concepts section: copyright Robert Ellis 2011

Partial Integration 

Integration is a psychological term for the unification of previously conflicting energies in the psyche. In Middle Way philosophy, integration is understood as the interdependent unification of beliefs, meanings and desires. See the separate articles on these and the general article on Integration for more information. This article deals only with the idea of partial integration, and assumes some understanding of integration in general.

The term 'partial integration' is one that in some ways I now consider to be a confusing one. However, it is used in the argument of 'A Buddhist theory of moral objectivity' written ten years ago. Since I have not yet taken on the massive task of revising this text, for the moment it seems better to explain it (together with some of its limitations) rather than try to extract it from the argument and leave a hole. The term 'partial integration' is potentially confusing because integration is, in any case, an incremental concept. If integration is incremental, one will always have more or less of it, and can never be certain of its completion: which means that all integration is in a sense partial. However, in the thesis, partial integration is used in the two specific senses of temporary partial integration and permanent partial integration. Temporary partial integration needs to be examined in the context of temporary integration, on which there is a separate article, but it is its temporariness rather than its partialness that makes it conceptually distinct from other kinds of integration.

Permanent partial integration consists in a degree of integration which cannot be reversed, and it is thus equivalent to the Buddhist concept of stream entry. Normally any degree of integration is potentially subject to reversal, because we can start ignoring conditions and allow new conflicts to develop in our psyche even after making progress in integration. However, the point of irreversibility is theoretically conceived to be the one where all beliefs are integrated but desires are not. It is easier to conceive of all beliefs (both explicit and implicit) being integrated than all desires, as we are generally more conscious of our beliefs and may be able to work with them more effectively using study, reflection and critical thinking. It therefore seems possible that a complete integration of beliefs might be reachable and might have a stability that integration of desire or meaning does not.

However, I am now doubtful both about the basis and the value of this concept. Its basis is suspect because, even if we can reach a state of complete integration of belief, there do not seem to be any grounds from within our experience to conclude that we would not be able to slip back from it. The assertion that this is the case seems to be dogmatic, and I guess that in making it I was motivated (ten years ago) by a wish to fit into the Buddhist tradition. The value of this concept is also suspect, because speculations about complete states tend to distract us from incrementality. In the Buddhist tradition, too, the concept of stream-entry (like that of enlightenment itself) seems to function mainly as a distraction from incrementality, and as a basis for revelatory appeals to the moral authority of those believed to be stream entrants. My experience in the FWBO/TRBC, where some leading order members claim that Sangharakshita, its founder, is a stream-entrant (though as far as I know Sangharakshita himself does not do so explicitly), also suggests that claims about stream-entry function mainly as appeals to authority and that they are divisive and unhelpful.

Links to further discussion

Permanent partial integration (from thesis - scroll down to 5.f.ii)

The trouble with gurus (from The Trouble with Buddhism)


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