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A Philosopher of Change

An interview with Yasuhiko Kimura
by Carter Phipps


"To be a philosopher," Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school. . . . It is to solve some of the problems of life, not theoretically, but practically." In this day and age, when philosophical considerations, not to mention philosophers themselves, seem to have long abandoned civilization's center stage for relatively minor roles in the drama of history, such musings may strike us as rather quaint. After all, in a light-speed, Internet-driven, postindustrial, just-on-time, globalized world, philosophy seems a little stuck in the slow lane of change, regularly lapped by science, psychology, technology, and even, many would say, spirituality. Just imagine, for a moment, the type of person that comes to mind when I say the word philosopher ... Okay, I rest my case.

Now take a deep breath and clear your mind, because philosophy is about to break out of the box, shake off the cobwebs of the twentieth century and become hip once again. That's right, welcome to the revolution, or a least the new evolution, of this ancient science—introducing the integral philosopher/visionaries of the twenty-first century. After a modern age of intellectual specialization and a postmodern age of philosophical hesitation, a new breed of up-and-coming thinkers are ready to take their turn at understanding the affairs of our troubled world. Hailing from various disciplines and backgrounds, what makes these eclectic twenty-first-century lovers of wisdom so unique is their conviction that deeper and higher knowledge about the nature of life and the workings of human evolution is important, can make a difference, and, rightly applied, may even deliver us into a new world characterized by a little more Plato, as one book recently put it, and a little less Prozac.

Yasuhiko Kimura, the Japanese-American author of Think Kosmically Act Globally, is one of these new integral philosophers, and his work embodies many of the traits of this emerging paradigm. Passionate about science, he is also deeply grounded in the spiritual dimension of life, having spent several years as a Zen priest in his native Japan. While he is not a spiritual teacher in the traditional sense, he does teach, and in fact has dedicated himself to a wide range of educational activities designed to bring transformational ideas into the mainstream of our culture. Drawing on a number of fields of study, and open-minded enough to incorporate the ideas of others, Kimura's work, like that of many of his contemporaries, is, above all, aimed at divining the patterns of evolution at work in the human family and inspiring individual and collective transformation up the evolutionary ladder.

Of course, it is almost impossible to mention integral philosophy without acknowledging the large footprint put down by the comprehensive and invaluable work of Ken Wilber. But the rising tide of ideas that is driving these new visions—integration, holism, evolution, chaos, complexity, spirituality, choice, emergence, change, and, of course, transformation—seems destined to outstrip the work of any one person. Kimura himself owes much to others' trailblazing, but he is also quite clearly intent on making his own mark in this emerging field. And to do so, he has drawn on some rather unlikely inspiration. Born into one of the most collectively oriented societies in the world, Japan, Kimura has, during his nineteen years in America, positioned himself to carry on the traditions of some of this country's greatest champions of individualism—the transcendentalist philosophers of the nineteenth century, men like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman.

Though the line of evolution from nineteenth-century Walden Pond to twentieth-century Japan to twenty-first-century California, where Kimura now resides, might seem more than a little implausible, it can in large part be attributed to the influence of an unusual book that Kimura read in the early nineties, a book that was destined to change the course of his life. Entitled The Man Who Tapped the Secrets of the Universe, it tells the remarkable story of the life and times of Walter Russell. Russell was an early-twentieth-century artist, philosopher, activist, and mystic whose spirituality, ethics, and radical notions about science resonated deeply with Kimura's own experience. It was through Russell that Kimura was first exposed to the work of an organization known as The Twilight Club. The Twilight Club was originally formed in the late nineteenth century by a long list of illustrious figures, including Emerson, Whitman, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Andrew Carnegie. These great men had sensed a moral decline in the society during that "Gilded Age" and had come together to explore ways to bolster the spiritual and ethical life of a nation chafing under the harsh social realities of the industrial economy. A great number of civic organizations, including the Lion's Club, the Kiwanis Club, the Rotary Club, the Boy Scouts, Carnegie Libraries, and even the Better Business Bureau, had their roots in The Twilight Club, inspired by its members' strong conviction that the fate of the nation and, indeed, our entire modern civilization, rests squarely on the ethical and ultimately spiritual character of the individual. Over a century later, Kimura is picking up the baton and attempting to draw together those who can help him in his own quest to fight the ills of a society now chafing under the harsh bit not of modernism but of a postmodern spiritual malaise that he feels has spawned a culture-wide "conspiracy of mediocrity," undermining the drive toward higher human potential in our global village.

Today, Kimura runs the University of Science and Philosophy, an organization originally founded by Walter Russell, and he is also the executive director of the modern incarnation of The Twilight Club. Through conferences, educational courses, writings, and the quarterly journal The Cosmic Light, Kimura is working on many fronts to help create a new cultural ethos in which the higher possibilities of human transformation have become established in the culture as essential to our understanding of life, in much the same way that the once-radical ideas of psychology have now become established as essential to our understanding of the self. In this effort, he and his philosophical brethren are armed with more knowledge about human evolution and transformation than has ever before been assembled in the history of humanity, and they are bringing a fresh spirit of urgency and optimism to this awesome task.

The great evolutionary thinker Alfred North Whitehead once said that all of Western philosophy could be seen essentially as footnotes to Plato. But neither Plato nor any other philosopher in history had to grapple with the sheer magnitude and complexity of the problems that confront our society today. New times call for new thinking, as the saying goes, and there is little doubt that today's world is desperately in need of a few with clear vision who can see through the complexity and find a deeper order amid the chaos. Perhaps these new visionaries, whose philosophical ancestors once advised kings, have again found their moment to shine in history's spotlight. But without question, a tremendous amount has to change before we get to that point. In fact, the question of how we change, that is, the question of how human beings transform themselves—individually and collectively—is exactly what prompted me to seek out Kimura last June for an interview. Speaking from his office in southern California, with a soft Japanese accent, Kimura shared with me what he has learned in his years as priest, teacher, scientist, and philosopher about spiritual transformation and the challenge of change.


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This article is from
Our Transformation Issue