The Urban Dharma Newsletter... August 27, 2002


In This Issue:

1. Evolving Mind: buddhism, biology & consciousness
2. Ken Wilber: Online
3. Book Review:
Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution
4. "Wholes and Parts" ...Rev. Sam Trumbore
6. Temple/Center of the Week:
The California Institute of Integral Studies


1. Evolving Mind: Buddhism, Biology & Consciousness

by Cooper, Robin

* http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0756750687/wwwkusalaorg-20/ 


As life on Earth evolved, the human species emerged from the animal kingdom with a new kind of consciousness. But has evolution stopped with the human mind? Or could spiritual growth be the continuation of biological evolution? In this book Robin Cooper asserts that there is a next step, involving not further biological development but a radical transformation in consciousness. It is here that the great traditions of science and religion come together. As both scientist and Buddhist, Cooper has a unique perspective on evolution, and his detailed accouont of this meeting between two apparently different worlds makes an entirely new contribution to the field of evolutionary science. Building upon an increasingly respected theory that animal consciousness might somehow have directed the course of evolution, he traces the development of the mind from the primitive responses of simple organisms to the illuminated awareness of the greatest sages. For the first time, too, evolution is explored from a Buddhist perspective, for the traditional teachings of Buddhism offer us a way of taking evolution into our own hands. Cooper suggests, without compromise, that both science and Buddhism are essential for understanding the evoluting mind.

From Ch. 1 of The Evolving Mind, by Robin Cooper

In animal or lower evolution, new ways of being arise through a number of mechanisms, as we shall see in the next three chapters. With human beings, a quite different method of self-transcendence becomes possible: conscious choice. Every human life has its habitual routines which express the status quo, and every human personality provides standard responses to familiar experiences. So my friend believed that if he did not fight, he would have to run away. Yet, as he did then, one often faces opportunities for rising above the routine.

The chance to open a quite new direction for one's character, such as responding to provocation with equanimity, may come infrequently. But tiny opportunities for conscious self-transcendence arise all the time, hard though it is to recognise them. In such moments, a new, creative response is accessible. If one only has the confidence, one is presented with a genuine choice.

I think that this power of conscious choice is a vital human endowment. It allows meaning to enter one's life, since one can decide on the course one's life should best take. It ensures one is not impelled down instinctual roads of action, but can search out and adopt a new solution to any dilemma. It permits artistic creativity and the opening up of new styles of life, and it even permits progress to human enlightenment in the Buddhist sense, by means which we shall explore later.

A significant image of self-transcendence in the Buddhist tradition is the `going forth', in which an individual is seen leaving behind all that is familiar and secure to strike out into the unknown in search of freedom. The classic picture is of the founder of  Buddhism galloping away from his sleeping wife and child, letting go of wealth and power, to don the rags of a hunter and live as a wandering ascetic. For an aspiring Buddhist, the going forth might be a process of disentangling himself or herself from inner emotional attachments, but it also usually involves a radical change of life- style, with a drastic reduction in worldly responsibilities.

However, the heart of the Buddhist system is an unending `inner' self-transcendence. Human life is not satisfactory; the human world is obsolete in some respects and needs making anew. As well as having the means to make the same old mistakes in updated ways, people have a potential for creativity. With sufficient awareness, the existing state of affairs can always be the basis for a better one: a wiser man, say, or a more compassionate government. According to Buddhism, one can learn self-transcendence. In particular, the Buddhist teachings show how awareness can be enhanced progressively by conscious choices, so that one's actions become more effective and more realistic. Each type of consciousness is transcended, yielding a higher type which encompasses more of reality.

Biology has an evolutionary vision, and so does Buddhism, perhaps alone among the world religions. Biology concentrates on lower evolution, while the main concern of Buddhism is higher evolution. It suggests methods and viewpoints designed to open one to self-transcendence, methods consolidating the self-reflective level of consciousness, particularly by mindfulness practice and ethical awareness. It also offers approaches for establishing types of awareness that are in a sense super-human, using meditation, contact with the wise, and the purging of selfish biases from one's mind so that one can contemplate deeply the significance of one's experience of life.

All this may sound very fine, but the possibilities described in Buddhist texts need to be manifested in real people's lives if they are worth anything in practice. Indeed the Buddha asked his followers not to take what he said on trust, but to test it against their personal experience, as a goldsmith tests the purity of a piece of gold. With a book such as this, a reader can do little more than assess the cogency of its arguments and the reasonableness of its evidences. It is too easy to imbibe vast quantities of second-hand experience from the written word, rather than choose a suggested course of action that appears reasonable, and test it thoroughly for oneself.


2. Ken Wilber: Online

* http://wilber.shambhala.com/index.cfm

Ken Wilber is the author of over a dozen books, Including Sex, Ecology, Spirituality; The Spectrum of Consciousness; Up from Eden; and Grace and Grit. The Spectrum of Consciousness, written when he was twenty three years old established him as perhaps the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times. Credited with developing a unified field theory of consciousness--a synthesis and interpretation of the world's great psychological, philosophical, and spiritual traditions--Ken Wilber is the most cogent and penetrating voice in the recent emergence of a uniquely American wisdom.


3. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution ...by Ken Wilber

* http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1570627444/wwwkusalaorg-20/

Ingram: One of the great thinkers of our time brings together sex and gender issues, ecological wisdom, and spirituality into a coherent vision for our times. In a tour de force of scholarship and vision, Ken Wilbur traces the course of evolution from matter to life to mind, answering the critical question: Can spiritual concerns be integrated with the modern world?


4. "Wholes and Parts" ...Rev. Sam Trumbore

(Rev. Sam Trumbore- I am one of those unusual Unitarian Universalists who have grown up with the faith and remained. My card carrying Humanist parents raised me in a small Unitarian fellowship in Newark, Delaware.)

* http://www.uumin.org/sam/


This reading comes from the first page of the introduction to Ken Wilber's book, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution.

It is FLAT-OUT strange that something--that anything--is happening at all. There was nothing, then a Big Bang, then here we all are. This is extremely weird.

To Schelling's burning question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?," there have always been two general answers. The first might be called the philosophy of "oops." The universe just occurs, there is nothing behind it, it's all ultimately accidental or random, it just is, it just happens--oops! The philosophy of oops, no matter how sophisticated and adult it may on occasion appear--its modern names and numbers are legion, from positivism, to scientific materialism, to linguistic analysis to historical materialism, from naturalism to empiricism--always comes down to the same basic answer, "Don't ask."

The question itself (Why is anything at all happening? Why am I here?)--the question itself is said to be confused, pathological, nonsensical, or infantile. To stop asking such a silly or confused question is, they all maintain, the mark of maturity, the sign of growing up in this cosmos.

I don't think so. I think the "answer" these "modern and mature" disciplines give--namely oops! (and therefore "Don't ask!")--is about as infantile a response as the human condition could possibly offer.

The other broad answer that has been tendered is that something else is going on: behind the happenstance drama is a deeper or higher or wider pattern, or order, or intelligence. There are, of course, many varieties of this "Deeper Order": the Tao, God, Geist, Maat, Archetypal Forms, Reason, Li, Mahamaya, Brahman, Rigpa. And although these different varieties of Deeper Order certainly disagree with each other at many points, they all agree on this: the universe is not what it appears. Something else is going on, something quite other than oops….

This book is about all of that "something other than oops."



I think many of us would like to believe, perhaps already do believe, that there is a Deeper Order to the universe than mindless random processes. The reading from Ken Wilber's book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution is the first part of a trilogy which synthesizes from many different scientific, religious, and philosophic disciplines a thread of Deep Order. Wilber is a voracious reader. Roger Walsh, reviewing this massive 800 page book, reports that this first part of the trilogy results from the integration of some 300 books on feminism, 300 on ecology, and more than another 400 on various topics such as anthropology, evolution and philosophy. Since his first book in 1977, Spectrum of Consciousness, a synthesis of Western and Eastern psychologies, Wilber has been reading widely, seeking the patterns which connect disparate fields and ideas together, seeking the Deeper Order, seeking "something other than oops."

The pattern that Wilber presents in this book, is the idea of holons. Everything you see and everything you can't see - all that exists in time and space - are holons. You and I are holons, the chairs you're sitting on, your dog or cat, the Walter Vi-burn-um tree we just won from the Pine Cone tree raffle, the rocks in our sanctified bird bath, the dust mites crawling on your clothing, the oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules we are breathing in and out, everything is a holon.

A holon has two fundamental properties which define it. It has a "part" nature and a "whole" nature. Thus the title for this service, "wholes and parts." Because each holon has some kind of boundary which defines it in the first place, this is where it gets its "whole" nature. A cell has a membrane which surrounds it. We have our skin which encloses our bag of bones, connective tissue, muscles, organs and sea water. Molecules are discrete entities which have their own boundaries.

A holon may have a boundary that defines its limits but it does not exist alone. Holons of the same type tend to interact with each other; thus they also have a part nature as well. The cell of a tree leaf may have its own identity but it is part of something much larger than itself. Human beings are very social and create numerous social organizations, be they tribes or political parties or Fellowships such as this one. No child can survive birth without a social network (usually his or her mother) to support it. Molecules can be highly interactive with each other. The relationship between a holon's whole nature and its part nature is of course not the same for each holon. An ameba does not have the same part nature as a skin cell. A president has more part nature than a hermit. A polymer is not the same as a water molecule.

There is a tension between a holon's part nature and its whole nature, between the individual and the social. This is most obvious with human holons as we try to build up a society that protects individual freedom while also integrating people together to support the well-being of all. If a holon wants to be mostly a whole and not a part, this can lead to a pathology of alienation and repression. If a holon wants to be mostly a part and not a whole this can lead to a pathology of fusion and indissociation. This is most easily seen in the stereotypical eternal struggle between the sexes with men wanting more autonomy and women seeking more connection. If we lean too far toward autonomy, the weak, the young and the vulnerable suffer greatly. If we lean too far toward the social, freedom and creativity are restricted for the good of the whole.

What is interesting about holons is that this part vs. whole struggle has no resolution at one particular holonic level. The only resolution found is the creation of a greater holonic level which encompasses that level and adds something more. This is the process of evolution.

The human being is the masterpiece of evolution. Our bodies are made up of an enormous number of parts which cannot survive on their own but do quite nicely as part of a larger whole. If my heart, brain or liver are removed, all of us will die. The heart cannot survive on its own, but as a part of a larger whole it thrives quite nicely. While in the body, all the organs communicate with each other constantly, using chemical messengers in the blood stream. The organs in the body are both wholes and also communicating parts which function together to create a larger whole. Cells are also wonderful examples of collections of individual parts, molecules, which function together to create something larger which has its own identity superseding the parts. Even the complex molecules, such as a strand of DNA, are made up of smaller cooperating molecular amino acid base pairs.

The most interesting properties of holons is their ability to organize socially in patterns which support the creation of something greater than the individual parts. We are made up of billions of cells but we are much, much more than the individual parts. Thus reality is hierarchical, built up of levels of holons which support greater holons being created through differentiation and cooperation. The greater or higher level holon may be superior in its powers to the holons which support its existence but no holon can continue to exist without the support of all the layers of holons underneath. Something as small as a virus or as large as clogged arteries can bring the human holon crashing down to dissolution.

Not only do holons have a hierarchical nature, but also an interior as well as an exterior nature. Even the simplest cells have the ability to sense their surroundings and modify their behavior based on some kind of inner analysis of the situation. Probably one of the more sophisticated holons in the cellular world are found in the immune system; they are able to detect and neutralize intruders while not harming friendly cells. The need for a holon to have an interior quality is well illustrated by Wilber in this example:

A deer sees me approach. It sees my exterior form, my shape, and registers all the appropriate physical stimuli coming from my form to the deer. But what do they mean? Am I the friendly fellow with the food, or the hunter with the rifle? The deer must interpret the stimuli in the context of its own worldspace and how I might affect it. And this is not just a matter of seeing: the deer sees just fine. But it might be mistaken in its interpretation; I might actually have the rifle and not the food. All the physical stimuli are hitting the deer fully (that's not the problem); the problem is, what do they actually mean? The surfaces are given, but what is lurking in the depths? What are the intentions lying behind the surfaces?

Reading Wilber's distinction of interiority and exteriority, I thought the best way to understand it might be thinking of neurons or brain cells as holonic communities which could, as parts, network together to create greater holons which in turn could network as groups and create even greater holons. You can slice open someone's brain and not see them, rather they can only be understood in the exchange of energy. You can open up a computer and see the individual computer chips but not understand the patterns of ones and zeros which create the beautiful picture on the screen.

Putting the hierarchy of holons built up out of each other together with the individual and social nature of holons and their interior and exterior qualities, you get the cover of your order of service which is Wilber's paradigm of everything. If you want to understand the individual levels and how they relate to each other, please come to our adult education class at 9:00am for the month of March as we unpack this and many more of Wilber's interesting ideas.

This morning I will only be explaining the quadrants which he describes as follows. The upper half is the individual and the lower half is the social. The left side is the interior and the right side is the exterior. The four quadrants of the diagram describe basically four qualities or dimensions of all holons. The individual dimension of the holon has a visible network of structures of holonic levels which supports the development of the capacity for awareness and an interior or a psychological dimension which gives the holon consciousness. The social dimension of the holon breaks down into an interior dimension which supports the development of patterns of relation between holons, or culture, and the external observable patterns which build up greater and greater holonic networks. Some simplifications of this chart are as follows: The right side, the external, tangible side, can be thought of using such questions as: what is it?, what does it do?, how does it work? The left side, the internal, intangible side, can be thought of using the question, what does it mean. The right side can be described using the word "it". The upper left side with the word "I", and the lower left side with the word "we".

There is a whole lot more to be said about these quadrants, how they are ignored by one theory or group and celebrated by another, which we do not have the time for this morning. Wilber uses this theory of reality as a way of tackling thorny problems and contentious factions in the intellectual community today as well as in history. His primary complaint is against the thinkers of today who want only to look at one of the holonic levels and ignore the rest or collapse all the levels into one not recognizing the hierarchical development at work in time. He calls them flatland thinkers. We might call them reductionists, fundamentalists, and fractured holistic thinkers. Rush Limbaugh might call them environmental wackos. To learn more about this critique, again, come to the 9:00am class this month.

The real question though, is: What do holons have to do with the question of oops or something else?

Unlike the law of thermodynamics which requires everything to wind down seeking lower and lower energy states of less and less order, the arrow of holons is pointed to greater and greater complexity and order of higher power and scope. Wilber argues forcefully that in the development of science during the enlightenment, we lost the left half of the picture, the interior, as scientists focused upward at the stars using telescopes and downward into the microscope and relegated the interior to the realm of religion. It is only within the last hundred years that psychology has recovered the interior, the "I" and anthropologists are exploring the cultural, the "we". Wilber believes that in focusing on the external, the measurable, the quantifiable, we have lost this interiority or the life of the Spirit.

These hierarchical levels of holons, Wilber claims, are similar to the Greek idea of the Great Chain of Being which springs from an energetic, overflowing Spirit which constitutes every level of existence. We need not seek this Spirit enshrined in some church, protected in some temple, or hidden in some esoteric writings. We are this Spirit; everything we do and are is a manifestation of that Spirit from which we cannot be separated, for there is nothing else but Spirit. Only as a holon evolves into greater and higher forms does it begin to become aware of its nature.

At each holonic level, the holon seeks greater wholeness and connection which eventually creates the next level of holons. Intrinsic to this process is the desire for integrity and union. Wilber tells us that the struggle of how to solve the holonic conundrum goes on forever in increasingly higher and higher levels. What seems to break through the conundrum is actual holons existing fully in all four quadrants; in the "I", in the "we", in the "it", or to use an analogy to Plato, in the beautiful (I), the good (we), and the true (it). Actual holons will eventually evolve to a point of self- awareness which will allow them to realize their real nature and origin as Spirit, as free of space and time, and undivided from the timeless, the eternal. This is evolution's goal which it strives for relentlessly and unknowingly, to know itself and find peace.

Wilber gives us a message of hope that more is going on right now than our feeble attempt to take over God's job and begin running the new world order. For all the messages and predictions of doom and gloom we wrestle with in today's world, Wilber sees signs, many signs, of evolution driving us forward to the next holonic level. Even if we destroy the human race, the spirit in evolution, the very atoms in the rocks, will not rest nor give up - it will strive on trying again and again to know itself.

Wilber's positive, hopeful words and powerful ideas which bind together many different areas of thought come none to soon as we suffer the onslaught of the millennialists predicting the end of the world and the fundamentalist wanting to reverse the arrow of time back into history. He persuades us that, yes, there is something else going on and it includes us, goes beyond us, and is part of us. It is our very self. Ultimately we can relax into what is, trusting the goodness of existence and our rightful place in it.

And surprise, surprise, as we relax into what is, accepting ourselves, each other and the world, we find the transforming love, the spirit, the indwelling divinity, the spirit of which we are made and we become part of that transformation for the good of all.



The good news is that there is something else.

The bad news is we haven't evolved enough to fully realize it.

Fortunately, that evolution is possible and is happening right now.

May we open our minds to greater experience, wisdom and connection.

May we look inward, seeking the spirit of which we are made.

May we all realize the beauty, the goodness, and the truth which is our very nature.

Go in peace, make peace, be at peace.


5. The California Institute of Integral Studies

* http://www.ciis.edu/

Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri, philosopher, educator and humanist, was born in May 1913 in Calcutta, India. At the invitation of Dr. Frederic Spiegelberg of Stanford University, Dr. Chaudhuri came to the United States in 1951. During his visit to India, Dr. Spiegelberg had requested Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) -- poet, philosopher, political activist, and sage of India -- to recommend a philosopher who would travel to the United States to bridge the gap between West and East. Sri Aurobindo recommended Dr. Chaudhuri. Prior to coming to the United States, Dr. Chaudhuri was a member of the educational service of the Government of West Bengal, and the chair of the department of philosophy at Krishnagar College, Bengal. Dr. Chaudhuri founded the Cultural Integration Fellowship (CIF) in March 1951.

In 1968 he founded The California Institute of Integral Studies, then known as the California Institute of Asian Studies. From 1968 through 1974, the Institute functioned as the educational arm of the Cultural Integration Fellowship. Since Dr. Chaudhuri's passing in 1975, Bina Chaudhuri, his wife, has continued to be an inspiration to CIIS; she continues to serve as president of CIF.

In 1981, the name of the school was changed to the California Institute of Integral Studies to indicate the Institute's commitment to a unifying vision of humanity, nature, world, and spirit. This use of the term "integral" stems from the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo and from the integral philosophy, psychology, and yoga of Dr. Chaudhuri, who extended Aurobindo's work.

The Institute's original emphasis on Asian religions and cultures has evolved to include comparative and cross-cultural studies in philosophy, religion, psychology, counseling, cultural anthropology, organizational studies, health studies, and the arts. Although the Institute continues to grow, it remains committed to small classes, a personal learning environment, and a strong sense of community shared by students, faculty, alumni, and staff alike.

Our Mission and Educational Philosophy

The California Institute of Integral Studies is an accredited institution of higher learning and research that strives to embody spirit, intellect, and wisdom in service to individuals, communities, and the Earth.

The Institute's Seven Ideals:

1. Practices an integral approach to learning and research

The Institute facilitates the integration of body-mind-spirit. It values the emotional, spiritual, intellectual, creative, somatic, and social dimensions of human potentiality. Students are encouraged to take an interdisciplinary approach to learning by complementing their specialized program of study with courses in other departments.

2. Affirms spirituality

The Institute is committed to the study and practice of multiple spiritual traditions and to their expression and embodiment throughout all areas and activities of the Institute community.

3. Commits to cultural diversity

Promoting a dialogue of difference, the curriculum reflects a commitment to the diversity of the world's cultures and spiritual traditions while seeking their holistic integration.

4. Fosters multiple ways of learning and teaching

The Institute honors many learning modalities and ways of knowing–intuition, body-knowledge, creative expression, intellect, and spiritual insight.

5. Advocates feminism and sustainability

The Institute embraces intellectual, cultural, and spiritual traditions which further the effectiveness of emancipatory movements such as feminism, social and political liberation, cultural self-expression, and ecological activism.

6. Supports community

Community at the Institute is understood to be founded upon an underlying core of values which affirm shared understandings and differences, scholarly efforts, and humane concerns. Such community is a vital part of the Institute's effort to provide an effective, visionary, and nurturing environment for study and training.

7. Strives for an integral and innovative governance

The Institute recognizes the importance of a mode of governance which would eliminate, or at least reduce, the polarities and fragmentation which typically plague institutions. As with other ideals, integral governance is difficult both to formulate and to practice. This ideal stands among the seven as a constant challenge and encouragement to try new forms, procedures, criteria, and language as aids to a more shared and collaborative decision making process.



The Urban Dharma Newsletter Archives:



The Los Angeles Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue Forum:



To Subscribe or Unsubscribe:



http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America