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Integral Transformative Practice: In This World or Out of It?

by Ken Wilber

Andrew Cohen (founder of What Is Enlightenment?) has asked me to say a few words about the main topic of this issue, namely, being in the world but not of it. And further, how the "new" spiritual practice of Integral Transformative Practice relates to this issue. Andrew has some concerns about these issues, concerns that I share, and I am glad to contribute what I can to this discussion. Let's start with Integral Transformative Practice (ITP)—what it is, and more important, what it is not.

Ever-Present Enlightenment
The great wisdom traditions generally maintain that reality consists of at least three major realms: the gross, the subtle, and the causal (e.g., Nirmamakaya, the Sambhogakaya and the Dharmakaya). The gross realm is the realm of the material body and the sensory motor world—the world you can see with your physical senses in the waking state. The subtle realm is the realm of the mind and its displays, which you can see in a vivid form in the dream state, in certain states of meditation, and in (it is said) in the afterlife bardo realms. All of these are subtle states of consciousness. The causal realm is the realm of pure formless consciousness, unlimited and unbounded, radically free and radically full. The causal realm is experienced by everybody in deep dreamless sleep (which is pure formlessness without an object), but it yields its final secrets only when it is entered with full consciousness, which happens with certain profound meditative states, various types of satori or initial awakening and vastly expanded states of boundless consciousness.

But the traditions also maintain that, beyond those three great realms and states, there is a fourth state (turiya), the state of the ever-present Witness or pure Self, the great mirror-mind that impartially witnesses the waking, dreaming, and deep sleep states but is not itself a separate state: it is the Witness of all those states, and itself neither comes nor goes. (Technically, there is a fifth state, turiyatita, which occurs when the Witness itself dissolves into everything that is witnessed, and there is the pure nondual realization of One Taste. For this simple introduction, I will treat them together as the ever-present nondual Self or pure Witness.)

The waking state comes and goes, but the Witness is ever-present. The dreaming state comes and goes, but the Witness is ever-present. The deep sleep state comes and goes, but the Witness is ever-present. Extraordinary and remarkable states of consciousness can be reached and practiced and attained in the gross, subtle, and causal realms. But the Witness cannot be attained, because it is ever-present. The Witness cannot be practiced, because it is ever-present. The Witness cannot be reached, because it is ever-present. As Sri Ramana Maharshi often said, "There is no reaching the Self. If Self were to be reached, it would mean that the Self is not here and now but that it has yet to be obtained. What is got afresh will also be lost. So it will be impermanent. What is not permanent is not worth striving for. So I say the Self is not reached. You are the Self;you are already That." Or the great Zen Master Huang Po, " That there is no reaching enlightenment is not idle talk, it is the truth. Hard is the meaning of this saying!" You can no more reach enlightenment or attain the Self than you can attain your feet or acquire your lungs.

Notice: the clouds float by in your awareness, thoughts float by in your mind, feelings arise in the body, and you are the Witness of all of those. The Witness is already fully functioning, fully present, fully awake. The enlightened Self is one hundred percent present in your very perception of this page. Enlightened Spirit is that which is reading these words right now: how much closer can you possibly get? Why go out and start looking for the Looker? The great search for enlightenment is not just a waste of time; it is a colossal impossibility because the enlightened Self is ever-present, as the Witness of this and every moment.

This is why there is, in strictest truth, no reaching enlightenment, no finding the Self. And yet, of course, it certainly appears that there are those who are more awake to this fact than others—we call them "enlightened"—and in a sense that is true. But what actually happens in these cases is not the discovery of enlightenment but a profound recognition of something that is already present. It is like looking into a store window and seeing a hazy figure looking at you. You move your head around until you can see who it is, and with a sudden shock you realize that it is your own reflection in the window: you are looking at your self.

Just so with realization or awakening. It appears that you are looking at the world "out there," which seems very real and very separate from you, but then suddenly there is the realization—the simple recognition—that you are simply looking at your Self, and your Self is the entire World as it is arising moment to moment, right now and right now and right now. When the world impartially, the world arises in the Witness, and you and the world are one. You do not see the sky; you are the sky. You do not hear the birds singing you Witness; you are the birds singing. You do not feel the earth; you are the earth. All of this comes in a sudden, spontaneous, uncaused, tacit recognition, the recognition of nondual One Taste, your very own Self, the Original Face you had before your parents were born, the Self you had before the universe was born; this pure, ever-present, nondual Self, spaceless and therefore infinite, timeless and therefore eternal—and yet it is the only thing you have ever really known. You already know that you are you; and that you is, in deepest truth, pure and nondual Spirit.

That realization or recognition—which seems to have a beginning in time—actually carries one other recognition: there has never been a time that you did not know the Self. You have always known, in the deepest center of your awareness—in what Ramana Maharshi called the I-I (because it is the Witness of the little I or ego—in the deepest center of your own pure awareness, you have always known that you will never really die (because the Self is timeless), and you already know that you have always been here (because the Self is ever-present). You already know all this, way in the back of your mind. You are perfectly aware that you are the Witness of this moment. You know that you are the absolute; you know that you are God; you know that you are Goddess; you know that you are Spirit, and you know that every sentient being in the entire Kosmos can make that simple statement: when I abide as the pure Self, I-I am God. I have always known this; you have always known this. And you have always known this because the Self is ever-present.

This tacit recognition seems to have a beginning in time, until it occurs, whereupon it becomes clear that it has always been completely obvious. "Oh, That!" This profound realization never began because it never ended. There is the recognition "I am That," and the simultaneous recognition that I have always known this. Zen calls it the gateless gate. On this side of the gate that "separates" us from enlightenment, the gate seems to be real—until we pass through it, turn around, and see that it was never really there: thus, gateless in truth. But it is much simpler than that. You are the Self, you are the Witness, you know it now, and you have known it always.

This ever-present recognition is often called "enlightenment." It is a simple, profound, irreversible recognition, just like looking in the window and recognizing yourself, whereupon you also realize that it has always been so. A wonderful description of such an awakening can be found in Andrew's My Master Is My Self. Simply upon seeing his Master, Andrew recognized his own Self—just like that—and there is only one Self in the entire Kosmos, hence the title.

Strictly speaking, this awakening or realization was not caused by anything. It was not caused by his teacher H.W.L. Poonja, not caused by Andrew, not caused by meditation, not caused by anything—because, in fact, it is ever-present. You cannot cause something that is already here.

Still, on this side of the gateless gate, there are certain factors that seem to facilitate this awakening. Of these, satsang—or simply sitting in the Presence of those whose realization is brilliant, clear, and radiant—is probably the most profound. But there are countless other facilitating factors, including meditation, the many yogas (raja, jnana, bhakti, karma, kriya, laya) and—as we will see—ITP. But none of them can actually cause you to awaken because the awakened Self is already ever-present, and you already know it. So when enlightenment occurs, it almost appears as an "accident." As Baker Roshi put it, "Enlightenment is an accident. Meditation makes you accident prone."

Truth be told, nobody really understands all the factors that can help facilitate enlightenment. If they did, we would all be enlightened by now. Moreover, many of the states taken to be "enlightened" are actually states of the subtle or causal realm. That is, they are extraordinary experiences—luminosities, interior sounds, states of formlessness, bliss, and ecstatic—all have a beginning in time. But the Witness does not have a beginning in time, because it is ever-present. That which has a beginning in time is merely finite and temporal; it comes, it stays a bit, and it goes. But the enlightened Witness does not have a beginning in time; it is ever-present and you know it is ever-present (you are aware of the Witness right now, as that which is reading this page). Enlightenment, in fact, is the only thing that never begins (for it is always ever-present).

In short, you do not become enlightened; you simply wake up one morning and confess that you always already are, and that you have been playing the great game of hide-and-seek with your Self. And if that is the game you are playing, then certain "facilitating factors—from meditation to ITP—can be engaged as part of the game, until you tire of their worthlessness, grow weary of the great search, admit the impossibility of becoming enlightened, and realize that you are already so, abiding then as the timeless Self that you have always been, smiling with the sudden shock that my Master is my Self, and I have been looking into the Kosmic window at my own reflection.

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This article is from
Our "In the World But Not Of It" Issue