Quality, Mysticism and Action in the World

John Beasley
In this essay, I seek to explore the difficult terrain of quality, of the good. I will examine the novels of Robert M. Pirsig; also a brief formulation of modern mysticism, 'All Else is Bondage', by Wei Wu Wei, who is Irish/English despite his nom de plume; thirdly, the impressive body of writings by Ken Wilber, who seeks to integrate all human knowledge including the realm of spirit; fourthly, the experience of scientist and academic John Wren-Lewis who had mysticism thrust upon him after a near death experience, and finally the work of a modern mystic and teacher, Hameed Ali, who has integrated traditional Sufi insights with modern psychological understanding and techniques. Each brings a distinctive approach and perspective to the field.
Talking About Quality
Let us begin by looking at quality, and how we might talk about quality.
For Pirsig, quality is regarded as  fundamental while indefinable. Yet his Metaphysics of Quality is an attempt to define quality, as he concedes in Ch 5 of 'Lila'. "Quality cannot be defined. Yet here he was about to define it." If by definition we mean a verbal package that wraps up every aspect of the term in advance of experience, then quality cannot be so defined; but then, neither can something so simple as a tree. But language is not just about definition. Any communication involves quite a lot of 'reading between the lines', the root meaning of the word 'intelligence', and quite often a didactic attention to terms defeats the aim of communication, and focuses instead upon the qualities of the 'finger' which is pointing to the 'moon' of enlightenment. Let us agree to use language more loosely, recognising its limitations, certainly, but allowing the 'Aha' of recognition when it arises.
Any metaphysics is constructed in language, and as Edward Pols reminds us, "the corruption of language consists in our substituting it for the real." In 'Radical Realism', Pols explores the question of "How can we get out from under the net of language", the issue that the rise of structuralism and post-structuralism has made central during the past century. He attacks the view that language is so peculiar that any attempt to explore the relationship between language and reality is doomed to failure, though he acknowledges it is difficult to express. He challenges the extreme views which find language to be constructed from unknowable stimuli as an attack on the ontic level of the person, and shows that all argument derives its authority from that ontic level. This fits quite comfortably with Pirsig's view of quality as fundamental, since quality can only be experienced by individuals, as he acknowledges. (Lila Ch 13)
Pirsig has a bleak view of the potential for real contact between people, though. "All these different patterns of people's lives passing through each other without any contact at all." (Lila Ch 17) But language would fail if it were not for the shared experiences of individuals in which it is embedded. The fit does not have to be perfect. Your concept of a tree will be different to mine, if we were to explore them at enough depth, but it is not necessary that they be identical for communication to occur. This is the trap that Pirsig falls into, in his belief that metaphysics is about definition. We can argue and debate and communicate without defining, and as a novelist Pirsig knows that well. But consistent with his ranking of the intellectual as the highest level of static quality, he places reason in a privileged position, as a lynch pin of academic debate. And let us be clear, Pirsig wants his ideas to be taken seriously by academia, partly because he believes in his skills in rhetoric, and partly because as an outsider, as a person who has been defined as 'insane', he craves recognition by those on the inside, the inhabitants of the Church of Reason.
Pirsig and Mysticism
I find it  interesting that Pirsig is often taken to be a mystic, as Antony McWatt, for example, explicitly argues in his response to an earlier essay of mine. Pirsig claims to have avoided the 'easy escape' of that path, and to me it appears that he represents a modern metaphysics responsive to mystic insight, but knowing about truth, rather than experiencing the truth that comes from immersion in a transformational praxis. He is perhaps, a 'mystic manque', someone who is attracted to the mystic view, while not yet 'enlightened' (if indeed enlightenment exists). Hameed Ali (who writes under the pen name of A.H. Almaas) says, "a central thread in the field of Western philosophical thought concerns epistemological questions regarding the experience of the self. This body of thought has penetrated the naive assumptions of conventional thought regarding the nature of self and the world, and brought profound appreciation of the difference between mental constructs and more fundamental reality. However, this tradition does not focus on actual methods of transforming the experience of the self." ('The Point of Existence', p 178)
This seems to me to apply particularly well to Pirsig. The subject/object metaphysics that Pirsig so loathes is an assumption of the nature of self and the world, and Pirsig has indeed produced a more profound appreciation of the nature of fundamental reality in his exploration of quality. Yet his book is a product of the Church of Reason, as he refers to the academic world in 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', and while pointing to a mystic depth in reality, he actually offers a rather unweildy and unworkable rule based ethics using the four levels of static quality that he explores in 'Lila'. A true mystic wouldn't bother, as Pirsig acknowledges in his discussion in Ch 5 of 'Lila'. For the mystic, ethics is not an issue; rather, a clear and close relationship to truth provides an integral ethics, in which actions are not debated, or chosen, but lived.
All of which comes back to a rather fundamental point. Mysticism is not a belief. That is, mysticism cannot be grasped by intellect. Certainly it is possible to discuss mysticism, to analyse and dissect it in words, but as Ken Wilber points out, words will never be a path to understanding without a transformational practice, or at the very least, a transformational experience such as John Wren-Lewis met with in his near death experience in Asia. (His fascinating article, 'The Dazzling Dark', is available on the internet.) Krishnamurti felt the weight of this observation, when, after decades of teaching, he conceded that probably not one person had been enlightened through listening to him.
Pirsig's Place in Philosophy
Pirsig belongs to a broader group of metaphysicians who posit that value is foundational to understanding. This includes much writing that is phrased in theological terms, but in which God is understood to represent the 'Good', as well as formulations couched in terms of depth, and here I would include Paul Tillich and Ken Wilber, where in Wilber's words "The greater the depth, the greater the value". ('Sex, Ecology, Spirituality' p 518)  Wilber would protest that this is not metaphysics, though I fail to see how such a statement can be anything else.
Other philosophers point to qualities other than goodness as fundamental. Nietzsche points to will, courage and vitality as the core issues. Sartre points to the courage to accept and will what is given in our experience, without evasion and 'bad faith'. Much post-modern philosophy undercuts traditional value statements by exploring the language in which they are cast, until often nothing substantive remains, and the whole exercise is assumed to be about the use or abuse of power. 'Scientism' assumes a 'reality' out there, which can be seen and measured, and clarified through experimentation, where values are excluded; and it denies any reality to the interior realm where value must reside. This is, of course, only a cursory sampling of other approaches aimed at indicating something of the territory we are entering.
Pirsig's attempt at a metaphysics is a response to a number of issues. Originally, if his account in 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' is taken at face value, it arose in the context of teaching writing, where the value dimension was being overlooked in favour of technique and analysis. From there he expanded it to grapple with the dominant scientific worldview, with its incapacity to deal with value issues. And in 'Lila', so he tells us, it was his reading of supposedly value-free anthropology that led him to assert that Quality and value were the same thing. "Value was a term they had to use, but under Boas' science value does not really exist". (Lila Ch 5) He saw his task as "to first find some solid ground upon which such a (new anthropological theoretic) structure can be constructed. It was this conclusion that placed him right in the middle of the field of philosophy known as metaphysics ... a collection of the most general statements of a hierarchical structure of thought." (Lila Ch 5) His opponents he saw as the logical positivists who dominated science and anthropology, and the mystics, who "share a common belief that the fundamental nature of reality is outside language; that language splits things up into parts while the true nature of reality is undivided." (Lila Ch 5)
Pirsig actually welcomed the hostility of both camps towards metaphysics, arguing that it could therefore become the bridge between the two. But immediately he concedes that since he had already argued that "Quality doesn't have to be defined ... this means that a 'Metaphysics of Quality' is essentially a contradiction in terms, a logical absurdity." (Lila Ch 5) His answer to this is to suggest that while writing a metaphysics might appear to the mystic a degenerate activity, "avoidance of degeneracy is a degeneracy of another sort", the sort fanatics are made of, just as "Objections to pollution are a form of pollution". (Lila Ch 5) This ad hominen argument (which implies mystics who deplore degeneracy are themselves degenerate) is a rhetorical flourish, and should alert us that this is where Pirsig is most vulnerable. He has identified the weaknesses in his enterprise, while papering over the cracks with a crass generalization. Do only fanatics object to pollution? Is degeneracy made wholesome by noting how common it is? As Pirsig himself has noted, "metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a thirty-thousand page menu and no food." (Lila Ch 5)
Traditional Mysticism
In exploring the world-view of the mystic, of which there are many variations, I will use Wei Wu Wei's formulation in 'All Else is Bondage' as a brief and rather clear formulation that seems to pull together many of the strands of Eastern mysticism in a way accessible to western thought, though the author would insist that what can be thought it is not what he is pointing to. Indeed, I accept this point, but as his small volume is presented as something of an 'intermediate stage' to 'an entirely modern presentation of oriental or perennial metaphysics' for the 'pilgrim struggling to understand', it suits our purpose well. (Quotes from the Foreward to 'All Else is Bondage') For I assume that a metaphysics is fundamentally a 'struggling to understand', and however tenuous an activity this may be, it is one that continues to fascinate and engage human beings across history and cultures, and is the motive for this essay.
Now I must plunge in bravely where Pirsig feared to go, and address what I see as the territory where a metaphysics of 'quality' and a mystic understanding of the world contend. Pirsig described (in ZMM) how he walked out of Benares Hindu University after ten years there, and in his words "gave up", over an issue that I also find a problem in the mystic attitude to the world. This is the issue of how mysticism destroys morality, at least in the  conventional sense of the word.  Wei Wu Wei deals with this issue, in quite specific language.
When we look at a mystic 'metaphysics' we engage in something of a contradiction in terms, since the core understanding of the mystic seems to be that existence itself is a fantasy, "and in the absence of the phantasy of living there is the bliss of 'nirvana' or awakened life." (Wei Wu Wei p 47) However, Wu Wei allows a place for knowledge, where he says "All the teaching of all the Masters ... consists in attempts by means of knowledge, practices and manoeuvres to free the pseudo-individual from the chains of volition, for when that is abandoned no bondage remains." (p 48) And in his introduction he asserts that "there is nothing mysterious about this matter" ("escaping the dungeon of individuality"). "The apparent mystery ... is just obnubilation, an inability to perceive the obvious owing to a conditioned reflex which causes us persistently to look in the wrong direction!" I fear he would regard metaphysics as part of this 'wrong direction', but this essay uses the language of knowledge and metaphysics, in spite of Wu Wei's insistence that "the understanding required is not conceptual and therefore is not knowledge." (Foreward, 'All Else is Bondage')
"Who is there to create a cause? Who is there to suffer an effect? ... There is neither a causal nor an effectual entity." (All Else is Bondage p xi) The mystic objects to the objectification of subjects, but does not deny the reality of the subjects as subjects. "Bondage is ... the illusory identification of Subject with its object." (All Else is Bondage, p 27) But the world in which morality exists is only a construct, and morality itself must be seen as part of that construct. "The apparent universe is a dream-structure in-formed by Subject, and therefore can be nothing but I-subject. For that reason nothing that happens therein can touch or reach the subject which it is." (p 38) "Being ... is not ceasing to objectivise - for that is the functional aspect of subject - but ceasing to objectivise oneself, and thereby ceasing to regard one's objects as independant entities." (p 40) And these objects include the others who form the basis of any morality. They are merely phenomena in a dream. "'Others', therefore, are nothing but our objects; as we know them they are not entities in their own right, and they only appear to be such each as dreamer of his own dream, that is subjectively." (p43)
All morality assumes that I can choose my actions. The significance of the debate as to the possibility of free will is precisely that if I have no ability to choose, then morality, in the sense of being responsible for my actions toward others, collapses. "Without 'intentions'", says Wu Wei, "We just act." (p 46) The absence of volitional action does not mean we cease to act, but action becomes spontaneous, "the so-called 'non-action' of the Sage." (p 47) "The I-notion which has intention is itself ... a reflex. Its performance as inaugurator of pretended acts of volition is a phantasy, and it is precisely this phantasy which constitutes suffering." (p 47) So to the mystic, all volition is a myth, and a bondage, and "everything is as-it-is and as it must be. For it is 'intention' that is responsible for dualistic conception and the ensuing comparison of interdependant counterparts, seen as opposites, one of which is 'good' and the other 'bad'." (p 49) Here we see the core terms of any morality linked directly to the myth of volition and intention. If we cannot choose, if volition is a myth, then we can do neither good nor bad, and morality collapses as part of the suffering inherent in dualism.
But the mystic somewhat paradoxically asserts that such a living in the moment, without volition, constitutes a state of high moral virtue. "Envy, hatred and malice will be no more, vengeance will no longer seem desirable, we shall be invulnerable, and we know why ... there is no one to hurt any 'us'. Love and hatred are replaced by universal benediction, manifested as kindliness and good nature towards the world around us which we now recognise as ourself." (p 55) Yet Wu Wei acknowledges that "the Sages did not consistently conform to any pattern of saintliness, their phenomenal manifestations were on occasion quite ungodly ... Sai Baba was often violent". (p 55) He concludes, "Our notions concerning the behaviour of sages are only concepts; and anyhow they are not to be copied. We have only to live noumenally ... being as-we-are. This is the only 'practice'." (p 56)
Myth, Mysticism and Morality
In the myth of the Garden of Eden, man resides with God in the garden in a state of naive innocence. Once Adam and Eve enjoy the forbidden fruit, however, they become aware of themselves as separated beings - moral beings. This loss of innocence is symbolised by the experience of shame which causes them to seek to cover their nakedness. They learn how to lie, and to blame others for their wrongdoings. And so according to the myth, they no longer can live in harmony in the garden, but must labour to find their food in a hard world where they will also find death. And each person born into this world repeats in their own history something of this 'fall', as each innocent child learns to become a separate individual, a self, who enters into moral relations with other selves, experiencing shame and guilt, and realising that death will be his or her ultimate and unavoidable fate.
While mainstream Christianity has focussed on the fallen and sinful state of man, there have always been currents of Christian thought, sometimes tolerated, sometimes attacked as heresy, which have emphasised the essential goodness of creation, and man's true nature as that which existed prior to the fall. This Johannine tradition informed Celtic spirituality, and was powerfully expressed within the Christian Mystic tradition. While often accused of being pantheistic, it more properly was an expression of panentheism, where God's goodness was not irretrievably lost, but could be discerned in his creation. From this perspective, the healing of the state of separation from God was to be achieved, not so much through contrition, repentence and adherence to a revealed moral code, but by recovering the lost innocence of childhood through recontacting the divine in the world, including in our own selves. To the mystic, God was to be sought within, and at the highest levels, God and self were found to be 'not two'.
In the Buddhist myth, the Buddha as a young prince is protected from suffering and death. But the day comes when he encounters the sick and dying, and shocked, he leaves his kingdom to seek a way to escape suffering. In his wanderings he explores the wisdom available to him, but is always unsatisfied, until eventually he sits under the Bodhi tree determined to find enlightenment. While the nature of his experience is still debated, he comes to a realisation that ends his search, and proclaims a new middle way of tolerance and compassion.
The Buddhist tradition has many branches, and in China and later in Japan there developed a particularly powerful understanding of the enlightenment experienced by the Buddha, known as Zen. Through various disciplines, notably meditation of various kinds, the egoic self is challenged and the boundaries between self and other, subject and object, that were developed in childhood as a part of normal human development are re-examined.  The Zen ideal is to "attain a state of pure awareness of things, without judging them." (Aubrey Menen, The New Mystics, p 229) Menen claims that in modern terms this is a valuation of the cerebellum, that part of the brain that controls instinctive action, and a condemnation of the cortex, where thinking arises. The end result is not tranquil. "The Zen master laughs, shouts, has fits of irrational anger and generally behaves (as they say) like a happy madman." (Op cit) "But in its origin, Zen was simplistic, no belief more so. In the words of Lin-chi (died 867): 'There is no place in Buddhism for using effort. Just be ordinary and nothing special. Relieve your bowels, pass water, put on your clothes and eat your food. When you're tired, go and lie down. Ignorant people may laugh at me, but the wise will understand'." (p230)
Both the Christian and the Buddhist myths point to a lost 'essential goodness', represented by the garden of Eden in one myth, the prince who does not know suffering in the other. Both have spawned traditions in which this lost goodness is able to be reclaimed, and this mystic path inevitably focusses upon pure awareness experienced in the moment, leading to the dissolution  of the boundaries between self and others, subject and object.
It seems to me that all moral virtues collapse in the mystic world-view into the one aspect of immediacy. Unreflective living-in-the-moment becomes the only good, and all other values simply emerge from that state of being. Is not this what is meant by 'bliss'? The questions that arise for me, despite my attraction to the elegant simplicity of this view, are twofold. Firstly, is immediacy a moral cop-out, an evasion of moral experience, a refusal to take others seriously? And more fundamentally, if the phenomenal world is indeed a fantasy, a dream, how is it that its hold on us is so strong that so few achieve liberation? Might it not be the case that the avoidance of suffering by living in the moment is the ultimate self-ishness, an abdication of responsibilities thrust upon us by life, and thus the ultimate in 'bad-faith'? This equates with John Wren-Lewis's assessment of mysticism prior to his near death experience, which was "I saw mysticism as a neurotic escape into fantasy, due to a failure of nerve in the creative struggle." (The Dazzling Dark, p2)
Is Mysticism Moral Evasion?
This question is one of value. If value has only one dimension, immediacy, then mysticism is supported. But mystics appear to take other values quite seriously. We normally assume that when values contend, some form of reconciliation of conflicting values must emerge  through choice, which implies intention and volition. Or to put it more subtly, might not the emergence of intention and volition be a response to the emergence in human experience of the ability to comprehend more than one value, with the result being the emergence of choice? John Wren-Lewis offers a particularly interesting insight, since, as he says "I had God consciousness thrust upon me in 1983, my sixtieth year, without working for it, desiring it, or even believing in it, and this has understandably given me a somewhat unusual perspective on the whole matter." ('The Dazzling Dark, p2) He describes his experience thus: "I've been liberated from what William Blake called obsession with 'futurity', which, until it happened, I used to consider a psychological impossibility. And to my continual astonishment, for ten years now this liberation has made the conduct of practical life more rather than less efficient, precisely because time consciousness isn't overshadowed by 'anxious thought for the morrow'." (p 3)
If we take what Wren-Lewis says as significant, then immediacy is indeed critical, yet does not preclude value choices. Having spoken personally with Wren-Lewis, and having a more than passing interest in his previous attitude to religion, since he was to a considerable extent the instigator for the Bishop of Woolwich writing 'Honest to God', a remarkable book that got me thinking as a teenager, I take what he has to say as very significant indeed. Indeed, his pessimistic assessment of the potential for 'strenuous spiritual practice' to lead to what he calls 'God consciousness' convinced me for some time of the futility of seeking any path to 'enlightenment'. Krishnamurti, too, always claimed that there was no way to progress towards 'enlightenment', for such progress was a process in time, and it is just such processes that 'enlightenment' precludes. "The very idea of a spiritual path is necessarily self defeating". (The Dazzling Dark, p 7) I use the term 'enlightenment' as a convenient shorthand for a different way of being, and this is indeed something Wren-Lewis amply confirms. As just one example, he had always been extremely sensitive to pain. He says "I discovered how all kinds of 'negative' human experiences became marvels of creation when experienced by the Dazzling Dark ... Pain becomes ... simply an interesting sensation ... The Buddha's distinction between pain and suffering, which I used to think was equivocation, is now a common experience for me." (Op cit, p 5)
If future outcomes are not explored through 'anxious thought', the implication is that choice emerges from some other level, the 'wisdom of the organism' being one contender, though the phrase, while felicitous, is hardly explanatory. The implications for traditional morality are staggering, since it is indeed the emergence of 'anxious thought' which students of ethology such as Lyall Watson, in 'Dark Nature', suggests leads to moral judgement. "By its very nature, a complex society creates calculating beings - ones who recognize the consequences of their own behavior, who predict the response of others, and who measure the net profit and loss in everything that happens." (p 75)
In traditional moral terms, it appears that the concept of duty is minimised or even abolished for the mystic, since it has a clear time orientation built into it. Wei Wu Wei's denigration of intention and volition seems to fit quite comfortably with Wren-Lewis's experience.
Critics of mysticism have been quick to point to anomalies in the behaviour of the 'enlightened' that suggest that even in the most liberated, pockets of egoic behaviour persist. This includes Krishnamurti's unwillingness to deal honestly with the man who acted as his secretary, and with whose wife he had a long term affair. Some observers of the Zen scene in the United States have been scathing in their critique of sexual and financial exploitation by supposed 'masters', who in some cases also displayed racist or homophobic or other behaviour offensive to modern liberal sensitivities.
All this suggests that 'enlightenment' cannot be equated with moral virtue, as it is commonly understood. Yet as Wei Wu Wei claimed, in his words quoted earlier, " Love and hatred are replaced by universal benediction, manifested as kindliness and good nature towards the world around us which we now recognise as ourself." For the present, this must be left as a paradox. It seems that mysticism assumes an integral morality, in that moral issues are resolved in the immediate 'non-action' of the sage. Wilber asserts that "'choiceless awareness' means that both judging and no judging are allowed to arise, appropriate to circumstances." (The Eye of Spirit, p 277) He adopts Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's discrimination between 'compassion' and 'idiot compassion'. "This is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn in politically correct America, where idiot compassion - the abdication of discriminating wisdom and the loss of moral fiber to voice it - is too often equated with spirituality." (Op Cit )
While mysticism can appear amoral, it can also expose the ambiguities of much social morality, where neediness, for example, masquerades as love. Mysticism does not exclude a strong moral polemic, as in the poetry of William Blake; indeed, there are many examples of polemic in the mystic tradition. What differs in the moral behaviour of the mystic is the lack of volition or intention in his action, since neither the past nor the future are dominating present awareness, which is therefore responsive to the circumstances of the present.
Is Liberation Achievable?
Many observers of mysticism are pessimistic about the ability of various forms of transformational practice to achieve the sort of transformation that John Wren-Lewis had thrust upon him. As we saw above, both Krishnamurti and John Wren-Lewis deny the possibility of a 'spiritual path', since such a path implies a focus on futurity. Others have pointed to the very low success rate, so far as can be judged, achieved by popular transformational practices such as Zen. Wren-Lewis claims that when he sought spiritual advice regarding his new state, "no one I consulted, either in person or through books, had a clue".(p 6) Not that he denies the reality of a "common 'deep structure' of experience underlying the widely different cultural expressions of mystics in all traditions." (p6) But he points to a number of accounts which suggest that enlightenment has been an act of grace for the recipient, rather than a reward for effort on their part.
"Even disciplines designed to prize attention away from doing are simply another form of doing",(p 7) observes Wren-Lewis, who turns to his experience as a scientist for a partial suggestion of how such a Catch 22 might be overcome. "The right kind of lateral thinking can often bring liberation ... provided the Catch 22 is faced in its full starkness, without evasions in the form of metaphysical speculations beyond experience."(p 8) His main advice to spiritual seekers is "to experiment with any practice or idea that seems interesting - which is what the Buddha urged a long time ago ... novelty is apparently the name of the time game."(p 9) Or as Krishnamurti said, "Truth is a pathless land".
I will turn to the thought of two living Americans to extend the hints that Wren-Lewis offers, and explore the possibility that a transformational path is not a contradiction in terms. They are Hameed Ali, the founder of the Diamond Approach, and Ken Wilber, considered by many as the best theorist of human reality, including spirituality, that has emerged.
Hameed Ali came to the United States to do a doctorate in science, and soon became more interested in personal development, studying with Claudio Naranjo, from whom he learnt about the enneagram, and combining his traditional roots in Sufi mysticism with modern psychology, notably object relations theory, Kohut's self theory, and studies of child development, such as by Margaret Mahler. Ali has developed the Diamond Approach to personal development, and in numerous books has explored the importance of essence, those qualities which vitalise the human infant, and are encountered throughout life but usually ignored or trivialised.
Ali utilises both traditional meditation techniques and modern therpeutic techniques to assist students to become more aware and sensitive to their essential qualities. Almost inevitably the process begins as a striving for something missing, a search for the holy grail that will bring liberation. But as students begin to experience their essential natures, it is possible for the efforting that accompanies the initial search to be replaced by a process of inquiry, in which the truth of experience becomes valued for its own sake. The process is in an important sense a via negativa, an undoing of childhood conditioning, in which the pain and terror of childhood experiences that shaped our developing egos are re-encountered and faced, and the blinkers on our experience that such trauma created are removed. Ultimately the mystic sense of oneness with the world, and the ability to view everything as 'not two', can emerge from the enquiry process, supported by the developing essential states. What Ali calls 'universal love', or 'cosmic consciousness', "is a unification of all aspects of essence ... all the essential aspects must be free, and available without blockage." (The Freedom to Be, p 173)
In contrast to many other mystic schools, Ali is open to a broad spectrum of experience. He acknowledges that often therapy will be needed before spiritual development can proceed, and individual work with students can involve considerable therapeutic content. He remains refreshingly candid about the reality of 'enlightenment', claiming no perfection for himself. He acknowledges the value of the self, which was a necessary construct in infancy, and in this regard his understanding is similar to that of Ken Wilber. The self, Wilber seems to argue, is a stage in human development, necessary at the time, but able to be transcended by a mystic transformation which remains involved with the world, not denying it or minimising it, "a Higher Self with a wider Community of all beings." (Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, p 516)
Ali suggests that the path towards enlightenment hinges upon the development of the essential self, through activites such as meditation, focussed inquiry, personal therapy, the support of a teacher, and the intensification of experience that comes from working in a group. Once such a development has occurred, a deeper stage of transformation becomes possible, in what seems to resemble an experience of the 'dark night of the soul', where the full horror of loss of self is experienced, and faced, alone. In Ali's words, you have to let go of everything you have ever loved, parents, partners, pets; but also "your feelings, your mind, your ideas. You are in love with all of these. Letting go of them will feel like a great loss, even a death. It is not you who dies. What dies is everyone else. In the experience of ego death, you don't feel you are dying; you feel everybody else is dead. You feel you're all alone, totally alone." (The Freedom to Be, p 169)
Pirsig argues that only what has quality can conceivably be sensed by the organism. In such a state it is indeed possible "to just act". But the evolution of culture, and language, fundamentally changes that world. Now the three forms of good; art, morals and science, are discriminated, and the individual who has choice emerges, painfully, from organismic bliss. In Wilber's terms, the world is no longer embraced only from the inner experience of the individual. The individual has become an agent in a society, where he or she calculates the benefits or otherwise of potential actions. And the individual is now part of an objective world, where the understanding of cause and effect can allow calculated action for the hope of future gain. Time and space have emerged with potent effect. The world has expanded to allow subjectivity, objectivity and intersubjectivity to co-exist.
From an evolutionary perspective it is easy to see how such a development can assist with survival. The aware and proactive individual is certainly going to avoid potential dangers to which the organism, immersed in its immediacy, is oblivious. Indeed, evolution appears to have preempted this advance with the more rigid development of the instincts, a form of learning which is hard-wired into the organism.  Instincts develop over many generations, as helpful behaviours are selected in the evolving population; but culture offers the potential for learning to be gained within one generation, and passed on through education to the next. Yet this has been a mixed blessing, for the price of such flexibility is individual doubt, uncertainty, and the emptiness and meaninglessness that characterise our age. Add to this the loss of immediacy, which is replaced with habitual mental fantasy, and the desire for a simpler and less threatening life is understandable.
Pirsig is only one of many writers who point to the alienation and loneliness that plagues modern society. Yet he offers nothing substantial as a remedy, seeming to believe that suffering is the inevitable price of quality. "Those species that don't suffer don't survive.    Suffering is the negative face of the Quality that drives the whole process." (Lila Ch 29) Ken Wilber points to a transformational praxis as essential in moving into the higher stages of personal development, where spirit is discerned. Wilber has taken the position that what happens as a person grows and develops is sufficiently obvious that we may construct a conceptual map to chart this development, and that this requires no metaphysics. His holarchical model asserts that at any level of the holarchy, there is a sense of completion or fulfilment, as the new level of evolution integrates as a whole what was previously irreconcilable, yet this also co-exists with an incompleteness as a part, that is only resolvable as the transition is made to a new and yet higher level. He also argues that a higher level both includes and transcends the lower level, and shows there is a progressive unfolding of Spirit as movement up the holarchy occurs. While Wilber seeks to base his model upon evidence, his argument assumes that the only valid critique of the evidence is by those who have themselves taken the trouble to explore the realm they debate.
Wilber takes community and the moral relations between people very seriously indeed. Where the mystic seems to avoid moral issues by escaping the world of subjects and objects altogether, and Pirsig builds an uneasy compromise balancing Dynamic Quality, which might well be the 'bliss' of the mystic, with his static levels, which he applies with as much logical consistency as he can muster, Wilber takes seriously the subjective, objective and intersubjective worlds revealed in experience, and suggests that the reconciliation of subject and object is dealt with as higher levels of integration are achieved, though they are incapable of resolution at the intellectual level only. Hence for Wilber a transformational path is an essential element of any high level developmental praxis.
In some endnotes to his big book, 'Sex, Ecology, Spirituality', Wilber talks about the BMI, the basic moral intuition, which he plans to write about in a future volume. The BMI is a human intuition, hence relates to "patterns of higher quality". He postulates that all humans intuit a moral imperative, "Protect and promote the greatest depth for the greatest span". (SES p 613) This formula applies at each level of human development, but since each level is open to different inputs, the outcomes differ significantly, depending upon the level of the person involved. So at the egocentric level, for example, where only the self is of real interest, we get the typical warrior ethic. At the sociocentric level, where depth is also acknowledged to exist in others, but only those in my group, we end up with the typical duty ethic. At the worldcentric rational level, depth extends to all human beings, and span includes the whole human race. (At this level the BMI is often stated as 'Promote the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers', which ignores different types of happiness, or levels of depth of happiness, so this level is unable to handle questions about whether it is better to be an unhappy Socrates or a contented pig.) "In the transpersonal domains, the BMI unfolds as Buddha (I), Dharma (It), and Sangha (We), and the ultimate Sangha is the community of all sentient beings as such." (SES p 614)
Wilber says "I believe we all intuit Spirit to one degree or another, and thus we all possess the Basic Moral Intuition; but we unfold that intuition only at our present level of development." (SES p 614) Wilber further argues that any intuition of Spirit manifests in at least three domains, the subjective (I), the intersubjective (We) and the objective (it).  What Wilber is arging is that it is not enough to intuit the preciousness of spirit in myself, but also to value the spirit as it unfolds in others, and to implement this spiritual unfolding in as many beings as possible, that is in the objective world. Some mystic groups have developed quite complex structures to do just this. The 'Sarmoun Darq' or 'Collectors of Honey' collected human knowledge at times when knowledge was dissipating, and stored it for future times when it could be used again. (A.H. Almaas, Elements of the Real in Man, p243) This knowledge is not just information, though, which can be stored in books, but it  is the fostering of essence, developing the essential nature of individuals in a supportive community. Hameed Ali is developing just such a nurturing community today.
Wilber is at pains to point out that how we implement the BMI depends on our social involvement, and can only be worked out "in open communication, free of domination", through discussion and decision. This seems to leave unresolved the very real issue of how such high level cooperative endeavour can be made to work in societies where inevitably the majority of people are operating at quite low levels of moral understanding, and hence are more interested in serving self interest or narrowly defined group interests. Mystics such as the Sarmoun Darq, or Hameed Ali, are unselfconsciously elitist, in that they do not pretend that democracy provides any answers. The mystic truth is democratic in that it is open to all, but the path to such truth must be nurtured by those already enlightened. A single bee makes very little honey.
So is liberation achievable? Wilber says yes, and urges those seeking spiritual development to take up a transformational praxis such as meditation, since in his view the beginning stages of any spiritual development are not significantly different to those of any human discipline. You start at the beginning, learn from those with knowledge, test your learning against the combined wisdom of the group, and in time reach a level where the discipline required to achieve mastery can be transcended.
Hameed Ali suggests that once the process of inquiry becomes fixed upon the exploration of truth for its own sake, that those facets of the egoic self that are uniquely restricting each individual's spiritual development will surely emerge, and can be dealt with so that in Wren-Lewis's words quoted above, " the Catch 22 is faced in its full starkness, without evasions in the form of metaphysical speculations beyond experience". A profound attention to what is, rather than our thoughts about what is, underlie both therapeutic change and spiritual growth, it seems.
Nonetheless, the assumption that spiritual progres is a discipline like any other is perhaps too optimistic. It may be indeed the case that each individual will have a unique path to spiritual unfoldment, and no 'authority' can deduce this in advance. John Wren-Lewis offers some words of warning that are perhaps worth heeding. "Beware of philosophies that put spiritual concerns into a framework of growth or evolution, which I believe are the great modern idols." (The Dazzling Dark, p 8) This seems to me the perfect response to Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality, which Pirsig himself depicts as a thirty thousand page menu with no food. Pirsig has no answers to the deep loneliness which I see as the hidden subtext of 'Lila'. Quotes abound, but the end of Chapter 22 of Lila captures the flavour well. "They were living in some kind of movie projected by this intellectual, electromechanical machine that had been created for their happiness, saying PARADISE > PARADISE > PARADISE but which had inadvertently shut them out from direct experience of life itself - and from each other."
I will give to Wren-Lewis the final word on how quality, mysticism and action in the world might be reconciled. "A truly mystical paradigm has to be post-evolutionary, a paradigm of lila, divine play for its own sake, where any purposes along the line of time, great or small, are subordinate to the divine satisfaction that is always present in each eternal instant."