Integral Embrace of East and West, part 2

…Continued from Part 1

So the East was right: you need to move beyond your Separate Self. But the East conflated separateness and uniqueness. I have one colleague, a teacher who always taught that there’s no such thing as a “unique spiritual experience.” Or, consider the Course in Miracles: if you think you’re special or unique, you will never find peace. That’s the general enlightenment teaching of Theravada Buddhism, at Spirit Rock in the San Francisco Bay Area, and countless other retreat centers and spiritual centers the world over. The general teaching is this: that moving beyond your Separate Self is to give up your uniqueness. And the world reacts to that and says, “No, my uniqueness is who I am. I can’t give that up.” And the world is right, because actually the way the enlightenment teaching is transmitted is wrong. You need to move past your Separate Self and then realize your awakened True Self, which is your Unique Self, your unique expression, God’s signature written uniquely all over you. Wow! That’s a big deal.

So that’s the correction. That’s the dharmic correction. By the word dharma I mean the deep source code correction in understanding on the Eastern side of the street. The East was wrong when it conflated separateness and uniqueness. You can and must move beyond your Separate Self, shatter the illusion of separateness, realize that you’re part of a larger whole — but that you’re a Unique Self, a unique part of a larger whole.

Now, on the other side of the street, in the West, Western enlightenment teaching made the same mistake in the same way, but on the other side of the other street. It confused or conflated separateness and uniqueness, because what does the West say? The West says in order to have a relationship, to have virtue, to have love between people, to have accountability, to have responsibility, you require two Separate Selves that each have their own inherent dignity and obligation. Well, we understand that. And so, therefore, the West says: to move beyond suffering you need to affirm the Separate Self. But, again, that’s not true.

You can actually affirm the dignity of relationship, hold people accountable, celebrate responsibility or virtue, and love — not based on two Separate Selves being in a relationship, but on two Unique Selves being in a relationship. There’s no need to be a Separate Self to be in a relationship. I can actually experience myself with you together as part of the seamless coat of the universe, and then we realize, well, that coat is seamless, but not featureless — and we are each unique expressions, unique features — in that seamless coat. We are each Unique Selves, and as Unique Selves that are not separate from each other, we relate to each other. And in that relationship we create love, and we create virtue, and we create goodness and we create accountability and we create responsibility. And so the West also confused separateness and uniqueness.

And so what actually happens is that the best and highest understanding of Eastern enlightenment (which is the desire and the need to move beyond to liberate yourself from Separate Self) is received and integrated with the best intuition and understanding of Western enlightenment (which is the infinite dignity, adequacy and worth of the individual) — but the individual is not a Separate Self individual. You are individuated, not as a Separate Self, but you’re individuated as a Unique Self who is part of the seamless coat of the universe.

So the higher integral embrace of these two great enlightenment teachings meets in Unique Self. Once we affirm Unique Self, then the essential counter-intuitive nature of enlightenment teaching is undermined, removed and dissolved – because one doesn’t need to give up one’s uniqueness in order to realize one’s enlightenment.

One needs to give up Ego. Not the ego which is the appropriately organized personality that Otto Kernberg and other psychologists talked about, but Ego in its negative sense, which is a contraction. It’s sense that all I am is a Separate Self, that all I am is a small self, that my identity is exhausted by being a skin-encapsulated Ego. That you need to give up. When you give that up, you realize your true nature: that you are part of the seamless coat of the universe — as a unique feature of the seamless coat of the universe — and so you claim all the goods of enlightenment. You claim the goods of transcending your Separate Self and moving beyond the grasping of the Separate Self Ego, and you claim the good of the infinite dignity, adequacy and worth of the individual who individuates (not separately, but as a Unique Self).

And that introduces the genuine possibility of the Democratization of Enlightenment, which is the essential building block of an emergent World Spirituality, and that’s what we’re going to talk about next.

- Marc Gafni

About Dr. Marc Gafni

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