What’s So Important About Enlightenment?

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What is “enlightenment”, and why should we care? What does “oneness with all form” and other mystical-sounding states of mind have to do with our ongoing search for happiness and fulfillment? Listen as Ken makes a stunning case for spiritual awakening, while clarifying the important differences between the integral approach to enlightenment and many of the classic definitions that have been handed down through the millennia.

The term “metaphysics” (literally, “beyond physics”) first came about when Aristotle’s students wrote a book to follow his Physics. While metaphysics has been a respectable term through most of its history, Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy thoroughly dismantled that credibility. Kant’s philosophy replaced ontological objects with structures of the subject. He showed that what appears as a pregiven reality is really a co-creation of the knowing subject and the known object.

Kant’s (and subsequent) thought has necessitated — at the very least — a complete rethinking of the way we approach spirituality. Take, for instance, the Great Chain of Being, which is thought to be the central core or deep structure of the world’s religious traditions. Modern and postmodern thought has at least three profound implications here. First, even if we accept the levels that the Great Chain posits, we must allow for them to be co-constructions of the knowing subject, or structures of consciousness. Second, the “proof” for such assertions must satisfy both modernity’s demand for objective evidence and postmodernity’s demand for intersubjective grounding. Third, these structures must be seen as having developed in time, evolution, and history.

So too, the very idea of enlightenment itself bears re-examining. If we define enlightenment as “being one with everything,” that is, with Emptiness and form, we must admit that form — and therefore enlightenment itself — evolves! If we can allow for the levels of the Great Chain to have evolved over time — i.e. evolution is the Great Chain, temporalized — we will have moved a long ways toward the resolution of the problem. Thus, from this point of view, enlightenment can be defined as the realization of oneness with all states and all structures that are in existence at any given time.

The Great Chain of Being and the notion of enlightenment are two examples of the far-reaching implications of Integral post-metaphysics. The bottom line, in general, is that there is no pre-given world, but rather, worldspaces that arise when something is viewed from a given altitude, through a given perspective. Thus, we can situate everything perceived — and indeed, every perceiver — by their altitude and perspective, that is, their Kosmic Address. Among other things, the Kosmic Address of a perceiver specifies an injunction which the subject must perform in order to access and enact and access the worldspace of the object. Thus, the meaning of a statement is the means of its enactment. And in the light of Integral post-metaphysics, problems like the proof of God’s existence, long a thorn in the side of metaphysical approaches, are problems no more….

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Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.