States of Consciousness
Three Everyday States of Consciousness
The fifth component of the integral model is states of consciousness. Everyone is familiar with the three ordinary states of consciousness we all cycle through every 24 hours:
Waking (also called gross consciousness)
Dreaming (also called subtle consciousness)
Deep, dreamless sleep (also called causal or formless consciousness)
In addition to waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, mystics and contemplatives in all of the world’s spiritual traditions report experiences of two higher states of consciousness. These higher states of consciousness are related to but go beyond our normal everyday experiences of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Descriptions of these higher states of consciousness can be found in every major spiritual tradition in the world – Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, Muslim, and Indigenous or Native spiritual traditions.
One of the benefits of the integral model is that it allows us to see that while the surface details and descriptions of these experiences differ from one tradition and culture to another, closer examination reveals a similar underlying structure. Even though different traditions use different concepts and theologies to describe and interpret these experiences, they are all actually describing the same states of consciousness.
How the Mind Works
In order to understand states of consciousness, we need to begin with an understanding of how our mind works. In our everyday awareness we usually experience our mind as one thing – as the part of us that is aware, thinks, knows, learns, remembers, understands, etc. But if we look closely into the nature of our own mind, we will see that it is not just one thing. To see this for yourself, try this experiment: close your eyes and silently repeat to yourself the phrase, "Mary had a little lamb." Do it now.
Did you do it? If you did, you can see for yourself that there are actually two different parts of your mind. One part of your mind "said" the phrase. Another part of your mind “heard” you say the phrase, or was aware of the words as they were being "spoken." The part of your mind that said the words is the thinking part of your mind. The part of your mind that “heard” you say the words is the Awareness part of your mind.
In other words, one part of our mind thinks, and another part of our mind is aware of our thinking. The aware part of our mind is aware of everything we are aware of, not just our thoughts. It's aware of our emotions, our body and its sensory perceptions, and the world around us. Many meditative traditions call the Awareness part of our mind Witnessing Awareness, or sometimes just the Witness.
Most of us don’t experience our mind as two separate things – as Awareness and thought. This is because most of us spend our waking hours with Awareness and thought completely “fused” together. And we are usually completely identified with the thinking part of our mind as our "self." Understanding and experiencing the difference between these two parts of our mind is an essential component of understanding and experiencing higher states of consciousness.
It’s fairly simple to separate Awareness and thought in our own direct experience. To see this for yourself, try this simple 3 minute meditation:
Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and focus your full attention your breathing. Choose one place in your body where you can notice your breath coming in and going out. It could be in your nose, your chest, your stomach, etc.
For 3 minutes try to focus your full attention on just noticing your breath come and go in this spot. Don’t try to change your breathing in any way. Just try to notice it.
If you’re like most people, when you try to do this for any length of time, pretty soon you will notice that your attention has been distracted – that it has wandered off in thought, or been distracted by a physical sensation such as an itch, or by something you can hear going on nearby, and you are no longer paying attention to your breathing. This is normal and happens to everyone. Each time you realize it has happened, just gently return your attention to your breathing.
Stop and try this meditation exercise now.
In earlier sections we learned about the difference between subject and object. We learned that subject is something I experience as “me,” and object is something I experience as “not me.”
During the 3 minute meditation you just tried, as your attention went back and forth between noticing your breathing and getting lost in thought, you were undergoing a shift in your experience of subject and object. You were shifting back and forth between being identified with the Awareness part of your mind as subject, and being identified with the thinking part of your mind as subject. When you were fully aware of your breath going in and out, you were temporarily experiencing Awareness itself as “subject” (what you experience as “me”), and the physical sensation of your breathing as an “object” in your Awareness.
When you got lost in thought, your experience of subject (what you experience as “me”) and object shifted from the Awareness part of your mind to the thinking part of your mind.
This second experience of subject and object is how most of us spend all of our waking time – completely identified with and experiencing the thinking part of our mind (not the Awareness part of our mind) as who we are, as our “self.”
The thinking part of our mind is not the only thing we usually experience as subject or “me.” We also experience our body and our emotions as our “self.” Many meditative traditions call this “self” we normally experience ourselves to be our “bodymind.” It includes our body, our emotions, and our thoughts. When spiritual traditions refer to the ego or the egoic self, they are referring to the bodymind.
Normal everyday consciousness
With a little intentional effort we can begin to experience the difference between Awareness and thought, even when we are not meditating. Any time we pause, even for a moment, to consciously pay attention to whatever we are currently aware of – any thoughts going through our mind, any emotions we are feeling, or any physical sensations from our five senses – we are practicing a subtle shift from identifying with our bodymind as our self to identifying with Witnessing Awareness as our self.
When we aren't meditating or paying conscious attention to what we are experiencing right now (when we're in our normal waking state of consciousness going about our day) Witnessing Awareness isn’t gone. It is always present, even when we are completely lost in thoughts, emotions, sensations, or activities and not paying any attention to it. In fact, it is really this Witnessing Awareness, not our bodymind, that is actually “seeing” everything that we are aware of, in every moment.
With a little practice it becomes easy to stop and see how Witnessing Awareness is always present during the waking state, even though we are frequently lost in thoughts, feelings, sensations, activities, etc. and forget that it’s there.
Meditation and Stage Growth
In the earlier sections on stage growth we learned that psychologists who study human development find that we grow fairly predictably through stages of development up to young adulthood, but when we reach our mid-twenties stage development tends to stop, often for decades. And we learned that growth to a new stage of development happens when “the subject at one stage becomes the object of the subject at the next stage.” Research has demonstrated that meditation accelerates stage growth in adults. This is most likely because when we meditate we are making the thoughts and feelings of whatever stage of development we are currently at into objects in our Awareness. We are moving them from subject to object. By giving us this ongoing practice in moving subject to object, meditation can accelerate our growth through stages of development.
Awareness is "Bigger" than Thought
There are several important differences between the Awareness part of our mind and the thinking part. One difference is that the Awareness part of our mind is much bigger than the thinking part. (This is why Buddhism calls the Awareness part of our mind "Big Mind."
Whenever thoughts come into our mind, they are arising within Witnessing Awareness, which is always larger than any object that arises within it. In the Buddhist tradition the Awareness part of our mind is called Big Mind, to emphasize how much larger it is than the thinking part of our mind.
Almost All Thinking is Conditioned Thinking
When people begin a meditation practice one thing they quickly discover is how little control we really have over our thinking mind. No matter how many times we consciously decide to pay attention to something (our breath, a mantra, our sensory perceptions, etc.), our mind soon takes off in another direction and before we know it we are lost in thought. It’s as if the thinking mind has a mind of its own, so to speak. Some meditative traditions call our thinking mind our “monkey mind,” because it is like a young monkey constantly jumping from tree to tree, restless and chattering endlessly. Engaging in a meditation practice allows us to see how thoughts appear in our minds seemingly of their own volition, sometimes in response to a particular stimuli and sometimes out of the blue.
The large majority of our thinking is conditioned. It is based on deeply ingrained thought patterns. These thought patters begin forming in early childhood, and by the time we reach adulthood they are so deeply ingrained that they repeat themselves automatically, often even before we are consciously aware that it is happening. Some of us have conditioned thought patterns that are relatively positive. A positive conditioned thought pattern might generate automatic thoughts such as, “I am capable.” “Hard work pays off.” Or, “Most people are good.” A negative conditioned thought pattern might generate automatic thoughts such as, “I will never be good enough.” “People always try to take advantage of me.” Or, “I can never catch a break.” Whatever our conditioned thought patterns are, they repeat themselves automatically in response to the various conditions and events that arise in our lives.
When an event occurs that triggers a deeply conditioned thought pattern, the thought pattern is activated immediately and automatically, with no conscious intention on our part. When this happens, we usually believe the content of our thought patterns. Whatever the thought is saying to us, positive or negative, we take as the truth – as a true assessment of ourselves or the situation – and this belief in the truth of our thoughts results in a corresponding emotion. Positive conditioned thinking generates positive emotions, and negative conditioned thinking generates negative emotions. What they both have in common is that they are both products of the thinking part of our mind.
When an automatic thought pattern (and its corresponding emotion) are arising, and we are believing them to be true, we are experiencing the thinking part of our mind, rather than Awareness, as subject or “me”. When Awareness is the subject and our thoughts and emotions are objects, we are able to consciously recognize that a particular thought is arising, and that when that thought arises a particular emotion arises with it. And we can recognize that the thought may or may not be an accurate reflection of reality. We can help make this shift to Witnessing Awareness as subject or “me” by labeling our arising thoughts and emotions. For example, saying to yourself, “I’m having the thought that I will never be good enough. When I have this thought, a feeling of despair arises.” Or, “I am having the thought that life is good. When I have this thought a feeling of gratitude arises.”
The Thinking Mind The Thinking Mind
Experienced as Subject Experienced as Object
When meditative traditions talk about the egoic self, or say that we are“unconscious,” they mean that we are completely identified with the thinking part of our mind as subject, as “who I am.” This is how most of us spend all of our waking time – completely identified with the thinking part of our minds, with little or no conscious awareness of the presence of Awareness itself. The intention of various meditation practices is to practice making subject into object -- to practice identifyig with Witnessing Awareness as subject (as who we are), and to learn to observe our thoughts, physical sensations, and feelings as objects that temporarily arise in Awareness.
Appendix E contains instrutions for three different types of mediation practice.
Experiencing Emotions as Objects
Sometimes when people first learn about the process of making subject into object they express concern that by moving emotions to the object side of subject and object they may become detached or cut off from their emotions in an unhealthy way. This is not the case. Being fully present as Witnessing Awareness when an emotion arises actually allows us to feel that emotion more, not less, because we bring the full light of 100% of our conscious Awareness to it.
Making a thought, emotion, or physical sensation into an object in our Awareness is not the same thing as dissociating from it. Often we try to eliminate or dissociate from unpleasant emotions. We don’t like how they make us feel, and we want to be rid of them. We may try to numb them with food or alcohol, or distract ourselves from them with television, shopping, sports, sex, or some other activity.
True Witnessing Awareness does not seek to avoid or eliminate (nor to cling to) anything it witnesses. It allows all things to come and go, exactly as they are, in the light of full Awareness. The thinking part of our mind, on the other hand, seeks to eliminate unpleasant emotions and hold onto pleasant ones. The thinking mind is ruled by aversion on the one hand, and craving or grasping on the other.
By staying fully present as Witnessing Awareness when feelings arise, we feel those feelings more, not less, and yet we are not debilitated by them the way we sometimes are when we are completely identified with and swallowed up in them, when they are all subject. When the experience of a strong difficult emotion is all subject and no object, so to speak, we are overtaken by the emotion and lost in it. It can feel like we are drowning in it. When this happens, our thinking can become distorted, and we may conclude that the emotion is revealing some terrible, absolute truth about us, such as, “I am a worthless, and always will be,” or “No one will ever love me.” Making an emotion into an object in our conscious Awareness allows us to fully feel the emotion without drowning in it or becoming incapacitated by it.
Ken Wilber shares an expression that describes how painful emotions are experienced from the perspective of pure Awareness. He says, “Hurts more, bothers you less.” In other words, because we bring 100% of the full light of our conscious Awareness to the emotion (rather than trying to get rid of it or distract ourselves from it) we feel it more. But because we are not experiencing it as subject, as who we are, we are not swallowed up or lost in it.
One way to practice identifying with Witnessing Awareness as subject when a strong unpleasant emotion arises is to find where in our body we feel the emotion most strongly. It may be a tightening in our stomach, a physical aching in our heart, a tension in our neck and shoulders, or a clenched jaw. Wherever it is, we can just notice that physical sensation and use it as an object of meditation.
As with all meditation objects, we will likely get distracted from noticing the physical sensation that accompanies the emotion. We may get caught up in thoughts about what led to the emotion – thoughts about what hurt us or scared us or angered us. We may get lost in thoughts about what the feeling must “mean” about ourselves, others, our life, etc. Or we may get caught up in thoughts about something else to try to distract ourselves from the unpleasant emotion. As soon as we realize that any of these things have happened, we do the same thing we do with all meditation objects, just notice that our attention has wandered and gently bring it back to the physical sensation in our body.
As we practice being fully present and witnessing whatever is occurring in the present moment, without trying to cling to nor eliminate it, we see that eventually every emotion passes, just as every thought does. All thoughts and emotions are temporary phenomena that arise and then pass away. Knowing this can give us perspective when a powerful difficult emotion arises, because we will have seen for ourselves, repeatedly, that all emotions, no matter how powerful, are temporary, passing phenomena.
Appendix F contains practical suggestions for making subject into object throughout the day, when you are not sitting in formal meditation.
The Peace and Acceptance of Witnessing Awareness
Another difference between the thinking part of our mind and Awareness is that while the thinking mind is often upset or agitated, Awareness itself is not. Witnessing Awareness is always at perfect peace and equanimity. It is 100% fully present to and aware of pain, fear, and other difficult emotions (and thus feels them more), but it is never in pain or fear itself (and thus is not bothered by their presence). The fact that Witnessing Awareness itself is always at perfect peace is what makes it able to hold and be fully present with whatever arises, even when very difficult or painful things arise.
Meditative traditions sometimes compare pure Awareness to the sky, and our thoughts, feelings, and sensations to objects that move through the sky (clouds, birds, rain, lightning, snow, wind, leaves, balloons, airplanes, etc.) The sky doesn’t try to eliminate some things and cling to others. It allows whatever comes to come, and it allows them to pass when they pass. This is how pure Witnessing Awareness is like the sky.
A verse from the Tao te Ching, a book of scripture from the Taoist tradition, describes the experience of thoughts and emotions from the perspective of pure Witnessing Awareness:
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through. – TTC, 23
But if Witnessing Awareness always peacefully accepts whatever arises, then by identifying with Witnessing Awareness aren’t we in danger of accepting things that should not be accepted? There are some things, such as injustice and violence, that should be eliminated, not accepted. Resting in the perfect peace and equanimity of Witnessing Awareness does not prevent us from taking action when action is called for. Rather, it allows our actions to arise out of Witnessing Awareness rather than out of the thinking mind. There is a wisdom in Witnessing Awareness that goes far beyond the wisdom of the thinking mind. The thinking mind usually thinks it knows best, and tries to control people and events, often with unintended consequences. Actions that arise from Witnessing Awareness, rather than from the thinking mind, are the most effective kinds of action we can take.
The Dream (Subtle) State of Consciousness
We will now consider the dream state of consciousness. Many spiritual traditions call this state of conscious subtle consciousness, or being in the subtle realm.
We have learned that subject is something I experience as “me,” and object is something I experience as “not me.” In the dream state of consciousness our experience of subject and object changes. What we typically experience as subject and object when we are in the dream state of consciousness looks like this:
Notice what's gone from both subject and object in the dream state: our physical body. In the dream state we no longer identify with or experience our physical body as our "self." Our physical body is completely gone from our Awareness, and yet we still recognize our "self" as being present in the dream. We say, "In my dream, I did [this or that]." In other words, we still experience a sense of self, or "I-ness," even when our physical body is completely gone from our Awareness.
Now let’s think about what happens when we wake up from a dream. When we wake up, our sense of identity or “I-ness” shifts from our dream character back to our bodymind. We can remember the character we were in our dream, but we no longer think we are that character. In other words, when we wake up our dream character goes from being subject (what I experience as “me”) to being an object (what I experience as “not me”). It's only after we wake up that we realize the dream was just a dream, and that the dream character isn't who we really are.
The Witnessing Awareness that is present in the waking state and in meditation is the exact same Witnessing Awareness that is present in the dream state. In fact, it’s actually this Witnessing Awareness (not our dream character) that is seeing and hearing and feeling everything in the dream. And since this Witnessing Awareness is what we really are (whether we realize it or not), we still recognize our “self” as being present in the dream state, even when our bodymind is gone and we are temporarily experiencing ourselves as some dream character.
Earlier we saw how we can practice making a shift in our sense of self during the waking state by consciously making our bodymind (thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations) into objects in Witnessing Awareness. This same kind of shift in identity is possible during the dream state. It’s possible for our experience of self to shift from our dream character to Witnessing Awareness, while we are still dreaming. When this happens, we are lucid dreaming.
In lucid dreaming we realize, even as the dream is playing itself out, that we are dreaming. We know that our “real” self is not the dream character we are temporarily experiencing our self to be. We know that eventually we're going to wake up, and that when we do this whole dream world, including our dream character, will disappear, because they're not real. The prospect of our dream self disappearing doesn’t frighten us, because we know it’s not who we really are. And we know that no matter what happens to us in the dream, even if it's scary or painful, everything will be okay, because it’s not happening to the person we really are.
Subject and Object in Deep, Dreamless Sleep
In lucid dreaming conscious Awareness extends from the waking state into the dream state. But what about the deep sleep state? The spiritual traditions all say that Witnessing Awareness is ever-present, but for most of us deep dreamless sleep seems like a complete blank – a state in which there is no subject, no object, and no Witnessing Awareness. Where is this ever-present Witnessing Awareness when we are in deep dreamless sleep?
The reason deep dreamless sleep seems like a complete blank is because of our limited (or nonexistent) identification with Witnessing Awareness as subject or self. As we have seen, in the waking state we usually experience our self as our bodymind, and in the dream state we usually experience our self as our dream character. But from the perspective of pure Witnessing Awareness both of these “selves” are really objects, not subjects. Both the bodymind and our dream characters are objects that come and go in Witnessing Awareness, every 24 hours.
Because most of us live our entire lives with Witnessing Awareness always completely identified with one or the other of these self objects, we have little or no experience of pure Witnessing Awareness apart from any object. As a result, when our self objects are gone, as they are in deep sleep, we experience Witnessing Awareness as being gone, too. But this doesn’t have to be the case. It’s possible, if our identity with Witnessing Awareness as subject or self becomes strong enough, to experience not only lucid dreaming, but lucid deep sleep. This is exactly what some long term meditators report experiencing. They report conscious wakefulness or Awareness persisting throughout both the dream and deep sleep states.
The meditative traditions teach that each state of conscousness -- waking or gross, dreaming or subtle, and dreamless sleep or causal -- can be thought of as a realm that consciousness can inhabit, and that in each realm we have a "body" in which consciousness lives while in that realm. In the waking or gross realm we inhabit a gross, physical body. In the dream or subtle realm we inhabit a subtle body. And while in the deep dreamless or subtle realm we inhabit a causal body.
The causal realm is called “causal” because it is understood to be the ground or formlessness out of which the gross and subtle realms arise – in other words, it is the “cause” out of which these other dimensions arise. It is also sometimes called Formlessness or Emptiness, because it is the state of Consciousness in which there are no “forms,” a state that has a subject but that is “empty” of any objects. It has also been called “Consciousness without an object.”
The True Self
In one way or another, each of the world’s major spiritual traditions teach that our bodymind is not our true or real self. Witnessing Awareness is our True Self, and our bodymind temporarily exists within this larger True Self. This Witnessing Awareness has been called different things in different cultures and spiritual traditions. It has been called the Higher Self and the Self with a capital "S." Jewish mystics (Kabbalists) have called it “Nothingness” and the True Self. Buddhists have called it Big Mind and Buddha Nature. Christian contemplatives have called it Christ Consciousness or our Christ Nature, Spirit, and the Presence of God. In the Bible it is sometimes referred to as “I Am.” Muslin mystics (Sufis) have called it the Supreme Identity. In Hinduism it has been called Turiya. Turiya is a Sanskrit word that literally means “the fourth” – as in the fourth state of consciousness beyond waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.
Ken Wilber has described the realization of Witnessing Awareness as the True Self this way:
. . . you pursue this inquiry, Who am I? Who or what is this Seer that cannot itself be seen? You simply “push back” into your awareness, and you dis-identify with any and every object you see or can see. In front of you the clouds parade by, your thoughts parade by, bodily sensations parade by, and you are none of them. You are the vast expanse of freedom through which all these objects come and go. You are an opening, a clearing . . . a vast spaciousness, in which all these objects come and go . . . you are that vast sense of freedom . . . that vast opening, through which manifestation arises, stays a bit, and goes. – A Brief History of Everything, 2000, 2nd edition, pgs. 200-201
In trying to contact the Witness . . . people imagine that they will see something. But you don't see anything, you simply rest as the Witness of all that arises – you are the pure and empty Seer, not anything that can be seen. Attempting to see the Seer as a special light, a great bliss, a sudden vision – those are all objects . . .
As you push back into this pure Subjectivity, this pure Seer, you won't see it as an object – you can't see it as an object, because it's not an object! It is nothing you can see. Rather, as you calmly rest in this observing awareness – watching mind and body and nature float by – you might begin to notice that what you are actually feeling is simply a sense of freedom, a sense of release, a sense of not being bound to any of the objects you are calmly witnessing . . . you simply rest in this vast freedom.
We do not reach or contact this pure Witnessing awareness. It is not possible to contact that which we have never lost. Rather, we rest in this easy, clear, ever-present awareness by simply noticing what is already happening. We already see the sky. We already hear the birds singing. We already feel the cool breeze. The simple Witness is already present, already functioning, already the case. That is why we do not contact or bring this Witness into being, but simply notice that it is always already present, as the simple and spontaneous awareness of whatever is happening in this moment. – The Simple Feeling of Being, pgs. 14-16, 21, 247
The realization of Witnessing Awareness as the True Self has also been called different things in different cultures and spiritual traditions, and has been interpreted through different theological and philosophical lenses. Christian mystics have called it union with the God or entering the Godhead, and say that it is what Jesus referred to when he spoke of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. A phrase from the New Testament describes the experience well as, “the peace that passes all understanding.” (Phillipians 4:7) Other traditions have called it Self-realization, God-realization, awakening, nirvana, enlightenment, liberation, and realization of the Supreme Identity.
The Tao te Ching describes the reality of Witnessing Awareness in these words:
Look, and it can’t be seen. [Because it is not an object, it is what sees all objects.]
Listen, and it can’t be heard. [Because it is not an object, it is what hears all objects.]
Reach, and it can’t be grasped. [Because it is not an object.]
You can’t know it [in the way an object can be known], but you can be it [you can realize it, in your own 1st person awareness, as your True Self]. – TTC, 14
When we have realized our true identity as Witnessing Awareness we still experience the three natural states of consciousness – waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. But we see for ourselves, in our own direct experience, that both our bodymind and our dream selves are passing phenomena that continually come and go within in the ever-present Awareness that is our True Self.
Here are a few more of Wilber’s descriptions of the realization of Witnessing Awareness as the True Self:
. . . when you rest in the pure Seer, in the pure Witness, you are invisible. You cannot be seen. No part of you can be seen, because you are not an object. Your body can be seen, your mind can be seen, nature can be seen, but you are not any of those objects. You are the pure source of awareness, and not anything that arises in that awareness. So you abide as awareness.
Things arise in awareness, they stay a bit and depart . . . They arise in space, they move in time. But the pure Witness does not come and go. It does not arise in space, it does not move in time. It is as it is; it is ever-present and unvarying. It is not an object out there, so it never enters the stream of time, of space, of birth, of death . . .
So this pure Seer is prior to life and death, prior to time and turmoil, prior to space and movement, prior to manifestation – prior even to the Big Bang itself. This doesn't mean that the pure Self existed in a time before the Big Bang, but that it exists prior to time, period. It just never enters that stream . . . it is utterly timeless. And because it is timeless, it is eternal – which doesn't mean everlasting time, but free of time altogether.
. . . This vast Freedom is the great Unborn . . . And because it is Unborn, it is Undying. It was not created with your body, it will not perish when your body perishes. It's not that it lives on beyond your body's death, but rather that it never enters the stream of time in the first place. It doesn't live on after your body, it lives prior to your body, always. It doesn't go on in time forever, it is simply prior to the stream of time itself. – A Brief History of Everything, 2000, 2nd edition, pg. 202
We have seen that at the mythic or traditional stage of development religious myths are understood literally. At the mythic literal stage of religious understanding "eternal life" is believed to be something God will give us after we die. It means that our individual bodymind can somehow live on in time forever. From this perspective, the point of spiritual practice is to somehow qualify (either through right belief or good works) to be given eternal life after we die. An understanding and experience of higher states of consciousness reveals that "eternal life" is already our true nature. Our True Self is already the Pure Awareness that never enters the stream of time, but rather witnesses it. From this perspective the purpose of a spiritual practice such as meditation is to reveal to us the eternal life that we already are. In the introduction to the first edition of Grace & Grit, Ken Wilber writes:
You triumph over death, not by living forever, but by living timelessly, by being present to the Present. You are not going to defeat death by identifying with the ego in the steam of time and then trying to make that ego go on forever in that temporal stream. You defeat death by finding that part of your own present awareness that never enters the stream of time in the first place and thus is truly Unborn and Undying. – See: http://wilber.shambhala.com/html/books/cowokev5_intro.cfm/
The realization of Witnessing Awareness as our True Self has been described this way:
We think we are a body
in which consciousness comes and goes.
In reality, we are Consciousness
in which a body comes and goes.
The contemporary spritiual teacher Richard Sylvester said this about about what happens to our consciousens in deep sleep:
We have to sleep. We go home [into the causal realm] when we go to sleep. We are disassembled as a person. If you had to be a person twenty-four hours a day you would go mad within a week. One of the fastest ways to produce psychosis is sleep deprivation. That will do it in about five days. It's used as a form of torture. We have to be disassembled. We can't bear to be a person 24 hours a day. We need to spend at least eight hours in twenty-four not being a person. – I Hope You Die Soon, by Richard Sylvester, pg. 114
We have seen that there are two different aspects of reality:
The realm of objects or forms, sometimes called the relative or manifest realm. This includes the gross physical realm and the subtle dream realm.
The causal realm of the formless, the unmanifest, the Absolute – also called pure Witnessing Awareness and I Amness.
In the spiritual traditions, the realm of form is believed to arise our of the unmanifest formless realm. It is the manifestation or embodiment of the formless realm of Spirit.
These two faces of reality each have their own truths – things that are true from their perspective. For example, from the perspective of the Absolute, everything in existence is a perfect manifestation of Spirit, just as it is. It's all "God." There is no seeking and no need for anything to be different than it is in this moment. But from the relative perspective of the manifest realm, there is much that needs to change. Human beings need to grow and develop so that we can manifest the love of the Absolute in increasingly wider circles and alleviate suffering wherever we can. In the integral view both of these are true, depending on which perspective one is looking from.
Experiencing the deep peace, perfection, and unconditional love of the Absolute can give us the strength and perspective that is needed to remain fully present and open to the terrible imperfection and suffering in the relative world, and to take effective action to alleviate suffering. If we only ever know the relative perspective of the manifest realm, we can easily become overwhelmed or paralyzed by the immense amount of pain and suffering in the relative world.
The experience of time is a phenomena of the relative or manifest realm. The thinking mind or egoic self exists in the relative realm of time, of past, present, and future. People who have experienced Witnessing Awareness as their True Self have consistently reported that it is timeless – that is never enters the stream of time. It exists, rather, in the “eternal present.” The only moment in which we can experience our True Self as Witnessing Awareness is the present moment. The present moment is thus the doorway into the experience of Witnessing Awareness as the True Self.
Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, is a modern spiritual teacher who teaches a method of practicing the shift in identification from the bodymind to Witnessing Awareness by remaining fully present and aware in the present moment, which is ultimately the only “moment” there ever is. The past and the future, he points out, exist only as thoughts, memories, or ideas in our minds, and the only moment in which we can experience these thoughts about past and future is the present moment. Tolle teaches that by being resistant to whatever exists in the present moment, by trying to escape the present to get to a better future, we create suffering. We also strengthen our identification with the world of form and prevent ourselves from relaxing into the ever-present Witnessing Awareness in which this present moment (whatever form – good or bad – it is taking) is arising.
It has been said by some meditation teachers that trying to use the mind’s willpower to force the mind to stop thinking during meditation is like racing around a lake in a speedboat in search of a still place in the water where there are no waves. The very act of expending effort in search of stillness prevents the stillness we are seeking. Tolle says the same thing about seeking awakening in the future – when we engage in a spiritual practice in order to reach awakening or enlightenment at some future point in time, our very looking toward the future prevents us from realizing the presence of Witnessing Awareness or Spirit in this present moment, which is the only place and time that awakening can ever happen. Awakening can never happen in the future. Awakening can only happen in this present moment, because this is the present moment is the only moment there ever is.
In a meditation practice, we set aside a specific time each day to practice bringing our Awareness fully into the present moment. Tolle teaches that our day-to-day life and activities can also be our practice. Being fully aware of what is arising in each moment is something we can do throughout the day. We can use challenging and frustrating moments and conditions as opportunities for practice, by letting them be reminders to stop and become fully aware of our inner state – our thoughts and feelings – and to surrender our resistance to whatever is in this moment, even at those times when “what is” may be our internal resistance to the present situation. He suggests making the shift from identifying with the thinking mind and it’s conditioned thoughts and emotions to identifying with Witnessing Awareness by asking ourselves the question, “Can I be the space for this?”
The realization of Witnessing Awareness as our True Self is the first of the two higher states of consciousness reported by the mystics in each of the world’s spiritual traditions. In Hinduism this state of consciousness is called Turiya, which is a Sanskrit word that means "the fourth" -- as in the fourth (Witnessing) state of consciousness (the first three states of consciousness being waking, dreaming, and deep dreamless sleep). The second higher state of consciousness is Nondual Awareness, which in Hinduism is called turiyatita, which means “beyond the fourth” -- It has also been called One Taste.
When Awareness has “woken up” from its identification with the bodymind or any dream character, we still experience the dualism of subject and object. In other words, Witnessing Awareness is still a “subject” that is separate from the “self” objects it witnesses.
In Nondual Awareness, it is seen that Witnessing Awareness and the objects which it witnesses are “not two.” It is as if the Witness suddenly collapses into everything it is witnessing.
In the following excerpts Richard Sylvester, a modern spiritual teacher from England, describes his realization of Nondual Awareness:
. . . at a central London station on a warm summer evening the person, the sense of self, suddenly completely disappears. Everything remains as it is – people, trains, platforms, other objects – yet everything is seen for the first time without a person mediating or interpreting it . . . imagine being here as you are and then suddenly for a split second everything remains absolutely the same as it is right now, except that you are not in it. Yet there remains complete awareness of it . . . In that instant it is seen that there is no one.
. . . when liberation was seen, any sense of localization ended . . . Awareness was seen to be everywhere. The room in which standing was happening, the street in which there was walking, the bodies and lamp-posts and benches and space that were appearing, were not differentiated in their belonging from this arm, this thinking process, this seeing, these feet walking the pavement. There was no sense of anyone walking past anything or through any space. Yet it was noticed that the body was able to negotiate apparent space and time without colliding with either walls or the furniture.
What happened was the complete and instantaneous disappearance of the person. I say “what happened” but it wasn’t really something that happened . . . When the person disappears it is not an event that happens in time. It is seen that this happens outside of time and that everything is timeless.
. . . in liberation it’s seen that there is no person, and phenomena – feeling and thoughts, visual stimuli, tactile stimuli, aural stimuli – simply arise . . . There is the seeing of this, the seeing of whatever phenomena present themselves. In liberation it is seen that these phenomena simply arise in awareness without a person mediating them.
After liberation, which is really the death of the person, what remains is still a functioning body-mind with a character and patterns of behavior. There will still be preferences and interests, character traits, perhaps eccentricities and foibles. [But they are experienced simply as arisings in Awareness, without any sense of a self attached to them.]
At the moment you think you’re doing something to pay your mortgage but you aren’t. Work happens, salaries appear in the bank, mortgages get paid. There’s nobody doing that. It’s just that in liberation this is seen to be the case, whereas before that, there’s the idea that there’s a person here who is doing something and if you get lazy then the mortgage won’t be paid. But you cannot get lazy [because there is no “you”] . . . laziness could happen. And the mortgage might not be paid. But I suggest that if there is a character there who likes their comfort . . . the mortgage will probably get paid. The mortgage here tends to get paid because this character would rather live in a house than live in a ditch, particularly in England. – I Hope You Die Soon, by Richard Sylvester, pgs.15, 21, 55, 67, 81, 82, 90, 110, 112-113
Some traditions call the realization of Nondual Awareness “great death,” because it represents, in a sense, the “death” of the separate, relative self – not its physical death, but the death of the sense of being a separate self located in an individual bodymind.
"For authentic transformation is not a matter of belief but of the death of the believer . . . not a matter of finding solace but of finding infinity on the other side of death. The self is not made content; the self is made toast." – The Essential Ken Wilber: An Introductory Reader, pg. 141
In the following excerpt Ken Wilber describes the first time he realized Nondual Awareness. Katagiri Roshi, whom he mentions, is a Zen Buddhist teacher he studied with. (“Roshi” is the title given to Zen Buddhist masters.)
The first time this became even fleetingly obvious to me was at a sesshin, or intensive Zen retreat. On the fourth day there appeared, so to speak, the state of the witness, the transpersonal witness that steadily, calmly, clearly witnesses all arising events, moment to moment. Even in dreaming, one merely witnesses: One can see the dream start, proceed, and end (what Charles Tart has called “translucent dreams”). [Katagiri] Roshi, however, was thoroughly unimpressed with all this . . . “The witness,” he said, “is the last stand of the ego.”
At that point, the whole stance of the witness absolutely disappeared. There was no subject anywhere in the universe; there was no object anywhere in the universe; there was only one universe. Everything was arising moment to moment, and it was arising in me and as me; yet there was no me. It is very important to realize that this state was not a loss of faculties but a peak-enhancement of them; it was no blank trance but perfect clarity; not depersonalized but transpersonalized. No personal faculties – language, logic, concepts, motor skills – were lost or impaired. Rather, they all functioned, for the first time, it seemed to me, in radical openness, free of the defenses thrown up by a separate self-sense. This radically open, undefended, and perfectly nondual state was both incredible and profoundly ordinary, so extraordinarily ordinary that it did not even register. There was nobody there to comprehend it until I fell out of it (I guess about three hours later). – The Simple Feeling of Being, pg. 40
In Nondual Awareness there is no separation between subject and object or self and other. Richard Sylvester explains why, until Nondual Awareness is realized, nothing can permanently satisfy the self:
You can go through all that [therapy and spiritual practice] and in the end you may have a person who feels happier, but you still have a person so they will still feel separate. There will still be a longing, a knowing that there’s something missing.
Until we lose our life we spend the whole of it looking for paradise . . . No matter what we do we will never heal the sense of separation because as long as there’s a person there will be a problem. In fact the person is the problem. Therapy and meditation are both wonderful things to do and they’ll probably make your prison more comfortable. But they don’t get you out of your prison because you are the prison . . . the prison consists of the sense that there is a separate person. This is what prevents us from recognizing this as paradise. When the person drops away it’s seen that there never was a prison and this always has been paradise. – I Hope You Die Soon, by Richard Sylvester, pgs. 70, 100
The Indian teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti said that, "In the gap between subject and object lies the entire misery of humankind."
An initial realization of Nondual Awareness is often followed by the return of the sense of a separate self, at least to some degree, for some time. The permanent realization of Nondual Awareness is often a process. Richard Sylvester writes:
Within a second, the self returns saying, “What the hell was that?” But that split second of no one brings about irrevocable changes to the internal landscape . . . after that split second of no one, although the person has come back, the past is like a flat painting. All the scenes are still there – this is not Alzheimer’s – but they have no energy, no reality, and there is little impulse to visit them anymore.
Within the story [of Richard], the period of awakening lasts for one year. During this time, the person reasserts itself, sometimes strongly, drops away again, and returns. For awhile there is a desert where personal pain is as intense as before but all the old comforts and mechanisms for dealing with it have lost their meaning . . . I am beginning to understand that this awakening is ruthless, stripping away every belief that I have ever held and clung to.
Within the story, a year after awakening, I am standing in a shop in an ordinary country town. Suddenly but with great gentleness the ordinary is displaced by the extraordinary. The person again disappears completely and now it is seen clearly that awareness is everywhere and everything. The localized sense of self is revealed to be just an appearance. There is no location, no here or there. There is only oneness appearing as everything and this is what “I” really am. “I” am the shop, the people, the counter, the walls, and the space in which everything appears. When the self disappears, and awareness is seen as everything, then this is seen for what it is, a wonderful hologram sustained by love. – I Hope You Die Soon, by Richard Sylvester, pgs. 16-17, 20-21
Nondual Awareness in Waking, Dreaming, and Deep Sleep
After the realization of Nondual Awareness the functional states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep still arise, and there is oneness with whatever state and its objects happens to be arising in the present moment. We could say that every 24 hours, Consciousness makes a journey through all three realms and back. As we move toward waking up in each morning, Consciousness moves from deep sleep in the causal realm into the subtle realm, and then finally into “wakefulness” in the gross physical realm. When we go to sleep at night, Consciousness leaves the gross realm and enters into the subtle dream realm, finally moving into the causal formless realm. This mirrors the process of spiritual awakening.
In One Taste Wilber describes the experience this way:
Tuesday, November 11
Constant consciousness all last night; spontaneous wakefulness through the dream and deep sleep states, one with whatever arises. There is no I, but simply a primordial awareness or basic wakefulness – a very, very subtle awareness – that neither comes nor goes, but somehow is timelessly so . . . in the dream and deep sleep state. When this occurs, morning meditation is no different from what went on during the night. There is simply One-Taste awareness in the causal . . . (during deep formless sleep), and this tacit nondual awareness continues as the subtle arises out of the causal (and the dreaming state begins), and then the gross arises out of the subtle (with normal waking). Thus, when the gross state manifests (around three A.M.), there is no major change in primordial awareness or constant consciousness – there simply occurs within it a perception of the gross body, the bed, and the room. That is, the gross realm arises in the One Taste that I-I timelessly am. – One Taste, pg. 262
It has been said that Nondual Awareness is not an experience we have. Rather it is when we suddenly become all experience. Here are a few more selected descriptions of Nondual Awareness from Ken Wilber:
You don't look at the sky, you are the sky. You can taste the sky. It's not out there. As Zen would say, you can drink the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp, you can swallow the Kosmos whole – precisely because awareness is no longer split into a seeing subject in here and a seen object out there . . . Consciousness and its display are not-two.
Everything continues to arise moment to moment – the entire Kosmos continues to arise moment to moment – but there is nobody watching the display, there is just the display, a spontaneous and luminous gesture of great perfection. The pure Emptiness of the Witness turns out to be one with every form that is witnessed . . .
. . . And so suddenly, you are not in the bodymind. Suddenly, the bodymind has dropped. Suddenly, the wind doesn't blow on you, it blows through you, within you. You are not looking at the mountain, you are the mountain – the mountain is closer to you than your own skin . . . and there is no you – just this entire luminous display spontaneously arising moment to moment. The separate self is nowhere to be found.
So you are not in here, on this side of a transparent window, looking at the Kosmos out there. The transparent window has shattered, your bodymind drops, you are free of that confinement forever, you are no longer "behind your face" looking at the Kosmos – you simply are the Kosmos . . . If the Kosmos is arising, you are that. If nothing arises, you are that. In either case, you are that . . . The gap between subject and object is gone. There is no twiceness, no twoness, to be found anywhere . . .
There is nothing outside of you that you can want, or desire, or seek, or grasp – your soul expands to the corners of the universe and embraces all with infinite delight. You are utterly Full, utterly Saturated, so full and saturated that the boundaries to the Kosmos completely explode and leave you without date or duration, time or location, awash in an ocean of infinite care. You are released into the All, as the All – you are the self-seen radiant Kosmos... – A Brief History of Everything, 2000, 2nd edition, pgs. 206-209
The very Divine sparkles in every sight and sound, and you are simply that. The sun shines not on you but within you, and galaxies are born and die, all within your heart. Time and space dance as shimmering images on the face of radiant Emptiness, and the entire universe loses its weight. You can swallow the Milky Way in a single gulp, and put Gaia in the palm of your hand and bless it, and it is all the most ordinary thing in the world, and so you think nothing of it. – A Brief History of Everything, pg. 142
The Indian teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj has said:
When I see that I am nothing, that is wisdom.
When I see that I am everything, that is love.
And between these two, my life flows.
Seeing that we are nothing, or literally, no-thing (no object), is the realization of the True Self as Witnessing Awareness. Seeing that we are everything, or every “thing,” is the realization of Nondual Awareness.
Appendix G contains a more in-depth explanation of awakening or enlightenment.
The Nature of Self-Transcendence
We have seen that natural hierarchies, also called holarchies, are made of wholes that are both included and transcended within a larger whole. Each higher level of transcendence brings greater complexity and more consciousness. A living cell includes and also transcends the individual molecules within it. The human body includes and transcends 60-90 trillion individual cells. Each cell in the human body remains an individual cell with a visible boundary. And each cell maintains its primitive level of “awareness” of it’s interior and exterior environment, while at the same time being part of the greater whole of a human being with conscious awareness – an awareness far greater than the primitive awareness of any individual cell within it.
In the realization of Nondual Awareness our individual human Consciousness is transcended in a greater whole, just as the primitive awareness of an individual cell is transcended in the consciousness of a living organism. In the realization of higher states of consciousness the bodymind is not eradicated or absorbed into a formless “soup” of existence. It continues to exist, just as each individual identifiable cell in our bodies continues to exist. But in the self-transcendence of spiritual awakening, our identity as a much larger “Self” or larger Consciousness is realized.
Consciousness and the Brain
In Section 1 we learned about quadrant absolutism, which means taking the view that only phenomena in one or two of the four quadrants are ultimately real, and that the phenomena in the other two or three quadrants are derived from the one or two quadrants considered to be “real.” Another word for this is “reductionism,” because it is an attempt to reduce reality to only one or two of the four quadrants.
One example of this kind of quadrant absolutism or reductionism is the assertion made by some scientists that consciousness is entirely reducible to (and nothing but) the physical action of chemicals in the brain. In the integral view neither the interior consciousness of the individual in the upper left quadrant nor our external brain structure in the upper right quadrant are reducible to the other. Both are fundamentally “real.” They are, however, correlated. They arise together in every moment. Each interior state of consciousness we experience has a correlated and measurable brain pattern. Some people have compared the brain as a radio, and consciousness to the radio waves that are filtered and heard through the radio. In this model, the brain functions as a sort of reducing valve for consciousness.
Application to Integral Spirituality: The Wilber Combs Lattice
The integral model can be applied to any discipline -- education, politics, law, etc. Wilber has applied them to spirituality and created a model he calls integral spirituality. Below is one way the idea of states of consciosness informs an integral approach to spirituality.
The upper left quadrant has been studied in two different ways. It has been studied from the “inside” by examining our own direct experiences of consciousness or Awareness. This kind of study is called phenomenology. Phenomenology is the study of phenomena and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness. Our understanding of states of consciousness is the result of this kind of exploration.
The upper left quadrant has also been studied from the “outside,” from an objective 3rd person perspective. This is done by observing groups of individuals over time to map common stages of development we all go through. This gives us our understanding of stages and lines of development (cognitive, moral, values, etc.).
If we put these two ways of studying the upper left quadrant together on a grid, with stages of development across the top row and states of consciousness up the left hand column, it looks like this:
This grid is called the Wilber Combs Lattice because it was arrived at independently at about the same time by both Ken Wilber and Alan Combs.1 Three important things the Wilber Combs Lattice illustrates are:
At any stage of development we can have an experience of any state of consciousness.
Whenever we experience a state of consciousness, we will interpret the experience through whatever stage of development we are currently at, including any shadow elements in our personality. Each box in the Wilber Combs lattice represents a different kind of spiritual experience we can have. For example, a subtle state experience interpreted through the purple magic lens is one kind of spiritual experience. A causal state experience interpreted through the green postmodern lens is another kind of spiritual experience. An experience of Nondual Awareness interpreted through the orange rational lens is another kind of spiritual experience. In other words, our stage of development affects how we experience and understand God or Spirit.
At any stage of development we can undertake a spiritual practice intended to move us vertically into deeper states of consciousness. Meditation and centering prayer are two such practices.
The fact that we interpret our state experiences through our current stage of development helps to explain why descriptions of state experiences and what they mean can be different in different individuals. Our interpretation of our state experiences is also filtered through the lens of our particular culture and spiritual tradition, as well as our individual personality type.
The integration of everything we currently know about states of consciousness with everything we currently know about human psychological development (including stages, shadows, and personalty types) enables a clarity in our understanding of both that is unprecedented. We can now understand, for example, how a person in whom there has been a profound awakening of either Witnessing or Nondual Awareness can come away from that awakening and think or behave in egocentric or ethnocentric ways. They might conclude, for example, that the peace and love they experienced in this higher state of consciousness:
is only available to those in their tradition;
confers upon them the right or power to exercise authority over others;
is a special reward for their righteousness; or
is confirmation of the correctness of their tradition’s beliefs.
We can see in the teachings of mystics and contemplatives in every religious tradition both clear teachings of absolute truth about Witnessing and Nondual Awareness, and other teachings believed to be absolute truth that are in reality expressions of the level of stage development and/or the culture of the person in whom the awakening occurred.
Higher States of Consciousness in Christianity
Teachings about higher states of consciousness are prominent in Eastern spiritual traditions. It may seem that they are not present in Christianity. However, if we look to the teachings of Christian mystics, we find descriptions of experiences of higher states of consciousness, framed in the language of Christianity. In the language of mystical Christianity, the experience of higher states of consciousness is framed in the language of union with God.
If we understand pure Witnessing Awareness as the presence of God, then we see the truth of the teaching that God is always with us, in every single moment of our lives from birth to death, whether we realize it or not. We see the truth of St. Augustine's teaching that God is "nearer to us than we are to ourselves." We are never alone or apart from this presence. We can't be. It is as near to us in every single moment as our own conscious seeing, hearing, and sensing.
From this perspective we can see that when we experience great joy and love, our awareness of that joy and love is also God's Awareness of it. And when we are in pain or suffering, our awareness of that pain is also God's Awareness of it. As Michael Dowd has expressed it, whenever any sentient being is in pain, God feels it first.2 We could also say that in the incarnation of God or Spirit in each and every creature, God literally suffers the pains and "sins" of all of creation, not just with us, but as us, and not just once in Gethsemane or on the cross, but in every moment of existence.
This understanding of God is reflected in the words of the German Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, who lived from 1260 to 1327. He wrote, "The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, one sight, one knowledge, and one love."3 From this perspective, by growing in conscious Awareness we are growing in the presence of God or Spirit. And when we truly see and are present with another in either their joy or their sorrow, we are being the presence of God with that person.
And yet, God's or Spirit's presence is also much greater than our own individual Awareness, for two reasons. First, because the Witnessing Awareness or Spirit that is within us is the same Witnessing Awareness that looks out through the eyes of every single being that ever was or ever will be. And second, because if all of the forms or "objects" in the Universe – including our individual bodymind – ceased to exist, Spirit – that Witnessing Awareness which is the unmanifest Ground of Being or pure Consciousness out of which all forms arise – would still exist. In other words, in the integral view Spirit is both fully and radically immanent in and as each one of us, while at the same time being vastly transcendent to any one individual being.
In addition to experiencing Witnessing Awareness as the presence of God – experiencing it in 2nd person – we can also experience Witnessing Awareness as our own deepest self or "I Amness." This is the experience that some Christian mystics have called Divine Union. Meister Eckhart writes of this realization:
In this breakthrough I find that God and I are both the same. Then I am what I was. I neither wax nor wane, for I am the motionless cause that is moving in all things.4
If the idea that our deepest Self is God seems blasphemous, we may be confusing the individual bodymind or egoic self with the True Self. In spiritual awakening it is not the individual egoic self that is realized to be "God." Rather, it is the Witnessing Awareness that is looking out through our own (and every other) individual self that is realized as God or Spirit, and one's deepest Self. It is in letting go of our identification with the individual egoic self that we experience Divine Union with and as God or Spirit.
When we are in a subtle state of consciousness, either while dreaming or while in a subtle meditative state, we may experience subtle realm personifications of God or Spirit. Experiences of this kind can include visions of light, sound, or various deity forms (as Christ, Shiva, Allah, etc.). Moses seeing a burning bush and hearing the voice of God is an example of a subtle state experience. Subtle state experiences can also include experiences of higher beings, guides, angelic forms, or other God archetypes. In the integral model these can all be understood as temporary personifications of pure, formless Spirit or God. Subtle state experience are sometimes symbolized by halos of light at the crown of the head. The content of subtle state experiences is shaped by our culture. For example, a Christian might have a subtle state dream or vision of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, whereas a Hindu might have a dream or subtle state vision of Shiva or Krishna.
We all experience the causal state of consciousness every night when we are in deep sleep. It is also experienced in deep meditative states. If we are able to maintain conscious awareness in the causal state we will experience our “self” as Consciousness without an object, as that which is "prior" to any form or manifestation, and which exists outside the stream of time. It is called "formlessness" because it is the state of consciousness that is literally without forms or objects – without gross or subtle objects, including self-objects.
In the formless mysticism of causal awareness all God archetypes experienced in the subtle realm dissolve into the pure causal "I Amness" that continues to exist when all forms – including God forms – are absent, and out of which all forms – including God forms – arise. This state of consciousness can be seen as the source of Jesus' statement that, "before Abraham was, I Am."
The reason that relational experiences of God as an "other" being can occur in the gross (or waking) and subtle (or dream) states of consciousness, but not in the causal or deep sleep state, is because in order for us to experience a God who is "other than" ourselves, there must still be a division in our awareness between subject and object. There must be a subject (me) and an object (God) who is "other than" me. In the causal realm of pure formlessness there are no objects, including Gods or self-objects. When we are identified with either our physical bodymind or our subtle soul as who we are, then we can have experiences of a God or Spirit who is beyond or greater than our individual self – experiences of God as a You, or Thou.
Christian mystics sometimes refer to the causal state of consciousness as the "Godhead." Meister Eckhart made a distinction between "God" and "Godhead," Godhead being the origin of all things, including God. Some Christian mystics have reported that true contact with the Transcendent involves going beyond all that we speak of as God, to a divine "darkness" or "desert" in which all distinction is lost. These descriptions are very similar to experiences of the causal state of consciousness described by Eastern mystics.
In addition to Meister Eckhart, other Christian mystics have included: Origen (185 – 232), Dionyisus (200 - 265), Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179), St. Catherine of Siena (1347 - 1380), Richard Rolle (1300 - 1341), Julian of Norwich (1342 - 1423), the author of The Cloud of Unknowing (written in the latter half of the 14th century by an anonymous monk), St. Teresa of Avila (1515 - 1582), St. John of the Cross (1542 - 1591), and Brother Lawrence (1611 - 1691).
In the teachings of Meister Eckhart, we can see descriptions that are very similar to descriptions of the causal realm from Eastern traditions. The following chart shows some of these comparisons.
Notice how similar this last statement from Meister Eckhart (“if anything adheres to the soul, you cannot see God”) sounds to what we learned about Witnessing Awareness. We awaken to our True Self as the Witnessing Awareness in which all things come and go when we cease identifying with any object, with any "thing," and discover our True Self to be the Witness of all of things. In the subtle state we still experience a self – whether we call that self a soul or a mind or a spirit – we still experience an individual self of some sort. But to enter the causal state of consciousness without an object we must dis-identify with or let go of any and every self object. So Eckhart says, "If anything adheres to the soul, you cannot see me."
Meister Eckhart wrote:
Back in the Womb from which I came, I had no god and merely was, myself. I did not will or desire anything, for I was pure being, a knower of myself by divine truth. Then I wanted myself and nothing else. And what I wanted, I was and what I was, I wanted, and thus, I existed untrammeled by god or anything else. But when I...received my created being, then I had a god.” – Blakney, pg. 228
In this next quote Eckhart makes the distinction between the subtle realm of Gods and the causal emptiness of the Godhead that is prior even to God:
“God and Godhead are as different as earth is from heaven. ...Everything in the Godhead is one, and of that there is nothing to be said. God works, the Godhead does no work, there is nothing to do; in it is no activity. ...God and Godhead are as different as active and inactive. On my return to God...I am formless. ...When I go back into the ground, into the depths, into the well-spring of the Godhead, no one will ask me whence I came or whither I went. ...This...is where the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost have not yet made their distinctions.” – Evans, pgs. 142, 143. Suzuki, D. T. Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. (2002.) Routledge. Pg. 14.
Meister Eckhart also said that the only way we would understand what he was saying would be if we experienced it for ourselves:
If anyone does not understand this discourse, let him not worry about that, for if he does not find this truth in himself he cannot understand what I have said – for it is a discovered truth which comes immediately from the heart of God. – Blakney, pg. 232.
Ancient Christian texts discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945 reveal that a very early group of Christians who have been called Gnostics understood the purpose of Christianity to be awakening to our True Self. Gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge. It does not mean intellectual knowledge, but rather a direct intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths. It is the form of knowing that Eastern traditions call awakening or enlightenment.
In their book Jesus and the Lost Goddess, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy propose a gnostic symbolic understanding of the Jesus story that interprets his life and teachings in terms of this kind of awakening.
The Jesus we relate to . . . is a mythic "archetype" through which we can reach the "Christ Consciousness" within ourselves . . . However, we have to be spiritually ready before we can hear this message as positive rather than negative, as giving us what we have really been looking for rather than taking something away.
Many people desperately want to believe in a miraculous saviour who has literally incarnated to rescue them. There is nothing wrong with this. The miracle worker is a stock character of ancient myths, used to inspire hope for something more than the mundane in those unable to see that the whole of life is a staggering miracle . . .
The message is not, ". . .you are clinging to an illusion." The message is: Relax. You are not drowning. You can let go, because life is actually completely safe. Just experience Gnosis and . . . your ignorance will be dispelled. Just know who you really are and you will have absolutely no fear . . . Discover the Christ within yourself and you will always be One with God." – Jesus and the Lost Goddess, by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, pg. 57
A mythic archetype of incarnation -- our True Christ nature born into our human form
A mythic archetype of A mythic archetype of awakening
the death of the to our true identity as Christ Consciousness,
separate self sense which is already and always at one with God
In this symbolic view, the "incarnation of Christ" can be understood as the incarnation of Spirit or I Amness in each sentient being – as Christ Consciousness falling into sleep in every human being. Like Jesus, we are each fully human and fully divine. In this view, humanity's "sin" or predicament from which we need rescuing is our ignorance of our true nature, and sinful behavior is behavior that results from our lack of awareness of our true identity as Spirit or Christ Consciousness. We are reconciled to God when we awaken to our true nature as Christ Consciousness, which is already and always at-one with God.
Meister Eckhart said:
"Where is he that is born king of the Jews?" Now let us see where this birth takes place. It takes place, as I have so often said before, in the soul, exactly as it does in eternity and with no difference, for it is the same birth and occurs in the essence, the core of the soul. Blakney, pg. 103.
It is the real Now-moment, which for the soul is eternity's day, on which the Father begets his only begotten Son and the soul is reborn in God. Whenever this birth occurs, it is the soul giving birth to the only begotten Son. Thus, the Virgin's Sons are more numerous than the children of ordinary women, for they are born beyond time in eternity. Still, however many the children to which the soul gives birth in eternity, all together they are still only one Son, because it all happens beyond time, in the day of eternity. Blakney, pg. 212.
God gives birth to Christ in the soul in the very same way as he gives Christ birth in eternity, and in none other. God...is begetting Christ unceasingly, and furthermore, I say, he begets me Christ.5 Evans, pg. 162
In his book Lost Christianities, Bart Ehrman explains some of what the early Christian gnostic documents discovered in Nag Hammadi in 1945 reveal about the early gnostic understanding of Christianity:
. . . here was a Gospel [the Gospel of Thomas] consisting of 114 sayings of Jesus, with no account of Jesus' death and resurrection. Even more than that, this was a gospel that was concerned about salvation but that did not consider Jesus' death and resurrection to be significant for it, a Gospel that understood salvation to come through some other means.
. . . Gnostic Christians varied widely among themselves in basic and fundamental issues. But many appear to have believed that . . . Salvation . . . comes through saving knowledge. The Greek term for knowledge is gnosis. And so these people are called Gnostics, "the ones who know." But how do they acquire the knowledge they need for salvation? In Christian Gnostic texts, it is Jesus himself who comes down from the heavenly realm to reveal the necessary knowledge for salvation.
. . . the Kingdom of God is not something coming to this world as a physical entity that can actually be said to be here in this world of matter. The Kingdom is something spiritual, within: If those who lead you say to you, "See the kingdom is in the sky," then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, "it is in the sea," then the fish will precede you. Rather the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you . . .
Notice once again the key: knowing yourself, who you really are. – Lost Christianities, by Bart Ehrman, pgs. 57-61
Here are some gospel verses, along with some of Meister Eckhart's teachings, that can shed light on the experience of higher states of consciousness from a Christian perspective.
In the Gospel of Matthew we read:
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. – Luke 9:24
Seen through the lens of higher states of consciousness, this verse could be understood as saying:
For whosoever will save his life [our temporary life as an individual bodymind] shall lose it: [when we die, this bodymind is gone, and if that is all we have ever know ourselves to be, then at bodily death we will have lost our "self"] but whosoever will lose his life [those who transcend their identity as the physical bodymind and "die" to the sense of being a separate self] for my [Spirits' or Christ Consciousness'] sake, the same shall save it [they will awaken to the eternal life that they already are, as Christ Consciousness, which was never born and thus never dies].
Perhaps this is also what Paul is referring to when he writes:
I have been crucified in Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. – Galatians 2:20
We know that Paul cannot be speaking literally in this verse, because he was still physically alive when he wrote it. He had not been literally crucified. But what if he is speaking of crucifixion symbolically, not literally? What if he is saying:
I have been crucified [I have died to my separate self-sense] in Christ [in the realization of Christ Consciousness] and it is no longer I who live, [I no longer experience my "self" as the bodymind that I used to] but Christ lives in me [I now experience my True Self as Christ Consciousness, as the same Spirit that was in Jesus].
Paul also writes:
Let this mind [Consciousness] be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 2:5
One of the most well known gnostic gospels discovered in Nag Hammadi is the Gospel of Thomas. Here are a few verses from the gnostic Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said: "Whoever discovers the meaning of these words will not taste death." – The Gospel of Thomas, V. 1
In other words, if we discover our True Self, that True Self will never taste death, because it never enters the stream of time.
Jesus said: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will kill you." – The Gospel of Thomas, V. 70
In other words, if we bring forth (become consciously aware of and identify with) the Christ Consciousness that is within us, that will save us from death, because Christ Consciousness never dies. If we do not bring forth the Christ Consciousness that is within us, then what we know our "self" to be – the individual bodymind – will die.
If you do not know yourselves, then you exist in poverty, and you are that poverty. – The Gospel of Thomas, V. 3
In other words, if we do not know our True Self – if we know ourselves only as our individual bodymind – then we live in spiritual poverty.
Let's return for a moment to part of Richard Sylvester's description of the realization of Nondual Awareness, and then compare it with a verse from the Gospel of Thomas:
Within the story, a year after awakening, I am standing in a shop in an ordinary country town. Suddenly but with great gentleness the ordinary is displaced by the extraordinary. The person again disappears completely and now it is seen clearly that awareness is everywhere and everything. The localized sense of self is revealed to be just an appearance. There is no location, no here or there. There is only oneness appearing as everything and this is what "I" really am. "I" am the shop, the people, the counter, the walls, and the space in which everything appears. – I Hope You Die Soon, by Richard Sylvester, pgs. 20-21
Now consider this verses from the Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said: "I am the All . . . Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there." – The Gospel of Thomas, V. 77
Here are a few more verses from the Gospel of Thomas that seem to be expressing Witnessing or Nondual Awarenss:
When you make the two into One [when the duality of subject and object collapses into Oneness] . . . then you will enter into the Kingdom. – The Gospel of Thomas, V. 22
When you were One, you created two. But now that you are two, what will you do? – The Gospel of Thomas, V. 11
Thomas said: "Master, my mouth could never utter what you are like." Jesus told him: "I am no longer your Master, because you have drunk, and become drunken, from the same bubbling source from which I spring." – The Gospel of Thomas, V. 13
Jesus said: Blessed is the one who IS before existing. – The Gospel of Thomas, V. 19
What you are waiting for has already come, but you do not see it. – The Gospel of Thomas, V. 51
In a DVD titled "The Future of Christianity,"6 Father Thomas Keating discusses the value in learning from Jesus' articulation of his experience of oneness with God in order to help us understand our own experience of it, recognizing that our articulation of it will be influenced by the different day and time that we live in. He also discusses the unique opportunity we have in our day and time to learn about the experience of Ultimate Reality (which he calls Christ) as it has been articulated by those in every religious tradition.
A reason to listen to Christ is to use his articulation of the mystery in his time as the basis for trying to understand the experience of divine union in our time. The message is still the same, because it's [ultimate] reality that is being communicated. Whatever knowledge we bring to it happens to be our particular cultural development at this stage in human history. It's the same experience – but a different articulation.
The Christian tradition largely comes out of Hebrew and Greek culture. The terms, the theology, the philosophy are highly influenced by them. But these are not the only ways it could be expressed. It would be very enriching to understand the mystery of Christ from a number of different religions. This is one of the aspects of the development of religions: as time goes on, and especially if they interact, everybody sees that the ultimate experience is illuminated by approaching it from different cultures. You can't communicate the thing itself, because there's no way to have an experience without it being inculturated, and God is beyond any one culture. So to have many different views of the same Ultimate Reality is enriching for all of them, if they perceive where they are in unity and where they are legitimately diverse. They're legitimately diverse in the way they express the experience. They're unified in the ultimate experience, and that's what's crucial.
Who is Jesus?
The meaning of Jesus' life expressed by Christian mystics and gnostics differs from traditional orthodox theology about Jesus. Integral theory demonstrates how as our thinking, worldview, and values evolve through stages of development, our understanding of who and what Jesus was can also evolve.
Jesus at the Purple (Tribal Magical) and Red (Power Gods) Stages of Development
At pre-conventional stages of development Jesus is understood to be the literal and only Son of God in the flesh. Jesus’ birth to a biological virgin and physical resurrection after death are believed to be literally true. Jesus is seen as the agent of God’s judgment, waging war on sin and death, and accepting his death on the cross as the only way to appease God. Jesus’ death is seen as a necessary sacrifice to save us from God’s justified wrath for our imperfection and disobedience, and to defeat Satan in the cosmic battle for our souls. Jesus is also understood to be a divine magician who performs miracles as proof of his power and divinity.
Salvation at pre-conventional stages is understood to be the literal saving of our souls from burning eternally in hell as punishment for our sin and imperfection. This is brought about through belief in Jesus’s sacrifice, which appeased God on our behalf, and through obedience to God and Jesus.
Jesus at the Blue, Traditional Stage of Development
For Christians at the traditional stage the foundational experience of Jesus is the experience of his atonement. This foundational experience has traditionally consisted of:
Realizing one’s sinful state and separation from God.
Having faith that Christ's atoning sacrifice can rescue one from sin and separation from God.
Repenting of one’s sins and seeking God's forgiveness.
Receiving God's grace and forgiveness, symbolized by being washed clean in baptism.
Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, which guides and transforms believers into "new creatures in Christ."
Viewed through a developmental lens, traditional conversion experiences can be understood in part as a shift from egocentric to ethnocentric stages of development in the moral and values lines. This transformation involves voluntarily subordinating our egocentric self interests to something greater than ourselves – in this case to God and/or Jesus. Submitting our egoic self-interests to something greater than ourselves is an important step in our stage development, and can also be a first step toward self-transcendence. For many people it is a profound, life-altering transformation, and makes them genuinely better people than they were before their conversion experience.
The growth from the egocentric (red) stage to the ethnocentric (blue) stage may be devalued because it occurs relatively early in the developmental continuum. But remember that we are each at different stages of development in different lines. There are many adults today who are at orange or green or even yellow stages in the cognitive line, but who may still be at the red, egocentric stage in the moral line, and this is not always easy to spot.
Integral theory describes something called the pre-trans fallacy. The idea of this fallacy is that there are stages of development before the orange or rational stage (pre-rational stages), and stages of development after the rational stage (post-rational or trans-rational stages). Pre-rational and trans-rational stages have something in common: they are both “non-rational.” Pre-rational stages are non-rational because the full capacity for rational thinking has not yet developed. Trans-rational stages can be non-rational because the ability has developed to move beyond rational thinking (while still retaining the ability to use rationality when appropriate).
If we do not understand the difference between pre-rational and trans-rational stages, we may make the mistake of lumping all phenomena and experience into two broad categories: rational and non-rational. We are then in danger of taking something that is pre-rational and attributing it to a trans-rational stage of development (as some aspects of the New Age spiritual movement do). Or, we might take something that is genuinely trans-rational and reduce it to a pre-rational stage of development.
The pre-trans fallacy can happen in the moral line of development. There are stages of moral development before the conventional stage, and stages of moral development after the conventional stage, and because both are non-conventional they can look similar.
Studies of moral development during the Vietnam War showed that only a minority of college protesters were motivated by post-conventional (worldcentric) reasons, such as care for the lives of American and Vietnamese or a desire to end an unjust war policy. Most protestors were at pre-conventional levels of moral development and were protesting in order to stick it to authority (“Don’t tell me what to do!”) or out of fear of being drafted themselves . . . pre-conventional and post-conventional are both non-conventional, and so both push back against conventional ways of doing things. – Integral Life Practice: A 21st Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, & Spiritual Awakening, pg. 120
In the worldview of traditional stage Christianity, the "second coming of Christ" means that Jesus will literally, in his resurrected physical body, return to earth to reign personally during a millennial period of peace on earth. It is believed that his second coming will be a time of judgement for the wicked, and a time of joy and peace for the righteous.
Jesus at the Orange, Rational Stage of Development
Christians at the modern stage test their beliefs about Jesus against rational thought and objective evidence. At the traditional stage, to even think about questioning basic teachings about Jesus can be experienced as unthinkable heresy. In the rational stage people develop the ability to stand back from and reflect upon their beliefs. As a result, they may come to see that their traditional understanding of Jesus and his atonement is based on certain fundamental assumptions about the nature of God and human beings, and these assumptions are openly subjected to rational inquiry. For example:
If Jesus is the unique Son of God in a way the rest of us are not, how are we ever supposed to really become like him?
Who is it that demands "justice" in the form of someone suffering and dying in our place because we are imperfect? Why would God demand this? Didn’t God know when s/he created humans that all of us would be imperfect? If so, why does God demand that either we are perfect and sinless, or else someone must die to pay for it?
Why is it that God cannot tolerate having imperfect or "unclean" people in his or her presence? Isn't God bigger than that? Is the being or perfection of God so fragile that it can't exist in the presence of an imperfect human?
Why would a parent (including a heavenly parent) set up a system that says, in effect, "I know that all of my children except one will make mistakes and be imperfect. If the perfect one agrees to suffer punishment in place of all of the imperfect ones, then I’ll forgive the imperfect ones and let them back into my presence." Does this make sense?
How does having someone else suffer the punishment for our sins teach us anything? How do people learn and grow from their mistakes if someone else suffers the consequences of them?
At the modern scientific stage people also become interested in historical and archaeological evidence about Jesus and early Christianity. A few examples of this include the work of The Jesus Seminar, the recently discovered Nag Hammadi texts, Bart Ehrman's work, and Elaine Pagels' work.7
The modern rational stage brings the cognitive ability to take "as if" and third person perspectives, so Christians at this stage may begin to interpret aspects of the story of Jesus’ life symbolically rather than literally.
As a result of this questioning and investigation Christians at the modern stage may revise their understanding of the historical Jesus and the meaning of Jesus’ life. For example:
They may conclude that Jesus was a gifted human teacher, but no longer believe in the miraculous aspects of the Jesus story.
Based on historical studies, they may conclude that miraculous events in Jesus' life were added to the scriptural record long after his death, to support doctrines about Jesus that only developed decades or even centuries after his death.
They may conclude, based on textual criticism of the Bible using the methods of modern scholarship, that Jesus himself never claimed to be the unique Son of God in a way the rest of us are not.
They may conclude that it's not possible, based on the evidence available at this point in time, to draw definitive conclusions about the historical Jesus.
They may conclude that the transforming power of Christ's atonement they have experienced in their lives may be independent of the literal truth of the events of Jesus' life as written in the Bible. The Jesus story may be a transformative mythic archetype that speaks to us on an intuitive and symbolic level.
They may conclude that the transforming power of Jesus’ love is simply the power of unconditional love to heal and transform people’s hearts and lives, and that this love can take many forms and come from many sources.
They may conclude that Jesus' "at-one-ment" is the ongoing working of God's Spirit within us to make us at-one with God, not by overcoming some refusal on God's part to allow imperfect beings into his or her presence, but rather by transforming our hearts with love, so that we can love as God loves.
People at the modern stage may no longer look for the second coming of Christ to take place in a literal way. Instead, they may see it as something that can take place within each of us when we accept and try to live by Jesus’ teachings, or as something that can happen within our larger society when a majority of people live Jesus’ teachings.
Jesus at the Green Postmodern and Pluralistic Stage of Development
Christians at green continue the exploration into the nature of Jesus and the meaning of his life that began in the modern stage by examining the various cultural and linguistic contexts in which beliefs and doctrines about Jesus developed over time. For example, how was Jesus’ own understanding and experience of God shaped by his culture and language? How did the cultural and religious beliefs and political realities of ancient Judaism, Rome, and Greece shape doctrines about Jesus that came to be viewed as orthodox truth only decades, and in some cases even centuries, after his death?
As a result of this exploration, Christians at this stage may come to see traditional doctrines about Jesus and the meaning of his life as a reflection, at least in part, of the tribal and/or imperial religious, social, and political environments in which Christianity was born and evolved. For example, Christians at this stage might conclude that traditional orthodox explanations of the meaning of Jesus' life grew out of the larger culture and time in which he lived, where blood sacrifice was believed to be required by the gods to atone for human sins.
Because the postmodern stage places a high value on diversity and multiculturalism, Christians at this stage might see Jesus as one among several of the world's great awakened spiritual teachers, along with Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Mohammad, and others. Christians at this stage find value in comparing Jesus’ teachings with the teachings of other great spiritual teachers, to find new insights into the possible meanings of his teachings and his experiences of God. Christians at green are open to exploring commonalities between the transformation Christians experience through Christ and the transformational experiences of those in other faiths. Christians at green are also open to exploring the myths and stories of other religious traditions. For example:
The story that the Buddha was born out of his mother's right side, took seven steps, and announced that this was his last birth.
The story that Dionysus, also called the Son of God, was born of a mortal virgin who was impregnated by one of Zeus' lightning bolts.
The stories of the Egyptian God Osiris and the Greek God Attis, both of whom died and were resurrected.
The story of the birth of the Hindu God Shiva: Brahma and Vishnu were arguing about which of them was the more powerful God. Their argument was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a great blazing pillar whose roots and branches extended beyond view into the earth and sky. Brahma became a goose and flew up to find the top of the pillar, while Vishnu turned into a boar and dug into the earth to look for its roots. Unsuccessful in their search, the two gods returned and saw Shiva emerge from an opening in the pillar. Recognizing Shiva's great power, they accepted him as the third ruler of the universe.
Christians at the postmodern stage can appreciate how untenable it is to immediately dismiss these supernatural stories from other traditions as obviously not literally true or possible, while maintaining that the supernatural events in the history of Christianity alone are literally true.
One characteristic of postmodernism is that it focuses heavily on the importance of community, in part in reaction to the modern stage’s emphasis on individualism. Because of this Christians at the postmodern stage are likely to emphasize salvation as a communal, rather than an individual, affair. Postmodern Christians might also understand salvation as a this-world phenomena that will be realized when all of life has been saved from ignorance, greed, injustice, etc., and all people live in harmony and peace with each other and with the natural world.
Jesus and Christianity at the Yellow, Integral Stage of Development
Because it would come from 2nd tier, an integral approach to Christianity would recognize that Christians’ understandings and experiences of Jesus will naturally be different at each stage of development. Beyond mere recognition, an integral approach would appreciate the value in each of these stages of Christianity, and work to support them in their healthy versions. This would include finding effective, innovative ways to teach Christianity to children and youth as they move through each stage – to make Christianity applicable to the stages humans naturally develop through, and to support them in their development.
As we look back at each version of Christianity we can see that for Christians in each of these stages, Jesus comes to teach the values and truths of that particular stage.
For Christians in the magic (purple and red) stages, Jesus teaches that might makes right, and God's might is the greatest of all. God will judge and punish those who displease him. God has ultimate power, which includes the power to smite one’s enemies, the power to heal the sick, the power to magically transform food and wine, the power to cast out demons, and the ultimate power, which is the power to raise the dead. Jesus teaches us what we need to say and do avoid God's punishment, and to have God’s magic and power work for us.
For Christians in the traditional mythic (blue) stage, Jesus comes to bring law and order to the universe. He gives clear teachings of right and wrong, and comes to teach us to live the one right way. This means subordinating our will to God’s will and repenting when we fall short of living God’s will. Jesus comes to teach us how to be the “people of God.”
For Christians in the modern (orange) stage, Jesus comes as a social prophet to teach the importance of universal equality, freedom, and social justice. He teaches us what we need to do to make this world the best it can be – the most just and equitable – for all of humankind. He teaches us to speak out against all forms of opression and injustice.
For Christians in the postmodern (green) stage, Jesus comes to teach us how to achieve inner peace, so there can be peace and harmony in the world. He teaches radical inclusion, and the sinfulness of marginalizing anyone. Jesus teaches inner transformation, and how through our inner transformation the world can be transformed.
For Christians in the in 2nd tier stages, Jesus is seen as teaching the same common underlying truths about the nature of ultimate reality – the transcendent truths of spiritual awakening or divine union – that can be found in all of the worlds spiritual traditions and systems. Christians in these stages are able to appreciate the value and importance of the teachings of Jesus as understood at each of the previous stages. They see how each prior understanding of the teachings of Jesus can contribute to our growth through stages of development.
An Integral Christianity
An integral, 2nd tier approach to Christianity would value and incorporate the strengths and gifts that each of the previous stages offers. It would not reject any of them in their healthy forms. Some of these strengths might include:
From Purple Tribal Magical Christianity:
A strong sense of community and belonging.
A sense of the sacredness of the natural world as an expression of the Divine.
Seasonal and nature community celebrations.
The creation of sacred spaces for contemplation.
Shared rituals understood as a symbolic expression of deeper truths.
From Red Power Gods Christianity:
Individual empowerment and authenticity. The freedom, strength, and courage to speak our own truth.
The courage to face and overcome obstacles and fears.
Openness to new spiritual adventures. The drive to break free and explore new spiritual territory and understanding, even if it means leaving or remaking the tradition we grew up in.
From Blue Traditional Christianity:
A sense of higher meaning and purpose in life, and the willingness to make sacrifices for it.
Self-discipline and a sense of right and wrong beyond our own self-interests. The discipline developed in the blue traditional stage can help us handle the modern stage’s greater behavioral freedom in mature and responsible ways.
Transformational “conversion” experiences that result in selfless dedication to a cause greater than our own egoic self-interests.
The desire and commitment to become a better person.
The discipline to fulfill responsibilities and keep commitments, even when it is inconvenient.
Finding joy in serving others.
A well defined organizational structure.
From Orange Modern Christianity:
Spiritual independence and acceptance of personal responsibility for our own spiritual life and development.
A willingness to put new ideas to the test and discover spiritual truth through our own direct experiences.
A rational approach to spirituality.
The integration of faith and science. This is the goal of the evolutionary Christianity movement. (See www.thankgodforevolution.com and www.thegreatstory.org)
The openness and willingness to revise our ideas and understanding as new evidence comes to light.
The desire and drive to be involved in bringing about progress and creating innovative and effective spiritual pathways and practices.
Embracing the discoveries of science and incorporating them into our understanding and practice of religion.
A commitment to make life in this world the best it can be for all people.
A commitment to the democratic process in church governance.
A healthy financial structure.
From Green Postmodern Christianity:
Embracing diversity in all its forms.
A commitment to inclusion and equality on all fronts: gender, racial, socioeconomic, etc., and to the well-being of all people.
Tolerance for differences and alternative lifestyles and behaviors, so long as they do not harm others.
The willingness to explore spiritual understandings and practices from many traditions, and to use them to enhance our own spiritual understanding and development.
An openness to each other’s spiritual ideas and experiences, and the realization that each of our experiences and ideas are partial.
A commitment to the well-being of the natural environment and all living things, and to living in harmony with the natural world.
A commitment to physical, emotional, and psychological balance and well-being.
A commitment to work for peace both within and in the world.
An openness to exploring of higher states of consciousness as the common universal source of experiences of Spirit.
From Yellow, Integral Christianity:
An acceptance of the healthy aspect of each of the previous stages of Christianity.
A vision of how all of the previous versions of Christianity fit together in a larger evolutionary pattern, and a commitment to work for the healthy coexistence of all of these versions of Christianity in their healthy forms.
The creation of pathways into new stages of development when people are ready, without seeing individuals at any of the previous stages as "wrong."
The ability to integrate conflicting truths, and to tolerate and even enjoy paradoxes and uncertainties.
An understanding that different solutions work at different stages of development, and that what may be workable or useful at one stage of Christianity may not be useful at another stage.
Christians at the integral stage might understand God as the Ground of Being – as the common Absolute or Spirit that is experienced in the depths of every spiritual tradition. They might view Jesus as an awakened being and spiritual teacher – a Jewish mystic – who realized his own deepest oneness with the Ground of Being, which he called the Father. They might view the causes of sin as immature stage development, psychological and emotional pathology, and the sense of separation we all experience when we are unaware of our true Christ Nature. They might view salvation – the purpose of the practice of Christianity – as the transformation of individuals in terms of both stages of development and states of consciousness, and collectively as the transformation of societies, so that all people can live in peace.
1. Combs, A. (2002.) Radiance of Being: Understanding the Grand Integral Vision; Living the Integral Life. Paragon House.
2. See https://www.thegreatstory.org/evol-teen.html
3. Blakney,R. Meister Eckhart, a Modern Translation. (1941). Harper & Row. Pg. 288.
4. Pfeiffer, F., translated by C. De. B. Evans. Meister Eckhart Vol. 1. 1924. John M. Watkins. Pg. 221.
5. In order to avoid limiting God by gender, where Eckhart used "the Father" I use "God," and where he used "the Son," I use "Christ."
6. See https://www.amazon.com/FUTURE-CHRISTIANITY-Startling-Vision-Century/dp/B002ESU1FA
7. See: https://www.westarinstitute.org/projects/the-jesus-seminar/
Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millennium, by Robert Walter Funk
How Jesus became God, by Bart Ehrman
Lost Christianities, by Bart Ehrman
Misquoting Jesus, by Bart Ehrman
The Gnostic Gospels, By Elaine Pagels
Beyond Belief, by Elaine Pagels
Reflections: A Personal Journal