Why do I think so many people like Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche?
Because he’s so Integral.
Why do I think so many people dislike Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche?
Because he’s so Integral.
Please let me explain.
In March 2018, I wrote this paper but was scared to publish it anywhere. As we all know, harmony in the sangha is vitally important, and any cause for disruption or confusion between dharma sisters and brothers should be handled with exceptional care, patience, and thoughtful consideration.
Of course, dealing with very complicated and important topics like teacher-student power dynamics and the Rohingya genocide are very difficult and demanding topics to address. They involve a lot of honesty, humility, vulnerability, and trust dedicated towards deepening mutual understanding and appreciation. This does not mean that everyone has to agree or that all opinions are equal. It means that this type of discussion is going to require a lot from everyone involved for it to actually deepen our understanding rather than just reaffirm our current beliefs.
This is a challenging, deep dive read that covers a lot of ground very quickly. The main point I’m arguing is that a large part of why Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche (DJKR) is so skillful in dealing with complicated topics is because he’s approaching them from at least an “Integral” worldview. Since this approach is relatively rare, I think it’s also at least part of the reason why he receives a lot of strong criticism. I’m also asserting that most of the intractable, long-term, large-scale problems we’re dealing with now can only be adequately addressed from at least an Integral worldview, which is why Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is such an exemplary 21st century Buddhist master.
The first section of the essay addresses what “Integral” means, so feel free to skip it if you’re already familiar with that approach. The next section covers topics in Buddhism that could be more fully (or less partially) approached from an Integral view. The third section is a letter to Ken Wilber asking for clarification on his approach to Vajrayana Buddhism and Dzogchen. The fourth section explains significant concerns I have with how current trends in Ken Wilber’s Integral approach would be integrated into Buddhism. The conclusion reasserts that many problems we’re facing nowadays—and the solutions we’re hoping for—can only be adequately addressed from at least an Integral worldview.
So here’s the basic trajectory of the essay:
Part 1: Enlightened Example: The Bold Leadership of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Part 2: Going Deeper: Why Not Ask These Questions as Well?
Part 3: The Delicate Dance of Vajrayana and Integral: A Letter to Ken Wilber
Part 4: Genuine Reservations About an Emerging Integral Buddhism
Conclusion: Fortunately the Push Towards Integral Isn’t Going Away
I don’t want to suggest in any way that I’m capable of understanding the enlightened activities of such an extraordinary wisdom being as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. His wisdom and compassion are inconceivable, and my dualistic mind is very narrow, biased, and puny. As a result, rather than taking a lot of time unpacking the specific points made in Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s teachings to try to explain how they comprehensively address so many seemingly contradictory elements of a single issue, I decided to simply include relevant links to let his teachings speak for themselves. It should also be said that many responses to these complicated topics are often very loud and heated, so I wanted to avoid getting too involved in the food fight, and instead stress the importance of not addressing these topics as a fight but rather as a genuine contemplation and dialogue.
It’s important to mention that the target audience of this essay is vast and nuanced. Since the specific topic is how the Integral worldview relates to Tibetan Buddhism—as well as intractable global problems in general—it’s written for multiple audiences, including (1) people uninformed with both Integral and Buddhism, (2) new and seasoned scholars and practitioners of Buddhism in general, and Tibetan Buddhism in particular, and (3) self-proclaimed Integralists.
Obviously I’m biting off more than I can chew, but it seems to me that making the Integral approach more discernible and available is exceptionally important since we’re already having difficult conversations about very meaningful topics, and for the most part the Integral approach is not yet on the scene.
It should also be made very clear that I’m not suggesting we change Buddhism in any way. The ancient Buddhist lineages of wisdom and compassion are extraordinarily vast and profound, and we should do everything we can to preserve the perfect, pure, authentic teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Padmasambhava.
Since 2004 I’ve had the tremendous privilege and honor of living and volunteering at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and retreat center of the Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches, two extraordinary scholars and meditation masters of all aspects of Buddhism. They are supreme, impeccable examples of what is possible if you dedicate your life to absorbing the teachings of the Buddha into your heart exactly as they have been preserved for centuries.
What I am suggesting is that for students of Buddhism who are ordinary sentient beings, it’s very worthwhile for each of us to humbly and thoroughly investigate the limitations of our own approach to the study and practice of the Buddhadharma, which is what I argue Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is so masterful at helping us do.
I apologize in advance for my fumbling around in the dark. The mistakes are all mine, and I warmly welcome your advice on how to improve this essay and continue this conversation. I also sincerely apologize and ask for forgiveness from all the wisdom beings dedicated to preserving and spreading the truth.
The Difficulties We Face
We’re living in polarized times where mutual screaming and distrust seem to be the increasing norm. Yes, there’s Facebook and microwavable, disposable, replaceable everything, all of which has to be quickly engaged and resolved and forgotten. And there’s the relentless push to endlessly assimilate more information, all within a fake news, post-truth atmosphere brought to us by extreme cultural relativism that has been weaponized by dark money and various types of fundamentalism. It’s confusing and tiring and somewhat boring just trying to describe it.
And yes, everyone’s always busy. It seems that almost no one has the time for contemplation between hearing the teachings and meditating on them, even when the meditation sessions are becoming shorter and shorter one-minute modules so that it’s even possible to do them at all.
Yet even if we’re not training to become professional Buddhists by dedicating large portions of our lives to the study and practice of the Dharma, how can we reasonably deal with any recalcitrant, large-scale, long-term problems that just won’t go away—like institutional abuses of power, war, poverty, systemic racism, patriarchy, climate disruption, fairness in government, etc.—without at least leaning towards trying to formulate a more comprehensive understanding of the problems? How will we ever better understand the causes and conditions of these conflicts without developing a greater curiosity and appreciation for the valuable insights that every perspective brings to the table? We can’t just immediately dismiss other people’s beliefs, opinions, or insights. We’ll never win a debate by humiliating, silencing, or infuriating someone else.
As H.H. the Dalai Lama has emphasized for decades, as well as in his upcoming book, Ecology, Ethics, and Interdependence: The Dalai Lama in Conversation with Leading Thinkers on Climate Change,
“One important point is to take into account the sensibilities and mental disposition of the listener. In my own experience, when I talk with someone who may have different views or be in disagreement, first I consider that on the human level we have no differences. We both want to be happy and have close connections in life. If we start from a place that emphasizes differences, such as nationality, faith, or race, we will encounter an inevitable barrier. To remove that barrier, we need to start with a common human goal: living a happy life. In my opinion, to achieve that we have to have this commonality in our own view, which often enables a shift in the other person, allowing more openness, connection, or closeness. If we lead with the differences, we risk encouraging defensiveness, which is usually followed by offense or attack, and there’s no way to connect.”
With this in mind, I’m proposing that the only reliable way forward for Buddhists to better understand one another and many of the exceptionally complicated problems of the 21st century is to become more integral.
Very simply put, by integral I mean to be so deeply and actively interested in other people’s insights that you really try to better understand and learn from their contributions, all the while knowing that all perspectives and positions are partial. Instead of automatically privileging your own position—consciously or unconsciously—and reaffirming its superiority by seeing how others aren’t quite there yet, you (1) work to see your own partialness with all of its insights and limitations, (2) appreciate others’ insights while also seeing their limitations, and (3) then see how they fit together in a more integrated way that doesn’t unfairly smash them together or carelessly mix them up.
In other words, the Integral approach tries really hard to clearly locate the various perspectives at play in a conversation so they can be most accurately seen and understood by one another, rather than distorting one another, seeing past one another, or even worse, simply yelling at each other.
This process requires (1) a meta-theory that both sees-from-above and (2) provides a common meta-language that various perspectives can use to communicate with one another without reducing alternate views into their own terms and methods.
Of course developing an Integral map and an Integral language is a daunting task, but the Integral approach is not only up for the challenge, it thrives on trying to include as many valuable contributions as possible, while clearly identifying and transcending the limitations and partiality of each perspective, carefully integrating them into wider and more inclusive and comprehensive wholes of care and concern, structure and meaning.
I know these big claims sound merely theoretical and dead-from-the-neck-down, but the real life, practical applications of the Integral approach are literally endless, spanning from integral medicine, ecology, and sociology, to integral politics, business, economy, and spirituality. Whatever field of knowledge there is, its study and practice can become more integral by locating and including the valuable aspects already at play but rarely honored and incorporated. (I’ll discuss some of the specifics of this process in a lot more detail later on, and thankfully there are already entire books, journals, and even schools and institutes dedicated to more deeply integrating each of these fields of knowledge.)
And why is integral the only reliable way forward? Because this integral approach comes from the only stage of consciousness that really tries to do this. To see the valuable contributions that every perspective offers while also seeing their limitations, and fitting them together into a more integrated system that doesn’t oppress any of the perspectives. No prior stage of consciousness is interested in this at all—every other approach is simply trying to demonstrate why it’s the best. In other words, every conversation is some version of an arm-wrestling match. And in the context of long term, large-scale problems, the result is that mostly everyone loses.
Ven. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche is one of the leading examples of what it means to be a contemporary Integral Buddhist whose approach both honors the most valuable contributions of various perspectives, while also clearly defining the limitations and partialities of those same perspectives.
And like all Buddhists—as well as many modern and postmodern approaches—he too pushes the envelope of encouraging us to grow from egocentric to sociocentric to worldcentric, widening and deepening our sphere of concern from me to us to all of us. And as Mahayana Buddhists, there’s the additional heart-opening expansion of bodhichitta beyond worldcentric, to include not just all humans, but all sentient beings of all types wherever they may be. This extends even further to include all sentient and non-sentient life—all manifest and non-manifest reality—in the study and practice of the Inner Tantras.
Part 1: Enlightened Example:
The Bold Leadership of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Welcome to a new age of communication and implementation that deeply cares about honoring both preservation and adaptation—a very necessary and important step towards a more integrated Buddhism that strives to maintain its relevance (and thus its extraordinary helpfulness) and integrity (to actually remain a complete path to enlightenment) in the 21st century.
In my view, the following teachings are some of the most ground-breaking, relevant, important, and sorely-belated inquiries and discussions about Tibetan Buddhism that have happened in a long time.
2. Vajrayana Buddhism in the West: The Challenges and Misunderstandings of our Times (Lerab Ling, France)
6. Guru and Student in the Vajrayana by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
The Endless Food-Fight Goes Something Like This
Any approach that doesn’t actively try to integrate the two approaches of preservation and adaptation is one-or-another type of winner-takes-all, arm-wrestling match that isn’t dynamic enough to actually meet the challenge. The conversation always results in name-calling, bad blood, and intensified self-righteousness.
I am deeply grateful and very appreciative of Ven. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche for the daring bodhisattva move of intentionally putting himself in the crosshairs of both (1) the traditionalists and (2) the innovators.
To put this in stronger terms coined by each opposing side of the Buddhist playing field: it’s (1) the stubborn, traditionalist preservers versus (2) the innovative, ultra-PC, actually-colonial, deconstructionist destroyers. Needless to say, extremists in both rivaling camps are sorely out of touch, incapable, and actually not even interested in having a genuinely open, curious, and thorough inquiry about a topic as important in Vajrayana Buddhism as the Guru-Disciple relationship.
Here’s how the story is goes:
The traditionalist dinosaurs condemn themselves to extinction—and severely limited outreaching bodhisattva activities—by not evolving in helpful and necessary ways. At the same time, the nihilist, my-way-or-the-highway hyper-individualists, or the group-think, all-opinions-are-equal-subtle-silencing-conformists condemn themselves to never grow any further by seeing all hierarchy as oppressive, and therefore deny both the maps and methods to actualize healthy growth into higher, more inclusive, functional, responsive, and satisfying levels of development.
For a very good example of healthy, natural hierarchy, please see the nine yana system of Nyingma Buddhism that transcends the limitations of lower yanas, while including the valuable and essential contributions of those same yanas into higher, more inclusive levels of view, meditation, conduct, and result.
We are all indebted to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s exceptional bravery, precision, and self-sacrifice to enter into the never-ending battle of these two opposing forces.
And honestly, I’m so tired and bored of the endless food-fight between these rivaling perspectives, each of whom thinks they’re the only one that’s right. Everyone brings exceptionally valuable contributions to the conversation, but neither of these approaches admits (or even sees) this. Each of them thinks they’re the only one who’s right.
To define it more accurately, aren’t you also tired of the endless war between:
- Narcissistic, power-hungry authoritarians
- Puritanical, religious fundamentalists
- Machiavellian opportunist Wall-Streeters
- Arrogant, spiritually-incapacitated scientists, and
- Postmodern subtly-but-toxically-aggressive deconstructionist hypocrites…
… all of whom deny any legitimacy of every other position? That is truly an endless war.
And it should be said that Buddhists—including myself—certainly aren’t exempt from having participated in this fight for a long time, in addition to the (6) Integralist know-it-alls who don’t practice what they preach (me again).
(1) Of course the tribal authoritarians usually do bring strict law and order, but only as long as you’re in their gang and hold their favor.
(2) And the religious fundamentalists do bring community bonding, sharing, safety, and security, but if you’re a non-believer you’re going to burn in some kind of hell.
(3) The entrepreneurial maverick breaks through party lines and groupthink, but typically can’t be trusted if they’re only in it for themselves.
(4) Scientist revolutionaries demand reproducible empirical evidence and solve problems that have radically improved material infrastructure and physical health, but what’s really real is usually reduced to chemicals, quarks, or frisky dirt of some kind.
(5) Egalitarian do-gooders demand cooperation, fairness, justice, equal opportunity, and sustainability, but get ready for endless cyclical meetings where all opinions are equal and nothing gets done, followed by numerous awesome teach-ins that if you don’t attend, get ready to be subtly (or not so subtly) silenced by passive aggressive non-oppression oppression.
(6) And then there are the fluid Integralists who are deeply curious about the valuable contributions and limitations of everyone’s perspective so a most-inclusive-comprehensive whole can be honored, but watch out for arrogant elitism and the exhaustion and frustration of wishing for everyone to get Integral a lot faster than the pace of the last three decades.
What Is Integral?
But simply put, the Integral approach is a worldview. And just like any other worldview, it has its own language, values, beliefs, rules, specialties, limitations, and pitfalls.
The Integral worldview is just as real as the (1) premodern traditionalist worldview, (2) the modern rationalist/scientist worldview, or the (3) postmodern pluralistic worldview, each of which has general contours according to which they operate. The Integral operating system just happens to be the worldview stage that happens immediately following the postmodern worldview stage, which is why Integral can be thought of as post-postmodern.
In this way, the Integral stage is the next wave of development for anyone who is already worldcentric, empirical-evidence-based, and has a sphere of concern that includes things like one-common-human-family, but who is not yet actively believing in or working on integrating head-and-heart into deeper and vaster stages that also appreciate the direct, transformative personal experience of training in stabilizing awareness of absolute truth, which is taught by many contemplative approaches, including Buddhism.
According to many developmental psychologists, all of the worldviews that happen up to Integral have a common trait: they all think that their worldview is the only correct worldview. Even the postmodern worldview, which refutes the universality of all worldviews, thinks that its refutation of all universals is universally true, and that everyone else is wrong. It is only when someone develops into the Integral worldview that they no longer believe that only their way is right. Instead, the Integral approach tries, for the first time ever, to include as many partial truths together into a cogent, comprehensive whole. It no longer tries to find the right way, but the most inclusive, comprehensive way that is the best, or most complete functional fit for a certain context. That’s why all of the pre-Integral stages are sometimes referred to as 1st Tier, with the novel, astonishing leap into 2nd Tier beginning with Integral, and including every worldview that is post-Integral.
As Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel says, what is most important is what serves—what is actually helpful, rather than believing that a successful outcome is when everyone agrees with me. In my view, that’s why Integral is a profoundly important aspect of a bodhisattva approach. Integral is deeply concerned with what actually effectively helps bring more happiness and less suffering for both the relative and absolute aspects of a given situation.
An interesting obstacle in one’s personal development into Integral is that the postmodern stage that comes immediately before Integral is the only known worldview that completely denies all hierarchy, and thus throws out many of the views and methods that help continue one’s growth into higher, more inclusive post-postmodern—in other words, Integral—stages of human consciousness.
For all the amazingly wonderful and revolutionary insights postmodernism brings to the table—like contextualization, pluralism, and multiperspectivalism—the postmodern worldview thoroughly fails to distinguish between (1) natural, growth hierarchies and (2) abusive, dominator hierarchies. Natural hierarchies are like first learning addition and subtraction, followed by division and multiplication; or first learning letters, followed by words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, etc. There is nothing oppressive about this at all. It’s a natural sequence of development. On the other hand, abusive, dominator hierarchies try to maintain an unfair power structure just because they say so (in all of the various horrible ways this happens).
It is only once one moves from the extreme absolutism of the traditionalist approach, into the relative empirical evidence approach of rationalism, continuing trough the extreme relativism of postmodern existential ever-shifting contextualization that denies all universals, that one then enters into a natural balance of relative and absolute truths, where the details of shifting contexts and the absolute emptiness of all phenomena are both valued and integrated.
That’s why the Integral approach values both temporary state training and (relatively) permanent stage development, learning to grow both temporary states and permanent traits, since both states of awareness and stages of development are always in play in our experience, whether we see them operating or not.
This is also why Integral is so deeply curious and interested in locating perspectives, since every view is coming from somewhere, and locating that somewhere as fully and comprehensively as possible will make communication more successful.
First we try to locate our own perspective (the subject) as fully as possible, then the perspective of others (the object) as best as we can, and then use all possible abilities to assess and perform the best means of communication (interaction between subject and object), with a deep willingness to course correct when we make mistakes or see the inevitable partiality of our own limited approach.
For these and many other reasons, I think that Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche has demonstrated in numerous ways what an amazingly Integral Buddhist master he is.
And for that reason, Integralists are going to love his amazing fluidity and ability to honor and undo any position he takes, while non-Integralists are going to strongly dislike him simply because he does not neatly fit within the framework of their own perspective.
It’s worth noting that in a conversation, the Integralist is often seen by others as a universal friend to everyone—including authoritarians, fundamentalists, rationalists, and postmodernists—as long as they’re interested in what others have to say (since they really do care about learning new perspectives), but keep quiet. Once they say, I agree with your point about such-and-such, but what about such-and-such limitation it introduces? they’re once again seen as an outsider, a threat, or an unknown.
An Integral Turn
Ken Wilber has been researching and writing for over 30 years about the 2nd tier Integral wave that’s the only possible resolution to all the 1st tier bickering and warring. Yes, the only possible resolution.
Very, very simply put as a starting point:
(1) All Perspectives have value.
(2) Some perspectives are more valuable than others given the context.
(3) Every theory/perspective must be implemented/performed/practiced, and not just talked about to determine and instance its actual helpfulness.
In Integral terms, these are known as (1) Nonexclusion, (2) Unfoldment, and (3) Enactment (see The Many Ways We Touch: Three Principles Helpful for Any Integrative Approach.
Another way to describe the Integral view is any system that pays attention to and tries to exercise (1) body, (2) mind, (3) shadow, and (4) spirit.
For years Ken Wilber has mentioned that among all of the various types of systems he has studied, Tibetan Buddhism is the most Integral that he knows of. Yet it still has gaps that are not attended to as well as they could be, so they need to be supplemented with additional methods to achieve a healthier, more comprehensive and complete system that attends to all four of these components, which are fundamental parts of everyone’s day-to-day lives, whether we know it or not.
The Integral approach celebrates an open elitism that generally locates and encourages the growth of each of our infinite potentials in its various faucets, but no one gets a free pass.
In Mahayana Buddhism, this is the buddha-nature doctrine that increasingly opens and unfolds over the course of 10 stages (bhumis) of development before complete enlightenment is achieved. Everyone is absolutely equal, but each of us must actualize our relative potential to greater and greater degrees (and types, lines, states, etc.) in order to be both Absolutely Free and Relatively Full, for the benefit of all beings.
This same process is also understood as unfolding through the 8-fold noble path by completing the 37 factors of enlightenment in the Shravakayana; or progressing through the 5 paths, or actualizing the 6-10 paramitas, or completely transforming the 8 consciousnesses into the 5 wisdoms, according to the Sutra Mahayana; or at the higher reaches of the Vajrayana, progressing through the 4 vidyadhara levels by stabilizing Trekcho and mastering the 4 visions of Togal.
However you slice it and whatever you call it, one valid way of traditionally interpreting the Nyingma understanding of the path to enlightenment is as a developmental sequence.
And while I don’t agree with everything Ken Wilber says—especially in terms of how Vajrayana Buddhist doctrine and experience unfolds at higher levels of Integral development, which I’ll address later, he’s comprehensively investigated more of the important aspects of the most fields of knowledge that have to be acknowledged and honored in order to actually be inclusive than any other person I know of.
In terms of Buddhist teachers, H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, H.H. 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel, Matthieu Ricard, and Erik Pema Kunsang are a few of the most authentically Integral Buddhists that I know of, even if they don’t call themselves that.
You can tell they lean towards Integral by how genuinely curious they are, their willingness to change in response to new discoveries, the wide range of topics they appreciate, the inclusivity and flexibility of their language and style, their deep honoring of tradition without being rigid, the playful, light touch of their approach, and a general fearlessness that comes from not having to be right and deeply caring about others.
It’s a fortunate time to be alive, but it’s also the most demanding time for all of us to keep growing up comprehensively! The unprecedented level of complexity and integration of various systems, environmental, economical, political, psychological, cultural, societal, biological, etc. demands it.
And just like Einstein said, every problem is only solved by at least the next higher-level worldview. In this case, no solution produced by a 1st tier worldview will be adequate. The 2nd tier of Integral is the next step.
The Unavoidability of Growing Through the Integral Worldview
Nearly all developmental psychologists unanimously agree that there are at least one or two stages of development after the postmodern worldview, and they typically call the next stage something like integral or post-postmodern, systemic, integrated, etc. Integral is where the solutions for many thus-far intractable problems have to come from.
And if your response is simply, But Trump! The horrors! Automation! Global poverty! Millennial-aversion-to-anything-organized! The Environment! Millions of Refugees! National water shortages! Just remember that the extreme relativism of postmodernism epically failed to defeat Trump and is still failing miserably.
If we genuinely want to “move forward” and not regress into pervasive WWF reality TV wrestling in every domain around the world, Integral is the only next move for Buddhists who are already worldcentric.
And granted, each of us (and every situation) has to slowly grow up stage-by-stage, without any stage being skipped—although meditation is proven to help us move through the stages more quickly since you’re training to take a larger, next level witnessing perspective of everything you observe in meditation—the leading-edge of leadership to tackle these large scale, long-term, wicked problems has to be Integral in order to succeed.
It’s a fascinating, unprecedented time to be alive: exceptionally hopeful if more people transition into an integral worldview, and completely disastrous if we don’t.
Part 2: Going Deeper: Why Not Ask These Questions as Well?
Why do I mention the Integral view in relation to someone whom I view as such an extraordinary Vajrayana master, Ven. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche? Why not just praise his teachings and contributions, and leave it at that?
Simply put, I think that many people appreciate DJKR for the very fact that he demonstrates so many characteristics of being Integral, or coming from an Integral worldview. That is, many people like him because he’s Integral. So why has Buddhism—or more accurately, Buddhist practitioners—resisted an Integral approach for so long?
Shambhala Publications published Ken Wilber’s 8 volumes of Collected Works in 2000, and Wilber has currently written over 25 books that have been translated in over 30 foreign languages. The former president of Shambhala Publications Sam Bercholz discussed the Strengths and Weaknesses of Buddhism in the Modern World with Wilber and others in 2011 (See min. 33:38). Wilber wrote the forewords to Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche’s autobiography Lord of the Dance and Kyabgon Traleg Rinpoche’s The Practice of Lojong. In other words, Integral is not new on the Dharma scene. So again I wonder, why have many Buddhist practitioners resisted an Integral approach for so long?
I think that another way to ask this question is to look at the question that DJKR is dealing with in the above video teachings: “What has allowed this conversation about the Guru-Disciple relationship not to have happened publically and thoroughly for so long?”
A Truly Open Conversation
In the above teachings, DJKR repeatedly mentions that he thinks Vajrayana Buddhism should never have been practiced and taught so openly as it is now, since its infinite range of methodologies are so easily misinterpreted outside of the proper context. But here we are, and every field of knowledge and human endeavor—including all forms of Buddhism—are readily accessible to anyone who’s interested.
That’s also why I believe it’s so important that this conversation is done thoroughly, with an open mind, without anyone being empowered to simply push their own agendas and biases. Or at least everyone engaged should be willing to have the limitations of any partial perspective be thoroughly analyzed (and all relative perspectives are partial, but some are more partial than others), which DJKR and all other Madhyamaka masters are so exceptionally amazing at doing.
Transparency and Thoroughness
I’ve found that the more closely I investigate Buddhism, the brighter it shines. How amazingly vast and profound! Why omit, silence, or neglect any questions regarding this very important conversation? In addition, since trust, transparency, privacy, and commitment seem to be relevant and critically important topics in many current aspects of the public sphere, why not have this conversation be as thorough as possible?
Broad Study and Analysis
Throughout these recent teachings, DJKR consistently mentions that study and analysis are the best way to approach the Dharma, investigate a teacher thoroughly (as well as ourselves as students), prevent harmful situations from happening, deal with harmful situations after they happen, and best unravel the trap of duality with duality itself. The Integral map—and the numerous fields of knowledge it tries to incorporate, constantly revising and updating itself as new evidence is gathered—is therefore worthy of discussion.
In fact, from March 9-13 2018, H.H. 14th Dalai Lama participated in the 33rd Mind and Life Conference in Dharamsala—of which he’s been the honorary head for decades—whose main objective is to learn from and integrate various fields of knowledge with one another in a way that honors their contributions without jumbling them altogether in a giant, confusing heap of fragmented perspectives. This is the only viable option for engaged bodhisattvas in our current information age.
Transcending and Including
DJKR repeatedly emphasizes the valuable contributions of preserving traditions, as well as updating habitual hang-ups and limitations that have unfortunately been mixed up with Buddhist principles. This is almost the definition of an essential Integral approach of transcending limitations while including all valuable contributions in a coherent way. Unfortunately, this approach is rare, if not absent, from most non-Integral perspectives, which is also why I suspect that DJKR seems to have such a fresh perspective (that is both traditional and innovative) on so many topics.
Decades of Missed Opportunities
The Integral approach has obviously not been understood or applied very well in the West and East, which is partly why there have been decades of confusion (and thus potential abuse) regarding numerous topics, including:
• appropriate student/teacher roles
• purely transcendent Apollonian spiritual bypassing
• purely immanent Dionysian attachment completely misinterpreted as Buddhist tantra
• purely colonial Buddhism is the only way to freedom
• purely PC all paths lead to the same source
• extremely relative egoic cafeteria-style cherry-picking, because only I would know what’s best for me, or my interpretation is the only correct one
• the mistaken relative understanding that a Vajrayana Guru is automatically perfect in every type of multiple intelligence, including poetry, math, fixing a car, all philosophies, parenting, astrophysics, money-management, prediction, etc.
• expecting a Guru to fulfill every role, including parent, therapist, teacher, friend, etc.
• expecting a Guru to seem culturally irrelevant and out of touch because s/he’s so spiritual or holy
• expecting a Guru to be so enlightened they are completely different from you
• expecting a Guru to be so relatable that they like pizza, Game of Thrones, and Candy Crush just like you
• expecting the function of the Guru to be the same over time, which makes pulling the rug out from under you impossible
• not clearly communicating with your Guru since she should already know everything about me
• being upset when your Guru doesn’t seem to know everything about you (or doesn’t seem to care)
• thinking enlightenment is a weekend course (aka I don’t really have to sacrifice or renounce anything)
• thinking enlightenment is just another dirty concept
• why Gurus continue to be abused by their students, although no one is allowed to mention this (see DJKR’s teachings in Berlin, Paris, Lerab Ling, and London)
• disliking cults while expecting gurus to behave like cult leader by changing ancient teachings to fit contemporary whims and fashionable trends, etc.
The list of non-Integral mistakes and missteps goes on and on, and taking some time to investigate the Integral view more seriously might just save decades of wonky, lopsided Buddhist practice that doesn’t lead us to the result we expected, eventually leading to bitterness, resentment, blame, and disappointment. I personally want to do everything I can to avoid that outcome.
Guru as Therapist
I think it’s fair to assume that too many people treat their Guru as their therapist, which is fine, but will probably increase the likelihood of unfulfilled expectations. If it’s done correctly—after a student thoroughly investigates and chooses a person to be their Guru—it’s the Guru’s job to do anything and everything to completely uproot ego-clinging. DJKR refers to this as hiring an ego assassin (see The Words of My Perfect Teacher documentary). Of course this includes peaceful, therapeutic means of nourishing and supporting a student when they need it (like a doctor, guide, or teacher, helping someone who is sick, lost, or ignorant), but it also includes many methods that go far beyond the very important worldly aim of having a healthy sense of self.
The ultimate (and most importantly liberative) aim of a Guru is to help a student become 100% self-reliant on their own Inner Guru by directly revealing this Inner Guru, as well as directly revealing and uprooting the many habitual patterns that cover up this Inner Guru. See DJKR’s many teachings on the Uttaratantra Shastra by Maitreya and Asanga.
So, if students want to approach their Guru also as a therapist, it seems only fair for the students to also know something about various therapeutic methodologies. I would also say that part of this investigation should include looking at methods that reveal and deal with shadow elements and blind spots that we all have, since it can often be much more effective to directly apply a western therapeutic method of seeing and re-owning the shadow, rather than applying one of the numerous Buddhist methods.
We should be very careful and mindful about applying the proper method, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, in relation to our situation, rather than expecting a single method to be the solution for every problem. I think this will make our expectations more realistic and well-rounded, and thus create a more informed, open, and reliable relationship of honesty, trust, enduring commitment, and responsibility between a student and teacher.
Being a Teacher is the Worst Job
Ken Wilber is not a guru, and he has never claimed to be one. Like DJKR mentioned throughout these recent teachings, the job of a Vajrayana teacher is one of the worst and most demanding jobs possible, and people clamoring to become a teacher in both the East and the West shows just how little they actually know about it, and why their motivation should be thoroughly investigated.
Boomeritis Buddhists are Trump Haters
The problem that DJKR consistently names as British Buddhists, nihilists who are trying to remove reincarnation from Buddhism, Trump hating, veggie soap using, yoga practicing people who have time to attend Dharma teachings, (see numerous DJKR’s YouTube teachings in 2017-2018, specifically his 2017 teaching Compassion is the same topic that Ken Wilber has been addressing for over two decades, which he calls Boomeritis Buddhism.
According to DJKR’s perspective, this problem is much bigger than any horrible scandal that Buddhism currently faces (see the end of his 19-page teaching Guru and Student in the Vajrayana, since if this distortion is allowed to continue, and the mindfulness movement is the only thing that remains of Buddhism in the future, we will have lost Buddhism itself, which would be deeply unfortunate.
Ken Wilber claims that this same approach is a complete operating system failure that has been eating its way through earnest Buddhist practitioners since the 1960s. In terms of Spiral Dynamics, the condition is generally talked about as Buddhists operating mainly from green, liberal, postmodern egalitarianism, with a healthy dose of narcissistic, red aggression, misinterpreting post-Integral level teachings (like Tibetan Buddhism) in green egalitarian terms, which consistently mixes up relative and absolute truths in numerous ways, leading to nihilism of various types.
In Part 2 of the London talk by DJKR, he refers to this as misusing logic designed to reveal the ultimate emptiness of absolute truth, in order to better understand relative truth, which leads to nihilism and countless unresolved western philosophical paradoxes like Zeno’s paradox.
In other words, in Buddhism you use relative logic to understand relative truth, such as consensus, functionality, continuity over time, etc., and absolute logic to understand absolute truth (Prasangika Madhyamaka), but you can’t mix these two up, or you lose the Buddhist debate. In western philosophy, this is called a category mistake, which hyper-rational-only-Buddhism-Without-Beliefs-British Buddhists consistently do.
The position of not having a belief is still a belief called agnosticism or skepticism (see London, Part 2 or DJKR’s Two Truths teachings in Bodhgaya, and this is the performative contradiction that has clearly and thoroughly disproven the legitimacy of deconstructionism as the final word on relative truth. For example, claiming that universal truths do not exist is itself a universal truth; or that all hierarchy is manufactured (and used by power structures to oppress others), is itself a manufactured position that quietly and oppressively claims to be right while everyone else is wrong. The epic failure of extreme relativism to successfully lead us almost anywhere is clear. See Ken Wilber’s Trump and a Post-Truth World.
Yes, all positions are relative, contextual, vague, and arbitrarily defined, but believing in that as the final word (or absolute truth) is called existentialism (which is a relative position), not emptiness (uncategorized direct experience of absolute truth).
Incorporating Non-Buddhist Fields of Study and Practice
H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama (Mind and Life Conferences , Beyond Religion, etc.) and H.H. 17th Karmapa (The Heart is Noble: Changing the World From the Inside Out) are very actively acknowledging and learning about various fields and topics of study that are not traditionally Buddhist, like gender roles, global environmental sustainability, innovative technologies, various sciences, international economy, multinational corporations and governance, quantum physics, various models of psychological development, etc.
In fact, at the July 9, 2011 Kalachakra Teachings that HH Dalai Lama bestowed in Washington D.C., he said that in his view, a 21st century Buddhist was responsible for knowing about (1) various levels and lineages of Buddhism with proficiency, (2) various fields of traditionally non-Buddhist knowledge, and (3) for training and applying this understanding enough to become a personal experience rather than just theory. This is basically the Integral approach to Buddhism.
As Many Sources as Possible
I have gained numerous insights from many non-Buddhist sources like my parents, friends, teachers, literature, movies, news, life, etc. In my opinion, relating them to one another should not be seen as a weakness, but a strength. At the same time, coming to weak or illogical conclusions by loosely relating bits of information to one another is not intelligent either.
The Integral approach is to try to create at least a general orientation that coordinates various perspectives into more comprehensive and cohesive wholes, to better understand the parts (and their relationships) within those wholes, as well as to better predict how those wholes might integrate with other wholes to form even larger, more inclusive, functional, dynamic, responsive, and efficient systems.
Ken Wilber says that things are neither parts nor wholes, but that everything always simultaneously functions as whole-parts in a holarchy as opposed to hierarchy, which is so thoroughly and consistently evidenced in the nine yana system of Nyingma Buddhism.
I appreciate this scientific approach, driven by curiosity, but held to a standard of logic and evidence. This is actually an invaluable step that the postmodern world is currently missing—that’s partly why so many people feel that they’re constantly bombarded by a flood of information without having any larger, non-reductionist frameworks to comprehensively orient everything within.
Real Arguments, Not Personal Preferences
Disliking any approach based on personal preference of variable surface features like appearance, gender, writing style, tone, humor, etc. is severely limited, although everyone is entitled to do what they want.
Similarly, disliking a system (or field of study, skill set, etc.) that is unfamiliar to you simply because you have to learn some new terms is not a very good reason to deny the validity of the system. If we refused to learn because it was difficult or unfamiliar, we would never learn almost anything.
Not liking Ken Wilber for any of these reasons is the same thing as rushing to judgments about a Dharma teacher simply because they don’t fit our expectations.
Of course, Ken Wilber is not Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and I definitely recognize and appreciate that fact. But easily dismissing any position is not a very Buddhist thing to do without first trying to analyze the position as thoroughly as possible.
Why Not Take the Time?
When so many of the factors that seem to have lead to the current situation that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is addressing might have been more clearly discerned with a more Integral model, why not take the time to investigate this more thoroughly, and prevent this from happening and harming beings in the West (and East) for another 30 years (or longer)?
For me, good questions are generally more important than good answers (although they’re both so important! and of course very temporary). The Power of an Open Question is unwilling to take any relative position as an absolutely fixed and final answer, while still tirelessly engaging in the world in helpful ways. This is the essence of the Middle Way approach, which all Tibetan Buddhist schools agree is the highest philosophical view of absolute truth. It allows for the inquiry to deepen and become richer, which is exceptionally important as time continues to unfold, things continue to change, and absolute answers ever-recede.
This is a very important topic that deserves a lot of contemplation over a long period of time. I’m in the middle of digesting it myself, and I really appreciate everyone’s questions and feedback. Amidst the busyness of our lives and the responsibilities we all have, I hope we all make the time to reflect and meditate on such meaningful questions.
Part 3: The Delicate Dance of Vajrayana and Integral:
A Letter to Ken Wilber
Below is a letter I wrote to Ken Wilber in 2015 asking for clarification on how he understands the relationship between the views of Vajrayana Buddhism and post-Integral stages of development.
I never heard back from him, but I suspect that’s often the case when you write to busy, famous people out of the blue.
I very deeply appreciate the numerous contributions of the Integral AQAL (all-quadrant, all-level) view, and if humans survive long enough, I think that in retrospect Ken Wilber will be viewed as one of the most important geniuses in human history, which is obviously not a small or casual statement.
No one I know of has ever successfully integrated so much knowledge into a single, elegant, coherent map (and set of practices) that is constantly trying to update itself as new evidence is discovered.
I thought to share this letter in case anyone was wondering about the serious outstanding doubts I still have about how AQAL might engage Vajrayana Buddhism.
AQAL is Integral shorthand for trying to pay attention to the many factors that are always at play in any event, including at least all stages, states, lines, types, and quadrants.
In other words:
• Stages of Development (like premodern, modern, and postmodern; or preconceptual, conceptual, and postconceptual)
• States of Mind (such as waking, dreaming, and deep sleep)
• Lines, or Multiple Intelligences (various skill sets in logic, affect, interpersonal skills, mathematics, poetry, sports, etc.)
• Types, or Typology Systems (such as leadership and communication styles, approaches to problem solving, Enneagram, etc.)
• Quadrants (the interior and exterior of individuals and groups; or the subjective, inter-subjective, objective, and inter-objective dimensions of an event)
If it’s helpful, here’s an official Integral Glossary.
This is a glossary of meta-language to facilitate clearer communication between specialists of various fields of knowledge, such as Buddhism (or any other religion), psychology, philosophy, sociology, neuroscience, physics, medicine, business, hermeneutics, economics, anthropology, mathematics, ecology, systems theory, technology, etc.
This glossary—and Integral in general—is clearly an ambitious, pioneering approach that thrives on being at the frothy leading edge of cogently integrating all types of ancient and cutting-edge knowledge.
The letter is long and contains lots of Integral jargon that was used in The Fourth Turning by Wilber, but if you’ve got some time on your hands—and like me, you try to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater—feel free to give it a read. Otherwise just skip to the next section.
It should be said that Wilber’s answer to my inquiry might be somewhere within his new book, The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions That Is More Inclusive, More Comprehensive, and More Complete (2017), but I haven’t yet had enough free time and patience to thoroughly search for it in the 817 pages. If any Integralists know where to locate Wilber’s response to this specific question, please let me know.
2015 Letter to Ken Wilber
March 27, 2015
Dear Ken Wilber,
Very warm greetings and thanks so much for taking the time to read this letter.
I very deeply appreciate your work. I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching your videos since the late 1990’s. I own and have read most of your books, and have been actively involved in trying to integrate the AQAL approaches into my life for some time. Your contribution to humanity is exceptional in so many ways, and I feel it naturally, thoroughly, and rigorously compliments the vast and profound teachings of Buddhism.
I have been living at a Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist monastery and retreat center since 2004, studying, practicing, and serving in small ways the vision and Dharma activities of the Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches, the directors of the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center. The retreat center is called Padma Samye Ling, and its founders and directors are the Vajrayana scholars and masters Ven. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche (1938-2010) and his brother Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche ( ).
My question is about the Tantra teachings of Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism. Do you both think that these are just Magic or Mythic stages of Dharma teaching that are appropriate, but only for the typical View of a contemporary 7-year old, and that these stage-structure Views have to be negated to include more rational, pluralistic, and Integral Views?
How do you and the late Ven. Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche view the pervasive Vajrayana Views and Vantage Points of subtle phenomena, including: terma, invisible beings such as dakas, dakinis, gandharvas, nagas, and Dharma protectors; celestial realms, the non-human realms including hell, hungry ghost, and various form and formless god realms; simultaneous reincarnations and three kaya emanations of enlightened masters including the Buddha and Guru Padmasambhava; the major and minor marks of the historical Buddha; the Buddha seeing a beginningless series of his past lives, as well as predicting the upcoming 996 buddhas to come in this Fortunate Aeon; actual emptiness-appearance wisdom beings like Vajrakilaya or Tara (rather than a meditator’s visualized deities); and numerous other events and explanations that might be interpreted as Magic-Mythic-literal Views?
I ask this because these teachings on the perspectives of subtle energy phenomena and subtle states are so pervasive throughout all of the Buddha’s teachings, especially in his Vajrayana teachings. Also, I certainly am not trying to disprove you or be stubbornly contentious. I’m deeply and genuinely curious about your thoughts on this important issue, and very strongly respect your opinion and the many astounding, impressive, and breakthrough ideas and writings that you’ve created.
Among many ways that the Buddha categorized phenomena, one of the ways was according to: (1) apparent, (2) hidden, and (3) very hidden phenomena. Apparent phenomena are directly experienced (like a fire right in front of me), hidden phenomena are not directly experienced so they have to be established using logic about what you do directly experience (like inferring the existence of a fire on the other side of a mountain by seeing smoke), and very hidden phenomena are so subtle that one requires the testimony of an authority who directly experiences them (like the Buddha talking about past and future lives, or subtle karmic patterns).
In the end, an enlightened being directly experiences everything (both their Relative Fullness and Absolute Freedom), without relying on inferred valid cognition at all. The Buddha taught that the strongest type of valid knowledge would have to be (1) directly experienced, (2) make logical sense, and (3) be corroborated by the testimony of enlightened beings. The means of gaining knowledge about all three categories of phenomena (apparent, hidden, and very hidden) follows the three strands of valid knowledge acquisition that you discuss: (1) injunction, (2) performing the experiment, and (3) comparing the newly disclosed data with other people who correctly performed the same experiment. So the argument is that knowledge about all phenomena as they change over time (gross to very subtle) will eventually be disclosed according to AQAL locations/perspectives of the Perceiver, Perceived, and interaction between these perspectives if you perform the three strands of valid knowledge acquisition.
So even very hidden phenomena would eventually be directly disclosed as a developmental signified, even though, as you mention, it usually wouldn’t be too useful to begin a conversation by staking your argument on your perspective of a very subtle phenomena. Which could be why it is said that the Buddha taught Vajrayana more privately to audiences who were appropriate to receive those specific levels of teaching.
Let’s look at a hidden, or sometimes even very hidden phenomena like terma. Often known as the close lineage of terma, or hidden treasures, which refer to secret teachings that were concealed throughout Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan—and even in the mind-streams of disciples—by Guru Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, Vimalamitra, and others, principally during the eighth and ninth centuries. Termas were to be revealed at a later prophesied time by destined practitioners known as tertons, who are reincarnations of the twenty-five principle disciples of Guru Padmasambhava. Many great lineage masters describe three general kinds of terma: (1) earth or land terma, (2) mind terma, and (3) pure vision terma. The close, revealed Terma lineage itself is one of two lineages of Nyingma Tibetan Buddhism, the other being the distant, long lasting oral lineage of Kama.
I can’t think of many Vajrayana Lineage holders—including H.H. 14th Dalai Lama, H.H. 17th Karmapa, H.H. Sakya Trizin, H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche, H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, H.H. Penor Rinpoche, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, etc.—who would favor an Integral Buddhism that views the entire terma lineage as a Magic-Mythic View that needs to be negated in order to include a more rational, postmodern, or Integral View.
Another example is the standard account of the 3/4 Turnings of Buddhism according to the Nyingma school (at least), which teaches that Buddha Shakyamuni himself turned these wheels of Dharma, which were then later more publically turned by Nagarjuna (2nd Turning), and Asanga, and Vasubhandu (3rd Turning), as you mentioned. The historical Buddha is said to have turned the 2nd wheel of Dharma on emptiness (relative interdependence and ultimately going beyond the limits of all conceptions) on Vulture’s Peak Mountain when he was around age 42, while he turned the 3rd turning of the wheel of Dharma on buddha-nature—or some would say Yogachara-Madhyamaka—in Vaishali around age 70, when he also began quietly turning the 4th wheel of Vajrayana. This is just one account of the Buddha turning all these wheels of Dharma.
Longchenpa’s Precious Treasury of Philosophical Systems details other accounts of the Buddha’s life according to the perspectives of Foundational Buddhism, Mahayana, and various levels of Vajrayana, which discusses how each higher, more inclusive yana includes a perspective that details even more miraculous events in the life of the Buddha, as well as the simultaneous turnings of all four wheels in different locations while the Buddha emanated in different forms. As you mentioned on page 138 of your Fourth Turning eBook, Longchenpa was one of the geniuses of Buddhism [who] made abundant use of vision-logic.
In general, in the Nine Yana system of the Nyingma school—which interprets the Dharma differently at different levels—the Vajrayana includes levels 4-9 (Kriya, Upa, Yoga, Maha, Anu, and Ati), and as you mention, each senior level transcends and includes the junior levels. All 4 schools of Buddhist philosophy (Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Mind Only, and Madhyamaka) happen in yanas 1-3, so it is very clearly taught that the practice of Vajrayana is post-conceptual. After refining one’s concepts and eventually going beyond the limitations of all concepts with Madhyamaka, the relative world is re-engaged or re-emerges as a pure perspective where all experiences of body, speech, and mind, or form, sound, and space arise purely in various ways, depending on the View and direct experience of the yana. In Mahayoga, all external environments and their inhabitants are experienced as pure lands and buddhas. In Anuyoga, the components of one’s own body—channels, chakras, and essence elements—arise purely as pure lands and buddhas. In Atiyoga, everything arises spontaneously as being always already perfectly complete and enlightened as the three kayas without exception.
Of course, all of these descriptions are according to the testimony of accomplished Vajrayana masters over the centuries. This is to say, that the actual direct experience of the developmental signifieds disclosed by the realized Vajrayana views of phenomena—both more subtle and more apparent phenomena—doesn’t seem to be coming from a Magic or Mythic-literal View, but at least an Integral or Super Integral View structure stage that sustains a constant state of gross, subtle, causal, or nondual, or is based on Rung structures of meta-mind, para-mind, overmind, or supermind, according to your respective terms. So these seem to be one of the four kaya (gross, subtle, causal, or nondual) states directly experienced by the Eye of Spirit, that are then interpreted according to a post-conceptual stage of spiritual intelligence.
So in the Wilber-Combs lattice, could they not be Super-Integral Views of the constant acquisition of Gross, Subtle, Causal, or Nondual Vantage Points, rather than the Magic-Mythic Views of Gross, Subtle, Causal, or Nondual Vantage Points? As you mentioned on page 120 of your Fourth Turning eBook, just because something isn’t immediately disclosed in the sensorimotor realm by the five sense consciousnesses of the Eye of the Flesh, there is the existence and fundamental reality of all interior worldspaces … and the very real phenomena that can be found in each and every one of those very real worldspaces (worldspaces every bit as real as the sensorimotor worldspace).
Could these Vajrayana perspectives arise from somewhere like the storehouse consciousness of the causal realm, that you also refer to on page 120, and that the Vajrayana teachings often cite as being where the Buddhist Tantras are being preserved over the centuries by dakinis in the space of dharmadhatu?
I apologize if you’ve already answered this question in your writings or other media. I just personally haven’t seen it specifically addressed yet. If your reply to this question is already available, please kindly let me know where to find it.
Regardless, if it’s possible, would you please discuss the Vajrayana Views and Vantage Points more thoroughly in the upcoming paperback edition of The Fourth Turning?
This question is so central and important for Vajrayana Buddhism, that I doubt that Ven. Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, who was an extraordinary scholar and meditation master, as well as fully authorized and widely acknowledged Vajrayana lineage holder, would have thought of the Vajrayana Views as coming from Magic or Mythic-literal stage-structures of the spiritual intelligence line, although I don’t pretend to know his perspective or Integral Theory well enough to understand this with much accuracy.
I’ve just had the great fortune to meet and learn from different Tibetan Vajrayana masters who consistently seem to be abiding in nondual states, are at least worldcentric if not Kosmocentric (rather than enthocentric), are highly logical, objective, and evidenced-based, concerned about the environment, interested in learning about and taking more and more perspectives in context-sensitive ways, are socially engaged, respect natural hierarchy (and not dominator hierarchy), and they also interpret, believe, and practice multiple yanas of the Vajrayana Views of subtle phenomena that might typically be regarded as Magic or Mythic-literal.
I very much appreciate your time, consideration, and your ongoing passionate work for the emergence of the Integral View. I myself am thrilled to be a part of this incredible Kosmic unfolding, and look forward to Waking Up, Growing Up, Cleaning Up, and Showing Up evermore integrally.
With sincere best wishes and appreciation,
Part 4: Genuine Reservations About an Emerging Integral Buddhism
Since Buddhism in general, and Tibetan Buddhism in particular, are some of the greatest and most precious treasures we have, any updates, innovations, or adaptations to Buddhism should be considered with extreme care and intelligence, and should be directed and implemented by authentic lineage holders.
This is true for supplementing Buddhism with Integral elements, or any other addition for that matter.
Contemplating how Buddhism can become more relevant (or relatable, or better communicated, etc.) in the 21st century, while still maintaining its essential liberative core and the practice and theory that supports this, here are some important considerations:
Talk Is Cheap. Theory without practice doesn’t work. Sustainable realization depends on following an accurate map to actually arrive at and become incredibly familiar with the destination.
Simple But Not Too Simple. Reducing Buddhism to 1-minute modules or quick hits without any deep dives or a thorough transformative process and the context that supports this (which is obviously a big topic), would be disastrous. The two lineages of scripture and transmission (or study and practice) taught by the Buddha would be lost.
Muscle Shirts. Older men in muscle shirts and sunglasses is very off-putting and too new age for many people. At the same time, surface features like this should only ever be peripheral in the conversation of maintaining the essence of Buddhism (since they are 100% expression). Just look at the numerous playful expressions DJKR has assumed over the years. Still, effective communication depends on actually making communication with others more effective.
Avoiding Non-Integral Allergies. Integralists cannot have an allergy to non-Integral views, which only creates an Integral echo chamber, and therefore isn’t very Integral at all.
Selling Buddhism. A presentation that is too shiny and prefab is always suspect, but not necessarily wrong. Buddhists aren’t into conversion. Selling Buddhism should always be discouraged (which is different than relating to a variety of people in different contexts).
Integral Doesn’t Have to Look Integral. By definition, Integral is a very flexible term, so something doesn’t have to look Integral in order to actually be Integral. Leaving more traditional costumes, structures, etc. behind because they don’t seem Integral is not Integral. You can be Integral and look the same (or different) than everyone else. We have to allow for the option of being Integral, while appearing traditional. This might actually be more effective in adopting Integral insights into traditional Buddhist structures.
Post-Integral vs. Pre-Integral. Subtle energy and nondual elements of Tibetan Buddhism might only be properly (i.e., thoroughly) interpreted and understood from the post-Integral levels that created them. Interpreting subtle level phenomena as merely mythic or magical might actually be more of an allergy to post-Integral (and an example of the classic pre/trans fallacy) than an insight revealed by Integral.
Healthy Conservatism. Lineage is inherently conservative, and not easily adaptable or open to new evidence, trends, fashions, or additions of any sort. We need to include the safety and integrity of healthy conservatism, while clearly discerning the reactionary edge of unhealthy conservatism that refuses to change no matter what (thus condemning itself to never grow any further).
Integral Scandals. There have been many Integral teachers—typically older white men—involved in scandals. The Integral community is not immune to pathologies of disassociated shadow elements—which it fully acknowledges—and they should respect that these scandals deserve the proper healthy caution and care in the Integral context, as well as any other context.
Supplementing. Oftentimes Integral means more flexible and inclusive, which actually sets a higher standard for growth and communication. For example, an Integral practice of Tibetan Buddhism might not mean reciting prayers only in English, but in both English and Tibetan; or wearing traditional Buddhist clothing on retreat, and formal attire during public Dharma events; or in addition to accumulating 100,000 repetitions of mandala offerings in Ngondro foundational Buddhist practices, also offering 100 hours of community service, as DJKR suggests in his 2008 Ngondro podcast from Brazil.
In short, if Integral means supplementing what works with what works better in specific contexts, Integral Buddhism means becoming at least proficient at traditional Tibetan Buddhist study and practice, plus 21st century means of service and communication, growth and transformation.
Types of Teachers. In Buddhism, there are different types of teachers which should be clearly discerned from one another so the relevant teacher-student relationship is understood clearly from both sides. The six types of Buddhist teachers include:
1. General Dharma Teacher
2. Teacher who inspires you along the path & gives you vows
3. Teacher who bestows empowerment and transmission
4. Teacher who guides you along the path
5. Teacher who explains and clarifies the Dharma
6. Teacher you gives you liberating pith instructions
Teachers Who are Realized and Those Who Are Not. Regarding a Vajrayana master who is actually on the bhumis and stably abiding in rigpa most of the time, she or he might actually be operating from post-Integral most of the time in multiple lines of development, which means they might actually be able to better help you with worldly skill sets like filing your taxes, parental and marital advice, when to buy a house, or how long to stay at your job.
In Buddhism, siddhis, or seemingly super-human capacities like telepathy, emanation, telekinesis, etc. (see Religion of Tomorrow’s discussion of the Dysfunctions of the 3rd Tier, specifically regarding the Supermind) can be understood as latent natural capacities, which Mahayana Buddhism argues come online when the corresponding negative habitual patterns that have been blocking them are temporarily or permanently removed via sufficient (1) accumulation of merit, (2) purification, and (3) receiving blessings from the lineage and your Guru(s). Similar to how Olympians perform seemingly inhuman or post-human feats after decades of intense training, siddhis are highly developed post-Integral abilities that require a lot of work to develop, control, and sustain. Discerning which teachers actually have particular siddhis and which ones don’t, indicates an accurate Integral vision rather than an infantile magic/mythic projection.
How You View Your Teacher (or Anything for that Matter). On a separate but related note, how you view your teacher is different than your teacher’s actual abilities, since this reflects your own worldview much more than theirs. A higher view of your teacher (or of anyone or anything) actually pushes the leading edge of your growth into that worldview. There are numerous stories of Tibetans and Indians getting realization by maintaining a high view of a mundane object (like perceiving a dog’s tooth as a relic of the Buddha), or by performing a seemingly mundane task with a very developed motivation (like covering a buddha tsa tsa statue left on the ground with a shoe to protect it from the rain). The view and motivation are always the most important aspect of karma according to Buddhism. And while pure perception of the Guru is a doorway to enlightenment, what it actually does is help you to see everything purely—yourself, others, the world, outside and inside, without exception. It’s just easier to see one qualified person purely compared with seeing everything purely. And most of us require stepping stones.
The Necessity of Devotion. Throughout all the schools, lineages, and levels of Buddhist teaching, the Buddha clearly taught that devotion is necessary for realization, or the actualization of one’s higher potentials and ultimate liberation. The teachings are 100% in agreement with this. We can’t expect enlightenment without devotion. Dzogchen and Mahamudra don’t work without devotion. In fact, the essential practice of Dzogchen is Guru Yoga.
There are many teachings on why devotion is necessary according to all levels of Buddhism, but some of the reasons include: continually cultivating and reactivating a fresh warm, close, intimate connection to the Three Jewels, Three Roots, and Three Kayas is unavoidable for enlightenment (since they are said to be the ground, path, and fruition understood according to the two truths, two accumulations, and two kayas, respectively); devotion establishes a relationship between a teacher and oneself that is thoroughly grounded on enough trust that the complete cooking process of purification/transformation/self-liberation can actually be fully completed (any not just half-baked); devotion, joy, and appreciation is the natural expression of buddha-nature; developing sincere appreciation for the lineage that maintained and passed on these teaching methods that helped cultivate your own freedom and fullness is a natural and automatic response; devotion quickly bypasses the traps of conceptual mind when you’re performing nonconceptual wisdom, instantly releasing unhealthy doubt that will arise as obstacles (ego-clinging and its destructive emotions).
Any intellectual acrobatics that try to avoid the essential importance of devotion won’t hold up over the course of a lifetime of meditation, study, and practice. I haven’t yet seen the Integral community thoroughly address this topic.
Lineage Authorization. Buddhism is a lineage teaching, and as such, permission or authorization is required for someone to pass on certain teachings to others. This is confirmed in a very public way, and is a healthy system of checks and balances that never allows the ego to be 100% in charge. Lineage authorization would have to be maintained in any version of Integral Buddhism in order to preserve the long lasting integrity of Buddhism and its enlightening techniques.
Authentic Lineage Guidance. Authentic Buddhist lineage masters must be on board and leading the discussion and implementation, otherwise this endeavor cannot and should not move forward.
And by lineage masters I don’t mean someone who has simply completed a three-year retreat, or has studied the Dharma for a long time and can speak eloquently about it, or who has written a bunch of books on integrating Buddhism with doing the laundry, raising children, using smartphones, intersectionality, or climate change, all of which are actually very important. I mean someone of the caliber of master like Ven. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche or Ven. Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, or someone that such an accomplished master specifically and publically authorizes to participate in this endeavor.
I think most of us could agree that it would be much better to continue having a not-quite-fully-Integral Buddhism than a broken Buddhism that claims to be integral.
Conclusion: Fortunately the Push Towards Integral Isn’t Going Away
The Integral approach offers so many refreshing perspectives and insights on recalcitrant problems that have circled around for (at least) decades without much advancement.
Why do so many Buddhists fear the Integral View presented by Ken Wilber?
Which of these fears are legitimate, and which are reactionary?
No one wants the essence of Buddhism to be lost. What a tragedy that would be! Closing the door to enlightenment is pretty much the worst thing that could happen.
At the same time, the healthy conservatism of many Buddhists might sometimes lean more towards stagnation and rigidity, missing many opportunities for relevant, helpful conversations, adaptations, and updates to Buddhism in a 21st century world that sorely needs more contemplation and personal transformation into expanding and intelligent care and concern for others.
I very clearly know that I’m not personally qualified to spearhead any innovations in Buddhism. I am definitely not qualified to do anything like that. I hardly know Buddhism at all, let alone have the insight and abilities to innovate a vast and profound set of enlightened methodologies taught by the Buddha and countless lineage masters and wisdom beings.
Clearly, it would be a disaster for any regular sentient being without arhat or bhumi realization—like me—to introduce anything radically new (or even simply new) into Buddhism. Yet these questions are still worth asking. And they aren’t going away.
• The modern worldview demands evidence and logic.
• The postmodern worldview demands context-sensitivity, fairness, and inclusivity.
• The integral worldview demands genuine curiosity, (self-)honesty, authenticity, practicability, and comprehensiveness (transcending limitations while including valuable contributions).
And all of these seem worthy of being included in Buddhism as it’s studied and practiced nowadays.
Another way of putting this is:
The vast majority of Millennials—and everyone else who comes after and grows up to the increasingly-raised-bar default, on average thrust of the 21st century information age—are going to demand that Buddhism includes these points.
Otherwise they won’t be interested in Buddhism, or will pick and choose the pieces that suit them, which is always a fragile endeavor when it’s guided by narcissism, nihilism, or both.
And of course all notions of evidence, logic, fairness, authenticity, etc. are all culturally, socially, and personally influenced, and thus subject to bias. But what relative truth isn’t subject to partiality?
The relative aim is to be the least partial as possible, all the while including a lived awareness of absolute truth as the pervasive ground of all relative engagement.
21st century Buddhism should be bold enough to honor its principles of looking clearly with an open mind—allowing the inquiry to be authentic and lead wherever it leads—and then thoroughly contemplate what is discovered, all the while consulting, listening to, and learning from authentic, realized lineage masters like Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche.
For Further Study:
Integral Buddhism: Developing All Aspects of One’s Personhood (2018)
by Traleg Rinpoche
Free Download: Basic Introduction to the Integral View
Free Download: Trump and a Post-Truth World (2017) by Ken Wilber
Free Download: Integral Politics: A Summary of Its Essential Ingredients (2018)
Free Download: The Many Ways We Touch: Three Principles Helpful for Any Integrative Approach (2017)
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