Man of the our

Ken Wilber thinks we could all benefit from adopting each other's philosophies.

Ken Wilber, founder of the Integral Institute, has written more than two dozen books. In his latest, the forthcoming Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World (Integral Books, $23), the scholar draws on science, psychology, philosophy and world religions to argue that an integral understanding of them all will benefit our lives more than a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. On Friday 8 and Saturday 9, he brings his complex theories to the masses, joining Tibetan Buddhist monk Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche at the New York Society for Ethical Culture for a program titled “Spirituality and the Modern World.”

What is the “integral approach”?

It’s a map of human capacities and tools developed by comparing theories spanning the last 2,000 years—psychoanalysis, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, science, philosophy, etc. Common themes tend to emerge.

You say that modernist and postmodernist theories have trashed ancient thought, such as the world’s major religions. How?

The great metaphysical traditions contain extremely important truths about body, mind, soul and spirit, but express them in ways that made science—in this case, science is modernism—very suspicious. Science came in and said, “I need objective evidence.” And in part that was right: Those traditions couldn’t understand, for example, what’s going on with the brain’s chemistry during meditation. So half of what science did is really important. But the other half was a disaster; it reduced everything.

So science and religion became locked into a domestic dispute?

Yes [laughs]—of colossal proportions!

And it’s important to reconcile these ideas because otherwise we only profit from one body of knowledge instead of both?


Photograph: Roxana Marroquin

Exactly. The integral approach finds common ground. Why should these things be fighting? It makes no sense whatsoever.

But now you’re coming to talk along with someone who is a master in one particular spirituality. Isn’t that counter to the integral approach?

You can use any tradition you want, including, in this case, Tibetan Buddhism, as a basis for the integral approach. People get excited because we don’t tell them what to think. They fill in the blanks themselves.

What do you hope will ultimately come of your theories of spirituality?

I hope we could all have a bigger view of things. There’s a lot of war in the world today—and virtually every answer to it is “Get rid of the other views.” It’s crazy—not once did somebody say, “Hey, wait a minute: Everybody’s right.”

“Spirituality and the Modern World” includes an opening dialogue on Friday 8 from 7 to 9pm ($25) and presentations on Saturday 9 from 10am to 5pm ($100). New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 W 64th St at Central Park West (518-392-6900, evam.org).