Last modified October 11, 2006 by Nik

pt III: The (Two) Points of view of the Wisdom Tradition

From: Some Thoughts on the Relationship between Technology and Spirituality, by Michel Bauwens

What would be a likely point of view of spiritual schools of thought towards the developments mentioned above? Before proceeding, let me digress about the notion of the ‘Wisdom Tradition’ itself. At the start of this essay we defined spirituality as the means through which mankind finds meaning in its relationship to the totality of the external world. This definition was chosen on purpose, so that it would also be acceptable to agnostics and atheists, as spiritual then has the meaning of a most general human activity aimed at understanding our relationship with the universe. In the modern world, there has been clearly a divorce between those who posit a belief in an Absolute or Supreme Being, and generally accept the existence of non-material realms and beings, and the ‘rationalist’ or scientific camp, which does not accept non-materiality. Within the camp of the spiritualists, there are many great differences in terms of methodology and approaches. In very general terms we can distinguish paths based on ‘belief’, ‘faith’, and those based on concrete experience. Hence quite a few authors posit a distinction between ‘exoteric’ religion, based on belief and aimed at those without concrete experience, and the ‘esoteric’ tradition, mostly hidden within the exoteric structures, for those who do indeed have experience with the ‘divine’. Quite a few authors call this body of knowledge the ‘Tradition’, the ‘Philosophia Perennis’ or the ‘Wisdom Tradition’, and claim that behind the enormous diversity of religious thought, there is this body of real spiritual knowledge. For those wishing to deepen their understanding of these matters I refer to the extraordinary reading list compiled and commented upon by Franklin Jones (Da Free John), i.e. the Basket of Tolerance, which introduces the major spiritual works of mankind from this point of view. Other recommended authors would be Hegel, Teilhard de Chardin, Rene Guenon, Fritjof Schuon, Julius Evola, and of course the current master works by Ken Wilber. His three latest books, ‘The Third Eye: the search for a new paradigm’;’Up from Eden’; and especially ‘Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality: the spirit of Evolution’ are good modern introductions to this approach.

The author of this essay accepts the point of view that there is such a Wisdom Tradition, but in my personal analysis, there are two main interpretative schools within it. It is important to show this contradiction between schools, as it will have an impact on their analysis of the meaning and role of technology in the historical psycho-spiritual development of mankind.

We will call these two schools of thought, the ‘pessimistic’ and the ‘optimistic’ interpretations of the Wisdom Tradition.

The pessimistic school basically sees human history as one of progressive degeneration, i.e. regression. Authors like Rene Guenon, Julius Evola, and others, will posit a ‘spiritual golden age’ in the mythical past. Thus, early mankind was more developed spiritually than current civilisation, and they will for example show how the ruling classes where first spiritual (shamans, priestly castes in Egypt, the Church), then military and finally commercial. This school will be strengthened in its interpretation by many sacred texts positing such gradual loss of consciousness. For example the Hindu tradition clearly states we are now in the age of ‘Kali Yuga’, the last stage before a world destruction. Hence the notion of the ‘Fall’ and others concepts highlighting the predicament of current mankind.

The ‘optimistic’ school of thought, as exemplified in the works of Hegel, Teilhard de Chardin, and Ken Wilber, takes an evolutionary approach. They will generally agree that there has indeed been a fall, at the creation of the Cosmos and our universe, when divine consciousness was lost in unconscious matter. But from that point on, there has been progress towards ever higher levels of complexity and consciousness.

This basic attitude towards spirituality, and life, will color the spiritual point of view of the various schools. Pessimistic schools will tend towards dualism (the fundamental split between the human and the divine), towards Gnosticism (there will always remain a split between the Knower and the Known, i.e. an individual self), and towards negative approaches towards the body. Indeed, Pessimistic spiritual practice will tend toward techniques that teach their adepts that ‘you’re not your body, you’re not your mind, you’re not this, you’re not that’. Optimistic spiritual practice will tend towards non-duality approaches, mysticism (a fusion with the divine), and a positive approach towards the body and the self. Its practices will tend towards techniques that teach their adepts: ‘you’re more than your ego, you’re more than your body’.

Of course, ‘In Real Life’, most spiritual schools will have elements of both, but it is a very instructive ‘heuristic’ tool to look at the Tradition from this point of view. The interpretation of human history, and of the role of technology in it, will be colored by it.
Hence, the Technological Project of mankind (and especially the current ‘cyberspatial phase’ can be seen either as a ‘Luciferian’ God Project, i.e. an attempt by humankind to usurp ‘God’ and to liberate itself from all limits imposed on itself by Nature (the pessimistic interpretation), or on the contrary, as a new phase in the evolution of mankind towards higher levels of collective consciousness. We will therefore continue our exploration on the meaning of technology, inspired by these two points of view, as a God Project, or as Electric Gaia.

pt IV: The God Project