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The Inside Story

From the Editors

"Some fifty interviews later, our heads are still spinning with the vision of our future world that has opened up before us...."

At What Is Enlightenment? we've always had a deep appreciation for the great traditions. Indeed, in our ongoing attempt to bring a critical eye to a postmodern spiritual culture hell-bent on reducing the quest for truth to a self-improvement program, we have often leaned heavily on the hard-won wisdom of the world's religions for inspiration, insight, and plain old backup. As a result, over the years, our pages have provided a welcome and much applauded platform for the enlightening words of many of the most revered traditional teachers of our time. So when our Spring/Summer 2002 issue, "The Future of God," hit the stands, we have to admit we were more than a little surprised by the wave of strong reactions we received from some of our more traditional spiritual friends. You see, in that issue, in the inaugural chapter of "The Guru and the Pandit," Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber made a proposition that to many traditionalists, it turns out, was nothing short of blasphemy. They suggested that enlightenment—the timeless goal of the spiritual quest—might itself be evolving over time.

Now, in the twenty-first-century West, where the dynamics of evolution are widely recognized to be at play everywhere—from organisms to organizations, from quarks to galaxies—the possibility that the farther reaches of spiritual attainment might themselves be evolving along with the rest of the universe seemed to us a reasonable enough idea to explore. But as the letters and emails started to pour in, it soon became clear that although many of our readers found the discussion as enlightening as we had, in the eyes of some, this line of inquiry was an indication that we had taken a serious wrong turn. "To foster the belief that we have discovered or stumbled upon something that has never occurred in human existence until now could be . . . dangerous," cautioned one letter. "God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow," exhorted another. One friend, a Western lama, even wrote me a personal letter to express his annoyance at the "short shrift" our ponderings on the evolution of enlightenment gave to traditional Buddhist ideas. But what really stopped us in our tracks was the barrage of letters we received from an entire spiritual community—all longtime friends of ours—who had rallied together to write in protest of our suggestion that something new could ever emerge on the spiritual horizon. The essence of their often barbed message: "Put the conversation back where it belongs: squarely in the human possibility that has always existed, exists now, and will always exist. . . . There is nothing new under the sun."

Perhaps we should have seen it coming. After all, it is no secret that the old resists the new and that tradition, in its commitment to preserving our connection with what has come before, must necessarily shield itself to some degree against the forces of change that threaten its very integrity. But what was most surprising for us was that the most vehement objections to our inquiry came not from the barnacled offices of orthodoxy but from groups and individuals who consider themselves to be at the leading edge of their traditions—innovators, pioneers, the avant-garde. If anyone in the traditions was making room for the possibility of something new, we thought, surely it would have been them.

Which brings us to the issue you hold in your hands. If you've paid any attention to the futurists these past few years, then you, like us, have likely been learning a lot about the overwhelming insecurities that face all of us as we venture forth into the new millennium. Like it or not, these cultural and geopolitical forecasters tell us, we are entering an era in which sweeping catalytic and possibly cataclysmic forces will converge in ways that will transform culture, and even life, into something we can hardly imagine. In this brave new world, change will be the name of the game, we are told, and our ability to move with it, adapt to it, and even drive it will be what determines our individual and collective fate. And herein lies the rub. For in the face of this volcanic picture—which is looking less and less like science fiction every day—the rigidity we seemed to have hit up against in even the most progressive traditionalists raised what for us seemed to be a crucial question: Are the traditions equipped to move with the explosive rate of change that the future holds in store? Is there enough flexibility in these vast repositories of the world's wisdom to bend to meet an age of transition and transformation the scale of which the world has never seen? And if not, what will take their place in providing a moral, ethical, and spiritual rudder to guide humanity through the greatest set of challenges we have faced yet? Do we need a new spirituality? Perhaps even a new religion, more adapted—and more capable of adapting—to the new and ever-changing life conditions of our time? And if so, what might such an entity look like? What sorts of structures would the perennial impulse to manifest a higher order give birth to, once freed from the myths and mindsets of a bygone age?

Based on our recent experience, we are acutely aware that in asking questions like these, we run the risk of again taxing the capacity of our mailbox. So in this issue, which is dedicated entirely to exploring these pivotal questions, we have gone to every length we could to make sure we haven't given "short shrift" to anybody. Which, in practical terms, means we spoke with almost everybody—from traditionalists to futurists, from Zen masters to scientists, from professors to prophets, from self-styled organizational consultants to self-proclaimed avatars and messiahs. Some fifty interviews later, our heads are still spinning with the vision of our future world that has opened up before us. It's a world as ripe with promise as it is fraught with peril. And it's a world that, whatever part tradition plays in it, is going to require a courageous willingness from all of us to leave behind whatever isn't working in order to allow the living creativity of Spirit to help us chart our course through the stormy seas ahead.

–Craig Hamilton


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This article is from
Our Future Issue