Enlightenment 2.0 as the convergence of the Western and Eastern Enlightenment Traditions

I was invited to present at the recent UTOK Consilience Conference on Enlightenment 2.0, which can be seen as a convergence of the Western rational enlightenment and the Eastern spiritual enlightenment. I consider a few definitions of enlightenment, including the synthesis definition offered by Ken Wilber and also another definition offered by John Vervaeke and I attempt to bring this all together into a more comprehensive unifying definition of enlightenment. In the second half of the talk, I refer to the so-called Enlightenment Gap that is a central aspect of the Unified Theory of Knowledge system and I use the unified definition of enlightenment to show how we can work toward Enlightenment 2.0.

Here’s the video:


Rich presentation. Much food for thought.

I’m glad Jason Ananda Josephson Storm came up in the Q&A. Using his framework, the various “Enlightenments” could be viewed as “social kinds” which are 1) “socially constructed” 2) characterized by “dynamic clusters of powers”, 3) “demarcated by the causal processes that anchor the relevant clusters.”

People can exchange competing definitions all day long, but that reflects the post-modern linguistic turn of signs and signifiers without grounding. Anything can signify anything, basically. Josephson Storm’s proposed metamodernism hinges on point 3), namely the causal processes that anchor. What anchors the experience that engenders the verbal symbolization of “Enlightenment”?

It seems likely there is a social kind for Kantian Enlightenment. Whether Buddhist and Advaita Vedanta Enlightenment are the same social kind or different social kinds, I leave to scholars and practitioners of those traditions. Finally, is there a more encompassing social kind containing all of these? It would take an identifiable “causal process that anchors” the grand unified Enlightenment experience.

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This presentations got me a bit excited because it does seem to be common sense and a practical way to go.

But it seems to be very much through a Western lens and defining Eastern traditions through the distortion of that lens.

From the very first I see a huge and almost irreconcilable difference between Eastern and Western concepts about enlightenment (Modern Philosophy), and how in the west wars have been fought over this two divergent lenses.

In the Western tradition, enlightenment has it’s origin outside the individual and can be granted or even taken away. Man is a lowly beast born into sin and utterly worthless until a Saint or Messiah grants him (or withholds as punishment) Grace. Political-Military organizations any dynasties made claim that they were the only path by which this Grace could be channeled, and gained money and power from this claim. Of course anyone trying to chisel in on their racket was tortured or murdered or burned.

In Eastern Traditions, the concept is that every human already has Enlightenment and just has to realize it by giving up all the ideas regarding Enlightenment in the Western tradition. The concepts on which Western Enlightenment based only get in the way of Eastern Enlightenment. The West has taken the word “Karma”, for example and gutted it of the meaning it has in the East and assigned it the Western view of some kind of Divine reward / punishment.

It’s only through the lens of the West that it can be considered that Western Enl. is “rational” while Eastern is “Spiritual”. This is only possible to say if you completely ignore half of Eastern Enlightenment Traditions and what is considered to be Eastern Enlightenment. Most branches of Eastern Enlightenment are in fact based on scientific methods. You are not expected to “believe” anything. In the Eastern tradition they only say “Do these methods. If you see a positive change, then continue. If nothing happens, then try something else.” Because these methods were developed over more than 30,000 years of trial and error and observations of actual physical results (science), these methods are very reliable.

The practices of Eastern Enlightenment have been rational and science based for 30,000 years. Its only Westerners when we come with our own mythological baggage and inability to feel what our own body is experiencing that we think it is “spiritual” as opposed to “rational”. There isn’t a separation of these in Eastern Tradition. They do have something called the “Mental Body”, but I’d translate this more as the subconscious mind and autonomic nervous system. What might be kind of equivalent to western Rational is the “Wisdom Body” of Eastern Enlightenment, which could be considered roughly equivalent to certain Western Schools of Philosophy like Stoicisms. This Wisdom is more of a giving up of intellectual hubris commonly found in Modern Philosophy.

As a symptom of this, we can see why the great wars happened that divided Christian Europe and indeed why the United States even exists.
There is the Gnostic belief that Jesus Christ was more or less a Mystic trained in the East and that he taught salvation could come to anyone. Today we have “Born Again” Christians who just suddenly one day see and accept the “Spirit of the Lord”. This should not be conflated with any kind of Eastern Enlightenment tradition. Opposite to this is that Salvation can only come if one is granted 7 Sacraments authorized by the Catholic Church. Millions of people have died in the West over the disagreement of these two Western beliefs on Spiritual “Enlightenment”.

I’m aiming to better understand the spiritual traditions of Asia. I do come from a Western culture and it is largely unavoidable that I’m primarily going to be coming from that perspective. That said, I disagree with your characterization of distortion.

Western wars were more often fought from a red or amber perspective. The Western Age of Enlightenment brought about orange consciousness. Some orange consciousness was already present in enlightened individuals and communities in East and South Asia prior to Western contact, but their understanding of cause and effect and their ability to understand the laws of nature were very limited. They almost skipped over orange (and green). Some of these people and insular communities were indeed 2nd tier, but there is important knowledge of objectivity that they lacked. The West did indeed engage in horrendous wars of conquest and imperialism, but most of this was driven not by orange, but by red or amber. There are indeed pathologies that came from, and are still coming from, the rational orange-consciousness enlightenment, but these could have been tempered with the introduction of Eastern spiritual values such as inter-connectivity, polarity management, omni-compassion, and the like.

Many of the Eastern enlightened people and communities were so insular in pre-modern times that they tended to focus quite a lot on their own spiritual growth rather and didn’t invest much time or other resources into the society at large. Well before Western contact, there were wars raging in India, China, and nearby countries. There was abject poverty and immense suffering and bad government. Many of the most enlightened people and communities such as sanghas and ashrams chose to mostly stay away from all of that rather than to be engaged and in the trenches, so to speak. Also some of the most spiritually advanced and charismatic leaders used their positions of influence and prestige in unethical ways to the detriment of their lay communities. These are pathologies of the Eastern Enlightenment that needed to get sorted out. Absolutely there are pathologies in the Western Enlightenment. I believe that it was the cross-pollination between the East and West in the last four centuries that led to the ability to overcome the pathologies that were endemic to each culture.

Yes, the general methodology of UL inner exploration that was first developed in ancient times in Asian cultures can be likened to a science, or a family of sciences. Indeed, this can be seen as rational. I would, however, argue that the spiritual aspect of this is more salient, which is why I have characterized this as the Eastern Spiritual Enlightenment. Indeed, there were also spiritual aspects of the Western Rational Enlightenment, but since the central focus was to tamper down the pathologies of the dogmatic religious traditions that had be predominant for centuries, it took a while for spirituality to come back to the forefront. For many in the West, it was a downward slide to militant anti-spirituality and nihilism. So in the East, spirituality was the main central focus and in the West, it was centered primarily around rationality. I argue that it is this convergence that we need now.

Here is where I think you went off the rails a bit. 30,000 years, really? Recorded human history only goes back about 5,000 years. Where do you get that 30,000 figure? It seems completely speculative. It reminds me of that silly JZ Knight claiming to channel the spirit Ramtha who supposedly was 30,000 years old. Ok so if you go back that far, everywhere in the world was indigenous magenta level consciousness. Indigenous cultures are beautiful but they really don’t have any concept of enlightenment. I believe they have wisdom, but only with the advent of agricultural societies do people and communities start to develop psychotechnologies for Waking Up.

Wow @raybennett and @EnlightenedWorldview, I’m feeling World History Integral coming on and Praise the Lord! am I here for it!

However, not all in one post … maybe a bit of a pencil-sketched outline. The key question on narrative history (a very meaning-making activity) is periodization. Another key question is geographic coverage. World History Integral periodization will of course start with the Altitudes. (Spoiler alert - the Altitudes may need some unpacking. European orange is about a 500 year process, with several thousands of years of prior development feeding into it, for example).

Less well-worked out is World Geography Integral. This discussion hinges on an East vs West distinction. Something like that will be involved. But again, expect some unpacking. As an opening gambit, let’s consider Samuel Huntington’s nine currently active civilizations - Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist, and Japanese ( Huntington, S. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order ) Unfortunately, I can’t find the link, but a few days ago I viewed about a 15 year-old YouTube in which Ken Wilber used a combination of Huntington and Altitudes to explicit difficulties in the Middle East. So there is precedent for considering the Huntington model in an Integral context.

The World History Integral narrative will thus run through Altitudes. And it will span at least that much geography. But will the Altitudes march together through each of the geographies? Also, how will the different geographies interact with one another at each Altitude?

Let’s start simple. 30,000 years ago we are all Archaic. We migrate on foot and boat (eventually) to populate all continents and island territories save Antarctica. Our bands are small. Our languages are extremely diverse. Our embeddedness in nature is extreme. But we use tools effectively and the dawn of complex culture is upon us …

5,000 years is the accepted date that the right veda was “complete”. Obviously someone did not just come up with a complete advanced syestem of enlightenment from nothing. Just as the Illiad was not penned in a single day.
Then also the texts mention events and geography much older back to 7,000 bce with yoga as a complete system when there was a land bridge built between India and Sri Lanka.
Western archeologists have been ignoring evidence for centuries - only to later reluctantly accept it but at the most conservative date - while accepting the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence to support their own theories.

Also not specifically spirituality but cultural advancement are the cities underwater off the west coast of India that are ignored by archeologists but point to an ice age civilization

There is the assumption not based in any kind of evidence that spiritual progress of civilizations is linear and parallels technological advancement.

There are zero fact based reasons to assume technologically primitive man was also spiritually primitive.

Indeed the contrary seems common sense and anecdotally obvious. Without light what else did primitive man have as a hobby besides inner exploration.

"With this in mind, we can now direct our attention to the unique event of mankind that underlies, it would seem, all human endeavor: the unfolding of consciousness … We must recognize that the attempt to set forth the temporal course commonly referred to as the ‘evolution of mankind’ is merely an attempt to structure events for convenient accessibility. Consequently, we must exclude from our discussion as far as possible such misleading notions as ‘development’ and ‘progress’. "

  • Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin (English translation, 1985, p. 36)

This is completely false. The consensus among reputable sources is that the oldest portions of Rig Veda samhita were orally composed around 1500 BC, give or take 1 to 5 centuries. This is cringeworthy because you shouldn’t be using terms like “accepted” when you are relying on fringe historiography. I kind of feel like I’m debating Graham Hancock here.

Notably, we’re only talking about the samhita. This consists mostly of devotional hymns. The Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads were composed later, probably after 1000 BC. That is where the first exploration of enlightenment and waking up can be found.

And there are some references to what can be interpreted as historical events, but likely the composers were in northern India and perhaps what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan. This was centuries before the Brahmanic culture made its way to southern India and Sri Lanka.

I definitely agree that the development of consciousness is not linear. In fact, that is one of my central points. I suppose you can say you have to get through amber to get to orange and orange to get to green, etc. I figure that each of these represents a capacity in its own right that can be developed somewhat independently of the others. I imagine you need at least a pre-conventional amber neurological development in order to lay down and wire up a pre-conventional orange neurological capacity. Probably in order to reach 2nd tier consciousness, you’ll need at least conventional level capability in each of the 1st tier capacities. I believe the ancient gurus and sages must have had at least conventional orange and green capacities, but these lines of development and their related psychotechnologies and institutions of learning and post-conventional development didn’t exist at the time. I’m basically saying that with the Western rational enlightenment, this is where post-conventional orange first came onto the scene, even though with the Eastern spiritual enlightenment, there were many adepts individuals and insular communities in sanghas and ashrams that had reached 2nd tier consciousness and they had a tradition of reliably developing people to that level in their communities. So to address the greatest challenges of our time, we need a convergence of these traditions and the psychotechnologies and developmental processes that are practiced within each of these cultures.

You may be debating Narendra Modi and the BJP (effectively). In a previous post I referred to Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis. There has been much criticism and analysis of that. All of Huntington’s “civilizations” need some unpacking - they are not strictly analogous to one another or even especially well defined. One approach to the critique is to peer into each “civilization” one at a time and look more closely.

Susane Hoeder Rudolf finds four phases in the evolution of the idea of an Indian civilization.

  1. Orientalist. East India Company officials became enamored of Sanskrit and ancient cultures. This content fed European Romantic images of the spiritual East.

  2. Anglistic. India is a backward place that needs to be Westernized in the name of “progress”. The late 19th-century British Imperial view.

  3. Indian Nationalist. Gandhi and Nehru. The different cultures, religions, and communities on the subcontinent are tolerant of one another and must unite for self-determination.

  4. Hindu Nationalist. What’s happening now. The formation of a specifically Hindu nationalism and a harder edge vis-a-vis other world civilizations, especially Islam (but not just Islam).

So heroic tales of Rama and Krishna can be viewed as a decolonization project. BTW, if anyone is wondering why the first two phases of Indian “civilization” were concocted by westerners, it’s because the idea of “civilization” was invented in France in the 1700s. Of course, great cultures, empires, and religions were on the sub-continent all along. Conceptualizing any or all of these as a specific “civilization” is a relatively recent development.

If we take a wider angled view of decolonization projects around the world, similar coming-into-identity story-telling is not uncommon. The heart of the Huntington thesis - which is still plausible on many levels - is an “amber” turn in various regions of the world as a self-appropriating move against globalization (which looks quite a bit like Westernization) The Integral implications of all this is that not everyone in the world is in a big hurry to get to a Western version of orange, green, or second-tier.

The thing I like about fringe theorists is that they ask questions that the “reputable” cannot answer.
The “reputable” makes zero sense and has tons of holes in it.
I’ll observe that you dipping into calling me “cringe” is a descent into what archeologists do and try to smear any alternative non-eurocentric historical view.
I’m teaching a workshop this weekend and don’t have time to devote to a debate about all the dozens of ways the historical timeliness of “reputable” are just plain wrong or have been adjusted after attacking anyone who questioned the previous draft

One thing I’m not sure about is how or even if consciousness development maps onto red orange green blue. I can see a difference at the tier level but when I think of orange I just think of lack of consciousness at that level. Like the mindless unfeeling bureaucracies for example

Just briefly though I will point out how bias fits into reputable history.
Homer’s illiad describes a civilization unknown to historians when I was a kid. But historians gave the work the benefit of the doubt and judged such a civ must exist and I believe it was later found. Similar with the Viking saga Erik the red - we use it to suggest the Icelandic people did travel to North America and I believe later some physical evidence was found.
Then with the ancient Hindu texts they just kind of appeared out of nowhere and even though they describe events and civilizations we presume they are fantasy, as opposed to Troy, which was always presumed to be real

Good point. Gebser is my muse on this one. Gebser’s treatment of the “perspectival”, which roughly equates to European orange, is that the Renaissance issued in the DEFICIENT mental structure. The real-deal mental was found in Axial Athens (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and co.) So from that POV, European orange was flawed at its inception. Vervaeke tells a similar story in his Awakening from the Crisis of Meaning series, as do many others. This strongly suggests why much of the world is less than enthused about abolishing local traditions in favor of economic development, western science projects, and high tech everything.

Now … the interesting challenge for Integral Theory is … can orange ego development (roughly, Robert Kegan’s fourth-level consciousness) and green ego problematization (roughly Kegan’s fifth-level consciousness) be abstracted from western historical experience? I’m very curious - is there a Vedantic ego psychology? Likewise, are there Buddhist, Chinese, Islamic and other ego psychologies? Can an executive (orange) ego be something other than a Cartesian calculating machine?

Update: deeper down the rabbit hole …


Others can weigh in on how authoritative this source is. Seems good to me. Anyway, yes, there is a Vendatic ego psychology per this source. How does it differ from normal Western ego development? “The ego has to identify with something.” The sorts of things the Western ego identifies with lead to what is called here the “unripe” ego. I would go further and suggest that Western postmodernism (green meme) represents a loosening up process for the materially obsessed ego, creating an opening for spiritual concerns. The Vedantic pathway seems like a straighter course, which - speculating here - may lead to less dramatic orange and green manifestations on the way to second tier, because the seeds of second tier are built into the culture in the first place.

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I do find Stoicism meets Buddhism (as examples) far more easily and seem to offer far more effective solutions to today’s crisis of overconsumption and other self-inflicted crises than later Western philosophies and Religions that tend to get lost inside themselves.

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It seems Vervaeke uses the Axial Enlightenment of Gautama Siddhartha as the paradigmatic Enlightenment. He then uses that as a measuring rod, so to speak, so size up different Western philosophers. The Stoics come off rather well in this assessment. Like Buddhism, Stoicism is fundamentally a practice (not just a belief system), so it points to participative knowledge which can transforms perspective.

So I guess the question then arises, why add more to Buddhism? My reading of Vervaeke is that he wants a big serving of modern scientific worldview to go with ancient Enlightenment practices. So he is reengineering Enlightenment with 4e Cognitive Science and reading more current Western philosophy and theology that points to a participatory ground. Paul Tillich, to cite one example.

Currently reading Gebser to get a different take on all this … Gebser’s pejorative “deficient” seems to apply whenever a structure loses contact with the participatory ground. For Gebser, that participatory consciousness is the “magical”. Compare this to Vervaeke’s use of Shamanism. So Axial Western philosophy - the early “mental” - was efficient, not deficient, owning to closer contact with the magical. For Gebser, the “rational” is deficient mental, because “ratio” implies division, separation, opposition, fragmentation, etc. The great bulk of Western philosophy is rational in this way. The current integral project (Gebser’s … and it seems to me others) is to return efficiency to the mental by reengaging with both the mythical and the magical. Using Gebser, then, as a perspective on Vervaeke, Vervaeke wants to keep the mental (not regress to irrationalism), but to ground it in the participatory (magical) and to engage in meaning-making (mythical) for contemporary relevance framing.

All of this puts additional meat on the bones of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory too. But that’s another discussion for another day …

I probably (actually more than probably) don’t know that much about either Stoicism or Buddhism, but what I have seen so far is that I’m much less likely to find people who claim to be stoics, but who are not practicing stoicism. There could be a dozen different reasons why that I don’t know - it does seem to be my experience though.
Buddhism, on the other hand is a beautiful concept and also a beautiful practice, but it does seem to attract a greater variety of people. In addition to the people who might be attracted to it because it is a trend, you also have people who get so deep into the dogma of it and the faster and deeper they go down that road of Buddhist Philosophy, the less they seem to me to actually practice Buddhism.
By “practice” above I mean “walking the walk”.
Part of it, in my opinion, is laying claim to being more enlightened than one actually is ready for. It’s so simple but at the same time so difficult for mere mortals to attain. Do Stoics understand better than Buddhists that they are trying to achieve something they never achieve 100%?
Let’s take Veganism as an example. Veganism isn’t a “requirement” to be Buddhist, but on the other hand is often perceived to be (sometimes dogmatically) . This could be an East vs West way of looking at veganism as a subset of Buddhism.

At one point I wanted to come out with the concept of “Intermittent Veganism” but I knew it would create such an uproar and appear to be trying to troll vegans when my actual point would have been "look, take it easy on judging yourself and try 3 days vegan, 1 day nonvegan. Then gradually expand that. I think this makes perfect sense to an Eastern perspective on spirituality as well as scientifically, but from my Western mind I there is a collective judgement of “sin” or “impurity” to such an approach and it would upset a lot of people. As a gross generalization, I tend to find Asian Buddhists much easier to talk to about Buddhism than Western Buddhists. Western Buddhists often go directly into pontificating the Philosophy of Buddhism to a degree that is inversely proportional to their practice of Buddhism.
It’s also a kind of thing with Yoga in the West when we talk about “Yogis”. A Yogi literally just a guy or a gal who is “trying”. It isn’t an achievement, but in the Western mind we turn it around to some kind of claim to title, achievement or level of progress. Even moreso is the confusion with what a “Guru” is. The Western mind wants to put Gurus onto a kind of supernatural pedestal along with “enlightenment”, then become hurt, angry and accusatory or disillusioned when Gurus act out their lives to be only what they are - mortal men and women who have achieved a kind of insight and presence.

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A persuasive argument could be formed that Western Buddhism (or a lot of West Coast Buddhism, anyway), is just the latest in a long series of frontier revivalist “awakening” sects. The process goes like this: 1) find a stump; 2) grap preferred Holy Book; 3) let’er rip … loud and long … with feeling. This sort of thing totally influses my work world to the point that I fled here to avoid complete “colonization”. I joked to my boss that it’s “management by exhortation”. If only we all believed the right things in the right ways, used the right vocabulary, and showed proper respect for (fill it in here) the planet would be saved, justice would be ours, and history would be redeemed.

Me … very West Coast. Also, on the fringes of actual Buddhism. Namely, I read Thich Nhat Hahn, who only asks me to do things I can actually do, and I very gladly do them. Stop. Breathe. Notice your body. Notice the trees, the rocks, the grass, the birds. Remember they all flow through you and you through them. Look deeply.

Beautifully stated. I didn’t make a connection to 4E cognitive science in my talk, but that is an important element of the new enlightenment that we are working toward.

Yes, and I see the need to develop these structures of consciousness in their own right, including the rational, but not to the detriment of any others. The fact that the Western enlightenment did tend to suppress the magic and mythic and other structures of consciousness doesn’t discredit the worthy aims and values of this cultural and intellectual movement.