Interviewer: But meditation is private.
Ken Wilber: Not really. Not any more so than, say, mathematics. There is no external proof, for example, that negative one squared equals one; there is no sensory or empirical proof for that. That happens to be true, but it is proven to be true only by an internal logic. You can’t find negative one in the external world; you find it only in your mind. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, that doesn’t mean it is only private knowledge that can’t be publicly validated. That only means that its truth is validated by a community of trained mathematicians, by those who know how to internally run the logical experiment that will decide whether it is true or not. Just so, meditative knowledge is internal knowledge, but knowledge that can be publicly validated by a community of trained meditators, those who know the internal logic of the contemplative experience. We don’t let anybody vote on the truth of the Pythagorean theorem; we let trained mathematicians vote on that truth. Likewise, meditative spirituality makes certain claims–for example, that inward sense of self is, if you look at it closely, one with the feeling of the external world–but that is a truth to be checked experimentally and experientially by you and anybody else who cares to try the experiment. And after something like six thousand years of this experiment, we are perfectly justified in making certain conclusions, making certain spiritual theorems, as it were. And those spiritual theorems are the core of the perennial wisdom traditions.
The struggle for many Christians today is to find a religious framework that, to put it simply, makes sense. We’ve attempted our experiments with exoteric Christianity and the experiment has yielded mostly negative results. Not that everything about Christian fundamentalism is bad but taken as a whole, it does not sit well with our souls. But rather than leaving our tradition all together, we seek a new direction that relies on the saints that have gone before us and the Spirit’s calling us forward. This is why I really appreciate writers like McLaren because he is doing his part in developing an alternate vision that doesn’t do away with the past, but embraces it in a new way. After all, it is more than obvious that for a growing number of folks, the conventional Christian perspective does not invite their souls, but repels them. We must find a spirituality that makes sense because, in the end, isn’t that what we all do? For the fundamentalist, fundamentalism makes sense. For the Calvinist, Calvinism makes sense. No one can invest in a religious experiment with a full and open heart unless it makes sense. The growing problem with the exoteric Christian perspective is that more and more who’ve attempted it’s experiment are checking out. The world looks at Christianity and the transformation Christianity offers has somehow failed to bear witness to the world. If exoteric Christianity brings transformation, then why is this transformation not overwhelmingly evident? Or to put it more simply, the proof’s not in the pudding. Esoteric spirituality isn’t interested in dogmas because dogmas, when emphasized, have had a very difficult time yielding transformation. Esoteric spirituality is primarily interested in transformation and leaves room for belief in so far as it guides our experience and fosters transformation. The dogmas and doctrines are not the point. Being in a relationship with God and allowing that relationship to transform is all that matters.
For anyone who is interested in digging in to this kind of material with a Christian emphasis, check out Father Thomas Keating’s writing on centering prayer, Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation and the writings of Father Richard Rohr.