A Review from BLACK PEARL: The Journal of the College of Thelema (Vol. I, No. 5, March, 1999). Copyright 1999, College of Thelema (permission by editor granted Amazon Books to use). This is a flawed but thought-provoking synthesis of various scientific and "wisdom" traditions, both ancient and modern. Essentially a condensation of Wilber's Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, this book attempts to weave together the threads of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions including Buddhism and Kab-balah, with scientific findings in fields as diverse as psychology, anthropology, and biology. The book is written in a conversational, question/answer format well suited to the broad, intertwined topics being covered. The main problem with this approach is that the book is devoid of references, and there is a sense that the material has been watered down somewhat for mass consumption. Wilber is up front about this, however, and directs the reader to consult Sex, Ecology, Spirituality for elaboration. Some occasional redundancy further detracts from the book's impact, but not so much as to negate its value. In general, Wilber's treatment of the topic areas suggests he has a broad and balanced understanding of his material. This is, in fact, one of the primary reasons I can recommend this book to students of the Mysteries. It provides a convenient refresher course in various philosophies and their implications for modern scientific and spiritual thought. Wilber's "four-quadrant" model is the framework for this approach, and accounts for internal-external, and individual-collective polarities of the human condition. Remarkably, Wilber manages to communicate all this in a very readable and accessible manner, and his discussion of the material is quite insightful. Despite its flaws, this book would be a good addition to any student's library. - DAVID G. SHOEMAKER
A BRIEF HISTORY (hereafter referred to as "ABH") is addressed "to those of us grappling to find wisdom in our everyday lives, but bewildered by the array of potential paths to truth" (xii). Ken Wilber is "in a category by himself," Tony Schwartz writes in the book's Foreward. "He is . . . far and away the most cogent and penetrating voice in the recent emergence of a uniquely American wisdom" (xi).
Written in an conversational, easy-access, question-and-answer format, ABH offers a simplified introduction to Wilber's integral vision, a vision which "attempts to include as many important truths from as many disciplines as possible, from the East as well as from the West, from premodern and modern and postmodern, from the hard sciences of physics to the tender sciences of spirituality" (p. xv). (A more in-depth discussion of Wilber's integral approach may be found in his 832-page SEX, ECOLOGY, SPIRITUALITY.)
In this mind-stretch of a book, Wilber takes on "God, life, the universe, and everything . . . it deals with life, mind, and spirit, and the evolutionary currents that seem to unite them all in a pattern that connects" (p. xix). And as Schwartz notes, ABH "delivers just what it promises. It covers vast historical ground, from the Big Bang right up to the desiccated postmodern present. Along the way, it seems to make sense of the often contradictory ways that human beings have evolved--physically, emotionally, intellectually, morally, spiritually" (p. xi). In this book, Wilber triumphs in integrating Freud and Buddha (p. 141), suggesting that on the "precious path to global consciousness" (p. 121), the "coming Buddha will speak digital" (p. 281).
Thoreau wrote: "With all your science can you tell how it is, and whence it is, the light that comes into the soul." In his recent book, WHY RELIGION MATTERS (2000), Huston Smith says that "the greatest problem the human spirit faces in our time is having to live in the procrustean, scientific worldview that dominates our culture" (p. 202). In ABH, Wilber also examines this dilemma. We are living under the Confucian curse of "interesting times" (p. 51), in a flatland of "zero" depth (p. 299)--"no consciousness, no mind, no soul, no spirit, no value, no depth, no divinity found anywhere in the disqualified universe" (pp. 224-5). We live in the scientific "world of the lab technician, slabs of meat each and all" (p. 244). And the "thought that somebody, somewhere might be higher or deeper . . . is simply intolerable" (p. 140). He writes: "Only by rejecting flatland can we arrive at an authentic environmental ethics and council of all beings, each bowing to the perfected grace in all. Only by rejecting flatland can we come to terms with the devastating culture gap, and thus set individuals free to unfold their own deepest possibilities in a culture of encouragement. Only be rejecting flatland can the grip of mononature be broken, so that nature can actually be integrated and thus genuinely honored, instead of made into a false god that ironically contributes to its own destruction" (p. 307).
In following "evolution from matter to life to mind" (p. 15), Wilber reveals "a more accurate, comprehensive map of human potentials" that directly translates "into a more effective business, politics, medicine, education, and spirituality" (p. xvi). (He covers this application in greater detail in A THEORY OF EVERYTHING.) ABH offers an "'all-level, all-quadrant' approach to consciousness, therapy, spirituality, and transformative practice" (p. 221).
Reading Ken Wilber is like being in the presence of someone who knows something you should know. He is a "rare voice" (p. xiii) that belongs on your bookshelf.