Category

Adi Da Samraj

Frank Visser in Transition

By | Adi Da Samraj, Integralism, Ken Wilber, Plotinus, Stanislav Grof, Theosophy
Frank Visser
A decade ago, the Dutch writer Frank Visser  figured as the major partisan exegete of Ken Wilber. His book Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (2003) was published by the State University of New York Press. Visser was here described as “an internet specialist who studied the psychology of religion at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands.”
The publisher classified Visser’s book in terms of: “the definitive guide to the life and work of Ken Wilber, widely regarded as the most comprehensive and passionate philosopher of our times.”
Visser’s contribution was strongly in support of Wilber. At the end of nearly 300 pages, Visser offers a chapter entitled “Ken Wilber in Perspective.” This covers science, psychology, and religion. Visser states that “Wilber counts as the leading theorist” in transpersonal psychology (page 267). This version of psychology “first emerged as an academic discipline at the end of the sixties” (ibid.). Wilber himself was not an academic.
Visser dwells on the differences between Wilber and C. G. Jung. “Wilber is of the opinion that Jung has prompted an extremely regressive movement in psychology” (page 265). A basic contention here is that the Jungian stress upon the “collective” is a mistaken denominator for too many contrasting ingredients, including the spiritual, the prerational, and the regressive. One aspect of this drawback is seen by Visser in “writers inspired by Jung who interpret the wild or primitive aspect of our nature as spirituality” (page 265).
A well known opponent of Wilber was Stanislav Grof, a psychiatrist who had innovated the term transpersonal, and who was influential in the movement associated with that word. Grof gained a repute for therapy practices and the use of mind-altering drugs, including LSD. His perinatal theory has met with strong reservations in some directions. Grof believed that he had a valid theory based on clinical evidence, which he thought was lacking in Wilber. “In many respects Wilber and Grof stand at opposite ends of the spectrum” (page 270).
Ken Wilber
Visser expressed enthusiasm for the “perennial philosophy” aspect of Wilber’s conceptualism. The former tended to define this factor in terms of: “Each world religion has its own esoteric or mystical core, and, in addition to this, there are also schools of thought developed by individual philosophers who have attempted to formulate this esoteric core in a way that makes it more comprehensible” (page 276). According to Visser, “the esoteric aspects of Wilber’s model are based largely on the philosophy of Shri Aurobindo,” while “Wilber has also borrowed ideas from contemporary mystics, such as Adi Da Samraj” (page 276).
Some of the critics felt that this borrowing was getting into dangerous territory. The American guru Adi Da Samraj (d. 2008) had gained the reputation of an antinomian who was acutely unreliable in his behaviour.
Moving into less controversial topics, Visser stated that the “perennialists or traditionalists” included Ananda Coomaraswamy, Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, and Huston Smith. The first three names are landmarks in the traditional version of perennialism. Smith was a strong influence on Wilber. Visser made a point that “Wilber has explored contemporary philosophy to a far greater extent than most of the traditionalists, who often abhor modern society” (page 276).
The commentator went on to compare the Theosophical tradition with Wilber themes. “Theosophy might be described as an early nineteenth century, Western attempt to reformulate the perennial philosophy in more contemporary language” (page 277). Visser here finds an affinity “with the Western neoplatonic tradition partly expounded by Plotinus  who is highly admired by Wilber” (ibid.).
Views about Theosophy can  differ markedly.  Wilber’s version of Plotinus has met with disagreement. Visser moves on to discuss a Western Vedanta, here employing a phrase used by Wilber (who is also strongly associated with Mahayana Buddhism). Visser refers to the Dutch “philosopher and theosophist” Johannes J. Poortman (d. 1970), a former professor of metaphysics at Leiden University, who “often described his system as a Western form of Vedanta” (page 282).
The information is supplied that Poortman, similar to Wilber, “was extremely sceptical about the kind of holism that is based on quantum physics, which seeks to suggest that modern physics had stumbled across the deepest Mystery” (page 283).
Visser asserts that “Plotinus, Poortman, and Wilber are all mystical philosophers who have a great deal of faith in the capacity of the intellect and who therefore attach a great deal of value to any form of scientific research. For this reason they oppose any movements which denounce rationalism under the guise of spirituality and seek salvation in the romanticism of holism” (page 284).
This perspective was later seen to have complications. Visser subsequently became a critic of Wilber, abandoning his partisan stance. The element of scientific research in Wilber’s output here became minimal. Although Ken Wilber did advocate a rational stance (and denied materialism), Frank Visser arrived at the conclusion that this form of rationalism was limited. The question now also arises: what exactly is a mystical philosopher?
Visser’s tangent from Wilber emerged soon after the publication of his book (translated from Dutch). Rarely does any author transit so strongly and speedily from formerly held assessments. Visser became well known for his new attitude that Wilber’s version of “integralism” was a minefield rather than a solution to all problems (see Reaching Out to the World).
A major drawback is that Ken Wilber tended to present his theories as all-embracing and comprehensive. He referred to his doctrines as AQAL, an abbreviation for “all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types” (page xiii, foreword by Wilber). Quadrant theory could easily be accused of assuming a stance of quasi-omniscience.
The dissenting Frank Visser has maintained a website featuring criticism of Ken Wilber. This site is called Integral World.  So Visser has remained an integralist, but not a copyist of Wilber. There are different forms of integralism, including authors other than Visser and Wilber. A complexity is that certain authors do not call themselves integralists. Which is the most accurate and comprehensive form of “integralism”? This could easily become a major issue.
Observers noticed a commotion in the integralist camp which occurred at blog level. In 2006, Wilber attacked Visser and other critics in a blog featuring aspersive language deemed vulgar by some assessors. Wilber here also referred to himself in terms of the lawman who was resisting the outlaws. See Visser, The Wild West Wilber Report.
A decisive schism was in process. The dissenters and critics would not accept the blog bludgeoning and caricature expressed by Wilber. Visser hosted other critical writers (e.g., Jeff Meyerhoff) at his website. To be more precise, the growing number of contributors at Integral World included Wilber critics, Wilber supporters, and yet other categories.
Perhaps in response to some of the criticism, Wilber wrote a new book called Integral Spirituality (2006). Visser described this as “disappointing, both in style and content.” However, he did concede that Wilber had changed format. See the Visser review. The American writer claimed a relevant  assessment of modernity and postmodernity, and also an ongoing knowledge of religious traditions. This new AQAL presentation amounted to “integral post-metaphysics.”
The founding of the Integral Institute by Ken Wilber was a focus for critical attention from Visser and others. The partisan description of a “visionary think-tank” was countered by allegations such as workshop entrepreneurialism, and allegiance with controversial figures like the neo-Advaita guru Andrew Cohen.
Visser composed numerous web articles demonstrating his critical attitude to the man he had formerly promoted. It is difficult to find any trace of his former “theosophical” inclination. “I consider Ken Wilber’s view of evolutionary theory to be deeply flawed and disconnected from the scientific literature” (Spirit of Evolution Reconsidered). Visser here stresses that “a detailed engagement with Darwinism is virtually absent from his [Wilber’s] writings.”
Visser mentions the second Integral Theory Conference of 2010 in San Francisco, an  event which attempted to modify the Wilber-centric approach. He also refers to the third Integral Theory Conference of 2013 at San Francisco, featuring a confrontation of the Wilber model “with two other luminaries in the wider integral field: philosopher Roy Bhaskar and sociologist-philosopher Edgar Morin.” These entities are described as professional philosophers who share the “same multidisciplinary spirit.” See Integral Theory.
The crux for integralism would appear to be the multidisciplinary orientation, something which is not fundamental to professional philosophy and nor restricted to contemporary paradigms of spirituality.
See further Visser, Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003); Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality (Boston: Integral Books, 2007); Jeff Meyerhoff, Bald Ambition: A Critique of Ken Wilber’s Theory of Everything (Inside the Curtain Press, 2010); Stanislav Grof, Psychology of the Future (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000); Shepherd, Pointed Observations (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005).

Kevin R.D. Shepherd

ENTRY no. 55

Copyright © 2013 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

The Cult Problem

By | Adi Da Samraj, Cults and Suspect Organisations, Spiritual Teachers

Adi Da Samraj

In an earlier blog item Pseudomysticism and Cults (entry no. 14), I reflected on some recent events that are now causing widespread concern. The subject of “cults” has invited  considerable attention from sociologists. An associated subject, that of proclaimed “spiritual teachers,” is pressing. 

The phenomenon of cults has been attended by different arguments. For example, some Christian fundamentalists in America have railed against virtually any deviation from their own doctrine, implying the competitors to be “cults.” So we have to be careful in applying the evocative term of “cult” to any grouping or organisation unless there is strong reason to do so. The stigmatised “cult” might merely be an inoffensive or eccentric religious sect or movement with no record of bad behaviour, and no strong allegations to that effect being in evidence.

Suspect organisations are an intermediate category. These groupings may not be in any bracket of religious affiliation or sectarian identity. Yet they may operate in ways that arouse suspicion as to their validity, and as to the nature of their professed abilities. One example of this is the Findhorn Foundation, linked to the UN, and advertising their claims of a spiritual education alongside an ecovillage facility and CIFAL status. Unfortunately, their long-term treatment of dissidents does not encourage unqualified acceptance of the promotionalism. Even known membership details of a major stigmatised victim have very recently been denied by the management tactics. See Denial of Membership (2010) and entry no. 32.

Certain Indian gurus, some of them deceased, have become the focus of allegations and controversies. Swami Muktananda, Sathya Sai Baba, and Sri Chinmoy are by no means an exhaustive listing in that respect.

Yet some Western gurus or “spiritual teachers” have been another subject of grievance with disaffected followers who emphasise discrepancies and abuse. Some say that this phenomenon is of more immediate relevance in Western countries. In particular, the names of two Americans are becoming well known: Adi Da Samraj (1939-2008) and Andrew Cohen. The exotic name of Adi Da is just one of the titles assumed by Franklin Jones, alias Da Free John. He claimed a unique spiritual status. However, his role has been strongly repudiated by disillusioned followers. The [formerly online] Adi Da Archives is critical:

Adi Da was considered a controversial figure due to persistent accusations that he was having sex with large numbers of devotees, drinking obsessively, abusing drugs, engaging in incidents of violence against women, and financially exploiting his followers. He rationalised all this as his way of teaching people, claiming his behaviour was selfless service designed to quicken the spiritual development of devotees by reflecting their own tendencies back to them….

The inner circle was perhaps the most critical piece of infrastructure Adi Da developed to enable his decades-long pursuit of every kind of fulfilment for himself at the expense of others….The inner circle’s mission, amongst other things, was to hide what they could of Adi Da’s indulgent personal life, abusive treatment of others, and psychological issues. What they couldn’t hide, they explained away as his method of spiritual teaching, tantric practice, or ‘crazy wisdom.’ 

The problem of “crazy wisdom” and other extremist attitudes is sufficient to merit close investigation. Incredulous critics often ask how the victims could ever become involved with predatory figures who cause such disillusionment. The fact is that such involvement has been occurring extensively since the 1970s. Obviously, the mechanism of deception requires attention, a drawback being that this can be kaleidoscopic in the range of manifestations achieved.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
October 24th 2010

ENTRY no. 33

Copyright © 2010 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Ken Wilber and Integral Theory

By | Adi Da Samraj, Andrew Cohen, Frank Visser, Integralism, Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber

The American thinker Ken Wilber is well known for an integral approach, generally described in terms of psychology and spirituality (and formerly classified in terms of transpersonalism). He has reacted to the format of analytical philosophy (and also “continental” philosophy) associated with the universities. His outlook might be described as one form of citizen philosophy. I have attempted to point out the substantial differences from my own version.

Wilber became famous as a writer of numerous books on psychology, therapy, and the “perennial philosophy” themes. Commencing with The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977) and The Atman Project (1980), his output climaxed in the 1990s with such works as Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995) and Integral Psychology (2000). This led to an accolade from the Dutch partisan Frank Visser, who produced a detailed study of Wilber’s books after having personally interviewed him. See Visser, Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (State University of New York Press, 2003).

Frank Visser

Many readers were surprised when Visser soon afterwards became a critic of his subject.  Other converging web critics such as Jeff Meyerhoff (author of an online book) also became noted for a resistance to Ken Wilber’s worldview, described as being too ambitious and lacking due supporting proofs. Wilber’s Quadrant Theory aroused opposition, claiming an “Everything” scope based on metaphysical doctrines and questionable deductions. Such counters are in evidence at the Visser mega-site integralworld, which commenced as a very small site in support of the integral psychologist. Wilber has strongly denounced his critics as having failed to reach the spiritual “altitude” required for the perspectives under discussion.

Wilber has the rare distinction of having his Collected Works available in a multi-volume edition. He has launched in America the Integral Institute, declaring elaborate objectives and an interdisciplinary scope. I am certainly not against the interdisciplinary ideal, having myself pursued a form of that ideal for thirty years. One of my objections relates to the issue of what can usefully be integrated. I am not an integralist, but an analytical commentator.  That is to say, I am not actually against being “integral” in some respects. However, I do not believe in reckless “holistic” approaches.

My disagreement with the approach evolved by Ken Wilber has spotlighted, for example, the “new age workshop” issue. See Ken Wilber and Integralism (2009). Cf. Wilber, Integral Spirituality (Boston: Integral Books, 2007), pp. 201ff., and referring to “Integral Life Practice workshops offered by Integral Institute.”

There is a basic disagreement about the viability of “integral” concepts in a “new age” format, however modified the latter might become (Ken Wilber is not typical of the “new age” by any means). A presentation in terms of spirituality invites strong analytical responses. The claim to spirituality is a contemporary problem in some sectors. This does not mean that spirituality cannot exist, but the claim is no proof of competence.

Adi Da Samraj

Ken Wilber aroused query when he supported the controversial American guru Adi Da Samraj (Da Free John) many years ago. That deceased entity became notorious as an antinomian opportunist. See Ken Wilber and Adi Da Samraj. Wilber modified his enthusiasm in that direction, but continued to esteem the teaching of Adi Da. He also substantially assisted the profile of the “neo-Advaita” guru Andrew Cohen, regularly appearing via a dialogue feature in the latter’s popular magazine What is Enlightenment ? The dialogue duo were rolecast as the guru (Cohen) and the pundit (Wilber). Cohen became the subject of strong criticism. An American Professor of Philosophy described Cohen in terms of being “in deep need of long term therapy.” See David C. Lane, Andrew Cohen Exposed (2009).

Many contemporary confusions relate to the subject known as “perennial philosophy.” This became popular in the 1960s and later, though seldom attended by a due sense of perspective. Adi Da Samraj made some strong overtures in this direction, which critics have found unconvincing, despite the trappings of “crazy wisdom” that supposedly proved legitimacy.

Wilber was for long a promoter of perenniality; he has since opted for a “post-metaphysical” exegesis. Some ask why the fantasised subject of “perennial philosophy” has thrived in contemporary alternativism, where so much academic literature on the history of religion is ignored. This has been one of my own complaints. My citizen presentation has quite frequently resorted to scholastic literature, which can supply information too often overlooked.

Ken Wilber is unusual for having defined his intellectual career in terms of successive phases. He has enumerated Wilber-1, Wilber-2, and so on. Wilber-5, concurrent with “integral post-metaphysics,” expanded his controversial Quadrant Theory, declaredly comprehensive. He affirms: “The Integral Approach involves the cultivation of body, mind, and spirit in self, culture, and nature” (Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 2007, p. 26).

Ken Wilber stresses a spiritual altitude relating to “levels of consciousness” signified by spectrum colours. Via Integral Life Practice, Wilber partisans are supposedly participants in the favoured zone of turquoise to Clear Light. Critics require a more convincing exposition that does not lead to “workshops” and bizarre gurus whose followers have so often defected.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
February 6th 2010 (slightly revised 2018)

ENTRY no. 12

Copyright © 2018 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

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