a field they are steeped in, then the question becomes how far does this extend to other areas of professed "expertise"? Caveat lector.

Focusing again through the lens of Buddhism, it's noteworthy that Campbell mastered the rudiments of Kegon Buddhism in the 1950s. Todate, despite the entire Kegon corpus having been published in the 1980s, it remains largely ignored. Wilber like others bases himself on the DT Suzuki originated fictional account of Zen, See Bernard Faure's Chan Insights and Oversights for a penetrating deconstruction of Suzuki-ism.

When Joe gave his Cooper Union talks in the early 60s, you never hear him parroting "Zen" this and "Zen" that. He'd been to the mountain, and knew Shin was the fountainhead of Japanese integrative buddhism - he talks about Shin a lot in those talks. The popular world has not caught up with him, and certainly not the all-knowing Mr Wilber.

I do not wish to denigrate Mr Wilber. He's making seemingly important contributions. One wonders, however, how much greater those contributions would be if well and accurately informed.

After all, one is hard pressed to talk of perennialism without having trained unto some sort of recognized mastery within it. Otherwise we get the perceptions of Monday morning quarterbacks replaying the game around the office water cooler. No pain, no gain!


When Joe Campbell was in Japan, Eidmann took him to a Yamabushi fire walking rite. Joe took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his trouser legs, and walked the walk across those hot embers. I cannot separate his athletic prowess and his scholarship from a wholehearted skill in concentration - that esoteric key to the mysteries of myth and metaphor that comes from hard work and getting beyond boundaries.

best

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

On 2005-12-01 14:22, Ken O'Neill wrote:
In my opinion, Wilber has to be taken with great care. I find no indication that he has skills in non-Western languages while he does have a penchant for interpreting words in non-Asian languages with often poor understanding of their meaning.
Can you provide an example of this?
...Such learning requires an interplay of cognitive, emotive, contemplative, and transpersonal skills.
Wilber speaks so much of integral approaches, it would surprise me if his path had been narrow and shallow, as you seem to imply. It wasn't my impression he learned his Buddhist ideas from Dummies books or New Age centers run by old ladies with purple robes, large crystal zirconiums set in gaudy rings, and too much incense burning in the background.

[quoteI personally feel his popularity comes from an inventive imagination along with no one filling the gaps left behind by Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell [/quote]

What do you mean "inventive"? Are you saying he is full of crap?
Reading Wilber on Buddhism is, for me, a rehash of the strata of popular misinformational ilk that fills pages of popular magazines, growth center retreats, and an immensely profitable popular book publishing industry. That is, commodified Buddhism.

For example?

When one notices such shallowness in a field they are steeped in, then the question becomes how far does this extend to other areas of professed "expertise"? Caveat lector.
You aren't substantiating your claims against Wilber. I'd be interested in some examples of why he is nothing more than a mouthpiece for "commodified Buddhism".
Wilber like others bases himself on the DT Suzuki originated fictional account of Zen, See Bernard Faure's Chan Insights and Oversights for a penetrating deconstruction of Suzuki-ism.
Wilber's thought is most influenced by Sri Aurobindo and Nargajuna. I don't recall him writing too much about Zuzuki, if at all...
When Joe gave his Cooper Union talks in the early 60s, you never hear him parroting "Zen" this and "Zen" that.
Wilber does not go on with "Zen this" or "Zen that" either. Have you read his work?

The popular world has not caught up with him, and certainly not the all-knowing Mr Wilber.
Who claimed Ken Wilber was all knowing? Certainly not Wilber himself.
I do not wish to denigrate Mr Wilber. He's making seemingly important contributions.
You denigrate him plenty, and adding "seemingly" before "important" makes your sentence even more ironic.
One wonders, however, how much greater those contributions would be if well and accurately informed.
Not that you'd denigrate him. Such doublespeak!
After all, one is hard pressed to talk of perennialism without having trained unto some sort of recognized mastery within it. Otherwise we get the perceptions of Monday morning quarterbacks replaying the game around the office water cooler. No pain, no gain!
If you had read "One Taste" you'd know very well that the man has had a lifelong meditative practice in many disciplines. I think you mistake him for somebody else, but it's clear you are unfamiliar with his work.




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

For your information I've been familiar with Wilber's work since he began publishing it decades ago.

Wilber's career is certainly that of a visionary. His critics - those who have known him over the years - also have gained the impression he's out to be a guru of sorts. His unfortunate allegiance to Franklin Jones may have a role in those judgements.

Anyone can write about Nagarjuna. Many have. Most interesting is N. letter to a king, a text demonstrating a cranky complainer reporting on the marginal role of Mahayana in the 2/3rd century - in Indian popular literaure of that time, Buddhists were essentially the buffoons. Nagarjuna was of importance, largely in Central Asian and China were the otherwise marginal Mahayana took root and developed, later exported to India during the much later Pala dynasties.

Many of us are of the same age group as Wilber, have done at least as much contemplate work, and simply are not as impressed as younger, less experienced folks.

The big problem today is that we do not have a dialogue. Wilber's as impressive as he is for many in abstentia of others publishing in the field.

Having spent a lifetime - close to forty years - in Buddhism and other traditions of esoteric spirituality - both myself and others with whom I've spoken have no difficulty in recognizing where he's on to something and where he's off base, at times simply poorly informed or fictionalizing.

An analysis of Wilber's work is out of the question. Why would I wish to take time away from my own projects to do analysis of his stuff? Only a fat stipend would sweeten the deal enough to even consider it at this time.

best

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

Does anybody have any comment on the question I posed in the beginning of this thread? I'm not interested in debating distorted caricatures of Wilber.
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Post by Siddha » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Ken
Having spent a lifetime - close to forty years - in Buddhism and other traditions of esoteric spirituality - both myself and others with whom I've spoken have no difficulty in recognizing where he's on to something and where he's off base, at times simply poorly informed or fictionalizing.
Like Faolan argues, why make a statement if you are unwilling to back it up. No one is asking for a complete critique of Wilbur's works. However, what would it cost you to give 2-3 concrete examples to back up your assessment of him?

Your position also ties into a pet-issue of mine. When the Buddha died, he did not leave behind a codified set of instructions and rules. Please correct me if I am wrong, but, I believe his instructions were that his followers forget about his path and find their own. IMHO this message is the same as "follow your bliss." With this as the foundation for an argument I have to wonder what gives anyone the right or ability to judge one form of Buddhism over another? Assuming of course that "judging others" was Buddhist. However, having studied very little Buddhism I am willing to concede the possibility that "judging others" could be a good Buddhist practice that I have misunderstood in my limited Buddhist education in the west.

Also, I find your criticism of DT Suzuki interesting because until know I was only aware of Watts and Campbell citing him in support of their thoughts. If Suzuki got it wrong and Campbell and Watts got it right (assuming again that there is a right and a wrong, something I perceive to be very un-Buddhist…) then why would they mention him or even quote him in later works?

Faolan, I can't comment on your specific question as I haven't read it.




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

I just read the piece from SES on Campbell’s work. I have not read the book yet (just bought it), so I don’t have too much context on it in particular. From what I have been exposed to of Ken W’s work so far, I think he sees the need to develop approaches to help usher people through their stages of development/transformation.

So, in relation to Joe's work, if a person is not “ready” to hear that his or her myth is not fact, telling them so does nothing to help them “transcend” their particular stage of consciousness. They won’t get what you are saying. If you can recognize where someone is in their process (or on the spiral to use Ken's reference), you can choose a vocabulary that triggers something for them to start to open up their interpretation of the world.

I have not so far interpreted Joe the way Ken W. seems to have (I'm going to sit with it a bit). I can kind of see what he’s pointing to, but really want to disagree with his interpretation of what Joe meant (and that is totally because I have particular fondness for Joe and am not being objective). I know that I have not read enough take an educated stand yet. I will be open to Ken’s interpretation as I continue reading Joe’s work (because I like Ken W. too, despite his apparent narcissism).


Ken,

Your posts to me are of the ex cathedra variety and do not engage the reader to form opinion based on reasoned questioning. While credentials may have a role in my opinion of a poster, I know that I personally am not looking for the "final word,” but a dialogue that leads to more nuanced understanding of the topics. The most effective teachers in my life have encouraged and appreciated my questions. You seem to oppose them. If you oppose the manner in which questions are asked of you (tone or language), I ask that you reflect on the delivery of your own posts to see where that may be coming from, rather than try to discredit someone because of age or perceived non-experience and then dismiss them completely. Contributions that consist wholly of opinion followed by a list of badges of certified genius aren't fulfilling or engaging (to me).



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

The often quoted passage about the buddha having told folks to "be a lamp unto themselves" is interesting for sure. It comes from the Pali canon, and the best we know if it is that is said to date from the late 1st centruy CE, but unknown for sure until the 4th century CE - 900 years after the Buddha. That's late news for sure.

The Chinese canon is actually older, and doesn't contain that news.

Bottom line is we don't have a clue what the Buddha may have said or not said. We have a tradition fashioned AFTER him, with myriad voices speaking for - if not as - him.

Theravadans themselves take that and another passion about verifying things in your own experience, then cover themselves by adding that you have to do it their way. Often as a colophon to the text, later claimed to be the text itself. We just don't know.

This much is certain: most all of the buddhisms would have it done their way. They invent lineages claimed to go back to the Buddha, hence validating their tradition. This is especially true in the Far East and Tibet.

The matter of Suzuki is very complicated. His
Zen history was the subject of a big debate between himself and a Chinese ch'an historian in the 50s. Suzuki didn't do well since he was all wet.

In a popular sense, the key elements to watch for with Suzuki are the notion of "transmission" - to be a Zen roshi means graduating from a ritual based equivalent of a Bible college (Watts made this point well), while having resolved satori is up to individual persons. Being a roshi is no guarantee of anything other than having finished training school - and probably coming from a temple family. Suzuki's pronouncements on this matter are taken in the West that being a roshi means being enlightened. Not true.

Zen and Japanese Culture. This is a big one. Joe's experience in Japan took him to the correct understanding - Zen is one participant in that culture, but by no means shaped it. Look to it as a voice in the choir, not a unique, singular performer.

Zen v Buddhism. Suzuki and Watts both expressed this one - some of the time. Enough that it's misled many folks to conclude Zen is somehow bigger or independent of Buddhism. If you consider it being the official church of the military police state known as the Shogunate, that view evaporates quickly.

All three guys fall in the "romantic" category, as do I! So I figure they were looking for a kind of core buddhism transcending the sectarian streams.

One of Joe's friends in Kyoto was Kasugai Shin'ya. As part of the requirements for matriculating to his graduate program, students had to express their vision in relation to one question. Remember, students were almost exclusively from temple families. The question: What is the Buddhism beyond all the BuddhismS? That's the core question.

I believe Campbell came to it through not having a dependency on institutions and sectarian movements, but by plunging into what was in his day available in translations of the primary mythological literature of the bodhisattva and mythic buddhas. For me, that's shown as pure genius in the Sukhavati program.

As for Wilber, he seems to be saying mythos is in the past. While creating a new one! shigataganai desu yo - it just can't be helped.



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

The truth be told. I can't reply to anything about Wilber's work right now.

Some months ago due to financial considerations tempered with the view that surplus books are a pain to move, I sold off a lot of my library. All the Wilber went since I regarded it of no importance. They don't have much resale value, either!

I'll offer one example. And it's 25-30 years of age. One of his early books took up the buddhist trikaya teaching - part of its transformational psychology in terms of embodiment, understanding, and epistemology. He just plain didn't get it.

Then there was the published comment of Maezumi roshi. When asked about Wilber as a Zen student, he replied by saying the Fritzjof Capra had a very good understanding of Zen. There's a lot said there from the perspective of Japanese etiquette.

Let's be clear about one thing. Wilber is a pioneer. Whether history will see him as another Madama Blavatsky or someone like Jung I cannot foretell. Nor is it any of my business or interest.

When someone claiming expertise comes off with nutty misunderstandings about Buddhism, then it is entirely within my providence to note that.

In Japanese there's an expression you may not know: oshaka ni seppo. and anther: gaijin no bukkyo.

oshaku ni seppo I learned from a japanese master who looked through Bubba Free John. It means "he'd preach buddhism to the buddha". it's not a compliment.

gaijin no bukkyo. bukkyo means what we call Buddhism. there's no word buddhism in asian languages. no is a postpositional particle - japanese doesn't have pre-positions. it works sometimes as a possessive "'". gaijin means alien or foreigner, someone culturally outside. taken by itself, gaijin no bukkyo means "the buddhism of outsiders". by extension, it conveys this "the understanding of buddhism of outsiders who don't understand that they don't understand."

We're still pretty much in a situation that short of going off to Asia to train, learning a Buddhist classical language, and plunging into primary mythological texts, it's otherwise gaijin no bukkyo. it's said some centuries are requried for cross-cultural understanding to really occur.

Campbell shows the value of learning classical languages, reading texts in the original, and plunging into the mythologies that codify the transformational psychologies. I'd be much more comfortable with Wilber's understanding if he followed some of Joe's hero's journey.

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

On 2005-12-03 11:35, Ken O'Neill wrote:
When someone claiming expertise comes off with nutty misunderstandings about Buddhism, then it is entirely within my providence to note that.
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"?

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

Ken, first of all, thank you very much for revitalizing this interesting thread!

The original question has actually left more or less unexplored so far, as the beginner of this thread, Faolan, somewhere stated (and even though our associate Art, a long time ago, was posting a really skillful reply that, that adresses the original query directly.)

Faolan, in your post from 2005-12-01 you are trying to lead this conversation back to the original topic, in a throughout admirable way. I have some ideas about Wilber's criticism (or, to follow Art, "correction" of Joe Campbell). I would like to wait a bit though, until we have discussed some reservations against Wilber, that came up in the latest postings.

As a person, who has been trained through studying academic philosophy at the university (with a focus on Plato) I have myself some objections against Wilber, that may depend on my training, or maybe rather on personal limitations, or maybe just on my personal "taste". I really don't know! I just have to read more of Wilber's! Also I have read only translations of Wilber's original words. So feel invited to look at me as the fool here. Maybe Wilber, in regards of academic philosophy or orientalism, acts as a fool as well? Stupid? Ingenious? Or both at the same time?

So, in short, while I appreciate Wilber's ideas about different layers (is that the correct word?) of consciousness, the way they do appear in the world, caused by the powers of evolution, I experienced his criticism of Campbell's mythological approach as the product of a simple misunderstanding. But I might be wrong. As suggested at the beginning of this post, I would like to check this out at a later point of time, that means, as soon as we are talking on the same level, at "eye level" so to say.
On 2005-12-01 14:22, Ken O'Neill wrote:
In my opinion, Wilber has to be taken with great care. I find no indication that he has skills in non-Western languages while he does have a penchant for interpreting words in non-Asian languages with often poor understanding of their meaning.
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?

Is Wilber's possible narcism of any meaning for the discussion we are having here, as long as we are discussing his ideas, not the person?

As I suggested before, I'm far way from being a Wilber expert. (I just tried, so far, to read his Brief History of Everything so far, and throw it at the wall, after reading a couple of sentences on the first two pages or so, because I didn't like the sloppy language. However, again, I tried to read the German translation only, so far.)

BTW, I have, in my personal philosophical studies, focused on Schopenhaur as well, and if you have read anything not only about the philosophy of this man, but about the person, you will be surprised that this man, who probably was one of the most clearsighted Western men of the 19th century (someone who was not only a wonderful academic philosopher, but also, as it came out in one of his journals, seems to have experienced a deep mystical awakening) was an extremly insular and cranky person - someone who was able to love nobody but his poodle, as it seems, a dog, whose busts used to decorate his rooms, while he had serious problems to communicate with living people... So are we talking about people or their work? And if we are talking about people, how to measure their value, since we don't know Wilber personally? (No matter if your Wilber books are absent or not!)
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"?

Nandu.
Nandu, at this point I agree with Ken. From an enlightened, pardon, awakened, and even from my own egghead's viewpoint, all these (forum-)conversations are simply a game. ... But one that obviously means big fun to you and me!

Personally I would be bored to deal only with perfect people. So, to claim that the other one has misunderstood something is one of many ways for the awakened (or maybe just erudite) being, to get back to life. To set the ball rolling by making a hysterical statement means to set life rolling. At least for an egghead like me. So let's have fun and make some politically incorrect statements!!

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