Agapros: On Valuing Both Agape and Eros

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A friend sent me a link to this video of Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen discussing Love. In particular my friend had a question around the last quarter or so of the video where Cohen discusses his view on the difference between Agape and Eros and wondered what I thought about it.

I suggest watching the whole video but just to give a broad brush overview....a woman asks Wilber and Cohen a question about the role of love in the spiritual life. Wilber begins by distinguishing between Agape and Eros. He defines Agape as Love reaching down and embracing lower levels of being. For example, when we choose to love and embrace a wounded, younger part of ourselves that is Agape. Wilber sees Agape inherent in the universe itself--he even sees Agape at work in a molecular membrane embracing atoms.

Eros, on the other hand, is the force impelling Creation to move into higher and higher forms of unity. From atoms to molecules from molecules to cells all the way up to the human neocortex. Eros also drives us to create wider, deeper, and higher forms of our own consciousness. For example, at one point in human history the people who were given status were primarily, if not exclusively, individuals in your tribe or ethnic identity. At a later point, individuals reached into and articulated a vision (what Martin Luther King Jr. described as his dream) where the way people were to be treated was not based on physical or gender or sexual orientation or economic or national differences but rather on the inherent dignity of all human beings. That's Eros. Or again to quote MLK, Jr.: "The long arc of the universe of bends towards justice." That long arc is bending towards justice because of Eros.

Eros and Agape are more or less equivalent names for what integral philosophy calls transcend (eros) and include (agape). And Wilber's point is that Eros, driving newer forms of creativity, and Agape, reaching back down and including more and more deeply, are both Love. Life is consequently an act and offering of Love.

Cohen then begins (around minute 10) with a discussion of the word Love. He talks about the difference between saying things like "I love spaghetti, I love my dog, I love my family" and Love in a context of spiritual awakening. He talks about how real deep spiritual Love includes those other types of Love but also brings about an Absolute form of Love and that this Absolute form of Love can be a serious threat to the status quo. I appreciate his point that Love is not always a warm ooey-gooey feeling. Love brings real consequences and commitments. Love--as a Divine Force--has an agenda and that agenda does not always line up with the agenda of the ego-based self. Really walking the walk of the spiritual path involves a great deal of dying to the egoic self in order to be Love.

As Mother Theresa said:

"I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, only more love."

Then Cohen goes into his understanding of the difference between Eros and Agape (this begins just prior to the 16 min mark). This is the section my friend was particularly focused on.

Cohen argues that in the older forms of enlightenment, the primary manifestation of awakening was Healing, i.e. healing the suffering of the world. This would be Love as Agape--tending the wounds of all beings. Cohen does say that there have been many great saints who have performed (and continue to perform) heroic acts of healing.

Cohen then mentions in his teaching of Evolutionary Enlightenment there is great emphasis placed on Eros--connecting to the Creative or Evolutionary Impulse and seeking to give rise to which wants to come into form. He goes so far as to say (17:40 and on) that when we awaken to Eros the scales tip in the other direction. He says:

"We become less concerned with healing and more concerned with giving rise to creation."

Now I think the distinction between Love in its two forms as Eros and Agape is a conceptually helpful one, though in practice I think they are often much more intertwined. Still for the purposes of learning and clarity I think it's good to make a distinction between the two. I also think it's very important to emphasize the legitimacy of Eros as a form of Love and an essential element to a contemporary spiritual path. I appreciate both Wilber and Cohen for articulating that point. I do believe it's the case that there's plenty of spiritual teaching out there that really only validates and embodies Agape as the expression of Love to the neglect of Eros.

I also appreciate that Cohen is totally up front about his preference for Eros over Agape and therefore his teaching is going to preference giving rise to creation over healing. As an admitted outsider, that seems like a very fair self-representation of his teaching to me.

While appreciating the honesty, I nevertheless have real concerns about the strong valuing of Eros over Agape. Perhaps this is not surprising as I'm not a student of Cohen's, but either way there it is. If the problem has been teachings over-emphasizing Agape to the detriment of Eros (and I believe that there is a real problem of that around), then I don't see how it solves the problem to go full bore in the other direction, over-emphasizing Eros to the neglect of Agape.

I'm not saying it has to be 50/50 even split between Agape and Eros, just that seeking a more harmonized approach would be, from my perspective, much more helpful. But again, I'm not a student of Cohen's so I'm trying to be as honest as I can about my own biases.

I do think however this Eros/Agape dichotomy runs deep into Cohen's teaching. I've found his Five Tenets are a deep and powerfully challenging set of practices to awaken Eros. On the other hand, I see a downgrading of Agape showing up as a lack of a public explicit shadow work practice in the teaching. (For an argument about how shadow work could be seen as part and parcel of evolutionary practice, see this interview). The missing Agape also shows up I think in evolutionary circles cutting themselves off--i.e. not embracing downward sufficiently-- from the world of postmodernism. This is an objection I've raised earlier in response to questions around integral/evolutionary activism.

Then Cohen (at about the 17:45 mark onwards) uses a story of Jesus to illustrate the difference between Eros and Agape and consequently favoring creation work over healing work. This story involves Jesus' famous line about, "letting the dead bury the dead."

First off, Cohen gets the story wrong on a number of crucial points--I'll get to that in a second. To be fair though he does explicitly state that he's unsure if he has the story right in all its details so that's fine. I have however heard Cohen use this story a number of times so I think it's worth looking at in some detail as it reveals some deep elements of spiritual teaching that are in play in this discussion around Eros and Agape.

The way Cohen tells the story is that Jesus and disciples are going down the road and see a dead body. And by Jewish law the body must be buried (this is a religious duty). Jesus then says "let the dead bury the dead, what we are doing is more important."

Now here is the story as detailed in Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke, verses 57-62 (the story is also told in Chapter 8 of the Gospel of Matthew in the same context, emphasis mine):

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' To another he said, 'Follow me.' But he said, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' But Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' Another said, 'I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.' Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'

Now notice that all three of these short vignettes have to do with the question of people wanting to become Jesus' disciples but Jesus questioning them around the sacrifice involved in being his disciple, particularly for those having dual loyalties.

In the first mini-story Jesus makes clear to a would be disciple that his [Jesus'] movement is an itinerant one and while even the animals have places to sleep in nature the disciple must be prepared that they do not fit into their world ("The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."). Then comes the dead burying the dead tale which I'll get back to in a second. The third is a man who wants to be a disciple but asks to say goodbye to his family first. Jesus says you can't put your hand to the plough and look back. Meaning if you're going to make that choice you have to go forward and not hesitate. This is the same with the man who asks to bury his father.

All of these stories then involve individuals who expressly state their desire to become disciples of Jesus (or in the second case where Jesus calls a disciple to follow him, presumably based on some previous interaction). These are not random people off the street. These are spiritual seekers in our modern parlance, they are would-be devotees of Jesus. That context is of crucial importance. It sets a specific frame absent from the story as told by Cohen. Please remember this point, it's really crucial. In other words, the Gospels are very clear that Jesus--like any spiritual teacher--held a different standard in mind in relation to crowds, to formal disciples, and to would-be disciples.

So back to the dead burying the dead. Jesus calls a man to follow him. He responds, "Let me bury my father first." This is similar to the response of the other man who wants to first tell his family goodbye. In both cases Jesus is making clear--for those who are going to be his disciples--they must place the kingdom of God first and not family. Jesus modeled this in his own teaching by pissing off his biological family and stating, "who are my brother and mother and sister but those who do the will of God?" In other words, Jesus created what scholars call fictive kin relationships, he created a different sense of family that wouldn't be based on biological ties (similar to what Andrew discusses earlier in the video about non-exclusive forms of spiritual love).

The assumption is that someone else in the family will bury the dead father. "Let the dead bury their own dead." Jesus is (I think) punning on the idea of physical death and being spiritually dead while still alive--the latter being the other family members who one assumes are not considering giving their lives to the kingdom of God and can be counted on to perform the social and religious custom of burial.

I don't hear Jesus saying that the burial should not take place or that it's not a valid spiritual act, just that if this person wants to follow Jesus he needs to go about the proclamation of the kingdom of God and let others handle the burial. It's important to note that the body is not simply lying on the road uncared for. The man approaches Jesus and tells him that his father is dead back home. That's a big difference because in Cohen's telling it sounds as if Jesus is making a grand sweeping once and for all statement of Eros over Agape, of creation work over healing, right in the vicinity of a corpse.

miracle-sunday-of-the-blind-man-sixth-sunday-of-pascha-01This very strong preference for Eros over Agape is certainly not the case in Jesus' own teaching. Jesus went about doing lots of work of healing. If you read the whole of Chapter 9 in Luke's Gospel our story of the dead burying the dead is preceded by stories of feeding the multitudes and healing a boy. For more on that point, see my previous post on Jesus as a shaman.

In the language of the gospels Jesus interacts both with crowds of people and his disciples. In today's spiritual scene that's basically the difference between the people who show up at retreats or workshops or evening teachings and those who are formal students of a teacher. When interacting with the crowds Jesus always offers healings as well as parables (transcendental wisdom in the form of stories). This is more the Agape side of things.

To wit, there is another story that states that "when Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd." The word translated there as compassion literally means 'his guts turned inside out.' He was bodily, viscerally hit by their pain. The compassion (other translations have it as 'pity') he feels is Agape.

Now I do think Jesus had a strong dose of Eros in his teaching. As an example, earlier in the video above Wilber mentions a "bull whip in the temple" which of course references Jesus' cleansing of moneychangers from The Temple. Jesus, was as I've argued elsewhere, an apocalyptic prophet; apocalypse is the ancient form of Eros spirituality.

Even the story about the dead burying the dead does have Eros in it. But notice the man brought up his father's burial as a reason not to follow Jesus. He may well have been using a socially approved religious custom to cover over his fear of giving away his life. Or he may genuinely have been bound within the well-meaning but ultimately limited (according to Jesus anyway) views of his day. We don't know. Either way, Jesus wasn't making some end all-be all statement. Jesus was responding to someone who claimed that he wanted to be a disciple and yet who specifically mentions his father's burial as a reason to delay his act of full commitment.

Jesus makes patently clear in many places in the gospels that if individuals want to move from being in the crowd to becoming full-fledged disciples, they must be willing to sacrifice themselves. In Jesus words, "anyone who wants to be my disciple must pick up his cross and follow me."

Picking up an instrument of torture and execution by an imperial state is not exactly a spirituality of consolation. It is, paradoxically in my experience however, one of healing. Just not for the ego. Jesus says shocking kinds of thing to make clear the enormity of the task of being his disciple--in essence to weed out the legitimate disciples from the false ones (see the Parable of the Sower & The Seed for more on this).

While Jesus definitely includes Eros in his teaching it doesn't ever strike me as valued over Agape. In fact, my read of the Gospels is that Jesus sees the Healing work precisely as a sign and expression of the Eros work.

For example, as Jesus says after healing a man with a demon:

"If by the finger of God I cast out this demon, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."

The Kingdom of God coming upon you is Eros. The healing is Agape. So the healings have an Agape element (they derive from compassion) but they also are placed with an apocalyptic (Eros-based) frame. They are somehow both Agape and Eros.

kingdom conceptedit
In his teaching of the Kingdom of God I would argue Jesus paradoxically balances both Agape and Eros. There are a number of sayings in the gospel that indicate that the Kingdom of God is already here, among us, full and whole (Agape). There are plenty of other sayings of Jesus that state that the Kingdom of Heaven must come on earth, that it is not totally fulfilled (Eros).

Theologians therefore summarize Jesus' teaching as: "The Kingdom of God is already but not yet." 

The Kingdom is already means that in the brokenness of this world there is already wholeness. The Kingdom is not elsewhere. Heaven is already available in the fragility of life. Christians say that God became human in Jesus and therefore God has accepted the human condition--from being a helpless baby pooping his pants to those awkward teenage years to the experience of pain, death, betrayal, loneliness, and alienation. Jesus spent his time among the outcasts of his day like prostitutes and tax collectors to indicate the Kingdom was for all and could not be constrained by our human categories of good and bad guys and gals. The heavenly realm is not one in which we escape from nor master pain and suffering. It is simply one in which we undertake it through love. 

And yet the Kingdom of God is not fully manifest. This not yet is Eros. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is [already] in heaven." Jesus not only told his disciples that they must love the Kingdom more than their families, he also said that they had to love the Kingdom more than their need for security, their own bodies, their own lives, even their own vision of God. 

It is the tension between the 'already' and the 'not yet' of the Kingdom that gives rise to the spiritual path for a Christian. But the two (Agape and Eros) must always be held in tension. 

So to tie this discussion about Jesus back to the video...

What I'm trying to say is that Andrew Cohen is of course perfectly free to decide how he wants to teach. If he believes that it's important that practicioners come to value Eros over Agape (creation work over healing) then that's what he should do. I don't think however this example of the dead burying the dead strengthens his overall point. In fact, I think it could be said to undercut (or at least raise some questions) about his overall position of valuing Eros over Agape. Nor do I think more broadly Jesus' own teaching should be seen as legitimating an argument about Eros over Agape. 

As I said, I do appreciate that Cohen has brought this element of Love as Eros to the fore, but I don't agree with then placing it over top of Agape. Whatever people think about Cohen's view or mine on this point, I think I've made a detailed enough argument that Jesus' overall ministry and teaching probably isn't the best precedent Cohen would cite in his favor on this point.

The danger of an evolutionary spirituality is that it will come to neglect Agape. It will come to lose touch with the Absolute Compassion that recognizes we are all flawed beings. Even if there is a part of us that is not wounded, that comes forward driven by the work of creating (and I believe there is such a part, I've experienced it), that part of us will always be mediated through our imperfect-though-transformable humanity.  



Editors- Bergen Vermette and Trevor Malkinson

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  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Tuesday, 04 December 2012 00:14 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    "The danger of an evolutionary spirituality is that it will come to neglect Agape. It will come to lose touch with the Absolute Compassion that recognizes we are all flawed beings. Even if there is a part of us that is not wounded, that comes forward driven by the work of creating (and I believe there is such a part, I've experienced it) that part of us will always be mediated through our imperfect-though-transformable humanity."

    Beautifully written piece. Thanks Chris.

  • Comment Link T.Collins Logan Tuesday, 04 December 2012 05:07 posted by T.Collins Logan

    Chris, I enjoyed this article, but I wonder if it is even possible to correlate the framework and language used by the guru and the pandit with the New Testament’s presentation of agape (or even its elucidation and expansion by Christian thinkers in later centuries). There seems to be a substantial, non-integrated divide here, with the expected consequences; Cohen and Wilber are just too far removed from the Christian experience. But perhaps I am just restating your point.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 06 December 2012 22:07 posted by Chris Dierkes

    glad you enjoyed it V.

    TCL: Well that's an interesting question. If your view is correct (and I'm still pondering it) then I wonder why they would use those terms without reference to other meanings. This could also be said around Eros as compared to say the way Freud used eros. There's a pre-Christian Greek use of the term and then how that term is incorporated into the Greek New Testament and later Christian writers (becoming caritas in Latin based theologians).

    On the other hand, I would say that evolutionary implies involutionary and Ken's language is entirely around embracing and descent (which to me is the way agape originally means). In Aurobindo for example the teaching is for every move 'up' there has to be serious intentional energy to bring that newly gained reality 'down'. I don't hear that second half in Cohen. I think it leaves it potentially dangling up above the messiness of life.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Friday, 07 December 2012 02:17 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    It was a nice coincidence that around the same time I was acting as an editor on this piece (which I think is great), I heard Bruce Sanguin preach on this very same topic (ie. agape's relation to evolutionary spirituality). I've heard him developing his thoughts on a "theology of fragility" for awhile now, and this following passage was in a sermon from October 21, 2012:

    "This is where much confusion arises. When men start promoting our capacity to evolve to higher stages of consciousness, without being firmly rooted in heart intelligence (that is compassion), what happens is that cognitive, technological, kinesthetic, aesthetic intelligence gets co-opted by the instinct for power and status. But the spiritual life is about taking those natural, early evolutionary desires and upgrading them. Take those early desires to the cross, says Jesus, and allow them to undergo a transformation, so that they are no longer have us, but rather we have them. They are subservient to a higher impulse.

    It’s not about ascending in glory to the right hand of G_d, or to the higher stages of consciousness. Desire in your heart to be a servant. The moment that this becomes your true desire, James and John (meaning us), the glory you are seeking will be revealed to you. Then you will know that those who desire to be first are actually last, and those who couldn’t care less about being last, will be first, and the whole culture of the world will be flipped on its head. This is precisely what Jesus means by going to the cross and dying.

    The impulse to ascend and to reach the highest possible levels of spiritual potential is natural, and born of G_d. We are lit up by an intuition of a destiny that is beyond our imagination. All good. But here is perhaps that distinctive contribution of the Judeo-Christian tradition to evolutionary spirituality. The end game is servanthood, not personal glory. The endgame is improving life on Earth— working to alleviate suffering and being willing to have your heart broken over and over until the spirit that animated a human like Jesus has lifted you up to the mountain top and sent you back down into the valleys with nothing to offer but a heart for other hearts who have lost their way".

    Bruce and Andrew also talked about this 'theology of fragility' in their recent talk together, and Andrew really takes in what Bruce has to say and then reflects back a nice summary/interpretation of it. That exchange begins at the 48 minute mark.

    Anyway, just wanted to add those resources into the conversation. In terms of Todd's inquiry as whether the two spiritual traditions are incompatible or not, I don't see why evolutionary spirituality cannot become more informed by Christianity in this area. I once heard Cynthia Bourgeault say that she thought the future of religion would be one where all the traditions would be fanned out together like a rainbow, and that we'd learn to appreciate, understand and (possibly) integrate the strengths and unique offerings of each. I think that evo. spirituality can be informed by this compassionate and overtly political dimension of Christianity and the long and rich tradition there. And I think that Christianity can be informed by evo too, although it's probably closer to say that so many of those (Eros based, future oriented etc.) aspects are already in the tradition and just need to be foregrounded, as Jurgen Moltmann and others have done, and Bruce himself continues to do.

    Lastly, I just wanted to offer that Freud's conception of Eros was almost identical to the definition you gave at the start of the piece. Here's two passages from him:

    "[Eros] aims at complicating life by bringing about a more and more far reaching combination of the particles into which living matter has been dispersed, thus, aiming at the complication of life and at the same time preserving it...The main purpose of Eros is that of uniting and binding". (The Ego and the Id)

    "Civilization is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind. Why this has to happen, we do not know; the work of Eros is precisely this". (Civilization and Its Discontents)

    It's somewhat strange to hear these kind of things coming from Freud, but there you go. It's worth noting that for Freud this was a cosmic principle at work. Sounds a fair bit ahead of his time when we now hear many people writing about the move to a planetary awareness/civilization (as Jeremy Johnson has being doing here at the site, and Pinchbeck just wrote about- It also seems to me, as I engage in my coursework at VST, that this principle of Eros and the movement to wider spheres of inclusion is quite a prominent theme of the Judeo-Christian tradition, going back all the way into the very beginnings of the Hebrew Bible (despite all the ethnocentrism that's there as well). I'm sure that's not news to you Chris (and others), but I have found it striking to discover this powerful current running through those texts. But the rub just might be, as Bruce outlines, that it's precisely agape that opens the door for this eros based vision/desire to really and truly emerge.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Friday, 07 December 2012 02:36 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I also wanted to add a couple of passages from Walter Brueggemann's 'The Prophetic Imagination' that I think are pertinent to the conversation here:

    "Jesus of Nazarene presented the ultimate criticism of the royal consciousness [elite domination system]. He has, in fact, dismantled the dominant culture and nullified its claims. The way of his ultimate criticism is his decisive solidarity with marginal people and the accompanying vulnerability required by that solidarity. The only solidarity worth affirming is solidarity characterized by the same helplessness they know and experience". (82)

    "Jesus is remembered and presented by the early church as the faithful embodiment of an alternative consciousness. In his compassion, he embodies the anguish of those rejected by the dominant culture, and as embodied anguish, he has the authority to show the deathly end of the dominant culture. Quite clearly, the one thing the dominant culture cannot tolerate or co-opt is compassion, the ability to stand in solidarity with the victims of the present order. It can manage charity and good intentions, but it has no way to resist solidarity with pain and grief". (91)

  • Comment Link T.Collins Logan Friday, 07 December 2012 19:26 posted by T.Collins Logan

    Chris: I think the error of some integral thinkers is projecting their framework onto other traditions or philosophies, rather than allowing them to inform an ever-expanding thought field. This failure has been the warning of thinkers as diverse as Thomas Merton and Hegel, and in my view an integral process must therefore be fluid and in some ways unstructured rather than rigid and pigeonholing. Then again, there is the opposite extreme of the "true but partial" fallacy, for some memes and patterns require extensive editing or even excision rather than reflexive integration. But what is the filter for this process? What is the organizing principle through which such integration can effectively occur? For me, that principle has always been agape. Because of this starting point, agape is for me a much larger field or frame, and includes and transcends all other forms of love. It is the impulse that manifests the unmanifest, it is the ideal, divine spark within us and for which we most desperately yearn, and it is the love-in-action that embodies authentic and effective compassion. It is Aurobindo's reification of the supramental, the neopolatonist's One (and our gnosis of and returning to the One), and it is Christ's example of self-sacrificing service. For me, agape is both the reason for taleios, and it is the perfect, fully realized outcome, and it is every phase of the journey along the way, however incomplete.

    Trevor: I think Bruce Sanguin defined the challenge well. In Integral Lifework what he is describing is part of "flexible processing space," where we continually develop and integrate input from heart, mind, body, soul and spirit and fastidiously avoid neglecting any of them in our synthesis. And of course this entire process is always subjected to the overarching intentionality of all-inclusive goodwill (agape again). I also agree that it is agape "opening the door" as you put it for all processes of emergence.

    Indeed the Christian tradition does have a lot to offer evolutionary spirituality. I would actually go one step further and say that a deep understanding of agape radically transforms what that evolution is about, and that this transformation is a primary component of first century Christianity and Jesus' original message. However I disagree with your leap that compassionate service automatically translates into an "overtly political dimension." As I explore in A Progressive's Guide to the New Testament, the example of personal relationship and personal sacrifice in direct service to those in need is the model embodied there. That is, service that is not mitigated by civic institutions, which tend to distance us from the interpersonal depth of giving that mutually edifies and energizes love. Jesus was right down in the mud with the marginalized, feared and rejected...that is the authentic demonstration of "solidarity with pain and grief" that Brueggemann alludes to.

    Returning to Chris' article...lots of folks have played with Greek terms for love over the years, each leaving their mark on collective understanding. But my point is that these aren't always refinements or evolutions, but redefinitions. When Jung elaborates on logos and eros, he's mainly talking about his concepts of animus and anima, not "the word of God made flesh" or an evolutionary impulse. So when Wilber and Cohen borrow these terms for their own frameworks, they are doing much the same thing. Returning to Merton and Hegel, I just think we should be careful about careless syncretism, practice historicism as rigorously as we are able, and encourage others to do the same.

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Friday, 07 December 2012 20:08 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    Hello Chris,
    I appreciated your expansion on the quoted scripture. As someone who has never read the Bible, it's helpful to have the real text quoted.

    I was directed to this piece from your Facebook post - where I commented a bit about the necessity/lack of shadow work (associated with agape).

    Here I will just say that I think you are not quite allowing for the possibility of Agape as it can evolve toward a higher stage of compassion. You say, "Cohen argues that in the older forms of enlightenment, the primary manifestation of awakening was Healing, i.e. healing the suffering of the world."

    You then go on to argue for Agape as healing, and yet, I didn't feel any pause to consider what Andrew was actually pointing to. What, in my novice interpretation, is a higher unity and transformation of the two (Eros and Agape) as you have suggested in your title.

    I feel like there is a lot of personalization that happens around Andrew's teachings, and it is unfortunate that there is no control over how individuals choose to interpret/practice/share his (or any other) teachings in the world. I would agree, that not all his practitioners/students are ACTUALLY in line with the higher order of what spiritual practice can be or the core of the potential that lies within EE.

    This is just unfortunate -and yet, I personally choose to make my own interpretations based on my own journey, my own experience and my own understanding of spirituality and the teachings themselves.

    Love Amy

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Friday, 07 December 2012 21:53 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I'm not sure that the integral terminology is super helpful here, but I am talking about Agape more in a kind of state way. Something more universal. I guess I felt when he made the point about it used to be about Healing and now it's more about Creating, that seemed rather dismissive to me. My thought was 'well maybe there were onto something and we shouldn't assume we're all that different from them.'

    That being said to your point, it's true that I'm not looking at the idea of stages in this piece. When we talk about increasing levels of care/compassion, when it goes like egocentric, ethnocentric, worldcentric, etc...I'm not really sure in practice all the time what that means. What does it mean to be worldcentric in one's day to day actions really?

    I do get the idea of society's instituting laws that reflect a level of moral complexity. Like people of the same gender have the legal right to marry. I get a developmental curve on that one.

    The title of the piece is about having both. I'm not sure I agree with a dialectical synthesis argument that they come together into some new higher unity. Maybe they do, maybe they don't.

    The argument I made around Agape are to me universal qualities that should be included no matter what. Which isn't to deny that as structures develop individually and culturally how various forms of inclusion, legal rights, dignity and so forth aren't applied in different ways, to new realities and the like. My concern is noting that there are higher forms of Agape will become a legitimation for basically dropping/losing these other elements that don't fit necessarily so neatly into a hierarchical sequencing.

    Things like grief, loss, humility, sacrificial love, vulnerability. To me these are part of the process no matter what levels we're talking about.

  • Comment Link Katherine Konner Saturday, 08 December 2012 07:19 posted by Katherine Konner

    "It is the tension between the 'already' and the 'not yet' of the Kingdom that gives rise to the spiritual path for a Christian. But the two (Agape and Eros) must always be held in tension." I disagree. They are not even about tension! As far as I can tell, the only tension that does occur is caused by obstructions of habit which hinders the flow of Agape and Eros.

    I agree with the experience of desire as recognition of not seeming to be living "in" the Kingdom, but liking when I am in the Kingdom (Kingdom therefore being a temporary state... unless otherwise), so that puts me on the so-called spiritual journey. But even though I'd like to see what other places are created, opening doors unto the Kingdom, ways I might someday widen the path for others, none of this exists as a tension between the already and not yet. [Sometimes I wonder if the so-called tensions of Love as Agape and Eros is merely some kind of agreed upon ancient mental ceremony for having a closer to the Kingdom experience. An attitude however, is no basis for suggesting that those kind of discussions never lead anyone into the Kingdom.]

    Agape and Eros are directions of energy as phenomena. Each can be experienced independently. In Causal Love, as a force, Agape and Eros exist as one. In the experience of Causal Love there is no beginning or end (visually, energetically, knowingly). The love which enters, passes through, and exits, exists to give, create, and spark what lies deep within us all. It heals what needs healing. It's Love in action as Love enacted. It's generative power essentially uses us. We are purely a form for it's presence, and as such, can use our capacity for being human to do everything we can for Love to be alive.

  • Comment Link Katherine Konner Saturday, 08 December 2012 07:51 posted by Katherine Konner

    Not quite sure I articulated well enough how Agape and Eros do not have to be held in tension in order for the force of each to exist either independently or as one. Making distinctions does not mean that things are opposites nor does it mean that as opposites, they have to have tension between them.

    Organizing thoughts with a dialectical mind, as a means for understanding phenomenon through reason, it would be logical to use such a method for making distinctions. However, what is real isn't made apparent simply by using opposites to distinguish between what is and isn't, or what is as being because of the other. Eros and Agape do not have to be held in tension, with each other, in order to exist.

    I have experienced Agape without Eros. I have experienced Eros without Agape. And I have experienced Agape and Eros occurring simultaneously.

    Just saying...

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Monday, 10 December 2012 02:56 posted by David MacLeod

    Thank you for this piece Chris. It's an interesting coincidence of timing to watch the Wilber-Cohen video, and to realize that Wilber in his portion is essentially providing a summary of the Introduction and first two chapters of A Brief History of Everything, which I have just been reading yesterday and today.

    In the book he talks about the Ascending Path (predominant from the time of Augustine through the time of Copernicus and "otherworldly to the core"), and the Descending Path (predominant from the modern to the postmodern era, where "the sensory and material world is the only world that is"). The goal for Wilber is "to balance both transcendence and immanence, the One and the Many, Emptiness and Form, nirvana and samsara, Heaven and Earth" where "Nonduality refers to the integration of Ascending and Descending."

    By the way, the first time I looked at this book and read about the competing paths of Ascending and Descending, I found it a really helpful distinction, and saw more clearly the need to integrate these two paths. I haven't seen this concept discussed in his later writings and am curious why not.

    For the sake of this discussion, Ascending and Descending seems to have some corollary to Eros and Agape, but not quite. Transcendence and Immanence a little more so.

    He also talks about the verticality of holons - self-transcendence going up, and self-dissolution going down. Eros seems to equate with self-transcendence, but I'm not so sure about Agape as equal to self-dissolution.

    Then he talks about the concept of Transcend and Include, which seems to be the closest equation to Eros and Agape; he also talks about enfolding - "which gets 'larger' in the sense of 'deeper' it contains or enfolds more and more levels or dimensions of reality internal to it, as part of its very makeup"; and unfolding - "it unfolds greater consciousness."

    And finally, the one paragraph where he specifically invokes Eros and Agape:
    "Spirit is unfolding itself in each new transcendence, which it also enfolds into its own being at the new stage. Transcends and includes, brings forth and embraces, creates and loves, Eros and Agape, unfolds and enfolds - different ways of saying the same thing."

    "So we can summarize all this very simply: because evolution goes beyond what went before, but because it must embrace what went before, then its very nature is to transcend and include, and thus it has an inherent directionality, a secret impulse, toward increasing depth, increasing intrinsic value, increasing consciousness. In order for evolution to move at all, it must move in those directions - there's no place else for it to go!"

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Monday, 10 December 2012 04:14 posted by David MacLeod


    Thank you for the additional resources added to the conversation. As you know, I share your interest in Brueggemann's 'The Prophetic Imagination'.

    Another resource you might find worthwhile in your studies at VST as you look at the "wider spheres of inclusion is quite a prominent theme of the Judeo-Christian tradition, going back all the way into the very beginnings of the Hebrew Bible" is John Bright's 'The Kingdom of God.'

    Bright traces concepts of the Kingdom from the Old Testament through the New. The book was published in 1953, and it's interesting to read a prophetic voice speaking to that time period. Eisenhower was president, we were in the early stages of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and the post WWII economy was booming. This was the apotheosis of the Modern period, with its pathology on full display, but not yet in "view" for the culture at large (the view that the postmodern perspective would bring to the fore in the '60s). Yet J. Bright very clearly sees a connection between the United States, and the Davidic kingdom that Amos preached against: "Will our destiny as a nation which calls itself Christian be satisfied in terms of the economic prosperity and the national might which we have created? Will we seek no higher salvation than the present order can provide in terms of increased income, automobiles, and television sets? What is worse, will we, because we have churches and because our political forms are hospitable to their growth, assume that the present order is the God-ordained order which God – if he be just – may be called upon to defend always? The people that answers the question so, will see it as the sole function of religion to support and to hallow in the name of God its own material best interests. But it will never begin to understand the meaning of the Kingdom of God. It is therefore of interest to see how that question was answered by Israel. And to that we must now turn."

    "...just here is the tremendous contribution of Amos to the notion of the Kingdom of God apparent. With Amos the rejection of that blasphemous identification of the people and the Kingdom of God with the Israelite state had become total…

    This meant that the hope of the establishment of the Kingdom of God…began to be divorced from the Israelite state and driven beyond it…If we had to put Amos’ message in a word, might we not paraphrase it thus? The Kingdom of Israel is not the Kingdom of God! It can neither be that kingdom nor inherit it…

    Let us not suppose that the words of Amos are ancient words. They are very modern. They are spoken to us and clamor for our attention. We dare not refuse to listen, for it is very late. We are, to be sure, in all externals as little like ancient Israel as possible. Yet in us there is written her hope, and also her delusion and her failure."

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Monday, 10 December 2012 04:21 posted by David MacLeod

    In case folks missed it (I've found the Journal entries on this site can easily be missed), I just want to give a pointer to T. Collins Logan's excellent piece, A Mystic's Call to Action.

    "A look at the Integral Lifework frame to deepen and mature spiritual practice....You are consumed by a purifying, invigorating flame of gnosis that insists in translating spiritual bliss into practical blessing. You know, intuitively and with certainty, that what you have experienced amid the depths of your being longs to be expressed in fluid, skillful, unselfconscious service to others. There is an intense momentum within you to release the floodgates of unconditional love upon the world. Your cup is running over.

    Okay, now what?"

  • Comment Link Sebastian Stark Tuesday, 11 December 2012 11:28 posted by Sebastian Stark


    maybe a good balanced point here would be the following.

    you said at the beginning, that really a non-integral approach to agape and eros that preered agape should be corrected with a more integrated approach instead of watching out for eros alone.

    And maybe there is a key to the resolvmenet.

    An Integrated apporach would be the correct idea. Stzill, the push that Eros needs to really get integrated, is so much these days that the highpower push cohen gives it is necessary.

    Thus the integration-demand is the correct theoritical form, while the emphasis on eros is the correct action tzo take to reah it, or a t least part of the right action to take

    And here comes another idea I have since a long time: maybe there are two kinds of eros.

    In one of my evolutionary process self experiences, I felt something like an Eros, which was nindual with agape and eros. As if by aligning with the force that wants to go on, I also align with the same force that has already created, and thus align with the past and the future simultanously.

    this is what andrew means when he says: awakening to the authentic self solves everything about integration.

    And as a complete harmony of eros and agape would mean, that there is no movement, or a) Eros is really always a little stronger than agape), or b) the evolution, the becoming, the nondual eros, is something differnt than the eros that is the opoosite to agape, a higher category that includes eros/agape level 1

  • Comment Link Tom Huston Tuesday, 11 December 2012 17:31 posted by Tom Huston

    Great inquiry, Chris! This is one of my favorite topics, and at one point a few years ago I outlined what was going to be an epic essay on the relationship between Eros and Agape, discussing a number of the points you've gone into here. I never had the time to write it, but maybe someday...or perhaps everyone can just build off your thread here and see what we all come up with.

    In any event, I once asked Andrew about this, after having a debate about it with an integralist in Boston (who now lives in the Bay Area). Andrew extended one arm upward and his other arm downward, saying "they're not separate." As a teacher of nonduality, he sees all of these distinctions (as well as the distinction he makes between Being and Becoming) as ultimately relative, resolved in trans-cognitive experience/realization. But for the sake of philosophical clarity and pragmatic usefulness, distinctions need to be made. Because Eros is the driving force of evolution--which Andrew also calls the "evolutionary impulse," a term he adopted from an early influence of his, Gopi Krishna--then it makes sense that Eros Spirituality (evolutionary spirituality) would place an emphasis on this side of the coin, especially as it's attempting to distinguish itself from more traditional, Agapic/Agapastic spirituality.

    So I think the bias is born of necessity for two reasons: (1) to help establish the importance of an evolutionary orientation to spiritual life and practice, distinguishing it from what's come before, and (2) to help focus the individual practitioner's attention on the nature of Eros, to awaken to an identification with it at its higher levels of expression in the human being (creative engagement and spiritual emergence). The felt-sense of compassion is very familiar to people, and many traditional religions, such as Christianity, give great counsel on how to awaken a connection to it in one's heart. But awakening to the evolutionary impulse just as deeply requires making it a priority in one's own mind, especially since doing so is still a lesser-known form of spiritual pursuit with far less cultural support and historical precedent.

    In terms of the "let the dead bury their dead" line and other instances of Christ's Eros-driven actions and implorations, I don't think Andrew was suggesting that these are blanket statements that apply at all times to all people; nor was he suggesting that this was the only way that Christ expressed the spiritual impulse. No one can deny that Christ was the preeminent exponent of Agapic Love, and Andrew, having interviewed and met with innumerable Christian mystics, theologians, and other practitioners--as well as having pursued Christian mysticism for a time when he was spiritually seeking in his 20s--knows this well. I also think that Andrew, as a teacher, and within the communities he oversees of students living the teachings of Evolutionary Enlightenment, expresses just as much Agape and Eros...precisely because they're ultimately inseparable. Perhaps at times his Eros-bias has taken center stage, but there have been good reasons for that, leading eventually to beyond-miraculous results (, as he's worked to establish this new and important orientation to spirituality, to life, and to our faith in the future.

    Likewise with mine and others' attempts to strongly "push off against" postmodernism. This has both theoretical and pragmatic uses, which aren't meant to deny the inherent validity or reality or importance of the thing being pushed off against. But the fact is, if we want to transcend and include, first we have to transcend--transcend and negate, and then include the value that remains and which we can more clearly discern from a higher evolutionary vantage point. But if the radical step beyond existing structures isn't first taken, we'll just be making distinctions within a muddled soup. At least one foot needs to be firmly "out of the swamp," as Andrew once put it in the early 90s, for new evolutionary ground to be potentially claimed...even as we struggle to pull the rest of ourselves up, perhaps for a lifetime, to be authentically and wholly established in that new terrain.

    Transcendence has to happen before inclusion--and that is also why Eros will always trump Agape by at least one degree. If creation didn't occur, there would be nothing to integrate or love or embrace. If a big bang (or whatever creation event) didn't happen, there would be no Agapastic sympathetic resonance possible between the particles that emerged. As the Hindus say, God is the creator (Eros), the preserver (Agape), and the destroyer (Eros again, in positive forms, and Thanatos in less-than-positive forms). You could say they are all mutually dependent and inseparable, and you'd be right. But you could also say that one of those principles is always leading the way.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 11 December 2012 19:28 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @KK. My apologies for not replying sooner. This is a nuts time of year for me work-wise, I really appreciated your comments. I don't think I was arguing for dialectical tension--I made a comment that I specifically didn't intend so to Amy Jean above.

    The tension I meant is more the tension that I think inevitably arises when an individual feels the already, the Kingdom in Jesus' language and then also opens themselves up the failure of its manifestation at very core levels of reality--economics, ecology, justice, society, broken homes, broken souls. That's really painful.

    But I do totally agree with you that both Eros and Agape can be experienced simultaneously. I just felt as a matter of our discourse in this community the Agape is formally being included but not really given the existential weight I feel it deserves.

    Thanks again.

  • Comment Link Katherine Konner Saturday, 22 December 2012 01:50 posted by Katherine Konner

    Thanks Chris, for replying. I read through most of the FB stream when it was occurring, but chose to keep my posts here. I am pretty new to readings in the Bible. What I have read, gives me the impression that The Kingdom is for everyone, but not everyone is able to be there. It reads as the way into The Kingdom was by following The Son of Man. As evidenced by history, not everyone did, nor has everyone now. The human experience therefore, remains full of pain and suffering. The greater good news is as a 'collective' we are on a trajectory - we have evolved and continue to evolve. We have approached a higher consciousness at near/at a tipping point, such that what is 'descending', is manifesting in forms that embraces pain and suffering and transforms it.

  • Comment Link Katherine Konner Saturday, 22 December 2012 02:16 posted by Katherine Konner

    Not to mention that now, on 12/21/12, Agape energy is being activated and embodied through hearts pulsating with such love. Looking forward to what all this energy will do!!!

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Thursday, 17 January 2013 08:41 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    Hey Chris,

    I've been meaning to read this piece for some time, and I'm glad I finally did.

    So first of all, I shared many of your conclusions. I punched up a lot of notes reading it on the Kindle, so I think I'll just share what I've highlighted and written down.

    "Wilber begins by distinguishing between Agape and Eros. He defines Agape as Love reaching down and embracing lower levels of being."

    "That long arc is bending towards justice because of Eros."

    What's the difference here between Eros and, say, compassion in the Buddhist sense? Buddhists are big on suffering and extending compassion.

    Secondly, what's the difference between Eros and the emancipatory movements in history, from the Protestant Reformation to MLK? There is also a tremendous bottom up theme, underdogs, etc. Also, the Biblical theme of prophecy in relation to Eros? Why the animosity toward green mem in Integral circles? Green Meme, ironically, seems oriented exactly toward that "arc" of justice; deeply oriented towards Eros.

    "Cohen argues that in the older forms of enlightenment, the primary manifestations of awakening was Healing, i.e. healing the suffering of the world."

    As you mention, this would be love as Agape. Love reaching out in healing. At this point, I thought Cohen was nailing down the traditional forms of enlightenment too simplistically. Is Agape only about "love reaching down?" Isn't it also about love reaching out? Embrace? Even if we do recognize a definite Agape orientation in traditional religious thought, it still mixes quite well with Eros. Divine love inspires us to reach out, and create Erotic compassion in the world. We feel the suffering of the whole world because of Agape. The whole world is taken into our hearts, or more like we reach that heart of the world. That could be Agape, sure. But then that Love stirs us to act. To heal, yes, but also to change the world. That's healing too.

    Healing is Eros, and Agape.

    By enacting change, and (as you later mention), partaking in the role of the prophet, we are actively transforming the world. That sounds both Erotic to me, in the sense of the "arc of justice," and Agape-like. Healing and social justice go hand in hand. Healing and transcendence, in the sense of transforming our world of suffering for the better, seem to always work together.

    Another issue I had with Cohen's designation was the fact that practically all of the Axial age religions emphasized the Golden Rule: Do Unto Others. This is hardly Agape (I think, at least), rather it is more Erotic in the attempt to have wider, and wider circles of consciousness and compassion. Do unto others what you would want your tribe to do to you. But apply this to the whole world. Every single human being. To me, this is a highly Eros-oriented role of extending wider and wider embrace of the world. A role, and a task, we are still put to today. It doesn't make sense to me why Cohen would reduce all of the classical religions into PURELY Agape. It just wasn't that simple then. And I doubt it's that simple now in the opposite direction with Eros.

    "We become less concerned with healing and more concerned with giving rise to creation."

    Why do modern evolutionary/integral circles neglect the justice oriented Eros? It's not about merely creating "what's new." It's also creating what's better.

    Maybe, but often creation is guided by transcending suffering and injustice in history, not just novelty, which might as well be postmodern art, creating new edges simply for their own sake. There must be Agape in this Eros creation drive: a divine force of creation, poesis, or Tolkien's "secondary creation." This is how I imagine Eros as: creativity, inspired by agape.

    Anyhow, I wrote this note:

    "[Creation and healing] these are inextricable to me. The creation of a better world partakes in healing. Creation addresses healing because of human suffering and oppression, and the need to transcend it."

    You ended up affirming all these thoughts when you wrote about how Jesus teaching was not favoring Eros over Agape, or Agape over Eros. Jesus did plenty of healing, and plenty of marketplace smashing.

    This reminded me that many historians and scholars have often said that Christianity's legacy was hardly Agape, in a cultural sense, but Eros. Now I guess this is favoring an imbalanced view of the teaching, but philosophically, history as a progressive unfoldment, having a Telos, etc. with modernity all are very future oriented. Arguably, Christianity and its child, secular modernity, are the most Erotic driven philosophies of all time.

    John Ebert noted that the Western psyche, in particular, has always favored the "myth of the Wonder child," over the wisdom of the elders. This kind of thinking is recapitulated in modern technological development, where each decade tremendous changes occur to economies and culture due to technological innovation. Our culture is future oriented, and has been since ancient Sumer's mythologies of trashing the old gods and embracing the realm of mortality. In this sense, the "erotic" pull, in the sense of destabilization, yearns ever forward in the West, and has been since ancient times.

    You mentioned a few notes on the Apocalypse, and Prophecy. I think this plays right into what I'm saying. Christianity, in no way only emphasis Agape.

    I think you summed it up nicely here,

    "While Jesus definitely includes Eros in his teaching, it doesn't ever strike me as valued over Agape. In fact, my read of the Gospels is that Jesus sees the Healing Work precisely as a sign and expression of the Eros work."

    And here,

    "The Kingdom of God coming upon you is Eros. The healing is Agape."

    Without Agape, we can completely lack humility. Sure, we can surrender to the tumultuous Eros, and there is some surrender involved. It's straining to constantly give up and allow yourself to be "creating what's new" or "what's on the edge" of consciousness entirely. I do think there is some ego-surrender there. But I am skeptical if emphasis on this kind of Ego-surrender can be enough without Agape. Without the divine love, the already-whole presence. The act of anamnesis, or Aurobindo's higher "stages" of consciousness. They are described as more complete. Not striving. Thinking in wholes. The recollection of the soul, and the yearning/incompleteness in our mortal frame, our mortal lives, is just as pertinent today as it was back in the time of the Greeks. I fear an emphasis on Eros puts too much responsibility on Eros. Perhaps Eros is only so explosively creative BECAUSE of Agape. Because of the Infinite Mind that it yearns so much when born in time and finitude. "Eternity is in love with the creations of time," and so forth?

    So I end up affirming your final criticism, "an evolutionary spirituality... will come to neglect Agape. It will lose touch with the Absolute, Compassion." This is what Aurobindo warned about frequently in his writings. Surrender is hugely important. Surrender to the divine Mother (or what principle you might choose to use, generally speaking the Infinite, the Eternal, the higher mind, etc).

    Finally, I just thought I'd let you know that I think this piece has grounds for a follow-up article I can do on Henry Corbin, Iranean Sufism, which blends both the Agape dimensions we've been speaking of, and the Erotic pull of creation. Specifically, the concept of the "Angel up ahead." The Celestial Twin. What I found both perplexing and silencing was the teaching in Iranean mysticism that even God has a Celestial Twin. Even the Eternal is ever-transcending itself. Ever bowing to the unknown. Every level and order of being is mediated by further revelation. This is beautiful, and, I think, utterly compatible with our current evolutionary paradigm so well articulated here on Beams.

    Perhaps these older traditions can even inform our evolutionary understanding in a much more profound way.

    Anyway, great piece Chris. Thoroughly enjoyed your work, as always!


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