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January 27, 2023

Unique Self Dialogue: Ken Wilber & Marc Gafni, Part 1

The Center for World Spirituality is very pleased to present a new dialogue series on Unique Self featuring Ken Wilber and Marc Gafni. In this first clip (about 26 minutes), Marc and Ken each offer their own introductions to the Unique Self concept. Thereafter they discuss some of the contemporary context of the teaching which sets the stage for the conversation to follow.

Marc coined the term “Unique Self” in his book Soul Prints, and has been working to develop the Unique Self teaching for over two decades. Marc’s latest book, Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment, explores and unpacks it even further.

Marc and Ken began discussing the idea of perspectives and Unique Self back in 2004. For more context, see Intellectual History of Unique Self and Unique Self Timeline. Marc originally sourced the notion of enlightenment plus perspective in Hebrew mystical texts and Ken brought to bear the postmodern and post-postmodern notions of perspectives. From this emerged one of the core Unique Self formulas that Ken refers to in the beginning of this dialogue. For both Marc and Ken, perspectives were foundational. Together, in a series of groundbreaking conversations, they clarified and evolved the Unique Self teaching.

Listen to the audio and read a partial transcript:


The following transcript describes one key section in which Wilber offers his own introduction to the concept of Unique Self.

Ken Wilber: Some people aren’t familiar with the concept, aren’t sure exactly what it means, or why it is significant, so let me briefly by way of background say that virtually all the world’s great traditions have the concept that the human being has at least two selves. Just as there’s the two truths doctrine – there’s absolute truth and relative truth – so there’s an absolute self and the relative self. The relative self is finite and conventional and mortal, and is born. And will die. And is identified with the individual organism. And it’s a necessary self. It’s the self that negotiates the manifest realm. The idea is not to get rid of it. For the traditions, the idea is to plug it into its True Self, its crown, the absolute self. So that you are then in a sense living on both sides of the street: you have a foot in the relative, finite manifest world, and a foot in the infinite, unqualifiable, unborn, undying, absolute Self and realm.

And the discovery of that self-liberated absolute Self is the traditional goal and aim of the contemplative traditions and the discovery of that Self constitutes liberation or enlightenment or awakening. It’s a profound shift, profoundly noticeable in the human being. Because among many, many, many things that could be listed, as Zen puts it, bodymind drops. Your identity is no longer confined to what Allan Watts used to call the skin-encapsulated ego. It’s not confined to just the individual organism that was born, lives a while, and then croaks. Rather, it’s an identity that spills out of the individual organism and is identified with the One True Self. And there is just One True Self, and it’s the Self of every sentient being, of every individual, the Self of every worm, gorilla, chimpanzee, and human. The self of the Kosmos. (Marc: And giraffe.)

The traditions then leave it there. There is just this one Self, and its discovery – because it’s the self of everything that is – your identity is now one with everything that is. You no longer see a mountain, you are the mountain. You no longer feel the rain, you are the rain. You know longer touch the earth, you are the earth. All this is the manifestation of Spirit, which is your own true, divine absolute self. There are several implications of that. Therefore the One True Self is impersonal. There’s nothing personal about it. There’s nothing individual or unique about it. It is simply One Self, and One Self only, and that One Self is one with the Absolute, by whatever terminology – Godhead, Brahma, Allah, Dao – and the realization of that Supreme Identity is the supreme summum bonum of human existence. The problem with that – and I always use an extremely simplistic way of getting this point across – is we can have four people sitting around the table, and all four are enlightened in the traditional sense. All four have their conventional relative self in fine working shape. It’s conversing and so on. But all four are awakened to the One True Self, so all four have in the very core of their being this same, identical, absolute Self. And they’re sitting around this table and even if there is only One True Self, there’s one thing that’s different in all four of these people: that is, namely that One True Self is looking at that table from a different angle. Even though all four of these people are 100 percent aware of Emptiness or 100 percent aware of the Abyss or 100 percent in touch with True Self, it’s One Self, but in each of these individuals it has a different perspective. So as this One True Self comes out of the unmanifest condition, where there is indeed One Self, as soon as it manifests at all, as soon as it starts to perceive a world at all, as soon as it emanates a world at all, then it’s doing so differently through every pair of eyes in every sentient being alive. So while it’s true that just as every sentient being shares one spirit, they also share one Self, but that Self is unique and uniquely expressed in each of them. Because that one Self is going to see the world from a different angle in every single case. The only way my Unique Self could see and be identical to your Unique Self is if my physical body somehow overlaps perfectly with your physical body and we were both looking out of your two eyes, and we both had the same brain and we both had the same conventional self. Everything is different.

Ultimately reality is the nonduality of Emptiness and form, or the nonduality of True Self and conventional self. True Self + Perspective is the Unique Self. Every individual is going to have that combination, that non-duality that includes both a True Self and a conventional self, and that gives to the True Self in every individual a unique flavoring, a unique dimension that is to be found in no other human being or no other sentient being at all. So that changes everything.

Marc Gafni: It changes everything… [The dialogue continues]

Listen to the entire dialogue:



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