Donna Quesada: In preparing for this interview, I read that you came from a Southern Baptist background?

Ken Wilber-awaken

Ken Wilber: Yes.

DONNA: Somehow your interest in Zen was enkindled…

KEN Yeah.

DONNA: How does someone from a traditional background like that find their way into these eastern mystical teachings?

KEN: My mother was one of four sisters, and her mother was a very Southern Baptist. As a matter of fact, she taught Sunday school for 70 years.

DONNA: Wow.

KEN: Sort of when I went through my mythic stage of development when I was five, six, seven, eight, and nine, I was very religious, read my Bible and all of that. Southern Baptists are very fanatical. They’re an almost fundamentalist group, and fundamentalism is the death of religion. It led me to what got me into eastern traditions, or could have got me into a western mystical Christian tradition, but I didn’t know what any of those really were.

But as I studied developmental psychology, I learned that these stages of human development everybody goes through… Jean Gebser labeled them The Archaic Stage, The Magic Stage, The Mythic Stage, or even the Mythic Literal Stage, then The Rational Stage, then The Pluralistic Stage, then The Integrated or Systematic or Integral Stage of development. It started to dawn on me that there was a stage, The Mythic or Mythic Literal Stage, which hits everybody from around five or six or seven to eight, nine, or ten, roughly during that period, a person is at a Mythic Literal Stage. They believe in Zeus, Apollo, and Aphrodite, and they all live on Mount Olympus, or they all live in heaven and you basically relate to those as real realities. You think, “Yeah, that’s real.”

But then as rationality starts to emerge in adolescence, around 10, 11, and 12, people start to learn, and they cognitively develop to what Gebser called The Rational Stage. That’s when you realize, usually with just a sort of a laugh, “Ha, ha ha” that all of those gods and goddesses are just cartoon figures. They’re no more real than Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy or any other of those mythic figures. I had to figure out, Well, what is religion about if it’s not about real gods and goddesses? That’s when I started to read the world’s religions.

One of the first ones I ran into was Zen Buddhism. That’s when I read D.T. Suzuki’s essays in Zen Buddhism, a big three-volume work, and learned about Satori and Mu and “What’s the sound of one hand clapping,” and all of that. I would just immediately start telling all my friends there are two types of religion. There’s a childish, mythic religion and there’s a grown-up, adult, waking-up religion. These are two very different things. You mustn’t get caught in the childish, mythic religion because it’s just the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus and they’re not real. But you do want to have a real awakening, enlightenment… waking-up experience. Those are very real and they show you a real reality. That’s how I got on to Zen and mystical traditions in general.

DONNA: Now, is it oversimplified to say, “Well… that’s the difference between religion and spirituality?” Is that oversimplified? Insofar as spirituality gives the opportunity for an experience?

KEN: Those are generally the words I use, spirituality for a real spiritual experience and then religion for the mythic religious approaches, the childish. It’s really kind of odd because almost all of the world’s mythic religions actually have at least a small school of spiritual practice, the spiritual of real spirituality. Christians do have real Christian mystics.

DONNA: Sure.

KEN: All are based on essentially Plato. They’re really a mixture between Plato and Jesus Christ. Because Plato was the one who came up with the analogy of what the average person is like if they’re sitting in a cave and they’re chained, so they can only see the back of the cave. There’s a real sunlight out here that’s shining light in on them, but it’s just casting shadows on the back of the cave. Everybody’s staring at shadows all day, thinking they’re real, but they’re not. Finally, one guy breaks out of his chains, goes outside, sees the real sun, comes back in, and tells everybody, “Wait a minute, there’s a real reality outside this cave of shadows.” So, everybody starts trying to turn around and see the real sun and all that.

DONNA: Yeah.

KEN But most of the really great western mystics were called Neoplatonic mystics because they studied Plato. They knew that there was an awakening reality behind them, to their backs, so to speak. Whether they’re Meister Eckhart and a genuine Christian mystic or any other mystical tradition, they almost always trace themselves to this Neoplatonic branch.

But what’s interesting is that wherever you go around the world, there are almost always religious spiritual sects that have both in various degrees. Mostly they’re mythic simply because everybody passes through the mythic stage. All you have to do to remain a mythic religious believer is, don’t grow out of that stage. Just eat the beliefs that you had and hold on to them and you’ll be a mythic religious believer when you get old. But if you spontaneously have a waking up experience or something like that, you might realize that, Not I, but Christ liveth in me. That’s a way of saying, “I’ve discovered my real self, my big self.” Then you’ll switch to a mystical spiritual tradition and drop that childhood mythic, literal stuff.

DONNA: But you know what’s so interesting, Ken, is thinking about Plato’s analogy of the cave, and for so long, all they see is shadows cast by a fire behind them. Then one breaks free and he sees, Oh my gosh, there’s a sun up there! But I feel like… for so many people who have an enlightenment experience, they still haven’t undergone that shift that makes them different in the world. Why is that?

KEN: Well, who can say? I mean, why does one person have a spontaneous enlightenment experience and other people… it’s very rare. Who can say? We can trace it to psychological reasons or just a real desire and a real push and a real desire for opening and waking up.

Sometimes, we find that that kind of desire, a genuine desire for opening and awakening will somehow lead to a person actually having that awakening. But if none of those ideas dawn on you… if you don’t think, “There is enlightenment and I can get it”… Well, you probably won’t get it. There are spontaneous enlightenment experiences, but they’re very rare and they just don’t happen to that many people. We have to generally take up some sort of practice, some meditative practice, or mystical practice, or contemplation, or meditation because strangely, all of those are exercises that have been developed to get you out of the cave.

To the extent that we can figure out what factors lead to that, these traditions all have those factors operating in them. Zen certainly does and Vedanta does and Christian mysticism does. When people take up those practices, they’re actually practicing, learning how to get out of the cave of shadows. They desire it, they want it, and they yearn for it. When they have all of that going for it, there’s a relatively decent chance that they will have an awakening experience.

DONNA: These days, we seem to be having a kind of a renewed renaissance in things like psychedelics to facilitate that awakening experience. How do you feel about that pathway?

KEN: I grew up during the psychedelic revolution in the 60s. Although I tried psychedelics two or three times, I never really related to them. I never really got that much out of them. But I was infuriated when the government outlawed them because I had read, as soon as I found out about psychedelics… I looked up all the books on it. I found an enormous number of the brightest, smartest, best writers and theorists in the world had actually taken their amounts of mescaline or psilocybin or LSD. Most of them had written very erudite, very sharp books on the topic, from Aldous Huxley to Alan Watts. I got all their books and read them. I knew that the psychedelics had a very high rate of inducing an enlightenment experience. I thought the psychedelic revolution in America would be this massive, huge enlightenment experience for the whole country and I was delighted. I was equally pissed as hell when the government outlawed all of them.

DONNA: True. Yeah.

KEN: Just in one fell swoop, that was the last you heard of the psychedelic experience. That was the last you heard of enlightenment or awakening or waking up. It just got trashed. That really upset me because I wanted to have happen what has been happening recently, which is, leading institutions like Princeton and Harvard are actually doing testing of psychedelic experiences, particularly psilocybin. They’re giving them to things like theological students. Some 70% to 80% of theological students have profound enlightenment awakening experiences. Many of them say, “I’ve never had an experience like this. I’ve never had an awakening experience before. Then I tried the psychedelic, and I had a massive waking-up experience.”

That’s what I wanted to start happening during the 60s. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen. I at least theoretically recognized… because I read all the books of Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley and so on, that smart, bright people can have very real enlightenment experiences on the path of psychedelics.

DONNA: Do you feel that the experience is better served when it goes hand in hand with a practice, such as meditation or contemplation of some sort?

KEN: Certainly. Yeah. You want to… even if you have a spontaneous enlightenment experience, you want to take up a meditative practice because that’s the only way that it’s going to continue, and deepen, and grow your awakening experience… is by actually getting into the meditative state because that will reproduce your enlightenment experience and will increase it and expand it. If you don’t, the enlightenment psychedelic experience will simply fade, and just like if you practice Zen and got a Zen Satori and then stop meditating, in 5 or 10 years you’re going to forget most of that experience. But if you keep meditating, it’ll continue to sort of deepen, or at least take root and repeat itself. Yeah, you definitely want to combine it with a real meditation practice.

DONNA: You have spoken about the stages of development in terms of our intelligence and I wonder if you’d speak to that because I’m thinking that the experience without a concentration in those stages of growing up will probably fall away, as well. You can have an experience, but if you’re not growing up emotionally or spiritually…

KEN: Yeah. It’s a big deal. It was a big deal for me when I learned that what I call the growing up path and the waking up path were two very different paths.

DONNA: Exactly. Yeah.

KEN: I started studying developmental psychology when I was 13 or 14 years old.

DONNA: Wow.

KEN: Particularly Jane Loevinger, Robert Kegan, and Lawrence Kohlberg, people like this, that had… each of them, generally, had done empirical research on people and tracked the stages of development that they went through. If you’re Kohlberg, he studied stages of moral development and found six or seven major stages of moral development. Once he sort of figured out what those stages were, by principally studying how they showed up in huge numbers of people… in hundreds of people, he studied and saw how these stages appeared in each of them, and then abstracted what was similar about all the stages that occurred in everybody.

DONNA: What stages do you believe are essential, in terms of the path of growing up versus the path of waking up?

KEN: Right. Well, so what happened was I then got on to Jane Loevinger, and she was particularly working with stages of ego development. She noticed that there was a great deal of similarity between all the various stages that had been measured, and psychologists differ in terms of how many multiple intelligences we have… But they think we have between 8 and 12.

We don’t have just cognitive development or thinking proper. We have moral development, emotional development, aesthetic development, spiritual development, ego development, musical development, artistic development, and so on.

Jane Loevinger noticed that there was a great deal of similarity to the broad stages that all of them went through. What psychologists discovered is that we have eight to 12 multiple lines or multiple intelligences, cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, moral intelligence, spiritual intelligence, and so on. But all of them go through the same six to eight major levels of growing up… Archaic to Magic, to Mythic, to Rational, to Pluralistic, to Integral. They all go through those stages.

But of course, each researcher that looks at, let’s say, a moral stage of development will give that stage a different name because it will talk about pre-moral development, and then conventional moral development, and then post-conventional moral development, and integrated moral development. But nonetheless, she noticed that there were these general similarities in all of the stages that these eight to 12 different intelligences all went through.

Read and Watch Pt 3 Here: Awaken Interviews Ken Wilber Pt 3 – Waking Up Is Just Not Enough, We Have to Grow Up

Read and Watch Pt 1 Here: Awaken Interviews Ken Wilber – Every Sentient Being Including a Dog, Has a Buddha Nature

Read and Watch Part 2 Here: Awaken Interviews Ken Wilber Pt 2 – Not I, but Christ liveth In Me

Source: AWAKEN