Friday, September 06, 2013

Why the "Emerging" Buddhism of the 21st Century is not "Integral"

I had a good discussion on this thread with Al about to what extent the "Integral" influence in Buddhist Geeks has inhibited their ability to represent Buddhism.

That thread notwithstanding,  I think it's a bit useful to explore the question a bit further.  My theses are pretty simple, firstly:

  • "Integral" purports to contain everything.
  • "Integral" does not contain criticism, deconstruction, annihilation, or other information that would negate or render meaningless the "validity" or, "cash value" (using William James' phrase) of it.
  • Such antitheses of "Integral" have truth value.
  • Therefore "Integral's" assertion of containing everything, or everything good, or useful is false.

And secondly:

  • People who think they have a "belief" system or "philosophy" that is "supreme" somehow, tend to have blind spots that can be difficult for such people to recognize.  This is because they don't need to look at their blind spots, because doing so might call into question their "supreme" outlook.

The latter point is why I prefer Zen actually: I know I don't have it all, I know I have blind spots.   It's also why I think Buddhist Geeks is provincial in its approach to Buddhism.

Now I'd like to illustrate the above points from the Integral folks themselves.  First, consider this "What is the Integral Movement?" page:

Something amazing is happening right now.

All around the world, a new culture is beginning to emerge.

It's a culture of people like you—people who are bringing more beauty into the world, more love to our human family, and more wholeness to lives. People who understand that we are all still evolving, and that growth and self-discovery is a life-long journey.

It's a culture of people who are creating an entirely new vision of who we are and where we are going—a positive, inspiring, radically hopeful vision of the future.

Notice the appeal: people like you are bringing more beauty to the world, more love, - and we're evolving! Aren't you the clever one for having stumbled into this place!

Integral Life is ground zero for this emerging culture.
At Integral Life you will discover everything you need to unlock your own deepest potentials, and will gain access to the most powerful tools, practices, and perspectives on the planet—all designed to help you to upgrade your own health, happiness, and work in the world.

You'll have everything you need, which, in my case, at that the moment might include some works on stochastic processes, measure theory, and information geometry.  Seriously? Seriously? They're saying you can get happiness from some website/social network, etc.! What's wrong with this picture? Do I have to spell it out for you?

Integral Life is home to the most provocative and insightful conversations on the planet. Here we feature some the world's most prominent teachers, leaders, artists, and visionaries—all of whom are part of the emerging Integral Renaissance that is already sweeping across the globe, and transforming every known field of human activity. From art to sexuality, to psychology and spirituality, to politics, business, and leadership, to education, medicine, and personal development, to literally every other corner of the human experience—there is an integral revolution occurring in every single dimension of our lives. And it's growing fast. We know that problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. As our problems become ever more complex, more interconnected, and more global, it becomes increasingly clear that we need to find a whole new level of thinking and problem solving in order to meet the great challenges of our time. This is the next level. The next major stage of human evolution

You, too, can be part of the "in" crowd if you join this messianic next "major stage of human evolution."

And you don't need anything else, because they have the most provocative and insightful conversations (and hence narratives) on the planet!

Except, of course, those provocative and insightful conversations won't include any honest discussion of the truth value of the above, which is a somewhat less fact-laden assertion than "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong."

What else could people who buy into this stuff be  missing?  Well, a bit of an answer is coming...

Next, I'd like to consider Zen Buddhism and "Integral," simply because Genpo Merzel and Diane Hamilton have conflated the two at times.  To do that I'll quote (somewhat at length so I can't be accused of quoting out of context) from her "Integral Zen" interview she did with Vincent Horn a while back (Note to Vince: it'd be good to explicitly date this stuff, but I guess you did that implicitly via the URL.)  I'll skip the bit about a "trans-lineage practice community" because it's too easy to go there and I don't have enough time; regardless, here's a more telling tidbit:

Vince: Interesting. And have you found that there’re any shadow sides or weaknesses with the transmutation path?
Diane: Yeah. I mean, there are a lot of teachers who come to mind who’ve been criticized for bringing everything to the path including alcoholism, womanizing, not being straight with finances. All of it. In other words, it’s harder, much harder to stay as clear from an ethical perspective when everything is included. It can start to feel as though whatever arises is perfect as it is, when in fact, there are moments when some things should simply be said no to. And so I think that’s the shadow. Either way, even when we talk about renunciation, either way you can start to see that no matter what the type of path we choose, we have to work with something about the underbelly of that path. Which is, by its nature, a transmutation issue. If that makes sense...
Vince:...And I know that the approach of Zen that you’re teaching now, you’re calling it integral Zen?
Diane: Mm-hmm.
Vince: Its concern is with exactly that, what you’re talking about. How to navigate all the complexities of the world and figure out a way to approach spirituality that’s sort of taking into account these things.
Diane: Well, I think that’s what it’s ripening toward. I would say that the original inspiration, because why would you add the word “integral” to Zen, that doesn’t make any sense from a Zen perspective. I mean, nothing can be added, nothing can really be taken away. And particularly, why would you add a conceptual map to Zen? Because Zen is the most radically non-conceptual system and it’s really quite provocative and beautiful in that regard, in how rigorous and relentless it is. And teaching Zen can be a great challenge, just precisely because to use language to teach Zen. Which is why the stories of the famous masters, they do all of these kind of unorthodox behaviors like putting shoes on their heads and walking out of the room because the cutting away of conceptual barriers and the thought that creates a duality between us and reality as it is. That’s its brilliance. So the idea of even adding the word “integral” to Zen is just, from one point of view, sort of stupid. [Laughs]
Vince: But you did it?
Diane: I did… well yeah, because I’m just naturally dumb [Laughs] and I’m a terrible Zen teacher. But the reason I did it really was because there was just a lot of energy within the integral community of spiritual seekers to practice in. So really…I remember saying to my teacher, Genpo Roshi, “What’s Integral Zen?” and he said, “My life.” Because all of our lives in this global time, in this very massively multicultural milieu that we live in, we’re all integral; we’re all borrowing from traditions and participating in different aspects of practice, we’re all informed by science, we’ve all been affected by postmodern critique, we look at culture, feminism matters to us, we care about the environment, we’re all integral. Really.
So for me the inspiration was really to practice Zen in a context, or in a sangha if you will, a community of people who were informed integrally. In a way the inspiration really came from just wanting simply to give the people in the integral world a place to practice where they could relate to each other. And then what’s coming out of that is just some of these deeper questions that integral brings to spiritual practice, like, really, what does modernism and science have to say about spiritual practice?
I remember Ken at one point, Ken Wilber, asking the question: if you found out, for instance, that three hours a day of zazen was really the absolute maximum to deepen realization and that any sitting after that each day was actually… didn’t ripen into anything. Even as I speak that’s not a very good way to frame it from a Zen point of view, but, let’s imagine that there was an efficacy to the number of hours. Would you practice five if you knew that three was, you know, the right amount? So he’s, he’s bringing this question, you know, what does science, research, what does that all have to do with spiritual practice? I mean the research that’s been done on prayer, that prayer actually does seem to have impact, does that matter? And then also the postmodern considerations are brought to the question as well.
So one of the things that we talked about which is a good postmodern question is what’s the difference between the role of teacher and the role of an administrator of an organization? Lots of times within the Buddhist world the head teacher and the head administrator are the same. They may be a rockingly good teacher and a very sad leader. And maybe not actually that good at running an organization, now some of them are and are very talented at that, but not everybody is, and yet we don’t often make those distinctions. So integral would invite us to go ahead and make those distinctions, and work with that and see what comes of that. So, it’s an experiment, but, all of spiritual practice is an experiment in a way.
Vince: And I notice in your teachings, like, there was much more of a sense of a collective exploration that I’d never really experienced on retreats before, and I found that to be interesting, and it seemed related to dharma teaching because you were obviously doing teaching but then there was a sort of interpersonal, I felt like shadow work, going on as well, and at one point I actually had this feeling of like we’re just sitting around talking about being human together, and I know that a big part of that was probably the way that you were framing everything, but it just felt like we were kind of helping wake each other up, and that seemed like a unique thing in some way to me given what I’ve seen in the spiritual scene. Could you say something about that?
[Diane:] Yeah, I would say that I have a tremendous amount of respect for the lineage master and the role of the master in, particularly in Zen practice. The relationship of the master. And at the same time, in our time I also have a tremendous amount of faith in the fellow practitioners. And conventionally it’s said that the sangha or the group of practitioners are actually like stones that rub up against each other and actually help to round each other out. I feel that the recognition of our true nature, it’s our birth right, it’s a attendant to who we are, and having a really skillful person who can help you realize or see who you really are, but that actually can be in the form of somebody who is sitting next to you, it doesn’t always have to be in a vertical transmission, although we need that, but the sangha matters as well. And maybe because I’m a woman, or maybe because I grew up in a large family, or maybe because I’m a Mormon, this again would be an integral question. What influence is it that I put as much emphasis as I do on the sangha? But my guess is if you were to.. I’m imagining there’s just more of that emphasis across Buddha dharma in America than certainly we might have experienced in the past just because of the time that we’re in. And I think spiritual practice is really about becoming a full human being, as opposed to whatever we might think enlightenment means, or whatever it means to be divinely inspired, but actually to integrate that, into the absolute challenge of the flesh and boniness of our experience, if you will.

Because "we're all" borrowing from traditions and "integral, integral, integral" we need an "Integral" zen? Because Ken Wilber asked a question about quantifying a realization?  Because Ken Wilber asked a question that completely misses the point of practice? (And, no, the point of practice is not exactly verbatim what Suzuki wrote in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" either, but Suzuki accurately captured the mindset required, but that's a whole other post.)

Because we're not full human beings if we're not integral, integral integral?

Diane Hamilton, I guess, recognizes that "no matter what the type of path we choose, we have to work with something about the underbelly of that path."  And it's "sort of stupid" to add "integral" to Zen...but...a) I guess she doesn't quite recognize the "Integral" underbelly, and b) the very act of "Integralizing" Zen marginalizes Zen to some degree, and given the messianic pretensions of the "Integral" movement as illustrated above is going to have some distortion of the transmission of Zen (and mutatis mutandis for other traditions).

Now if one calls me a "fundamentalist" for this critique, so be it.  But I'd prefer the term "old school" myself. Lin-Ji or Hakuin would never countenance this stuff, and for good reason. 

I am really grateful to Vince for all his work here, and I mean that sincerely.  I mean that sincerely because I think he did bring an accurate picture of what these "Integral" folks are to light, and what their take on Buddhism is.   It's not particularly useful to practice though for many, and certainly does not reflect the world in which most Buddhists dwell, and is hardly a complete representation of how Buddhism will exist in the foreseeable future.

You could make the same arguments above from Nagarjuna, of course.  

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