Integral Spirituality

“When we ponder on [realization], we begin to perceive how feeble in their self-assertive violence and how confusing in their misleading distinctness are the words that we use. We begin also to perceive that the limitations we impose on the Brahman arise from a narrowness of experience in the individual mind that concentrates itself on one aspect of the Unknowable and proceeds forthwith to deny or disparage all the rest. We tend always to translate too rigidly what we can conceive or know of the Absolute into the terms of our own particular relativity. We affirm the One and Identical by passionately discriminating and asserting the egoism of our own opinions and partial experiences against the opinions and partial experiences of others. It is wiser to wait, to learn, to grow, and, since we are obliged for the sake of our self-perfection to speak of these things which no human speech can express, to search for the widest, the most flexible, the most catholic affirmation possible and found on it the largest and most comprehensive harmony” (p. 29, The Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo).

This, I think, is exactly what an integral spirituality should embody. Integralism has nothing to do with correctly formulating the logical or linguistic consequences of its application to philosophy and science, though such endeavors may indeed be fruitful. Integral spirituality has a tremendous variety of applications, and I don’t mean to negate the deep thinkers who attempt to translate their experiential realizations into textual argument. This kind of work can lead to tremendous advances in our understanding of thought and discourse. However, it seems to me that it all too often ends in pointless bickering over the most accurate definition of some term or series of terms. This is a shame. It is said of the Buddha that he had no fixed doctrines to teach, no one method of bringing awakening about in his students. Instead, he allowed his teaching to transform itself before each audience. Employing such skillful means in his conveyance of the Dharma allowed the Buddha to avoid mere philosophical or theological debates with his students. Instead, he tried only to bring them to an awareness of their own direct experience. He was not trying to popularize one doctrine above another, nor was he attempting to provide an answer to any formal question or inquiry. His only goal was to pass his realization on to others—others, which for the Buddha had become only reflections of himself—but from whose perspective the Buddha (and his realization) still appeared separate. So in the end, then, it matters not “what” we say, but “how” we say it. If a sentient being has had their buddhahood irrevocably unveiled and revealed to consciousness, they no longer feel obliged to correct the grammar of other beings. Rather, they attempt only to skillfully lead others to their own realization through whatever means necessary. The realization is, of course, one that occurs on the level of experience and most assuredly not on the level of rational argumentation. A bodhisattva, therefore, does not approach others with any sense of intellectual superiority, even when that may indeed be the case. Instead, they confront the other with endless compassion—so endless, in fact, that the other ceases to be other and becomes only a mirror of the self. The bodhisattva, so illumined, proceeds to use upaya to remind the “other” of the game they have been playing with themselves. This attempt to awaken another being has a very specific motivation behind it… We might even say that this “why” is what, in the end, REALLY matters. The motivation comes not from any sense of outward duty, nor from any inward desire. Rather, the bodhisattva returns from Nirvana to enlighten others precisely because that is all a realized being can do. If we fall into the trap of assuming this enlightened action is the result of some cosmic duty, we begin to approach others as though they really needed to awaken. It is as if we forgot that they were not already so! The task of the bodhisattva is merely to serve as a reminder, as a mirror upon which others see themselves reflected so clearly that they, too, are irrevocably shaken from their slumber. Similarly, if we become trapped by the idea that such teaching is the result of an inward desire, we forget that it is of the nature of buddhahood to have dispensed with desire. One who desires to, as it were, change others inevitably fails; there simply is no way to affect such a change because of the reflective nature of our interactions with others. Any attempt to alter another that stems from such desire is immediately recognized by the other as an ingenuous and egoic attempt to fulfill some selfish pleasure within ourselves. An integral spirituality, then, is precisely the realization of buddhahood. Being integral is not an easy task. We must become bodhisattvas whether we like it or not. It is our spiritual responsibility to do so, as it is only through us that spirit can perform its evolutionary magic.

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