Dr. Marc Gafni and Ken Wilber meet by phone regularly to discuss new thought on a wide range of topics, including the future unfolding of the Center and its initiatives.
On this note, we’d like to share a dialogue that will appear in a different form in the book: a beautiful conversation about how the evolved and awake human being engages evil and suffering.
Listen to this vibrant dialogue and read the transcript below:
Marc Hello everyone. Mega-Pandit Ken Wilber, it is a delight to be with you, sir.
Ken Yes, sir.
Marc Yes, sir, and we are here for our Thought Leader Dialogue Series, and I’m here with Ken Wilber who is an initiating thought leader of world spirituality based on Integral principles, and the thought leader in the Integral Movement, and a deep partner and visionary and really active in charting the course of the Center for Integral Wisdom. And we’re here to talk about the word that is live spelled backwards, evil, evil, which is a topic that, friends, doesn’t come up often. And, Ken, I think it would be fair to say that even in Integral Theory it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, although it’s implicit in many, many conversations, but it’s not that often that it’s explicit, and, of course, it’s one of the great questions. So, Ken and I are going to just go back and forth and really have what may be the first major Integral dialogue on this topic.
Any number of people have told me, Ken, that you and I spoke about this, and I went back to see it before we talked today, that you and I spoke about this in 2005 with Patrick Sweeney at the Integral Spiritual Center, the first meeting. If you remember, the last day was an open day for the public?
Marc And a number of people asked us questions about evil, and you and I had, what people said to me, was really one of the very rare Integral exchanges on this topic. So that was way back in the day.
Ken Yeah, well, evil dropped out basically with modernity.
Marc Yeah, yeah. So maybe we’ll start, as Ken and I sometimes do in dialogues, is I’ll just spend a couple of minutes, Mega-Pandit, just framing the issue from my perspective. Then you’ll either take issue with the frame or enter the frame, and then we’ll just go back and forth as we go with the intention to really clarify this all-important issue.
So let me start with Ken’s comment. Evil kind of dropped out in modernity. What Ken means by that, if I may, and Ken will, of course, correct me if he thinks that I got the meaning wrong, was that within a classical worldview which was God-centric, in which Spirit was at the center and in which a mythological God was at the center of that, so that meant that there were three core propositions happening. One was that God was omnipotent, that is to say omni-potent, all-powerful. Two is that God was good. The very word God derives etymologically from the good. “And God saw that it was good,” at the beginning of Genesis. “Taste and see that God is good.” Aquinus’ favorite verse from Psalms. So the second proposition, that God’s good. And the third proposition, that God’s omniscient, that is to say all-knowing.
Now, the problem is that these three propositions were challenged by a fourth reality, and the reality was evil, bad things happening to seemingly good people.
Ken Which made the three contradictory.
Marc Which made the three contradictory, exactly. So basically you could actually, Ken, trace the history of religious thought by seeing which one of the three did a particular school ditch?
Marc So you’d either say, okay, God’s not omnipotent, but is omniscient and good. Or God’s not good, just neutral, but is… In other words, you’d always dump one of the three in order to be able to deal with evil. That introduces, essentially, a new huge field which is classically referred to as theodicy, that is to say what do you do when a good God is hanging out there, all-powerful and all-knowing, but, pardon my French, bad shit’s happening?
Marc You’ve got to be able to work with that. So that’s one frame. I want to, later in the conversation, introduce some other frames, but I think this is a good way to kick off and to begin the conversation. So, the ball over to your court, sir, across the net.
Ken Well, yeah, there are so many different ways that this can be taken. One is that sooner or later we broach the topic of methodologies on knowing God, and are there any that can in any sense be said to reliably do that? If so, what are they? How do they work? Because what we’re also dealing with is, particularly when we talk about all-knowing, all-good and all-powerful, the three omnis, then we’re starting to define Spirit, and there are a lot of schools that have a lot of things to say about difficulties that you get into just by the simple attempt to qualify what in most cases would be considered an unqualifiable Spirit.
And so a lot of the problems are simply being generated by, well, as logical positivism used to say about something that couldn’t be empirically verified, it wasn’t true or false, it was nonsensical. It just doesn’t make any sense. So a lot of these questions about evil or the qualities of God or the nature of God, and so on, might fall into that category. They might not be true or false. They might just not actually make sense. We might just be talking nonsense here, but it sounds like we’re making sense, because we can put sentences together that have subjects and verbs and sound like they make sense, but they don’t really refer to anything real that’s going on, and so we’re just generating, if anything, just a bunch of semantically generated puzzles. So that doesn’t really tell us all that much.
But then within that series of questions there’s another series which is, well, okay, so this evil, the reality of bad things happening in the world, then what are those and do they come from a particular place, and what’s the nature of those? The so-called evil thing seems to be the wrench in God’s omni things. So what is that all about? What could be the nature of evil and what could be the source of that? What does that mean? How’s that working? And there’s a whole history to that.
So we have a history to how we’ve looked at God and how we’ve defined God and ways that we have attempted to know or reach or touch God, and then there’s a whole anti-God thing, things that don’t seem to be something that any decent person, let alone creator of the universe, would end up doing. So there’s a whole history on evil, the nature of it, where does it come from, is it personified or not personified, and what do we do about it, and that whole series of questions.
So maybe I’ll just start down one line, just because it’s sort of interesting, and that’s the nature of evil and how the history of that has changed and leading to that point, as I said, in modernity, where it just became so insignificant that it dropped out, it just wasn’t an issue for some reason. So what could that be? If evil is, in some sense, an anti-God particle then for evil to drop out of the picture, God had to have dropped out too, and, of course that, famously, “God is dead” came with modernity.
So if you go back and you track both of these, you track God and you track evil, and you see that they’re kind of a parallel trajectory, but certainly with evil, evil kind of starts out as generically it’s something that’s bad, and one of the ultimate bad things that can happen is that you can break your relationship or your covenant or your awareness to or of or with God. And so one of the really worst things that evil can do is nullify God. So we have, in a lot of its earliest versions, it’s personified and evil is an actual living person, in a certain sense, and certainly a living entity, and its whole job is to cause humans to sin, to commit evil, because that’s what the devil or Satan or Beelzebub or whatever name we give to this nasty thing is, that’s his job. So evil is originally something that an actual satanic being is all about. It’s why they’re here. It’s what they do. It’s what they’re made of.
Marc There’s a real ontology to evil.
Ken Exactly. It’s an actual substance in the world and, of course, that is what eventually would shift as theologians and philosopher scholars would attempt to come to terms with the fact that various definitions of evil weren’t working very well, just as various definitions of God were not working as well either. So these things both continued to unfold and evolve, as we were saying, kind of in parallel, but it starts out and it’s a substance, it’s a reality. It’s almost like you can buy a six-pack of it down at the local store, and if you drink three of those then you just might get to Heaven, but if you drink four you’re going to Hell, and that’s it.
So Satan is a real thing and evil is a real entity and it can fuck you up, and that’s its essential chore, is to seduce humans away from the good and away from God, and at that point that’s going to mean God as understood at that particular time, which in most cases is some form of mythic God that has some sort of covenant or bond or agreement with his essentially chosen people, and, if in no other sense, that each culture is ethnocentric and can only think of God as focused on it one way or another anyway, so whatever the version is. So Satan can disrupt your pledge to God or your covenant with God, your bond with God, by making you do actions that break this covenant. If you have pledged, let’s say, the Ten Commandments, then Satan is happy if he can get you to break any of them. The more that he can get you to break, the better off he is, and fundamentalists still think this way. You can still hear this in a preacher in Tennessee, that the devil spends his time thinking about how to get you to go against God’s law, which is whatever the particular preacher happens to say it is at any given time.
So that has its way for quite some time, and then as things start to get a little bit more rational and people start to ask questions a little bit more, both in a critical sense, but also in an attempt to support their particular belief in God, so consciousness itself is tending to evolve from mythic to rational and so we’re starting to just get a little bit more skeptical. We’re starting to ask questions and starting to try to figure out just really exactly what is going on. Then you find changes in all of those. You find some schools, for example, will challenge the omni part of God, and in some cases it’s because just no qualifications in general are really large enough to contain Ultimate Spirit. So, even something like omnipotent isn’t big enough to include all kinds of capacities. Simply being all-powerful doesn’t necessarily say anything about being the most creative or the most artistic or the most musical or even the most caring or most loving. You could be damn near powerful and not very loving at all.
So it was starting to question qualifications of Spirit, and in some cases this reaches very strong versions, as in Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka and sunyata and the idea that you really can’t say anything about Spirit at all, including that. That puts an end to God and evil and pretty much everything else, but all of that is part of a prelude to awakening a different type of knowing, and so that’s one direction that the evil discussion heads in. There are some others that we also have to cover, but one of them is that in denying ontological realities to any substance view of God or Spirit or any substance view of evil, or evil as a substance or reality, that all of those are merely dualistic concepts and Spirit, although this is also denied as a quality, but it’s not dualistic.
So it’s an attempt to get rid of any kind of thinking in concepts or ideas or categories at all, and to make room for a different type of knowing, which the knowing you’re trying to get rid of is vijnana and the “jna” in it in English is “kno” as in knowledge or “gno” as in gnosis. The “vi” means two. So vijnana is dualistic knowledge, and the knowledge you’re trying to get is just jnana which means just pure gnosis or prajna which is pro-jnana, pro-gnosis. That’s an actual awareness that can be known or realized in meditation, and so the general view is that things like good and evil are simply part of the manifest world which is dualistic in its nature. It manifests in opposites, and the whole point is not to have one of those opposites win. So it’s not to have pleasure win over pain, or good win over evil, or nirvana win over samsara.
You can no more have a world that is all pleasure and no pain, and all good and no evil, and all nirvana and no samsara, anymore than you can have a world that is full of all lefts and no rights, and all ups and no downs, and all ins and no outs. It’s just not possible. They arise together. They show up together. They disappear together. So you can get rid of evil, but you get rid of good as well, and so that non-dual awareness, then you’re also getting rid of the subject and object, and so you’re no longer looking at the world as a separate, set apart Self, you are one with the world. So being one with everything, you are what the Upanishads call free of the pairs. So you’re just simply free of all that. It becomes part of a type of knowledge that is inherently illusory, inherently misleading, inherently not ultimate. We used to think that way. We don’t think that way now. We have a way of getting in touch with reality that’s direct and immediate and ultimate.
Marc That’s great. I’ll just jump in for a second.
Ken Yeah, sure.
Marc You’ve outlined beautifully, really, really gorgeously one major track, so let me just feel into this track for a second and try and open up a second gate. Essentially, so we have this thing called evil. Evil is a human experience. It’s an experience that comes from the manifest realm. Evil is clearly of the world of what classical non-dual tradition would call the relative, and within that relative world we also have a kind of very, very mythological conception of the good, powerful and all-knowing God, and those two things are in some sense born together.
Marc In other words, good God has got a problem with evil, and it’s almost impossible to know what to do with it. And so as there’s a deep mystical evolution of the idea of God – and when I say evolution in this case, these actual unqualified notions of reality, I wouldn’t even call it essence, because even essence, the Sufi term, still has the fragrance of the dual, but the ultimate unqualified, unqualifiability that is available directly in first person as our notion of Spirit rarefies and clarifies – then it’s not that we’ve solved the problem of evil, but it’s disappeared, because the problem of evil is a function of this old worldview which is in some sense not clarified, not purified, not clear. It comes from this world of the manifest and the relative.
Marc Let me add something to that and then open up a different gate. So, in some sense, when I think about the problem of evil, I think of that always in two different ways. One is there’s a kind of conceptual problem. Conceptually, how do you deal with these two opposing realities? The three omnis vis-à-vis the actual experience of evil. But the second way to think about it is not as a conceptual problem, but as an experiential problem, and I think that the approach that I alluded to and that you gorgeously unpacked really deals also with the experiential problem in a very powerful way, which is why it’s, I think, so important. It’s not just that the conceptual problem disappears, but the experiential problem is also solved, because the problem of evil isn’t actually just a structural logical one from within the mythological worldview, it’s an experiential one.
That’s how can I love a God who seems to be profoundly unlovable? I wouldn’t have dinner with someone who did what God did, apparently, yesterday, and not only am I supposed to have dinner, but I’m supposed to be obedient, perhaps even obeisant, commit my life to, but not only commit my life to, but you shall love the Lord your God, I’m supposed to be deeply in love with, but the problem is that God, as the manifest God seems to appear, is far from lovable. How do I actually have experiences of reverence? How do I have experiences of love? How do I have experiences of loyalty when I have the contradictory experiences in my first person of evil?
And so in some real sense, Mega-K, this first approach and I think, as you said, there are other gates we’re going to want to open, but in this first powerful approach, we’ve actually fully solved the experiential issue, because actually my understanding of non-duality is non-conceptual in its essence. I’m actually having an experience of the Ultimate Ground of Reality. So that experience of the Ultimate Ground of Reality in first person, revealed and discernible by the eye of the heart or the eye of the spirit, as a genuine lived reality which is unmediated and direct, and therefore absolutely certain, actually approaches the great problem of what do I do about evil?
Well, the answer is here I am. In a certain sense, one could interpret, Ken, the book of Job in this way with one distinction. The book of Job is happening – at least classically read – not through meditation, but through revelation. If you read any major mystical tradition, they blur the distinction between meditation and revelation all the time. In other words, every revelation is in some sense understood by the mystical traditions as being initiated by a meditation. So if we can kind of blur that issue, what the book of Job is saying, in the 39th and 40th chapter, is after Job’s friends come and attempt their comfort within the classical mythological worldview, and they of course become called Job’s comforters by language, because they’re far from comforting, what happens in the end is Job has an actual first person experience of Spirit.
Marc Now, again, that first person experience of Spirit is Hebraic. I’m going to call it that. I don’t want to inappropriately mix the two. He’s not having a formless causal nirvikalpa samadhi experience. It’s a different kind of experience. It has a Hebraic quality to it, so I’m slightly mixing apples and oranges in terms of the quality of the experience, but not in terms of the experience itself. The response to evil is an experience. So in Hebraicism, it’ll be an experience of the goodness of reality, of the depths of reality’s caring, even in the face of evil. In a more esoteric Kabbalistic position or a classical Mahayana position, it will be an experience of unqualified reality, the very Ground of Being itself in causal form, but what they both share is that the response to evil is non-conceptual.
The response to evil in both cases, whether it’s kind of a Hebraic Job revelation, Chapter 39 and 40, or it’s a classical non-dual intense Zen revelation initiated through the process of meditation which doesn’t have a personalistic dimension – although Ken, as you know, Suzuki Roshi tried to bring love into the conversation when he talked about sunyata in some of his writings late in the game, and we’re not sure if that was a tactic or if he really believed it – but I think the critical thing here is that we’re saying, where Ken and I are coming together although we’re talking about different qualities, is that the response to evil is not a conceptual response, because evil’s not a conceptual problem only. It’s a problem of experience. How do I locate myself in a reality and function effectively and live and be in the world if the world is a horrific cauldron of boiling evil? Doesn’t that deconstruct my ability to function in the world, and certainly my ability to function in relationship to a good God, but even deconstruct my ability to function constructively as a good person if I’m located in a realm in which evil seems to dominate? And so these two responses, and back over to you.
Ken What they tend to have in common although, again, there are certain limitations just because, as you say, one is sort of formulaic Hebraic and the others are more sort of traditional non-dualistic in a formal sense, but evil, as the concept evolved, it increasingly was seen as not something that was the product of something like a Satan or an actual living entity that was out there and who evil was, so to speak, the wares that it was peddling, and it was seen more and more as simply in itself anything that a human did that removed them from Spirit or God. And so whatever activity that a human undertakes – and it’s human-generated, it’s not satanically derived, it’s humanly generated – whatever action that a human takes that diminishes his awareness of God or diminishes his relationship with God or diminishes in some ways his love of God, then that action is in itself considered evil.
So this evilness is an activity, but it doesn’t have in a sense a substance. So it’s not the presence of a negative thing per se. It’s the absence of a positive thing. As much as shadow isn’t something in itself, it’s just the absence of light. So evil shifts into this shadowy activity, actions that I undertake that cast shadows that disrupt my relationship with God. Now, as God in particular is also evolving and is starting to be understood, versions of Spirit from all three perspectives, first person and second person and third person, then activity that keeps me away from Spirit in first person is activity that keeps me away from my own highest and truest Self. So it’s activity where I am, in a sense, not being true to my deepest Self, which is also the deepest Self of the Kosmos at large.
And so the basic activity that does that is the self-contraction or the Separate Self sense, or the breaking apart of awareness into subject and object or a seer and a seen, knower and a known. That throws me into the world of pairs, throws me into the world of good and evil, and in a certain sense opens me to an experience of unpleasant evilness, as it’s also opening me to an experience of relative goodness. Both of those are only relatively real. Neither of them have any ultimate reality, but what’s generating the whole thing is this activity of self-contraction, of the Separate Self. So what both Job and Nagarjuna have in common is that discovery of that deeper being, and that discovery is what is known with a certainty.
Marc That’s where certainty comes back online.
Ken Right. And that’s rather the whole point at that juncture, is that that’s what we were looking for. If evil had made it hard for us, or in fact was the action by which we negated God or failed to be related to God or failed to find our own Higher Self, then that is negated by this other type of experience, this direct, immediate experience of oneness with the Ground of All Being which, looked at in second person, is a great Tao, looked at in first person is my own deepest Self, but the activity of evil was the action that I took that drove me away from that awareness or any of those understandings or any of those relationships, and so it’s real in the extent that it generates this illusory condition in which I am actually uncertain of the reality of this Ultimate Ground. So I can come up with all sorts of reasons that I have this uncertainty. So, well, this horrible thing happened, or, well, Auschwitz happened, or, well, my daughter died, was run over by a car, whatever it is, but none of those are the actual cause of what is separating me from this Ultimate Ground. In other words, the ultimate evil isn’t in any of those particular things. It’s in the action that I have taken that separates me from my own deepest Self and my own highest Ground of All Being. Overcoming that activity reinserts a certainty of an ultimate reality that these other things had questioned, but prior to those other things was my separating myself from this Ground to begin with.
Marc Right, right. That’s perfect and we went a couple more steps. So let me just kind of go slow here, if you remember that television show “Columbo,” I want to be Columbo for a second. I’m going to just go slow and try and figure this out here. So, let’s meander here for a second. And there are a couple of things that are really important to distinguish here before we open up a new gate. So, one of them is an enormous amount of literature that I’ve read over the last few years, pretty much till I was 46 – that was a transition moment in my life, when I came to live in America – I pretty much read Hebraic texts. I read you and I read a few other things, but pretty much I was reading in the classical traditions. That was most of my reading and I read another couple hundred books on the side just because in order to be intelligent you need to, but now in the last six, seven years I’ve read quite a lot more of the kind of literature out there and particularly there’s a whole literature, Ken, on Buddhism and psychology, as I’m sure you’re deeply aware and have contributed to and critiqued.
And one of the things that in that literature is so troubling is that in a number of places I’ve seen the analogy drawn in response to evil, and they make the following rough argument, which is, okay, evil was about this old conception of God, now both Buddhism and psychology are both human-centric, in other words they both locate the problem of evil in the human being. Now, that is true to a limited extent, in other words psychology in its Western sense, of course, and there’s many different views of psychology and there’s 10 or 12 different schools, and you mapped them out beautifully in Integral Psychology and actually really earlier in the transformations of consciousness, but classical Western psychology in its more materialistic version will view evil as some sort of breakdown in the human being.
Marc The problem is that there’s no antidote. In other words, the human being breaks down because there’s a lack of equilibrium. The best you can hope for is some version of psychological wholing in order to create some version of equilibrium in a slight Freudian confusion between a human being and a steam engine, to create a kind of materialistic balance. That’s pretty much the best you can hope for. In a Buddhist view or a Hasidic view – a Hasidic non-dual view of the kind that Rivka Schatz, Gershom Scholem’s major student, wrote about extensively in her book “Hasidism as Mysticism” – for example, the core problem is human in the sense that the problem is what they call the world of separation, olam ha’pirud in Aramaic. So the separation is the core construct that produces evil; however, the antidote is completely different. The antidote is a direct experience of unmediated, unqualified, ultimate reality that gives you an ultimate experience of certainty, as opposed to psychology which somehow, in its kind of Western materialistic sense, merges with what you’ve called the centaur level.
Marc You see it showing up where Camus opens his novel “The Stranger,” “Mother died today or maybe it was yesterday.” And the implication is it doesn’t really matter. So there’s ultimately no experience of certainty, which is an enormous distinction, and so these facile comparisons between Buddhism and psychology as being both anthropocentric, which is the way they say it, is true as far as it goes, but of course misses the entire point.
Ken Yeah, badly.
Marc Yeah, badly, really badly. So I think that’s just the first just limited thing I want to point out, so that people shouldn’t confuse what you’re saying with that kind of classical move made in the Buddhist psychology literature, so that’s kind of an Integral correction of that conversation. So that’s number one. Two, and here’s where it begins to become kind of a big deal, in a certain sense our conversations on Unique Self, Ken, merge in here and, again, other than a brief exchange a decade ago this is the first time we’re talking about this and we didn’t talk about it before the phone call, so people listening, this is actually really happening live. This is not a premeditated phone call.
Let me bring in an issue that is just around. John Welwood showed me a few interesting passages a few months back that he’s playing with in the classical Eastern literature, which I liked, and I showed him a few passages in Kabbalah. And I think you would deeply agree with this and I’m sure you’ve thought about it and perhaps written about it in places I don’t know, which is that the absolute distinction between the relative and the absolute is, of course, itself a form of duality.
Marc That’s just to state the obvious in some way. In other words, the absolute and relative, that’s a way of speaking about things in order to get a sense of what we mean by this distinction, but of course in a deep non-dual realization, when we’re actually sahaj samadhi, we’re turiya turiyatita, then it’s all reality, unqualified Spirit, all the way up, all the way down, with ultimately no distinction between the absolute and the relative.
Marc Now, what that does is, what that move does in Kabbalah, which is one flavor of non-duality – paradoxically non-duality does have flavors, I think that’s a good way to say it, there are different tastes in different non-dual systems if you will, there are different tastes to the tasteless, if we can speak in paradox – so in the Kabbalistic flavor of non-duality, what that means is that we start taking reality seriously again. So we start, Level One, taking reality really seriously. Then we go to this profound Level Two where we jettison reality, because what is reality? We are in the unmanifest, the uncreated. We are in before your mother and father were born, your original face. Then we go to Level Three, and in Level Three we actually start taking reality really seriously again, because it actually is not different or separate from the Ultimate, from the Infinite in any way.
Now, from that matrix, then in some sense the problem of evil comes up again. That’s the paradox. Again, I’m talking paradoxically now, not structuralogically, because I think we can only deal here in paradox. It comes up again because there’s evil again. It’s like the three students of Buddha after Buddha dies, the famous story. The first group, he died, and of course so they cry, because they’re the least advanced. The second group, they understand this is all just duality stuff and they’re more advanced, so the second group doesn’t cry at all. And the third, the highest group of students, Buddha died, so they cry. They’ve hit this Level Three, and Level Three is, of course, not to be confused with Level One.
So I want to introduce a way of thinking about this at this Level Three, and in some sense where we reclaim the problem, not having lost, we’re not reclaiming it at Level One, we’re not going back to the mythological God, but we’re actually reclaiming it at this non-dual level, at this sahaj samadhi, turiya turiyatita, ayin and ani merge level. And I’ve been thinking about this for, God, 20 years, and I think maybe something that I’ve actually never told you, there’s not that many things like that, but one of them is when I was 33, Mega-K, I took off a year just because I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t deal with the problem of evil. It just made me completely crazy. I did what any self-respecting person does. I wrote a book about it in that year, trying to work with it. I, of course, was coming out from within classical Hebraic orthodoxy and I was trying to make a different move which was just that dogmatic certainty isn’t what the religious experience is about. We need to actually reclaim uncertainty as a spiritual value.
Now, let me bracket that for a second, because within that year of really diving into this in every possible way I could, so the following set of thoughts occurred to me that I want to share with you from this turiya turiyatita level, from this non-dual Level Three where we’ve incorporated the realization of emptiness and now we are on the other side of emptiness, in some sense the same place that Unique Self appears. We’re in that same worldspace, not in the space of egoic contraction, we’re in the space of Unique Self. We’re in Nagarjuna’s “form is emptiness and emptiness is form” and we’re trying to now reengage evil, in a certain sense as we reengage uniqueness together.
And in here, it would be something as follows. Let me see if I can just say it clearly in a couple of short sentences. When I cry out, “It’s not fair,” the implication is that there’s something called fairness, and that experience of fairness is not only a conceptual structure in duality, but it’s actually a lived meditative reality. It’s a lived experience, not really existential in the narrow sense of the centaur existentialists, but it’s an experience, if you will, of essence. In other words, it’s not fair. Babies shouldn’t be ripped apart. My mother’s first experience that she downloaded to me, maybe told me the story about 3,000 times, was about a baby being ripped apart in front of her when she was three years old in Poland. Of course, now we know what happened to Gafni, like, that story can’t do you well, right? You laugh at it because there’s nothing else to do but laugh at the ultimate tragedy of it, but of course what you’re screaming is, “That’s not fair.”
Marc Now, at this Level Three, that’s not just a Level One problem of a conceptual being lost in the world of duality. That’s actually a lived certainty of the unfairness of it. Now, paradoxically though, at the very moment that you’re screaming, “It’s not fair,” you’re actually having an absolute experience of direct Spirit, because your utter certainty that it’s not fair only makes sense as an experience if you have some prior intelligent first-person awareness of fairness. Because – we always have to quote Macbeth at the right time – if the world is a tale told by an idiot, full of sounds and fury, signifying nothing, and of course that great existentialist Faulkner picks it up as the title of his book “The Sound and the Fury” for a good reason, well, then there’s no reason for it to be fair. What are you concerned with? What’s the problem? Of course it’s not fair. It is a tale told by an idiot, sounds and furies, signifying nothing. What do you want?
So the very question itself actually implies the answer, and that’s I think, in a certain sense, what the old theodicists, Ken, didn’t do, because they located the issue in a mythological God, so you were questioning a mythological God and the best you could do would be get a response from the whirlwind, which was a good day, but really you had to just deal with the problem and write it off as mystery. But when you actually shift the axis, as you did, to the human being, but not to the human being in the reductionist materialistic or subtle reductionist materialistic psychological perspective, but you shift the perspective to the human being who is a non-dual expression of All That Is, of unqualified Spirit, then you can somehow re-trust the inner implied knowing of the human being and actually, paradoxically, reclaim certainty in the very belly of the question.
I want to finish and turn it over to you just with a Kabbalistic flourish, if you will, just because it captures some of the lineage energy on this, in terms of the transmission of it. So, as you know so well, when you studied Kabbalah and we’ve talked about the famous Ten Emanations in Kabbalah, which of course, are reminiscent of Plotinus, and these Ten Emanations, seven of them you access in kind of what we’d call normal reality. There are the seven lower emanations, the seven lower sephirot in the Tree of Life. The three highest emanations in the Tree of Life are called Keter (the crown), Chokhmah (wisdom) and Binah (understanding), as you know.
There are three letters in Hebrew that actually represent these three and they are Alef, the first letter, alpha, Yud which is the divine point, and He, which is the letter from the name of God, the “ha” sound. Now, Alef Yud He means ayhe which means, from the text, “where” as in where is God? And so Luria writes something just devastatingly beautiful, Ken, and he writes that when you scream out, “Ayhe?” Where is God? At the moment you scream out the question, you transcend the lower sephirot, that is to say the manifest world of divine emanation and you actually enter into the non-dual Absolute in your question itself. The question itself becomes the ultimate certainty of the answer, and this perhaps, passing it back to you, Ken, opens up a new gate here which extends, which builds on our first gate. So, passing it over to you, Mega-K.
Ken Well, what tended to happen in virtually any of the non-dual schools is that, at some point, and this was responsible, for example, for the third great Turning of the Wheel in Buddhism, and what we find is it’s a version of those three stages that you were talking about. The second stage is always, well, there’s even a Zen koan on it, which is before I studied Zen, mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers, and then during my study of Zen, mountains were no longer mountains and rivers were no longer rivers. That, of course, means because they’re empty, they’re illusory. Then when I had finished my study of Zen, mountains were again mountains and rivers were again rivers. So we’re back in the world, but there’s clearly a difference, and the difference is we also know that the mountains aren’t the mountains and rivers aren’t rivers, they’re God, they’re emptiness, they’re form that is emptiness, and not just form that is form. So now things are experienced differently.
And this is certainly one of the things that that first point you brought up about psychology and Buddhism being essentially the same and categorically not, for the reason that psychology finds its healing to the extent that it occurs at just Stage One. It finds a broken mountain and it tries to fix the mountain again, or it finds a broken river and tries to fix the river. It never gets to Stage Two of experiencing the absolute emptiness of the mountain and the river. So it’s another variation on Shankara and Ramana Maharshi’s statement which is, “The world is illusory, Brahman alone is real, Brahman is the world.”
Marc Right, beautiful.
Ken So, okay, now Brahman is the world. Wait a minute, but this is a different world. This is a world that’s not made of world, it’s made of Brahman. And so now there can be a certain kind of pain, but it’s lacking a certain kind of suffering. There can be a certain type of evil, but it’s lacking a certain type of ultimateness or radical Is-ness or it’s being on its own. So what you find is that a lot of the non-dual traditions will start to slip in little positive descriptions of what the pure Second Stage Madhyamaka sunyata schools would not allow, and so in the Third Turning, for example, it’s the world is ultimate reality, not relative, ultimate reality is mind only, and so, of course, Big Mind, and the whole point there, but they still claim that mind itself is sunyata, it’s unqualifiable, except it’s also mind. And so that becomes the basis of sayings in Zen like the everyday mind, just that, is the Tao. So they’re pointing to an experience in what was the relative realm, but is now the relative/ultimate realm.
So in Dzogchen, for example, we have the Ultimate actually referred to as the Great Perfection, or we have Trungpa referring to Basic Sanity as an ultimate reality. So there are little aspects of what were taken as the relative world, but seen through an ultimate lens, and so taken to be in itself just what, like all things are, a direct and immediate manifestation of ultimate reality, but now it’s different because you’ve gone through the second stage.
Marc Right, that’s right.
Ken So you know, you’ve got it, the world is illusory, Brahman alone is real, Brahman is the world. Okay. Now all of a sudden I’m back in the world again, but it’s not the same world. So is there evil in that world? Yes, but it’s also part of an overall reality called God, and so it’s not something that’s threatening God, it’s not something that is separate from God. It’s like in any painting where there’s light and dark. These are the colors of the manifest world and they’re all direct manifestations of Spirit, and so that doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to choose all the nasty ones and avoid all the good ones. You’re supposed to choose all the good ones, so that comes back in a set of, well, in a sense, regulative behaviors. So is it good to rip apart a young child? No, that’s wrong. But why if everything’s empty? Well, because it’s wrong and empty, but it’s still wrong. But now you’re not going to be shredded by an experience of that, because you also know the emptiness of it.
Marc Right, right. Yes, you also know the emptiness of it and you also know that the emptiness and the fullness are two faces of the One, and so, of course, when you say the emptiness of it, you mean, as sunyata means, empty of anything that’s not ultimately real, empty of anything that’s superficial, empty of anything that’s not ultimately full. So then the conversation in this kind of very beautiful way begins to happen. There’s a great book by this guy, Ives, I don’t know if you saw it. Christopher Ives edited it and it’s called “Divine Emptiness and Historical Fullness.” This is one of the best. It’s really unknown. It never made it anyplace. One of my students brought it to me. Hans Küng was key in some of these conversations, and a whole bunch of really major characters really having that conversation. Again, it never burst into the full conversation in a real way, but what it talks about is, I’m just remembering the Table of Contents, it would have things like the kenotic god and sunyata. If I’m remembering, there was a chapter called, Sunyata as the Buddhist Ultimate, the positive meanings of sunyata. You get the direction of the book, of course.
Marc It’s working in that place and Masao Abe, him and Hans Küng were in that conversation, and it was one of really the great conversations – I’ll have to send you a copy of it – again, that never broke out, but their conversation, really, the title of the book was, again, “Divine Emptiness and Historical Fullness,” and their point was the same point that we’re making, that at Level Three that we’re talking about, and I’m drawing this Level Three typology from deep in a Kabbalistic structure and you’re drawing it from more of a Buddhist Eastern structure which triumphs with Brahman alone is real, the line between the absolute and relative are blurred. Fullness and emptiness actually become expressions of ultimate reality, and so it’s wrong and empty doesn’t mean it’s just relatively wrong, which is the way the Buddhists misunderstand it when they teach it. They say, no, it’s only relatively wrong. That’s the way they say it. It’s only relatively wrong. No, that’s not what it means. It’s not only relatively wrong, as if there’s a big wrong and that’s just a little wrong.
Marc No, actually, it is wrongness, which is an expression of emptiness. It’s not the wrongness that you would experience when you thought that there were mountains and streams. You had to realize there actually are no mountains and streams, but now, Level Three, there are mountains and streams again and there’s wrongness again. There’s not less mountains and streams at Level Three. There are more mountains and streams. There’s more mountain and stream quality at Level Three. There’s not less wrongness at Level Three. It’s ultimately wrong and therefore you can trust because you’re on the other side of emptiness and, again, not that that’s a stable realization. I just did a dialogue with your close, close friend on Friday, Roger Walsh. Any notion of suggesting even the word enlightenment or any stable realization or emptiness to Roger, you’ll run into a thousand qualifiers on the impossibility, and I think his words are spiritual maturity, right, that he prefers?
Marc Which is a really good suggestion. But it’s wrong, and you can trust on the other side of emptiness that lived first person transmission realization of wrongness which then implies, not just conceptually, it implies in your first person, rightness, which is a function of emptiness, using emptiness again in the Buddhist way, and that actually is a certain experience of Spirit. And so, in some sense here the Hebraic and the Buddhist tradition come together and in this next iteration we just did, they both talk about certainty, but in our first take on this, the first iteration, in a certain sense we were talking about Level Two, the mountains are the mountains, the rivers are the rivers, then we say, okay, no, no, no, there are no mountains, there are no rivers, there’s no problem with evil.
Then we went to Level Three, which now at Level Three the same thing happens that’s happening at Level Two, which is an experience of unqualified certainty, but this time it’s a certainty that’s already disqualified the contraction and the relative, and now at Level Three it re-qualifies all of manifestation in the sense of emptiness is form and form is emptiness, and although this might seem to the casual listener as, like, what the fuck, who cares? Pardon my French. We actually care tremendously, because the difference between Level Two and Level Three is enormous, because at Level Two you essentially have to reject all of your profound lived experience as being a function of Level One, as being a function of contraction, self-contraction and separation, but when you actually get to Level Three you get to then reclaim the mountains and the streams in a real way.
Ken Right, but the important thing is that you have gone through Stage Two.
Marc Absolutely, otherwise there’s no conversation.
Ken Well, and in particular what it really does is it distinguishes Stage One and Stage Three, because they both give the same answers to a lot of questions, and this is very much like at that point a pre-trans fallacy.
Marc That’s exactly pre-trans fallacy.
Ken Yeah, pre-conventional, conventional, post-conventional, the answer to the standard Kohlberg question, “A man’s married to a woman who has a terminal illness. The local drugstore has a drug, medicine that will cure the illness. He can’t afford it. Does he have the right to steal it?” And there are three different answers that are given. Answer One is yes, he has a right to steal it. Answer Two is no, he doesn’t have the right to steal it. Answer Three is yes, he has the right to steal it. So, both One and Three are yes, but ask them why, and it’s night and day. Ask Number One why does he have the right to steal it and he’ll go, “Oh, because what I say is right, and I can do whatever I want. If I want to take it, I’ll take it, and, by the way, fuck you.” And you ask Number Three, who also said yes, “Oh, well, there are universal principles involved here and life is more important and is worth more and is more valuable than $23, what the medicine costs.” So, of course, he has the right to steal it, basically to save life. That’s an entirely different response. It’s night and day. It’s the growth that the mind has gone through that can make that kind of response. It’s moving from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric.
So that’s the same issue, and so a lot of the people that get through Stage Two and get onto Stage Three, they often won’t use any of the terms from Stage One, because they don’t want to give the mistaken notion that that’s where they’re coming from, because there’s been such a huge change in realizing that there are no mountains and there are no rivers, that when they come back you have an entirely different approach to them, and your awareness is different, your feelings are different, and how you see the world is different.
But it’s interesting that in Zen the actual last stage of Zen, which not many people realize, is the study of ethics. It’s Buddhist ethics are the last stage that occurs in Zen Buddhist study, and that’s precisely because you’re at a point where you can see the reality of ethics, whereas previously your ethics is only referring to a world that’s essentially illusory and you’re just doing it because that’s what you were told to do. In Stage Two you don’t believe in ethics and it’s basically dharma bums, because there is no reality. There are no mountains. There’s nothing that’s right or wrong.
But at Stage Three, well, no, guess what? There is ethics, and so now that you’ve gone through Stage One and Stage Two, for the first time you can actually realize what we’re talking about here when we talk about what’s right and what’s wrong. So the whole notion of crazy wisdom, which is that essentially you do whatever the hell you want, that’s almost entirely a Westernized concept to allow certain Buddhists to be drunken, womanizing assholes in addition to claiming that they’re Buddhists. It’s extremely rare in the East. Even though there is the understanding of ethics, at a Great Perfection stage is very, very different from the understanding of ethics at a mountains and rivers stage.
Marc That’s so key, and maybe I’ll offer, Mega-K, just precisely what you’re saying right now in terms of really introducing this Level One/Level Three confusion as really a classical and tragic example of the pre-trans fallacy. There’s actually a great litmus test that really allows you to know, I’ve found, whether you’re at Level One or Level Three, and just as a way of entering that litmus test I’ll just give a one-minute personal anecdote.
I remember, again, about six-and-a-half years ago when I was just having a rough month and really experiencing a fairly intense amount of human suffering, and I was not happy with the universe. I was in Salt Lake City and at some point in the middle of this I had this total wild turning point in the best sense of the term, a kind of metanoia, and I just burst out laughing. What was funny about the whole thing was that I realized, well, I’d managed to deal with evil – it involved Rwanda, Bosnia, the Holocaust – I’d worked that out, written a book about it, oh, but now it’s happening to me. Hello, this is happening to me. And you realize, oh my god, just another reified form of narcissism. Where this is leading is actually a really great litmus test. In other words, if the evil or the suffering that you’re protesting is only your own then it’s well worth being suspicious of.
Marc Not because there’s not dignity in your own suffering, there is, and clearly affirming the dignity of human need is an essential non-dual stance, but you’ve got to affirm it from Level Three, and at Level Three you never only experience your own suffering. That’s just not how it works. You’re actually experiencing, you’re having, in Hebraic terms I call this, I’m paraphrasing and translating a phrase from Nachman of Breslov where he talks, Ken, about tikkun ha’bekhi which literally translates as the fixing of tears.
Thank you, by the way, for the great preface you wrote to that book which is kind of integrally informed religion. It was this book on the evolution of tears, re-reading ritual, that actually I originally began writing when you commissioned it for the original version of Integral Books, but really what I try and talk about there is the evolution of tears, that actually life is the evolution of tears. The baby cries his or her own tears. The baby is cute, but not good, and ultimately pre-personal, and the fact that mom and dad haven’t had any intimate contact for the last year and a half doesn’t bother the baby who starts crying the first moment they even think they can get together, because the baby is locked in an egocentric place. The sage, the seer, the saint, the awakened one, the bodhisattva cries the tears of all of reality. It’s the evolution of tears.
So in that sense, as tears move from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric, to what you called and changed the spelling from a C to a K, Kosmocentric, those tears are the tears of reality itself, and those tears, those Kosmocentric tears which are on the other side of emptiness are trustable. They’re trustable as a source of certainty. Paradoxically, Kosmocentric tears are a lived experience of sunyata at Level Three. Brahman is the world.
Ken Absolutely. What was that piece that you sent about God crying?
Marc Yeah, yeah, no, exactly, That’s this really, really beautiful piece where just very briefly – thank you so much, Mega-K, for remembering it – in a very brief recap it’s this beautiful text from Jeremiah 13 which is discussed in the third century in Tractate Hagigah, Page 5a, and basically the question is that the methodology of entering into a koan in Hebraic tradition is through a textual contradiction. Textual contradictions are koans.
So, in one text it says, “God’s crying in va mistarim, in God’s hidden places.” In another place it says, “In God’s places, God’s osvgad vagad, God’s laughing.” So the Talmud says, you know, which one? Which is which? The Talmud says, in Aramaic, “Haba batay gevai,haba batay berai.” This is on the inside and this is on the outside. But, of course, the Talmud forgets to tell us, in koanic fashion, which one’s which. Is God laughing on the inside and crying on the outside, which is the classical position, or is it reverse, God’s crying on the inside and laughing on the outside? So everyone always assumed, because of that classical distinction between the absolute and the relative, that of course on the inside, whatever that means, God might be laughing, that is to say on the outside God must be crying, must be because how could it be any other way? On the inside, God must be laughing, that is to say God in the absolute. On the outside God’s crying because crying is a function of the manifest world. So laughing would mean the absolute. Crying would mean the relative.
And that was the way it was understood for 2,000 years until Kalonymus Kalman Shapira of Piaseczno who was in Treblinka, one of the great heroes of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, who’s family is killed around him, and he writes homilies until he’s deported, and in one of them he writes that until now, 1943, I accepted the classical interpretation that there’s the absolute and relative, and on the inside God’s laughing, that is to say God’s unperturbed by what’s happening in this world. There’s the ultimate quality. So now I realize it’s the reverse, that actually God’s crying on the inside, because God’s not only the infinity of power and the infinity of essence and infinite emptiness, God’s also the infinity of pain.
So, therefore, if God would cry on the outside, if but one tear would be shed it would destroy the world, so on the outside, God appears indifferent, that is to say Level Two, but on the inside, Brahman is the world, then God’s not only the infinity of pain, but God’s the infinity of suffering, which liberates us from both the infinity of indifference and the intimacy of impotence, because we can actually find ourselves and locate ourselves, if you will, in the crying sunyata. Yeah, wow.
Marc Yeah, yeah, well, I think I’m so glad that we decided just to talk about this. Yeah, it’s just so important.
Marc I think this is a good place to stop at a first take. We didn’t cover it all, but we certainly had the grace of sunyata Level Three to dive in. So deep bow and thank you, Mega-Pandit, for a gorgeous, gorgeous dialogue and I hope this is helpful and serves people in the Integral context who are really working with this and need really to get to a deeper realization, and you can track this dialogue really in two parts. In Part One we discussed Level One and Two, and in the second part of the dialogue we discussed Level Three.
Marc Deep bow to you, Mega-K. Thank you so much.
Ken You bet, my friend.
Marc I love you.