What is Hierarchy?

In one of his Guru & Pandit dialogues with Ken Wilber, Andrew Cohen says:

guru-panditThe structure of the entire cosmos, all the way from its deepest interior to its furthermost exterior, is hierarchical. Hierarchy is actually its fundamental nature at all levels, including consciousness. Firstly, we must allow that there’s a hierarchy in terms of the evolution of life forms. Some are higher and more complex than others. Then at the level of consciousness, we must accept that some people are actually more developed, more evolved than others. When we embrace this, all we’re doing is embracing something that is objectively true., but it does challenge the postmodern ego at a fundamental level.

To which Wilber responds:

The biggest problem that postmoderns have is that they confuse two fundamental types of hierarchies …. One kind is called a dominator hierarchy, and it is indeed oppressive; the caste system is a typical example of this. But most forms of hierarchy are what we call actualization hierarchies or growth hierarchies. We also call them holarchies, because each higher level is more whole than the previous level. A classic growth hierarchy would would be atoms to molecules to cells to organisms. Each one of those levels transcends and includes  the previous level – it loves it; it embraces it. Molecules do not go around oppressing atoms! ….
(Emphasis in the original)

We would say that “all things are Spirit, but some things are more Spirit than others.” Then the goal of the spiritual path is to get up the hierarchy of development. This hierarchical perspective is not a way to put you down because you may be on a higher or a lower stage. It’s a way for me to understand my own unfolding, to understand the number of perspectives that I can take into account and, in so doing, to help me grow, develop, evolve. That’s all these actualization hierarchies are there for – to help communicate and understand growth and development and to serve as maps for those of us who want to make use of them. They are extraordinarily useful because they point out that we just cannot see on our own.

Footnote: The Sanskrit word “Guru” translates as “one who teaches spiritual liberation from his or her own direct experience or realization“. And the Sanskrit word “Pandit” means “A scholar, one who is deeply proficient and immersed in spiritual wisdom“. Wilber calls himself “a defender of the dharma, an intellectual samurai“.

For the complete collection of these dialogues visit enlightenmentnext.org