Brad Reynolds on Ken Wilber

Brad Reynolds on Ken Wilber

Brad Reynolds


Brad Reynolds has written an eloquent, passionate, beautiful book about my ideas. I believe it will help many people come to an appreciation of a more inclusive, more comprehensive, more integral way to think and feel about the world, and to find a happy, realized, awakened place in it.”

Ken Wilber, author of A Theory of Everything


The Pandit: Standing on the Shoulders of the Sat-Guru

The Influence of Adi Da Samraj on the First Books of Ken Wilber

By Brad Reynolds


The integral pandit Ken Wilber listed Sat-Guru Adi Da Samraj’s first three books (published in 1972, 1973, 1974) in his first book The Spectrum of Consciousness (published in 1977)1. Along with his second book, this phase is now what scholars and students know as Wilber/Phase-1 or Phase-1 writings, so-named because they still make the “pre/trans fallacy,” one of Wilber’s later great insights2. In Wilber’s second book, No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth (published in 1979), also a Phase-1 book, he referenced Adi Da’s Conscious Exercise and the Transcendental Sun (first edition published in 1974), as well as the Sat-Guru’s magnum opus aptly titled The Enlightenment of the Whole Body (published in 1978). On the last page of this popular second book (still in print), a favorite among psychologists to give their patients, the pandit simply declared: “The works of Bubba Free John [Adi Da] are unsurpassed…. May you be graced to find a spiritual master in this life and enlightenment in the moment.”3 It’s a justified endorsement coming from the new voice (at that time) in transpersonal psychology who had seamlessly integrated the types of psychologies and therapies from both Western and Eastern sources-from psychoanalysis to Zen, Gestalt to TM, existentialism to tantra.

1. Adi Da’s first three books were The Knee of Listening (1972), The Method of the Siddhas (1973), first published as Franklin Jones, and then Garbage and the Goddess (1974), published as Bubba Free John; Ken Wilber’s first two Phase-1 books were The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977) and No Boundary (1979).

2. See my book reviewing Wilber’s writings and “phases”: Embracing Reality: The Integral Vision of Ken Wilber: A Historical Survey and Chapter-by-Chapter Guide to Wilber’s Major Works (2004, Tarcher/Penguin; 2012, Paragon House e-book) by Brad Reynolds.

3. Ken Wilber, No Boundary (1979), p. 160 (last page).

(Read Ken’s endorsement in The Whole Body of Englightenment on Beezone)

No Boundary culminated with a chapter titled “The Ultimate State of Consciousness,” while The Spectrum of Consciousness ended with a chapter named “That Which Is Always Already” both being about Enlightenment or God-Realization as seen from the Western (scientific, i.e., psychological) and Eastern (mystical) perspectives.

This clear recognition and sincere acknowledgement by the integral pandit of the stature of the Sat-Guru as being “unsurpassed” is what I believe helps give Ken Wilber’s early writings (including his following Phase-2 and Phase-3 books) some of their unique enlightening power-and, in a certain sense, possibly makes them even more profound and enlightened in their overall message than his later AQAL (Phase-4) writings. For the pandit also, when reflecting back years later on his early books, has said, “That ‘always already’ is so forcefully stated in this first work is still somewhat amazing to me; but then, not really.”4 It’s not really so surprising since Wilber was deeply attracted to the enlightening wisdom of Adi Da Samraj’s first books, which used the revelation and phrase of “always already” or “always already the case” to refer to the Divine Reality (of Real God); it is one of the Sat-Guru’s principal communications of the Enlightened State. Adi Da wrote about his first clear recognition of this natural awareness (or Enlightened State) while attending Columbia University in the early 1960s (importantly, this awakening was not related to the drug use of the Sixties):

In that great moment of awakening I knew the truth was not a matter of seeking. There were no “reasons” for joy and freedom…. In this state beyond all contradiction I also saw that freedom and joy is not attained, that it is not dependent on any form, object, idea, progress or experience. I saw that we are, at any moment, always and already free. I knew that I was not lacking anything I needed yet to find, nor had I ever been without such a thing. The problem was seeking itself, which created and enforced contradiction, conflict and absence within. Then the idea arose that I am always already free.5

For a human being to be “always already free,” contradicts the widespread but mistaken spiritual idea that you need to seek for God, to submit to arduous tasks of ascetic (and yogic) disciplines to know the truth of the Divine Reality (or the Godhead). As Adi Da realized, “You are what is always, already in relationship to whatever arises.”6 Therefore, he continued, “The man who understands, who is always already free, is never touched by the divisions of the mind.”7 It’s a perfect integration of the oneness or prior unity of interiors and exteriors, of the mind and body, heart and truth, of Spirit and reality, of God and the world, of Nirvana and samsara. From the start, Wilber recognized this unique quality in Adi Da’s writings, for the root of his attraction (indeed, the root of the Sat-Guru’s Teaching altogether) seemed to be in how effortlessly the young “Franklin Jones” (Adi Da’s name at the time, and ten years Wilber’s senior) could express this profound paradox. When someone realizes this Enlightened State, they usually end up speaking in the language of mystics, as did Adi Da but with an eloquence and beauty rarely equaled: “I am the one who always and already exists, enjoying his own form as all conditions and states.”8 The young pandit was deeply impressed and immediately took notice, as have many other people serious about genuine spirituality when they read the remarkable writings of the Avataric Sage Adi Da Samraj.

4. Ken Wilber, “Introduction to Volume One,” The Collected Works of Ken Wilber, Volume One (1999), p. xi.

5. Adi Da Samraj, The Knee of Listening (1972), p. 15.

6. Adi Da Samraj, The Knee of Listening (1972), p. 200.

7. Adi Da Samraj, The Knee of Listening (1972), p. 226.

8. Adi Da Samraj, The Knee of Listening (1972), p. 266.


“The works of the Sat-Guru helped bring together in a unifying fashion the pandit’s entire enterprise with a focus he might not have otherwise attained”


However, it’s also important to note that by the time Wilber had written out The Spectrum of Consciousness in the winter of 1973, the pandit’s reliance on the Teachings of the Sat-Guru was still minimal, but nevertheless profound and enlightening. Mostly he had gained his insights for his groundbreaking “spectrum psychology” from his extensive research and reading across all the available literature of East and West. I’m suggesting, therefore, that the works of the Sat-Guru helped bring together in a unifying fashion the pandit’s entire enterprise with a focus he might not have otherwise attained, especially with the important emphasis on Enlightenment as being “always already the case.” Yet, without doubt, the “spectrum of consciousness” model was purely the innovation of Ken Wilber alone, although many philosophical and psychological giants influenced him along the way, from Western geniuses to Eastern mystics. By the time Wilber began “writing” his first book in his head during the winter of ’72, it had only been a few months since the Sat-Guru had published his first book, The Knee of Listening (in August), so the pandit had yet to discover it and incorporate its teachings and radical message. But it would not be long before Adi Da’s influence would make its mark.

Apparently, Wilber saw The Knee of Listening for the first time after he had visited his first living Zen Master, Roshi Philip Kapleau (author of The Three Pillars of Zen) at a health spa in Mexico in the early Seventies (Watch on Vimeo). Wilber tells the humorous leela of “The Scorpion and the Zen Master” in his Biography Project, Life Footnotes, Volume One, about how a dangerous scorpion entered the room where several students were sitting in zazen meditation, yet no one knew what to do as the poisonous arthropod scooted across the floor. The Roshi, however, didn’t hesitate for a moment when with one whack of his sandal he killed the scorpion dead in its tracks – perfect Zen action of no-mind. However, what he doesn’t tell in the Biography Project interview (but shared with me once during a phone conversation) is that on his way home he swung through San Francisco to visit some friends in the Castro District. While sitting in a hot tub with two gay friends, they told him about this amazing new teacher they had discovered, and thus introduced him to The Knee of Listening. Accordingly, Ken told me, he had “never read anything that spoke so true.”9 Forty years later, in an interview with Terry Patten, Wilber conceded the same feeling-response:

“When I read The Knee of Listening I just fell apart. It was stunning. Probably had as big an impact on me as any single book… along with, of course, everybody’s most influential beloved guy, Ramana Maharshi. But the original version of The Knee of Listening was stunning, I mean, it changed me profoundly.”10

9. Ken Wilber, personal communication to author, August 30, 1995.

10. Ken Wilber recorded interview, Bay Area Integral (BAI) with Terry Patten and Dustin DiPerna, January 2015, 19:53.

By the winter of 1973, when Wilber finally wrote out The Spectrum in longhand, about half a year after Adi Da had released his second book, The Method of the Siddhas (published in July), the pandit had already formulated his basic concepts for the “levels” in “the spectrum of consciousness.” In other words, Adi Da’s Teaching had been a minimal influence on Wilber’s overall spectrum psychological theories at that time, yet he did emphasize the Sat-Guru’s radical message about the self-contraction. Although buried in a footnote, recognizing the self-contraction has remained a fundamental premise in all of Wilber’s subsequent writings (such as with his current “primordial avoidance”):

We should note here that the Existential Level, as the embodiment of the Primary and Secondary dualisms, is very much a cramp or perturbation, the cramp or perturbation, lying at the root of man’s “self”-identity. Further, it is this cramp, which Benoit calls a spasm and Franklin Jones [Adi Da] calls a contraction, that is the fundamental motor of all man’s activities. And the fuel for this motor is one type only: the desire to return to the Garden, to reunite with God, which is, of course, God’s desire to find himself.11

The self-contraction, the image of egoic activity that the Sat-Guru calls “Narcissus” (symbolically represented by the clinched fist), became embedded in all of the pandit’s work from then on. This gives Wilber’s work a radical profundity that exceeds all other psychological models (which themselves don’t understand they too are seeking for wholeness instead of realizing it). Attempting to express the level of nondual Enlightenment (symbolically represented by an open hand), the last chapter of The Spectrum of Consciousness is titled “That Which Is Always Already” (after Adi Da’s phrase). This clearly shows that the Sat-Guru offered an enlightened confirmation to what Wilber’s initial approach in integrating Eastern mysticism and Western science was bringing to fruition. In his first groundbreaking book, the pandit simply referenced The Knee of Listening by explaining, “‘It is always already the case’ is a phrase used extensively by Franklin Jones [Adi Da Samraj].”12 The pandit, in other words, from the very beginning always noted that Adi Da was already Enlightened and was one of the spiritual giants upon whom his own work would stand.

11. Ken Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977), p. 157, 37n.

12. Ken Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977), p. 343, 36n.


“It seems irrefutable…Wilber relied on…Adi Da’s Realization and Teaching to buttress his final chapters in both of his first two books”


Therefore, it seems irrefutable that Wilber relied on the radical clarification being provided by Adi Da’s Realization and Teaching to buttress his final chapters in both of his first two books. These concluding chapters were intended to be transcendental summaries of the preceding ones that covered the “lower” levels of human development (that of psychology and the mind). This is because in many of Wilber’s books he tends to address the lower conscious and subconscious/unconscious levels of human development first, covered so well by Western psychology, and then “adds on” the “higher” transpersonal levels so adeptly covered by Eastern mysticism (and esoteric spirituality in general, East or West, North or South).

Wilber took this approach in his later phases as well. For instance, both books Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and A Brief History of Everything (published in 1995 and 1996, respectively) ended with a nondual reminder eloquently rendered as beautiful mystical musings. The Eye of Spirit (published in 1997), a wonderful collection of integral essays, would close with a chapter again titled “Always Already: The Brilliant Clarity of Ever-Present Awareness.” Thus, beginning with Phase-1 of his career, the Western-educated pandit set a template where he first cleverly integrates the potentials of human development along a unified “spectrum of consciousness” (or AQAL Matrix) with each bandwidth (or “altitude”) addressing a different “level” or “structure” or stage (or state) of human possibility. But then he usually ends his books with a free expression of the enlightened state of awareness that “transcends but includes” all previous levels as the nondual expression of One Consciousness. It’s a powerful approach, grounded in the pandit’s own spiritual awakening and intellectual brilliance.

But what is “It” that is “always already the case”? It is Reality Itself – which for Adi Da is “the Heart” taking the form of “Amrita Nadi ,”the immortal current of Divine Love-Bliss that is the ineffable Absolute Light (or the “Bright”) of all existence (and all possible universes), circulating from the heart (on the right side) to the Light above the head. It is an esoteric matter of the highest yoga, the secret essence of all religions and the deepest insight of all Spiritual Sages; it’s ineffable but can be realized as “the Feeling of Being” (another phrase of Adi Da’s used by Ken Wilber). But it is also a truth that everyone intuits in his or her own heart, for, after all, it is always already the case, it is the Truth of God, it is Reality. Thus it cannot be gained or acquired, but only realized, for it’s always already true, always already real. This tacit understanding – knowing your “own true nature” (as Zen says) – is realized by what Adi Da calls the Man or Woman of Radical Understanding. The Sat-Guru brilliantly affirmed these revelations in less than three hundred pages in his first published work, The Knee of Listening (1972, 2004), which also confirmed what Sri Ramana Maharishi had been teaching earlier in the twentieth-century about Amrita Nadi, as these several passages show:

The Heart is the Guru. The Amrita Nadi [or Atma Nadi] is his Form. The bliss of unqualified enjoyment is his Teaching. The knowledge of all this is liberation and freedom. The enjoyment of all this is Reality. The existence of all this is Truth. The activity of all of this is Understanding, And understanding is real life.13

13. Adi Da Samraj, The Knee of Listening (1972), p. 197.

Download remainder of essay HERE

See more by Brad Reynolds

“Brad Reynolds has written an eloquent, passionate, beautiful book about my ideas. I believe it will help many people come to an appreciation of a more inclusive, more comprehensive, more integral way to think and feel about the world, and to find a happy, realized, awakened place in it.”

Ken Wilber, author of A Theory of Everything







Where’s Wilber At? Ken Wilber’s Integral Vision in the New Millennium

(2006, Paragon House)




Embracing Reality: The Integral Vision of Ken Wilber:


A Historical Survey and Chapter-By-Chapter Guide to Wilber’s Major Works (2004, Tarcher/Penguin)