Welcome to Big Questions with Ken Wilber, bringing more clarity, more sophistication, and more elegance to our understanding of life, spirituality, and the universe.
These are questions that we humans have been asking since the dawn of humanity; questions that have inspired history’s greatest philosophers, sages, and scientists; questions that have in many ways influenced the overall shape and scope of civilization over the millennia.
We continue to ask ourselves these questions today—often beginning in childhood, and then again and again throughout the rest our lives. Although these questions are in many ways unanswerable, our attempts to answer continue to come closer and closer to the inexpressible truth as our understanding of the universe (and our place within it) continues to unfold and evolve.
All text transcribed from live interviews with Ken Wilber.
Ken: Yes there is, but we have to understand the types or dimensions of God or Spirit. Not all of these are usually taken into account, but they’re all crucial.
Like everything, God can be looked at in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person perspectives. For those who are not up on their grammer, 1st person is the person speaking or talking; so right now I am 1st person. 2nd person is the person being spoken to; so right now that’s you. When you start talking to me, you’ll be in 1st person and I’ll be in 2nd person. And then 3rd person is the person or thing being talked about.
These turn out to be fundamental perspectives that aren’t just grammatical, but are actually inherent in the very nature of the universe itself. And there are different methodologies and epistemologies and all sorts of different types of practices that have grown up around these perspectives. And what’s so remarkable is how important all three of them turn out to be in literally anything that you’re looking at, whether it’s medicine, art, politics, education, or in this case God, spirituality, Spirit. And so the point is God, Spirit, can be looked at through these three perspectives. And I’ll give just a quick example in each case.
3rd-person God is God in objective forms: the great Web of Life, or God as the entire manifest universe, or Gaia, or the great system of the total universe. And we can be looking at the Grand Canyon, or lying down staring up at the great starry night, or walking through the woods, and we’re struck by the wonder of a truly miraculous creativity. And that is a Spirit looked at in objective terms.
But then there’s Spirit in 2nd-person. This is God as a great Other, or God as a great Thou, e.g. Martin Buber’s beautiful writings on the I-Thou relationship as what’s fundamental in divinity. And all this 2nd-person relationship does is remind us that God is a living, intelligent, vibrant, creative intelligence. And we can be in direct relationship with that reality. And that’s the importance of Spirit in 2nd-person, of a living, breathing, intelligent “Thou.”
Then there’s Spirit in 1st-person. And here, simply imagine that the intelligence that created everything from the stars to the Grand Canyon is your own deepest Self. That’s Spirit in 1st-person.
The mystics are unanimous: humans have at least two selves. There’s a small, finite, skin-encapsulated ego, and an infinite, eternal, ever-present and never-ending True Self that is one with Spirit itself, what the Sufis call the Supreme Identity. Humans are caught in a case of mistaken identity: we confuse the small, finite, separate self for our True Self. And once that confusion occurs, we’re stuck with a partial, fragmented, broken, contracted, separate, and suffering self. Awakening to our True Self—known as enlightenment, awakening, metanoia, liberation, freedom—is to awaken to the Spirit in us, as one and the same Spirit or pure consciousness in us all.
As Erwin Schrödinger, the co-founder of quantum mechanics, put it: “Consciousness is a singular, the plural of which is unknown.” So we all share this same true spiritual Self, which is why awakening to it brings a deep sense of pure unity with all of creation—a fullness, a completeness, a oneness, a wholeness.
You can experience this true self by simply noticing when you are aware of yourself that there are really two selves—the one which is observed as an object (I am this tall; I weigh this much; I have this job; I am in this relationship; and so on), and then there’s the observing self, the pure Witness which, as the seer, cannot itself be seen. So all you’ll notice when you look for the observing Self is a sense of release from all the objects, including the small objective egoic self—a sense of freedom and liberation, unborn and undying, unmade and uncreate. It’s a sense of I AMness, without any other characteristics, just pure I AMness, as in “before Abraham was, I AM.”
It’s a sense of timeless presence, a spaceless infinity, a vast openness in which everything is arising, moment to moment. And this is your True Self. It never enters the stream of time, and thus is ever-present. A timeless Now, encompassing all time and all space. A spaceless space, in which the entire universe arises. And this pure Self is one with everything it sees. So, resting in the Witness, you no longer see the mountain, you are the mountain. You no longer feel the Earth, you are the Earth. You no longer notice the sun, you are the sun.
This is your divine, radical, pure, ultimate True Self, before you confused it with a little egoic self that isn’t even a true self or subject, because you can see it as an object. Shaking off this case of mistaken identity is enlightenment, or awakening, or self-liberation. You will never be the same.
All three of those dimensions of Spirit are real. They are proven by direct, immediate, spiritual experience and realization. It’s not anything taken on mere belief or faith, but through direct, immediate, personal actualization. This knowledge is almost as old as humans themselves, and has been passed down for thousands of years. And the conclusion is always the same: God exists, and you are that.
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