Unique Self, Authentic Self, and The Flavor of Embodied Enlightenment

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Introductory Note:

This piece compares two teachings in the integral spiritual world: The Authentic Self (from Andrew Cohen) and The Unique Self (from Marc Gafni). As I was in the midst of writing and editing this piece and preparing it for publication, news broke of another controversy surrounding Gafni. I’ve already posted my views on that subject on Beams. See also the excellent comments thread to that piece. So I’m not going to rehash that conversation here. Anyone interested in conversation on that point is encouraged to add their voice to that post where it rightly belongs.  

As I said in the previous piece that I just linked to, whatever one’s views on Marc as a person and his actions, I believe the teaching of The Unique Self is extremely important. I think it’s bigger than any single person. This site is dedicated to holding multiple perspectives and in this piece I’m endeavoring to do precisely that thing. While I said earlier that I think the teaching of The Unique Self is extremely important, this piece fleshes out how I understand that statement.

Something similar (though by no means identical) can be said for the teaching of The Authentic Self. Simply mentioning Andrew Cohen raises protest from certain quarters—some of which we have experienced here at the site. But again I think the teaching can be examined without having to focus exclusively on the teacher and one's views of him/her. Br. Bergen is a student of Andrew’s and has interview with him on the site. Juma has mentioned both his support and critiques of evolutionary spirituality in this piece. Here I add my voice to that conversation. There is no monopoly of thought on this point among the Beams crew.

The basic stance I take in this context is at the core of the embodiment of integral theory: unless someone takes up the practice and checks the data of spiritual experience and enters the interpretive framework of a teaching, they are in no place to really be able to speak in any legitimate way to the teachings.  

I’ve left the original piece largely untouched from its original state--it is published here as Part I. Part II, an experiential guide into some of the terrain is a later addition. Please Note: This is an in-depth heavy-duty exploration of a rather subtle topic. With all that said, onto the piece itself.


Pt I: The Argument

buddhaOne of the most important contributions of an Integral or post-postmodern spirituality is the understanding of how an individual expresses and manifests an awakened life in the world. As but one example, a pressing need of our age is to relate Eastern and Western forms of spirituality in a global age.  With the introduction of Western economics into the Eastern world—i.e. globalization—and the entrance of Eastern forms of spirituality into the West, the question of an integration of these two streams is supremely important as both cultures increasingly influence one another.

To speak very simplistically, the Eastern traditions argue for identification with the Absolute—called Consciousness, Emptiness, The One, The Ground, The Divine, etc.  In contrast, the Western tradition has emphasized the autonomy of the individual and the importance of the development of the material world: history, society, psychology, technology, etc. Moreover the Western spiritual tradition has also tended to emphasize a strong sense of vocation and calling, that is divinely inspired work in the world.

In the last few years, a number of teachings that seek to respond to this situation have come forward.  In this piece I’m going to focus on two of them, perhaps the two best known: The Authentic Self and The Unique Self.  

The Authentic Self teaching comes from Andrew Cohen; The Unique Self from Marc Gafni, with help from Ken Wilber, Diane Hamilton, and Sally Kempton.  While there are precedents for these teachings, they have been shaped and embodied in a contemporary fashion by these teachers.

split personalityAs both teachings describe a kind of Self, either Authentic or Unique, I would like to focus on the question of personality (or lack thereof) in the spiritual path. This issue lies at the heart of the debate between the two about their respective teachings.

In this context, we might consider questions like: Does Enlightenment erase personality? Does it enhance personality? Is Enlightenment totally unrelated to personality? These are extremely important questions as our responses to these questions strongly shape the spiritual path we take and how that path shows up in the world.

The teachings on The Authentic Self and The Unique Self take very different stances in relation to the question of Spiritual Awakening and personality. The Authentic Self teaching, as we will see holds that the ultimate truth is impersonal in nature while The Unique Self teaching is best thought of as transpersonal, that is it transcends the personality yet includes the personality as well.

First I’ll give a brief overview of each teaching, starting with The Authentic Self, and then I’ll offer some thoughts about a possible reconciliation or integration of these two teachings.

starThe Authentic Self

Andrew Cohen describes The Authentic Self as impersonal.  Andrew describes The Authentic Self as the urge to consciously evolve:

“When time began, for an unknown reason, something came from nothing. Suddenly, an impulse emerged—the impulse to become, to create, to evolve. One could call it the God impulse. This urge to take form gradually became the whole universe, eventually including you and me as we are right now…And at the highest level, the level of consciousness, we experience it as the spiritual impulse, the mysterious urge to evolve as consciousness itself. This urge to evolve is what I call the authentic self. The movement of the authentic self in each and every one of us is not other than the one evolutionary impulse that is driving the engine of creation. When you feel the irresistible compulsion to develop at the level of consciousness, you are experiencing in your own soul the same impulse that initiated the big bang.”

The Authentic Self is a function of Consciousness. Further, this conscious drive to evolve in the Authentic Self reveals itself especially in regards to moral evolution.  In this video Andrew makes a strong, passionate case for moral evolution.

Being a function of Consciousness, The Authentic Self is inherently non-egoic. This non-egoic nature of The Authentic Self creates the possibility for deep communion in a non-egoic/Awakened context. Cohen’s teaching strongly emphasizes and embodies this intersubjective form of nonduality. When Authentic Selves find one another they seek to give expression to this fundamental creative drive of life in the realm of consciousness.

So conscious evolution is the hallmark of The Authentic Self and is described in the fourth tenet of Andrew’s teaching as a process perspective (formerly termed truth of impersonality). The emphasis is on the overall evolutionary process rather than any individual being within that process. This perspective is therefore rightly termed impersonal in nature.

The teaching of The Unique Self, in contrast, will argue that this new identity can be thought of, if not in personal terms, then under the term of Uniqueness.


The Unique Self

The definition of The Unique Self is True Self plus Perspective.

True Self or Awakening means realization of The Ultimate Ground and Essence of all Life. In traditions like Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam this Ultimate is usually called The One. In a tradition like Buddhism it is called Emptiness.

The Unique Self formula states that a person must first realize The Absolute Oneness. On the far side of this realization of Oneness comes perspective. It is the combination of those two, according to Marc Gafni, that reveals The Unique Self.

The key to understanding this definition is to get a sense of how perspective is being used here. This passage helps explain the meaning:

Imagine four people sitting in a room, each looking at each other. All four of these people are "fully" enlightened; that is, as enlightened as a person can be at this point in history. Gazing upon one another, they see the very same Oneness staring back at them, recognizing the effortless awareness behind each set of eyes…Now let's imagine that these four enlightened masters are sitting in a circle, each looking at a globe that sits on a table between them. Although they all share the same direct apprehension of Oneness, they each retain a particular perspective of the globe, and therefore each see the world in a completely different way. There is something markedly unique about each of their experiences, from their physical orientation in time/space to their individual experience of the universal. Within each of them lies a fundamental thread of perspective, stretching all the way to the darkest depths of the Mystery—a bottomless drop of the Heart that is unique to each and every one of us. 

It is this combination of Oneness and individuality that gives birth to The Unique Self. The Unique Self teaching then is transpersonal not impersonal. The way Ken Wilber frames it is to say, The Unique Self is “personal plus, not personal minus.” Transpersonal means transcending and yet including the personal domain of life.

unique giftsHaving established that The Unique Self is an individual’s embodied perspective on awakening, Gafni is able to draw out a number of implications. For example, Gafni is working on developing a teaching of Unique Shadow. There are also Unique Gifts, as well as Unique Vows. All of these are simply different facets of the Unique Self.

For Gafni, the recognition and validation of an individual's true Uniquess is what allows for there to be Unique relationship. Gafni has even gone so far as to talk of the Unique Revelation of the various traditions, along with their core essentials in terms of Awakening. This is a profoundly important point that would sidetrack us from the main thread of this piece, but I highly recommend this article.

Gafni spends a great deal of time arguing (in my view correctly) that Uniqueness should not be confused with separation or the separate self sense of the ego. The Unique Self is neither the contraction of the separate self-sense nor is it the Undifferentiated Oneness of the Absolute Self. It is a third reality: a trans-personalone.

Comparing The Two Teachings:

While there are clearly points of difference in the teachings of The Unique and Authentic Selves, I believe it is absolutely crucial to keep in mind the many points held in common between them.

Common points include:

1. There is development beyond Awakening to the Ultimate Self
2. That development includes a desire to evolve/cultivate a new sense of Self--Cohen: Authentic Self, Gafni: Unique Self.
3. Relationships are to be developed in light of this new context--Cohen: Higher We, Gafni: Evolutionary We.
4. There's a strong drive to bring new forms and expressions of Care and Goodness in the world--Cohen: Moral Evolution, Gafni: Nondual Humanism.
5. Creativity lies at the heart of this new reality. Cohen: Creative Impulse, Gafni: Eros.
6. The basic spiritual flow is to first realize The Absolute and then to experience the post-Awakening Identity.

Note that these points constitute a substantial amount of agreement.  This puts Andrew and Marc’s respective teachings much closer to each other than to many other forms of spiritual teaching available today which tend to deny creative evolution and don’t advocate for a new identity after traditional awakening.

That being said, the clear distinction that runs throughout however is whether this new identity, culture, creativity, and ethics are Impersonal or Transpersonal in nature.


Integrating The Two Teachings

I’m going to offer a way of viewing the relationship between the two teachings.  In doing so I’m going to invoke one of the hallmark principles of integral theory as articulated by Ken Wilber: the first useful principle of nonexclusion. As Ken says, “Everyone is right.” Another way of saying that is: everyone is true and partial.

Seeking to be inclusive, if we assume the teaching of both The Unique Self and The Authentic Self are correct, i.e. that both enlightened transpersonality and impersonality are somehow correct, then the question is: how can we fit them together? What is the third space that includes both?  

The upshot of practicing nonexclusion, according to Wilber, is “freedom through limitation.” Teachings and practices are freed to do what they do best by being limited and not having to solve all problems. That is, by being freed various teachings do not have to do what they aren’t in fact designed to do.

But how could impersonality and transpersonality both be correct?  If readers think I’m playing a shell game at this point, I invite them to take an “as if” position. What would happen if we approached this topic as if both propositions were true (and partial)?  

integral cycleI’ve discussed this point in more detail elsewhere on the site, but consider the Integral Learning Cycle, from Mark Edwards.  A cycle of learning occurs by first undertaking some kind of practice, which gives rise to a world of experiences, which are then framed through an interpretive lens, which then creates a community of the learned who confirm or disconfirm understanding within that world. In the Quadrants, that’s the movement from Upper Right (practice) to Upper Left (experience) to Lower Left (interpretation) to Lower Right (dis/confirmation).

The impersonality and transpersonality debate mostly occurs in the interpretive framing domain (Lower Left). That is, the debate is about how best to understand or interpret and name this post-Awakening spiritual identity.

But both of those interpretive teachings are arising out of various experiences from various and distinct practices. And therein lies the key point.

What if we imagine that both Andrew and Marc are correctly interpreting the respective experiences of their teaching?  That would suggest—as I think is actually the case—they are describing related but distinct experiences.  They would in other words be talking about related but distinct spiritual identities.  

It seems to me that the dialogue to date concerning the two teachings has assumed that they are arguing about basically the same spiritual territory and the only question is one of interpretation:  Is this thing we’re both experiencing impersonal or transpersonal in nature?

What if that underlying assumption is flawed?  What if Gafni and Cohen aren’t in fact arguing over the exact same territory? What if their respective spiritual practices are each picking up on a distinct dimension or stream? What if they are in fact correctly interpreting the differing experiences they are having—since they are arising from different practices?

If that perspective is right, then what they really should be doing is taking up each other’s practices and seeing what the experiences are like and if the interpretive frameworks being offered by their teachings make the best sense of those experiences, rather than simply debating who’s right and who’s wrong without having taken up each other’s practices.

This hypothesis of mine is based on the possibility that Cohen has picked up on an impersonal dimension of post-Awakening identity and Gafni has picked up on a transpersonal dimension of this identity.

andrew cohen teaching model If we look at Cohen’s teaching model of The Authentic Self, there is strong emphasis on conscience, moral evolution, Deep Time orientation, and evolving culture.  I would argue those are actually impersonal dimensions.  The moral evolutionary side creates an absolute impersonal standard that drives us.

If we look at Gafni’s teaching there is emphasis on Sacred Autobiography, The Gifting and Talents of a Unique Self, meditation on sacred texts, and Shadow practice.  These I argue are in the transpersonal domain. 

In a post-metaphysical framework, what we meditate on, how we practice, and how we understand what we experience all determine what actually comes to be.  These forms of awakening are being co-developed in and through the communities of practice and interpretation. They are each forging their own streams.

This point is an extremely important one, as each stream has its potential upsides as well as downsides.  
Gafni’s Unique Self teaching without the insistence on moral evolution could easily cement egotism as people confuse the Uniqueness of The Unique Self for the uniqueness of the ego.

The teaching of the impersonal Authentic Self without the sense from The Unique Self of owning one’s distinct perspective and angle on the whole process could end up confusing a-personality for im-personality. Since both apersonality and transcendental impersonality are non-personal in nature it is quite possible to confuse them. In my experience, there’s a fine line between the two.

three faces

The Flavor of Enlightenment

The view I’m advocating holds that there is therefore a third space that embraces these two teachings.  Br. Juma long ago coined the term ‘flavor of enlightenment. I think that fits here. Another option might be Real Self.  

This formulation includes both impersonal and transpersonal elements.  My contention is that Uniqueness and Authenticity are both manners of expression or modes of embodiment. Uniqueness and Authenticity point more towards the way in which someone shows up. Flavor I believe is more connected to the state of something or someone’s identity. It speaks more to the reality. Therefore, I think Flavor is wide enough to hold both Uniqueness and Authenticity as modes of its own expression. The Flavor, in other words, shows up both as Authentic and Unique.

Now someone might argue that I’ve just turned this into a giant semantic debate—I mean who really cares whether we call it Authentic, Unique, Flavor whatever? In a certain sense that’s right, it doesn’t ultimately matter what term is decided upon. But what does matter is the context in which that term is held. As I’ve been trying to make clear throughout this piece, what interpretive context we bring to spiritual experience is as important, if not more important, as interpretation has huge implications for how we practice and what virtues we cultivate along the spiritual way as a result.

Let me use a concrete example that relates specifically to The Unique Self and Authentic Self teachings. Marc Gafni wrote a book some years ago entitled Soul Prints. This book was the beginning of his explorations that are now more fully fleshed out as The Unique Self. The metaphor evokes the idea of fingerprints. The Soul is said to have its own set of fingerprints, which would uniquely identify them, as no one has two sets of matching fingerprints.

Soul Prints talks about getting in touch with one’s own Sacred Autobiography. By Sacred Autobiography Marc means an autobiography or narrative of The Unique Self. A Soul Print is not an autobiography of the ego. By calling it Sacred Autobiography, Marc is pointing out that the vast majority of autobiographies are about egoic personalities not Unique Selves. A Soul Print biography must be radically different than a regular biography as its narrative focus and subject are entirely different in nature.

Now the teaching of Sacred Autobiography only makes sense if one thinks that this post-Awakening Identity is transpersonal in nature: transcending and including personality. The Unique Self is Awakening plus Perspective. A Sacred Autobiography would highlight the awakened perspective of the person about whom the autobiography is written. Their awakened life, gifts, service, insights, and relationships would come together to form a sacred narrative of a life.


There is no equivalent practice of Sacred Autobiography in Andrew Cohen’s teaching for the simple reason that it makes no sense in that context. If one holds that the post-Awakening Self is impersonal in nature, there is no reason to write a Unique Sacred Autobiography. To do so would be a contradiction in terms.

Conversely, there is something deeply profound about sitting in a contemplation of the entire Kosmic journey and being the developmental Kosmic process aware of itself. There is a way that this contemplation obliterates egoic attachment—if only for a period of time. There is a deep freedom and creativity unleashed from entering into a space (especially with others) contemplating the entire process and seeing ourselves from that perspective. Only in such a space, it seems to me, is it really possible to experience how deeply the egoic rejection of serving the entire process really goes.

The Vase and Face: An Analogy

Another piece of evidence that supports my contention that the teachings of The Unique and Authentic Selves can be brought together is that Ken Wilber has been instrumental in the articulation of both teachings. He is not himself the teacher or primary driver of either teaching, but he has offered profound aid to both Marc and Andrew in the formulation of their respective teachings.

As I said the decision we make as to whether the way is transpersonal or impersonal has major implications for the way in which we practice. That is my deeper point, much more important than specific arguments about what things should be named. The names work as signifiers that point to significant areas of interpretation and embodiment.

two faces and vase

If that’s the case, what if these two teachings are more like this famous Gestalt painting? The image is two images interwoven, but a person can only see one at a time. Either we see the vase or the two faces. We never see both at the same time.

I hold it’s the same with the question of impersonality or transpersonality in the debate surrounding The Authentic and Unique Selves. The Authentic Self is something like the vase in the painting—alone, a vessel or container for another truth. The Unique Self is more like the two faces.

Held in this perspective, the tension around The Unique and Authentic Selves is now a creative tension. Their solution is not found in choosing one side or the other, but rather in holding them together in paradox.

How this paradoxical view shakes out in spiritual practice is that it frees up a community to practice both teachings. Each teaching will need to be done on its own—just as we can only ever see either the faces of the vase at one time. But having embodied something of both teachings, one can then start to feel when it is appropriate to be more one and when the other—when to put our attention more to the Vase-like dimensions of the spiritual path (Authenticity) and when to the Faces (Uniqueness).

The whole painting, in this analogy, is The Flavor that includes both.

If valid, this perspective I’m offering would be able to incorporate the strengths of both The Unique and Authentic Selves, while balancing out their potential blind spots. In the space of The Flavor, The Unique and Authentic Selves become polarities. We seek to embrace both polarities and flow between them rather than choose one over the other. In so doing I believe we could create a healthier, deeper, and wider spiritual expression.


Part II: Practicing What We Preach 

We've spent a great deal of time assessing various teachings, but without an experiential grounding of them both these ideas will remain rather abstract. What follows are some pointing out instructions/guided meditations in order to get a taste of The Unique and The Authentic Selves. Returning to the article in light of those experiences will allow for deeper engagement and for the reader to get a sense of whether s/he agrees with my perspective (this again is the Learning Cycle). 

As mentioned both teachings start with The Absolute (aka The Ground of Being) as the foundation of their teachings. 

So Practice #1 is to enter into The Source. 

Begin by letting your attention relax. Notice that given the opportunity it wants to relax of itself. Notice the deep Peace underlying every moment. It's a kind of space between everything. You may find it helpful to repeat (internally or softly aloud) Stillness. 

There is a Current in which nothing is happening. The experience is one of a calm lake, utterly still and perfectly at ease. There are no dilemmas, no troubles, no past pains or future concerns. Just This. Just Now. The Eternal Present. 

As that Current begins to wash over you, begin to let this experience Feel from your Heart. It radiates. There is an Unconditional sense of Love in addition to the Peace and Stillness. A Warm Peacefulness. That Warm Peacefulness is who you are, what everything is. It's the Source and Condition of our being.


That's step #1, held in common by both teachings. Now we move into the distinction of the two teachings, starting with The Unique Self.

The Unique Self 

Start again with practice #1: Resting in the Loving Ground of Being: a empty space of deep, quiet, Heart Ecstasy. 

From within that state, then deeply inquire into: "What is my Purpose?" "How shall I serve this Loving Ground?" "What is my offering?"

An image may flash into your consciousness, a vision of your Self in awakened embodied expression or you might experience some intuitive sense of who you are coming out of this Loving Ground into form. 

A variation on this is to ask to speak to The Unique Self that has you [e.g. I would say The Unique Self that has Chris.] Slightly shift your bodily posture to signify that you given such permission and are now standing in the position/perspective of The Unique Self that has you. Experience the world of The Unique Self that you are. If you have a dialogue partner, have the partner ask you questions such as (or you can ask the questions to yourself):

"What is it like to be you? What does it feel like? What do you experience?"


"What are you here to do?" "What is your purpose?"

If working with a partner, each person takes a turn asking questions and responding as The Unique Self. It is very important to speak to The Unique Self that has you rather than "my Unique Self". Framing it as "my Unique Self" can cause a person to understand the the uniqueness to be internal to the ego ("my unique self") rather than The Unique Self which transcends and includes ("has") your frontal personality.

You will know immediately you have located The Unique Self for things will start to light up. You'll have a sense of "sitting in your seat."

The Authentic Self 

Once again return to practice #1 of resting in the Ground. And from there follow this guided meditation from Andrew Cohen:

"If you pay close attention to your own experience you will begin to realize that there is more to nothingness than meets the eye. The nothingness is not nothing. Nothing is happening there, and yet it is deeply compelling. If you get into a deep state of meditation it's absolutely enthralling. There is somethingin the nothingness that, once discovered, is absolutely absorbing.

In that unmanifest domain nothing has happened, nothing has happened yet...but everything is possible. Everything came from that no-place! So even in the absolute nothingness prior to the big bang the potential for everything must have existed. That is what captivates your attention as you rest in that empty stillness--the sense of infinite potential. It is experienced as a suspended state of absolute awakeness, a quiet tension that exists in consciousness because everything is possible.

Everything is possible, but nothing has yet occurred--that is the vibration in the ground of Being, dancing just below the surface. That's what you begin to feel when you put your attention on the moment when the universe was born...This is the revelation that liberates: that in your very own experience you can find the same vibration, the same energy, the creative tension that initiated the entire process at the very beginning."

--Evolutionary Enlightenment, pp. 26-27  (italics in original).


The Flavor of Embodied Enlightenment

So we begin to see that these two identities are related but distinct. They are awakened by different practices--that's the key part.

Cohen led us to contemplate the entire Universe, connect with the creative energy behind it, and then find that energy surge through us, as us. In that state one experiences the overall Process as the important thing. Cohen is right--from this state--it is Impersonal. That is the Authentic Self. 

The Unique Self practice does also lead to an experience of the Creative Urge pulsing within and through each of us. But the practice leads to a more acute awareness of one's specific role and expression as that process. 

Now, one final practice, a practice to include and transcend the two. 

We're going to use the Voice Dialogue Process once more for this one. 

Imagine the voice of The Authentic Self as one side of a triangle and The Unique Self as the other side. Now imagine the top of the triangle. We will call that voice The Apex. 

Give yourself permission to speak to the voice of The Apex (that which includes both The Unique and The Authentic Self). Shift bodily to signify this identity-shift. 

You are The Apex.

What it is like to be you? What is your experience?

If you follow this voice, you will notice that you can feel both The Authentic Self and The Unique Self within you. You have choice to flow between the two--in Part I I called this shifting perspectivese from the Vase to the Faces in the famous gestalt painting.

My contention is that The Apex of The Unique and Authentic Selves is The Flavor of Enlightenment that expresses itself through your being. In this way we are able to include the best of both The Unique and Authentic Selves.

The Unique Self is the distinct angle on enlightenment of an individual. The Authentic Self is the impersonal, unyielding energetic function of Consciousness that is intimately grasps the whole Process of Creation. 

The Flavor of Enlightenment is, I believe, much more a state of our Essence. The Flavor has two fundamental perspectives: one that is exclusive one (The Unique Self) and one that is that of the entire Process (The Authentic Self).

If the interpretation I've offered is valid, it leaves open a rich vein of inquiry into the nature of The Flavor of Enlightenment of any being, by incorporating both of those perspectives: Uniqueness and Authenticity. 

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  • Comment Link David Kim Wednesday, 18 January 2012 18:47 posted by David Kim

    Dear Chris:

    What a wonderfully thought out, and nuanced post to an incredibly complex topic. Your careful attention and love in all your posts, but especially in this piece, which is on a topic that I've been thinking about for a few years now (as I'm sure many others as well), is very much appreciated. I look forward to Part 2.

    First a little context: for a lack of a "Beams and Struts-type" salon in Chicago, I've been attending the monthly EnlightenNext meet-up here for almost two years. In that time, I've gotten to know some of Andrew's formal students, and their integrity and authenticity are evident. However, I do hold certain differences in my realization, and in the way I feel called to express this. Sometimes, when these differences arise, I don't hold them too tightly as Andrew's vision of "heaven on earth" is something I whole-heartedly support. With that said though, there are distinctions, and these distinctions and differences can be honored and appreciated in an integral post-metaphysical pluralistic way, like in your piece. Or as Andrew says, for evolutionary friction.

    To Andrew's credit, he makes no qualms that his teachings are biased toward the manifest face of Spirit. We might interpret what this means differently, and I have my own thoughts as to why he holds this view, but for this discussion, I believe it's relevant because it helps detail the prism in which the Authentic Self is viewed, which is via Andrew's teachings. To not do so would be to view it in a unique way, which is closer to the Unique Self. Perhaps this is where we might disagree, but Andrew's teachings, not Andrew himself, but his teachings are essentially the exemplar for the Authentic Self.

    As you've stated, the Authentic Self can basically be seen as impersonal, that there is a clear line separating the personal and impersonal, and the teachings themselves are one impersonal conduit to awaken to that one flavor. Again, we are merely dealing with signifiers pointing to signifieds, but there are better signifiers. Even Andrew tries to evolve his metaphors and another way to say impersonal, in keeping with Andrew's teachings is post-personal (which didn't really stick) and now, I think more recently, and also more compassionately, defined as process perspective.

    The Unique Self as you've stated is transpersonal and: "transpersonal means transcending yet including the personal domain of life." Without having to exclude the personal, but rather including it (by properly transcending it), it is in this domain, that the Unique Self teaching is so important, and held with such hope and high esteem, as one of the main teachings for the next step of Integral. Awakening + perspective. Perspective is so important, that it is on equal footing with Awakening, not below or above, thus we get so much more room for nuance and complexity as the full benefits of AQAL can be realized.

    The way I have come to understand it, the Unique Self transcends and includes the Authentic Self, but the Authentic Self does not transcend and include the Unique Self. This is my perspective, that Andrew's view is a uniquely authentic voice, that is very important, and very beneficial, however, in order to give voice to the Authentic Self, it is through his teachings, and must fit within his uniquely authentic vision. I have no problem with that. More love to him I say, and I intend to continue my support. However, this is why Unique Self, when viewed properly, and outside the context of some of the concerns you raised in your piece, namely co-opting by the personal, is so exciting. I believe once the Unique Self teachings become more nuanced, a more fully functioning healthy conveyor belt can be possible, as it fully embraces all the stages, but particularly allows for the healthy inclusion of, for a lack of a better term, post-modernism.

    One of my problems with being biased toward the manifest is the tendency to elevate the Authentic Self to the True Self, sort of like thinking of Emptiness as empty, when it is neither empty, nor not empty, nor neither, nor both. I'm not saying this is what anyone does, except for myself - sometimes - and so I know how I have been mistaken, or continue to be mistaken at times. One of the ways this is expressed no less is in the Evolutionary Enlightenment map you put up on the piece above. The Ground of all being is seen as a separate object, or beginning point in time, or as literally the ground from which Spirit evolves up and out from, rather than the space or container in which this occurs - or awareness itself, or awareness of awareness. I've made this mistake before, or rather, wasn't even aware of it, until I was, well, aware of it. Signifiers are one thing, until they become blurred with the referent. I recognize the picture is just a picture, and maybe I'm reading too much into it?

    In my understanding, the Ground is more properly represented as the entire background, and foreground, or the piece of paper itself, something Ken explains many times in various places, because the True Self, or Spirit is both manifest and un-manifest, and how to best point this out is our passion. Thus in your faces and vase analogy, while I agree, Authentic Self is viewing the vase only, I disagree that Unique Self is "only" seeing the faces. I fully accept your Unique Self is seeing the faces "only" and can only ever see one or the other, if that is your view as you stated in the piece, but this might not be the case for everyone. See how Unique Self can incorporate healthy deconstruction. Because it allows for different perspectives, it allows for the potential to see both the faces and vase, in one seamless, but not distinction-less whole, even if we individually, cannot see it yet, thus more fully honoring integral post-metaphysical pluralism. Whether that potential is an actuality, I can't prove. I think you'd agree, it is something left for each individual to discover.

    Wow, sorry for such a long response. Got no work done yet today! Your piece was the inspiration. Again, I truly thank you for your continued love and effort. I am a huge fan of everyone at Beams, and nothing but love.


  • Comment Link Patti DeSante Wednesday, 18 January 2012 21:44 posted by Patti DeSante

    Chris..thanks for this and I particularly like how you describe the practices.

    I think you would enjoy Master Dogen's teaching from the Tenzo Kyokun.."Instructions to the cook"...you can find it on line. I feel it is a text that offers a teaching that deeply integrates both of these Selfs through the practical experience of working with food....Norman Fischer also has great commentary of this text..
    Again good to see you the other day and blessings

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 18 January 2012 22:34 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thank you--that's a great response. I really appreciate your perspective.

    I didn't mention it in this piece (using Flavor so as not to confuse) but I think that True Self is really a bad name for The Ultimate Self or The Absolute. The Only Self might be a better term. The One.

    In the Christian tradition from which I come, True Self refers to what would be labeled here The Flavor. In much Christian mystical theology this is confused a bit because there don't always go all the way into Emptiness first. I've experimented a few times (with others and in my own practice) with the Voice Dialgoue around all this and True Self seems to stick better for people than Unique. This is a small, unrepresentative sample. It would be interesting to follow that up. iow, I think there's a bit of an Eastern bias by referring to The One as the True Self.

    Now in terms of what I wrote here, it's true I did tend to write of The One more as Ground. Though I did also say it was the Condition of all and "who we are, what everything is."

    But you're right I could have filled that portion out more. This was more just an introduction.

    And beyond all that, thanks for all the love :). Right back at ya.

  • Comment Link Jeff Bellsey Thursday, 19 January 2012 06:41 posted by Jeff Bellsey

    Chris: Really well-done, as usual. Nuanced, advanced, meta. And a much-needed analysis!

    Here's some of my own take, after having spent a long time living in Andrew's community in Massachusetts, and knowing Marc far less (but enough to comment here).

    First, I think the sharp line you drew between the faces and the vase is in truth quite blurry. Neither teaching is as absolute as you indicate, although the polarity serves a useful function in teasing out the distinctions.

    In practice, Andrew's emphasis on impersonality is strong but not final; he certainly allows for variations in the expression of the Authentic Self based on the natural (non-egoic) aspects of personality, including culture, biology, age, even potentially past lives. (Significantly, he misses Enneatype, but that's a story for another day.) These natural differences are discovered only "on the other side" of enlightenment, so to speak. He's aware of the pre/trans danger you referred to, namely, mistaking the unique flavor of our egos from the unique flavor of our self-beyond-ego as it manifests in egoless relationship.

    In a sense, Marc is pointing to the same thing. The Unique self is also found only on the other side of enlightenment. But in practice, his emphasis is strongly on the uniqueness and not so much on enlightenment, even though it's embedded. Having seen first-hand how much desire we all have to be unique egos, I feel Marc's teaching lacks the humility that Andrew's has. Instead, he gives us license to seek our uniqueness without much concern for the danger zones. Which is, IMO, one reason why Marc's teaching is so appealing to so many people.

    Remember: Andrew's teaching grew in dialectic response to postmodern spirituality, where any truth is good truth. So his emphasis on loosening our grip on egoic differentiation is very specific to the 1980s culture in which he began teaching. Marc is in dialectic response to Andrew, so he focuses on the trans-personal differentiation that Andrew mostly skips over. You actually have two teachers in very much the same zone. Dare I suggest that the two teachings are nearly the same, with issues of clarity, semantics, and emphasis the main distinctions. Not that they would ever agree with that, but that's what we metas are for!

    (Oh, and culture has not evolved so much since the 1980s that we can ignore the problem of narcissistic differentiation that Andrew is a response to, and which is such a danger on the path. Marc, and Unique self students, should bear that in mind.)

    Again, bravo. An important conversation to be having as we move forward.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Thursday, 19 January 2012 13:22 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Fantastic exposition, deep heart coursing through in profound depth and love! Thank you so much for presencing this, your unique authenticity.

    Since you are introducing nuanced distinctions, I offer a view from process theology that might be of interest. The view depends on making the distinction between ontological time, and onto-genetic time. The temporics in AC's narrative stream are ontological (evolutionary) -- so the Authentic Self is the prior ground. However, the Authentic Self never actually appears except onto-genetically with the occasioning (arising) of the Unique Self. So the Authentic Self is prior, *onto-logicall* but the Unique Self is prior *onto-genetically*.

    This is why your face/vase graphics doesn't do your distinction justice. The face/vase effect relies on the switching back and forth of figure/ground -- and unless I read incorrectly, I don't see you as saying that the two teachings are equally capable of being ground to each other's figure -- but that you are saying there is need for a third term. This is a dialectician's need. The problem with this need/solution is that historically, the third term itself derives a "equal but opposite partner" -- so for example, with further investigation someone will eventually describe a partner to your notion of "flavor" -- requiring yet another "third term" in the synthetic move.

    Process theology (a la Hartshorne) paves a different way to reconcile this kind of reasoning spiral. It does so by contextualizing the temporal distinctions as I have made, but also by a deeper understanding of figure-ground shift. If I take the definitions you have offered for US, AS, then process theology would consider them not as symmetrical opposites in need of synthesis, but as asymmetrically related. In this case, the AS is transcendent to the US (can hold or function as the ground of the US in the way that the US, being a particular cannot hold of function as the ground of the AS) -- but due to the processural nature of their relation, the AS is actually (and somewhat counter-intuitively if you are not familiar with post-Whiteheadian process logics) *sublated* "inside" the US in the process of its occassioning -- which means the AS is the ground of the US, but not its cause, and therefore they are mutually dependent effects (no prior cause).

    Geeky, I know. I hope you did not get a headache.

    Love to your expressions in all their wonderful flavors!


  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Thursday, 19 January 2012 13:28 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    "the synthetic move" is "up the meta- ladder"

  • Comment Link Neelesh Thursday, 19 January 2012 17:33 posted by Neelesh

    The apex is a good frame.

    Ultimately, however, both AS and US constitute 'the Zen dust which you should shake from your sandals' and finally both are 'lies in the face of the Mystery which alone is'.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 19 January 2012 20:17 posted by Chris Dierkes


    thanks dude. I think you're right that the lines are inevitably fuzzier than a simple straightforward piece like this one could make it out to be. It's certainly true that there is no reason in principle (that I can see anyway) why the two teachings couldn't incorporate more of the other's perspective. I think that would be good.

    I think your points relative to Andrew and Marc's contexts and styles are bang on.

    One thing I hope might come out of this--and it's why I spent so much time on it in the piece--is that there be cross-fertilization of the practices.

    I think you are right there is a desire for uniqueness. One way to go about that is certainly the Andrew way. I respect that. Another way, which is how perhaps Marc intends for it to happen (or should if he doesn't) but doesn't actually end up doing would be like this. Use that desire and then transmute it, in a kind of Tantric way. To say we are all deeply desiring uniqueness but we are searching for it in the wrong fashion.

    "Looking for love [uniqueness] in all the wrong places."

    And then show the ways in which we could distinguish the desire for uniqueness in its unhealthy and then fundamentally profound ways. This might be a bit of a triple bank shot, but I would think in that way people would find that when they come to experience the real Unique Self (not uniqueness), they will find they are no longer searching for it and it didn't look like what they imagined it would anyway.

    Or so I think anyway. :)

  • Comment Link Brett Friday, 20 January 2012 15:43 posted by Brett

    Wow, impressive analysis. Thank you for this! There are many among us (integralists) that agree that the unique self teaching is a very important concept that many people will benefit from.

  • Comment Link Joseph Camosy Friday, 20 January 2012 16:38 posted by Joseph Camosy

    I think your West-East juxtaposition is inaccurate. Culturally, you may issues of this blending, but philosophically, I think it's more of a Tantra-Sutra contrast.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Friday, 20 January 2012 20:06 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Brett, thanks.

    @Joseph. I'm definitely speaking more broadly in this piece. For example there were plenty of Westerners who realized traditional nondual enlightenment. Could you expand a bit on your Tantra-Sutra distinction. I think I get the Tantra part, but would be interested to hear what you mean by Sutra.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Friday, 20 January 2012 20:13 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for your comment. I think the point you raise though is at the heart of this debate. I do think traditional awakening leaves open a real question of embodiment, at least for our age. In the Zen Oxherding pictures, for example, the awakened one returns to the marketplace with open hands.

    But is that really the best metaphor for our day? What if the marketplace is deeply (if not fundamentally) corrupted?

    The closest teaching among the traditions to all this I think would be certain strains of Kabbalah. There there is an overarching frame--tikkun, the work of cosmic repair. I think the whole maya and lila narrative is really problematic.

    I think the tikkum story shows that awakening exists for some other purpose--beyond even "just" awakening other people (a la the Boddhisattva vow). Interestingly, Gafni of course was a Rabbi and Andrew was raised in a Jewish family (though he went East for his training).

    In the end though I think there are ways for those who see Authentic/Unique Self teachings to come after enlightenment versus those who see them enfolded more within that enlightenment frame to work together. As both schools value both awakenings, even if they put slightly different values of emphasis on the two.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Friday, 20 January 2012 22:52 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Chris,

    I really appreciate this post. I can relate to both the Authentic Self and Unique Self, and while it’s critical to be able to distinguish them—because as you say they issue in different practices and how we show up in the world—I always assumed the validity of both. (But I didn’t have the clarity that you brought to the table, so thanks again.)

    What I found myself wondering about is what ever happened to the psychological self—that miraculous, self-organizing process that evolves through developmental stages, and issues in a distinct sense of “self”? Am I wrong in my sense that sometimes we carry on as though this part of us is completely skipped over in our conversations? How is it related to Unique Self (US) and Authentic Self (AS)?

    To give just one example, from attachment theory, in my own work I’ve discovered that when our attachment with (m)other is complicated, we will unconsciously organize our entire relational lives to correspond with how we resolved the complications. In truth, it is even deeper than this. Our attitude to life itself is shaped by the quality of this early attachment. Through my own therapeutic journey I’ve discovered that infants are not blank slates. We make pre-conscious arrangements in response to the depth and quality of the attachment, or lack thereof. A short list of the existential questions we have to come to terms with include:

    Is the universe trustworthy to meet my needs?
    Can I fully commit to life?
    Is life freely nourishing?
    Can I take what I need?
    Is the universe able to see me/attune to me?
    Can I be loved?
    Can I fall in love with life?
    Can you receive the fullness of my life and love without contracting?
    Is my ecstasy valid?
    Is the universe able to meet me in my absolute joy?
    Can you hold my disappointment?
    Do you know how beautiful life is? Do you feel that with me?

    As an adult, you can philosophize these questions to death and come up with very spiffy answers, but those rational answers are mostly bullshit. You answered them for real a long time ago, and everything depends on you finding out how you answered them, because your current life is your answer to them.

    In fact, my mission/deep purpose came to me in a therapy session in which I was doing some very early, pre-verbal work. It was both gut-wrenching and exquisitely beautiful. But when I emerged, I knew what my life was for. I didn’t have to think about it. It was just there, obvious.

    When I am standing in front of a group giving a keynote, leading a workshop, or preaching, I am quite able to speak/lead from my experience of the Absolute Freedom and Fullness showing up in, as, and through me. But when I’m interrupted by my wife asking me to get the fucking groceries, or vacuum, or do the banking, then I default to the multiple cracks in the foundation of my personality. Or when things get intimate enough that they touch into an aforementioned complication, in turn I complicate the hell out of a simple request for love. Hopefully, I’ve done my work sufficiently to witness, understand, and take responsibility for my imperious child, and my fear of intimacy. But here’s my point. I’ve done the work. I’m still doing my work. Don’t know if I’ll ever be finished with this work.

    And if I don’t do my work, (psychological work) it doesn’t matter how awakened I am, my manifest self is going to get weird on you, and anybody else who triggers my unresolved stuff (from any and all stages of development). And then I’m going to blame you. I’m going to interpret reality as a victim. I’m going to rationalize for the sake of my survival. I’m going to shit all over you, and the world, in other words. Then, I’m going to get addicted to the drama of it all, and repeat it endlessly. (I’ve just described church! ☺ Just kidding for all you beautiful members of Canadian Memorial).

    This may go a long way in explaining the behaviour of too many of our gurus—too much time imagining that they are immune from their personal/psychological histories. I want to know what goes on when they’re doing the laundry or picking the kids up from work or getting unsolicited critical feedback from their spouse. We need to both wake up, AND grow up, and in this latter project, there are no shortcuts. You can’t skip a step. Sure, it’s easy to say transcend and include, but actually including it means doing the work.

    What think ye?

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 21 January 2012 01:11 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Bruce,

    Excellent comment.

    Thanks for bringing up the ego. I can't write everything in every piece, but I have written a piece on my understanding of the ego (and psychotherapy particularly) in relation to the life of spirit:


    This piece should be read in relation to that one. I wrote three piece last year that talked about three identities: Spirit, Soul, and ego.

    This piece on AS and US is really an elaboration of The Soul identity.

    But I agree with you that we are always all three. We never stop being both an Infinite and a finite being. As well as having this Soul which is somehow trans-finite (Infinite and finite, both or neither?).

    But certainly the combination of Spirit and ego never stops hurting. We may learn to deal with that hurt better, to trust it, and to learn from it, to allow it to soften us so that we can love others. But I don't agree with teachings that seek to transcend that primal contraction. I do think there are ways to bring consciousness and healing to it, even to see the wounding as gift, as well as to wisely empower the parts of ourselves like the Soul that don't seem to carry that wounding (or at least not in the same way).

    In other words, I think this whole thing is a very multi-dimensional process that requires us to be doing lots of things and keeping tabs in numerous ways at the same time.

    This is why I think intersubjective/collective practice is so crucial. I think these issues both get surfaced and (hopefully) clarified in those spaces.

    It's also why I spend so much time going through what seems to be excessively cognitive terrain relative to the life of spirit. Because to me without a strong head on one's shoulders, this process will eat a person up and spit them up.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 21 January 2012 01:19 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for your comment. As usual, you're way out beyond me. I'm not sure I totally get all of it (would need to do more background in advanced process thought), but as to the question of whether each teaching could be ground for the other....Jeff's comment seems to suggest that he thinks so.

    And I'm open to the possibility. Namely that The Authentic Self teaching doesn't preclude the possibility of emphasizing the way in which The Authentic Self channels through a being creating a Unique expression. Even if that Unique expression isn't necessarily given much weight in the teaching/community.

    Just so, it seems to me possible that The Unique Self could hone in more specifically on the creative Eros and show ways in which it is Impersonal and common to all.

    I guess that last option sounds to me very close to your notion of the AS being sublated inside The Unique Self.

    I'm not clear why AS has to be the ground of US. I could see how it could be embodied in that way. But I think it's very possible (though perhaps not likely) that one could start with the US and move there to the AS.

    I think you and Jeff are right though that the vase/faces analogy while maybe a valiant effort is not particularly wise here.

  • Comment Link gillian ross Saturday, 21 January 2012 03:52 posted by gillian ross

    Gosh this is the most wonderful conversation around the AS and US and one that my intellectual self has been looking for for years!!. A brilliant article Chris. Thank you.
    I do so agree with David however that the US transcends and includes the AS. I also agree with him

    " that Andrew's view is a uniquely authentic voice, that is very important, and very beneficial, however, in order to give voice to the Authentic Self, it is through his teachings, and must fit within his uniquely authentic vision. I have no problem with that. More love to him I say, and I intend to continue my support. However, this is why Unique Self, when viewed properly, and outside the context of some of the concerns you raised in your piece, namely co-opting by the personal, is so exciting. I believe once the Unique Self teachings become more nuanced, a more fully functioning healthy conveyor belt can be possible, as it fully embraces all the stages, but particularly allows for the healthy inclusion of, for a lack of a better term, post-modernism."
    I also agree with him that there is a tendancy to elevate the AS to the status of True Self ( and I also agree with you that True Self is better named One self)
    I do think it is the case that our postmodern spiritual sensitivites have geven us a bit of a complex around any spiritual idintity that might be construed as an ego in disguise! AS we step into the transpersonal in all its glory and inclusiveness, the teachigs on the Unique self are delicious.
    Chris I wonder if the obvious breadth and depth of your spiritual knowledge extends to familiarity with the teachings of the athroposophists. In particular Steiner's concept of "Ego" with a capital "E" . I have felt that to resonate with Gafni's US. Would you agree? And again very different from Andrew's AS who sees manifest " uniqueness" as merely cultural and biological etc not transcendental.


  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Monday, 23 January 2012 15:40 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    That's because I've set it up intellectually. As I posted in the FB thread, I have a saying I like to use: "when an object for the discursive mind is made out of the injunction -- the medicine becomes poison."

    here's another way to examine the situation


  • Comment Link Elizabeth Debold Thursday, 26 January 2012 17:20 posted by Elizabeth Debold

    Dear Chris,

    Thank you for undertaking this significant task. There is a lot of confusion "out there" about this. I don't know Marc's teaching on the Unique Self, but, of course, I am a practitioner and teacher of Andrew Cohen's Evolutionary Enlightenment. I would suggest that you might approach Ellen Daly, who wrote a response to Marc about the differences. Ellen is Andrew's editor and writing collaborator.

    But there are a few things that I think might help with the discussion you have opened up. First, fundamentally, Evolutionary Enlightenment is not a teaching for individual awakening. Not really. The point is to create a new culture by coming together beyond ego (ego = existing self structures and motivations). In this, the individual, while fully individuated, is, you might say, recalibrated and new capacities in self and intersubjective become available. There are two different kinds of awakening in the individual that are necessary to hold and foster this new cultural worldspace: awakening to the empty Ground of Being and awakening to the evolutionary impulse.

    Second, because the teaching is a moving target, produced out of Andrew's development and our own (meaning: the core of his students who are creating this with him), some of the terminology has not been clear. "Authentic self" is one of them. Andrew has used authentic self and evolutionary impulse interchangeably, but more recently, we're settling on the following: The evolutionary impulse is a function of consciousness in manifestation toward ever higher orders of becoming/integration/complexity...thus evolution. The authentic self is an individual who is aligned with that deepest cosmic motivation.

    Third, thus, the point is not personality or not (it would be silly to say that Andrew or any of us don't have personalities!!), or even impersonal or transpersonal, but what is the primary driver or motivation of the individual?

    And finally, keep in mind that Andrew, as a teacher, teaches in a dialectic with postmodern values. So, his emphasis on "impersonal" was an attempt to jolt us narcissistic individualists who only think in terms of "what about me? is this good for me???" into reaching for a higher order raison d'etre. His point, that we are less unique than we think, rubs our pomo entitled specialness the wrong way. And what it means to be less special and unique is: Hello, join the human race! We are all this process that is consciousness trying to evolve through matter to higher orders of freedom, choice, integration. There is nothing that I am or experience that is not the human experience--and conversely, no matter who you are, all of your motivations and basic templates for understanding and experiencing life are also in me. To see that for the amazing, mysterious process that we are at the leading edge of culture, as the furthest eyes and ears of this One Process is humbling and heartwrenching in so many ways! Rather than taking us away into some abstracted impersonal space, it hardwires you into the living heart of the cosmos as you and me and the whole shebang. An awesome responsibility.

    I hope that is clarifying. Thanks so much for opening all of this up, Chris.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 26 January 2012 19:16 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for the very thoughtful response. It's very clarifying.

    I like the distinction you all are drawing between the evolutionary impulse and The Authentic Self. That's really important. I also appreciate the way you unpacked impersonal.

    This section I found really interesting, you wrote:

    "We are all this process that is consciousness trying to evolve through matter to higher orders of freedom, choice, integration. There is nothing that I am or experience that is not the human experience--and conversely, no matter who you are, all of your motivations and basic templates for understanding and experiencing life are also in me."

    I think the key word there is basic ("basic templates for understanding and experiencing"). My sense is that yes looked at one from vantage we are the process and whatever we experience is therefore a human experience. And I think that we do share the basic templates (including questions of identity and relationship-in-identity) of understanding and experiencing.

    But I'm not sure that all of our motivations are in each other. Again maybe some basic ones, but here I think The Unique Self teaching might have something to offer.

    Namely there may be more distinct forms of understanding and experiencing that are unique to individuals. And the same may go with motivations. I'm not sure what the word for those would be: non-basic?, advanced? simply distinct?

    Not to get overly technical, but my sense is that the motivations are drawn from the identities. Each identity has its own motivation: e.g. Ground has a motive to rest or be released. This is why I think the questions of personal, impersonal, and transpersonal are important and do include the also important discussion (as you helpfully brought out) of motivation.

  • Comment Link Tom Huston Friday, 27 January 2012 17:50 posted by Tom Huston

    Chris, this is a great, epic post! Thanks for opening this all up. Elizabeth's response above covers the main things I (being another student of Andrew Cohen's) would add, particularly what she said about motivation being a more fundamental distinction than "impersonal" or "transpersonal," because motivation has to do with context and values. If you genuinely see yourself as the conscious embodiment of the Kosmos itself--not a small part of a vast evolutionary process, but literally one with the singular conscious force (evolutionary impulse) driving the entire process--then that realization fundamentally reorients and recontextualizes the self at all levels. You wrote:

    "There is no equivalent practice of Sacred Autobiography in Andrew Cohen’s teaching for the simple reason that it makes no sense in that context. If one holds that the post-Awakening Self is impersonal in nature, there is no reason to write a Unique Sacred Autobiography. To do so would be a contradiction in terms."

    But if you realize your identity with the evolutionary impulse pervading the Kosmos, then there is no contradiction, because the "Unique Sacred Autobiography" of Chris Dierkes can still retain as much unique distinction and personal detail as you want to include, but your unique story just has to start a lot earlier--namely, at the beginning of the evolutionary process itself (such as the Big Bang, if there was one). Even if the Unique Self is taken to mean the transmigrating soul, deeper than the present-lifetime egoic self but still individualized, with its own distinct set of memories and karmic impressions, then that soul's history would still be inseparable from the greater story of the evolutionary process itself, and must be told within that larger context to retain its full accuracy and import.

    As Elizabeth said, impersonal doesn't erase personality--it recontextualizes it. At the very least, this means that one has to see one's supposed uniqueness in the context of being one person among 7 billion other persons. You may not share *all* of the same motivations as other human beings, but you are likely to share many of the same motivations as those human beings within your immediate cultural context, or within your generation. If you recall memories of your own personal, unique childhood, do your memories take into account the cultural, environmental, and geopolitical context in which all of your childhood experiences were occurring? The idea that we are separate from our cultural or environmental context is an illusion. Within the vast web of interconnected existence that is Indra's Net, how "unique" can any self actually be, beyond mere surface details? That isn't to say that surface details are irrelevant or meaningless; it just means they're more superficial than the deeper currents that bind us all.

    Ultimately, I think the Authentic Self transcends and includes all Unique Selves for the simple reason that the Authentic Self is, to use Ken Wilber's terminology, an AQAL self, four-quadrant self, or integral self. It is the conscious embodiment of an ever-evolving nonduality between interior (consciousness) and exterior (cosmos), and between the individual (self) and the collective (culture). And that evolutionary nonduality is driven toward higher and higher levels of harmony and integration by a conscious identification with the evolutionary impulse (Eros), which you could picture as the vertical fulcrum around which the four quadrants spin, or tetra-evolve. The Authentic Self is self, culture, and cosmos combined into one. If Marc Gafni's definition of Unique Self includes such a conscious, ever-more-fully-actualized recognition of the interrelatedness of the four quadrants within it, then that would mean that the definition of Authentic Self and Unique Self are essentially the same. But from how I've heard Gafni describe it, I suspect that this isn't the case.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Friday, 27 January 2012 19:47 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for the comment.

    I appreciate the nuance you brought around how the process perspective and a unique embodiment can go together--i.e. the four quadrant analysis you made.

    In the section of this piece where I talk about the commonalities I see in the two teachings, Gafni's teaching does have the pieces around the We and the Process. I'm not sure they've been highlighted as much but they are there.

    He often quotes Whitehead's line about the seamless coat of the universe. And then he says seamless does not mean featureless (which connects with your point about the possibility for unique expression in and as Authentic Self). He also talks a great deal about Eros and Evolution (e.g. I believe he translates tikkun, following Rabbi Kook, as evolution).

    So that in sense I do think the two teachings can end up in much the same place. I agree with you on that one. I still sense (but this might be wrong) that the two teachings reach a similar place by different roads. Or at least the emphasis is differently placed. Seems to me there's a fairly distinct foundation.

    When you asked how unique can any individual be--in egoic terms not really at all I would think. But while I'm myself not entirely sold (as I stated in the piece) on the word Unique I do think it is trying to get at something. How Unique (versus unique) a being may be I think is something we need to find out. I think it's a question/inquiry yet to be answered.

    I think the Unique aspect really comes from a 2nd Face of God perspective. From a 3rd Face of God/Process perspective of course everything is completely in everything else--and so from that perspective I think it is valid to raise questions about uniiqueness. But from a 2nd Person devotional space, which I think is where Gafni is trying to come from on this, I think there is a way to feel into this space. Again I"m not sure Uniqueness is the right word but certainly something like the infinite value of all as they are. In 3rd Person I would say it's more the Infinite Value of The All.

    I'm just riffing here, I haven't really thought all this through. But both of those perspectives I think need their proper place. Each has truth and limitations, it seems to me. And what we're trying to go towards is a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd spirituality (or four quadrants).

    Thanks again for your thoughts brother.


  • Comment Link Sebastian Saturday, 28 January 2012 17:33 posted by Sebastian

    Hey People, hey Chris thanks a loto you and all the others

    Ive read the comments and would like to give you my idea of this - which changes every month since 2 years and wil go on doing so^^-

    First and foremost, concerning Bonnitas Coment on the sublation.

    I have commented on this on FB some weeks ago, but have changed my mind since ; )

    Different from Elisabeth, I will comment the concepts only. Whule practicing multiple ways at once, I have joined EnlightenNext, because I see a trajectory there which often brushes over alot of details but which ultimately has the longest breath, the highest vision in the largest possible context, being fierce enough to really try.

    SO, the authentic self, as I see it - a mix of andrews Teachings, transmissions by some of his students, plus experience . is the One drivne/driving self of the universe, Eros as first person, while the evolutionary impulse is the second person and the PROCESS is the thrid person. Usually this gets vague.

    Now, as Bonnita has written, the authentic self is there before every single self, as Andrew says, there is only ONE Authentic self, which is the same in all of us.

    This evolutonary drivenness can be harnessed by the individual through the practice of evolutionary enlightenment.

    Traditional teachings answer the question: Who am I? What is beyond the relative, what eternally true?(possible Versions)

    This Evolutionary EnlightenMEnt teaching offers an answer to the question: why are we here? Where are we going?

    mankind first answered this questions epistemologically naive, later on dismissed the possibility of answering, but the question was around, and if you are someone who is in for the absolute(spirituality´) in the world of today, you might start to to find - you lack an absolute Idea of being here, and this fundamental ambivalnce and alienation is not cool. Before I had my Process Experience I didnt even realize was missing something, I just numbed it down, trying to be half postmodern-deconstructive, half buddhist, repressing all this drivennes I once had as EGO, unable to see that that wasnt so but that this is rather rather was a spark of the original driving force of the universe project.

    In being/becoming retreats of AC, as I heard, people usually besides Nonduality in I, WE, WORLDand other things also have an experience that is bnot often highlighted, though most seem to have it: The one you are and have ment yourself to be, the unique self and hero comes to the front as well.

    In Marc, I have witnessed, in his eyes(just believe me ; ) ) an energy that is definitely that of the authentic self. But: somehow different.

    Why ? After the question: what is not relative, and why are we here and where do we go, Marcs teachings answers the question: I as Ground of being and authentic self in this unique incarnantion am here what for and where do I go. I have discovered (sheess, credit me if you cite that ; )) That if you take Andrews tenets and change the thrust it is an unique Self method. Like: Clarity of Intention: Authentic: Clarity of the absolute intention, Unique Self, I, the authentic Self Incarneted, the unique authentic Self xyc(your name), have the absolute carity of intention of this and that prupose of Me as xcy(keep one thing in mind marc says but not says to loud: just like your authentic self absolute, the incarnated U A S has an absolutely exaggerated drive, it doesnt want to be happy with self or really hang out on the beach or make a lot of money, it has a divine mission, a selfdeclaredmessianic duty that constantly evol vs on, that doesnt exclude possibility of everyone else to have theres, it is , just as AS the ONE, "out of mind" in a diagonallystraight way, it will not make you happy, it is you seen in the light of divine task)

    SO, my take is this: The unique self sublates the AS; yes, but ultimately, unqiue selfs and humans will vansih and the authentic self will stay. The authentic self was from the cosmic self from the beginning and will be the one until the very end if there is one. Its sublation into Unqiue self at this point is a necessity to answer the third question: What is my specialness enlightened-style? (Like what Chris said in his Comment to Elisabeth

    :But ultimately, AS is like a jet bomber vertical heading and dropping bombs which are like special versions of itself, all with something funny painted on them, These are the unique selfs, and once this phase is complete. SO its prior and afterwards.

    In order to totally awaken to the unique self you first need to awaken to the authentic self, if you dont, the danger of narcicism is to high(so, yeah, it is possible), I dont think its controllable, because the unique self must be tied to the authentic self and the sense of the universe. So there US and UAS, one can say. I vote for the latter, the former is enlightened MeenGreen Meme i Guess ; ), it was in my experience many years ago

    Than a horizontal sublation happens. You are the authentic self that is about the process leading into the future and maybe beyond that as well. And you are the unique Self, this same authentic self in a unique incarnation, and, parallel to the cosmic process, YOUR Unque Life becomes a holy process, a divine action. In this double state, the two flavors are always interwined, the authentic self like a shadow, an aura, always around, and the human incarnation. The wild quality of the AS also doubles, keeping itself while developing a special extra flavor of the unique person

    Personally I thus think, that the project that is enlightenNExt is probably the highest one ever(in a few senses, hahaha), the awakening of the species to the moral imperative is sth not included anywhere else(hidden in integral theory, but nowhere practically done), I find it easier to be in collective practicing AS and H We and add unique in my everday life, because practicing Spirituality always thrives better in context, but E-NExt Style just needs a really very different context from everyday live, so its more logical to me, one absolute religion so to say^^, one unique life

    So I hope that can further the discussion. After this article I started to experiment more intensely and this what I have found, I know the above is a little wild, but I am just getting this down the first time after days, there is so much more to be written, books to read. But Id be happy to continue the discussion, happily on beams and Struts if you like. I am leading IMOVE; young German Integralites, and we will be experimenting with this in a special group in about two months(Ill tell ya Philip ; ), besides the different Higher Wes of AC, T Hübls and Gafnis, with which I am not too familiar somehow,
    I guess rleating these will be the next issues
    and other things that are a reason to be here right now

    Also special thanks to Andrew Cohen, and also Marc Gafni for bringing these things up

    Ultimately, any one driven by authentic self or the unique authentic self(against the "just US") must be integral, wanting to actualize all new potentials possible. SO you must be less interested in lets say: defending the US/AS idea you learned. This defense comes out of Ego, not out of AS/UAS. But ask: what new power is there? and than go for it. I can see in the EN community, and this is very funny, a way of treating this subject similar to the way people usually talk about ENext or Andrew: instead of asking: what is this? They, in Andrews terms #: "already know".

    And the US Community surely is very US and not UAS, tending to be very mGm, with all the childish ignorance and arrogance that comes with it

    So, last linew, thanks again to you Chris, lets join forces and get this game up to the next level

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Sunday, 29 January 2012 06:15 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    Hi Chris,

    I really enjoyed the thorough and open comparisons and contrasts you drew in this essay. Before I start rambling, let me just say I have not studied under Cohen or Gafni, so my knowledge of their teachings may be limited to what I have been exposed to through friends and acquaintances. I've spent some time getting to know the evolutionary folks at EnlightenNext during some of their events in NY, and once during a trip up to Lenox, MA a year or two ago.

    I resonate strongly with the idea of a unique spiritual path for each individual. This idea may be considered postmodern or Western in general, but I think it holds esoteric meaning. The example you cited from Gafni is a good example of an inner understanding. Any "classical" enlightenment is unique in so much as the Spirit or Godhead is awakening within a unique individual, a specific set of eyes and a lifetime, or if you believe in reincarnation, multiple lifetimes. This is something that some folks experience during their "awakenings."

    The idea isn't new and has been a recurrent theme in Western spirituality; from Hermeticism to Alchemy to Jung's process of individuation. It is also evident in many esoteric and mystery schools that emphasize that the individual is a reflection, or mirror for the universal. Take this example from Jung's cryptic but fascinating text, The Seven Sermons to the Dead:

    "...the pleroma is nowhere divided, since it is nothingness. We are also the whole pleroma, because, figuratively, the pleroma is the smallest point (assumed only, not existing) in us and the boundless firmament about us."

    Another example is from the Kabbalah, http://www.chabad.org/media/images/68/EpsV680019.jpg ~ which likens the human body to the larger macrocosm.

    In Jung's Red Book, he remarks: "Let each man seek out his own way... the way that leads to mutual love in community..." There is something important, essential even, about the individual and the universal that should not be down-played, in my opinion, even when the universal threatens to over-ride us and erase us. The annihilation of the self, as some of the Sufi's describe it, is the destruction of our egoic identification and our new-found Self in the Beloved. Even Rudolf Steiner, the German esotericist, suggests that in spiritual evolution that the Ego (Used sort of like Jung's Individuated "Self") is important and a "higher" Ego may be born out of spiritual practice.

    As a last example: Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga. Although it is about the descent of the supra mental consciousness, Aurobindo describes a process whereby the "Psychic Being," the unique evolution of a soul across lifetimes, shifts from being the background (or implicit dimension of one's incarnation) to the forefront. He describes the soul as a "spark" which becomes a "flame," perhaps even a star. The soul gains something by its living, birthing, and dying in time. It is this accrued "inner" knowledge by its lifetimes and karma that is is able to finally emerge in the forefront of an *individual* – a unique person – and change the "lower" person into a greater reflection of divine principles. The thing with Integral Yoga, though, is that it must be unique for each person. No two people will have the same Yoga. Instead, it is like developing a relationship with what in New Age circles is now called your "higher self." The larger spiritual being that you are is looked to for guidance and wisdom, direction and inspiration.

    I think that both Gafni's and Cohen's teachings, generally, relate to these other spiritual teachings. I hope we don't lose sight of the more esoteric understandings of them either, though, as we rush to make an appropriate and contextual spirituality for age. I think that focusing too much on the impersonal can be dangerous, as it can re-create the conditions of a religion where it is more important to follow the ideal of the impersonal than to really touch it and see for yourself how your uniqueness does, or does not relate to it.

    Anywho, this is food for thought for now. Might post again later or save it for the blog! I'm not sure if any of this made sense, or if it is something you can riff off of, but I often wonder just how much some of the newer teachers are really reflecting the works of Aurobindo, etc. What do you think?


  • Comment Link Gail Hochachka Wednesday, 01 February 2012 05:13 posted by Gail Hochachka

    Thanks, Chris. I have a new sense of these 'selves' from reading this. I really appreciated Ken Wilber's True Self + perspective to describe Unique Self, but have struggled to understand Authentic Self for some reason. This helps clarify it gives me a felt-sense of what is meant. Reading some of the questions in earlier comments above...From what I understand of the Unique Self teachings, the 'perspective' side of the coin encapsulates all that is the here-and-now psychological self. Must have been a fun article to write! Thanks again.

  • Comment Link Elizabeth Debold Tuesday, 07 February 2012 20:12 posted by Elizabeth Debold

    Dear Chris,

    Friends today at lunch asked if I had seen your response, which I hadn't. My younger bro Tom did a great job in taking some of what I expressed further. What I find fascinating is that there seems to be some kind of fear that, well, the Borg will get you--that the Authentic Self is some robot like (dare we say Stepford-like??) humanoid who has no individuated experience, talents, predilections, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth! Tom and I aren't the least bit the same, are we? (And no masculine and feminine mumbo jumbo here, puhleeze!) We are highly individuated, each leaning forward into a singular impulse toward higher integrity within and without. That impulse is the evolutionary impulse/Authentic Self. The deep impulse toward novelty that is in the fabric of manifest creation. So, when I speak of motivations, I'm talking about the BIG ones: survival versus evolution. That which exists as part of the status quo (even "new" expressions of capacities that are in existence) versus that which has not been seen before.

    Also, I just scanned the practices that you articulate for the Authentic Self, starting with the Absolute Ground. Not at all what we practice. Here's the meditation instructions: "Meditation and Enlightenment are one and the same. Be still, relax, pay attention. Have no relationship with the contents of consciousness." Not feel your loving heart...but absolute emptiness. And then about Authentic Self practices, the part of Andrew's book that you pulled isn't about the Authentic Self. It's about the mystery of creation emerging from right below the surface of Being. Check out the section of the book about the Five Tenets--which explain how to align with the evolutionary impulse and make choices that will enable you to, with others, catalyze emergence--which is the point, and what the final section of Andrew's book is about.

    Thanks for diving into these deep waters!

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 07 February 2012 21:16 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for your response.

    I wouldn't say I have a full-on fear of the Borg or something. And as the author of a separate piece on this site entitled Against The Use of The Terms Masculine and Feminine in the Spiritual Path I don't think I'm the one to attribute any differences simply or solely to that framework :).

    The question I'm trying to raise, I think, is whether those distinctions are of deep value in the interpretation & embodiment of the path. Seems to me these two schools have differing views on the matter.

    In that light, I have some "wonderings" (I don't know what the right term is) about the use of the term impersonal. I appreciate (from your earlier comment) the point around how impersonal means not personal and in context critiques from Andrew of traditions that were/are overly focused on individual enlightenment. And the term can function, in some ways I think, equivalently to transpersonal. On the other hand I wonder if it leaves a hole somewhere in the felt experience of this all.

    To be fair, I have some serious questions about the use of the term Unique as well. e.g. No matter how formally the distinction is made between egoic (false) uniqueness and Uniqueness, how in practice are those upheld?

    Now your point around new expressions of that which is in existence versus that which has not been seen before is a really intriguing one. It would take a lot more unpacking than we can probably do here (I think that would be a great piece for you to write on...maybe at Beams :).

    But a thought that occurred to me relative to that is the notion that sometimes evolution picks back up earlier threads and then re-invigorates them or re-imagines them in certain ways in order to move forward. The way Charles Eisenstein describes gift culture is along these lines. I'm not sure how that fits or doesn't fit with your framing.

    Another way of saying this is I have less concerns about possible Borg-ism (with regard to this or just generally) than I do around narratives of continual ascent. Again I have some "wonderings" about the framework being higher and higher forms of integration and (it seems to me) emphasis on the always the unheard of new. What if we said the aim was deeper and deeper forms of incarnation? Is that just a linguistic turn that has no appreciable difference or is it a real difference?

    Not to say I'm against higher integration of course. But I think there's something there that requires a further look. e.g. In an age of ecological devastation, does it make sense to talk about Kosmocentrism? This is a question on my mind (clearly I have no life :). But more seriously, maybe the term should be ecocentric? Worldcentric somehow is too abstract for me. Could Kosmocentrism be a cover for motives within us that want to get out, however subtle in nature?

    Anyway, a lot of questions, not many answers from my side. I appreciate your clarifications regarding as well.


  • Comment Link Hokyo Joshua Routhier Wednesday, 08 February 2012 02:00 posted by Hokyo Joshua Routhier

    I have to say I love this piece. I especially love how at the end you used Genpo's Apex and voice Dialogue. It is almost a reunion of controversial teachers.

    Great job!!!

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 08 February 2012 18:57 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks homes. That's what I was going for anyway. Almost is the operative word there :)

  • Comment Link Catherine Wednesday, 29 February 2012 10:43 posted by Catherine

    hello Chris,

    thanks so much to bring out this fantastic discussion about two of the most impressive teachings of our time. I have some familiarity with Evolutionary Enlightenment but not with the teachings of the Unique Self of Marc Gafni, which looks very interesting.

    Here I want to bring a very simple point. In my humble understanding of what a true Awakening means, there should be no difference between the personal and the impersonal. Indeed a real a deep Enlightened Being is both at the same time Absolutely personal and Absolutely impersonal (impersonal as ``universal'' ).
    In order to make a difference between personal and impersonal we have to talk about the finite personality and about the multiplicity of finite personalities. Making the distinction itself bring us back to a dualistic discussion.
    As Marc Gafni seems to point out beautifully Uniqueness can be infinite and doesn't necessarily imply any limitation.

    Awakening deals with our integration of the Infinite, of Emptiness of the Absolute Self, and also of the New. Once we talk about the Infinite, there can be no difference between personal and impersonal. Indeed, there is infinity in each of us as a Unique entity and Indeed there is Infinity in the Evolutionary drive.

    I don't' know Marc Gafni but I am convinced that Andrew is the true thing, I mean that he is truly Enlightened. Then just have a look how ``personally unique'' he his, how uniquely he stands for himself. He has written two autobiographies, he talks about the history of his awakening very very often. His followers ( including me) see him as a unique being , a unique gift for our time. This is not a critique, on the contrary, it is simply the living proof that when true Enlightenment strikes, it simply enhances the unique features of our Soul, freeing them from any limitation.

    OK it's all I wanted to say. I believe in strong Egos, in the Steiner sense. Only strong Egos are creative. Weak Egos are not very worthy to be transcended anyway...
    Both Andrew and Marc have very strong Egos. When they transcend them it give rise to powerful (and controversial) teachings, but those guys have guts to be controversial, let's face it. That's really an example for us all.
    My view is that before even looking to transcend one's Egos one should make sure it is big and personal enough, so that it is worth the effort ;) if it is a weak, impersonal, Ego it is not worth ( and maybe dangerous) to desire to transcend it.

    The formulae then would be

    Transcended big personal Ego
    lead to Awakening to the Infinite
    Transcended weak cultural Egos lead to no transcendance at all and only servitude to the powers of another Being.

    Love, C.

  • Comment Link Matthew Wesley Saturday, 03 March 2012 21:48 posted by Matthew Wesley

    What an utterly fascinating and wildly bizarre thread this is has been (with exceptions of course). So full of fine distinctions and good reason and, at least from my experience, so very much irrelevant to waking up. It feels like sleepwaking in a miasma filled with bright shinny objects. I am reminded of a poem:


    Remember how the naked soul
    comes to language and at once knows
    loss and distance and believing
    then for a time it will not run
    with its old freedom
    like a light innocent of measure
    but will hearken to how
    one story becomes another
    and will try to tell where
    they have emerged from
    and where they are heading
    as though they were its own legend
    running before the words and beyond them
    naked and never looking back
    through the noise of questions

    —M.S. Merwin, The Shadow of Sirius

    It seems my cup of tea is not so much the authentic self or the unique self as it is Merwin’s naked self.

  • Comment Link Edward Berge Wednesday, 28 March 2012 22:17 posted by Edward Berge

    Balder has started a discussion of this thread at his IPS forum: http://integralpostmetaphysics.ning.com/forum/topics/dierkes-on-unique-self-and-authentic-self

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 28 March 2012 22:40 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Edward,

    Thanks for the heads up. I'll be interested to see what Bruce comes up with vis a vis his own position around unique self and related matters.

    I think you too quickly and easily lump me in with other views. I'm actually quite skeptical about how evolution is often used in these kinds of spiritual discussions. I prefer the term identities rather than states in relation to this topic. I agree with you that over-emphasis on states can lead to a number of problems.

    And I don't come from the Neo-Advatia strain particularly. I agree that it can emphasize the Absolute to the neglect of the relative.

    I do think there's value in the use of metaphors: Like Eternal Now, Presence, (Rigpa), Consciousness, Light. In the Christian nondual tradition--which is what I come from--Marguerite Porete uses the term FarNigh, Hadewijch Love. I think they work in a similar way to the ones above.

    Of course metaphors have their own limitations.

    I'm a fan of Padmashambhava's line:

    Descending with the View, I climb the mountain of cause and effect.

    That said, for my many disagreements with Cohen, he does emphasize strongly purification of motive and enlightened action and not simply states of being.

    And Gafni--with whom I also have numerous disagreements--does make what I think is an important point in his work that separation has often been confused for uniqueness (and the two are not synonymous). He quotes the Whitehead line about the seamless coat of the universe and then says seamless does not equal featureless. I think that's an important point, even if I don't agree with him that Uniqueness is the defining feature of this identity.

  • Comment Link Bruce (Balder) Thursday, 29 March 2012 20:08 posted by Bruce (Balder)

    Great article, Chris, on a timely issue for the Integral community. As Ed noted, I just recently discovered it (don't know how I missed it before!), and I've started a discussion of it on my forum. The following is based on my recent post in response to it; I thought it would be nice to address this to you directly instead of just talking about it over there.

    I think this is well said:

    "In a post-metaphysical framework, what we meditate on, how we practice, and how we understand what we experience all determine what actually comes to be. These forms of awakening are being co-developed in and through the communities of practice and interpretation. They are each forging their own streams."

    I guess a fundamental question, though (for me), is whether I trust these particular teachers to forge what each claims is the "next phase" of human evolution. While I see value in aspects of both teachers' work, I do not see either as representing, for me, a trustworthy exemplar of the "leading edge" of being human.

    But that aside, I also like your suggestion that Gafni and Cohen "aren't in fact arguing over the exact same territory." They and their followers appear to be orienting towards and enacting distinct spiritual "landscapes" and realizations -- which may, indeed, have a number of homeomorphic equivalencies across topographies, but which also have their own non-negligible particularity. I don't have any objections, in principle, if someone wants to explore both perspectives and to find a way to integrate them (say, through better understanding their relation) -- so, here I agree with you that, if we would like to do so, both paths should be followed to some degree independently, which is similar to what I argued in my recent paper on trans-lineage practice -- but I agree with Bonnitta (and Edward, on the IPS thread) that we do not have to formulate their relation dialectically.

    On something of a side note, concerning Bonnitta's response above, I follow her argument that the AS and the US might form an asymmetric polarity, and agree that this might be one fruitful way we could formulate it (with AS transcendent to US). But I'm not sure that, within the context of these teachings, these two concepts can be so neatly separated conceptually (treating them wholly as either "general" or "particular" categorical terms). In other words, I think they are conceptual complexes rather than primary categories (complex assemblages of concepts, commitments, etc). As such, I'm not sure you can render one as wholly transcendent to the other without doing some conceptual violence to one or the other. I'm thinking here also, in part, of Ferrer's argument that attempts to elevate either theistic or non-theistic terms (say, God or Emptiness) to the supreme position (as is often attempted in inclusivistic approaches) are problematic because frequently the criteria used are vague enough* that they could be used to support either position (and frequently the very same criteria are used by members of both camps to arrive at, and defend, opposite conclusions). I'm not familiar enough with either Cohen's or Gafni's teachings to say for certain, at this point, whether the criteria they appeal to in order to establish the superiority of their views, but I expect there is a bit of overlap, which would complicate attempts to definitively situate one in a transcendent position to the other.

    * He gives Wilber's criterion of "encompassing capacity" as an example.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Friday, 30 March 2012 19:40 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for the comment.

    I've been spending a lot more time with Bonnitta's work on post-dialectics so I think her critique there is a good one. Though I agree with you that I'm not sure about the asymmetry bit. I think your point around potentials to explore both is helpful. What I here in that is a certain epistemological humility. And letting them be and being cool with a potential incompleteness.

    In this piece I took a pretty sharp line between teacher and teaching. And there's a question there of how bright a line one can draw on such things. It's not a question I have a definitive answer to yet, but it's one that I've been sitting with quite a bit. To me, Edwards's response in the forum too easily identifies the two, such that if you don't agree with the teacher, you can dismiss the teaching. In this piece, I think it would be fair to say that I made too sharp a division between the two. So not to be dialectic again :), but some other avenue seems a more balanced approach. I heard that in your comment, so thanks. While wanting to hold out still that valuable teaching can come from sources that might not fit our conception of what they should look like--just as Picasso brought forth great art though as a person he was, shall we say, less than optimal.

  • Comment Link Bruce Friday, 30 March 2012 23:39 posted by Bruce

    Hi, Chris,

    Yes, I definitely think Bonnitta's work in post-dialectics is valuable and important for Integral thinkers to better or more fully digest. Tom, on the IPS forum, has also long argued (following Hartshorne) for the need to recognize the asymmetric relation of polarities, so that is where I was first exposed to this understanding. As I mentioned above, I think the way that Bonnitta has related US and AS could certainly be a valuable way to formulate a self-model within a (hypothetical) spiritual tradition, but clearly relating these terms in this way would involve -- I expect -- a translation of these terms beyond their present formulation in Gafni's and Cohen's respective systems (where each involves a complex of ideas and dimensions likely in excess of what their meaning would be within an explicitly polar formulation).

    Concerning drawing a line between teacher and teaching, that is something I've struggled with, too. It's not easy. In relation to these two teachers and their teachings, I've kept up to some degree with their work over the years, since I do find value in what both are doing, even if I have also have disagreements with them; and yet I also have kept myself fairly distant from them, personally, and from their communities. I'm actually not sure at all that this is the best approach, though. Given their prominence within the Integral community, perhaps it would be better to be more engaged with them. Instead, I've chosen just to work and inquire in my own little corners of Integralia (online and in my local area), and to explore and engage with alternate extra-Integral traditions and teachers with whom I have more natural resonance.

    Regarding Edward's response, he can of course speak for himself, but my impression is that he is more concerned with the shortcomings, postmetaphysically, of Cohen's and Gafni's teachings, than with the controversy surrounding them as individuals.

    On another note, I just wanted to comment that I share the "wondering" you expressed to Elizabeth above about a framework focused primarily on higher and higher stages, the unheard of new, evolution as "ultimate value," etc. I love some of the "new cosmology" work of Swimme, Dowd, and others, but I'm also concerned about a kind of fetishizing of evolution in some corners of the Integral community (and thus appreciate the cautionary note about this Joseph expressed awhile back: http://integralpostmetaphysics.ning.com/forum/topics/evolution-as-metaphysics-and).

    All the best,


  • Comment Link Edward Berge Saturday, 31 March 2012 04:42 posted by Edward Berge

    Recently at Integral World Chris and others did a 1-2-3 process in their relationship with Wilber. Not coincidentally it followed Wilber's own steps of fusion-differentiation-integration: 1) I loved his work at first; 2) I had my disagreements; 3) I've come to an integration with his work. I'm in step 4 or 5 now, in that his work doesn't hold much interest for me anymore. As the IPS forum can attest, I've moved in several other directions in the last few years which might be construed as integral in a broad sense, but Wilber plays less and less a part in that inquiry. More of a footnote these days. Same with those that still use him as a main source, like Cohen and Gafni, for example. Just no longer my cup of tea.

  • Comment Link David Marshall Saturday, 31 March 2012 19:28 posted by David Marshall

    Chris, nice piece. I don't really know enough about Gafni's views yet to comment, but I've enjoyed contemplating it and following the discussion.

    Bruce, hello! You say:

    "I'm also concerned about a kind of fetishizing of evolution in some corners of the Integral community."

    You've said that a number of times over the years ("fetishizing" of evolution), so I'd like to ask you about it.

    Couldn't we just as easily say that Buddhists fetishize Emptiness and Hindus fetishize Brahman and Muslims Allah and Christians Christ and you Tarthung Tulku or TSK or postmodern philosophy? Couldn't we simply apply that word to anything someone values and is inspired by in their spiritual path? How does that amount to an argument in its disfavor?

    It seems you’ve just attached a word to it that has vaguely negative connotations, but how does this amount to a critical argument? It could just as easily be applied to anything that inspires or interests someone or that they feel is wise and useful in their spiritual path.

    You also link to an article that admonishes integral and evolutionary spirituality because they “privilege” certain ways of being, behaving, or thinking. But don't each of these paths or philosophies “privilege” something, whether they admit it or not, and couldn’t each be said to do the same sort of “violence” to other ways of being, behaving, or thinking? And doesn't each at least have the potential of being problematic in its own way? How is this a specific argument against evolutionary spirituality?

    Basically, I think evolutionary spirituality adds the perspective of a creative dimension of Spirit, which is then related to evolutionary theory in all four quadrants. This is more clarifying, in my view, than cyclical cosmologies and also avoids some types of idiot compassion.

    It has pitfalls as well, of course, such as a focus on certain types of "progress" or advance, when nurturing and integration can be just as evolutionary and are essential for evolution, anyway. As with anything else, it can also be held as a concept when mostly it relates to a non-conceptual phenomenon or realization. But, along with the other positive aspects I mentioned, it can also counteract the self-indulgent propensities and stagnation so common in postmodern culture and spirituality. Would you agree?

  • Comment Link Bruce Saturday, 31 March 2012 19:44 posted by Bruce

    David: "Couldn't we just as easily say that Buddhists fetishize Emptiness and Hindus fetishize Brahman and Muslims Allah and Christians Christ and you Tarthung Tulku or TSK or postmodern philosophy?"

    Only when they/we fetishize it, which is not the same as using or enacting or relying on the concept.

    I am not rejecting the addition of an evolutionary view to spirituality, which I think is indeed a powerful and promising development -- what Panikkar would describe as a sacred secularity, a positive valuation of time and becoming (against older traditions which might have denigrated time and only valued the timeless).

    I do not think Cohen or Hamilton or others are wrong or misguided for including evolution in their spiritual views. My concern has been, and continues to be, just how this is done.

    (You seem to show up every time I make a criticism of Cohen, no matter where it is on the web. This is a bit disconcerting! Are you in his employ? ;-) ).

  • Comment Link David Marshall Saturday, 31 March 2012 20:06 posted by David Marshall

    Hi, Bruce.

    "Only when they/we fetishize it, which is not the same as using or enacting or relying on the concept."

    I see, I think . . . So you're saying that they idolize evolution in a similar way that, say, some magic-level Polynesian tribe might fetishize a tiki idol? Is that what you're saying?

    Bruce: "(You seem to show up every time I make a criticism of Cohen, no matter where it is on the web. This is a bit disconcerting! Are you in his employ?;-)). "

    I've actually taken a pass on responding to you on this for quite awhile. To respond every time would be a full-time job! No, I'm not in his employ. Just after truth and accuracy. :)

  • Comment Link Bruce Saturday, 31 March 2012 21:46 posted by Bruce

    Not in the same way - I don't think Cohen is at magic-level cognition -- but, yes, I'm referring to a kind of idolizing and/or sensationalizing of the concept; a way of holding it, interpreting it, and/or relating to it that seems (to me) to be a little imbalanced or excessive. For instance, I think a focus on the urgency to evolve, as its own value in and for itself, at all costs, and without end, can have the (likely unintentional) consequence of fostering a kind of world-denial, as "what is now" (in self, others, world) is forever rejected as falling short of what is yet-to-come. I don't think this is inevitable; I express it only as a concern that arises for me when I listen to the rhetoric from these circles. And as others have expressed, there is also concern about the conceptual distortion or misrepresentation that may attend popular conflation of evolution with individual development.

  • Comment Link David Marshall Saturday, 31 March 2012 23:02 posted by David Marshall

    Okay, I see what you mean. That certainly could be a pitfall, with any conceptualization. I think what it might be reflecting in this case, though, is the added commitment one needs to grow beyond the individual and collective kosmic habits. I think it does take an extra commitment.

    Consider this metaphor: If you're born in China, it's probably not too hard to learn Chinese. It will pretty much come naturally to just about everyone, without too much effort. But if you're trying to learn Chinese in Iowa, with everyone speaking English and your having to speak English all day, it will probably take an extra effort, and you will probably have to make some sacrifices if you really want to learn it.

    There are certainly pitfalls there as well. You could miss "what is now" in some way, but this sort of work *is* defined, in part, as a now-awareness, so that would be a misunderstanding or getting-carried-away if it happened. I suppose you could end up like a Marathon Monk, too, running a marathon every day or dying in the effort; that probably wouldn't be very evolutionary, either.

    I'm not bothered by the "conflation" of evolution with individual development, though. I have heard people say this, and the argument is like, "Darwin didn't mean that!" But Darwin wasn't aware of all of evolution, just certain aspects of one or two quadrants, so I don't see a problem with expanding its use to refer to development in all quadrants.

  • Comment Link William Harryman Monday, 28 May 2012 01:37 posted by William Harryman

    Hi Chris,

    It took me forever, it seems, to finally read this (had to convert it to PDF and put it on my tablet), but I am glad I did - as well as the comments, especially from Bonnitta, Elizabeth, and Jeremy. I was thrilled to actually understand Bonnitta's distinction in her comment (must be the Heidegger I have been reading - makes everything else seem easier).

    At one level, I really enjoy the intellectual work of discerning fine points in theory, so your article was wonderful in that respect - although I would enjoy an even longer piece on these two models of self - it seems there is more to explore (maybe once Gafni's book comes out).

    But at the same time, I found myself thinking of the Zen quote: "before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water," and, I would add, "with calm abiding."

    Having read only your summary article and brief excerpts of the two models, my uninformed sense of it is that Cohen's authentic self is Self as ground of being (Washburn) and as evolved (through embodied development) Self dissolved in nonduality. On the other hand, Gafni's unique self seems to me to be how we live in the world after experiencing the authentic self and its dissolution of ego. Cohen seems to be seeking the post-ego enlightened Self, and Gafni has proposed a way to live the morning after we achieve Cohen's enlightened Self.

    But not having read their work, I could be full of crap.

    I'll hit up Russ Volckmann for a copy of Gafni's book when it's in galleys - they're hoping to publish this summer.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 28 May 2012 18:51 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks. Bonnitta's comments were definitely helpful and the whole thread actually here has been really good. I like what you had to say here.

    I think I would probably modify the original articulation in this piece to something more like: Authentic Self as the expression of the generative process (nonduality + evolution). And The Unique Self is the unique articulation of that process.

    I think my 3rd way approach had its limitations (as Bonnitta pointed out). But I do think it helped to show how they could be in dialog. Tom Huston's comments above are helpful. In a way, I think each has the potential to include the other.

    e.g. The Unique Self teaching is meant to emphasize the way in which each Unique Self is a piece of the whole larger puzzle. I like the element where true uniquenesss is what allows for real relationship (rather than isolation). I also like the qualification that the seamless coat of the universe does not mean a featureless coat.

    I personally think Uniqueness and Authenticity are really more qualities of this larger self (Self?) rather than the defining characteristic, in either direction. That's why I think something that was a little less definite--something like True Self--would be a better way to go. As it could leave room to explore different characteristics--and I do think both Cohen and Gafni have picked up on legitimate elements of this identity.

  • Comment Link Diana Powell Friday, 28 December 2012 19:26 posted by Diana Powell

    Bravo!!!!! I just read this to my partner Blake and we did the practices. Result? Beautiful, awesome, inspiring. I love the apex of unique self and authentic self. The exercise has clarified my life purpose ... Deep grasshoppers and heartful thanks. I hope you are attending What Next ... I would like to meet you to say hi and thanks in person.
    PS. I just proofread my comment ... Spellcheck changed "gassho" to grasshoppers! LOL

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