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January 27, 2023

Unique Self Dialogue: Ken Wilber & Marc Gafni, Part 2

This week we are presenting the second in a multi-part dialogue series on Unique Self featuring Ken Wilber and Marc Gafni (a series which will continue all autumn). In this second clip (about 20 minutes), Ken and Marc situate the Unique Self within the context of Integral Theory, in particular the differentiation between structures or stages of consciousness on the one hand and states on the other. They conclude by differentiating between specialness as an egoic claiming of place, which is competitive and aggressive, and a Unique Self specialness which is “the currency of connction.”

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. For a timeline of the Unique Self’s development, see the Unique Self Timeline.

Listen to the audio and read the partial transcript as well as some Background Material below…


Background Material

Below is one of the key letters between Marc and Ken back in 2004 when the conversation around perspectives first arose between them in the space. It is reproduced in chapter ten footnote 2 of Your Unique Self, The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment. Below is another of many key footnotes in Your Unique Self in regard to the idea of perspective.

Footnote No. 10 from Chapter 2

10. In an email correspondence with Ken Wilber, after much conversation at his loft and over the phone in 2005, I formulated the core understanding of Soul Print/Unique Self as perspective, as emergent from Hebrew mystical sources on the ontology of perspectives. In this understanding emerging from Hebrew mysticism and from deep conversations with Ken, including his radical emphasis on perspective, Soul Print/Unique Self was understood as the perspective attained at the post-egoic enlightenment level of consciousness. I have kept my note to Ken in its original form to capture some of the energy and excitement of these early conversations:

Giga Pandit,

So much love to you! In terms of Soul Print/Unique Self.

It is very important to understand that soul prints do not emerge from the world of ego or soul but rather from radical nonduality. Soul Prints is an expression of the Self with a capital S. The way I teach it to my students, Story and non-Story are one. Or in the expression of the great vehicle of Buddhism, Emptiness is form and form is emptiness. Or in classic Kabbalistic expression, Keter is Malkhut and Malkhut is Keter. This is what I refer to as “a nondual humanism” in the fullest sense of the word.

To explain what I mean, let me offer a simple map of the three classic levels of transpersonal consciousness that—as you [Ken] have pointed out—show up one way or another in virtually every system. We can call them Communion, Union, and Identity. Communion, which Scholem felt was critical in Hebrew mysticism, is ultimately dual. God in the second person. Union moves toward nonduality, and full nonduality is achieved in Identity. Or we might use the more classic terms, which you deploy in your wonderful essay “The Depths of the Divine”—psychic, subtle, casual, and nondual. Or we might call them Ego, Soul, and Self. Or we might call themani, ayin, ani. Or we might use Eastern terms in which “psychic” and” subtle” might be roughly equivalent to savikalpa samadhi. At the highest edge of savikalpa samadhi, the way I understand it, there is already a glimpse of the formless void of the next stage.

This next stage of formless union, what for some Kabbalists would be called ayin, the realm of the impersonal, approximates the Eastern state of nirvikalpa samadhi. This is a stage of formless awareness that is beyond the personal. You call this stage the causal state.

The highest and deepest stage is, however, beyond even the formless state of ayin, nirvikalpa samadhi; this is the nondual that is the very Suchness of all being. It is the Suchness of both emptiness and form, both personal and impersonal. This is the world of One Taste or sahaj in Eastern terms, or the shma declaration of hashem echad, “God is one” in Judaic consciousness.

The way to reach the ultimate nondual realization—for example, according to my teacher Mordechai Lainer of Izbica—is through the prism of soul prints or Unique Self. Soul prints is the absolute and radical uniqueness of the individual, which is the expression of emptiness in form; it is ein sof, revealing itself in the only face we know—the face of unique form. It is not only that there is absolutely no distinction between the radically personal and the radically impersonal; it is also that in terms of stages of unfolding, the radically personal is the portal to the embrace and identity of the absolute one. Moreover, the absolute one expresses itself only through its infinite faces, or what have been called its infinite soul prints (or Unique Self).

Another way to say this might be to borrow the image suggested by the Midrash in this regard, that of the ascending and descending ladders on Jacob’s Ladder. For the Kabbalists, this is the ladder of nonduality. On the ladder are angels of God. “Angel” in biblical Hebrew refers to a divine entity or to a human being. What they share in common is that each is a radically unique messenger of God. Or said differently, each is a radically unique perspective. One ascends to the divine through soul print, and the divine descends through soul print (Unique Self). Indeed, all human reality as we know it is soul print (Unique Self).

But even this language is insufficient. For in the experience of nonduality, soul print (Unique Self) is the divine. So one ascends to the divine through the divine soul print (Unique Self). And divinity descends to the divine world of form through the divine soul print (Unique Self). All faces of divinity are kissing each other. What the sages of old called nashkei ar’a verakia,“the kiss of heaven and earth.”

Now, another term for soul print might be “perspective.” As we have pointed out many times, the classic image for unique form or soul print in Hebrew consciousness is panim, face. “Face” is an expression in Talmudic language for what we moderns and postmoderns might call perspective. This is what the ancient sages meant when they taught: “There are seventy faces to Torah.” Torah contains objective God-givens and yet can only be read through the prism of perspectives.

Ultimately in Hebrew mysticism, each human being is the bearer of a Unique Face that is by very definition a unique perspective (Unique Self). This is a radically particular perception of the world, which is shared exactly by no other being. In this sense, the person is the eyes ofein sof, of the absolute. The person is the eyes of the absolute in a way shared by no other being on the planet. This is the source of our grandeur, our infinite adequacy and dignity, and occasionally our almost unbearable loneliness, which for this very reason can only be ultimately quenched in the caress of the divine.

How does one get there, to the soul-printed merger with the absolute?

In Hebrew mysticism, through erotic merger with the Shekhinah.

This might take place through many methods of practice, including the concentrated, intense, and ultimately ecstatic study of sacred text (Hasidei Ashkenaz, in the twelfth century, and the Kabbalah of the Vilna Gaon and his school), the intense meditation of sacred chant and song (classic Hasidic practice), the rigorous and uncompromising process of introspection and dialogue, with results in the clarification-purification of motive and desire called berur, out of which the Unique Self naturally emerges (Luria, Izbica, Mussar), classical mystical techniques of letter combination, soul ascent, meditation, crying, and more.

Total Love, Total Good!

Mega Reb

My note to Ken, emergent from our many conversations, clarifies both the post-egoic nature of Unique Self—that is to say, Unique Self is fully realized only as an expression of True Self—as well as the identification of Unique Self with Unique Perspective. At Integral Spiritual Experience 2010, both Ken and I gave keynotes on Unique Self in which we crystallized many of our conversations, and for myself, twenty years of writing and thinking in this regard. Ken’s wonderful formulation in his keynote was “True Self + Perspective = Unique Self.”

It is also critical to note that from an Integral developmental view your perspective on the world is largely informed by your level of consciousness, and indeed it is refracted through the entire prism of AQAL, all quadrants, levels, line types, and states—the core matrix of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory.

Footnote No. 13 from Chapter 2

13. What modernity—beginning with Kant, deepened by Saussure, and driven home by the postmodernists—has realized is the truth of perspective and context. Everything we see is through a perspective. Nothing lives independently of its context. Naturally this does not mean what the extreme postmodernists claimed it did. In their ecstatic confusion, intoxicated as they were with their own revelation of contexts, they thought that reality was only perspectives. This is not the case. There is a reality independent of perspective. But it is always mediated through a perspective. What is true is that perspective really matters.

Now let’s apply this insight to the enlightenment teachings of True Self. The same way that the scientist is seeing reality through a particular perspective, so is the spiritual teacher, the church, and everyone else. The enlightened master is seeing reality through perspective just like everyone else. Just like the church and the scientist. In the premodern world the enlightened masters thought that when they realized their True Nature—their True Self—it was reality as it was, not mediated by any prism. Today we realize that this is simply not the case. True Self is always mediated by Unique Perspective, hence there is no True Self that ever appears without Unique Self. Precisely, Unique Self is the nature of True Self in the manifest world.

And Now… Ken Wilber and Marc Gafni in Dialogue on Unique Self, Part 2

The following transcript describes one key section (starting about six minutes into the dialogue) in which Gafni responds to Wilber’s description of Unique Self as True Self plus perspective.

Ken: It’s essentially the unmanifest world that you’re in. But as soon as you move to turiyatita – meaning nondual, not two – that’s when Emptiness and Form become one, or nirvana and samsara become not two. And at that point, the conventional world of form arises. And therefore the True Self, particularly the unity of your True Self with all objects, all gross objects, all subtle objects, all causal objects, you now have True Self plus a perspective, because you’re now located in the manifest world. You’re now seeing all of this even though you are one with it. You’re now 100% the divine self. You’re still now seeing it in a radically unique way. Nobody else is seeing the same way you’re seeing. Even someone else who is enlightened will have the same “qualities” of a sense of timelessness, spacelessness, being unborn, undying. Every object that is seen is seen from a unique perspective, and every thought arises in a unique space, and so non-duality shifts from being pure emptiness / True Self to a unity of True Self and all of manifestation, and that means True Self plus a perspective. That means a Unique Self. Whenever awareness steps out of the purely unmanifest domain and looks out upon its own created manifest world, you are inescapably in a True Self.

Marc: A Unique Self…

Ken: That’s true even for an amoeba. But in terms of permanent realization, generically you move through Emptiness and you move into nonduality, and that is permanent realization, which is True Self plus perspective, which equals Unique Self. At that point, that’s where all of these things that were implicit previously now become a permanent part of your realization of the divine. And you cannot realize the divine without realizing that you have a special, unique relationship to that divine. Even though it is the same, 100% divine, that every other sentient being can realize, but never through the same eyes. Therefore it will never be identical in that one important aspect.

Marc: Gorgeous – and therefore you’re never an extra on the set, by definition. I’ll take this opportunity to move out of Ken’s beautiful articulation and wrap up part 1 of the dialogue, which is the structural integral framework. We’re getting the basic understanding straight. Unique Self is therefore what we mean when we say there’s no True Self anywhere in the manifest world. There can’t be a True Self in the manifest world. Manifestation by definition mean perspective, definition by perspective means Unique Perspective. What it creates is a kind of existential joy, the place where joy and responsibility merge together, the place where actually you realize that you are a realization of a unique expression of All-That-Is, and you see it in relationship with All-That-Is uniquely.

Although all is one, to use that phrase you put into Up from Eden … it’s seamless but not featureless. However, just as the True Self awakens in the enlightened sage is not the same as that which exists and is ever always already present in the amoeba, you have to awaken into the Unique Self, you have to awaken from a state perspective, the highest expression of True Self that you can, and from a stage perspective – wake up and grow up, to use the language we’ve been employing [in World Spirituality], at which at second-tier you obtain a stable, spontaneous expression of your uniqueness which is post-True Self. A critical caveat is in order. Many people have asked this question over the last 5 or 6 years: Okay, if I have to be a fully realized True Self in order to have a Unique Self, then I have to be a fully realized Ramana Maharshi, so how does Unique Self help me? The response is, of course there are gradations. There are levels or clarities of expression of True Self, and there is a proportional relationship between your glimmering of True Self and your glimmering of Unique Self. Just as enlightenment itself is not a cookie cutter rexpressioin … there are people themselves who are in a process of enlightenment who have more or less stability, but what Unique Self is saying is that the clearer you are, the more you have moved beyond your identification with your skin-encapsulated ego, the more your Unique Self can shine in its splendor. [The dialogue continues]

Listen to the entire dialogue


Previous installments of this dialogue series: Part 1.


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