No Boundary

No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth, Boston, Shambhala, 2001, by Ken Wilber.



I have this book since several years in my library and was reading it not with my whole attention. But I did not repeat my mistake and now was reading it thoroughly, and took many quotes that I publish here in my review, as I usually do it, without commenting on them. My language would not be sufficient to comment on such a supremely written and thought-through book. I thus humbly share my quotes and hope they are useful to people who reflect about buying the book. And it’s really worth it and highly recommended!

Who is Ken Wilber? I will have to setup a profile for him still on my site here, a long-overdue task, but I honestly admit that I was at pains for quite some years now to really understand his integral philosophy. I will try my best now to re-read ‘Sex, Ecology, Spirituality’ any time soon, and review it as well.

Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber

The book was an intense read, so intense that I cannot remember to have read any other book within the last ten years that made an equally strong impression upon me. But perhaps I should formulate it differently: it was not really an ‘impressive’ experience but rather a meditative experience. The book helped me tremendously validating my own contemplative worldview and my ability to remain without upcoming thoughts for extended periods of time.

I say this here to the disappointment of those who think that only entheogens, psychedelic drugs, such as Ayahuasca, can produce no-boundary awareness, or the ultimate blissful moment of self-forgetfulness and the total embrace of the entire universe. As I have reported it in various publications and also a video lecture, the sacred brew did not provide me with that effect—while I did experience it in the right set and setting, with a Shuar Shaman in Ecuador, back in 2004—but was a rather negative experience, while it did provide me with some important insights in the functioning of the mind, and especially the role of language in our socio-cultural conditioning.

And Wilber’s initial question intrigued me: how is it like to run your mind completely without boundaries, living in the eternal present? First of all is that desirable? Then, is it feasible at all, or would you turn psychotic?

From a cultural point of view, it is obvious that ours is quite a boundary-obsessed culture, a fact that Wilber retraces from the Biblical tale of Genesis where Adam was bequeathed with the task to name all plants and animals.

The book makes no claims as to producing this state of blissful embrace of all-that-is as the result of reading a booklet or pass a weekend seminar with a spiritual master. The last three chapters contain precise book recommendations that inform about therapies adapted to the various levels of the personality/ego/selfhood of a person, thereby suggesting that advanced work is well necessary to reach and even basic state of detachment from the usual straitjacket of conditioning.


Ken Wilber, No Boundary
Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth
Boston, Shambhala, 2001

—The most radical re-mapping or shifting of the boundary line occurs in experiences of the supreme identity, for here the person expands her self-identity boundary to include the entire universe. /5

—Biologically there is not the least foundation for this dissociation or radical split between the mind and the body, the psyche and the some, the ego and the flesh, but psychologically it is epidemic. Indeed, the mind-body split and attendant dualism is a fundamental perspective of Western civilization. /6

—The point of this discussion of self/not-self boundaries is that there are not just one but many levels of identity available to an individual. These levels of identity are not theoretical postulates but observable realities—you can verify them in and for yourself. As regards these different levels, it’s almost as if that familiar yet ultimately mysterious phenomenon we call consciousness were a spectrum, a rainbow-like affair composed of numerous bands or levels of self-identity. Notice that we have briefly outlined five classes or levels of identity. There are certainly variations on these five major levels, and the levels themselves can be extensively subdivided, but these five levels appear to be basic aspects of human consciousness. /8

—Thus, for example, a person on the level of the total organism will find the potential enemy in her environment—for it appears foreign, external, and therefore threatening to her life and well-being. But a person on the ego level finds that not only her environment but also her own body are foreign territory, the same foreign territory, and thus the nature of her conflicts and upsets is dramatically different. She has shifted the boundary line of her self, and therefore shifted the battle line of her conflicts and personal wars. And in this case, her body has gone over to the enemy. /10

—The individual sincerely interested in increasing his self-knowledge is faced with such a bewildering variety of psychological and religious systems that he hardly knows where to begin, whom to believe. Even if he carefully studies all the major schools of psychology and religion, he is apt to come out just as confused as when he went in, for these various schools, taken as a whole, contradict one another. (…) Could it be that these different approaches, far from being contradicting or contradictory, actually reflect the very real differences in the various levels of the spectrum of consciousness? And could it be that these different approaches are all more or less correct when working with their own major level? /11

—Growth is reapportionment; rezoning; re-mapping; an acknowledgment, and then enrichment, of ever deeper and more encompassing levels of one’s own self. /13

—In other words, the great task Adam initiated was the construction of mental or symbolic dividing lines. Adam was the first to delineate nature, to mentally divide it up, mark it off, diagram it. Adam was the first great mapmaker. Adam drew boundaries. /18

—The exasperating fact which Adam learned was that every boundary line is also a potential battle line, so that just to draw a boundary is to prepare oneself for conflict. /20

—In philosophy we handle conceptual opposites by dismissing one of the poles or trying to reduce it to the other. The materialist tries to reduce mind to matter, while the idealist tries to reduce matter to mind. The monists try to reduce plurality to unity, the pluralists try to explain unity as plurality. The point is that we always tend to treat the boundary as real and then manipulate the opposites created by the boundary. We never seem to question the existence of the boundary itself. /20

—This goal of separating the opposites and then clinging to or pursuing the positive halves seems to be a distinguishing characteristic of progressive Western civilization —its religion, science, medicine, industry. Progress, after all, is simply progress toward the positive and away from the negative. (…) In blindly pursuing progress, our civilization has, in effect, institutionalized frustration. /21

—Perhaps we can begin to understand why life, when viewed as a world of separate opposites, is so totally frustrating, and why progress has actually become not a growth but a cancer. In trying to separate the opposites and cling to those we judge positive, such as pleasure without pain, life without death, good without evil, we are really striving after phantoms without the least reality. /24

—The fact is, we are so bewitched by boundaries, so under the spell of Adam’s sin, that we have totally forgotten the actual nature of boundary lines themselves. For boundary lines, of any type, are never found in the real world itself, but only in the imagination of the mapmakers. /25

—A line becomes an illusory boundary when we imagine its two sides to be separated and unrelated; that is, when we acknowledge the outer difference of teh two opposites but ignore their inner unity. A line becomes a boundary when we forget that the inside co-exists with the outside. A lines becomes a boundary when we imagine that it just separates but doesn’t unite at the same time. It is fine to draw lines, provided we do not mistake them for boundaries. It is fine to distinguish pleasure from pain; it is impossible to separate pleasure from pain. /26

—Commenting on this, L.L. Whyte said, ‘Thus the immature mind, unable to escape its own prejudice … is condemned to struggle in the straitjacket of its dualisms: subject/object, time/space, spirit/matter, freedom/necessity, free will/law. The truth, which must be single, is ridden with contradiction. /27

—Most of our ‘problems of living,’ then, are based on the illusion that the opposites can and should be separated and isolated from one another. But since all opposites are actually aspects of one underlying reality, this is like trying to totally separate the two ends of a single rubber band. All you can do is pull harder and harder—until something violently snaps. /27

—Not good vs. evil but beyond good and evil. /27

—When the opposites are realized to be one, discord melts into concord, battles become dances, and old enemies become lovers. We are then in a position to make friends with all of our universe, and not just one half of it. /29

—Boundaries are illusions, products not of reality but of the way we map and edit reality. And while it is fine to map out the territory, it is fatal to confuse the two. /30

—Aristotle, for instance, classified nearly every process and thing in nature with such precision and persuasion that it would take centuries for Europeans just to question the validity of his boundaries. /31

—If naming seemed magic, counting seemed divine, because while names could magically represent things, numbers could transcend them. /31

—It became a battle of the rational vs. the romantic, ideas vs. experience, intellect vs. instinct, law vs. chaos, mind vs. matter. Those distinctions were all based on appropriate real lines, but the lines usually degenerated into boundaries and battles. /32

—So where Adam and Aristotle drew boundaries, Kepler and Galileo drew meta-boundaries. /33

—Just imagine: Adam could name the planets; Pythagoras could count them; but Newton could tell you how much they weighed. /33

—The meta-boundaries and meta-meta boundaries were so useful, and carried such political and technological power, that it never dawned on the classical physicists that their original boundaries might be false. To put it another way, they developed laws governing separate things, only to discover that separate things don’t exist. /36

—The reason the East knew this long before Western science stumbled on it is that the East never took boundaries seriously. Boundaries didn’t so go to their heads that their heads and nature parted ways. For the East, there was only one Way, the Tao, the Dharma, and it signaled a wholeness under the dividing boundaries of manmade maps. The East, in seeing that reality was non dual, not-two, saw that all boundaries were illusory. Thus they never fell into the fallacy of confusing the map with the territory, boundaries with reality, symbols with actuality, names with what is named. /39

—Unity consciousness, in short, is no-boundary consciousness. /42

—Of all the boundaries we construct, the one between self and not-self is the most fundamental. /43

—Now what exactly does it mean to look for a primary boundary? To look for the primary boundary is to look very carefully for the sensation of being a separate self, a separate experiencer and feeler which is set apart from experiences and feelings. I am suggesting that if we carefully look for this ‘self,’ we won’t find it. /45

—This real self has been given dozens of different names by the various mystical and metaphysical traditions throughout human history. It had been known as the al-Insan al-Kamil, Adam Kadmon, Ruach Adonai, Nous, Pneuma, Purusha, Tathagatagarbha, Universal Person, the Host, the Brahman-Atman, I AMness. /50

—It seems, and the mystic agrees, that time appears suspended in all of these experiences because we are totally absorbed in the present moment. Clearly, in this present moment, if we would but examine it, there is no time. The present moment is a timeless moment, and a timeless moment is an eternal one—a moment which knows neither past nor future, before nor after, yesterday nor tomorrow. /57

—Eternity is not, and cannot, be found tomorrow—it is not found in five minutes—it is not found in two seconds. It is always already Now. The present is the only reality. There is no other. /58

—And this life in time, according to the mystic, is a life in misery. For the mystic claims that all of our problems are problems of time and problems in time. /59

—All guilt is a state of being lost in the past; all anxiety is a state of being lost in the future. /59

—The mystics are not saying that we should live in the present by forgetting about or trying to ignore the past and future. They are saying—and at first this will sound worse—that there is no past and future. For the past and future are simply the illusory products of a symbolic boundary superimposed upon the eternal now, a symbolic boundary which appears to split eternity into yesterday vs. tomorrow, before vs. after, time gone vs. time to come. Thus time, as a boundary upon eternity, is not a problem to get rid of, but an illusion which doesn’t exist in the first place. /60

—One cannot, in short, use time to get out of time. By doing so we just reinforce that which we wish to uproot. /60

—To see that the past as memory and the future as anticipation are both present facts is to see all time existing now. /62

—This now, the nunc stans, is a no-boundary moment. It has no boundaries because the past as memory and the future as expectation are in it, not around it. Because there is no past and no future outside this now-moment, there are no boundaries to this moment—nothing came before it, nothing comes after it. /64

—Thus, to see all memory as present experience is to collapse the boundaries of this present moment, to free it of illusory limits, to deliver it from the opposites of past vs. future. It becomes obvious that there is nothing behind you in time nor before you in time. You thus have nowhere to stand but in the timeless present, and thus nowhere to stand but in eternity. /65

—But once unity consciousness is seen as a person’s natural self, the only real self, then the ego may be understood as an unnatural restriction and constriction of unity consciousness. /66

—But with the rise of the primary boundary, man refuses death, and therefore refuses to live without a future. Man refuses, in short, to live without time. He demands time, creates time, lives in time. Survival becomes his hope, time becomes his most precious possession, the future becomes his only goal. /71

—Because we demand a future, we live each moment in expectation and unfulfillment. We live each moment in passing. In just this way, the real nunc stans, the timeless present, is reduced to the nunc fluens, the fleeting present, the passing present of a mere one or two seconds. We expect each moment to pass on to a future moment, for in this fashion we pretend to avoid death by always rushing toward an imagined future. We want to meet ourselves in the future. We don’t want just now—we want another now, and another, and another, tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow. And thus, paradoxically, our impoverished present is fleeting precisely because we demand that it end! We want it to end so that it can thereby pass on to yet another moment, a future moment, which will in turn live only to pass. /71

—Because he demands a real future ahead of him, he likes to see a real past behind him, and this he engineers by pretending that memory gives a knowledge of actual past events instead of being part of his present experience. He clings to memory as a promise that he once existed yesterday and therefore will likely exist tomorrow. He thus lives only in memory and expectation, bounding and limiting his present with bitter-sweets laments of time past and poignant hopes of time to come. He wants something around his present to protect him from death, and so he bounds it with the past and the future. /71-72

—Thus is the ego level born. The natural line between the mind and body becomes an illusory boundary, a fortified fence, an armed wall separating that which is really inseparable. And since each boundary carries a new battle, a new war of opposites is on. The desires of the flesh are pitted against the wants of the soul, and all too often the ‘spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ The organism becomes divided against itself, forsaking thereby its deeper integrity. Man loses touch with his total organism, and the most he will allow is a mental representation, a self-image, of that total organism. It is not exactly that man loses touch with his body. Rather, he loses touch with the unity of the body and mind, the unity of feeling and attention that is characteristic of the centaur. The whole clarity of feeling-attention becomes disrupted and distorted, and in its place is left compulsive thinking on the one hand, and the dissociated body on the other. /73-74


—Suffering, then, is the initial movement of the recognition of false boundaries. Correctly understood, it is therefore liberating, for it points beyond boundaries altogether. We suffer, then, not because we are sick, but because intelligent insight is emerging. The correct understanding of suffering, however, is necessary in order that the birth of insight is not aborted. We must correctly interpret suffering in order to enter into it, live it, and finally live beyond it. If we do not correctly understand suffering, we simply get stuck in the middle of it—we wallow in it, not knowing what else to do. /77

—Let us begin where most people find themselves—trapped in the persona. The persona is a more or less inaccurate and impoverished self-image. It is created when the individual attempts to deny to herself the existence of certain of her own tendencies, such as anger, assertiveness, erotic impulses, joy, hostility, courage, aggression, drive, interest, and so on. But as much as she may try to deny these tendencies, they don’t thereby vanish. Since these tendencies are the individual’s, all she can do is pretend that they belong to someone else. Anybody else, as a matter of fact, just not her. So she does not succeed in really denying these tendencies, but only in denying ownership of them. She thus comes to believe that these tendencies are not-self, alien, outside. She has narrowed her boundaries so as to exclude the unwanted tendencies. These alienated tendencies are therefore projected as the shadow, and the individual is identified only with what’s left: a narrowed, impoverished, and inaccurate self-image, the persona. A new boundary is constructed, and another battle of opposites is on: the persona vs. its own shadow. /80

—The shadow, then, is simply your unconscious opposites. Thus, a simple way to contact your shadow is to assume the very opposite of whatever you now consciously intend, wish, or desire. That will show you exactly how your shadow looks at the world, and it is this view which you will want to befriend. /90

—As you begin to explore your opposites, your shadow, your projections, you will begin to find that you are assuming responsibility for your own feelings and your own states of mind. /91

—To take back your projections is simply to tear down a boundary, to include as yourself things which you thought were foreign; to make room in yourself, for an understanding and acceptance of all your various potentials, negative and positive, good and bad, lovable and despicable, and thus to develop a relatively accurate image of everything your psychophysical organism is. It is to shift your boundaries, to remap your soul so that old enemies are allies and secretly fighting opposites become open friends. In the end, while you will not find all of you desirable, you might find all of you likeable. / 92

—To re-own the body might initially strike one as a peculiar notion. The boundary between ego and flesh is so deeply embedded in the average person’s unconscious that he responds to the proposed task of healing this split with a curious mixture of puzzlement and boredom. He has come to believe that the boundary between the mind and body is alterably real, and thus he can’t figure out why anyone would want to tamper with it, let alone dissolve it. /94

Book Recommendations

Calvin Hall, A Primer of Freudian Psychology
New York: Mentor, 1973

William Glasser, Reality Therapy
New York: Harper 1965

A. Ellis and R. Harper, A New Guide to Rational Living
Hollywood: Wilshire Books, 1975

Karen Horney, Self-Analysis
New York: Norton, 1942

M. Werthman, Self-Psyching
Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1978

Putney and Putney, The Adjusted American
New York: Harper, 1966

T. Harris, I’m OK – You’re OK
New York: Avon, 1969

Eric Berne
Games People Play
New York: Grove, 1967

Eric Berne
What Do You Say After You Say Hello?
New York: Bantam, 1974

Rollo May, Love and Will
New York: Norton, 1969

Ernest Becker
The Denial of Death
New York: Free Press, 1973

Swami Vishnudevananda
Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga
New York: Pocket, 1972

Bubba Free John
Conscious Exercise and the Transcendental Sun
San Francisco: Dawn House, 1977

Perls, Goodman, and Hefferline
Gestalt Therapy
New York: Delta, 1951

Fritz Perls
Gestalt Therapy Verbatim
Lafayette: Real People Press, 1969

Stanley Keleman
Your Body Speaks Its Mind
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975

C.G. Jung
Joseph Campbell’s The Portable Jung
New York: Viking, 1972

E.A. Bennet
What Jung Really Said
New York: Dutton, 1966

Lilliane Frey-Rohn
From Freud to Jung
New York: Delta, 1974

Ira Progoff
At a Journal Workshop
New York: Dialogue House, 1975

Ken Wilber
The Spectrum of Consciousness
Wheaton: Quest Books, 1977

Ken Wilber
The Atman Project
Wheaton: Quest Books, 1980

S. Dean (Ed.)
Psychiatry and Mysticism
Chicago: Nelson Hall, 1975

F. Schuon
The Transcendent Unity of Religions
New York: Harper, 1975

Huston Smith
The Forgotten Truth
(New York: Harper, 1976)

J. White
What is Meditation?
New York: Anchor, 1972

Philip Kapleau
The Three Pillars of Zen
Boston: Beacon, 1965

Bubba Free John
The Enlightenment of the Whole Body
Middletown: Dawn House Press, 1978

Categories Consciousness, Eastern Wisdom, Philosophy, Psychology/PsychiatryTags

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