First, I’d like to honor Gerard Bruitzman and thank him for his efforts in critiquing my article, "Integral Religious Studies in a Developmental Context" [free download]. Attempts at bringing a deeper understanding to the topics of spirituality and religion are of vital significance at this particular time in history. As many of you likely know from my previous work (e.g., “Rejuvenating Religion in an Integral Age”), I often champion the fact that the world’s great religious traditions offer us the very best technologies to shift our identity through the major states of consciousness: from gross, to subtle, to causal, to full nondual awakening. As such, we need to do everything in our power to protect and maintain the wisdom that they offer.
The more we have intelligent individuals offering their perspectives and protecting the gifts that these traditions bring forth, the more we can be rest assured that the models, maps, and metrics that emerge to explain and include them are indeed as integral as possible.
Critiques are interesting. I always find that whether one is on the giving end, the receiving end, or even reading them, critiques tend to present themselves as opportunities for deeper learning and growth. When the editors at JITP wrote to me to tell me that they were going to publish Bruitzman’s concerns with my article on their website and invited me to write a response, I realized that it was an opportunity to clarify the article for everyone. And so it is with the intention of mutual evolution and a desire for greater clarity that I took the time to respond to Bruitzman’s comments.
Integral Theory is constantly evolving. As such, it is sometimes difficult for readers to stay up to date with the latest theoretical nuances that make it up. This is entirely understandable.
For the past seven or eight years, Wilber has been careful to make the important distinction between states of consciousness and structures of consciousness. We gain insight about states of consciousness through the contemplative paths of our world’s great religious traditions. We gain insight about structures of consciousness from the conventional models of modern Western psychological research.
States relate more to the process of transcending the individual separate self-sense to eventually rest in the Ultimate/Absolute Self. States range from gross, to subtle, to causal, to nondual.
Structures relate to the process by which the individual relative self-sense matures over time to increasing levels of complexity and care. Structures range from traditional, to modern, to postmodern, to integral. States relate to transcending all relative perspectives. Structures relate to an increasing capacity to take perspectives.
Because development through both states and structures can progress in a sequential fashion and become permanent attainments in consciousness, they are sometimes called state-stages and structure-stages, respectively.
The Wilber-Combs Lattice is one model designed to highlight the difference between these two types of development (contemplative states vs. conventional structures) (Fig. 1). States of consciousness (or state-stages) generally refer to the horizontal progression through gross, subtle, casual, witness, and nondual stages of awareness. Structures of consciousness (or structure-stages) generally refer to the vertical stages of psychological growth, or altitude, ranging from premodern (traditional), to modern, to postmodern, to integral. In more advanced renditions, Wilber lists upwards of 11 structure-stages.
There are two main take-aways from Figure 1:
- First is the fact that states and structures are two different dimensions of growth. One can be highly developed in structures and not very advanced in states. Similarly, one can be highly advanced in states but not very developed in structures.
- Second is the fact that we each have a dual center of gravity. As Wilber explains, we have a vertical structure-stage and a horizontal state-stage. All of us are born in the lower lefthand corner of the matrix with a gross identity and a premodern/traditional level of structural development. Over time, if conditions are ripe, we move up the developmental ladder of structures (from premodern to modern, to postmodern, etc.), and horizontally through various state-stages (from gross, to subtle, to causal, etc.).
This distinction between structures of consciousness and states of consciousness is critical. As I read Bruitzman’s critique, it made me wonder whether or not he was familiar with this important distinction.
“Integral Religious Studies in a Developmental Context” deals exclusively with structure-stages of development. The purpose of the article was twofold. First, I wanted to track the historical unfolding of how the topic of religious studies (not religion itself) moved through major evolutionary stages. Second, I wanted to show how those stages show up today in academia, in relation to several key horizontal approaches to scholarship. A discussion about states of consciousness was intentionally left out of the article in service of a more refined analysis of structures. The intention of the article was to give more granularity to structures as they unfolded over time and are consequently enacted by particular paradigms of study in today’s scholarship.
Nearly all of Bruitzman’s critiques confuse states of consciousness with structures of consciousness. He spends all of his time questioning the degree to which I adequately include states, while missing the fact that the article is not about states but about structures. Although many of his comments are wonderful side streets and alleys that an article on states could have taken, they all miss the mark in relation to the topic of the article he is critiquing.
I’ll go through and highlight a few of Bruitzman’s comments (in quotes below) to show how his points relate to states of consciousness rather than structures of consciousness:
- “Anyone who studies Tibetan culture notices amongst premodern Tibetans outstanding individuals with extraordinary accomplishments in awareness training.” Absolutely! My own experience within the lineage streams of Mahamudra and Dzogchen affirms that the Tibetans (premodern, modern, and postmodern) do indeed offer extraordinary teachings that facilitate awareness training. Unfortunately, awareness training relates to states, not structures. The article focused on structures.
- “Education in premodern cultures is concerned with waking up and freeing the innate heart-knowledge (gnosis) present in each person. 'The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.' … DiPerna’s framework has no place for the accomplishments of premodern masters of divinity. There is no room for Confucius’s hard won practical wisdom or Dante’s highly nuanced heart-centered poetics in his inadequate category of premodern fusion.” The framework employed was designed to highlight one dimension of the AQAL matrix: the way that structure-stages enact particular paradigms of inquiry in religious studies. My working assumption was that the reader would take as a given the other elements of the AQAL model (quadrants, lines, states, and types). In response to his comment above, of course there is room for the insights of Jesus, Plato, and Confucius! The various states of consciousness they uncovered are vital gifts and can be found in all our world’s great wisdom streams. They deserve full honor. States of consciousness were simply not within the focused scope of the article.
- “In the 1970s, Ken Wilber started his body of work with a series of journal articles describing the spectrum of consciousness and the psychologia perennis, and then published his first book The Spectrum of Consciousness. A key idea in this early work was the Great Chain of Being, which he had found in the heart of the world’s wisdom traditions and in the work of contemporary perennial philosophers such as Huston Smith, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Frithjof Schuon, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr.” The Great Chain of Being is an excellent example of how we can trace states (or state-stages) from gross, to subtle, to causal, to nondual. However, again, the article related specifically to structure-stages of development and the various worldspaces that each of those stages enacts, not state-stages (i.e., the Great Chain of Being).
Next, Bruitzman proceeds to give a lengthy fourteen-point list explaining how a deeper examination of the Great Chain of Being and the perennial philosophy in general expose several “shortcomings” of my article. Rather than go through each point one at a time, it is sufficient to simply point out that nearly all fourteen points confuse states of consciousness with the structural analysis that I employ. For instance, in his first point he states: “Which levels of reality [from the Great Chain of Being] are present in IRSDC? My answer is: IRSDC presents an impoverished account of reality with the three Divine Presences of Beyond-Being, Being, and Spirit/Intellect (innate heart-knowledge) mostly ignored.”
Beyond-Being, Being, and Spirit/Intellect are intentionally not part of this article. All three of these terms refer to deeper states of consciousness and closely parallel what could be referred to as nondual (Beyond-Being), causal (Being), and causal/subtle (Spirit/Intellect), respectively. Again, the article was about structures and, not states.
This comment makes me think that, in his own mental model, perhaps Bruitzman is still stacking states of consciousness on top of structures, as some early transpersonal theorists did. This sort of assumption would lead him to believe that when I speak of higher structure-stages (e.g., post-postmodern/integral), I must also be speaking of something similar to the highest state-stages. I am not. These are two radically different areas of growth and two distinct dimensions of Integral Theory.
I am working with an updated version of Integral Theory that clearly distinguishes these two areas of growth (see Fig. 1). Higher states are not higher structures. The two elements of AQAL are different vectors of spiritual growth. Figure 2 shows the way that transpersonal theorists used to conceive of states and structures with states stacked on top of the highest structures.
If Bruitzman were using the mental model displayed in Figure 2 to make his critique, then I can begin to see how his assumptions arose. Did Bruitzman think that when I was referring to higher structures (e.g. post-postmodern/integral), that I intended to speak about higher states like non-being and being or causal and nondual? The model depicted in Figure 2 went out of common acceptance among transpersonalists (particularly Integralists) some time ago. I hope that Bruitzman, if he is not already, will become familiar with the newer model used more widely today.
To repeat, states of consciousness are vital. They are a key component of the AQAL matrix. They are elements that I myself have written hundreds of pages about and have spent hours of practice diving into firsthand. I fully honor these gifts of premodern wisdom traditions and see the vital role they play today as we move into the possibility of a truly enlightened planetary culture. My article, “Integral Religious Studies in a Developmental Context,” was not attempting a broad overview of the traditions, nor was it designed to trace any of the gifts that our religious traditions have brought to the table (during any of the historical paradigms). The article was focused on the discipline and scholarship of religious studies, how different structure-stages enact different paradigms within religious studies, and some of the horizontal approaches that emerge from each of those worldviews.
For points less susceptible to the state vs. structure confusion, it seems Bruitzman is simply reaching for other critiques to throw in. These are also equally as irrelevant to my article. For example, in point seven Bruitzman brings up the “the problem of evil.” My article was about the methodological approaches of religious studies and how various structure-stages interact with those various methodologies and approaches. This was not an article about the content of religious discussion. Of course, the “problem of evil” is an interesting and important topic but the “problem of evil” is entirely irrelevant given the scope of the article. Several of his final points fall victim to similar criticism: Bruitzman misses the scope and purpose of the article and then argues that ideas weren’t included that had no place in the article in the first place.
I’d like to end by extending Bruitzman an honest compliment. His final section titled "Olympic Games for Enlightened Athletes" has a lot of potential. In Table 3, however, he again confuses states and structures. But nonetheless, if this confusion were resolved, I think he could offer a great article on the topic of various skills and gifts of different masters/traditions in a future issue of the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice. I encourage him to submit something along these lines.
If critiques really do present themselves as learning opportunities, I hope the above analysis has been useful to readers and, perhaps, even for Bruitzman himself. So what was the learning opportunity seized on my end?
Although the specific scope and purpose of my article was clear for all of the individuals who peer-reviewed it (none of the issues Bruitzman raises came up for the referees who gave feedback on the article), and although the scope and intention was certainly clear for Wilber himself as we spent several hours together parsing through the details, perhaps I could have done a better job setting up the article in a way that explicitly spelled out the fact that this was an article about structure-stages and not states/state-stages. After all, the article was taken directly from my work on what Wilber calls the conveyor belt (a topic focused explicitly on structure-stages) from my forthcoming book, The Rainbow of Enactment.
All and all, I think the biggest lesson that Bruitzman has taught me here is that I cannot, and perhaps should not, automatically assume that every individual in the audience of JITP is up to speed with the latest nuances in Integral Theory. For instance, as in the case of this critique, some readers may not readily be familiar with the differences between states and structures. In the future, I will do a better job bringing the reader up to date; I will do a better job explaining the scope, intention, and purpose of the articles I publish; and I will do a better job at explicitly stating the important areas of AQAL that I am intentionally leaving out.
I would like to thank Bruitzman again for his comments. I hope this response has been helpful to clarify the intentions of my article.
– Dustin DiPerna
Occidental, California, U.S.A.