The religions of the world aren’t pieces of a puzzle (with convenient edges and borders) or paths up a mountain to Universal Oneness – they are made of many threads and processes (rooted in language, culture, mythology, consciousness, and more) that create an integral and ever-evolving tapestry.
“A Brilliant Matrix: How Religion is Evolving” (presented by Oracle Institute) is an exploration of the stages of consciousness (how we grow up) and states of awareness (how we wake up) and a study of how religion is evolving in our time. Based on the work of philosopher Ken Wilber and using Don Beck’s developmental model of Spiral Dynamics, we will discuss the “Spectrum of Consciousness” present in the world’s faith traditions and consider the truth found in all worldviews.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions was held on October 15-19, 2015 in Salt Lake City, UT. Roughly 10,000 people attended this year’s event, representing hundreds of nations and over 50 faith traditions. Attendees included academics engaged in roundtable talks of peace, disarmament, conflict resolution and climate change; leaders of various faith communities (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, pagan, indigenous, interspiritual and more) committed to spreading peace and compassion in the world; as well as spiritual seekers and activists dedicated to healing their own communities from within and using interfaith dialogue to bridge some of those divides.
Several impromptu groups and coalitions were formed during and after many of the lively discussions and plenaries in order to leverage the momentum created at this historic event. The halls of the Salt Palace Convention Center stayed active and alive all weekend long with talks of peace, interfaith harmony and global awakening.
The theme of this year’s Parliament was “recovering the heart of humanity.” With the overwhelming (and refreshing) presence of the Inaugural Women’s Assembly, the focus on indigenous peoples, and the continued conversation around climate change, much of the event was spent turning social issues and recently-identified problems into concrete actions or takeaways.
The Assembly kicked off the Parliament on Thursday with a rousing closing speech from author and recent congressional candidate, Marianne Williamson. Williamson addressed the majority of female leaders in the crowd (a notable shift from the last Parliament, held in 2009) by saying, “We are the mothers of the world. Those who are inspired by the religions of the world should not ignore the problems of the world. We know how to hold the suffering in the world. We know how to give birth to the radical joy in the world.” And referring to increased violence and corruption across the globe, she got the crowd on their feet when she implored, “We who are the mothers of the world — it’s up to us to say, ‘this will not be happening in my house.'”
The Red Tent Movement (based on the popular book by Anita Diamant), was the sponsor of the Women’s Sacred Space. Men were welcome to enter the gauzy, red room (a meeting room modified to resemble the inside of a darkened, Persian tent and lovingly referred to as the “womb of the Parliament”), but when the doors would occasionally burst open releasing huge crowds back into the flow of the bustling hallways, most everyone I saw was female — and they were beaming. It was like a charging station for the female soul.
The Red Tent. Photo by Giuliana Serena.
Stories circulated about The Indigenous Grandmothers — a group of female elders from the various tribes present at the Parliament. If you were lucky enough to fall in with this group, you were treated to prayers, songs and dances from various faith traditions; entrusted into a circle of maternal power forged by language and culture; and part of a historic, once-in-a-lifetime gathering. As these languages and cultural practices shrink from the earth (some are simply gone forever), the Grandmothers seemed to plant what remaining seeds they had.
A traditional Langar (community meal that is shared regardless of faith or caste) was served every day to conference attendees by the Sikh community who donated all the food and volunteered their time each day to prepare, serve and clean up. The menu was a rotating blur of rice, lentils, curry, naan, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, coffee and chai tea. People lined up each day at noon (hair covered and shoes removed) to be seated on the floor in long rows and share a meal with strangers and newfound friends. Each day the line was longer, as word spread of the fragrant Basmati rice and spicy lentils. Truly one of the best meals I’ve had. After the event, nearly 1,000 lbs. of leftover food was donated to a local Catholic charity that served the homeless.
Serving of the Langar. Photo by Carl Jylland-Halverson.
Alas, not everything at the Parliament came up roses and rainbows. On Friday, the Council on Foreign Relations sponsored a luncheon at the Marriott which featured Farah Pandith and Graeme Wood (the journalist who wrote the recently-gone-viral article for The Atlantic, “What ISIS Really Wants”). The session was moderated by Lee Cullum. By the time the Q&A began, the attendees (who had already been fed) were restless. Some in the crowd weren’t satisfied with the positions taken by Pandith and Wood and became combative. Cullum pulled the plug on the session, ending it early.
Former Catholic priest and iconoclastic author, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, was on hand Friday to lead 300 or so lucky people in a Cosmic Mass. And those who had managed to squeeze into Ballroom H were treated to a transformative experience.
The Cosmic Mass is typically held in Oakland, CA and resembles a Catholic mass but with a 21st century twist. It includes electronic music, video projection, and ecstatic dance as well as prayer, communion, and a grieving ritual which asks attendees to get on all fours and moan until they are emptied of their suffering.
I had run into Fox’s assistant and director of The Cosmic Mass, Skylar Wilson, on Friday morning. I had offered my services, and was promptly given the job of puppeteering the Green Man during the Cosmic Mass event. The Green Man was a huge disembodied papier-mâché head on a pole, draped in green gauze and flanked by two large hands, also on poles. The figure required three people to operate. The Green Man was accompanied by a second puppet — the female figure, Gaia (Mother Earth). These two gigantic puppets (created by Mary Plaster) in their full splendor on the dance floor, represented the union of the sacred masculine and the divine feminine.
Fox began the ceremony by providing a brief introduction to his Creation Spirituality movement. This teaching includes a belief in a spiritual connection to the earth, a replacement of the concept of “original sin” with “original blessing” and the four paths of the via positiva, via negativa, via creativa and via transformativa, which align with the cardinal directions of north, south, west and east.
There was an invocation, a calling-in of the directions, music and drumming (including a standout vocal performance by Michelle Jordan), the grieving ritual, a reading of Neil Douglas-Klotz’s Prayer of the Cosmos, and the “passing of the peace” (in which attendees wandered the room, touched hands, and greeted each other with “namaste”).
Then it was time for the dance. The Green Man and Gaia, powered by their six volunteers, took to the dance floor and swayed and pumped to the pulsating electronic rhythm until the event was over.
Matthew Fox leading The Cosmic Mass.
As a leader of spiritual community, The Cosmic Mass was a revelation. It was a religious experience like none other — connecting everyone in attendance directly to each other and to the Source of all. It held the elements of masculine and feminine power in exquisite balance and oriented us to the cycles of the season (not only in the world, but in our own hearts). It was joyous, heart-breaking, contemplative and awe-inspiring. It also is ceremony and ritual that proudly wears the clothing of 2015 (video, technology, social media). For those who are seeking a post-modern worship experience, one that as Fox likes to say is rooted not is “text” but in “context,” then the Cosmic Mass is that experience. It will keep me fed for the upcoming year (or until I can experience it again).
That evening, I had the honor of being invited to dinner with the association of Creation Spirituality Communities and learned more about how Fox’s teachings were being implemented in churches and religious communities in Pittsburgh, Asheville, Austin, Toronto and beyond.Continue reading
“When freed from that which binds,
when the lust for life has come to
an end, one is not born again. He
is released now and forever.”
– The Buddha, Dhammapada
Note: Some define “spiritual independents” as those who are unchurched or have left a mainline religious affiliation — like a third-way political party. For our purposes, “spiritual independence” means anyone who insists on critical thinking in religious matters.
On July 15, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the graduating students of Harvard Divinity School. As the ministers-to-be listened eagerly with freshly-opened minds, he told them, “Let me admonish you first of all to go alone, to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil.”
He spoke of an “indwelling Supreme Spirit,” and of a vision, described by Philip Goldberg of the Huffington Post as “similar to that of the Eastern sages, where we are neither fallen nor depraved, and where divinity incarnates at every instant, not just once in the distant past.”
“God is, not was,” Emerson told the students, and each of us is “an infinite Soul” who is “drinking forever the soul of God.”
The graduates (and religion itself) were forever changed — their minds and hearts opened to a direct relationship with the Divine. The parents and faculty were angry and upset, and Emerson was banned from Harvard for over two decades.
If we are to claim spiritual independence for ourselves, then we need to cultivate a similar relationship with our Source. John Dominic Crossan writes about this kind of life in The Essential Jesus, saying it is the life that Jesus died for — a life “of human contact without discrimination and of divine contact without hierarchy.”
If we are to be truly free, we need to equip ourselves with the appropriate support on all levels and lines, and surround ourselves with the right types. We will need access to sound spiritual teachings, a free-standing system outside the mainline institutions, the right spiritual tools necessary to do the actual work, and the benefits of a rich community of practice.
We’ll need teachings that help us to seek inspiration and guidance, and live with heart, for the road will be rough. They will need to be teachings that consider the health of the whole person (body, mind and spirit); that encourage not just temporary epiphanies and insights, but continual freedom (or moksha), spiritual liberation and unfolding, allowing us to “transcend and include” what has come before. They will need to be teachings that remind us to look within for the answer. Teachings that promote right behavior, right action and right speech; that allow for and encourage highly-developed lines of ethics and morality. We also need new stories, updated myths and well-drawn maps of the spiritual territory. Continue reading
The “Faith of the Seven” in the capital of Westeros (Game of Thrones).
Game of Thrones is a sprawling violent, bloody snapshot of a medieval fantasy world where different kingdoms and bloodlines struggle for control of the much-coveted “Iron Throne” — a seat in the capitol that rules all Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
It’s also a detailed glimpse into a fictional world in spiritual transition — from ancestral nature religions to a mythical/numerological polytheism to an emerging (and much-contested) monotheism. If you watch Game of Thrones, you’ll notice that there is a lot of time spent explaining the religious motivations of the characters. It’s as if religion itself is a character in the story. The characters may offer “seven blessings” to their loved ones or curse their enemies to the “seven hells” — the number seven representing a set of archetypes based on social and spiritual virtues (Father, Mother, Warrior, Maiden, Smith, Crone, Stranger). At the same time, some characters are bent on appeasing the “one, true God” — the nascent and wrathful “Lord of Light” — through the blood and fire of human sacrifice.
Throughout the story, what the characters believe and how they interact with and interpret the actions of others begins to change based on what they begin to see with their own eyes. And to hear this kind of religion described, you might think that these forms of worship, these outdated modes of spiritual expression, so rooted in mythology and superstition, have long passed from our society. I can assure you, that in some corners of our planet, these types of nature-based and/or polytheistic religion (or variations of them) are still very much alive.
“Integral” Spirituality is part of a lineage that is woven through many teachers (Sri Aurobindo, Haridas Chaudhuri, Alan Watts, Ken Wilber, et. al.). And very recently, religion (or the interpretation of religious experience) that is rooted in post-modern and pluralistic structures has done much to synthesize some of our more sacred and socially held values that have long been viewed as opposites — ideas like east and west, science and spirituality, inner and outer, masculine and feminine, the individual and the collective, grasping and sitting — it is an emerging spirituality, not of either/or, but of both/and.
However, it’s not all rose-colored radical inclusivity. Implementing pluralism as its own practice, while avoiding the accusations and actual pitfalls of syncretism has proven to be difficult. Integral spirituality needs to honor the differences we find in the various religions and it does so not by comparing the human experience of gods and goddesses to the experience of blind men with an elephant, or minimizing the paths of tradition by winding them up the same mountain of “spiritual Oneness.” It succeeds by making a clear distinction between things like cultural history, creativity and mythology, human rights and freedoms, communities of practice, states of awareness, stages of consciousness, lines of development or intelligence, personality and gender types, and so on.
We will look at two of those here — stages and states — and hopefully gain a better understanding of how Integral spirituality allows us a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the relationship with our Self, with those around us and with the Divine, or Spirit-in-Action.
Stages of Consciousness
First we’ll look at stages of consciousness. These stages have been imagined as a vertical line (or nested hierarchy of circles).
This is how cultures have mapped the development or unfolding of our own worldview as we move from birth to death. These stages, according to Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything, move us from egocentric (care and concern for the self) to ethnocentric (care and concern for the family or the community) to worldcentric (care and concern for all beings).
It’s best illustrated with something called Spiral Dynamics. Developed by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, this model proposes the idea that the consciousness of all beings (as well as all societies or groups) unfolds in a spiral that oscillates between self-interest and concern for the group, and is continually expanding while incrementally including more and more perspectives.
Primal, instinctive, survivalistic. Food, warmth, sex and safety.
Origin: 100,000 years ago.
Loyalty to the tribe, magical/animistic beliefs, family rituals and blood oaths. Observe customs and cycles. Sacrifice is made for the tribe.
Origin: 50,000 years ago.
Impulsive/egocentric beliefs, self-interest, self-expression, only the strong survive, domination and rebellion, kingdoms and heroes (negatives: gangs, the “terrible twos”). Creates change through the use of power.
Origin: 10,000 years ago.
Authoritarian beliefs, law and order, good and evil polarized, mythic/literal interpretations, ethnocentric, “my country right or wrong.” (positives: ordered meaningful existence, absolute truth, rightful living). Sacrifice is made for truth.
Origin: 5,000 years ago.
Self-reliance, rational/scientific worldview, achieveist/strategic beliefs, “life is a game,” risk-taking. (positive: the Enlightenment, industrial revolution, negative: capitalist exploitation, environmental devastation, mechanistic view of life/the universe). Creates change through manipulation.
Origin: 300 years ago.
Communitarian/egalitarian, worldcentric, social justice, world peace, deep ecology, human rights, religious pluralism, multiculturalism, communes. (positive: birth of the internet, negative: hatred of hierarchies, disdain for competition). Sacrifice is made for consensus.
Origin: 150 years ago.
Integrative, enlightened self-interest; flexibility, functionality and responsibility; all value systems are valid, holarchies, value-based hierarchies (good, beautiful, true), systems thinking, “Third Way” politics. Creates change using knowledge.
Origin: 50 years ago.
Holistic worldview, a balanced system of interlocking forces, body/mind/spirit approaches to experience, global networks/global solutions. Identifies with collective mind or unified, evolving whole. Sacrifice is made for the planet/all beings.
Origin: 30 years ago.
States of Awareness
States of awareness are simply the layers of what we call the “self” or the “body.” They have been taught by the world’s faith traditions to be viewed as concentric circles or sheaths (i.e. the koshas) that begin with the physical body and expand (or deepen) to include more energy (i.e. prana), more matter, more Spirit.
Gross Body – Sensory awareness, waking state
Subtle Body – Extra-sensory awareness, energetic body (Qi, shen, prana), dreaming or altered states
Causal Body – Formless awareness, the Soul, the Overmind
“State that is all states” – Non-dual awareness, Turiya, Divine Milieu, Spirit, Atman
The thing to be aware of here is that someone can be at the highest peak state experience — blissed-out, in a state of rapture — yet themselves be at a Traditional (ethnocentric) stage, a blue value system or lower. And the opposite is also true (higher value systems, and a lower or more narrow energetic body). An example might be the “enlightened” Zen master (inhabiting higher states of awareness) with a highly-developed line of morality and ethics, who is generous and humble, yet who holds strong cultural biases — racist or homophobic beliefs. Continue reading
Matrimandir (Shrine to the Mother) at Auroville, India
1883 – German philosopher and critic, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), begins proposing, in Also sprach Zarathustra, that a new post-metaphysical, pro-body spirituality for the whole planet must be produced by people who have traversed nihilism, romanticism and relativism and discovered the valuing-principle common to all perspectives.
1906 – Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), an Austrian philosopher and architect influenced by Goethe, Theosophy and Esoteric Cosmology, comments on the “integral evolution of man” during a lecture in Paris.
“The grandeur of Darwinian thought is not disputed, but it does not explain the integral evolution of man… So it is with all purely physical explanations, which do not recognise the spiritual essence of man’s being.”
– Rudolf Steiner (Eighteen Lectures delivered in Paris, France, May 25 to June 14, 1906)
1912 – Russian philosopher and journalist P.D. Ouspensky (1878-1947) publishes Tertium Organum. This book proposes to initiate a spiritual revival of humanity through the uniting of all disciplines and perspectives using a “higher logic” of both/and.
1914 – Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) publishes Synthesis of Yoga and The Integral Yoga, in which he intended to harmonize the paths of karma, jnana, and bhakti yoga as described in the Bhagavad Gita. It can also be considered a synthesis between Vedanta and Tantra, and even between Eastern and Western approaches to spirituality. Aurobindo also proposed a concentric hierarchy consisting of the physical, vital, mental and supramental bodies.
1914 – In Russia, Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin (1889-1968) began referring to the emergence of a future, spiritually-based integral society and began using phrases like “integral philosophy” and “integralist.”
1915 – Following his break with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) over spirituality and the collective unconscious, Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung (1875-1961) begins to record his experiments with trans-rational mysticism in his famous Red Book.
1922 – French philosopher and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) introduces the concept of the “noosphere” (an emerging layer of consciousness that envelops the Earth) in his Cosmogenesis. According to Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945), the noosphere is the third stage in the earth’s development, after the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life). Just as the emergence of life fundamentally transformed the geosphere, the emergence of human cognition will fundamentally transform the biosphere.
1922 – G.I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949) sets up his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man outside Paris. It is an internationally renown spiritual training facility which deals with multiple lines of development and perspectival multiplicity of the human psyche. It employs a special language organized by “evolution” and “relativity.”
1926 – The Mother (Mirra Alfassa, 1878-1973) becomes the spiritual leader of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Auroville, India.
1940 – Indra Sen (1903-1994), a student and devotee of Sri Aurobindo, first coins the term “Integral Psychology” (contrasted with Western Psychology) and develops themes of “integral culture” and “integral man.”
1945 – British writer Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) releases The Perennial Philosophy, an attempt to present the “highest common factor” of all theologies by assembling passages from the writings of saints and prophets who approached a direct spiritual knowledge of the Divine.
1949 – The Ever-Present Origin is published by Swiss linguist and philosopher, Jean Gebser (1905-1973), describing human history as a series of mutations in consciousness. The book introduces the idea of “structures of consciousness” – archaic, magical, mythical, mental and integral/aperspectival.
1951 – Theologian and Stanford University Professor Frederick Spiegelberg (1897-1994) along with British-born poet philosopher Alan Watts (1915-1973) reach out to Sri Aurobindo in India to recommend someone “well versed in Eastern and Western philosophies with a deep knowledge of integral yoga” to help them found the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. Aurobindo appoints Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri (1913-1975) to travel to San Francisco. Integral Spirituality is officially planted in the United States.
“Spiegelberg’s phrase “the religion of no religion” had deep existential roots. It was based on a mystical encounter with the natural world he experienced as a young theology student. He was walking in a wheat field on a bright day when, quite suddenly, his ego vanished and what he calls the Self appeared. Through this altered perspective, he began to see that God was shining through everything in the world, that everything was divine, that there was nothing but holiness. As he reveled in this revelation, he came around a corner and found himself confronting a gray church. He was horrified. How, he asked himself, could such a building claim to hold something more sacred, more divine, than what he had just experienced in the poppies, birds, and sky of the now divinized cosmos? It all seemed preposterous, utterly preposterous, to him. From the theological scandal of this initial altered state, Spiegelberg developed and theorized what was essentially (or non-essentially) an apophatic mystical theology that approaches religious language, symbol, and myth as non-literal projective expressions of some deeper metaphysical truth that, paradoxically, is simultaneously immanent and transcendent—a kind of dialectical or mystical humanism, if you will. It was just such a comparative mystical theology grounded in the natural world, and just such a critical but deep engagement with the religious traditions of the world, that inspired Murphy and his colleagues in their new venture.” – Jeffrey Kripal, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion
1955 – Teilhard de Chardin posthumously publishes the controversial The Phenomenon of Man. Borrowing from Huxley, Teilhard describes humankind as “evolution becoming conscious of itself.” The book also introduces the concept of the Omega Point – a culmination of Supreme Consciousness.
1957 – Alan Watts publishes The Way of Zen, a synthesis of Eastern and Western spiritualites as well as General Semantics and Cybernetics.
1960 – Teilhard de Chardin releases The Divine Milieu to synthesize theology and science and demonstrate that “secular (scientific) work was an integral element of creation.”
1962 – Influenced by Huxley’s studies of “human potentiality,” Michael Murphy (1930-), Dick Price (1930-1985) and Spiegelberg establish the Esalen Institute (a retreat center and intentional community) on 120 acres of the Big Sur coast in California.
1967 – Hungarian-born author and journalist Arthur Koestler (1905-1983) introduces the concept of holons (something that is simultaneously a whole and a part) in The Ghost in the Machine. Holons exist as self-contained wholes in relation to their sub-ordinate parts, and dependent parts when considered from the inverse direction. Continue reading
Rohr’s first half of life has much to do with learning to follow prescribed laws, be they ethical structures, physical laws like gravity, etc. and has everything to do with studying (or worse yet, mimicking) existing traditions.
The second half of our lives then, is when we perfect the art of winnowing, of extracting the grain from the chaff. It’s when we practice the art of spiritual discernment, or separating the essentials from the nonessentials. It is when we find our grace — when we surrender and awaken to spirit. When we realize that we’ve been Spirit all along.
We do a lot of studying, reading and learning in the first half of life, while we’re building that container. But we rarely go back and reinterpret those lessons from a second-half-of-life perspective to see which structures we really need and which we can let go of. It’s quite possible that the scaffolding has been on the building long enough, that the training wheels can be uncoupled from the tires. And when we step into ourselves — getting current in that way — we may find that letting go of those crutches or braces allows for a new range of motion or a new method of feeling or intuition.
We may even find that we no longer need or believe the things that were shown to us as children. Or that our own wisdom may actually contradict some of what we think we know.
It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Continue reading