Intellectual History of Unique Self

Unique Self is a body of thought which is in some senses new and yet it also has ancient antecedents. The following two notes, excerpts from Your Unique Self, complement the Unique Self Timeline which provides additional important details.

Footnotes No. 2 and No. 3 to Chapter 1 of Your Unique Self

2. Ken Wilber and I, in the final discussions before ISE (Integral Spiritual Experience 2010) and Ken in his keynote at ISE, termed “Unique Self: An Evolutionary Emergent.” In earlier discussions in 2005–6 and in one of our first Unique Self Dialogues in 2009 (see Integral Life website, Unique Self, Ken Wilber, Sally Kempton, Marc Gafni), Ken and I talked about Unique Self as resonant if not identical with the Buddhist image of enlightenment captured in the Tenth Oxherding Picture. On the Tenth Oxherding Picture as an expression of Buddhist enlightenment teaching, see for example, Lex Hixon, Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions (Bordett, NY: Larson Publications, 1978), 60–92.

My teaching on Unique Self developed from the Talmudic and Kabbalistic traditions. (also see Marc Gafni at TED Talks) A. H. Almaas describes what he terms “Personal Essence” in Sufi teaching in terms that are remarkably close to my Unique Self teaching. Having said that, the full implications of individuality have evolved with the advent of modernity and postmodernity, particularly in light of the dignities of modernity, foremost among them democracy and its sociopolitical implications, as well as the contextual realizations of self in postmodernity. The heightened appreciation of the postmetaphysical “ontology” of perspectives that characterizes postmodernity also needs to be taken into account in the formulation of Unique Self. All of these have served to evolve our understanding of Unique Self, which is why Unique Self is termed an evolutionary emergent. It is in this sense, as well, that the Unique Self models World Spirituality as an integration of the best practice of pre-modern, modern, and postmodern streams of gnosis. (See Epilogue.)

3. My thinking on Unique Self, drawn from Hebrew mystical sources, originated in 1989, which was the first time I taught about what I then termed “soul prints.” I still have the video of the first time the term “soul prints” “came down” in a teaching, when I was twenty-six years old, giving a Hebrew dharma talk at the Temple Emeth Synagogue in Delray Beach, Florida. There were five hundred senior citizens at that talk, and I was seeking to communicate to them the Hebrew mystical intuition that their lives were infinitely and uniquely significant, and that therefore they should not spend the last decades of life adrift in the regressive atmosphere of mahjong and card games that dominated the culture of Delray Beach. I said to them, “Not only do you have a fingerprint, you have a soul print,” and at that moment something shifted in the subtle energy in the room, and many of us there knew that some deep knowing had been named. This became a core part of my teaching for the next ten years. 
In my book Soul Prints: Your Path to Fulfillment (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001), I formally coined both the term “soul prints” and “Unique Self.” On the term “Unique Self,” see Soul Prints (p. 160): “The address of the divine commands us each to realize our Unique Self.” In context, this referred to the internal divine voice that lives in and as the interior face of consciousness. The second mention (p. 164) refers to Unique Self as the expression of the human being living in an evolutionary context. I label Unique Self the core human evolutionary mechanism: “The only path to survival is the path of the Unique Self.” The third usage of Unique Self in Soul Prints (p. 301) is in the context of the obligation to present one’s Unique Self in what is termed there a “Soul Print” or “Unique Self encounter.” The ethical question in such a meeting is framed as “Have I brought my Unique Self to the table?” In the Soul Prints book and teaching, the enlightened nature of post-egoic individuality as an expression of nondual realization is explicit in a number of passages (see for example p. 49 and p. 50) but not sufficiently highlighted.

In what was originally my doctoral dissertation on Nondual Humanism and the Unique Self in the teaching of Mordechai Lainer of Izbica and in the Talmudic and Kabbalistic tradition from which he emerged, the distinction between egoic and enlightened Uniqueness became more dominant as one of the pivoting points of the Unique Self teaching. For Lainer, an essential part of the process of what he termed berur might well be understood as precisely this clarification of Uniqueness beyond egoic separate self. See my discussion of berur in Gafni, Nondual Humanism and the Unique Self (Chapter 10, “The Nature of Berur”). This work originally appeared as my doctorate, taken at Oxford University under the co-supervision of Professor Mosle Idel and Dr. Norman Solomon. It is being published under the title, Radical Kabbalah.

Ken Wilber and I dialogued and debated about the nature of Unique Self enlightenment for some time. When I sent this work to Ken (who had already read my more popular work Soul Prints the night after our first meeting), he immediately evolved his position, and in a series of conversations and emails recognized the Unique Self teaching as a significant new enlightenment lineage that has much to offer the Integral teaching enlightenment. Ken then invited me to give a featured address to a group of some fifty leading spiritual teachers at the Integral Spiritual Center in 2006 on the nature of Unique Self enlightenment. In a series of conversations between Ken Wilber and myself as part of the preparation for the ISC teaching, we sharpened the distinction between egoic individuality and post-egoic individuality.

In the months after ISC, a number of teachers who were moved by the Unique Self realization began to incorporate it into their teaching. These included John Kesler, Viddeyuva, Sofia Diaz, John Forman, and others. It was, however, my friend Diane Musho Hamilton who began to facilitate the voice of Soul Prints/Unique Self as part of the Big Mind process developed by her teacher, Genpo Roshi. Diane, in conversations with Ken and myself, was pivotal in the full transition in the Integral world from the term “Soul Prints” and its third-person, metaphysical implications, to the term “Unique Self,” which more readily expressed Unique Self also as a first-person realization. Her teacher, Genpo Roshi, following her lead, integrated the voice and term “Unique Self ” into the Big Mind process and into the official Big Mind book. See Dennis Genpo Merzel, Big Mind, Big Heart (McLean, VA: Big Mind Publishing, 2007), 122–24. It was Ken, in a call in January 2006 before the Integral Spiritual Center meeting, who suggested that I prefer the term “Unique Self ” over “soul prints” in my upcoming presentation, so that the Unique Self teaching would not be confused with the separate-self soul teaching of exoteric Western religion.

Other teachers, like Sally Kempton, helped identify in their traditions teachings that resonated with the core intuition of Unique Self. The distinction between Unique Self and other teachings like the Authentic Self teaching of Andrew Cohen were clarified in a number of direct engagements with Andrew, beginning with a shared public teaching in Tel Aviv in 2006, followed by an exchange of emails with Andrew after that teaching, and then again in a 2010 dialogue between Andrew and myself, as part of the Future of Love series hosted by iEvolve and Integral Life. This dialogue is slated for publication in Future of Love: Dialogues on Evolutionary Integral Relationships, Eds. Marc Gafni and Diane Hamilton (forthcoming). A transcript of that dialogue appears as well in the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice 6, no. 1 (Spring 2011). After this Integral Spiritual Center gathering, explicitly drawing on my Unique Self term and teaching, my friend and colleague Terry Patten added a chapter on Unique Self to the almost-complete Integral Life Practice book. The chapter is entitled “Unique Self” in integral- (Boulder, CO: Integral Books, 2008).

Unique Self further evolved the Integral space in 2010, when I was privileged to lead an effort, together with Ken Wilber, Robb Smith, Diane Hamilton, and Sally Kempton, to reinvigorate the Integral Spiritual Movement. The focal point of the effort was a series of Integral Spiritual Experiences. Because Unique Self had by that time begun to emerge as a new chapter in Integral Theory, we held the event around the teaching of Unique Self. In a series of dialogues both public and private leading up to the event, the teaching on Unique Self evolved even further. For some of these conversations with myself, Ken Wilber, Sally Kempton, Diane Hamilton, Lama Surya Das, Jean Houston, and Alex Grey, see Marc Gafni, contributors page, Journal of Integral Theory and Practice (Spring 2001). During the months leading up to the event, I wrote the eight stations of the Unique Self, which were featured in the attendee guide for the conference and which form the crux of this book. At this event, in a series of keynote presentations given by myself and Ken, and through Big Mind/Unique Self facilitations by Diane, as well as a True Self/false self plenary by Sally Kempton, the Unique Self teaching deepened once again. For these presentations, see the ISE 1 media package, available at