Saturday, January 31, 2009

On sheer emptiness

Happy birthday Ken Wilber, 60 today. Author of several books mostly published by Shambhala - including A Brief History of Everything and A Theory of Everything - Wilber has also published a diary he wrote throughout 1997. It starts with a brief meditation on sunlight and sheer emptiness.

Wilber’s entry on Wikipedia says he was born 31 January 1949 - 60 years ago today - in Oklahoma City. In 1967, he enrolled as a pre-med student at Duke University, ‘and almost immediately experienced a disillusionment with what science had to offer’. He became inspired, Wikipedia says, ‘like many thousands of others of that generation, by Eastern literature, particularly the Tao Te Ching, which catalysed his interest in Buddhism’. He left Duke, but completed a science degree at the University of Nebraska.

Wilber’s first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness, was published in 1977 by Quest Books. The following year, he helped launch the journal ReVision. Nearly twenty years later came Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, which Wikipedia calls ‘the massive first volume of a proposed Kosmos Trilogy’. After that, he published, among other things, A Brief History of Everything; The Eye of Spirit (a compilation of articles for ReVision on the relationship between science and religion); and A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality. Throughout 1997, Kimber wrote a journal of his personal experiences, and this was published in 1999 as One Taste - Daily Reflections on Integral Spirituality.

Wilber’s books are published by Shambhala Publications, an independent company based in Boston, Massachusetts. Many of its books deal with Buddhism or related topics which, it says, ‘present creative and conscious ways of transforming the individual, the society, and the planet’. The term Shambhala, it adds, refers to ‘a mystical kingdom hidden somewhere beyond the snowpeaks of the Himalayas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition’.

Shambhala promotes Ken Wilber as the leading theorist in the field of integral psychology, a subject which ‘naturally arouses the curiosity of his numerous readers’. It has published One Taste, it explains, ‘in response to this curiosity’. The one-year diary ‘not only offers an unprecedented entrĂ©e into [Wilber’s] private world, but offers an introduction to his essential thought’. Wilber himself says, ‘If there is a theme to this journal, it is that body, mind, and the luminosities of the soul - all are perfect expressions of the Radiant Spirit that alone inhabits the universe, sublime gestures of that Great Perfection that alone outshines the world’.

More information can be found about One Taste from a transcribed interview with Wilber on Shambhala’s website, and from Integral World, which has summaries of many Wilber books. 

A Library Journal review is a little more critical: ‘Wilber devotees will, no doubt, find this record of a year in his life essential reading. For most readers, however, distracting and largely uninteresting details of Wilber’s life (he’s dating a swell girl), cliched passages describing various states of spiritual awe, often opaque theoretical discussions, and a thinly veiled general tone of self-aggrandisement will tend to obscure the many highly original and thought-provoking passages scattered throughout. A frustrating book by a controversial thinker; only for collections with a demonstrated interest in this author.’

Reader reviews and a few pages can be read on Amazon.com. Here is the journal’s first entry.

Thursday 2 January 1997
‘Worked all morning, research and reading, while watching the sunlight play through the falling snow. The sun in not yellow today, it is white, like the snow, so I am surrounded by white on white, alone on alone. Sheer Emptiness, soft clear light, is what it all looks like, shimmering to itself in melancholy murmurs. I am released into that Emptiness, and all is radiant on this clear light day.’

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