Andrew Cohen: guru. Evolutionary thinker and spiritual
pathfinder. Self-described “idealist with revolutionary
inclinations.” Cohen, founder of What Is Enlightenment?
magazine, is a spiritual teacher and author widely recognized as
a defining voice in the emerging field of evolutionary
spirituality. Over the last decade in the pages of WIE, Cohen
has brought together leading thinkers from East and
West—mystics and materialists, philosophers and
psychologists—to explore the significance of a new
spirituality for the new millennium. His books include Embracing
Heaven & Earth and Living Enlightenment.
Ken Wilber: pandit. A scholar who is deeply proficient and
immersed in spiritual wisdom. Self-described “defender of
the dharma; intellectual samurai.” Hailed as “the
Einstein of consciousness,” Wilber is one of the most
highly regarded philosophers alive today, and his work offers a
comprehensive and original synthesis of the world's great
psychological, philosophical, and spiritual traditions. Author
of numerous books, including Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and A
Brief History of Everything, Wilber is the founder of Integral
Institute and a regular contributor to WIE.
What will the next levels of human development look like?
In their ninth dialogue, guru and pandit take a closer look at
the leading edge, asking what an “integral”
worldview really means and exploring still higher potentials for
the evolution of consciousness.
ANDREW COHEN: Lately, I've been thinking a lot about
the word “integral” and wondering what it really
means to have an integral perspective. This is obviously what
your own work is all about, and it's a concept that more and
more people are becoming familiar with these days. The words
“integral” and “second tier” are being
used as catchphrases to point to the next stage of development
for many of us in this postmodern culture. So I thought it would
be good to speak specifically about what integral, or second
tier, really means, especially in relationship to the spiritual
dimension of life.
My own understanding of integral is that, to put it simply,
it points to a more integrated and comprehensive perspective not
only on our own experience but on the very structure of the
cosmos. But what I want to talk to you about is an important
distinction I've become aware of between the direct,
intuitive recognition of an integrated cosmos and a
similar understanding that is more intellectually based.
KEN WILBER: Yes, I understand the distinction. Your
talk and your walk.
COHEN: Right. We could call it the difference between
looking at the cosmos from the inside out and from the outside
in. In this distinction I'm making, we could say that the
inside-out perception would be one that was based on a spiritual
realization, while the outside-in perception wouldn't
necessarily have any spiritual dimension to it. One reason I'm
interested in this is because I have noticed that a lot of
people who have a good cognitive grasp of what an integral, or
second tier, perspective is seem to lose that perspective when
it comes to their own spiritual life. Their spiritual paths
often don't echo or relate directly to the higher, impersonal,
evolutionary perspective that second tier cognitive capacities
can reveal. A lot of the spirituality can be extremely
personally focused and even “new-age.” In short, one
finds individuals with very big views who still have narrow
WILBER: (Laughs) Well, somebody's confused!
COHEN: I find it hard to understand how someone can
cognitively grasp a second tier, or integral, perspective but
embrace a spiritual path that has literally nothing to do with
it. So it would be good to go into this question together: What
is second tier spirituality? I feel, and I'm sure you
would agree, that ultimately as we evolve, especially if we
evolve integrally, our spiritual view would be seamlessly
interrelated with our worldview, with our moral, ethical, and
An Integral Map
WILBER: You've raised a very interesting point. A lot
of people are using developmental models like Spiral Dynamics,
based on Clare Graves' work, or Robert Kegan's system or Jane
Loevinger's system, and there's some confusion about what's
called second tier or integral. However we want to define it, it
generally refers to the highest levels that any Western model
looks at. In Spiral Dynamics, the two highest stages that they
recognize are called “yellow” and
“turquoise,” and those together are referred to as
second tier. In Jane Loevinger's scale those are roughly
equivalent to the levels that she calls “autonomous”
and “integrated.” And in Robert Kegan's five orders
of consciousness, second tier would be roughly equivalent to his
So these are the highest levels in all the Western models,
and therefore many people think that if they are doing spiritual
work, they must be second tier. But actually, if you look at the
descriptions in any of these models, second tier isn't really
spiritual. Take, for example, the yellow and turquoise levels in
Spiral Dynamics—neither of them is what we would really
recognize as nondual or mystical or transpersonal or
transrational. What they call yellow is actually entirely
secular, and its descriptions of the world are very
systemic—everything is interrelated—but it's just an
ecological worldview without any unmanifest or unborn or even
spiritual kind of dimension. At turquoise, people say things
like, “The earth is a single organism with one
consciousness.” Now this starts to sound spiritual, and in
a certain way I suppose it is, but it's not a direct experience.
It's still just an idea.
The point is that there are higher stages than that, if you
actually look at the traditions and at cutting-edge research.
But higher stages are extremely rare, so they just don't tend to
show up in the research most psychologists are doing. It's not
necessarily a fault of the Western models that I just mentioned,
because they basically reported what they found. It's just the
rarity of people at these stages.
If you take Sri Aurobindo's consciousness stages as a point
of comparison—he has about ten or eleven—what he
calls “higher mind” would be equivalent to what
Spiral Dynamics would call second tier, or yellow and turquoise.
But above higher mind there is illumined mind, then intuitive
mind, then overmind, then supermind, and then satchitananda, the
ever-present oneness. There are at least four or five stages up
there that are higher than second tier. So second tier is
sometimes referred to as “integral” only because
it's more integral than first tier. But these higher stages will
be even more integral, all the way to satchitananda, which is
like superintegral, including everything.
COHEN: Yes, absolute integration.
WILBER: Exactly. We could use the term “third
tier” for whatever stages are higher than second
tier—illumined mind, intuitive mind, overmind, and
supermind, for example, as actual, permanent developmental
stages. But the thing about second tier is that it's a great
base camp for all higher development. If you don't have a really
good foundation there, when you get to these higher stages, they
won't stick very well.
COHEN: Yes, and what I'm saying is that a lot of
people who do seem to have a well-established systems, or
WILBER: Well, cognitively.
COHEN: Yes—which is, relatively speaking, quite
a big deal—
WILBER:—don't have their personal or
transpersonal act together. Well, that gets us to a second
point, which is that the cognitive line of
development—which is usually necessary but not sufficient
for other development—can run quite ahead of the
individual's center of gravity. So there are a lot of people
talking integral because that's just what's out there. And
everybody wants to be integral. But if somebody is integral
cognitively, they can still have a center of gravity, frankly,
that's several stages lower. It happens quite often. And it's a
little disorienting because they talk one thing and walk
COHEN: Yes. It's a strange mix and it certainly is
disorienting, because for most of us, our deepest emotionally
based convictions tend to be our spiritual convictions. So when
one cognitively has a second tier understanding but one is
emotionally identified with the sentimental and even
superstitious spiritual beliefs of a lower level—
WILBER:—it's a problem.
COHEN: There's this dissonance—because there's a
profound contradiction between a second tier perspective and the
emotionally based spiritual convictions of a lower stage.
WILBER: That's a real concern. And nobody has stated
that caution more strongly than I have in my own works. I tell
people that if you understand my books, you're at least up to
second tier, cognitively. But that doesn't guarantee anything,
because again, you can simply think that way but your
center of gravity could be lower.
So my work is just a map. And, of course, you don't want to
confuse the map with the territory. But maps are extraordinarily
helpful. After all, do you really want to go into Antarctica or
Africa without a map? But I'm concerned about people merely
taking this map and by learning it thinking that somehow they
have awakened to the territory. The map is self-critical though,
in that it says, “Here's a presentation that's roughly, to
use Aurobindo's terms, higher mind to illumined mind. But above
that, you have really got to push into intuitive mind,
overmind, supermind, satchitananda. And it's going to take your
own realization and your own work and your own practice, and I
recommend spiritual teachers for this because you're going to
delude yourself all the way up. You've got to have somebody
basically boxing your ears, so get ready for that—it's a
lot of fun.”
COHEN: You can say that again!
WILBER: Like I said, second tier is really just a base
camp. If you actually get oriented, get a good grounding there,
then you can start unfolding it from within and actually make it
a first-person realization and not a third-person map. So
“integral” for most people right now means
intellectually pushing into second tier. But that's just a good
start. There's so much more work to do. The percentage of people
stably at second tier is one half percent of the U.S.
population! So it's really going uphill. I mean, the center of
gravity in this culture is still very much what we would call
first tier. So what we're trying to do is really orient people
to second tier and then push them into third tier. What happens
in what we're calling second tier is that people become
self-aware of integral. Evolution becomes aware of itself. And
it's a huge leap. That's why so many psychologists
refer to the “leap” or “jump” from first
tier to second tier. So we call second tier integral because it
self-consciously becomes integral.
COHEN: Yes. When it becomes self-consciously integral,
that's when it's from the inside out, right? That's the
WILBER: That's when it begins. So we have two things
going on here. You can talk second tier, but your
walk—your center of gravity—can still be first tier.
That's extremely common now. But when you get your walk and your
talk at second tier, there's still third tier waiting. And
really, you have to keep going on into third tier. And then
integral will flow out of yourself and into the world; it will
start embracing everything, and not just as an altered state but
as a permanent trait.
COHEN: Yes. And when the integral perspective meets a
third tier, or enlightened, state of consciousness, our
understanding of what that state is and what it means will
actually begin to change. The traditional definitions will be
replaced by new ones that are more integrated, that are
endeavoring to embrace all of manifestation. This is what really
sets my heart on fire—when our understanding and
expression of enlightenment itself begins to evolve in real
time, right before our very eyes.
WILBER: I think that's exactly what begins to