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The Evolution of Enlightenment

The Guru and the Pandit
Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen in Dialogue


In this new WIE feature, Andrew Cohen, spiritual teacher and founder of What Is Enlightenment?, and Ken Wilber, the world's most renowned integral philosopher, join together, guru and pandit, heart to heart and mind to mind, to push the limits of their (and our) experience and understanding and to chart the emerging edge of a wholly contemporary spirituality. Now, the word pandit isn't just a strange spelling of pundit—those often caustic, overly intellectual, wise-cracking critics who pepper the airwaves. A true pandit is a scholar—not someone just wasting away in an Ivory Tower, but one who is deeply proficient and immersed in spiritual wisdom. So, we're calling upon the ancient Sanskrit meaning of pandit and, for that matter, guru, as the starting point for an interaction that has the potential to transcend and include (to use a distinctly Wilberian expression) the old, and propel us into something radically new.

So while we're reclaiming and transcending ancient spiritual terms, let's take a fresh look at guru—which in Sanskrit literally means "dispeller of darkness," one who teaches spiritual liberation from his or her own direct experience or realization. In the ever-changing and deepening inquiry of WIE, Andrew Cohen has sought to bring to light the meaning and significance of enlightenment for our time through the thoroughly modern medium of the magazine. And Andrew has fought the tide of anti-authority sentiment in the postmodern world by embracing the traditional demands of the guru principle and championing the student-teacher relationship as a radical partnership for human evolution. Fiercely independent, he is forging out of his experience a new spirituality—what he calls "evolutionary enlightenment"—arising from the mystical depth known to the Eastern enlightenment traditions and empowered by a Western passion for humanity's individual and collective evolutionary potential.

Ken Wilber often says, "I am a pandit, not a guru." His soaring and searing words have graced the pages of WIE before, bringing a true pandit's wisdom to ignite our hearts and sharpen our minds, compelling us to think deeply about the whole of human life and inspiring us to reach for greater depth and higher potential. By Ken's own definition, "A pandit is a spiritual practitioner who also has a flair for the academic or scholarly or intellectual and so becomes a teacher of the Divine, an articulator and defender of the dharma, an intellectual samurai." A true warrior of the word, he has written more than eighteen volumes (and been translated into more than twenty languages), articulating his constantly evolving "theory of everything." At a time when postmodern fragmentation and relativism bring the contemporary academy perilously close to the edge of nihilism, Ken's independent voice cries for an integral, wholesome, and deeply spiritual synthesis of Eastern models of transcendence and Western philosophy and developmental psychology.

What would happen, we wondered, when these two uncompromising and fearless idealists met to discuss the future of God? What happened, as you will see, is a thrilling example of the alchemy that can take place in the openness of true dialogue. In this debut of a feature that will appear regularly in WIE over the months and years to come, Andrew and Ken, third millennium guru and twenty-first-century pandit, at the edge of past and future, ride the swift currents of a rising spiritual tide—exploring the evolution of enlightenment itself.

–Elizabeth Debold


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This article is from
Our Evolution Issue