NormanEinsteinBook.com
Download "Norman Einstein" PDF
Prev     Next Table of Contents






CHAPTER X

THE STRANGE CASE
OF KEN WILBER



Zen teachers have an excellent method of dealing with students who start comparing themselves to Buddha or God [after their early enlightenment experiences, says Ken Wilber]. “They take the stick and beat the crap out of you. And after five or ten years of that, you finally get over yourself” (Horgan, 2003a).
“Crazy wisdom” occurs in a very strict ethical atmosphere (Wilber, 1996).

NO PRESENTATION OF THE FOIBLES of Ken Wilber would be complete without a look at his endorsements of the “crazy wisdom” gurus Andrew Cohen and Adi Da, his associated praising of various forms of purportedly beneficial spiritual violence, and a further analysis of the predictable extensions of his own admitted psychological motivations to his own behaviors.

First, kw’s writings have traditionally generated a uniquely high level of interest within the inner circle of Andrew Cohen’s community. Andrew’s now-former disciple Andre van der Braak had actually done his psychology thesis on Wilber, piquing Cohen’s curiosity with his associated bookshelves full of kw’s ponderous works, and resulting in their reported collective brainstorming as to how to get Wilber in as a student of Cohen’s:

We speculate about why he hasn’t been willing to meet with Andrew. Is he afraid of ego death? (van der Braak, 2003; italics added).

Their persistent courting evidently paid off, however, for in Wilber’s foreword to Cohen’s (2002) Living Enlightenment we read:

[Rude Boys] live as Compassion—real compassion, not idiot compassion—and real compassion uses a sword more often than a sweet. They deeply offend the ego (and the greater the offense, the bigger the ego)....
Andrew Cohen is a Rude Boy. He is not here to offer comfort; he is here to tear you into approximately a thousand pieces ... so that Infinity can reassemble you....
Every deeply enlightened teacher I have known has been a Rude Boy or Nasty Girl. The original Rude Boys were, of course, the great Zen masters, who, when faced with yet another ego claiming to want Enlightenment, would get a huge stick and whack the aspirant right between the eyes.... Rude Boys are on your case in the worst way, they breathe fire, eat hot coals, will roast your ass in a screaming second and fry your ego before you knew what hit it....
I have often heard it said that Andrew is difficult, offending, edgy, and I think, “Thank God.” In fact, virtually every criticism I have ever heard of Andrew is a variation on, “He’s very rude, don’t you think?”

However, Luna Tarlo’s (1997) exposé of Cohen (Mother of God) had been published nearly half a decade before Wilber’s penning of that odd mixture of images. (Tarlo is Cohen’s Jewish mother, who has compared her son’s promises of deliverance from suffering, through the use of his own power, to those of Hitler.) Had kw properly informed himself of that, he would most certainly have heard criticisms of Cohen which could in no way be dismissed as arising merely from overly sensitive egos complaining about not being sufficiently coddled. (Needless to say, Cohen disputes the accuracy of the depiction of life in his communities given by his own mother, and presumably does not agree with van der Braak’s sketching of it, either. The WHAT enlightenment??! website, though, offers many additional, generally equally uncomplimentary stories from other former disciples.)

If being a “Rude Boy” simply means speaking unpleasant truths, then yes, “every deeply enlightened teacher” has probably done that. Such beneficial behavior, however, is vastly different from what Cohen is alleged to have indulged in.

Further, just because a “master” is a “Rude Boy” toward others obviously does not mean that his own “breakthrough” into claimed radical enlightenment was the product of having previously been treated in that way himself. Indeed, neither the late (d. 2008) Adi Da nor Cohen have recorded their own enlightenments as arising from being on the receiving end of such behavior. That fact is radically significant, as is the fact that neither Cohen nor Da, explicitly, have managed to produce even one disciple as “enlightened” as they themselves claim to be, in spite of their “rude” behaviors.

It does have to be considered at this point that there are no practitioners in the advanced and ultimate stages (Da, in [Elias, 2000]).
None of Cohen’s students have become liberated (Horgan, 2003).

Beyond that, the whole disturbingly violent “whack between the eyes” thing is a rather absurdly romanticized view of Zen. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder: Has Wilber himself ever received such a beneficial, hard blow between the eyes with a huge stick, or literally had the crap beaten out of him? Was that what brought on any of his early, “verified” satoris, or his nondual One Taste realization? If not, he has no business recommending such treatment to others.

In addition to attempting to spread his teachings through his books and personal counsel within his spiritual community, in 1992 Cohen founded What Is Enlightenment? magazine. (He has also recently arranged to partner with The Graduate Institute in Connecticut, in an accredited program of studies: www.learn.edu/wie.htm.) That periodical has been praised by Wilber (in Cohen, 2002) as follows:

Andrew’s magazine ... is the only [one] I know that is ... asking the hard questions, slaughtering [needlessly violent macho imagery, again] the sacred cows, and dealing with the Truth no matter what the consequences.

Notably, the June/August 2006 issue of What Is Enlightenment? was largely devoted to the life’s work of their “favorite integral prophet,” Ken Wilber. (Yes, they explicitly called him a “prophet.”)

Many years earlier, in 1980, Wilber had penned a foreword for Adi Da’s Scientific Proof of the Existence of God Will Soon Be Announced by the White House! Most of it was spent in arguing that Da was not creating a harmful “cult” around himself, but Wilber also found space to include the following praise:

[M]y opinion is that we have, in the person of Da Free John, a Spiritual Master and religious genius of the ultimate degree. I assure you I do not mean that lightly. I am not tossing out high-powered phrases to “hype” the works of Da Free John. I am simply offering to you my own considered opinion: Da Free John’s teaching is, I believe, unsurpassed by that of any other spiritual Hero, of any period, of any place, of any time, of any persuasion.

Not finished with hyperbole—or “syrupy devotionalism,” as one critic (Kazlev, 2003) reasonably put it—in 1985 Wilber contributed effusive text for the front matter of Adi Da’s The Dawn Horse Testament:

This is not merely my personal opinion; this is a perfectly obvious fact, available to anyone of intelligence, sensitivity, and integrity: The Dawn Horse Testament is the most ecstatic, most profound, most complete, most radical, and most comprehensive single spiritual text ever to be penned and confessed by the Human Transcendental Spirit.

Obviously, any sincere seeker reading such ecstatic praise from the most highly respected “genius” in consciousness studies might be inclined to experience for himself the teachings of such a unique, “greatest living” (Wilber’s words) Adept. Indeed, had I come across those endorsements in my own (teenage years, at the time) search, and been aware of and unduly awed by Wilber’s status in the consciousness-studies community, I myself might well have foolishly taken such exaggerations seriously enough to experience Adi Da’s community discipline first-hand.

How unsettling, then, to discover a 1987 interview with Yoga Journal, only a few short years after the Dawn Horse praises, where Wilber stated his opinion that Adi Da’s “entire situation has become very problematic.” Nearly a decade later (1996a), he explained: “‘Problematic’ was the euphemism that sociologists at that time were using for Jonestown.”

For my own part, not being a sociologist, I would never have caught on to the meaning of that word without having it explained to me ... albeit years after the fact, here. I suspect that I am not alone in that regard.

No matter: Three years later, in 1990, Wilber was back to contributing endorsements for Da’s teachings, this time to the humbly titled The Divine Emergence of the World-Teacher:

The event of Heart-Master Da is an occasion for rejoicing, for, without any doubt whatsoever, he is the first Western Avatar to appear in the history of the world.... His Teaching contains the most concentrated wealth of transcendent wisdom found anywhere, I believe, in the spiritual literature of the world, modern or ancient, Eastern or Western (in Bonder, 1990; italics added).

Note that, in the above quote, Wilber is evidently considering himself fit not merely to pronounce on the degree of enlightenment of others, but even to confirm their avatar status, “without any doubt whatsoever.”

Of the above author Saniel Bonder (2003) himself—who has since independently adopted the status of teacher, without Adi Da’s blessing—Wilber has more recently declared:

Saniel Bonder is one in whom the Conscious Principle is awakened.

Again, note the oracular nature of the statement, as no mere expression of opinion, but rather as a without-doubt, categorical evaluation of another person’s spiritual enlightenment—as if Wilber himself was able to see into others’ minds, or clairvoyantly discern their degree of conscious evolution.

Others, however, have reasonably questioned the possibility, even in principle, of anyone executing such radical insight:

[B]oth mystics and sympathetic writers about mysticism are just wrong if they think that there is a way of telling whether the other person has had a genuine experience or just pretends to have had one....
A man may write excellent love poetry without ever having been a comparable lover; it is the writer’s skill as a writer that makes his words convincing, not his skill as a lover. The mystic’s talk about his experience may be skillful or clumsy, but that does not improve or weaken his actual experience (Bharati, 1976).

Bharati himself was both a scholar and a swami of the Ramakrishna Order.

Seven years before the aforementioned “problematic” Yoga Journal piece, Wilber (in Da, 1980) had again ironically been “protesting too much,” in print, that Adi Da was not creating a harmful environment around himself:

[N]owhere is [Da] more critical of the “cultic” attitude than he is towards those who surround him.... I have never heard Da Free John criticize anyone as forcefully as he does those who would approach him chronically from the childish stance of trying to win the favor of the “cultic hero.”

Other fans of Da—even those who have comparably considered him to be “the ultimate expression of the Truth residing in all religions”—however, have claimed to find in his followers exactly what Wilber would evidently rather not see:

The problem was they were much too friendly, much too happy, and far too nice. More plainly put, they were all busy breathlessly following their own bliss. Not only this, but unless my eyes were deceiving me, they all looked like maybe they came from the same neighborhood or the same college. It was uncanny really. And very disquieting, as well. I mean, they all looked and sounded almost exactly alike.
My God, they’re pod people, I thought (Thomas Alhburn, in [Austin, 1999]; italics added).

Hassan (1990) gives a completely plausible explanation for such phenomena:

One reason why a group of [alleged] cultists may strike even a naïve outsider as spooky or weird is that everyone has similar odd mannerisms, clothing styles, and modes of speech. What the outsider is seeing is the personality of the leader passed down through several layers of modeling.

Wilber closed his aforementioned (1996a) admonitions regarding Da—sequestered in Fiji, by that point—with the relative caution that, until the day when the “World Teacher consents to enter the World,” one might just keep a “safe distance” as a student of Da’s writings, rather than as a resident of his community. As to how Adi Da “re-entering the world” from his island seclusion would alleviate the “problematic” aspects of his teachings, however, that was not made clear.

By comparison, would Jim Jones re-entering the world from his isolated agricultural commune in Guyana have made his teachings safe? If not, why would a comparable re-entry have been the solution to the “problematic” (Wilber’s word) aspects of Adi Da? Isn’t it better for the world at large—if not for their unfortunate, already duped followers—if these individuals do isolate themselves?

At any rate, none of the above milquetoast caveats from Wilber have ever been included in any of his books, where they might have reached “a hundred thousand” people (Wilber, 2000a). Rather, in terms of kw’s own attempts at promoting that version of reality, the (1996a) letter exists, at the time of this writing, only on his (publishers’) website ... buried in the Archives section, not sharing the home page with his many accolades.

Wilber later (1998a) offered an explanatory open letter to the Adi Da community. That was posted anonymously (i.e., evidently not by Ken himself) on the Shambhala KW Forum for date 8/1/01 in the Open Discussion area, a full three years after the fact. (That forum itself has existed since early 2000.) There, he clarified his position on Da, back-tracking significantly from any insight which one might have been tempted to credit him from 1996, and explicitly stating that he had not renounced his view of (or love for, or devotion toward) Da as Realizer. Rather, he argued simply that Adi Da’s “World Teacher” status enjoindered upon him the maintaining of a presence in the world, and the initiation of an “even more aggressive outreach program” by the community, as opposed to his ongoing seclusion.

An “even more aggressive outreach program.” To put a positive spin on a “problematic” situation, and “spread the word” to more people, thereby doing more harm? Or perhaps simply to warn potential devotees as to what they’re getting themselves into, as if that would then clear up all of the reported problems with the community?

As posters in Bob (2000)—themselves making no claim to genius, but clearly adept in common sense—have insightfully (and independently) pointed out:

I find it absurd that Wilber seems to attach more importance to criticizing Da’s failure to appear in public forums than he does to examining the very serious [alleged] abuses of trust and misuse of power that have [reportedly] been perpetrated by Da under the guise of spiritual teaching. In light of the well-documented [reported] problems that Da has created in his own life and his follower’s [sic] lives, it is completely irrelevant to any evaluation of Da whether or not he accepts Ken’s challenge to go out into the world at large. Who cares! Why would anyone want to see Da broaden his influence by speaking to a larger audience?

The full text of Wilber’s aforementioned (1998a) open letter to the Daist Community is eminently worth reading, toward one’s own disillusion regarding the caliber of advice given by even the “brightest lights” in the spiritual marketplace. To summarize its contents: Wilber states that he neither regrets nor retracts his past endorsements of Adi Da; that it is only for cultural and legal considerations that he can no longer publicly give a blanket recommendation for people to follow Da; that he is pleased that his own writings have brought people to Da Avatar and hopes that they will continue to have that effect in the future; and that he still recommends that “students who are ready” become disciples/devotees of Da.

A month and a half after distributing the above nuggets of wisdom to the Adi Da community, Wilber (1998b) reconfirmed his position in another open letter, posted as of this writing on his website. There, he states that the “real difficulty of ‘the strange case of Adi Da’ is that the guru principle is neither understood nor accepted by our culture” (italics added). He further opines (italics again added) that

for those individuals who realize full well the extremely risky nature of the adventure, but who feel a strong pull toward complete and total surrender of their lives to a spiritual Master, I can certainly recommend Adi Da.... [H]e is one of the greatest spiritual Realizers of all time, in my opinion.

Note further that the related title, “The Strange Case of Franklin Jones,” was used in 1996 by David Lane and Scott Lowe, in their exposés of Da/Jones and his ashram environment. Unless that was a common phrase going around in the mid-’90s, then, it would seem that Wilber was likely aware of their earlier, insightful critique of the dynamics reportedly going on within Adi Da’s community. Rather than properly absorbing the information in that, however, he has evidently simply seen fit to give his own, purportedly more valuable version of the same—even though looking on merely from a safe distance, not as a first-hand, residential participant. That is sad, since Lowe and Lane have offered real insight into the situation, while Wilber has consistently failed miserably to do the same.

One further assumes that in praising Da’s spiritual state, Wilber was referring more to the man’s later realizations than to early insights such as the following:

I remember once for a period of days I was aware of a world that appeared to survive in our moon. It was a superphysical or astral world where beings were sent off to birth on the Earth or other worlds, and then their bodies were enjoyed cannibalistically by the older generation on the moon, or they were forced to work as physical and mental slaves (Da, 1995).

Of course, unless one is inclined to take the visions of “astral moon cannibal slaves” on the part of Da Guru seriously, one arrives at serious concerns as to Adi Da’s mental stability. After all, skeptics have long rightly held that even a single instance of any given medium or sage being caught “cheating” in “manifesting” objects, casts doubt on every “miracle” that had previously been attributed to the individual. Likewise, if even one aspect of an individual’s enlightenment has been hallucinated but taken as real, the potential exists for it to all have been the product of delusion in a psychiatric, not a metaphysical, sense.

So you have to ask yourself: Do you believe that there are B-movie-like “cannibal masters/slaves” on the astral counterpart to our moon?

Wilber, at least, seems (in Da, 1985) to have no doubt, overall:

I am as certain of this Man as I am of anything I have written.

That statement may be more understandable if one considers the following:

It is possible to look at [Wilber’s] early but seminal book The Atman Project and see how his idea of successive stages of psycho-spiritual development grew out of Da’s seven stages of life thesis (Kazlev, 2003).

The purported day-long manifestation by Da of a “corona” around the physical sun was included as a documented “miracle” in his (1974) self-published Garbage and the Goddess. Further, since Wilber had read that book prior to writing the above 1980 and 1985 forewords—it is listed in the bibliography for his (1977) Spectrum of Consciousness—one must ask: Does this mean that he was accepting that apparently non-existent “miracle” (which skeptics in the community did not see) as being valid? One cannot help but assume so, since the alternative would be to say that Wilber regarded Da as not accurately presenting his spiritual accomplishments, but still chose to pen his complimentary forewords.

In the face of such gushing as all the above, one begins to suspect that no small amount of the praise given to “greatest Realizers,” etc., might likely derive from the related hope that, the more one celebrates one’s own heroes, the more others may celebrate you as their hero in the same unquestioning and hyperbolic manner.

Wilber’s posting of Brad Reynolds’ (2004) comparing of him to the Buddhist god Manjushri, comparable to his own childish attitude with regard to Adi Da, certainly does nothing to dispel the above “tit for tat” suspicions: “See? This is how you should treat me.”

Or as Kate Strelley (1987) noted after having left Bhagwan Rajneesh’s Poona ashram to be feted as a celebrity at a relatively minor center in England:

[W]hat I really got off on was the fact that I was now being treated in the way I would treat Sheela.

One could substitute the name of any guru-figure or foolish pandit for the one-time respected administrator Sheela in that, and it would apply just as well.

Of course, in any such context, you could not then speak out properly against even the radical shortcomings in your own one-time heroes, as that would then license your followers to do the same to you. That is, the only way to teach others how to treat you with proper respect would be to continue to speak publicly with exaggerated regard for the idols. That must continue even long after it was obvious that they were not what they claimed to be, and even if one could, when pressed, admit to the latter when safe from the public eye.

Thus:

In private correspondence with me (and in person), Wilber has admitted that “Da is a fuck-up” (his words, not mine) (Lane, 1996).

Of course, it may also be that Wilber is simply so desperate for his (now-late) hero Adi Da’s approval, love and attention that he will (publicly) do everything in his power to retain that. But that would be even less flattering than the above explanation, as an explicitly immature, dependent stance.

Still, as Chögyam Trungpa’s former disciple Stephen Butterfield (1994) noted:

In the guru/disciple relationship, [the] self-conscious longing for acceptance, regarded as a form of devotion, operates to intimidate the student into deference.

And then, from the deferential Wilber (1998a):

I affirm my own love and devotion to the living Sat-Guru [i.e., Adi Da].... I send ... a deep bow to Master Adi Da.

Wilber himself, interestingly, had elsewhere and earlier (in Anthony, et al., 1987) mocked followers who view their spiritual leader as being a “perfect master”:

[H]ow great the guru is; in fact, how great I must be to be among the chosen. It is an extremely narcissistic position.

Indeed it is, particularly since the difference between “perfect master” and “greatest living Realizer” is hardly significant. That minimal difference, further, is essentially irrelevant in this context. For, one will again obviously feel extremely special for being noticed or chosen (e.g., to write forewords) by any “greatest” Realizer, even if the latter is not “perfect.” “Extremely narcissistic” is thus absolutely right, but for the integral goose as well as for the gander. As Radzik (2005) noted:

People look to gurus as a way to get self acceptance. If they can get acceptance from the guru, then of course they must be okay. The more powerful and magical and mystical the guru is, the more valuable his/her acceptance is. Therefore, the tendency is to elevate the guru to superhuman mythical god-man status.

Another former follower of Da expressed his own perspective (in Bob, 2000) with comparable insight:

Hell, saying he’s realized at all may be just a way to make myself seem less of a sucker for biting, and to avoid dissing people I respect who are still into him.

Notwithstanding all that, as late as 1998 Wilber was again still publicly defending Adi Da, even after having reportedly given the more negative evaluations in private at least two years earlier. Most likely, what he then means is that Da is a “fuck-up” along moral lines or the like, but is still the “greatest living Realizer” along spiritual lines of development. As little chance as there is of the latter idea being true, it would at least partially avoid charges of hypocrisy against kw, for saying one thing publicly but another privately.

Of course, that would still not settle the question as to how “surrendering completely,” even in a “mature” way, to an admitted “problematic [i.e., Jonestown-like], damn fool, fuck-up” (kw’s words, all), could possibly be a good idea. And note again that all of those evaluations were given by Wilber himself well prior to his “deep, devotional bow” to the Master, above. Such behaviors could only have a psychological, never merely a “logical,” basis and explanation.

So, too, for the following analysis from kw:

[Adi Da] makes a lot of mistakes. These are immediately reinterpreted as great teaching events, which is silly (Wilber, 1996a).

Such a regard, of course, completely overlooks the fact that, if one is truly “surrendered completely” to a guru-figure, there are no possible criteria which one could use to distinguish between valid “teaching events” and “mistakes” on his part. (Plus, Da has reportedly told his followers that he “can do no wrong” [Feuerstein, 1992].) Rather, it is all equally “divinely inspired,” and all equally done “for the benefit of all sentient beings.”

Wilber’s own writings give no indication that he has ever been spiritually disciplined over an extended period of time in a “crazy wisdom” environment. (By “an extended period of time” is meant a minimum of six continuous months. At one point, he was considering [1991] taking a three-year meditation retreat at an ashram run by Kalu Rinpoche, but evidently never actually did so.) He has attended satsanga at the feet of Adi Da on the Mountain of Attention. But surely even he must realize that there is a huge difference between spending a few days or weeks as a guest in such an environment, versus being trapped there for months or years.

Indeed, as to the difference between being in any such community as a “star” versus as a long-term peon, Bailey (2003) explained:

For most devotees, a visit to the [Sai Baba] ashram means sitting in the darshan lines looking on, wishing and hoping for interaction, whilst listening to the stories others tell. This is very different to being “in there”—seeing how things work behind the scenes.

The same is true, of course, of every other ashram, under every other spiritual leader under the sun:

Even journalists who would come to write exposés on the doings at [Rajneesh’s ashram near] Antelope would come out feeling, The place is really a nice place, those people are really fine people (Strelley, 1987).
[A]t the center of Moonism is the requirement of secrecy ... we had heard only a carefully devised elementary lecture [when first visiting our daughter in Moon’s community] (Underwood and Underwood, 1979).
[W]hen government visitors, doctors, even our attorney ... came to Jonestown we put on a tremendous show for them. The guests were wined and dined with foods we never got to eat. In fact, when they looked into our faces we really were happy because on these special occasions we, too, got better food and we worked only half a day (Layton, 1998).
The tours were entirely staged, with church members rehearsed in their roles, outfitted in borrowed clothes to look the part, and coached ahead of time on what to say.... If a visit went off successfully and the outsider went away impressed, Jones would switch to a new role. He would stand before the congregation and mock the visitor, imitating his or her voice, repeating questions asked and laughing at how the women visitors had brushed against him suggestively (Singer, 2003).

Well-meaning individuals thus duped even prior to Jones’ flight to Guyana included Jerry Brown, activist Angela Davis, future San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and President Carter’s wife, Rosalyn. On the basis of similar “dog and pony” shows, Oregon journalist Kirk Braun (1984) wrote “a highly favorable book on ranch life” in Rajneeshpuram (Gordon, 1987). And astonishingly, one of the daughters of Congressman Leo Ryan—whose cold-blooded murder by Jones’ men in Guyana precipitated the infamous cyanide poisonings—later became an ardent follower of Rajneesh, living in the Oregon ashram.

Contrast all that we have seen so far, then, with Wilber’s (1983b; italics added) ridiculous presentation of his own limited, short-term experiences:

I have been a participant-observer in almost a dozen nonproblematic new religious movements, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist. In none of those groups was I ever subjected to any harsh degree of authoritarian pressure (discipline, yes, pressure, no). In fact, the authoritarian pressure in these groups never even equalled that which I experienced in graduate school in biochemistry. The masters in these groups were looked upon as great teachers, not big daddies, and their authority was always that of a concerned physician, not totem boss.

“Concerned physicians,” though, do not typically tell you that, if you leave their care to see a different doctor, you will “suffer unbearable, subtle, continuous anguish, and disasters will pursue you like furies” (cf. Trungpa), etc. As the Mill Valley Record (Colin, et al., 1985) further reported:

One woman says that repeated group lesbian sexual acts, involving dildos, took place under [Adi Da’s] command as late as 1982. Another woman says she has sustained permanent cervical damage as a result of participation in similar incidents.

“Concerned physicians.” And note again how, incredibly, Wilber’s indefensible assertion that “‘crazy wisdom’ occurs in a very strict ethical atmosphere” was made in 1996, a full decade after news of Da’s “problematic” (Wilber’s word) alleged activities had become public. It also came well after Osel Tendzin’s (Trungpa’s successor) transmission of AIDS to his followers, knowing full well that he was infected with HIV but refraining from informing his sexual partners of that.

One may embark on any series of short-term “intensive retreats,” experiencing grand spiritual realizations during those periods. That, however, again does not even begin to count, as far as perceiving the real pressures put on long-term, non-celebrity members of spiritual communities. To put it more flippantly: You may spend a couple of weeks in India, but that doesn’t make you an East Indian. For, in Jung’s terms, all the time you were there, you were “breathing bottled air,” or seeing everything from within a pre-existing Western, rational perspective. Such a “vacation” cannot in any way be compared to growing up within the environment, or even to spending years or decades in it.

If all of that leaves one wondering what specific relationship Wilber has to Adi Da and his community:

Wilber told me he was a “Friend” of the [Adi Da] group—a non-committed involvement (Lane, 1996).
[T]o be a “Friend” of the Johannine Daist Communion one should contribute $70 or more and subscribe to The Laughing Man Magazine (Lane, 1996a).

It is, indeed, only from such a safe distance that one could make completely unrealistic, purely theoretical assertions such as the following:

[T]he true sangha always retains access to, and retains an appropriate place for, rational inquiry, logical reflection, systematic study of other philosophical frameworks, and critical appraisal of its own teachings in light of related areas (Wilber, 1983b).

Note, however, that Adi Da’s, Trungpa’s and Cohen’s communities were/are all undoubtedly “true sanghas,” by any reasonable definition, and certainly would have been such in Wilber’s view. Yet, all indications are that in no way could the teachings be “critically appraised” in any of those environments without severe reported negative consequences:

Overtly displayed skepticism [cf. “critical appraisal” or non-conformity] might be a barrier to entering the Vajrayana [in Trungpa’s sangha]. One Seminarian drank a toast to Vajra hell at a party, was reported to the staff, and found himself questioned very closely before they would allow him to proceed.... I told my interviewer that if I had cause to leave the organization I would do so, and I did not believe the furies of Vajra hell would offer me anything to compare with the pain of divorce. This display of independence made me a doubtful candidate, and I had to pass a second interview (Butterfield, 1994).
If you resisted Free John, it meant you were failing to live up to his teaching (Jaclyn Estes, in [Neary, 1985]).

Estes was formerly one of Da’s “inner circle of wives,” living in his community from 1974 to 1976.

Can there even be such a thing as a “true sangha” which allows “critical appraisal of its own teachings,” as Wilber describes? The odds are definitely against it. For, consider the idea that all spiritual communities, indeed all religious beliefs, are pre-rational, by any sensible, reality-tested use of that term. That is, metaphysical and parapsychological claims consistently do not stand up to any sort of thorough questioning: proper skepticism simply causes the most cherished ideas to disintegrate. So, the only way to preserve the latter ideas is to disallow the former questioning; which is, in practice, exactly what invariably happens in spiritual communities, including Wilber’s own.

In any case, the committed, long-term residential relationship—evidently missing from Wilber’s experience—under a guru-figure such as Da or Cohen is exactly where the real problems with “Rude Boy” behavior, and the associated isolation and authoritarian control, would start to show. Such a lack of long-term residence further avoids daily discipline to exactly the same extent as would one’s following of an “Ascended Master,” no longer present on the earthly plane, as is common in New Age circles. The positive aspect of each of those, however, is that you are then just bowing before an imaginary guru. Far worse to surrender your better judgment to someone of flesh and blood who has a great deal to gain from your unthinking obedience.

After being burned once with Da, however, Wilber has inexcusably gone back for more with Andrew Cohen. That is, he has gone back there via safely endorsing Cohen from a distance, as he did with Adi Da, without actually living under their respective disciplines. (Cohen proudly put his own grandiosity into print—offering glaring warning signs, for anyone who wished to see them—as early as 1992. Has Wilber still not read those early books, even while endorsing the more recent ones? Or, if he has read them, how could he imagine that Cohen’s near-messianic view of himself would not find its way into his reported treatment of his disciples?)

To make that same gross mistake twice is, quite frankly, an indication that the same celebrated “rude” behavior is latently present within one’s own psychology, and is simply looking for a vicarious outlet.

In any case, none of that lamentable behavior on Wilber’s part could do anything to lower the regard given him by his friends and followers, or even touted by himself for himself:

On a practical level, Wilber’s greatest contribution may be as a critic of teachers, gurus, techniques, ideas, and systems that promise routes to encompassing truth but are in fact incomplete, misleading, or misguided. “I’m the guy,” Wilber told me only half-jokingly, “who comes in after the party and tries to straighten up the mess” (Schwartz, 1996).

In any such self-appointed cleaning, however, one must take care that one does not accidentally knock over the half-empty bottles from the night before, or carelessly dump the ashtrays onto the floor, lest one create an even greater mess than one began with.

In the end, then, David Lane (1996) put it very well:

When it comes to guru appraisements, Wilber is just plain naïve. He is as gullible as the rest of us and given his track record with Da perhaps more so.
What is perhaps so worrisome about all of this, of course, is that Wilber does not show the kind of level-headed discrimination that is necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff. It would be one thing to admit to a bit of “greenness” (e.g., “Hey, I am a sucker when it comes to perfect masters”), but it is quite another to pose like you are a seasoned veteran of the guru wars.

KW is indeed no “veteran of the gurus wars.” He is rather an inexcusable apologist for the reported actions of the likes of Da and Cohen. He has even been visited personally by cult-aware persons such as the renowned cult-exit counselor Steven Hassan, to no avail. You take seriously his foolish ideas on the value of “spiritual violence”—and his own proud practice of the techniques of manipulation he has learned from his “enlightened” heroes—only at your own peril.

And then there is the false humility:

Ken jokes that “being called the foremost theorist in transpersonal psychology is like being called the tallest building in Kansas City” (in Wilber, 1991).

The above could be simply an unconvincing attempt at self-deprecation, or a posing at humility, meant to endear himself to an attractive woman. (The one to whom it was told actually ended up becoming Wilber’s second wife.) Or, it could be a not-too-veiled shot at the unimpressive work of his “shorter building” peers in transpersonal/integral psychology and, more recently, the broader field of consciousness studies. Probably some of both. Regardless, Wilber need not have published the above observation, taken from his now-late wife’s diaries, if he was uncomfortable with how it could be understood by others. And both of the above interpretations of subtext are completely predictable and reasonable, for anyone who wishes to look.

Horgan (2003a) then offers an observation regarding Wilber’s overall attempts at being liked, with which one cannot easily argue:

His self-deprecating asides [in One Taste, e.g., regarding his “world-famous” chili, “of which nobody took seconds”] seemed aimed only at making us admire his modesty.

Indeed, Wilber (1991) has given analyses of himself which could well be taken as substantiating Horgan’s conclusions:

I think everybody should love me, and when someone doesn’t, I get nervous. So, as a child, I overcompensated like crazy. Class president, valedictorian, even captain of the football team. A frantic dance for acceptance, an attempt to have everybody love me.

If you wonder at where kw’s subsequently paranoid, “if anybody loves me, they are sick” emphasis comes from, or how deeply rooted that is, you need puzzle no longer: it is just the flip-side of the same pattern, and thus entirely predictable.

More recently, and with far less of an attempt at false humility than in his “tallest building in Kansas City” days, Wilber (2003a) has stated his own attitude toward at least one of his critics, as follows:

I’m sure if [Hans-Willi] Weis would read my work in this area [of authoritarian control and the like in New Age movements, on which points Wilber is consistently and wildly wrong, as in his dangerously foolish Spiritual Choices book] that he could find something to hate about it, too, and we are all eagerly looking forward to his next round of criticism, although I’m sure that I will be forgiven if I don’t respond, since I might have more important things to do, like feed my goldfish.

One might take that condescending attempt at humor as an implicit admission by Wilber that, in other cases too, when he has disagreed with but not responded to other authors’ ideas, it was simply because he had “more important things to do.” That is, they did not merit a response from him.

How, then, would such a person be likely to react if he were to suddenly find himself on the receiving end of the same behavior, in apparently being ignored until he went away? Would he perhaps unconsciously take that behavior as being driven by the same motivations as he himself has openly admitted to possessing? That is, would he take it as his colleagues evidently feeling that they had more important things to do than to waste time explaining things to him?

Would he then perhaps feel sufficiently insulted by that as to periodically lash out at the people who have not given him his due, in the form of a response—any response? (Without receiving an answer, after all, one feels as though one does not exist in the other person’s world. As Jean-Paul Sartre put it, “I am seen: therefore I am.”)

Would such a long-term lack of response further perhaps even leave him feeling confident that he could lash out in unprovoked nastiness, without having to worry about the targets of his insults hitting back? (As Matsakis [1996] observed in a different context, in discussing “express[ing] your anger in a letter,” never to be mailed: you “can be as nasty as you want without worrying about it backfiring on you.”)

Would that not account for his continuing, and wholly unprovoked, mistreatment of the late David Bohm, as detailed in this book’s appendix?

Interestingly, by Wilber’s own (1991) admission:

[W]hen fear overcomes me, my ordinary lightness of outlook ... degenerates into sarcasm and snideness, a biting bitterness toward those around me—not because I am snide by nature, but because I am afraid.

Bohm’s Nobel-caliber ideas would not have been felt by Wilber to fearfully threaten his own place in the world, had he properly understood them—except in that anyone doing superior work to his own, as Bohm was performing even while Wilber himself was literally still in kindergarten, could have displaced him from his high position as the “Einstein of consciousness research.” Having thus grossly misunderstood even the popularized versions of that brilliance, though, the fearful Wilber has, predictably, treated Bohm (and his memory) with nothing but unkindness.

Do you imagine, then, that he would behave any more nobly toward his contemporary peers—or friends, or lovers—were they to equally threaten his high place in the integral world by doing far superior work to his own? Or, were they even just to fail to give him unconditional support, thus putting themselves at risk of being disowned from his integral world.

Or would he more likely misrepresent their work as unapologetically and insultingly as he has done of Bohm’s, thereby “nudging them out of the picture”? And what friends might then stand by his side to claim, even years after the fact, that he had committed no such misrepresentation, even when the incontrovertible facts say exactly the opposite?

(Of course, we already saw confirmation of all that in the behaviors of Wilber and his followers during his “Wyatt Earpy” period.)

Whether one is “captain of the football team” or the “Einstein of consciousness research,” the potential loss of that valued status would bring great fear to the surface. That is so, just as surely as the original gaining of the position, in high school as in middle or old age, would be done with at least the subconscious goal of having “everybody love you.”


Prev     Next Table of Contents

Download "Norman Einstein" PDF

Copyright © December, 2014 by Geoffrey D. Falk
All rights reserved.