An Integral Spirituality

The silken thread that unites the world's great wisdom traditions.

BY: Ken Wilber


Renowned philosopher and theoretical psychologist Ken Wilber, now 55, has devoted himself to integrating Eastern and Western philosophical systems.

The author of 22 books translated into 30 languages, Wilber has built a following of activist/thinkers-from philosophers and spiritual teachers to psychologists and scientists -- and is the founder of the Integral Institute, a think tank encouraging the cross-fertilization of ideas. Beliefnet is pleased to introduce Wilber as a new columnist.

What's my philosophy? In a word, integral. And what on earth-or in heaven-do I mean by "integral"? The dictionary meaning is fairly simple: "comprehensive, balanced, inclusive, essential for completeness." Short definition, tall order.

What would something like an inclusive or comprehensive spirituality mean? What


it mean? And would it even be remotely possible? Integral, in a sense, would be the ultimate ecumenical movement, if such a thing is even desirable. It would be a spirituality that claimed to leave nothing essential out. It would be a spirituality that in principle could be recognized and even practiced by believers in all the world's religions without abandoning their own essentials. It would be based on what seem to be universal human capacities to interface with the Divine. It would be inclusive and comprehensive, touching on all the bases of this elusive thing called "spirituality." It would be..

Impossible, is what it would be. But consider where we are in today's modern and postmodern world. We have, for the first time in history, easy access to all of the world's great religions. Examine the many great traditions-from Christianity to Buddhism, Islam to Taoism, Paganism to Neoplatonism-and you are struck by two items: there are an enormous number of differences between them, and a handful of striking similarities.

When you find a few essential items that all, or virtually all, of the world's great religions agree on, you have probably found something incredibly important about the human condition, at least as important as, say, a few things that physicists can manage to agree on (which nowadays, by the way, ain't all that impressive).

What are these spiritual similarities? I'll come back to those shortly, honest. For now, simply notice what it would mean if there were a handful of general items that regularly recur in humanity's attempts to know God (and presumably God's correlative attempts to reach a slumbering humanity, if God indeed exists). These similarities would seem to suggest, among other things, that there are spiritual patterns at work in the universe, at least as far as we can tell, and these spiritual patterns announce themselves with impressive regularity wherever human hearts and minds attempt to attune themselves to the cosmos in all its radiant dimensions.

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