In the Western tradition of enlightenment, known as magick, there is a conceptual tool called the Great Chain of Being that can be used for ascertaining the nature or aims of a teaching or tradition.
The Great Chain of Being can be described as a series of levels of experience that constitute the totality of reality. This is a simple version: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, non-dual.
With each successive stage (or holon as Wilber prefers to call them, as they transcend but include the previous stage) there is a growth in awareness. For instance, a beginner in meditation may at first become aware of the frantic activity of the mind for the first time, and with continued practice will eventually begin to experience spiritual events, such as states and stages. Eventually the growth in awareness will reach the Non-dual, and enlightenment occurs.
This growth or climb up the stages, from the gross to the subtle to the unconditioned, is called initiation by magicians, as well as by many other genuine enlightenment traditions.
But not all teachings are really initiatory; some teachings are presented by people who have no experience of real initiation. The symbols, terms and culture of genuine traditions are appropriated by pseudo-initiates for whatever purpose (fame, delusions of grandeur, escapism, etc). The new age scene is a great example of a pseudo-initiatory movement.
Pseudo-initiates are easily spotted because they cannot help ‘confusing the planes’. ‘Confusing the planes’ simply means confusing one level of experience (say the mental) with another (say the non-dual). When someone thinks an intellectual insight is enlightenment, they have confused the planes. When someone thinks happiness is enlightenment, they have confused the emotional level with the non-dual level. I’m sure you can find many more examples.
Pseudo-initiates are prone to confusing the planes, because having no experience of initiation they can only use terms reserved for the spiritual and non-dual levels to refer to their own limited experience of physical, emotional and mental events.
However, there is something a lot worse than the pseudo-initiate, and it is called a counter-initiate.
If genuine initiation is a growth upwards towards the higher levels, and pseudo-initiation is no movement at all – usually stalling at the imagination or mental level – the counter-initiation is actually a movement downwards.
The counter-initiation first denies the spiritual, then the mental, then the emotional, eventually reaching just the physical alone. Counter-initiation is pure reductionism, and its goal is unconscious oblivion, with the eventual denial of the physical itself.
Why would anyone desire oblivion? Because it is the imagined ultimate escape from fear. Fear of the world, each other, reality, and death.
The counter-initiation is a parody of genuine initiation, and confusion of the planes occurs for the counter-initiate as a complete reversal of the levels: the physical becomes the non-dual. Note how closely this resembles ‘emptiness is form’ and other non-dual teachings; but the difference here is that the counter-tradition is based on confusion, not clarity; separation, not Wholeness.
Some members of the Dharma Overground – a site dedicated to honest, practical enlightenment – have become proponents of a movement called Actual Freedom. To cut a long story short, some of their comments have not been received well by some of their peers, and so I thought it might be a good idea to examine the facts in light of the above model of initiation.
So where does Actual Freedom fit into this model?
From the Actual Freedom website:
Actual Freedom offers a third alternative to either remaining ‘normal’ or transcending the normal by practicing an awareness of an ‘inner’ world to rise ‘above it all’. Actual Freedom is an alternative that offers not only the elimination of the self, that lost, lonely, frightened and very, very cunning entity, but the elimination of the Self, that superior God-like spiritual entity as well.
Actual Freedom is to be free to constantly delight in the physical universe, its immediacy, its infinitude and its purity. To be this sensate, sensual body with awareness freed of any psychological entity whatsoever, enabling one to fully live this moment of being alive. At last to be a free autonomous human being, one emerges into this paradisiacal fairy-tale physical world where a veritable smorgasbord of sensual pleasures become apparent. With heightened senses one is able to see and experience the actual world as it is without the grey-coloured glasses of ‘normal reality’ or the rose-coloured glasses of the ‘spiritual’. Then and only then one is able to realize one’s destiny. Then one is able to be the universe experiencing itself as a sensate human being.
Already made your mind up? There’s a lot more.
Richard, the founder of this movement, actually states ‘Everybody has got it 180* wrong’. So instead of aiming up – as in the usual spiritual quest – we need to turn around and go in the other direction: towards the physical.
Actual Freedom actively denies the spiritual, while attributing the usual descriptions of the benefits of spirituality to the physical level of experience alone. We are told that a purely physical existence will bring freedom, peace, harmony, happiness and compassion (although Richard prefers the term ‘harmlessness’). These are all things promised by enlightenment, or realisation of the non-dual.
Furthermore, a moment of being aware of the physical alone is described as a PCE, or Pure Consciousness Experience. Richard is equating the physical with Consciousness itself! This is another parody of non-dual experience.
Here Richard describes the ego and the soul:
Given that the instinctual animal ‘self’ in humans has morphed into a sophisticated and cunning psychological and psychic identity that appears to live within the flesh and blood body, it is obvious that the instinctual animal passions can only be eradicated by eliminating both the psychological ‘self’ and the instinctual ‘self’.
The elimination of one’s ‘self’ needs to be total – both ‘who’ you think you are as a social identity and ‘who’ blind nature has programmed you to instinctively feel you are … in spiritual terms, both the ‘ego’ and the ‘soul’. The good news is that with the extinction of who you think and feel you are what you are will emerge – a flesh and blood human being, free of malice and sorrow and free of any metaphysical delusions whatsoever.
He equates the ego with the psychological self, but instead of the usual understanding of the soul as a spiritual entity, he claims the soul is nothing but the ‘instinctual self’. Here the soul is reduced to the lower emotional/higher physical level of experience. Again, a complete reversal of the planes.
There are many more examples to be found, but let’s skip to the final and ultimate parody of enlightenment itself. What can we expect when the ‘social identity has been disempowered’ and we are ‘actually free’?
One can apperceive prime characteristics that actual freedom factually shows. In psychiatric terms, for example, these are called:
1. ‘depersonalisation’ (selflessness … the absence of an entity that is called ego and Soul or self and Self).
xithymia’ (the absence of the affective faculty … no emotions, passions or calentures whatsoever).
3. ‘derealisation’ (the condition of having lost one’s grip on reality … the ‘real world’ is nowhere to be found).
4. ‘anhedonia’ (the inability to affectively feel pleasure … no hormonal secretions means hedonism is not possible).
Depersonalisation is a psychotic parody of no-self.
Alexithymia is a psychotic parody of equanimity.
Derealisation is a psychotic parody of emptiness.
Anhedonia is a psychotic parody of non-attachment.
This is as close to living oblivion as one could hope for: feel nothing, desire nothing, think nothing, imagine nothing.
Actual Freedom is a counter-tradition.
Richard is a counter-initiate.
If you are a practitioner of Actual Freedom, you have been seduced by a parody, and your spiritual development is literally heading in the wrong direction.
Psychosis is not enlightenment.
My advice (like you need it!): drop it now, and get back to the good stuff. Theravada, Magick, Sufism, whatever; anything but this crazy shit!