Spiritual Lines and Action: A (Appreciative/Critical) Response to Craig Hamilton

Craig Hamilton’s new site Integral Enlightenment is worth a look.  To say upfront:  I really appreciate what Craig is doing and I wish him all the best.  He and I have never formally met, but we have a number of mutual friends/colleagues.  In what follows I make a few criticisms of some ideas he raised in a recent talk he gave (the transcript of which is one the site), but just to be clear, those are very minor criticisms relative to a whole large percentage of agreement and admiration.

This from a talk Craig Hamilton gave to the 2008 Integral Theory Conference:

But seriously, spiritual teachers aside, the deeper reason why this Lines of Development theory never worked for me in the spiritual domain is this: If all of our spiritual practice and striving isn’t going to make us a more conscious, sensitive, decent, caring, wise, respectful, and moral human being whose behavior in the world shines as a beacon of enlightened consciousness—then A) what good is it? And B) if our definition of spirituality doesn’t include any of those things, what exactly do we mean by spirituality at this point anyway? If we’re going to separate out all of these other lines, it seems that the only thing that’s really left is our ability to access altered states of consciousness. And, for me, that is a definition too small for the domain it attempts to define.

To explain why, I want to bring us all back to where I started my talk. To that spiritual luminary—dead or living—whom you revere and look to for inspiration. What is it about them that inspires your admiration and respect? Is it their ability to access higher states? Or is it something else? And if something else, what is that something else?

If I were to put a word on it, I might call it “enlightened humanity.” I think that if we step outside of all the talk about different developmental lines, we can acknowledge that there is something called our humanity which has to do with the depth of our interiors, our moral sense, our character, our values, our wisdom, our decency, our compassion, our willingness to risk for a greater good. And I think we all have a basic commonsense intuition that spirituality is about the enlightenment and transformation of our humanity on a fundamental level. What makes a truly spiritual person so extraordinary and unusual is that all of the best human qualities and virtues seem to naturally shine forth from that person, while all of the worst human qualities and vices seem to have subsided. And the more enlightened a person is, the more this should be the case. And I think that deep down we all know this, even if our theories have managed to confuse us on the surface.

You see, I think this notion of Lines of Development as applied to spirituality is a great example of an elegant theory talking us out of our common sense. I think the reason it has been so successful at doing so lies in a series of fundamental confusions in contemporary spirituality. And while there is not time here to discuss them all, there is one that’s important to address, as it’s one which some Integral Theorists have helped to propagate.

I resonate with what Craig is saying here but he’s confusing a couple of points. The argument about spiritual teachers being developed in some areas but weak (and potentially dangerously so) typically revolves around their having deeper state capacities (or state-stages in Wilber’s terms) and weaker development in structural (lines) stages.

The spiritual line as a line of intelligence–originally studied by James Fowler–is not really about whether the person is more ethical or not.  It is a cognitive scheme that studies that developmental patterns of how people answer the question:  What is your Faith?  What is of Ultimate Value to you?  It studies how people cognize their spiritual understandings.

Fowler’s teacher was Kohlberg and Kohlberg’s was Piaget.  The problem, if there is one with lines in (esp. Wilber’s) Integral Theory is that they over emphasize the cognitivistic aspect of human existence.  Even Kohlberg’s stages of moral development are the stages of cognitively reconstructed self-definitional understandings of morality.  Not whether the person is–as we use the term normally–more moral or not relative to another person.  In a general sense that might correlate, but certainly not on a case by case basis.

This over-reliance on cognitive aspects as the sine qua non of development as such (same as with states as consciousness/mysticism in toto) shows up across a number of lines:  moral, spiritual, values (Graves), self-identity (Loevinger/Cook-Greuter).

These scholars aren’t wrong; more precisely they correctly decipher what they study.  The real question is:  is what they study of much value in the actual formation of a human person?  Since these forms of study largely depend on the self-consciousness of the individuals involved (i.e. their own cognitive reconstructions) then the entire range of non-conscious material is occluded.  And I don’t mean repressed unconsciousness–which there is definitely room for in the traditional integral theory lines scheme.  But what about non-repressed functioning unconsciousness–the kinds of thing Malcolm Gladwell talked about in Blink or are being studied by evo psych moralists, neuro-ethicists?  People like Marc Hauser, Jesse Prinz, and Jonathan Haidt?

But back to our spiritual teachers.  Even they (gurus or whoever) could have higher developed spiritual intelligences (as what that line actually studies) and still fall prone to the kinds of mistakes Craig outlines because again spiritual intelligence is properly studying the cognition/self-understanding of the definition of spirituality.  Not again better or worse actions/human beings.

The line is not the spiritual line.  It’s the line of spiritual intelligence.  The modifier intelligence there is doing some heavy lifting because that is an enormous difference. Intelligence is a good way to think of this.  When we say someone is very intelligent that doesn’t mean we assume they are a good person or not.  People are aware that someone who is very intelligent when it comes to finance or politics or physics may be a very crude human being.  Why would it be different with spiritual intelligence?  Intelligence is the ability to cognize, to see, to open vistas.  Doesn’t guarantee squat about how they will act in those worlds they can open up.  Some people are probably by nature born more gifted in spiritual intelligence–i.e. cognizing spiritual understandings.  Doesn’t tell us much about how they will be as a human and I don’t think it’s fair to but that burden on spiritual intelligence when we would never assume it of say mathematical or musical or scientific or commercial intelligence.

The spiritual line of intelligence does not claim to cover the whole of spirituality within it.  So Hamilton’s critique is aimed at ultimately a conceptual straw man.  There’s miscommunication and misinformation and a popularized version of the spiritual intelligence line has been taken to mean that the spiritual line (which is indicated by Craig’s own use of that incorrect wording of the line in question).  I can see where the mistake comes from–it’s an honest one.  Nevertheless it’s still criticizing the spiritual intelligence line for A) not doing something it’s not designed to do and B)claiming it holds some view that it doesn’t (that it includes all of spirituality in it).

iow, I think Craig’s criticism of lines in this talk basically falls apart because he misses that crucial distinction.  Now, I think what’s he pointing to as his understanding of the spiritual life in the 21st century is really important (and actually quite valuable/right) but it’s hampered by this conceptual mistake he has made.

Let me unpack that a little bit.

I think Craig is right to point out this flaw in integral spiritual discussions, but conceptually he goes about his (legitimate) criticism incorrectly.  I’m not attempting to split hairs here, the conceptual mistakes have consequences for the rest of his article.

Craig at one point asks what then is spirituality?  (Which by the way means he’s re-tracing the steps of Fowler and giving a cognitive answer, thereby though he says otherwise reinforces the thesis that the cognitive definition of spirituality is a separate line to itself).  Craig answers his own question thusly:

In answer to the first of these, there are many ways to speak about what spiritual awakening is, but one very good way that I think will shed some light here is to see it as the discovery of the Dharma. When one truly wakes up, one begins to see with the Dharma eye, or the eye of wisdom. Now, the word dharma is thrown around a lot these days, but if we look back at its roots, we find three meanings that tend to be associated with it. Dharma as Truth. Dharma as Law. And Dharma as Path. Simply put, one sees the Truth, which reveals the Law which guides the Path. And, when things are working properly, this is a discovery that engages every aspect of one’s humanity. One sees, suddenly with unimaginable subtlety, the delicate web of interrelatedness that binds us together. One sees the significance of every move we make, and how it impacts the whole through a complex chain of causation. One awakens to the Law of karma, the law of right action which reveals an inherent ordering principle in the Kosmos, and a Kosmic command to align with that order. In the theistic traditions, this Law was referred to as the Will of God, as in, “Not my will, but Thy Will be done.” Finally, one discovers the Path, the actions one must take to stay aligned with the Law, revealing themselves anew through clear seeing in every moment. And, in the face of this knowledge, one experiences the awakening of what Andrew Cohen calls the “Spiritual Conscience,” or what the Sufis called, simply, “the Heart.” That faculty within the awakening psyche which compels us to act in accord with the Law, and which feels a kind of Kosmic pain when we violate it.

Now that answer, a profound one to be sure, is actually located on the state-stages side.  As he himself admits it has its roots in Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.  (In fact in all the traditional world religions).

Which is why this transition is slightly disjointed:

What is the impact on an individual who realizes this kind of depth? It’s earth-shattering. The result is a complete revolution at the very core of one’s being, which then radiates outward, bringing about an integral transformation of every aspect of one’s humanity.

On a values level, it brings about a radical reorientation in one’s priorities, worldview and values. We begin to care about the evolution of the whole, and the evolution of consciousness itself more than we care about anything personal. We become a Kosmoscentric or even Godcentric individual.

On a moral level, it brings one into profound alignment with the moral order of the Kosmos, compelling one to always sacrifice self-interest for the good of the whole.

On an interpersonal level, it leads to a profound attunement to the evolutionary needs of others, and an unbearable sensitivity to the impact our actions have on others. Freed from the confines of self-concern, we find ourselves able to see deeply into others souls and respond to them with a precision, warmth and kindness unimaginable within ordinary egoic relationship.

On a cognitive level, it liberates our mind from rigidity and opens us to ever higher levels of spiritual cognition in which authentic intuition and reason are clarified and united in a higher embrace.

On an emotional level, it awakens a depth of feeling that would have been too much for us to bear in our previous ego-identified state. We become choicelessly present to our own emotional life, and that emotional life expands to begin to literally feel for the evolving whole. When we see ourselves or someone else acting selfishly and out of alignment with the Law, it causes us emotional pain, and that pain deepens our evolutionary response to life.

Though he uses the word ‘level’ repeatedly in the above quotation, the reality is Craig has brought back in (via the back door?) lines.  Emotional, interpersonal, cognitive, moral, values, etc.  Those are lines.  Those are dimensions of a person’s development.  And a structural developmental peak is named in each.

As such Hamilton is entering stages (lines are always lines in stages and vice versa).  He is giving answers to structural developmental aspects to these various dimensions of the self–pushing towards what he sees as the deepest/highest/widest contexts.  He calls that deepest context Kosmocentric.  But Kosmocentric isn’t what the ancient traditions were about as he just admitted (and I agree with), so the notion that this Kosmocentric context is what constitutes the Dharma is actually an interpretation, a cognition unveiling.  Realization of Dharma does not automatically express itself in the way Craig is advocating because there are multiple understandings of what is Dharma.  His is but one–a very profound one to be sure, perhaps the profoundest around, but one nevertheless.  When he says that when the Dharma realization comes on a person they are brought into this Kosmocentric context as if automatically this is really misleading and undercuts his criticism–which is based on a tacit experiential awareness that in fact this transformation is precisely what doesn’t occur in many spiritual awakeners.

Realization of Dharma does not automatically lead to Kosmocentrism because Kosmocentrism is a stage of development (across multiple lines ).  Arguably at that higher stage of development (Kosmocentric) those lines come much more integrated from the get go.  I believe this point (the integration of integration)  is Craig’s central insight though I think he’s poorly framed it.

The frame is poor because it is perspectival-less.  It’s Hamilton’s version of spiritual intelligence being written over all other lines for all persons.  It’s not properly “addressed” in the Kosmos–i.e. he hasn’t properly located himself through the integral map to lay out clearly from what place within the Kosmos he is speaking (and hence from what place what he is saying is true).  This notion of perspectives lies at the heart of Wilber’s post-metaphysics.

Wilber says in Integral Spirituality that Enlightenment is now vertical enlightenment–highest achievable structural-stage at any time in history–along with horizontal enlightenment–i.e. traditional state-stage realization.  “Branching” out from that insight then Integral Enlightenment is highest structures across many (all? all important?) lines as well as state realization.

Craig writes:

In essence, what I’m asserting is that spiritual attainment is integral at the deepest level of the psyche. It integrates our whole being from the top-down. Enlightenment really is all it’s cracked up to be. It is just exceedingly rare.

So that, er, lines up (pun not intended).  He is setting the bar very high which is commendable.  Very commendable.  But the conceptual lack of clarity shows up as assuming his level of the line of spiritual intelligence as an across the board reality–this is what happens when you say spiritual intelligence (not spirituality, the two are very different) is not a separate line.  It goes underground and permeates all the others and metaphysically reads its perspectives over all others.

What Craig is saying is that spirituality has to be about changed human beings and the integral community’s over-reliance on states and spiritual intelligence line misses a crucial ingredient of a total change in a person.  That people have to be responsible, authentic, transparent, and real.  I’m with him 100% on that one.  But he’s weakened his valid criticism (which needs to be heard, he’s saying something very important here) by picking the wrong theoretical-conceptual fight within the integral frame.  This issue he is raising is suggesting I think a deeper critique than even he seems to realize:  which is the integral theory as such is missing something crucial.

Wilber says there are four understandings of spirituality:  the highest structure of any line of development; the highest states; the line of spiritual intelligence (again not the spiritual line but the spiritual intelligence line); and a general sense of being “spiritual”.

Ken has laid out theoretically, with his notion of vertical plus horizontal enlightenment, an integral enlightenment.  What Craig is doing is actually trying to make it real.  Operationalize it.  Kudos to Craig for doing so.  It’s about time somebody did.  That said his criticism and positive vision will be greatly advanced if he has a better frame within which to fit it.

He needs I believe to study up on post-metaphysics.  What he is saying is very true but only from a certain perspective and he needs to link up the practices he has on his site as the way to structurally transform to enter into the space from which he is speaking and locate that truth.  Instead of absolutizing one perspective and then criticizing (sometimes quite mistakenly) others for not living up to that perspective when in reality they can’t see it because they have yet to arrive at the “lookout point of consciousness” from where you can see what Craig is describing in your mind and experience.

Published in: on August 27, 2009 at 11:46 pm  Comments (7)  
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