Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews or conversations with spiritually Awakening people. I’ve done hundreds of them now. And if this is new to you, and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com Bat gap and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it if you feel like you’ve benefited from it, and would like to support it in any amount, there are PayPal buttons on every page of the site. And there’s also a donations page which explains other ways to support it. My guest today is Steve McIntosh. Steve is a leader in the integral philosophy movement, and author of three books on spiritual evolution, two of which I’ve just been reading The Presence of the Infinite, Evolution’s Purpose, and Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution. In addition to his work in spiritual philosophy, he also serves as president of the Institute for Cultural Evolution, culturalevolution.org, an integral political Think Tank focusing on the development of values. Before becoming a writer and activist Steve had a variety of other successful careers, including founding the consumer products company Now & Zen, and practicing law with one of America’s largest firms. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two sons. And his website is Stevemcintosh.com, which I’ll be linking to from his page on BatGap. So Stephen, I take it you’re no longer practicing law, right?
Steve McIntosh: Oh, no, no, I haven’t done that since the 80s.
Rick Archer: Okay, because? Because integral philosophy is so lucrative. That must be why.
Steve McIntosh: No, just because my focus is on trying to make a difference in the world rather than making money.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I hear you. So, as I was reading Steve’s stuff, and listening to a couple of his talks, I thought, wow, this guy probably aligns more closely with my way of thinking about things and experiencing things than just about anybody I’ve interviewed. And so I got pretty excited about this interview. And I asked Steve to send me a list of main points that he wants to be sure to cover with me. So that we can really do this comprehensively.
Steve McIntosh: And we’re not gonna be able to cover all of those.
Rick Archer: Oh, we’ll see. Maybe, maybe not probably, yeah. But we’re, you know, gives us something to go on. And as always, or as usual, this interview is being live streamed live on YouTube. So if as you’re watching it, you have a question that you’d like to ask, go to the upcoming interviews page on Batgap, dot com and scroll to the bottom, and there you’ll see a forum through which you can submit your question. So as a place to start, Steve thought it might be good to do the following. I’m going to just read the point he made, and then we’ll start talking about it. The evolution of we want to talk about the evolution of consciousness and culture, and its relevance to the contemporary condition of progressive spirituality. I just want to interject here, before I finish reading that point that I just got into a little online debate, I posted something on Facebook about how it was the 50th anniversary of my learning to meditate and how I feel like I’ve progressed so much in the past 50 years. And this Neo Advaita guy got on there who’s a little bit notorious, and, you know, challenged me on the whole notion of progress. I mean, you know, these types of people tend to say things like the universe is illusion, there is no such thing as progress. You’re already enlightened, and yada, yada. And so I’ve been going back and forth. This guy, Ben and others have been chiming in. So then along comes Steve, and we’re going to talk today about progressive spirituality. I thought it was kind of timely. Anyway, let me finish reading this point. We want to talk about seeing the relationship between progressive spirituality in America and the emergence of the postmodern worldview. And this worldview can only be seen accurately by acknowledging its evolutionary relationship with the worldviews of modernity and traditionalism. So those are a lot of big words. And I’m not sure everybody understands what Steve means by all those words. So let’s get rolling. Stephen, in the context of your response, maybe define some of these key terms like what is modernism postmodernism traditionalism, all that stuff?
Steve McIntosh: Sure. Thanks. Well, that’s a good way to start. But let me just start upstream just a little bit from that. And say that what I’m writing about, especially in the spiritual realm, my work is focused on both spirituality and politics. And there’s some overlap. But there’s also clearly some differences there. On the spiritual side of my work, which is obviously what we’re going to be focusing on today, I’m a representative of what’s coming to be known as evolutionary spirituality, right. Evolutionary spirituality is a loose family of views. But I think what all these approaches to spirit have in common is that they recognize that what we’ve come to know about the evolution of the universe over just the last few decades, is a spiritual truth in its own right. In other words, the revelation of evolution from science is a mother lode of truth that goes beyond scientific theory, or physics or biology, it impacts spirituality in significant ways, because just the universe’s process of becoming can teach us a lot about our purpose in the universe, the nature of spirit, how we can experience spirit, etc. So a subset of this larger evolutionary view of the universe, at least the becoming of the finite universe, in the context of the infinite being of the universe, right, being and becoming are one way to frame the two big things that we can see in the universe, “things” is not the right term. But you know what I mean, within that, we can see that that evolution is occurring in the cosmos, that matter is evolving. It’s occurring in the biosphere, life is evolving. And this structure of evolutionary emergence, whereby something more keeps coming from something less continues in the domain of what Teilhard de Chardin called the noosphere, right or the realm of human history, right, evolution is continuing. It’s not the same thing as biological evolution or cosmological evolution. But it’s a continuation of the universe’s becoming, which builds on and uses the accomplishments of previous levels of development. So we’re recognizing these steps of development in evolution that have bought us to our current point in the history of the universe. And among those steps, some of the most significant for understanding culture and understanding where we are in the world and how we can most effectively work to make the world a better place, is recognizing that this domain of the noosphere, includes the evolution of consciousness and culture, that is human consciousness evolves, and evolves along many lines, it can’t be reduced to some linear trajectory. But one of the most significant ways that human consciousness evolves is by participating in the evolution of cultural structures which emerge. So culture also evolves along many lines, but among the most significant units of culture are these worldviews, values-based worldviews that are agreement structures, you know, that cohere across generations, that have a self-organizing tendency to them, these worldviews. So to be specific.
Steve McIntosh: Prior to the enlightenment, about 350 years ago, the majority of the world’s population was divided among the great religious civilizations. I mean, there were people living in indigenous settings that weren’t part of those, but certainly Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, the great world traditions have, even though they all have different teachings, they all have very similar things in common, right, they’re all emphasizing some kind of spiritual teaching, they bring about law and order, they have kind of a feudal political system. So we can classify these different religious, great religious civilizations as under the general heading of the traditional worldview. Then 350 years ago, of course, modernism, or modernity, or this sort of scientific rational worldview emerges. And although we can point to many things that are markers of this emergence, the most comprehensive way to understand it as a worldview, a system of values, a personal identity, that includes both cultural agreement structures, as well as individual consciousness. So there’s traditional consciousness, which is guided by the values of a traditional worldview, there’s modernist consciousness, which is informed by and, given perspective by this modernist worldview. And then beginning about 50 years ago or so, beyond modernity, another worldview, a worldview, that tried to transcend the limitations of modernity, you know, its materialistic outlook, its emphasis on status and accomplishment. It’s hyper rationalism, and it’s questioning of spirituality all together, this more sensitive worldview, this worldview that sought to create a more loving and kind and rediscover spirituality in a nontraditional way, right? In other words, modernity, many modernists carried forward their traditional religious beliefs, they continue to believe in God in many ways. There’s kind of a truce in America in the 20th century between the traditional worldview mostly Judeo Christian, and the modernist worldview. But beginning in the 60s, of course, there’s this emergence of a new, historically significant worldview, which goes by many names, progressive countercultural, green, but the term of art that we use to define this overall worldview that’s got many different ideologies, it’s hard to pin down, but it does cohere as a worldview, like modernity, like traditionalism, and that’s what we call postmodernism. Right. So the term postmodernism itself is a battleground of meaning, right? Many people think of it as just critical academia, you know, they think of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and that’s certainly a subset of this larger, critical worldview. But postmodernism also embraces the environmental movement, the social justice movement, multiculturalism, and most importantly, for our purposes, what I call progressive spirituality. Right. So progressive spirituality is also hard to pin down. But again, beginning in the 60s, as many sensitive thinkers began to try to rediscover spirituality at a level that didn’t involve going back to traditional religion. They found many different forms of esoteric and not so esoteric spirituality, they found it, of course, in the Eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism, as those were transplanted to the West. They found it in indigenous religions, like you know, paganism, or shamanism, right, they found it in esoteric versions of Christianity like Gnosticism. And they found it in psychedelic experience, they found it in mixes and blends. But even though it’s eclectic, and characterized by many different currents, some of which contradict each other, this idea of progressive spirituality is a clear cultural trend. After the youth movement of the 60s faded, a lot of that energy went into discovering progressive spirituality. So in the 70s, there was a fluorescence of progressive spirituality. And a lot of that was focused on finding the intersection between science and spirituality. Right, an iconic book from that time was The Tao of Physics, where Fritjof Capra argued that what the ancient mystics knew, the cutting edge of physics is now just starting to discover. And while I think Capra’s claims are sort of overstated, it was nevertheless intriguing to many of us in the 70s, that there could be this intersection. And that’s kind of been a focus of my own spiritual journey is discovering and contemplating and thinking about the intersection of spirituality and science, which is bridged largely through spiritual philosophy, which is where integral philosophy comes in. But just to finish my description.
Steve McIntosh: In the 80s, progressive spirituality continued to develop, but it was sort of underground culturally. Then, in the 1990s, progressive spirituality experienced its second fluorescence, whereby what we used to call the New Age, became a major cultural phenomenon. It was the publishing industry’s largest category, by far, there were 1000s of New Age bookstores that opened across the country. And it really felt at the time, like it was a kind of a spiritual renaissance. And that fluorescent period of progressive spirituality continued into the 21st century. But since 2008, you know, no one can objectively really understand progressive spirituality as a whole, but it’s lost some momentum, right? I mean, there’s still a market, there’s still conferences, they’re still publishers, you know, they’re still excellent podcasts like Buddha at the Gas Pump. And I’m still as dedicated to participating in progressive spirituality as ever. But I think it’s important to admit that we’re not in a period of fluorescence as we were, you know, 10 years ago and earlier, but that’s another subject. So the term New Age has become a term of derision. Now, right? The term New Age is reserved for the more magical thinking, or the least sophisticated elements of progressive spirituality. And we could say that, of course, there’s Buddhism, or Hinduism or these other things are freestanding. But as I would argue, what ties together all the different flavors of progressive spirituality are the mores and the agreement structures that all of these forms of spirituality exist within. This reality frame, this worldview of postmodernism, which includes welcoming pluralism, and there are all kinds of other cultural projects and obligations that postmodernism is focused on because of its place in history, because it’s trying to transcend modernity, because it’s trying to rescue the world from modernity and its depredations in some ways. Progressive spirituality is colored by this larger postmodern worldview that it’s embedded in. So evolutionary spirituality is an attempt to go beyond the limitations of this postmodern worldview, to a worldview that transcends and includes postmodernism, modernism, traditionalism, pre-traditionalism, tribalism—all the worldviews in the structure of emergence in human consciousness and culture. We’re trying to extend that structure of emergence with a new worldview. And the spirituality that goes with it, I would argue, is evolutionary spirituality. So that’s kind of a quick overview of what I mean, when I talk about modernity and postmodernity and traditionalism.
Rick Archer: Great. I don’t know if this what I’m about to say and read from your book is a perfect rejoinder to what you just said. But I think part of it is and it will lead us forward. So I who would it be, the modernists that are that tend to comprise most of the scientific community in having a materialistic viewpoint that the universe is sort of a random thing, and we are biological robots? And when life ends, that’s, you know, lights out and all that stuff?
Steve McIntosh: Well, I would say that while certainly science primarily emerged with modernity, there are plenty of postmodern scientists. And then there’s the philosophy of scientism, right, which is not science. It’s an interpretation of science that has a metaphysical commitment to materialism, or physicalism. Yeah, and it’s highly reductive. And so scientism is perhaps the best term for what I think you’re getting at.
Rick Archer: Yeah, okay, good. And I’ve always, not always, but I’m kind of fascinated with listening to people like like Sam Harris, and all who, you know, actually have one foot in spirituality, but on the other foot in sort of atheism, and you know, who would reject some main points that you outline as necessities from the viewpoint of evolutionary spirituality, such as the necessity of a spirit, of a spiritually real evolving soul, the necessity of human free will, the necessity of a spiritually real evolving finite universe. And while he would probably agree with that one, or at least that the universe is real.
Steve McIntosh: The finite universe is real. Yeah.
Rick Archer: And this necessity of recognizing that ultimate reality possesses the personal powers of intention and love, I think he would reject three of those as with many of his ilk, you know, the New Atheists and so on. And just to throw in the Neo Advaita folks, the strict nondualists. You know, one thing I think they would need to explain, and also the atheist is, you know, what cause if the universe, was it a lottery? Or if it’s merely material? How the heck did it come about? What, who, or what caused it to emerge? And why does you know, close examination reveal such in fact, unfathomable intricacy? I mean, what intelligence would it take to design and operate a single cell? And each of us has trillions of them. And, you know, and the whole universe as we go out from our individuality is just a unbroken mass of laws of nature functioning in coherent, predictable, intelligent ways, to regard all of that as mere illusion and not try to understand how it works, or to dismiss it as kind of this random, mechanical, accidental thing. Just seems absurd to me.
Steve McIntosh: Sure, but those conclusions, although I agree, they’re absurd. Let’s bracket Advaita Vedanta for a moment because that’s a separate an important subject, but scientism or atheistic materialism is reacting, it’s in this larger cultural structure of evolution, which I outlined, and its very much reacting to traditionalism, to traditional religion, right? So they’re there. They’re sort of whipsawed into having to deny so many things to try to get away or escape from what they see as the mythical illusions of this traditional worldview. So they’re kind of looking back in history and in reaction to that. And while they may recognize progressive spirituality, they would just characterize that as another version of religious thinking that’s, you know, premodern. So, they’re being kind of whipsawed by the currents of history. They’re trying to discover truth. Part of the way we can at least give them the benefit of doubt or be sympathetic to somebody like Sam Harris, is that that’s the way this structure of emergence unfolds. The way something more keeps coming from something less, at least here in the realm of consciousness and culture. This is what we’re pushing off against, what is wrong, right? Our point of departure to make things better depends on what’s wrong with current conditions. And so that it’s like a sailboat tacking against the wind, right? In other words, you can’t sail directly into the wind, you have to advance obliquely. And so that’s a way of describing a dialectical progression, right? Another way of thinking about it is as a river meandering in a floodplain, it has to kind of go back and forth. So we see this with traditionalism as a dominant worldview for 2000 or more years in human history. Modernity emerges by pushing off against, it’s trying to tack away from the religious view. And so they naturally throw out the baby with the bathwater, if you’ll pardon the cliche, in their attempt to get rid of all myth, they create their own myths, such as that the world is merely material, or that everything could be reduced to matter in motion. That’s kind of a modernist version of a fundamentalist myth. And, you know, we can be sympathetic about it, it’s not all wrong. It’s an attempt to move away from a previous level of development, which itself requires further development to correct the shortcomings and pathologies that occur at that level.
Rick Archer: Also, when they espouse atheism, and we’re also talking about guys, like, you know, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, and what’s another guy, I forget his name. They do so by, you know, attacking a very simplistic straw man notion of what God is. I mean, you and I would probably say that we don’t believe in the same God they don’t believe in.
Steve McIntosh: I agree. Yeah, sure. And yeah, I mean, atheism is a, you know, it’s a force in culture, it’s certainly a big market. But, it’s something that I think those who had authentic experiences of the spirit are not fooled by, you know, that we’ve transcended that way of thinking. And that there’s no argument even though they guys like Harris claim to be rational, right, and logical and subject to logical thinking, because their identity is bound up with that materialistic point of view, this denial of freewill, this denial of spirit, that there’s no argument, there’s no rational explanation, or no piece of evidence that could convince them because they’ll always find some way to justify it or argue around it, because they’re defending their identity. And that’s something that’s not subject to being dislodged by an argument.
Rick Archer: It’s true. I mean, for a long time, I’ve wanted to get Sam Harris on the show. And I’m a little scared of the idea because he’s so darn smart. And you know, also what you just said, I think he and others, like him are so invested in what they’ve been hammering away at, for a number of years now that to even give an inch on it would expose him to, you know, critical feedback from his avid followers. And it would be very difficult and brave of him to do that.
Steve McIntosh: Yeah, the free will thing is what I have to laugh at, I just get a chuckle. And here he is, he’s very intentional, very driven, very determined, he says there’s no such thing as free will. I mean, he’s demonstrating free will with every word that comes out of his mouth, and yet he’s denying it. Of course, he has to deny it, because free will is a spiritual superpower, that if you admit it, it undoes materialism. But you know, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Rick Archer: Yeah, actually, I’ve been thinking about the whole free will versus determinism thing while listening to your stuff. And it’s one of those both/and things where I mean, even the Gita talks, they have verses like you have control over action alone, never over it’s fruits. So that sounds like free will. And then there are other verses which say, you do not act at all. It’s the Gunas of nature that are doing all the activity, you know, you’re just the witness, and it’s not you doing it. So that seems contradictory. But I think it really depends upon the level at which we’re considering the situation and the level of consciousness or experience of the person we’re talking about. And you have to be true to your own level of experience, if you perceive yourself as having free will, but sort of go around saying that, you know, the devil made me do it or something, you can get yourself in trouble.
Steve McIntosh: Sure, sure. And of course, you know that the interaction of free will, time, determinism, and providence, this is a subtle and complex philosophical subject, which we can try to unpack but it’s gets woolly fast.
Rick Archer: One interesting thing I found in your book was the historical debates between people like Shankara and Ramanuja, and Ramana and Aurobindo, and the latter of both of those two pairs espoused evolutionary spirituality, apparently. Proto version of it. Yeah, a proto version of it. I found that interesting. And again, even on this one, I would say, they’re both right. It’s just a matter of how where you want to take your stance in, in considering the whole thing. Yes. I mean, and you also go into some nice stuff about what is nonduality versus theism. And which sort of gets into the whole debate about devotion versus, you know, just merging with God and, you know, merging with the one that’s in there not being anything to be devoted to. But if we sort of take all these heroes of nonduality as examples, you know, Ramana and Papaji, and Nisargadatta, they’re all very devotional people who, who clearly had objects of devotion or ideals to which they were devoted in a bhakti sort of way. And in fact, Shankara himself said that the intellect imagines duality for the sake of devotion. In other words, there’s something so sweet about devotion that we, even if we acknowledge that, ultimately, there is no duality, we set it up. We set up duality in our experience so as to have an ideal relationship with something.
Steve McIntosh: Sure, well, that’s one way to get there. If that works for them. I’ll take it. But I wouldn’t describe it that way. I wouldn’t dismiss the object of devotion or, you know, the source of the universe, as merely a convenient contrivance.
Rick Archer: No. I know, it’s not just a human construct, which gets us back to the whole idea of how did this marvelous universe emerge in the first place and continue to evolve. It’s obviously not just some concept of ours. It’s something that is deeply mysterious and profound. And, you know, I’m sure unfathomably intelligent.
Steve McIntosh: That’s one of the beautiful things about the evolutionary spirituality, or what I frame as the spiritual teachings of evolution, right? What we now know about the universe that the ancients didn’t know, even Aurobindo didn’t know, because, I mean, he knew about biological evolution, but cosmological evolution and the fact that the universe is only three times older than the Earth itself. These are new facts that only came about in the 60s. And it’s been a few decades, that it has taken us to digest the staggering truth that we’ve now discovered about the origin of the universe and our place within it. This mother lode of truth, as I mentioned, is a supplement to all spiritual teachings, right? So this is a good time to bring up this idea of the circle, the virtuous circle, or the hermeneutic circle of spiritual experience, spiritual teaching, and spiritual practice. So when I say it’s a hermeneutic circle, I mean that these three things kind of work together and develop each other, right?
So spiritual practice leads to spiritual experience, spiritual experience expands our grasp on spiritual truth, or the sophistication of the spiritual teachings we can appreciate. And our spiritual teachings guide our practice, right. So if we are able to increase the quality or the quantity of any one of these three elements: practice, experience or teachings, then we’re going to grow spiritually. And so spiritual teachings are often discounted, especially in Eastern traditions, because they’re focusing on trans-conceptual spiritual experience, or trans-conceptual truth, right? And that’s commendable and understandable. And certainly, you know, in the depths of the greatest spiritual experience, you look at the activity of the mind, it seems almost comical, right? But nevertheless, I would argue that our ability to grow spiritually is directly tied to our ability to make the world a better place. Our ability to serve, you know, and that doesn’t necessarily mean making an historical impact. It could just be being a loving parent, right? There are many ways that we can serve and perfect the universe, if you will, in an incremental, small way as agents of evolution. But there’s no getting away from spiritual truth teachings, right? Even the forms of spirituality which de-emphasize teachings still employ and rely upon concepts of ultimate reality, teachings about the nature of the spiritual path and our purpose in the universe. There’s no getting away from it. Just like there’s no getting away from metaphysics, right? Sam Harris claims to have discarded metaphysics. But he’s just substituted one kind of metaphysics for another.
So spiritual teaching, right? What this spiritual teaching of evolution does is: it expands what we know about the reality of spiritual truth in a way that supplements and complements all previous forms of spiritual teaching. It doesn’t side with one kind or validate one kind, although it corrects and challenges many spiritual dogmas by the evident truth teachings of the universe in action—the universe sort of is what it does. The fact that it’s in this process of becoming, the fact that something more keeps coming from something less, building on what came before, the fact that value—authentic values emerging in the universe—the good, the true and the beautiful, despite all the setbacks and the horrors of the world and the evil. And not withstanding everything we can see about the world that is partial or incomplete or bad. We are in this world where the beautiful, the true and the good surround us. And indeed, we’re drawn by it like a kind of gravity. So the spiritual teachings of evolution, although they’re conceptual, although they rely on philosophy, they do impact spiritual experience and spiritual practice in this hermeneutic circle, as I explain, right?
So the spiritual teaching of evolution, I would say, challenges certain dogmas, like the universe is an illusion, it challenges certain dogmas like that, such as the self is a complete illusion. A key insight of the spiritual teachings of evolution is the way the structure of the entire universe impacts every step of our spiritual growth. So what I mean by this is that we know that the universe began, the universe of time and space and matter and energy began 13 point 8 billion years ago, right, three times older than the Earth itself, and that this isn’t just a supernova or something. It’s the beginning of time itself, right? I mean, Stephen Hawking, right, the notorious atheist himself, has shown how, his equations show time itself begins. So this is a staggering fact unto itself. But from the perspective of evolutionary spirituality, this finite becoming, is really contained within a kind of infinite universe.
Now, time metaphors break down. So we’ve been talking about what came before the Big Bang, it’s sort of paradoxical and doesn’t make sense because there is no time before the Big Bang. But nevertheless, in the book, The Presence of the Infinite, my 2015 book, I make an extensive argument that the structure of the universe can be understood as infinite being and finite becoming, right? That within the infinite realm, there’s this space, again, these are all metaphors, there’s a space wherein perfection, or infinity, or eternity has been removed. It’s like a vacuum. And in that vacuum, that finite universe, because of the absence of perfection, we as finite creatures, as free will creatures, are gifted with the opportunity of gradually seeking, by our own lights, to evolve the universe as agents of evolution, back toward a state of greater perfection. So it’s not just a return to the beginning, you know, the universe was already perfect, eternal, infinite, before the beginning of time. But in the course of our evolution in time, as we come to rediscover perfection through this journey in time.
Steve McIntosh: We get a sense of adding to that which was existentially perfect, the experience of becoming perfect. Experiential perfection, if you will, by free will creatures. This supplements the existential perfection of the universe prior to the beginning of the finite, right? So that’s all intellectual, philosophical, and theological, of course. But the way it relates to our individual lives, is that this structure of infinite and finite, or whole and part, is a kind of a giant master circuit, if you will. The finite is being drawn by the infinite but it takes creatures like us to pursue the beautiful, the true, and the good, or the rays of infinity that shine into the finite; we’re pursuing those. And we’re doing it in a way that’s conditioned by the physics of spirit, if you will pardon the oxymoron, right? You know, the physics of spirit, the nature and behavior of spirit in the finite universe. How does it manifest, right? Well, one of the ways it manifests is as value—value is a form of gravity, the beautiful, the true, and good are forms of spiritual experience. And these values, they behave just like electricity, they have a kind of a circuit behavior.
So Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, is famous for his observation that “every natural fact is a shadow of some higher spiritual fact.” Right? It’s also been characterized as “as above, so below.” And I think this is a principle of spiritual physics. And so we can see this phenomenon of physical energy, right, the electromagnetic spectrum, you know, the four forces in the universe that physics has discovered. And we can see that these behaviors are understandable for physics, as in Maxwell’s equations that link magnetism with light, for example. Well, just as we were able to discover the physics of physical energy, now one of the things that evolutionary spirituality is working to uncover is, in a sense, the “as above” behaviors of spiritual energy. There’s Qi, there’s all kinds of things that we might characterize as spiritual energy. When I talk about spiritual energy, I’m talking about goodness, truth and beauty, about the value magnetism that draws us, that pulls us, right? So it’s definitely a kind of spiritual energy and it has a behavior, and that is this circuit behavior. And the way that appears is as existential or indestructible polarities, right? And I think that we can understand the nature of these polarities, even within a nondual reality frame, right?
So we’re here in the finite, right, we’re in this partial condition. And we’re trying to move from the finite, you know, toward a greater embodiment of spirit, and an embodiment of the infinite. And so this existential condition of the universe, infinite and finite, is kind of a refracted, its fractal or self-similar, as seen in the behavior of values. So when I talk about polarities, I’m trying to compress a lot of teaching here, but let me just try, give me another two minutes. When it comes to polarities, right, the world is filled with polarities, and most of these polarities are good and bad, right? But there’s a rare kind of polarity, where you have two goods, a good and a good. Indeed, almost all kinds of value, value propositions, or things that create value, they naturally cohere in these polar sets, whereby there’s a relationship of part and whole, but it’s ideally a relationship of challenge and support. In other words, the value-creating capacity of any pole in these value polarities depends on the other. It depends on the the other’s challenge, and the other’s support.
So for example, liberty and equality, right? We have liberty, equality, fraternity, the famous slogan of the French Revolution, right? And in political philosophy, there’s this recognition that we want both liberty and equality. But these two things, they challenge each other. If we had total equality, we wouldn’t have any liberty, and if we had total liberty, that would do significant damage to any kind of equality. So we want to have both liberty and equality. Ideally, they work together to challenge each other and realize that if one poll is emphasized, to the exclusion of the other, than that poll’s value-creating capacity is significantly diminished, and it may even become pathological. Right? We can also see mercy and justice, right? Or being and becoming itself. These are examples of realities that are in this relationship of polarity. And then this polarity of part and whole, it characterizes spiritual experience, and spiritual teaching, and spiritual practice. We can see it in world history.
So you know, that comes to this idea of the nondual realization of spiritual truth and spiritual experience, and nonduality’s polar counterpart, which are in this relationship of challenge and support. The counterpart is based on the recognition of a loving creator, right? A sort of a God concept, not a straw man, not a cosmic magician, not a being among other beings, but the being who is being itself.
So, you know, using Advaita terms, if “thou art that,” if “we are it,” and we have awareness, and we can love, then how can we not attribute those qualities to the whole, I mean, that’s an argument, but maybe we could sort of argue about that. But just to say one more thing, and that is that recognizing, that in all value, in all spiritual experiences, in spiritual practice—this polarity, this complementary, indestructible, existential polarity that we see here in the finite—this is how the ultimate refracts into the finite, it gives us these two legs of our spiritual progress. In the past, people have been pulled to one pole or the other, you know, either being oblivious to the other pole, or rejecting it, or fighting against it. But now with evolutionary spirituality and our new understanding of the physics of spirit, we can begin to employ this essential developmental structure that we see in spiritual experiences, and spiritual teachings. To grow spiritually, and to develop a more sophisticated and valuable form of spiritual understanding, and spiritual orientation here, you know, as we emerge beyond our current cultural circumstances.
Rick Archer: Right, my brain is going to explode.
Steve McIntosh: I know, I know, it’s conceptual, but I want to try to get these truths out there.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I want to try to respond to several of them. And then I’m sure you’ll want to springboard back into, you know, some embellishment. One is the hermeneutical circle, you mentioned that, between practice, experience, and teaching. It’s kind of like a three legged stool to my understanding, you know, there generally needs to be some kind of practice in order for spiritual experience to dawn, although sometimes people have things spontaneously. And often when they do, they don’t know what they’re experiencing. And they can even be confused and frightened by it. So their knowledge comes in as an important counterbalancing thing to try to, you know, make sense of what they’re experiencing. So you need knowledge. And there have been instances of, you know, saints in India, who are called babbling saints, because they never really got any practical knowledge or teaching, they just had some kind of awakening. And they don’t make a lot of sense, and crazy fools, and that kind of thing. But the most respected spiritual teachers, those who sort of stood the test of time, were not only deeply experienced in their awakening or their enlightenment, but were extremely knowledgeable and wrote very sophisticated texts and commentaries and gave talks and so on. So not only is there no incompatibility between knowledge and experience in teaching, but the three of them really enrich and supplement and support one another, which is basically what you were saying. Right? You want to comment on that one before I go on?
Steve McIntosh: No, go on. That is, I agree.
Rick Archer: Okay, good. So another point was, I think you said at one point that with the emergence of the finite, the infinite was removed, or something. I think you mentioned that name, that word. But I would say that if it’s really infinite, it can’t be removed, it has to pervade the finite. If God is in the present, then he or it or she, or whatever, permeates every iota, or every particle of creation, he can’t remove himself from it. And that would include our heart, which is an interesting consideration. So our task is to discover the infinite as a finite being. And that’s why those phrases such as “that thou art” and “sarvam Kelvedon Brahma,” all this is Brahman, have arisen because they depict the experience of those who did that.
Steve McIntosh: Sure. And of course, you know, we have to use words, right? We have to talk in sequential sentences. So when I talk about infinity being removed, obviously, that statement is relative, it’s made within an understanding of panentheism, right? Where we have the infinite, or the transcendent, it is transcending the universe of time and space, but also imminent within it, permeating it. That’s why this is a paradox. We’re saying that, here we are in this evolving universe trying to bring in the beautiful, the true, and the good, and grow spiritually. But everything’s already perfect as it is. Those are contradictory paradoxes. And that’s an example of this challenge and support. They’re both true at the same time, they don’t have to vanquish each other, right? But definitely, spirit is all around us. Spirit is the substance, at the center and the circumference of everything. But still, you know, things are not perfect, right? At one level they are, of course, we can say that. But in other levels, we live in this world of trouble and suffering. And it’s our spiritual duty, and indeed, our greatest privilege to participate in incrementally reducing that trouble and suffering. And that involves both solving problems and fostering further growth. There’s a push and pull. And so, you know, we can declare it an illusion, and in some ways we can agree that it is, but in other ways, it’s not an illusion. It’s something that’s urgent and something that requires our concern and participation.
Rick Archer: I think maybe a helpful metaphor might be that the, the spectrum of the electromagnetic field that we call radio waves always existed, but no one knew it was there and knew what to do with it. And then at a certain point, Marconi or somebody came along and developed a very crude radio and transmitters, and Tesla got involved in that. Over the decades radios and televisions, and so on, have evolved. So that the same old electromagnetic field which has been here since the beginning of the universe, began to be utilized in more and more sophisticated ways. So like that, you know, pure Being, or the absolute, or infinity, or whatever you want to call, it has always been there. What the game the universe seems to be playing is to evolve forms—more and more and more sophisticated forms, which can more fully embody it and enable it to become a living reality.
Steve McIntosh: Sure, at least one of the conclusions that I draw from the spiritual teachings of evolution is the purpose of humanity, right? What do we add to this universe of existential being and perfection? What I think our role in the cosmic economy is, if you will, is to gradually make things better, to discover what’s more good, what’s better, what’s the good, the true, and the beautiful, by our own lights, by our own accomplishments by our own strivings, and by our own discovery. And by finding it out on our own, by having it be, in a sense, partially obscure, or something that we actually have to put in effort and struggle through time to discover, that this marvelous journey can be characterized as “perfecting the universe,” right? Perfecting the universe of self, perfecting the universe of culture, and perfecting our relationship to nature, to the physical universe. In other words, we’re gradually making things better.
Even though here in 2018, it may seem like things are not getting better. Indeed, we’re in a regression politically, and in other ways. But I would say that taking a larger perspective can give us a sense of faith and hope and trust that, while regression and horror and evil are always a real possibility, we’re still all gifted with this opportunity to play our part in this gradual perfection of the universe. And indeed, perfecting the universe is a profound spiritual practice. Evolutionary spirituality has its own philosophy and instructions, you know, the beautiful, the true and the good. How do you practice evolutionary spirituality? That’s a whole other subject to itself. But the point is that we’re here to perfect the universe. And that means not just the external universe, it means the internal universe too. But these things are tied together, our spiritual growth is partially tied to our gifts, our fruits, like when Jesus says, “By their fruits, you shall know them.” I think that’s a literal description of the spiritual path. The path by which we perfect the universe—the beautiful, the true, and the good that we bring into the world. Those fruits are really the rungs of the ladder of our own ascent, right? So that’s why it’s important to be connected. You can’t just be a sage in a cave, you might achieve enlightenment. But unless you go out and bring that enlightenment into the world, I would question whether you really, you know, whether it’s your enlightenment or not.
Rick Archer: That’s interesting again, yeah, yeah, a question just came in that I think relates to that from Mike in Telluride, Colorado, who asks, “Is it possible to wake up to and enjoy our original perfection without knowing anything at all about cultural history, philosophy, theology, physics, or evolutionary biology?” And I mean, obviously, if we took some of the sages, the ancient sages, as examples, they didn’t know much about all that stuff. But they woke up and enjoyed their original nature. But maybe what you’re saying is in this day and age, it behooves us to know about that stuff and to be more actively engaged. Yeah, we’ll take it from there.
Steve McIntosh: Well, I would say that waking up can be done in any situation, there are many people who’ve just, you know, flipped into samadhi, and like you mentioned, some mystical experiences come upon people without any practice or knowledge of spiritual teachings. But I would say that that there’s waking up, as Ken Wilber says, there’s waking up, and then there’s growing up. I kind of blanche at the aesthetics of those slogans, but nevertheless, the idea that okay, awakening is one thing, but ultimately the value of that awakening to our fellows, right? That our earning of our awakening involves bringing that light that we’ve received into the light of other people. So we could get really esoteric and ask, what’s real here in the finite universe? And I would say the most real thing is spiritual experience. So you can have spiritual experience on awakening experiences, samadhi experiences, but ultimately, making that real in the self involves making that real in culture, and in the world, and in the experience of other people. Right? So when I talk about bringing the beautiful, the true and the good into the world, I’m really thinking of those value concepts as labels for spiritual experience, and for the gradual perfection of the universe. These are directions of evolution, right? How do you make the universe more perfect? You make it more beautiful and more true and more good. So these are lines of development. And if you are truly awakened, then you have, I would say, a solemn responsibility to use that light, to bring that light into the world, to share that spiritual experience with others. That’s how it’s a form of spiritual energy. As I said, at the beginning, that spiritual energy lives in a circuit, it’s not a thing, it’s a moving current. And it’s a current of spiritual truth or spiritual light. If it if awakens us, then the circuit needs to be completed to our teaching through our service, to our gifts of the Spirit, our fruits of the Spirit. So I would say anyone can have it, but to maintain it, and to continue it and to be a light in the world, you have to shine that light into the expense of others.
Rick Archer: Not hide it under a bushel, as Jesus said, you know. In my conversation with Ken, I think he said something along the lines of that Ramana’s enlightenment may not have been as full bodied as it might have been, if he had also been able to, you know, run a business or live a more active life in the world. And I thought about that afterwards, a few people complained about it, but I thought, well, you know, it’s a matter of dharma. We’re not all meant to be businessmen, or Yogi’s in a loincloth, or musicians or anything else. And that he served his function perfectly in terms of what his function was. And he had a huge impact on the world without getting involved in worldly affairs, like a businessman might have. So like you were saying earlier, a person might just be raising a family or something and, you know, highly awakened and making a significant contribution in in accordance with their particular dharma.
Steve McIntosh: Sure, and, you know, certainly Ramana Maharshi was a significant spiritual sage and a great teacher within the nondual tradition, and he helped to advance that. But I would say, as I argue carefully over several chapters in The Presence of the Infinite book, that nondual spiritual experience, practice, and teachings represents a kind of an attractor basin.
So let me try to unpack this a little bit. So where do we start? I think we can start with experience as our touchtone, our touchstone of experience. And we can notice that nondual awakening nondual Samadhi is a universal kind of spiritual experience that mystics throughout the ages have encountered. And we see it of course, in all the great world religions. They all have mystics, and all of these mystics have described remarkably similar accounts of this nondual awakening where the subject and object distinction collapses. And there’s just this hyper lucid experience of oneness that’s, at least in the experience of these mystics, the apogee of their spiritual experience. So nondual spiritual awakening is a major kind of spiritual experience in the world. And of course, meditation and other practices are associated with that attractor basic of spiritual experience. And there’s developed a whole body of spiritual teachings, primarily in Buddhism in Advaita Vedanta Hinduism. But you can also see it in Christianity, you know, in Islam, right? So non duality, it’s major. Okay. But if we’re looking at this attractor basin of spiritual experience, we can recognize, at least as I argue, another profound and deep and world historically significant form of spiritual experience, which, you know, goes beyond mythic religion. And that’s an experience of the love of God. Right? The love of a creator wherein the subject and the object don’t collapse, where there’s a sense of originality, right? So I talked about polarities. And Niels Bohr, you know, the Nobel Prize winning physicist, he’s famous for recognizing this in the scientific context. He said, “The opposite of a small truth is a falsehood. But the opposite of a great truth is an equal and opposite truth.” Right? So an example of that is we are all one, right? That’s one great truth. But you know, the universe is just one thing, and we’re an undifferentiated part of that whole, each of us. But the opposite truth of that is that we’re all original, our originality is a spiritual truth about who we are, right? And so if we’re all one, and we’re all original, those are two complementary truths that are in this polar relationship.
And so, when we look at the world body of spiritual teachings, spiritual practice, and spiritual experience, we can see that there is this attractor basin of spirit, which is in this challenging, you know, complimentary, but at the same time, challenging position. And I described that polarity as nonduality, and for lack of a better term, theism. Right? So this love of God, there are some spiritual teachings that go with that. And yet if we look at it, again, in the history of spirituality and its evolution in the world, there are those who deny God, deny the love of God, indeed the are main teachings in nonduality that do fly in the face of spiritual teachings about a loving Creator. But in the book, I do my best to try to show why these two things are two essential kinds of spirituality. We see it in Hinduism. Hinduism is kind of divided down the middle right between theistic Hinduism and nondual Hinduism.
You know, Buddhism is mostly nondual, Christianity and the Abrahamic religions are mostly theistic. But the reason that theism is valued less than nonduality within progressive spirituality is, I would say, evolutionarily appropriate. Because this world historical movement away from the mythic, you know, fundamentalist, traditional worldview, it begins politically with modernity. But it continues with the postmodern worldview. The postmodern worldview tries to reclaim spirituality, but it’s doing its best not to regress to this mythic, traditional level. And in so doing, it naturally tries to find forms of spirituality that are far away. So it sees, it associates theism, this experience of God’s love as something that is resident at the mythic level, or merely, you know, a dualistic religion or something, we need to transcend. But that opinion, or that conclusion, I would say, is colored by the larger cultural needs of postmodernism to move away from traditionalism. But once that’s accomplished, once there’s no longer no danger that we’re going to become fundamentalist, that we’re going to move back to a mythic worldview, then we can begin to look and rediscover that the spiritual experience which has catapulted Western civilization into this globalizing world for good and bad, and the power of the spiritual experience of the love of God, has borne tremendous fruit in the world. I mean, even though it’s fashionable to recount the sins of Christianity, and indeed, I don’t identify as Christian. But I nevertheless, recognize that theism is not something that we’ve transcended. Indeed, it’s an existential truth of the universe, and a giant attractor basin of spiritual experience. And recognizing how nonduality and theism are in this complementary relationship, how one can enhance the other, that gives us an opportunity to grow our spirituality beyond its current condition.
Let me just say one more thing, and that is, in the book, I talk about the need for spiritual leadership. Right? So clearly, spiritual leadership is important. There’s many different kinds of spiritual leadership, it doesn’t necessarily involve having followers, right? Any thought leader who writes a book that helps people grow spiritually is a spiritual leader. There are spiritual leaders at the traditional level, spiritual leaders at the modernist level, spiritual leaders at the postmodern level, and now we’re emerging into this post-postmodern, if you’ll pardon the phrase, or this integral worldview, and there’s spiritual leadership there. But certainly, our society could use more effective spiritual leadership at this time in history. And in order to do that, I would argue, we need to do better than the spiritual leadership that’s currently being supplied by progressive spirituality, right? That the culture of progressive spirituality is siloed into a rather countercultural niche, where it’s not really having much influence. I mean, mindfulness has influenced the mainstream, yoga has, I mean, we’ll take it, it’s okay But we need to do better, we need to be self-critical, and not be satisfied with our New Age niche. I think we have, at least those who can, those who have experienced a lot of spirit, have a sacred duty to try to evolve spirituality and make it better. So for example, in the mainstream, in modernism and traditionalism, the insights and accomplishments of progressive spirituality are not taken seriously, right? They’re not taken seriously by the media, by academia, by the education establishment. Their spiritual leadership is not effective in moving society to a more awakened and aware level, right? I mean, it did some good in the 90s. And it’s doing some good now. But I think we can do better. And I think one of the ways we can do better is to infuse progressive spirituality with more truth, to make it more true. And we can do that with the teachings of evolution. And one of those teachings reveals is that nonduality and theism are two valid, indestructible, related, complementary, challenging and supporting, contradicting and complementing, forms of spirituality that evolutionary spirituality can embrace, like no form of spirituality has been able to do in the past.
Rick Archer: Good. Yeah, like that last bit, that last bit, kind of wrapped it up: that they’re complementary. They’re not opposed. They’re components of a larger whole or a larger reality we could say, which incorporates both duality and nonduality. I think that’s what the term Brahman refers to. It’s just like the totality
Steve McIntosh: I would resist the characterization of the polarity is duality and nonduality because duality is a dirty word. So that’s why I use the term, you know, that the best way to think about it is in terms of experience, and that is ultimate oneness or ultimate emptiness, and the love God has for a particular individual.
Rick Archer: Yeah, and regarding theism and nonduality. There’s a sort of the age-old debate between the vice Ninevites and the Shiites, and so on between, about whether you want to merge with God or retain some independent status so as to be devoted to God. And you know, my former teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said, it’s really not relevant to somebody who hasn’t actually risen to the point at which the experience of God can be real. And when you reach that point, you’ll decide, you know, it’s up to you whether you want to merge or maintain some independent relationship. But that brings up an important point, which is that all of this stuff is really ultimately relevant if we can experience it, and not experiencing it is kind of like a bunch of men sitting on a frozen lake trying to peer through the ice, you know, and debate what lies beneath. They need to get down there with the proper diving equipment and swim around and experience it firsthand.
Steve McIntosh: That’s a nice analogy. I like it. Yeah.
Rick Archer: Regarding what you’re just saying about postmodernism, conveniently, a question just came in from a person named don’t now in Ireland who asks: Philosopher Jordan Peterson whom, I’m interjecting here, who everybody’s making a big fuss about, and have recommended that I bring on BatGap, and I haven’t quite found the angle of why he would be relevant yet, but I’m working on it. Okay, so philosopher Jordan Peterson makes the claim that postmodernism is one of the worst blights on Western Civilization, basically, because nothing can have meaning and everything can have meaning. Is it not dangerous to link spirituality with postmodernism?
Steve McIntosh: Okay, well, what Jordan Peterson means by postmodernism is a narrow ideology, right? He also calls it Cultural Marxism. And that’s a kind of fundamentalist postmodernism, but it doesn’t represent this postmodern worldview as a whole. So that’s why I said the term postmodern itself is a battleground of meaning, right? But another way to think about it, if you’re hung up on the word postmodern, or if Jordan Peterson has owned that term and narrowed it down to something that we have to be afraid of, I would say that this, the countercultural emergence that has occurred in our lifetimes, that we’ve been participants in that culture. Again, we have a paucity of language to describe this, right? But this worldview, this loose connection of values and perspectives and mores and goals, aims, identities, that has attempted in our culture to emerge beyond the mainstream worldview of modernity or modernism, that this culture has brought forth a new kind of spirituality, right?
Like we can identify this in Vivekananda, right? At the turn of the century, coming to Los Angeles and being the toast of Hollywood. We can see precursors of progressive spirituality prior to the emergence of this countercultural worldview in the 60s. So it’s sort of percolating for decades prior, but the emergence, the burst, the birth, the bursting out, the breaking with modernity that occurs in the 60s and comes to a sort of a maturation in the 70s. And it’s been continuing to evolve and complexify since then. And within this culture of trying to push away from modernism, again, progressive spirituality is the term I’m using to describe this pluralistic, inclusive, sensitive culture of alternative spirituality, that you know, we’re all about here on the Buddha at the Gas Pump program, right? So I would say that if the term postmodernism trips you up, use another term. But what I mean by postmodernism is much larger than what Jordan Peterson means by it.
Now Peterson, let me say a couple things about him. I admire his work. I think he’s doing important work in many ways, but he’s a modernist, right? He sees postmodernism as a threat to liberal values and to all of the accomplishments of rational truth that modernity has brought forward. And indeed, many of the great truths of traditionalism that postmodernism is seeking to dissolve, or discredit those. And so I can understand why he feels threatened. And indeed, if postmodernism were to perpetrate all its pathologies upon Western civilization, that would indeed lead to a significant regression. But I think we can rescue postmodernism, again, my term, my definition, and see it more sympathetically and see it beyond just this sort of negative ideology which Peterson rails against. By recognizing that it was the opportunity for evolutionary advance that was open to this countercultural worldview in the 60s and 70s, it was to push off against the pathologies of modernity, right? Modernity had brought major evolution to the world in terms of prosperity and science and truth. But it also brought all kinds of pathology, so this worldview is trying to move away from it. And so we did this by this idea of antithesis, right? Hegel’s simplified dialectic: “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.” This is a pattern of evolution that characterizes cosmological, biological, and psychosocial evolution, this dialectical progression. And so postmodernism is an antithesis, it’s moving away, that was its opportunity to reject, to “turn on, tune in drop out,” right? To try to go beyond all the pathologies that you could see in the modern world. And this indeed created cultural evolution. But it’s in antithesis to both the best and the worst of what came before.
But it’s unstable, just like modernism is both environmentally and culturally unsustainable. We want to build on it and go beyond it. Same with postmodernism, it’s antithetical, rejectionistic spirit is evolutionarily appropriate, but we can’t just rest there, we have to go beyond the antithesis to some kind of synthesis that not only transcends, but also includes, to make it an evolutionarily permanent advance in the structure of emergence. We have to transcend and include, that’s another way of describing this dialectical progression.
So postmodernism, you know, is clearly the antithesis that is requiring a synthesis. But Jordan Peterson wants to just erase the antithesis and rest in the thesis of modernity. And I would say the horse is out of the barn, and that the problems, the pathologies of modernity are too threatening for us to just rest there. And so, you know, Peterson never asks: If postmodernism, this alternative and antithetical countercultural worldview, if it’s so evil or so wrong, why has it been so appealing to some of the best and the brightest artists and intellectuals in Western culture? Why is it so appealing to millennials? He only sees the bad he doesn’t see the good, he doesn’t see that it’s a new layer of care, that it’s a new moral system that has both tremendous advances, and of course, its immaturities and pathologies. So Jordan Peterson is a culture warrior standing for modernity. And I think that, you know, that battle is worth having. But from an integral or evolutionary perspective, we’re trying to go beyond that battle, and not create straw men of either modernity or postmodernity. But rather realize that these are two developmental steps that are leading to a third step, which is the synthesis I’ve been talking about.
Rick Archer: Earlier, you talked about how, you know, so many horrible things happened earlier, part of the 20th century? And do you feel that if we zoom out wide enough, and reconsider that the universe as a whole has an evolutionary trajectory, or is governed or guided by an evolutionary force of some sort, you know, toward greater and greater embodiment of the infinite, that we can kind of regard that as kind of saying that nothing is really a setback, that it’s sort of necessary for things to be cyclical, and even for horrible things to happen. And if we’re going to have, you know, a relative creation, which has polarities, good and bad, fast and slow, hot and cold, suffering and happiness, that everything can be seen as the hand of God, sometimes kindly, sometimes harshly, guiding the universe to higher and higher levels of evolution.
Steve McIntosh: Yeah, I would take issue with some of that characterization. I would say that, rather than thinking about that which is propelling evolution as a force as a push, I would want to characterize it as a gentle persuasion or a gentle pull, you know, it’s both easily, widely accessible but also easily resistible, right? So in other words, the beautiful, the true, and the good, are like a kind of a magnetism. They’re like a gravity, that there is value gravity, if you will. And it’s influencing evolution from the inside, it’s influencing us in our desires and our intentions and our aspirations, right? We can feel the draw, the magnetism of that which is more beautiful, true or good, we want it, we’re striving for it, we can’t help it right? We can always, as humans, we can almost always imagine how things could be more perfect. And indeed, that’s the feeling of this gentle persuasion, this pull, right? Of course, there’s an opposite pull, there’s entropy, right? There’s decay, material things are in the process of going away. But Spiritual things are in the process of growing and becoming more perfect, at least, you know, again, from the big picture perspective.
So what do we say about this, this world of partiality, this world of suffering, this world of horrific evil, right? One of the arguments that comes up most when we talk about the spiritual experience of the love of God, is what’s known in philosophy as the problem of evil, right? Like, how can there be a loving universe when we had the Holocaust, right? And so we could spend three hours talking about the problem of evil and all the philosophical twists and turns, and the various arguments and counter arguments that exist in this interesting body of thought. But the simple answer for me is that we live in this finite universe, and that this finite universe is partial, right? That it’s not perfect, and that when humans enter the universe, when we emerge, and we have this free will ability … For example, there’s no suffering before life, right? Stars may explode, but they don’t suffer. But because life is striving to survive and reproduce, this ability for life to suffer, it’s prolific, and it promotes life and helps, you know, show them the way, even though we’d like to eliminate that suffering. And indeed, animals strive to eliminate their suffering. And that suffering, in some ways is a natural shadow from the fact that animals have an interest and they’re sentient.
And likewise, when human will emerges, it casts a shadow of relative imperfection, the fact that we can choose what’s right means that we can choose it freely, it’s not just forced upon us. If we choose it, we are partially responsible for that choice. The shadow of the reality of our free will is that there’s this potential to embrace the darkness or to go backwards. So the universe was, in a sense, set up this way, or created this way where things are imperfect, and we want to make them more perfect. And that means that evil is an abiding reality.
But I think part of the way we can reconcile that with a loving universe is, of course, this idea of life after death, that the evolution of our consciousness continues after this body. I mean, that’s certainly part of my belief system, I certainly don’t claim to know with any certainty or detail. But I do know that the universe doesn’t make sense unless there’s some kind of life after death. And if there is life after death, then I think that there would be abundant opportunity for the redemption of human suffering and evil.
And indeed, those who suffered the most unjustly, those who perished in the Holocaust, for example, that the depths of the suffering that they experienced, over the course of their universe evolution in the afterlife, that they’ll be considered lucky, that will be seen as a gift. Because the more depth of evil you’ve experienced, the greater joy or love that you could have by contrast, right? So it’s almost like the suffering that we experience in this world can be the inventory of our comparative joy in the next, in our universe progression beyond this body. And in that sense, we could say that the greatest affliction is to have never been afflicted. And that part a part of our journey is to experience that partiality, because that’s a necessary part of the experience of reaching perfection and our ultimate spiritual ascent.
Rick Archer: Interesting. There was once this sort of esoteric teacher that I listened to, and he, I don’t know how he knew this, or whether he just got it from reading esoteric books himself. But he used to say that, you know, when we come into this life, before we come into this life, we have like a little committee meeting or something with the Lords of Karma. And we say, just lay it on, give me everything. I just want to get this. I just want to work it all out. And the Lords of Karma say, no, no, you can’t handle that much. We’re only going to give you this much and you say, Oh, come on, I can take more than that. So, there’s a negotiation that takes place and then finally, you come into this life. And you know, maybe work off a shitload of karma or maybe you don’t, but it’s definitely in the interest of evolution, even though it doesn’t look pretty well. We’re going through it.
Steve McIntosh: Well, again, there are things we can experience, and there are things we can practice. But spiritual teachings are very important for framing these things and answering these questions. And one of the spiritual teachings of evolution is that there is an afterlife. I’d say that is a cornerstone, and necessary for making sense of our human condition.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Yeah, that’s an interesting point. I mean, I’ve interviewed people who say that, you know, who say that we don’t have any, there’s no such thing as a personal self and that therefore reincarnation couldn’t work, because that implies that there’s some essence of us that gets to reincarnate. You know, and that doesn’t happen. But like you say, one of your four main points here about necessities of evolutionary spirituality, the necessity of a spiritually real evolving soul. And like you say, it makes a heck of a lot of sense. It puts a lot of things into place, that whole edifice sort of collapses if you pull that one out.
Steve McIntosh: Right? In other words, why are we here? What the purpose of us being incarnated in these bodies, you know, in this crazy world? I think evolutionary spirituality confirms that we’re here to grow spiritually. And of course, we have the infinite that lives within us, that’s already perfect, right? The Higher Self, there are many different terms, the Atman, and even emptiness itself, could be kind of conceived as being this infinite that lives within us. But there are some nondual teachers teach that there’s just the infinite, right, and then there’s this ego self, and the ego is unreal, and we just have to get rid of the ego or transcend the ego and realize that we’re already infinite, and that’s who we are, we’re the infinite.
And I would say that that’s not all wrong. But I would say that in between the interaction in time of this ego personality and body and everything that we have, and this infinite indwelling Spirit that lives within us, and is our true self, that in the interaction of that something’s growing, something’s evolving, something’s getting better, like the universe is evolving spiritually, in nature, culture and self. So if there is some aspect of us that is growing spiritually, but we’re just infinite already, then what’s the point? Why even be incarnated in a body? Why even go through this finite realm of trying to make the world a better place and trying to grow spiritually? This concept is most often known as a soul, right? That which is growing, that which is spiritually real within us. It’s not just the temporal ego, but it is not the already perfect Infinite Spirit. It is the evolving part, the accumulating body of our spiritual experiences, that has spiritual reality, and that can survive this body.
I would say that the spiritual teachings of evolution point to a soul with very powerful arguments that haven’t been marshaled before, you know, within the theistic religions, right? So there’s lots of arguments for self and no-self. And again, this is complex philosophy. It’s hard to land in an interview like this, but in the book I talk about how we can recognize the Buddhist teachings of no-self and the Christian teachings of us being beloved sons and daughters of a creator, how those two things, at a lower level of understanding, they might cancel each other out, right? Even Thich Nhat Hanh has been criticized for trying to smuggle the notion of a soul into Buddhism. But Thich Nhat Hanh, you know, one of my favorite spiritual teachers, he’s synthetic, right? He tries to bring in spiritual truth from the theistic side and the non-dual Side. And I think he recognizes the things like free will, and the soul, and the love of the universe, that these are real, despite any Buddhist teachings to the contrary.
Rick Archer: Yeah, well, as I understand it, and Buddhist mythology talks a lot about all the past lives that Buddha had, you know, before he became the Buddha. And so obviously, there must have been something that was carried from life to life as his soul evolved. And the whole, what this whole discussion implies is that we’re not just meat puppets, but there’s a subtler level of reality, which is not physical, which you’re not going to see under a microscope. And it brings in the whole notion of subtle matter, or subtle realms, astral celestial realms, that there could be beings living on those levels that don’t have physical bodies at all. And that makes perfect sense to me. But a lot of that probably sounds weird to a lot of other people.
Steve McIntosh: Well, I mean, there is spiritual truth that we can experience. And then there are spiritual teachings that go with that truth that we kind of have to take on faith, like the afterlife, or like celestial beings.
Rick Archer: Experience them routinely. So for that, it’s real.
Steve McIntosh: Yes. And you know, you’ve also got to be careful. They could be real, but many people have been deluded, it’s dicey territory. But that doesn’t mean we need to deny it altogether, just because we have to tread lightly there.
Rick Archer: Yeah. I mean, it’s good to take everything as a hypothesis and be a little bit, you know, scientific about whether or not it’s real and not just say this couldn’t possibly be.
Steve McIntosh: Right. Well, one of my favorite quotes along those lines is from the philosopher Blaise Pascal, where he says that human things are finite things. They must be known before they can be loved. But divine things, they have to be loved before they can be known, right? And that’s where this idea of faith comes in, it is this sort of super conscious awareness and trust of this greater universe reality, that it’s only by by allowing for it, that we can begin to experience it and confirm it in our own experience.
Rick Archer: Yeah, you know, and speaking of love, it reminds me of something I wanted to say a few minutes ago, when you were talking about theism versus nonduality. It’s like, we have various faculties, you know, and one of those faculties is our heart. And I think it would not be possible to advance to a great degree spiritually without the heart having really blossomed, and to its full potential degree. And when it does, then a whole new dimension of experience can come in, which might render our previous level of development rather dry by comparison, you know, devotion can become very profound, and coming back to that word. So it’s not like, you know, one side is right, and the other side is wrong, it could be that both sides represent different facets or degrees of spiritual development. And then a being in the course of its evolution, either in one life or many lives, will get to experience all those things. But at any particular stage, they might be kind of locked into a partial stage of development.
Steve McIntosh: Sure, that’s a great opening for an important component of evolutionary spirituality, and indeed, human philosophy for millennia. And that is this idea of the beautiful, the true and the good, or goodness, truth and beauty. These are philosophical concepts, they’re abstract words, but they point to some very profound truth about the direction of evolution, right? So when I talk about perfecting the universe, or growing spiritually, there’s many different ways of conceiving of that. We can’t reduce it to a single group of concepts. But this philosophical truth itself: of goodness, truth and beauty being related descriptions of the direction of evolution, or the direction of perfection, are profound. And so that relates to this idea of whether you’re on a spiritual path of truth, or a spiritual path of beauty, or a spiritual path of goodness. These things relate to each other, right? That there again, is another kind of hermeneutic circle, right? So that is good.
Beauty is sort of like the Yin path, we’re sort of receiving it, it’s the more feminine side. Truth is more, it’s the seeking path. It’s more Yang. Yang and Yin, many people are familiar with this concept: receiving and seeking. And so the beautiful and the true, are like the two legs of goodness, right? But ultimately, if beauty or truth becomes separated from goodness, from oneness, from love, then they can lose their value power. So there are true facts. And then there’s the truth as actually a direction of perfection. And in order to serve as a channel of spiritual energy or a path of development, the truth, or an understanding of what’s true, has to bend toward goodness, it has to connect with goodness and be part of this system. These words are static words, beauty, truth, and goodness. But they name a dynamic course, which isn’t linear. It’s both in, and out, and up.
We’re just a skimming over the surface of deep teachings. This understanding of the spiritual philosophy of the beautiful, the true and the good, is a deep and wide spiritual philosophy which originates in Plato. So, this conceptual triad of goodness, truth and beauty, it’s like a jewel of philosophy, it is a conceptual cathedral. And many spiritual practitioners within progressive spirituality initially don’t know what to make of this proposition: that goodness, truth and beauty are sort of the primary elements of spiritual experience, or the directions of evolution through which we can make the world and ourselves more perfect. But one of the things that I can say in defense of this philosophical, conceptual spiritual teaching is, that it goes back to our discussion of the evolution of worldviews like postmodernity. Progressive spirituality, one of the ways that it tried to transcend modernity and the rationalistic worldview of modernism was by emphasizing goodness and beauty, it kind of bracketing truth, right? The postmodern worldview as a whole kind of brackets truth by emphasizing the subjective side of truth, right? Truth is not merely objective, but it is not really subjective. If I define it as the movement or progression toward perfection, then it involves both of these things, both these concepts. But because progressive spirituality is very much about experience, because it’s very much about a pluralistic welcoming of all spiritual paths, about being nonjudgmental and accepting and allowing for whatever is true for you. I think this is an important accomplishment. But because of that it’s not as philosophically rigorous, as, for example, modernist philosophy was. And again, for evolutionarily appropriate reasons.
But now that we’re trying to go the next step, beyond the antithesis to a synthesis, one of the ways that we can accomplish that is by bringing back the truth, by being more rigorous about the truth, by being more critical. Truth is, by its nature, critical, right? It’s a ladder of distinctions. Everything is partial in the finite. So as soon as you say one proposition of truth, there’s a partiality in that that points to the next rung, right? So we’re constantly ascending. That’s why I talk about truth as a direction rather than, you know, a thing or a state. So we’re bringing back the truth. And that means bringing back philosophical, intellectual, conceptual rigor to our spiritual teachings, right?
And so we have spirituality, we have this abundant truth that we’ve discovered both traditionally, you know, in our heritage as humans, and now most recently over the last 15 years through the blossoming of progressive spirituality. But this blossoming of progressive spirituality is a kind of truth that now we have a chance to integrate with the other momentous truth of our age, which is the truth of science, right? So spirituality and science, obviously, they have an intersection, they both complement and contradict, or challenge each other and support each other. But the bridge between science and spirit, these two great repositories of human truth is philosophy. Philosophy both bridges and separates, right? It keeps science from claiming everything that spirituality has to say. And it keeps spirituality from colonizing science. Philosophy allows them to be different domains of understanding. But it also shows how they complement, and it acts as a bridge. It bridges and separates. Yeah, so in this spiritual philosophy, the beautiful, the true, and the good, the realization of these as directions, as forms of spiritual energy, as behaviors of the nature of spirit in the finite, right? This is a jewel of truth with many facets, many different ways of practicing and experiencing it. I go through these facets in The Presence of the Infinite, as well as in my other books. And so I would say that the practice of goodness, truth and beauty, the practice of perfecting the universe of self, culture, and nature, is one of the cornerstones of evolutionary spirituality, and one of the paths, philosophical paths, by which progressive spirituality can grow into a greater level of maturity, and thereby provide better spiritual leadership for the society than it’s currently providing.
Rick Archer: I suspect that the time will come when spirituality and science will both be seen as just tools within the overall human quest for knowledge, they won’t be in the least bit contradictory or competitive, they’ll just be, they’ll just have different capabilities for discovering how the universe works. And if you think about it, I mean, the human nervous system is a pretty sophisticated tool, far more so than the Hubble Space Telescope. And, if it could be utilized properly, it could enable us to plumb depth of reality that no manmade tool can enable us to do, and then also, you know, in terms of science, science’s, contribution to spirituality, it can bring a sort of empirical quality to it and a rigor and a demand for experience rather than just, you know, belief that spirituality sometimes sorely needs. Sure.
Steve McIntosh: Well, let me pick up on that. And mention a little bit more about this idea of polarities, which I talked about before. I mean, they’re not just any differences, like black and white, or hot and cold, I’m talking about these rare and beautiful forms of value that are in an indestructible existential relationship of challenge and support, right? And so when we work with polarities as a construct, or as a value-creating technology, if you will, there are three fallacies that accompany this. So there are three ways that people kind of go off track in recognizing how to use this. Physical energy has certain behaviors, and electrical engineers know that there’s a circuit and two poles, and you have to get it right. Spiritual engineering, if you’ll pardon the term, recognizes these fallacies around these value polarities. So one fallacy is always siding with the “whole side.” So you know, the part and the whole is a characteristic of these polarities. So that some always side with the feminine “we side” with the “whole side. Some only side of the masculine and the “part side.” And those are common fallacies. But another more subtle, but in some ways more frequent fallacy that you see when people who are in the postmodern worldview encounter these indestructible polarities, is a compromise fallacy, where they want to just say it’s both and, and they’re both true, there’s no conflict. And then it’s all just different paths up the side of the same mountain. And it’s all the same.
And I would say that that eliminates the procreative tension. That’s the indestructible feature of these polar structures, right? So one example of this polar structure is the masculine and the feminine, right? These poles are not the same. They challenge and support each other, ideally, you know. In the middle is androgyny, right? There’s nothing wrong with androgyny, but it eliminates the procreative tension. You know, it’s like a compromise fallacy. And so when we have this tendency to say there’s this indestructible polarity between science, or the understanding of the physical finite universe, and then there is spirituality, which is the understanding of the infinite universe of being. I mean, again, that’s oversimplifying it, but just for purposes of illustration, if we say they’re just the same thing, then we eliminate the procreative tension, which, while we’re here in the finite, is indestructible. But you know, as we transcend time and space, as we transcend these finite, partial sort of forms of consciousness, you know, maybe these paradoxes will be resolved. But as long as we’re here in the flesh, as long as we’re here in this world of trouble and suffering, these are the conditions that we’re going to be dealing with no matter how enlightened we may become, I would argue. Because no matter how enlightened we may become, we’re not going to escape the duty to try to make the world a better place. Because that’s what spiritual growth is all about. And that’s our purpose in the universe, I would say.
Rick Archer: Well, I wasn’t saying a minute ago that I thought they were the same thing, science and spirituality, I was not accusing you of that I’m just pointing to the good. I just think they have different capabilities. I mean, spirituality was never going to tell us about, I don’t know, DNA, or many of the things that science has discovered. And science isn’t going to tell us much about God or angels, or whatever else spiritual seekers have encountered in their quest. And so you know, if both of those types of things are part of the whole of what the universe is, and how it’s constructed, then both of these things science and spirituality are each tools, which can explore their respective realms, and there shouldn’t be any conflict between them.
Steve McIntosh: Sure, well, there can be challenge, there can be a demand of one on the other, right? And so, I don’t think we necessarily need to characterize that as conflict. But I think we can, again, this notion of challenge and support, like with your kids, right? If you all you do is support them, if all we do is lavish love on them, and you never call on them to be better, right? Then that’s not going to be the best kind of parenting. Or if you’re only challenging them, if you’re just some kind of Tiger mother, that’s not going to be ideal either. So this complementary working of spiritual growth, or the growth of your kids, through challenge and support is an important spiritual truth technology, if you will, that we can bring to bear on the problems that we face here in the human condition.
Rick Archer: A couple more questions that came in, I want to ask those. But before we get too far from our discussion of beauty, truth and goodness, there was something I liked in your book that helped me understand what you’re saying more concretely. And that was something Sri Aurobino had apparently done which was to correlate beauty with bhakti, truth with yana, and goodness with karma. Each of those three are, you know, considered a path or you know, bhakti yoga, yana yoga, karma yoga, and they’re complementary, not conflicting or competing. And like you were saying, for instance, there had been spiritual teachers who were heavy, but behave reprehensibly. So they really didn’t have it together so that they could expand, expound truth brilliantly and write great books, but then they were the leachers and womanizers and behaving reprehensibly. So they didn’t really have it together in the goodness department. So anyway, I don’t know if that’s an example of what you’re trying to say there. But I found it helpful in coming up with a concrete example such as that,
Steve McIntosh: Sure, well, there are three paths open before the seeker, right? The path of beauty, the path of truth, and the path of goodness. Aurobindo characterize that as, you know, goodness as the path of action, right? Truth is a path of knowledge, and beauty as this sort of the path of aesthetics. Again, he elaborates on those, and I do in my own way, but these are obviously not mutually exclusive, right? Ideally, one informs the other and that the spiritual growth in its fullest involves some aspect of all three of these paths.
Rick Archer: Yep, One leg of the table and the others come along. Let me get to a couple of these questions. This one is from Ivan from Bulgaria. He says at a psychological level being religious is similar to atheism. Religion is the function of the ego’s need to feel protected by God. Conversely, atheists take the notion that they are not in control of their lives, which is another expression of the ego function. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Steve McIntosh: Right? Well, you know, that is, first of all, the human ego, right? In many corners of progressive spirituality is seen as bad, right? You know, ego bad, right? Ego, overcome it. Ego, it’s evil. It’s materialistic, right? And I would say that, just as we condemn the mortification of the body, like in Catholicism right? Hair shirts or the whips on the back. The mortification of the ego is also something that I’d like to try to overcome, because just like we need a body, although we’re not our body, we need an ego, although we’re not our ego, right? You know, try raising kids without an ego, right? Try to make the world a better place without an ego. You gotta have some self-sense. We don’t want to reify it or make it the ultimate reality. But we don’t want to just, you know, vilify it either.
Okay. Now, obviously, people are striving to make the world a better place, striving to improve the human condition. They are striving to grow in the beautiful, and the good, and the great world religions, right? That we are now with us, it’s important to see those as trying to solve problems in history, right? So the conditions of the pre-traditional, if you will, or before the civilizing influences of these world religions took hold in their respective cultures, there was chaos, there were warlords, there was, you know, no law, no government, life was just crazy, violent, and brutish and short. And so religion comes along, and a big part of its focus is dealing with those problematic life conditions, right? So there’s a lot of evolutionary scaffolding, if you will, a lot of negative things that we can see that are part of religion today that were originally constructed as ways of controlling this gnarly set of life conditions that these religions inherited when they first emerged, right? So that’s sort of an existential human condition that’s a step in our progress, we have to overcome that warring world, you know, a craziness that exists before a civilization begins to create some container, right?
So it’s easy, now that we’ve transcended those conditions, to see the scaffolding that was once essential for dealing with those conditions, as you know, just legacies, right? We can view them through that scaffolding that, you know, the negativity or the pathologies of religion, we can view it more sympathetically. When we see it in a developmental perspective that sees, you know, what it was trying to do, what came before. And now that most of us have transcended that religious worldview, we can understand that there’s accomplishments of that religious worldview that we need that are a foundation of our civilization. We can’t just dissolve it. We can’t just discredit it. We can’t just throw it out, right? We have to tease apart the dignities from the disasters, because the dignities are part of the structure of emergence that we need, and the disasters are the scaffolding that we now no longer need, or we can remove. And that’s an ongoing process, right?
So religion is easy to vilify, but I would say that we’re standing on its shoulders, and just like we want to honor our parents, we want to honor our cultural heritage, right? Same with atheism, just like you know, not all religion is fundamentalist, right? The straw man characterization, that these communities are Bible-thumping, prejudiced people. But there are many people who are in this realm, you know, they make meaning in the world through this religious lens. They are religionists and they belong to these religions, and they believe in these religions, and they are loyal to these religions. They’re not all fundamentalists, right? They’re not all the strawman that are the most negative aspects.
Same with modernists, right? Practically all modernists are rational and they want evidence and they’re skeptical. That’s a part of modernist consciousness, that’s good, that we need. Now there’s a fundamentalism that develops. And that’s this subset of atheism, but just like fundamentalists can’t claim to represent all religionists, atheists can’t claim to represent all of modernity. Many modernists are too smart to fall for that kind of fundamentalism. And so it’s a matter of appreciating what came before by recognizing that there’s this duty of teasing apart the good from the bad that is ongoing. It’s like rinsing a glass, you know, with dish soap, you have to keep rinsing it until you know it’s finally cleaned out. And that’s a process that occurs over history, and it’s a process that we can begin to do now that we have this opportunity to make meaning from an integral perspective.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I think one thought to always entertain when we think about religions is that you know, to remember that party game where you whisper something in somebody’s ear, and they whisper it to the next thing that goes around the room. And by the time it gets back to you, it’s very different than what you originally whispered. I mean, you know, these great religious leaders came out and got something going, but now, you know, 1000s of years have passed, and who knows what they originally said, compared to what’s being said. Now, the things get distorted over time, administrators take over who are not mystics, by nature, and, you know, and pedophiles get involved, and all kinds of crazy stuff happens, that would make the founders of these religions, you know, roll in their graves. So, it’s necessary to distinguish between religions as in their pure, emergent form, you know, when it’s not when their founders were alive, and what we have now.
Steve McIntosh: Sure, let me add to that, that one of the ways that we can understand religion, or you know, these sort of world religions more sympathetically, is, instead of just seeing them as structures that exist in this pre-modern traditional stage of consciousness and culture, we can see them as lines of development that grow up through the stages, right? So you know, the founders of these religions were off the charts in terms of consciousness and culture, but it’s clearly the cultural expression of these religions are mostly rooted in the traditional worldview, right? And if we see them as lines, we can see how they grow from the traditional worldview through the modernist worldview through the postmodern worldview, and now they have these new shoots that are emerging into this new worldview, this post-postmodern or integral worldview. And so we can recognize that Christianity and Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam and Judaism and all the great world religions are not merely traditional, that there are some very awakened people who still identify with these religions, but who are carrying forward these lines of spiritual development into these higher stages of consciousness and culture. And thereby, they’re informed by things like pluralistic acceptance, and tolerance and recognizing the truth that everybody holds. And you know, these are very important accomplishments. So for example, postmodernism which helps make us more loving and inclusive and tolerant, pluralistic, open, accepting; these are things which we can see in postmodern versions of Christianity and Buddhism and Hinduism and even though postmodernism and its progressive spiritual culture, have for evolutionarily appropriate reasons I mentioned earlier, favored the Eastern forms of spirituality, because that’s where they get the most growth. Ultimately, all the great world religions represent world historical lines of development, that will continue to grow and which deserve our respect and appreciation.
Rick Archer: Yeah, a question came in from Neeraj in Bangalore, who, which relates to what you’re just saying, and perhaps you can elaborate, a little bit more, he said, What difference have you seen between western and eastern spiritual seekers?
Steve McIntosh: Well, I mean, it’s hard to give a big answer to that question because I don’t think I want to stereotype Western seekers and Eastern seekers or put them in that East West box. I think spiritual seekers are drawn by different spiritual currents. I think that, for example, people who are spiritual seekers in the Eastern tradition, can nevertheless feel the pull of currents which have been more associated with the West, as we see, for example, with Thich Nhat Hanh, right? He’s a Zen Buddhist, right? Zen is the most apophatic, or the most void-committed version of Buddhism. And yet here is Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the leaders of Zen Buddhism, who very much resonates with these western currents. So you know, we can talk about Eastern spiritual teachings, or the nondual experiences that go with that are most often associated with those. But while I know people who are seekers from all over the world, I’m an American, I live in American culture, you know, I’ve certainly taught in Europe. But I wouldn’t claim to really be able to characterize in a stereotypical way what Eastern seekers and Western seekers are like or what they’re about. Okay?
Rick Archer: Thich Nhat Hanh might actually be an example of what I was saying earlier that you know, we have hearts and at a certain point, they may blossom and even if we’ve been raised in a apophatic spiritual tradition, we might find ourselves beginning to appreciate and express, you know, much more heart centered and theistic ideas and feel. I think Adya Shanti is another example. He was raised in a Zen tradition. But he talks a lot about the heart and exudes a lot of heart in his personality and his teaching.
Steve McIntosh: Sure. And certainly nonduality is characterized by compassion, right? Love. Buddhism is saturated with love. Yeah, even though theologically, there are some paradoxes that are, you know, not resolved in that body of teaching. As I argue in my book, The Presence of the Infinite, the realization of oneness is not just relevant to Eastern spiritual paths, that’s an important expression within Christianity and within Western traditions as well. So there’s clear overlap. Even though we can say that Christianity is mainly theistically oriented, Buddhism is mainly oriented toward the nondual, you know, no one spiritual path has a lock on a particular kind of truth. And indeed, spiritual truth is open for every seeker, who pursues spiritual experience through practice and teaching.
Rick Archer: Yeah. You say, you know, love others as yourself because they are yourself.
Steve McIntosh: Right? Well, that’s one way to put it. Sure. But I would argue, you know, from a philosophical point of view, and we’re bringing in this critical philosophy, and we’re saying that love, it’s irreducibly relational. Love is a relation, right? So David Loy, in his book published by Yale in the 80s about nondual philosophy, he sort of struggles with this. He talks out of both sides of his mouth, right? He talks about, you know, the Dharmakaya, the emanating of love, but then he talks about the problem with trying to conceive of what love is within a nondual ontology because there’s no separation. There’s no real relation; relations are illusion. And if all relations are an illusion, and love is irreducibly relational, then how do you reconcile the truth of love within a nondual ontology? I think you just have to have a more roomy ontology that allows for these paradoxical contradictions.
Rick Archer: Well, if David wrote that in the 80s, I think maybe he’s evolved a lot since then. I’ve interviewed him twice. And I was at the Science nonduality conference, one time where someone up on stage was speaking in a rather dry tone. And, you know, David got up on the mic and started asking about the environment and the world, and what’s going to happen to everybody, if we don’t do something about climate change, and the guy’s response was like, the world is just a speck of dust, you know, it doesn’t matter what happens, it’s all an illusion. And David just really persisted. And, you know, said, No, we can’t dismiss it that way. You know, we’re talking about something real, I mean, in a relative sense, human suffering, and we have to have compassion and so on. So I mean, you know, we’re, I’m sure we’ve all evolved a lot since the 80s.
Steve McIntosh: Sure, well, I’m not saying that that David Loy was arguing for a world-denying theology. I’m just saying that philosophically, if you want to have love in a robust sense, then you need a relationship between, you know, lover and loved. And again, this is philosophical, complex things, probably not good to try to delve into here.
But let me go back to your point about the environment, okay? Because that’s really, I would say, the historical challenge of our age, you know, the biggest problem in the world right now. And that in order to address this, we’re going to need to recognize how the reason that we’re politically stymied from making a significant impact on climate change and taking it as seriously as we need to, is because we’re caught up in this thesis and antithesis of modernity and postmodernity. And that, you know, again, this is a whole political analysis, but let me just say that a very important accomplishment of this postmodern consciousness that we’re talking about is environmental awareness, right? Even though you know, modernity tries to clean up its nest, even though modernity tries to get rid of the pollution so that property values can go up, you know. But the spiritual obligation that we have as stewards of the earth and stewards of the environment is very much a postmodern realization and a postmodern accomplishment. And because the activism around global warming is so associated with the postmodern worldview and postmodern politics. I think one of the underlying reasons that we’re having such a difficult time, you know, mobilizing the political will to deal with this effectively, is that it’s been caught up in the environmental movement. It’s been caught up in this larger cultural struggle between modernity and postmodernity. Because so many modernists and traditionalists especially feel invalidated by the antithesis of postmodernism, they feel that they’re only seen for their negatives and they’re not appreciated as the grandparents or the parents, if you will. That because concern for global warming is so clearly near and dear to the hearts of postmodernists. And postmodernists are seen as the threatening enemy by the mainstream. Anything they can do to poke postmodernism in the eye, it helps reduce that sense of being threatened. And so because the postmodernists are so anti-modernist, because they discount the gifts of modernity and see only the pathologies, they’re shooting themselves in the foot in their ability to persuade the larger society to get serious about combating climate change. So that’s why this integral perspective, which sees this evolution of worldviews, explains things politically, and points to two important resolutions that are otherwise impossible to see from within the purview of any one of these worldviews.
Rick Archer: Interesting. Well, you said, right, you segued right into something I wanted to ask you about, which was what you’re doing with this Institute for Cultural Evolution that’s, you know, an integral political think tank. And taking the example we just discussed of climate change, how can we move beyond this conflict between the modernist and postmodernist worldviews and actually do something about climate change? And there could be many other examples we might consider, but that’s probably the most important one.
Steve McIntosh: Right. Well, this is, in some ways, the heart of the book that I’m working on now, that I’ve been working on for two years now. Developmental Politics is the tentative title. And it’s about a new view of politics that takes this integral perspective and applies it to politics, and recognizes that in order to solve these existential problems, we need to grow culturally, we need to mature, we need to grow into a better version of ourselves. And that involves this move from the antithesis to a synthesis, that it involves a reconciliation, at least partially, of the conflict, the existential conflict between these three major worldviews: traditionalism, modernism and postmodernism in America, right?
Modernity is the majority worldview with about 50% of the American electorate who make meaning or have a loyalty to that reality frame. Traditionalists are about 30%. And this progressive postmodern worldview represents about 20%. I mean, it’s growing, we see its political momentum, for example, with the near success of Bernie Sanders. But Trump and his election is a testimony to the impotency, the current political impotency of postmodernism. And this is actually an important transition trigger. So within each one of these worldviews, right, there are many people who are content to live their lives within these worldviews and can have spiritual realization and perfect the universe and be perfectly good spiritual people. This hierarchy of worldviews isn’t necessarily a hierarchy of people, right? There are people who are spiritually awake within a traditional worldview. Then there are postmodernists who are jerks, right? So it’s, again, we can’t necessarily think of this in a linear way. But nevertheless, these worldviews do grow in their inclusionary complexity.
I mean, we can argue that there are many important ways, in the beautiful the true and the good, in which these worldviews do represent authentic, evolutionary progress. But there’s a transition trigger. So if you’re a traditionalist, there’s an existential problem that goes with that, one that can’t be solved at the same level that created it, you know, Einstein’s famous rhetoric, that some problems can’t be solved the same level of thinking that created them. Well, if you’re a traditionalist, you live in a mythic worldview that’s contradicted by science. And that’s an existential problem that can’t be solved. So a lot of people grow up in traditional households, they go to college, they get educated and they say, I can’t believe in the myth anymore, because there’s too many contradictions. That’s a true transition trigger.
Likewise, in modernity, people succeed in modernity, they get status, they get material things, and they look around and say, Is this all there is? You know, there’s more to it, right? They don’t want to go back to relying on religion for their existential meaning. But they can’t find existential meaning entirely within the values of modernity. And that’s a transition trigger to the wider spiritual view of postmodernism, right? And people who are postmodernists, again, this is a relatively new worldview. So the transition trigger is not as strong. But as postmodernism now, in our time, is reaching a kind of maturity. It’s coming to its fullness. It’s moving from, you know, a synthesis to a thesis that calls forth another step. That is a transition trigger, this relative political impotency. In other words, postmodernists are screaming from the rooftops that we’ve got to do something about global warming. And then there are fires, and we’ve got crazy weather, we’ve got all this in-your-face evidence of global warming and the urgency of it. And the spiritual implications of us ruining the planet with modernity are huge, right? So this is an urgent, dire world historical, emergent problem that postmodernists can see, but they can’t convince the rest of the society to get on board with the necessary changes and the necessary sacrifices, it’ll be necessary to adequately address this, you know, this emergent problem as …
Rick Archer: … a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to gain economic advantage.
Steve McIntosh: But the reason we can wake up to them is that it’s not a matter of fact, it’s a matter of value. It’s a matter of postmodernism being very threatening to everything that’s come before, all of the accomplishments of modernity, and traditionalism. Those people who are making meaning and have loyalty to those worldviews can feel the threat to all of the great liberal values, right? The threat to all of the important accomplishments of freedom and liberty that modernity has brought about. Postmodernism takes these for granted, it’s using those freedoms, but in some ways, it doesn’t respect them enough, because it sees modernity only for its negatives, right?
So they can’t see the world-changing, spiritually significant emergence of liberal values, which are very much modernist. So, because these other people are threatened by postmodernism, the political programs of postmodernism are naturally resisted. And the major political programs of postmodernism are environmental and social justice. And while we’re making some headway, environmentalism is kind of stuck, you know, even among the left of center, left Democrats, they may give lip service to it. But when you see the list of the issues of the Democratic Party, they’ve done the focus groups, they know people who are not postmodern resist that, you know, for emotional reasons, for reasons that have to do with threats to their identity, not reasons that have to do with the facts of global warming. So this trigger of saying: Look, in order to get the rest of the society to wake up to this huge existential threat, we actually have to include them in a way, we have to have a worldview and a set of values that doesn’t just see them for their pathologies, but says: Look, modernity is a very important accomplishment in the structure of emergence that is, you know, in sacred in similar ways that nature is sacred. And we can’t just sort of run roughshod over modernity, or pretend that it’s some kind of utility or that it’s just greedy capitalism, and we need to quash it. I would say that until we have a worldview that can include and honor and persuade and bring forward these other segments of our society, we’re not going to get the solidarity that we’re going to need to generate the political will to deal with this existential challenge of global warming. And that’s where the politics of this integral perspective offer solutions that postmodernity can’t offer within the purview of its cultural worldview.
Rick Archer: Seems to me that the consequences of global warming are becoming more and more severe. And, you know, I wonder if, you know, if people can’t be convinced, through words, whether the fires and the floods and, you know, and droughts and all the other things that are going to happen with sea level rise, and everything else might convince them in a more severe way?
Steve McIntosh: Well, I mean, certainly, if all of a sudden there’s a disaster that wipes out Seattle, right? But I don’t think we can wait or rely upon, you know, the mounting evidence of it. Because there’s no rational argument, it’s not going to convince Sam Harris, right? There’s no rational argument that’s going to take away the existential threat of postmodernism, and the gut feelings of the voters of America, in order to empower the forces combating global warming. Again, most people are unaware this stuff. It is going on at a subconscious level, right? These opinions are being formed in ways that have to do with identities and loyalties and not with rational thinking. Yeah, but until the threat of postmodernism itself is transcended, and global warming is seen as not just an extreme left political football, or a leftist issue, then we’re going to have these deep identity-level barriers to building the political will to deal with it. So maybe, you know, maybe the threats will wake people up. But I’d say that until we deal with these cultural issues, we’re not going to get the adequate political will we need, which is a lot of political will.
Rick Archer: So putting on your most idealistic glasses. I mean, how would you see things evolving over the next 5, 10, or 20 years? You know, let’s say that we really do manage not to exterminate ourselves and that we evolved into a society in which you know, maybe evolutionary spirituality becomes the predominant meme or predominant mindset, or at least a potent one, enough with really profound the influence in the culture. How would you see that sort of happening and evolving and what specific, I don’t know, steps and types of politicians and whatnot would have to come along in order for that to be achieved?
Steve McIntosh: Sure. Well, let me say first that the way evolution occurs, it occurs in many ways, right? There’s is evolution that occurs within a worldview, an existing worldview, as it matures and accomplishes the things that it’s focused on getting done. But the more profound kinds of evolution occur when there’s an emergence, a step that transcends the conditions that came before, right? So we see this throughout the universe, right? There’s hydrogen and helium, then the heavier elements emerge, and then life emerges. And then all the steps of the biological Tree of Life. These are, in a sense, radical emergences, ingressions of novelty, as Terence McKenna would say, that can’t be predicted, right? So there’s something about this next level of emergence that we can’t entirely predict, just like you can’t predict that the combination of hydrogen and oxygen would produce liquidity, and water’s surface tension, and these things that just emerge out of nowhere. Well, you know what I mean …
Rick Archer: … completely.
Steve McIntosh: Next, we can begin to see that there’s something beyond what I’m calling the postmodern worldview, that tthere’s a next step, and that has to involve a certain amount of repudiation of postmodernism. So we’re sort of pushing off. So Hegel, who originally envisioned this evolutionary process or structure of emergence. He didn’t talk about “thesis, antithesis, synthesis.” And a lot of dialectical philosophers really hate that characterization. They think it’s too mechanical, too over simplified, right? Its a moving process. And when you put it into steps, the dance is, you know, it’s no longer fluid. So Hegel described it as “an affirmation,” something real. And then in order to move beyond, there’a a negation, there’s a negation of the problems of that affirmation, to go to a new level. That’s the antithesis. And then the next step beyond the original negation is what he called “the negation of the negation.” And what that means is that this step beyond involves recognizing that there are certain things that needed to be condemned, or overcome or transcended. But that in order to create the new whole, that is the synthesis, you can’t just be in the negative, you have to reclaim some of the stuff that was good part that was already there in the original affirmation. So this idea of “the negation of the negation,” as “the synthesis” is an important philosophical lens, because it helps to see that there are things about postmodernism—it’s anti-modernism, it’s rejectionism, it’s sense of elitism, like we’re conscious and you’re not, you know, we’re awake and you’re asleep, right?
While postmodernism is indeed, a very important moral step, a new level of care, right? Care for the environment, care for the disadvantaged, this care is permanent in our structure of emergence, we need this we can’t go beyond it without carrying forward and building on, and standing on the shoulders of those accomplishments. But we also have to negate that rejection, the vilification of modernity and all of modernity’s accomplishments, that so much of postmodern culture relies on. Indeed, this is where it’s gained its traction, by using the bad parts of modernity, to say, We want better, we’re not going to stand for that. So that’s an important step. But this next step, politically, socially, culturally, spiritually, is to recognize we need to step outside this postmodern worldview. And to see how it relies upon indeed borrows the social capital and accomplishments of traditionalism and modernism. And like all forms of evolution, you can’t pull the rug out from where it was, right?
So we need to go beyond this rejectionistic spirit, this way in which postmodernism sees the other stages as only negative, because these other stages have a lot of positive nature that we need to affirm. So getting to your question, what does it look like? I would say that in this next emergence, right, we’ll have a period of cultural fluorescence. The best way to anticipate what it might be like is to look at the previous points of emergence of these other worldviews, right? So the emergence of traditionalism is buried deep in the past, you know, with the emergence of writing, say, like 3000 years ago or more, 4000 years ago, 5000 years ago. Anyway, traditionalism has emerged, right, you can see it in ancient Egypt, a kind of early form of it, you can see it in any of the ancient civilizations. But with modernity, even though we could see proto versions of modernity in ancient Greece, and in Islam, and in China. It emerged as a permanent structure of human consciousness and culture during the Enlightenment, right? In the 1600s, and 1700s. And so the history of the Enlightenment is well known, right? There were luminaries, there there was new philosophy. There was new truth. There were science. There were new discoveries. There were revolutions, there was democracy. You know, there are all these historical emergences. The industrial revolution came about through the sequence of emergence of modernity, right?
Likewise, postmodernism as a worldview, we can see it percolating within modernity, but in the 60s, it breaks out, right? So there’s a slogan, which I mentioned: “liberty, equality and fraternity,” you know, it captures the spirit of the age and the spirit of enlightenment. It is the spirit of the emergence of modernity. Likewise, in the 60s, there is a similar slogan: “turn on, tune in, drop out,” you know, reject modernity, reject the rat race, right? That’s a liberating slogan that heralds this spiritual Renaissance. So this is the emergence of the postmodern worldview.
So I think we’re going to see a kind of a second enlightenment, or a second emergence of new truth, as happened in the first enlightenment, this will happen in the second enlightenment, as this evolutionary worldview, this integral perspective, begins to gain traction in our culture by becoming visible, by pulling in agreement, by gaining notoriety, popularity, political power, cultural power, by challenging postmodernism, by being more sympathetic to the values of modernity and traditionalism. So, you know, whether this cultural emergence is going to occur in the next decade or in the next 50 years, it’s hard to say. I try to use the analogy of the emergence of the 60s, right. So, we can see in some ways the emergence of this postmodern consciousness in Rousseau, right? In the in the 1700s, or even more concretely in the writings of the transcendentalists, like Emerson and Thoreau, right? They were attacking modernity, they were naturalists and into nature, they embraced Eastern spirituality. Almost all of the elements of postmodern thinking were exemplified in the 1840s by the transcendentalists. But it wasn’t until 120 years later that it sort of burst forth and emerged as a separate and discrete worldview, right? So we could also point to the beatniks in the 50s, right? They were also avatars of postmodern consciousness, even though they were before the 60s. So the question is, in our quest for this post-postmodern cultural stage, are we like the transcendentalists, and there’s going to be another century, or are we like the beatniks and it’s the next decade.
Rick Archer: I don’t think we can wait that long.
Steve McIntosh: Well, certainly, that the life conditions, the urgency of the problems are part of what catalyzes the emergence. But again, we have to garden for it, we can’t think about it as social engineering, we can’t construct it, you know, we have to foster it, it’s a living thing. So we’re gardening for emergence more than we’re engineering for it. And gardening for emergence requires a certain amount of recognition of grace in the process, it’s not just all up to us, you know. There’s the flow of the Tao, and it flows, you know, in the patterns that it will.
So while the existential challenges that we face call for further evolution, and we are indeed urgently, being pulled into some more inclusive version of our culture whereby we can overcome the culture war, at least partially, and reestablish the ability to make compromises and agree with each other and form the political will that’s necessary to deal with our problems. But our political problems really are caused by a cultural problem that’s upstream. And the cultural problem is that we’re in this situation where we need an emergence, right? But my optimism that this is going to happen is based on the pattern of evolution itself, right? So evolution, when it was first realized in the 19th century, was characterized as a process of differentiation, followed by integration at a higher level, right? So that’s where we are now, we’re in this phase of differentiation, where the worldviews within American culture are being stretched out by our own development, into these three major worldviews that are in political competition. But this diversification, or divergence, will either lead to regression, or it will presage the emergence of a synthesis, or a higher level of integration, which is what this integral philosophy and integral worldview represent.
Rick Archer: Wow, that’s great. Well, probably we should leave it there. That’s a good note to end on.
Steve McIntosh: Optimistic indeed.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And when you finish that book you’re working on let’s do it again, right? I’d love to do that. Yeah. It’s been extremely enlightening to my feeble brain to have this conversation with you and to prepare for this interview. It really gets me firing on all cylinders, you know, and has clarified a lot of my understanding about a lot of things. So I really, I hope that the audience felt that way too.
Steve McIntosh: Sure. I’ve enjoyed the conversation. I mean, you’re an awakened aware person yourself. And so, you know, we can’t have these kinds of conversations you know, it takes one to know, that sort of thing.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And actually, that reminds me of something I was going add, based on what you were just saying, which is that, you know, however this more ideal world might emerge, the most fundamental contribution we can make is to foster our own spiritual development, not in a selfish way, but as sort of a foundation of everything else we might be doing to contribute to the world. But you know, make sure that’s being taken care of in an effective way. And then, like you said, grace, will probably take care of it, you know, in my estimation that the intelligence governing the universe is far vaster than we can realize, and in my own personal life, you know, things have often turned out in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated or predicted or engineered as ideally as they actually turned out to be. I would have gone off in some other direction. But you know, nature, or God or whatever, had a better idea.
Steve McIntosh: Let me just add that I affirm that all things, in time, work together for good, and that all suffering is redeemed. I also think that we need to feel the heat, you know, both literally and figuratively, and you know, we need to feel a sense of urgency and a sense of responsibility to do our part. You can’t just rely on God to take care of everything, because God has delegated some of that responsibility to us as agents of evolution. And it’s possible that we could screw things up and go backwards in a big way. If we don’t have a sense of urgency and a sense of responsibility to try to work for a better world.
Rick Archer: Yeah, God helps those who help themselves. And one thing that’s not helpful, I think, is for people to despair, you know, to feel like, oh, the problems of the world are just too vast, and we’re screwed. You know, we’re not we’re not gonna make it. You know, I think that nature or God, again, I don’t know what term we want to use, has a few tricks up its sleeve. And then if we do from our side, is there’s some someone a spiritual teacher, I forget what was said, you know, you take one step toward me, and I’ll take 1000 steps toward you. And I think that could be said of the divine in general, you know, it’s like, if we’re doing our part, holding up our stick, to evoke a story from the Srimad Bhagavatam. Wherein all these villagers, well, let me just tell this story real quick. So Indra was mad at Krishna, for some reason, who’s jealous, because all the villagers were devoted to Krishna. And so he made it rain and rain and rain, which is actually happening more seriously in Southern India right now. And so Krishna, to save the village, took some mountain and held it up with one hand, as an umbrella. And the villagers, after a while, they appreciated that. But they thought, well, you know, it could strain his wrist or something, holding this thing up all by himself. So they all picked up sticks and helped him hold up the mountain. And actually, they weren’t really doing anything, but the effort, you know, was meaningful. And, yeah, so we, you know, do our best to hold up our sticks. And even though ultimately, the divine may be doing everything. Maybe the divine won’t, you know, won’t bother if we don’t bother. Right?
Steve McIntosh: That comes back to our discussion of free will at the beginning. Yeah, you know, we’re given free will. And to those who are given, much is expected.
Rick Archer: Yeah, good. All right. Well, you know, I could keep going on all day. So let’s leave it at that.
Steve McIntosh: We’ll look forward to next time. Thanks again for having me on. Buddha at the gas pump. It’s an honor to be with you, Rick.
Rick Archer: Yeah, thank you. And let me just make a brief concluding remark or two: I’ve been speaking with Steve McIntosh, he’ll have a page on BatGap linking to his books and his website. And this is part of an ongoing series. There have been hundreds previous to this, so check them out under the past interviews. firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I’ll be speaking with an old friend of mine named Suzanne Stryker, who lives right here in Fairfield, and is, I would say, an artist, a healer, and a mystic, all three, and has always had very profound spiritual experiences. So that’ll be next week and the week after her is Jean Houston, who many of you will have heard of. So anyway, stay tuned. If you’d like to be notified of future interviews, subscribe on YouTube, and they’ll tell you about them. And also, subscribe on BatGap to a little email that I send out every week when I’ve posted a new one and then you’ll be notified. So thanks for listening or watching and we’ll see you for the next one. Thanks, Steve. Thank you. Bye bye.