Norman Allan
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Wilber's World: the Cosmic Circle

Caution: my son, Seth, says this piece is awefully "wordy", and that I should rewrite it as a children's story. My teacher (of meditation) says it is not his "cup of tea". I, however, found these concepts clarifying: but they are complex and, so far, I can only handle them in the following wordy fashion.


Things differ in their complexity. There are different levels of organisation in phenomena and these amount to different orders, realms or dimensions of being. So there is the insentient realm of matter and energy and from this, though the phenomenon of "emergence", living systems have evolved. In his book "Eye for Eye", Ken Wilber points out that there is a hierarchy of organisation in the universe and the relationships in this hierarchy are asymmetrical. The things and properties that pertain to the physical domain subsume the domain of living organisms, but those things that characterise living creatures are not necessarily properties of their material substrate. Rocks don't walk. And then, from living organisms the "mental" sphere and the "rational" seem to emerge, and from the mental the "subtle" emerges, from the subtle the "causal", from the causal the "Absolute". At least, according to Wilber, this would seem to be the gist of evolution.

Wilber writes, "Four levels of being are the absolute minimum you can use to explain the world's great mystical religions. Those are physical-body, symbol-mind, subtle-soul, and causal-spirit." Some philosophers describe seven levels as, for instance, those symbolised by the chakras. Others have reduced existence to the three broad categories of body, mind and spirit. "Each higher level cannot be fully explained in terms of a lower level. Each higher level has capacities and characteristic not found in lower levels. This fact appears in evolution as the phenomena of creative emergence." Failing to recognise that the higher cannot be explained simply by the lower has led reductionist science into serious "category errors" (see the footnote below). Biology cannot be explained only in terms of physics. Psychology cannot be explained only in terms of biology. Each "higher" stage includes the lower as components but also transcends them by adding its own defining attributes. All the lower is in the higher, but not all the higher is in the lower. A three-dimensional cube contains two-dimensional squares, but not vice versa. And it is that "not vise versa" that creates hierarchy. Plants include minerals but not vice versa; the human neocortex has reptilian features, but not vise versa. Each stage of evolution transcends, but includes, its predecessor.


Posit: in the beginning there was only "Consciousness as Such", timeless, spaceless, infinite, and eternal. For no reason that can be stated in words, a subtle ripple manifest in this infinite ocean. This subtle change, awakening to itself, forgot the infinite sea of which it is a gesture. The ripple therefore felt set apart from infinity, isolated, separate.

This ripple, very rarefied, is the "causal" dimension, the beginning, the beginning of selfhood, the first wave of being. (Perhaps causal is "intention".) At this point, however, it is very subtle indeed, still close to the infinite. But, being separated from the One, it does not feel complete, it is not fully satisfied, not absolutely at peace. In order to return to utter bliss the ripple would need to return to the ocean, to dissolve back into radiant infinity, to forget itself, "to remember the Absolute". But to do this, the ripple would have to cease, it would have to "die". It would have to accept the end of its separate self-sense. This end is terrifying (at least, if we are, indeed, made in the psychic image of God and can generalise in an anthropomorphic manner without falling into "category error", then perhaps the "causal", too, as we do, dreads the prospect of "death").

Since all the "causal" ripple wants is to be with the infinite, but since it fears the end this would entail, it is in conflict and it tries to effect an "irrational" resolution. It sets out seeking a way back to infinity in a contrary manner. Since the ripple wants release and is, at the same time, afraid of it, it seeks compromise through a convoluted strategy: that is involution and evolution. Instead of surrendering to the Godhead, the ripple itself behaves as a god, cosmocentric, heroic, all-sufficient, immortal. This is not only the beginning of narcissism and the battle of life against death, it is a reduced or restricted version of consciousness, because no longer is the ripple one with the ocean. It is trying itself to be the ocean or, failing that, to return, like a spawning salmon, circuitously to the sea.

Driven by this desire to fulfill itself, this attempt to reach infinity, circuitously, the ripple creates ever tighter and ever more restricted modes of consciousness. Finding the "causal" less than perfect, it reduces consciousness to create the "subtle". Finding the "subtle" less than ideal, it reduces consciousness once again to create the "mental". Frustrated here it reduces to the simply living stuff, the "pranic", and then to the material plane, where finally, exhausting its attempt to be All, it falls into insentient slumber.

(There is of course a more positive way to see the motivation for creation. Was it Arabi who quoted God as saying, "I was a mystery, and I wish to be known." The creation is creation. The wish of the Beloved is to manifest. To manifest is to metamorphose into the myriad. What else could it be?)

Yet, says Wilber, behind this project (this devolution or involution, which appears, from the ground up, as an evolution, this project Wibler calls the Atman-project), the drama of the ego, of the I, of the self's desire and mortality is all just "the play of the Divine" all along. A cosmic sport, a gesture of Self-forgetting so that the shock of Self-realization will be the more delightful. The ripple did forget the Self, to be sure - but the ripple is a ripple of the Self, and remains so throughout the play.

Thus, this movement from the higher into the lower, this involution, is on the one hand, an act of pure creation, an effulgent radiance (on the part of Atman/Self) and, on the other hand, a tragic tale of suffering and epic unhappiness (on the part of the self-ripple attempting the Atman-project - the self's attempt to be Self, the parts attempt to be All). The ultimate aim of evolution - the movement from the lower to the higher - is to re-awaken as Self, as divine, and thus retain the glory of the creation without being forced to act in the drama of self suffering.


These are mostly Ken Wilber's words from "Eye to Eye", but I have edited them freely in an attempt to understand them.


footnote: an example of category error is what Wilber calls the "pre/trans fallacy". "... because the prerational and the transrational realms are, in their own ways, nonrational, they appear similar or even identical to the untutored eye. This confusion generally leads to one of two opposite mistakes: either the transrational is reduced to the prerational (e.g., Freud), or the prerational is elevated to the transrational (e.g., Jung)." Likewise errors arise from confusion of the "prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal, or subconscious, self-conscious, and superconscious". The pre-egoic, the "primary matrix", is not to be confused with the transpersonal "Self".


Bill says, "I'm a fairly simple, down to earth guy and I find reading this "stuff" almost painful in it's abstractions and intellectualized verbosity.

That's one thing I like about the Natives: they use few words, grunt and haw occasionally, suffer well and "see" and "feel" the trees and the birds easily."