Editor’s Note: This article originally was published in September 2013.
I like Psychology Today magazine and recommend it. However, their recent article on the Dalai Lama was disappointing and led me to sending them a letter. Knowing it will probably be too long for them to use, I am publishing it here as an “open letter”.
Dear Psychology Today,
I don’t normally write magazines when I disagree with the viewpoint of a particular article, but I felt compelled to do so after reading your article about the Dalai Lama in the October 2013 issue. It appeared to me that your cover highlight of “Holy Celebrity: the Problem with the Dalai Lama” was more designed to sell magazines than to provide anything of psychological value about the spiritual leader. Inside your pages there was a short adaptation of a blog by Joachim Krueger which spoke more about his limited understanding of different worldviews than it did on providing any meaningful insights on the Dalai Lama. I was highly disappointed both by the article and especially your cover promotion of it.
Krueger basically applied his modern-rational-scientific worldview to critique the message and celebrity status of the Dalai Lama. In doing so, he ends up at best not understanding the spiritual leader’s purpose and at worst offering criticisms of him that don’t take into account other worldviews. Unfortunately, he falls into the trap so many of us do of thinking that there is only one way of seeing the world and those who see it differently are simply wrong. To describe how Krueger fell into this trap, let me take a moment to explain what I mean by worldviews.
There are many developmental psychologists and theorists who have recognized that there is a common sequence of worldviews through which individuals are psychologically evolving in their personal lives. Some theories also suggest that humanity is collectively evolving through the same common sequence through its history. These ways of looking at the world evolve in order to meet the conditions of our environment. As our world conditions change (either in our own lives or in our broader cultural community), new worldviews evolve to meet them. These ways of seeing the world then sit silently within our thought processes and unknown to us, guide us not only in “what we experience” but then our interpretations of such experience. The pioneering scientific studies of psychologist Clare Graves which has in recent years been popularized as Spiral Dynamics offers one useful model of understanding such worldviews. Similar models are postulated by integral philosopher Ken Wilber and others.
Developmental theories such as Spiral Dynamics point to the fact that our modern world is populated by individuals who have evolved to a level of understanding that is appropriate for their life conditions but through modern forms of travel and communication are now interacting frequently with others who see and interpret life through a different lens. Of course, when we then try to talk with others who see life differently, we judge the other person as “wrong” and try to convince them of our viewpoint. Many conflicts on the planet can be explained through such “miscommunications”. Our goal in applying such knowledge is for us to “rise above” our own worldview and see the value of how all views were appropriate for their life conditions. In fact, Graves suggested that our evolving into such an ability to hold the tension of multiple viewpoints and see their purpose was the great leap in consciousness where we were headed according to his data. He called it “second tier consciousness”. Wilber calls it “integral consciousness”.
Such theories offer that our modern culture is predominantly populated by three basic worldviews who do not recognize the others exists. Although a full discussion of these three worldviews is beyond the bounds of what is already an overly long letter, let me start by giving them the labels of “traditional”, “modern”, and “postmodern”. The traditionally based worldview is where one is more prone to holding to ways things have always been done including religious traditions and believing their leaders without question. People who evolve out of such a worldview move next into the modern viewpoint which is characterized by a belief in life being about individual material success and all of life being able to be explained in very strict materialistic scientific terms . Those who evolve out of the limitations of that viewpoint move to the postmodern worldview. This is the group studied by sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson and described in their book “The Cultural Creatives”. Here, one’s outlook on life includes seeing the value of all humans, defining themselves as “spiritual but not religious”, knowing that they can have their own direct spiritual experiences and growing in their recognition of the interconnectedness of all life.
With a lens that looks at life from the interplay of these different worldviews, we can see that Krueger is using very appropriately his “modern” viewpoint to critique the Dalai Lama. What we are all called to do is to move beyond that one viewpoint and consider others as also being valid. Let me look at few examples from his blog.
Krueger states, “all religions assume that certain individuals have access to divine, esoteric or transcendental knowledge, although they tend to be mute on just how this knowledge is transmitted.” In reality, it is generally only those with a traditional viewpoint described above that make such an assumption. Most of those who have a scientific-modern viewpoint would believe that not only are there no certain individuals who have access to this knowledge, there is generally a denial that such knowledge has any validity. At the cultural creative and integral level, one begins to realize that not only is there validity in transcendent knowledge, but we all have access to it through certain spiritual practices.
The reality is that religions are not mute on how such knowledge is transmitted – all religions have long had some esoteric branch (Kabbalah, Sufism, Esoteric Christianity) which taught this information historically to those select few who were ready to receive it. In the past, the numbers of people who evolved to a worldview open to such teachings were few. However with the rise in the population of people who are moving into a postmodern worldview who view that they can have their own direct spiritual experiences, such teachings are desired by and reaching broader numbers.
Krueger states that such knowledge “does not rise to the level of a testable hypothesis.” Such a statement is seen as a basic truth when one holds the modern-materialistic-scientific viewpoint. After all, most at this worldview see consciousness as simply a byproduct of our physical brains, therefore any transcendent experiences are by definition not proof of any spiritual realm but rather some experience created only in our heads. However, those at a postmodern worldview begin to recognize the limitations and circular logic built within such a strict materialistic outlook. They begin to realize that since it is our human consciousness that both applies reason and judges something to be scientifically valid, why can’t we also apply these tools to the “contents of our consciousness” – such as the common aspects of transcendent experiences – and scientifically study them as well? However, the subjective nature of our conscious experience is by definition not a valid subject of scientific objective exploration in the modern viewpoint.
Krueger adds, “the idea of privileged access among a select few is among the last to die when people fall away from a religious tradition; hence, it is also the easiest to project onto high-ranking representatives of other religions.” This may be true when one at the modern viewpoint is looking at those who are evolving out of the traditional worldview (i.e.; “falling away from a religious tradition”). Such individuals are having to let go of their belief in the infallibility of their religious leaders. However, most people who resonate with the message of the Dalai Lama are those with the cultural creative worldview and they tend to believe that we can all have direct access to spiritual knowledge and wisdom without any intermediary.
Krueger believes that the Dalai Lama is taking advantage of his status and avoiding ideas that “contradict accepted scientific knowledge.” Such a criticism is appropriate from the modern worldview. However at the postmodern viewpoint, there is a recognition that we are moving beyond such limits and towards a melding of science and spirituality. These individuals don’t accept the message of the Dalai Lama because it “comes from the Dalai Lama”, but rather because his message agrees with their view on life.
Krueger then believes that the Dalai Lama somehow made a mistake when declaring he might refuse to reincarnate. He writes, “from an enlightenment point of view (sensu Voltaire, not Buddha), he cannot reincarnate; therefore announcing his refusal to reincarnate presupposes that he could.” What Krueger is really saying here is from a modern-materialistic point of view there is no such thing as reincarnation (ignoring any evidence from Ian Stevenson and other researchers), therefore any statement by the Dalai Lama that assumes the reality of reincarnation is direct proof of his holding ideas that “contradict accepted scientific knowledge.” Quite the contrary, what the Dalai Lama is doing is holding true to the teachings of his Buddhist faith while simultaneously recognizing that beyond the limitations of current materialistic scientific knowledge there is a place to which we are evolving in our awareness where there will be no contradiction.
Krueger seems baffled by the fact that the Dalai Lama can emphasize his ordinary status as a person and this tact not only not undermine his privileged status as a spiritual leader but that it tends to strengthen it. Once again, Krueger is limited by his modern worldview where the goal of attaining high status is coupled with the desire to set ourselves apart from others through the accumulation of wealth, power and fame. At the postmodern worldview, one begins to see that such goals are not important. When one begins to see the interconnectedness of all of life, one is more motivated to uplift everyone to their higher potential and reduce the need to set oneself apart from others.
Krueger then critiques the Twitter messages of the Dalai Lama and equates them with “the wisdom of the Fortune cookie.” He seems more impressed with Pope Francis’ tweets. Again, Krueger’s lack of worldview understanding undermines his point. The Twitter messages of the Dalai Lama are directed at a postmodern society where there is a clear desire to transcend our differences, to have us focus upon our commonalities and to recognize our interconnectedness. The Twitter messages of Pope Francis are directed to a Catholic faithful typically living life from a traditional viewpoint who desire to be provided the truth they are to accept from their religious leader. Both of their messages are appropriate for their intended audiences.
Finally, Krueger uses his direct experience to underscore his belief that the Dalai Lama is not worthy of the admiration he receives. He describes his attendance at a lecture where the Dalai Lama struck him “as a rather superficial man who giggled too much and dodged complicated (or even interesting) issues.” What Krueger is saying is that he attended the lecture with certain expectations (again, based on his modern worldview) that were not met. Krueger did not want laughter from the Dalai Lama. Krueger had in his own mind a desire as to what were the issues he hoped would be discussed. What he heard was a message coming from a different worldview.
To be clear, my point here is not to make anyone “wrong”, but rather to suggest that if Psychology Today and Krueger stepped back and looked at the world with a larger more evolutionary-developmental viewpoint, they might see how the “criticism” offered in this article might not be ultimately valid.
I would ask you, what are the most important issues in “psychology today” that need to be addressed in the world? In my opinion, the issue that needs to be addressed is the one that your author was disappointed by when he heard the Dalai Lama. Somehow we need to use all of the tools at our disposal, including the pages of your magazine, to find ways to understand one another and honor our differences while also learning how we are psychologically alike – and we need to bring more happiness to this world. I can’t think of a greater message for our times.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!