Encountering Hiroshi Motoyama’s Integrative Spirituality
What Role Do Spirits Have in Spiritual Growth?
It is becoming increasingly common to hear the name of Hiroshi Motoyama mentioned alongside of Ken Wilber and Sri Aurobindo as a progenitor of Integrative Spirituality, and to regard his independently developed work as on par with the intellectual edifices of Wilber, Aurobindo, Morin, and Bhaskar.
This tendency came to my attention earlier this year when I began to investigate graduate programs in which I would be able to pursue an Integrally-informed education and meet teachers who could at least understand and engage with the theory, if not actually embody integral spiritual ideals. In this process, I learned that Motoyama founded the California Institute for Human Science (CIHS) in 1992, and since then it has become a hotbed of integral thinking and doing.
But who is Hiroshi Motoyama, and what are his major contributions to the tradition of Integrative Spirituality? As a new student at CIHS, I am reading my first books and hearing my first lectures about his life and work. Don’t look to me for deep expertise on this subject, but I am happy to share my first impressions of his biography and at least one key idea in his work.
Notes on the Biography of Hiroshi Motoyama
Apart from founding CIHS and another organization to study the intersection of science and spirituality, Motoyama (1925 – 2015) was a scholar, mystic, yogi, parapsychologist, Shinto priest, and leader of a Shinto-originated new religion, Tamamitsu Jinja. Motoyama’s background in Shinto—an indigenous Japanese religion and one of the world’s major religions—strongly influenced the way his philosophy includes spirits (and spirit-based beliefs and practices) in a holistic embrace. Wikipedia lists sixteen of his books that have been translated into English, so clearly there’s a lot to be learned from this impressive figure.
Motoyama may be most famous for his enormous contribution to the field of research into subtle energies, including theories of the chakras, and his invention of the AMI, a machine for meridian identification using measurements of physiological responses to electrical currents. The AMI has been used by scholars at CIHS for building up a body of rigorous research into subtle energies based on his theory that the AMI is measuring a correlate of subtle energy and Motoyama’s conclusion that they “prove” the existence of spirits and chakras, among other things.
It's interesting to note that Motoyama's life was steeped in unusual and possibly supernatural events and phenomena. These events began with a spiritual awakening early in life and continued through his studies in psychology and philosophy at Tokyo Bunri University.
According to the Encyclopedia of Shinto, Motoyama was adopted as the son of spirit medium Motoyama Kinue in 1950 and developed the Tamamitsu Jinja religion with her. They were led by the heavenly deity (kami) who sent them on a mission of redemption to the world, and Kinue frequently received transmissions from ancestors and spirits. Together they built the Tamamitsu Jinja shrine and Motoyama taught studies in religion and yoga to students.
Although I haven’t yet seen a detailed description of the beliefs of Tamamitsu Jinja, I surmise that it blends Shinto and Buddhist traditions while maintaining adherence to the special divine revelations given to its founder. The Encyclopedia of Shinto summarizes its philosophy like this: “Through religious activities at its shrine and research and practice at its institute, the movement aims at the establishment of a new world religion concerned with the realization of a healthy body and mind.”
In Being and the Logic of Interactive Function (2009), Motoyama (and his translators) supply several remarkable stories in support of Motoyama’s contention that his long years of meditation produced a superconsciousness in him. For a decade, he says, he spent about eight hours a day in an immovable meditation posture which caused excruciating pain and required phenomenal mental discipline, but in this way, he overcame his egoic mind and made room for the descent of higher spiritual consciousness.
As a result of his yogic work, he became known as a mystic capable of producing parapsychological feats such as mind-reading, spiritual healing, and influencing natural disasters and world affairs. Although it is unclear to me to what extent he ever subjected these claims of paranormal feats to the scrutiny of skeptics, it is clear that he gained a remarkable reputation as a seer over decades of his life.
For example, he once toured a factory that made gems through advanced fabrication techniques, and he described the feelings he had while holding the gems. Some gave off hot energies, some gave off cold energies, and one—a diamond—gave off unique energy that separated it from the others. The factory owners were astonished because he accurately described the process by which the stones had been fabricated (or not fabricated), despite the fact that he had no ordinary means of knowing what he knew.
One Key Idea in the Work of Hiroshi Motoyama
The concept of “spirits” in religious experience (deriving from Shinto’s kami) is just one of the preeminent ideas that I’ve encountered so far, among other elements of an elaborate conceptual framework for which he is famous, such as “basho-being”, “interactive function”, “metaphysical logic”, “absolute Nothing”, and “global religion”.
But first, a word about methodology. Connected to these and other ideas of Motoyama’s is his use of what we might call autobiographical hermeneutics. In Being and the Logic of Interactive Function, he addresses the reader as a scholar who is offering his best interpretation of his own paranormal and religious experiences, and those of his mother. It seems to me that he does not (in this book) address the skeptics or provide the sort of elaborate detail that a critical mind might want to have. Nor does he offer clear definitions of some of his chosen terminology, an omission that I hope to see rectified as I encounter more of his writings.
Bringing Motoyama in line with thinkers such as Ken Wilber and Sri Aurobindo (among many mystics from past to present) is his argument that religious experience proceeds in “horizontal” and “vertical” dimensions, thus creating a hierarchy of potential religious experiences. In Motoyama’s terminology, the hierarchical evolution of a human being is a direct ontological relationship between the human’s “spirit” and the “god-spirit or God” (kami). In other words, there is a very real and meaning-creative spirit world alongside our world, and spirituality involves sharing being with this metaphysical order and growing into harmonious relationship with it.
The activity of this relationship is one of “self-negation” in which the lower-level spirit rises up by negating the self and the higher-level spirit enters more fully into the material world through “determination”. Such union isn’t always a positive experience because it can include sharing being with daemonic spirits who are in a conflicted relationship to the God-spirit.
While Christian thinkers tend to speak of a soul’s direct relationship to God, this Shinto philosopher sees the relationship as distinguished according to about seven major levels, each level bringing into play a relationship with a “higher order” spirit. That relationship is one of non-exclusive identity. A (slightly heretical) Christian mystic might say that the human soul achieves divine God-consciousness by first reaching identity with a succession of angels in a hierarchy from the lowest angels to the highest archangels (while hopefully surviving encounters with the nasty devil and demons), until finally realizing unity with God/Christ.
Spirits in Integral Thought
The existence of spirits and a spirit world gets enfolded into Wilber’s theory as the seldom-discussed “para-mind (formerly psychic stage)” and other aspects of “third-tier” consciousness, where it may seem disconnected from the rest of his philosophy. The existence of spirits also gets mentioned in Aurobindo’s hierarchy of divine life, as phenomena of an “intermediate zone”, which he cautions his readers to avoid lingering in because of its many dangers. One wonders if Aurobindo’s cautionary words are wise counsel or an early form of spiritual bypassing.
Finally, it’s worth saying that the question of the existence of spirits also gets mentioned by some other metamodern/integrative thinkers… as silly pre-rational superstitious beliefs that have to be jettisoned as one’s philosophy grows more adult. These thinkers take the spirit out of spirituality. They reject metaphysics entirely and may even claim to have an entirely post-metaphysical worldview. That’s something that I think takes the genuinely Integral impulse towards a “light, flexible metaphysics” to an unrealistic and self-contradictory extreme.
The beauty of Motoyama’s approach to kami is its ability to integrate the enormous volume of spiritual experience in many religions concerning the reality of the spirit world, especially non-Western religions, and indigenous spirituality. I don’t think his is the only valid way of integrating these experiences into an integrative philosophy, but it’s at least worth a serious investigation.
Speaking for myself as someone whose life experiences have given him strong conviction of the reality of paranormal phenomena and a history of actual relationships with paranormal entities, Motoyama’s approach to these topics feels validating. Being and the Logic of Interactive Function is a breath of fresh air and a welcome addition to the literature of Integral wisdom.