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Integral thought (also called the integral paradigm, the integral movement, or the integral approach) is a movement that seeks a comprehensive understanding of humans and the universe by combining scientific and spiritual insights. According to the Integral Transformative Practice website, integral means "dealing with the body, mind, heart, and soul."

Integral thought is seen by proponents as going beyond rationalism and materialism. It attempts to introduce a more universal and holistic perspective or approach. Proponents view rationalism as subordinating, ignoring, and/or denying spirituality. Ken Wilber, one of the most prominent contemporary integral thinkers, begins by acknowledging and validating mystical experience, rather than denying its reality. As these experiences have occurred to humans in all cultures in all eras, integral theorists accept them as valuable and not pathological. Integral thinkers like Sri Aurobindo, and Wilber have argue that both science and mysticism (or spirituality) are necessary for complete understanding of humans and the universe.

Historical development of integral thought

The adjective "integral" was first used in a spiritual context by Sri Aurobindo from 1914 onward to describe his own yoga, which he referred to as Purna (Skt: "Full") Yoga. It appeared in The Synthesis of Yoga, a book that first published in serial form in the journal Arya and was revised several times since [1].

The word was totally independently suggested by Jean Gebser in 1939 to describe his own intuition regarding the next state of human consciousness. Gebser only afterwards discovered the similarity with Sri Aurobindo [2]

Haridas Chaudhuri, a student of Sri Aurobindo and philosophy in his own right, developed his own perspective and philosophy. established the California Institute of Integral Studies (originally the "California Institute of Asian Studies"), in 1968 in San Francisco, (it became an independent organisation in 1974), and presented his own form of Integral psychology in the early 1970s [3]

In late 1990s and 2000 Ken Wilber, who was influenced by both Aurobindo and Gebser, among many others, adopted the term "Integral" to refer to the latest revision ("Wilber-IV") of his own philosophy, which he called Integral theory. He also established the Integral Institute as a think-tank for further development of these ideas. In his book Integral Psychology Wilber lists a number of pioneers of the integral approach, post hoc. These include Goethe, Schelling, Hegel, Gustav Fechner, William James, Rudolf Steiner, Alfred North Whitehead, James Mark Baldwin, Jurgen Habermas, Sri Aurobindo, and Abraham Maslow [4]

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother

Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was a visionary yogi rather than a systematizer, and although he referred to "integral" only in the context of spiritual transformation, his writings influenced others who used the term "integral" in more philosophical or psychological contexts. The word "integral" was originally used by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to describe the yoga they taught. Their integral yoga involves an integral divine transformation of the entire being, rather than the liberation of only a single faculty such as the intellect or the emotions or the body. Important teachings include: Evolution, Involution, the Integral psychology, the psychic being, Integral yoga, the Triple transformation, and the Supramental principle. Major works include: The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, and Savitri. According to Aurobindo,

But the Divine is in his essence infinite and his manifestation too is multitudinously infinite. If that is so, it is not likely that our true integral perfection in being and in nature can come by one kind of realisation alone; it must combine many different strands of divine experience. It cannot be reached by the exclusive pursuit of a single line of identity till that is raised to its absolute; it must harmonise many aspects of the Infinite. An integral consciousness with a multiform dynamic experience is essential for the complete transformation of our nature. — Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, p.114

The Mother (1878-1973) was Sri Aurobindo's co-worker. She continued Sri Aurobindo's work of Integral Yoga and spiritual transformation after his passing, and founded Auroville, an international community dedicated to human unity, and based on their teachings. A record of some of her experiences have been collected by her disciple Satprem in a thirteen volume work called Mother's Agenda.

Followers of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo

The following authors/ organizations (listed in chronological order?) trace their intellectual heritage back to, or have in some measure been influenced by, The Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

  • Sisir Kumar Maitra (1887-?) was an academic philosopher who wrote widely on Sri Aurobindo and Western philosophy. Wrote an essay, "Sri Aurobindo and Spengler: Comparison between the Integral and the Pluralistic philosophy of History" in the 1958 symposium compendium, 'The Integral Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo.'
  • Nolini Kanta Gupta (1889 - 1983) was one of Sri Aurobindo's senior disciples, and wrote extensively on philosophy, mysticism, and spiritual evolution in the light of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother's teachings.
  • Anilbaran Roy - Another of Sri Aurobindo's senior disciples. In his 1940 book, Sri Aurobindo and The New Age, he reviewed the just-published The Life Divine and spoke of the emergence of what he called "Integral Harmony".
  • Indra Sen (1903-1994), another disciple of Sri Aurobindo who, although little-known in the West, was the first to articulate integral psychology and integral philosophy, in the 1940s and 1950s. A compilation of his papers came out under the title, Integral Psychology in 1986.
  • Ram Shankar Misra (dates?) was a scholar of Indian religious and philosophical thought and author of The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo (publ. 1957), a philosophical commentary on Sri Aurobindo's work.
  • Dennis Hargiss coined the term "Integral phenomenology" to refer to the use of integral psychology for the study of mysticism and the sacred.

Organisations and institutes

  • World Union - A non-profit, non-political organisation founded on the 26th November 1958 in Pondicherry, fired by the Third Dream of Sri Aurobindo; also publishes a quarterly journal with the same title. A.B. Patel was the driving force and for many years, M.P. Pandit was the leading light.

Jean Gebser

Jean Gebser (1905-1973), was a Swiss phenomenologist, and author of The Ever-Present Origin. He conceived of history as a series of mutations in consciousness. Gebser saw in the momentous events of the 1930s and '40s a new mutation in consciousness which he identified as the transition to the integral stage.

Ken Wilber

American writer and Buddhist Ken Wilber (b. 1949) is one of the most popular integral writers in the world today. Wilber popularized Integral thought or integral thinking in the current sense, to develop an all-encompassing, evolutionary theory that incorporates and honours all perspectives, while at the same time presenting a larger picture. Wilber, borrowing centrally from the writings of Adi Da, also built upon the ideas of previous integral thinkers like Sri Aurobindo and Jean Gebser in developing his own highly complex integral theory.

Wilber's books include: Sex Ecology Spirituality, Integral Psychology, and Boomeritis. His major ideas include: AQAL, integral ecology, integral politics, and vision-logic. Founder of the Integral Institute, Integral Naked, and Integral University. According to Wilber,

The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, nonmarginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches to any field attempt to be exactly that—to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are "meta-paradigms," or ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching." —Ken Wilber, "Foreword", in Frank Visser, Ken Wilber: Thought As Passion

Elsewhere, he says:

This means that the chief activity of integral cognition is not looking at all of the available theories—whether premodern, modern, or postmodern—and then asking, "Which one of those is the most accurate or acceptable?," but rather consists in asking, "How can all of those be right?" The fact is, all of the various theories, practices, and established paradigms—in the sciences, arts, and humanities—are already being practiced: they are already arising in a Kosmos that clearly allows them to arise, and the question is not, which of those is the correct one, but what is the structure of the Kosmos such that it allows all of those to arise in the first place? What is the architecture of a universe that includes so many wonderful rooms? — Ken Wilber, "The Ways We Are in This Together: Intersubjectivity and Interobjectivity in the Holonic Kosmos" Excerpt C of draft of forthcoming book, Kosmic Karma and Creativity

Don Beck is a management consultant and proponent of Spiral Dynamics who has collaborated with Wilber and contributed to the development of Integral theory.

Wilberian Integral thought

The following authors (listed in chronological order) are or have in the past been influenced by Wilber, but not by Aurobindo (except secondarily through Wilber's presentation of him).

  • Andrew Cohen (b. 1955) is an American guru and author of "evolutionary spirituality." He has been influenced by a number of evolutionary thinkers, including Sri Aurobindo, and is a friend of and collaborater with Ken Wilber. He is founder and editor in chief of What Is Enlightenment?, a quarterly magazine that features essays by and interviews with many integral thinkers.
  • Allan Combs is the author of The Radiance of Being: Understanding the Grand Integral Vision, Living the Integral Life. He has worked with Ken Wilber recently to create a theory which they call the "Wilber-Combs Lattice".
  • Frank Visser is a Dutch author and Theosophist who has incorporated Wilberian, Perennialist, and Theosophical concepts in an alternative to Wilber's Neo-perennialism. He is webmaster of Integral World, a website that hosts a large number of articles about Wilber and Integral Theory.

Integral thought - Sri Aurobindo and Ken Wilber

The following authors (listed in chronological order) have been influenced by or created a synthesis of the teachings of both Aurobindo and Wilber (and also other thinkers as well):

Integral artists

See main article Integral art

Integral art can be defined as art that reaches across multiple quadrants and levels, or simply as art that was created by someone who thinks or acts in an integral way. These artists may have been influenced by integral thinkers, or developed integral art independently.

  • Alex Grey (b. 1953) is a psychedelic visual artist whose works have been admired by Wilber and others.
  • Stuart Davis (b. 1971) is a songwriter/musician, calligrapher with his own language, and cyberartist.

Other integral thinkers

The following thinkers and teachers use the term "integral", but are not necessarily associated with or followers of either Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser, or Ken Wilber.

  • Ervin László (b. 1932) is a philosopher of science, systems theorist, and integral theorist who posits a field of information as the substance of the cosmos.
  • Roland Benedikter (b. 1965) is a Member of the Institute for the History of Ideas and Research on Democracy, Innsbruck, Austria, and has written books and essays on a number of subjects including postmodernist spirituality and integral thought.

Other thinkers

Many writers and artists who did not use the word "integral" to refer to their theories nonetheless are considered by the integral community as theorists that act, think or theorize in an integral way but this label is only speculation on the integral community's part. These include contemporary thinkers like Jurgen Habermas and Rupert Sheldrake, and historical figures like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gandhi.

According to Richard Tarnas:

The remarkable modern capacity for differentiation and discernment that has been so painstakingly forged must be preserved, but our challenge now is to develop and subsume that discipline in a more encompassing, more magnanimous intellectual and spiritual engagement with the mystery of the universe. Such an engagement can happen only if we open ourselves to a range of epistemologies that together provide a more multidimensionally perceptive scope of knowledge. To encounter the depths and rich complexity of the cosmos, we require ways of knowing that fully integrate the imagination, the aesthetic sensibility, moral and spiritual intuition, revelatory experience, symbolic perception, somatic and sensuous modes of understanding, empathic knowing. Above all, we must awaken to and overcome the great hidden anthropocentric projection that has virtually defined the modern mind: the pervasive projection of soullessness onto the cosmos by the modern self’s own will to power. Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, pg.41

The following writers contributed essential ideas to integral thought:

  • John Heron (b. 1928) is a pioneer in the creation of a participatory research method (co-operative inquiry) in the social sciences, which has been applied by practitioners in many fields of professional and personal development. He is committed to co-operative inquiry as a basic form of relational and participative spiritual practice.
  • David Spangler (b. 1945) is an American spiritual philosopher and "practical mystic". With William Irwin Thompson he helped found of the Lindisfarne Association. He is author of Incarnational spirituality; a holistic, pragmatic approach to spirituality which rejects the otherworldly focus of conventional contemplative mysticism in favour of spiritual action by the physical, everyday self, recognition of the sacredness of the world around us, and balance of the inner and outer being.
  • Georg Feuerstein (b. 1947) is the author of Wholeness or Transcendence: Ancient Lessons for the Emerging Global Civilization, Structures of Consciousness: The Genius of Jean Gebser, An Introduction and Critique, co-author of In Search of the Cradle of Civilization, and founder of the Yoga Research and Education Center and Traditional Yoga Studies.

See also

External links

  • Integral World- many essays on Integral thought within a Wilberian context.
  • Integral Leadership Review- a free electronic journal for investigating leadership and integral approaches (by Russ Volckmann)
  • Integral Visioning contains articles, a forum, and a wiki
  • Integral Thinking - website by Vince Milum
  • Integral Review a peer-reviewed, transdisciplinary and transcultural journal
  • Integral Encyclopedia Wiki an open-source collaborative encyclopedia
  • New Age (Integral) Philosophy - website by Yuri Demchenko for the development of the New (integral) Philosophy of emerging Global Information Society.
  • Integrity/Ceptual Institute - Integrity paradigm of James N. Rose, and numerous links.
  • What Difference Does It Make? - page by Chris Lucas looks at how we can expand our valuation methodology to allow us to map "how we value" to "how we behave"
  • What Is Enlightenment? - a popular quarterly magazine approaching spirituality, culture, and science from an integral perspective; founder Andrew Cohen
  • Integral Science by Thomas J. McFarlane integrates physics, mathematics, philosophy, and mysticism.
  • LOTA philosophy of science by Cornelis Slenters is a unifying logical synthesis, through which relationships between evolution, creation, mind, matter, energy and consciousness become visible. First published in 1996 under the book title Breakthrough, the Origins of Mind, Space and Time
  • Dieter Wolf, [2]Unity of Knowledge An Interdisciplinary Project
  1. : see Biographical Notes to the 3rd Pondicherry edition
  2. Ever-Present Origin p102 note 4.
  3. Haridas Chaudhuri, "Psychology: Humanistic and Transpersonal". Journal of Humanistic Psychology, and The Evolution of Integral Consciousness.; Bahman Shirazi "Integral psychology, metaphors and processes of personal integration" in Cornelissen (ed.) Consciousness and Its Transformation An online version at
  4. Ken Wilber, Integral Psychology, Shambhalla, 2000 p.78