Paradise Unbound: relational spirituality and other heresies in new age transpersonalism

I was made aware of this extended essay (short book) by G.A. Lahood at the P2P foundation. Subsequently I found the entire essay at this link. The abstract follows:

"I write this paper with the aim of teasing out from the New Age religion and religious transpersonal psychology a more 'relational spirituality.' New Age-transpersonalism leans toward a restrictive non-relational spirituality because of its historical affirmation of individualism and transcendence. Relational spirituality (which is central to the emerging participatory-paradigm) swims against strong and popular currents in New Age-transpersonal thinking, belief, and practice which tend to see spirituality as an individual, personal, 'inner' pursuit (often) into Eastern/Oriental non-dualism (e.g. Ramana Maharshi etc) as promulgated in popular quasi-Christian, Western, New Age thinking (e.g. A Course in Miracles or Eckhart Tolle, and in transpersonal psychology (e.g. Ken Wilber or Stanislav Grof), whatever the merits of Advaita Vedanta (and I assume there are merits) it is not 'relational spirituality‘ not in the way that I understand the practice.


"I will show first how cosmological hybridization (a process in which paradises are bound together) is a process much alive in American religious culture beginning with a Romanticized-Christianized version of the Buddha. I will demonstrate how this religious Creolization gathers speed after the Second World War and peaks in the psychedelic era during the Vietnam War and the civil unrest in America between 1963 and 1974. A complex spiritual revolution took place in America in which 'transcendence' became a central orientation. This revolution, while successful in stopping the war, sets the scene for the emergence of non-relational transpersonal psychology ('centered in the cosmos beyond human needs' ala Maslow) in which Americanized non-dualism gains ascendency. Recent critiques have suggested that popular transpersonalism traps the spirit in a subtle Cartesian prison, a structure that can breed a self-serving, 'Self-as-everything,' form of spiritual narcissism. Given that some are calling the New Age the religion of global capitalism [my emphasis], a more relational spirituality may be a much needed salve for New Age- transpersonalism‘s self-centeredness and a world in Creolization."

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Which of course reminds me of some of Mark Edwards'  criticisms. For example recall this from the Institute for Integral Studies thread:

"Particularly when applied to the area of spirituality the stage-based model suffers from serious shortcomings.... My view is that the archaic view of the teacher-guru and student-disciple has done its dash and can only be defended by those who are so immersed in stage-based development that they see no other meta-level possibilities for articulating growth (this is one of the many forms of altitude sickness that I wrote about in my last blog). I see development and learning relationships moving way beyond these limiting views of guru and student and engaging much more with the language of relationality, situational choice, shared play, communal learning, distributed intelligence, collective wisdom, reflexive learning, and action inquiry. The defense of the ancient models of student-teacher relationship, particularly where development is focused on the stage-based lens, seems to me to be a sign of regression rather than evolution."

From Lahood:

"Self-spirituality coupled with the logic of 'individual competitiveness and consumer capitalism' can result in what is called 'spiritual narcissism' (Ferrer 2002 34-36).... Once counter-cultural, the New Age sanctifies capitalism (Mikaelsson 2003) and promulgates a search (journey) for prosperity and a means to wealth (Morris 2006). Spirituality has in a sense become a 'commodity'; a fetish linked to purchasing power and economically based self-esteem. Lavish spending on spiritual commodities (e.g. expensive New Age group events, spiritual tourism or showy 'donations' to Gurus buy power and participation mystique (without the transmutitive suffering required to reduce narcissistic alienation)" (19).

I also found it interesting that the type of non-dualism inherent to the transpersonal movement is exactly what I've been calling dual nondualism. It is apparently unconscious of being caught up in the Cartesian split while claiming to be beyond  it. And this expresses in Wilber through his conflation of Neo-Advaita and Neo-Platonism (6) and, I might add, those versions of Vajrayana (like Yogacara) in alignment with this dual nondualism. (Also see Capriles comments on Wilber's dualistic roots via Shankara and Plotinus in this thread. Also see the previous comment in the link.)

He talks about the Buddhist conception of anatta, and how this was the fly in the ointment of transpersonalism's narcissistic self. So...

"Various writers in the field (Mokusen Miyuki, Claire Owens, the Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki and later Ken Wilber) have conflated and overlapped (hybridized) Zen Buddhism with what appear to be very Hindu/Gnostic descriptions of Self and the process of 'merging with the divine'...mixed in with a liberal helping of Carl Jung‘s analytical psychology and his 'self realization' project. Whereas Buddha questioned the reality of the self contemporary transpersonal psychologists, influenced by Jung, find a 'deep' self in the unconscious and see 'self realization' as the 'merging' of this ego or self with some Universal Consciousness or Mind (equated with the void [sunyata] as the ultimate reality (Morris, 1994, 66). So whatever it is—to return to Washburn‘s comment for a moment—it ain‘t very Zen.

"It appears that the way around Buddhism‘s thorny crown (anatta/no-self) for transpersonalism was to blend Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism (a process, as suggested, long alive in the hybridizing American religious imagination). This is no mean feat because Vedanta (a la Shankara) claims its non-dualism as the final and highest order of consciousness (above Buddhism) whereas Nagarjuna, the important reformer of 'middle way' Buddhism, trenchantly criticized the Upanishad and Vedanta doctrine that Brahman (absolute spirit) was the sole reality in the word. There was no 'ground' or creator of the phenomenal world, and no 'soul' within the human subject, identical with Brahman. Nagarjuna along with Buddha claimed that the famous central tenant of Hinduism 'tat tvam asi' (thou art that) was nothing but an illusion. Thus it would appear that the spiritual ultimates found in Vedanta and Buddhism are not comfortable bedfellows" (35-6).

I like this quote of Ferrer in the text:

"One difficulty in construing action research itself as a spiritual practice is the subtle Cartesianism of recent transpersonal studies. This tacitly assumes that spirituality is a subjective experience, within a nonspatial individual consciousness, of transpersonal objects which transcend the everyday public space of social interactions (Ferrer, 2002)" (49).

Footnote 9 is interesting about anger:

"...in the healthier person anger is...[a] realistic effective response to something real in the present, for instance to injustice, exploitation or attack, it takes the form of decisiveness, self-affirmation, self-protection, justified indignation, fighting against evil or the like (Maslow 1968, 62). Evil, according to Evans, is self-deceptive hidden narcissism (1993, 200) thus when someone enacts the New Age Nirvanic or Yogic defense: the self inflating claim to higher consciousness they are in my opinion, more often than not, trafficking in something akin to evil and I believe it is right and proper in the immediate present experience to confront and oppose this narcissistic spirituality with healthy human anger. However, nirvanic defenders will then claim that this is simply shows them how unevolved I really am because 'spiritual people don‘t get angry' (see Batista 1996). This partly because we use spiritual defenses are used to justify and constrain parts of ourselves including our own healthy feelings and affect and because many of the mindfulness practices characteristic of the New Age and/or contemporary Western spirituality derive from Buddhism, and according to Robert Masters there has been an unfortunate and unquestioned adoption of Buddhist views and the development of a Western spirituality that is uncomfortable with anger (2000). Furthermore the term 'anger' is often conflated with such terms as hostile, vicious, nasty, hateful and malicious without any real discrimination. And in Buddhism anger is generally conceived as an unwholesome and afflicted state devoid of morality and skill (Nhat Hanh 1998, 92). Masters points out, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the predominate way anger is handled is to unskilfully push it into a subterranean realm where it really does become malignant and rank (2000). This congealed 'shit in the basement' then pushes the spiritual nose too high air (Heron 1992) again promoting a form of spiritual narcissism fueled by unprocessed distress" (61).

Didnt´Kenny write about the positive value of anger in his ´"dialogue" with Robert mcDermott of the CIIS "afflicted" by kenny´s raging against new age city during the 90ies?

 

A question: what about Ferrer´s habitus once he got some recognition in "the field of Transpersonalism", I am using Bourdieu´s definition of field as a constructed locus of power domination between actors  exercing unconcious coercion on its adherents? Pierre Bourdieu, the french sociologist in his book "Homo academicus", shows the unconcious dynamics at paly betwen actors who want to secure their position in an intellectual field. He empirically defined the concept intellectual as "those actors producing non-material goods (texts, speechs, participation to TV-show, members of legitimate instiutions) aimed to be consumed by other actors localized in various segments of the social space".Their strategies to discredit or eliminate potential rivals. It is what he calls symbolic violence

How is this field looking like? who are the tenors? Who are rival factions struggling for domination? Who are their publishers? how is the "literary" production field looking like?

 

it is very obvious that such field exist today and the strategies used in this particular field are also constructed from an hidden ideology of domination, which is of course coined to narcissism . So the dialectic between the agentic versus communion strings of the transpersonalism main paradigms (I am using Imre Lakatos definition of paradigm as dominant research projects gainign recognition through publications) has produced Kenny, his fans and his bashers, thsoe who aspired to replace him, etc...

 

and as endnote , respecting the spirit of integrality:

yes THX kenny for your contributing partiality as well as Ferrer´s and others and so on, 

ciao

 

 

 

 



theurj said:

Footnote 9 is interesting about anger:

"...in the healthier person anger is...[a] realistic effective response to something real in the present, for instance to injustice, exploitation or attack, it takes the form of decisiveness, self-affirmation, self-protection, justified indignation, fighting against evil or the like (Maslow 1968, 62). Evil, according to Evans, is self-deceptive hidden narcissism (1993, 200) thus when someone enacts the New Age Nirvanic or Yogic defense: the self inflating claim to higher consciousness they are in my opinion, more often than not, trafficking in something akin to evil and I believe it is right and proper in the immediate present experience to confront and oppose this narcissistic spirituality with healthy human anger. However, nirvanic defenders will then claim that this is simply shows them how unevolved I really am because 'spiritual people don‘t get angry' (see Batista 1996). This partly because we use spiritual defenses are used to justify and constrain parts of ourselves including our own healthy feelings and affect and because many of the mindfulness practices characteristic of the New Age and/or contemporary Western spirituality derive from Buddhism, and according to Robert Masters there has been an unfortunate and unquestioned adoption of Buddhist views and the development of a Western spirituality that is uncomfortable with anger (2000). Furthermore the term 'anger' is often conflated with such terms as hostile, vicious, nasty, hateful and malicious without any real discrimination. And in Buddhism anger is generally conceived as an unwholesome and afflicted state devoid of morality and skill (Nhat Hanh 1998, 92). Masters points out, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the predominate way anger is handled is to unskilfully push it into a subterranean realm where it really does become malignant and rank (2000). This congealed 'shit in the basement' then pushes the spiritual nose too high air (Heron 1992) again promoting a form of spiritual narcissism fueled by unprocessed distress" (61).

There is certainly an element of the competition of ideas for which is better, i.e., more useful and beneficial for society as a whole. And part of this can be construed as a will to power and domination fueled merely by narcissistic concerns of who is right and wrong. And yes, there is some of that flavor in this article, which does not focus on perhaps the validity of individualistic spirituality caught in the subtle Cartesian dualism so common of formal operations with its concomitant attachment to capitalism.

Perhaps the strategy should have been more that it was appropriate for its time and context and that we are moving into the next phase of our evolution, from metaphysical to postmetaphysical, and it behooves us to get with that program and provide ample evidence that it does indeed promulgate less will to power, domination and narcissism, and more collaboration, empathy and justice. But to just reduce both sides to some equivalent narcissistic struggle for academic dominance with no underlying developmental impetus seems exactly the type of relativism that so much of constructivism falls prey.

As an aside, I agree that even within the alternative integral movement (alt-int) it seems the only way to gain some form of validity is through academic publishing. Which type of publishing is in fact dominated by a formal, individualistic paradigm not conducing to the types of peer production of the next wave. Those of us who choose to contribute within P2P networks in forums such as this and/or blogs, either personal or collective, are not taken seriously or even recognized for our often significant contributions to this movement. Which is unfortunate because often some of the most innovative and productive ideas are generated from this milieu.

In another forum I made reference to Mark Edwards' meta-theory and his statements from part 8 of his ILR interview have relevance to my last comments:

"In developing this idea of many different lenses and interpretive frameworks I am not simply affirming a pluralist position that, while recognizing the diversity of perspectives, does not move on to find any relationship between them...metatheory building moves beyond the relativist position because it can be used to adjudicate on the strengths and weaknesses of other theory and metatheory....metatheory can provide direction to knowledge, it can be used to set a course between better and worse ways of doing and being."

In the course of researching Mr. Lahood I discovered this website. At this link he discusses communion with his Imam, or holy guardian angel in Golden Dawn parlance. This is metaphysical to the core, so while I can appreciate his critique of one kind of metaphysics I cannot endorse his kind either.

Hi, Edward, I've been meaning to comment on this.  As you may know, I'm now teaching an online class for the Integral Theory program, which involves lots of forum time, and that has been cutting into my participation here.

This article looks pretty interesting, but is not without problems.  I've read through the first ten pages so far, and have also skimmed through it.  I find it interesting that Lahood discusses Wilber's perennial "hybridization" with nary a mention of Adi Da, that I can see.  Did I miss it?  If not, I think that's strange, and quite an oversight in a historiography on the emergence of these new syncretic systems.  I also notice no mention of Aurobindo, which is another significant oversight.  I don't think you can really account for Wilber's system without reference to these two thinkers. Another flaw appears to be his treatment of Almaas (misspelled Almass), which appears to be based mostly on a cursory review of Cortright's comments about the system (not taking account, apparently, of the prominent reliance on intersubjective forms of inquiry in Diamond Approach work, nor of the "participatory" account of spirituality Almaas gives that is somewhat similar to Ferrer's: we reach out towards mystery, mystery responds, and various religious Logoi are the result of such participatory encounters.  I do think there remains an individual/interior primacy of focus in Almaas' work, overall, but the picture is not as one-sided as Lahood appears to make it).

You're right, no mention of Adi Da or Aurobindo. It is incomplete in that and other ways but makes a good general, overall point.

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