Ken Wilber is a great systematic philsopher. The breadth of his knowledge is impressive. His works deal with such topics as anthropology, philosophy, history but above all, of religion and spiritual matters. His study in the spiritual traditions of India, China, the Classical World and Enlightment Europe is very detailed and complete.
Ken is a very private person. This much is known about his life: he was the son of an air force pilot, born around 1947. He was a very popular and athletic student, earning the position of captain of the high school football team.
After high school he went to college and later grad school. While in the Graduate program in Microbiology at some university, he had an awakening and dropped out of school to write his first book.
Many of his earlier books were written from the perspective of "Western Society is bad and imprisoning, we need to return to our primal roots", in other words he was a great romantic.
Even at the early stages of his career, however, he was working at what would make him famous, a detailed description of the different levels and gradations of body, mind and spirit.
Sometime in the early 80's, he met his second wife, an environmental enthusiast. They were married, but very shortly after they married, she was diagnosed with cancer. He spent the next decade taking care of her, and ceased writing.
After she passed away, he went back to writing. The result, published in 1995 was Sex, Ecology and Spirituality, a truly immense book attempting to explain everything (which of course wouldn't actually be accomplished until the fonding of this database. It comes much close to succeding then would be thought possible. The basic outline of the book goes something like this:
- There is a spiritual hierarchy of body, mind and spirit. Schools such as neoplatonism and Mahayana have clarified this spiritual hierarchy.
- Included in this spiritual hierarchy is everything from atoms to satori.
- There are different ways of relating to this hierarcy. Men have one way and women have another (oftentimes).
- Although the higher levels of this hierarchy may seem mystical, you can not understand these things by giving up your rational thinking.
- New agers and the like who try to deny critical thinking and science aren't getting closer to God
- And scientists aren't gaining objective truth by denying the spiritual.
In many sections, this book resembles either Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus or The Celestine Prophecy if those books had been written by a very intelligent, educated person.
Unfortunatly, after writing this book, which was a great success, Ken attempted to write it in different versions about 4 or 5 times. There is supposed to be two more equally large volumes coming out, but so far all there has been only 8 volumes of his previous collected works released.
One of the points that Ken is fond of making is that thinking of the ego as an evil, invasive thing may not be totally correct; and that having a strong sense of self worth does not distract from being a spiritual person. As good of advice as this, I think he tends to take it a little too much.
All that being said, reading his works really gave me more of an understanding of the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings of our culture then any other single person I can think of. On the other hand, if I wished to get a more direct, visceral version of his teachings, I go to Lone Wolf and Cub or Neon Genesis Evangelion.