Kerstin Shands

Balanced View / Great Freedom


1948:  Candice O’Denver was born.

1982:  O’Denver experienced a personal and spiritual crisis.

1990s (Early):  O’Denver was enrolled in the California College of the Arts.

1993:  O’Denver completed a Master’s thesis entitled Metaspace.

2003:  Great Freedom was founded by Candice O’Denver.

2006-2007:  Tours were conducted in a number of nations, with an extended stay in Rishikesh, India.

2010: Great Freedom was renamed Balanced View.


There is very little biographical information available on Candice O’Denver, [Image at right] the founder of Great Freedom, which later became Balanced View. She was born around 1948 and raised Catholic. Norman (2010) reports that a pattern that emerged early in her life was looking inside herself for answers to life issues, reading the works of noted philosophers, and noting ”universal truths that stood out in books.” After attending college, she enrolled in California College of the Arts. She produced a thesis entitled Metaspace in 1993 that was published as a book and lays out her the basic philosophy underpinning Great Freedom (O’Denver 1993).

O’Denver appears to have gone through a ”profound personal crisis which led her into states of intense fear, alienation and despair. During that period she found that everything she had learned through psychology, philosophy, religion, and all other belief systems she had studied were of no help to her whatsoever” (Devison 2008). It was in 2003 that O’Denver reportedly had an intense ”awakening” experience while traveling on a train in India (O’Denver 2009b). She reports having discovered

a basic space of “pure awareness” which was free from suffering, a space of complete relief. She gradually familiarized herself with that basic space by resting as awareness for short moments, repeated many times, and soon she was able to rest in that awareness for 10 continuous days (Devison 2008).

She immediately revealed her experience to others, and a number soon joined her and became leaders in what was to become Great Freedom and then Balanced View. Just three years later the small group began international touring, with ”the group’s long stay in Rishikesh in the 2006/2007, where they were able to exploit the town’s status as a global stage for religious teachings for tourists from around the world” (Norman 2010).

O’Denver’s status within the movement has risen over the last decade. The Balanced View website now refers to her a Candice Rinpoche and displays her spiritual lineage (“Candice O’Denver” n.d.):

Candice Rinpoche has extensive empowerments, transmissions and permissions to teach for the lineage of Unsurpassed Quintessential Heart Essence: Dzogchen. Candice Rinpoche’s root teachers: H.H. Minling Trichen Rimpoche and Venerable Wangdor Rimpoche along with significant teachers H.E. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and Vidyhadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Balanced View has become a growing movement (in over sixty-five countries) with an evolving system of thought, teaching, and organization whose adherents testify to having found something unique. Its texts, arising from the awakening of its founder, Candice O’Denver, and seemingly lacking antecedents, purport to describe the ultimate reality. Balanced View could be seen as a movement for nontheistic spiritual enlightenment. Spiritual and religious terminology is avoided, primarily because of a wish to reach out to the greatest possible number of people. There is thus a missionary aspect. Although there are a few passages in the writings of Candice O’Denver and Balanced View that point to similarities to other religions and spiritual world views (mention is made of Tibetan monks, for example), no specific references are given, and no direct comparisons are made.


Perceptions of reality and the pursuit of truth are central concerns in Balanced View, a contemporary movement that perceives itself as a unique philosophic approach to inquiries concerning the nature of reality itself. Balanced View could be seen as a philosophical, spiritual, and educational movement that purports to teach us how to remove the real roots of suffering and arrive at inner peace, balance, and stability (even though we cannot exactly “arrive,” since we are always already there). Initially spoken of as the Great Freedom Teachings,

Balanced View offers a new and vital education in the nature of mind, allowing us to realize our greatest potential and to be of benefit to all. This grassroots movement empowers people around the world to see their strengths and talents and contribute them for the benefit to all, enjoying increasing happiness and joy and tapping into their potential for living life in a deeply caring and beneficial way (“What We Do” n.d.).

Balanced View presents itself as a radically different philosophy (beyond the limitations of other spiritual, religious, or philosophic systems) in at least two major ways.

First, most religious and philosophic systems (as well contemporary ideas of personal development) see some kind of change or improvement as crucial. Something is wrong and needs to be fixed: in Christianity there is original sin; in the psychology of positive thinking “negative” thoughts need to be replaced by “positive” thoughts; in psychotherapy, problems need to be diagnosed and worked through. In the philosophy of Balanced View, to the contrary, nothing needs to be fixed, or at least not in that sense.

Second, even if ancient systems of spiritual practice do exist, they have been virtually inaccessible for all but a select few who had to give up years of their lives to arrive at illumination. Balanced View suggests that this is no longer necessary. Illumination is within everybody’s reach, and through the method proposed one can “[l]ive with ease, confidence and complete stability no matter what happens in [one’s] life,” one can “[e]njoy a consistent sense of ease and life-satisfaction in all experiences,” and “[d]iscover and use [one’s] unique strengths, gifts and talents in a totally beneficial way” (“What We Do” n.d.).

Proposing that theoretical, encyclopedic and abstract forms of knowledge lack transformative power, Balanced View instead presents a practical philosophy, a direct, phenomenological approach examining reality and experience itself, and an education whose non-dualistic insights purport to bring an equanimity and authenticity that will empower anyone regardless of their life situation. “Awareness,” “clarity,” and “open intelligence” are terms that are used to point to a reality that is underlying, embracing, or infusing everything, a vast expanse of unchanging space. That space is non-produced, indescribable, and naturally present and from whose vantage point we see things as they really are instead of remaining myopically involved with and attached to “data streams” or “points of view.” The concept of open intelligence is posited as the most comprehensive level of reality at the same time as it aligns us with fundamental reality: “the absolute human nature, but is also the absolute nature of everything” (O’Denver 2017). In Balanced View, one is not so much encouraged to abandon the data of the nitty-gritty of everyday experience (thoughts, events, feelings) as to shift the emphasis toward “clarity” or “open intelligence.” This dimension is always present; it is a dimension of perfection where nothing needs to be changed: “the clarity that is the essence of all experience” (The Balanced View Team 2011a:v). “Relying on clarity,” O’Denver says, “is the core principle of basing one’s experience in clarity rather than reifying the passing phenomena” (The Balanced View Team 2011a:vi). Even though the spiritual transformation is said to be a “simple change” (as one of the book titles has it), it nevertheless takes practice, repetition, and commitment to be able to sense and experience the vast infinity of clarity or open intelligence. As Candice O’Denver puts it: “we can’t arrive at this confidence intellectually; it has to be arrived at instinctively. It is instinctive because it is beyond thought and reason. We can understand it intellectually, but that won’t take us all the way” (The Balanced View Team 2011a:9).

According to the writings of Balanced View, it is of paramount importance to define the key concepts relied upon. In the Editor’s Introduction to Clarity in Everyday Life, we read: “It is very important to define the various words that are used in the text. The most important term is clarity, which is used very often throughout the book. Other terms that refer to the same essence pointed to by clarity include awareness, the basic state, the fundamental nature of our being, natural perfection, total perfection, intelligent space, super-intelligence, super-completeness, self-perfected reality, wisdom awareness, natural intelligence and the view” (The Balanced View Team 2011a:vi). But terms like “enlightenment” and “God” are avoided in Balanced View so that secular seekers will not be put off, and the same goes for terms such as sin, karma, and reincarnation, terms that are similarly avoided.

“The basic state” (another synonym for open intelligence), according to Candice O’Denver, “is beyond all phenomenal appearances. As points of view are only expressions of the basic state itself, they have no independent or individual substantiality, identity or existence other than the basic state,” a basic state that is always “already absolutely present” (O’Denver 2010:25, 101). It is a “vast unknowable expanse that is the natural order of everything . . . an immense power and force of creativity . . .  something that is utterly indescribable” (O’Denver 2010:40). In this “super-intelligence that is at the basis of everything and which has power over everything” (O’Denver 2010:98) one might hear an echo from Catholic faith in a God that (as stated in catechism) is “the supreme Spirit, who alone exists of Himself, and is infinite in all perfections;” “God had no beginning; He always was, He is, He always will be. God is everywhere.”


Balance View offers “tools” consisting of the ”combinatory power of the Four Mainstays: the trainer, the training, the recognition of open intelligence for short moments, many times, until obvious at all times and a worldwide support network” (“Who We Are” n.d.). A key aspect of the method proposed, the path to open intelligence, involves repetition. The terminology has changed; earlier texts recommended resting as awareness or clarity.

Whereas the practice [Image at right] of taking short moments is, of course, a secular method that we could compare to meditation or the practice of mindfulness, it could also be compared to prayer. Both methods aim toward a sense of trust: in open intelligence in the one case, in God, in the other. Like short moments, prayer is a clearing in the space of phenomena, focusing attention on the vast, ineffable infinity of divinity while not suppressing or denying the phenomenal world of matter. Short moments of prayer, too, may be expanded into a continuous focus on and dialogue with God, and the recommendation in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Pope Paul VI 1963) of the Second Vatican Council that a Christian should pray without ceasing actually resembles the method in Balanced view to rely on open intelligence “short moments, many times, until obvious at all times.” In the history of mysticism unceasing prayer, further, has been said to lead to mystic experiences. From this perspective, the experience of continuous open intelligence could be compared to a transcendent encounter with divinity that is blissfully prolonged.

Although clarity or open intelligence is not visualized as a supernatural spirit in Balanced view, it is said to be “unseen” in the sense that most of us focus our attention on the physical and material world in front of us or on “data” or “points of view” in the terminology of Balanced View. Balanced View does not encourage participants to abandon “data” but to shift emphasis to clarity or open intelligence, a dimension that is always there, a dimension of perfection where nothing needs to be changed and that is the essence of all experience.

The method proposed by Candice O’Denver could be seen as a meditation leading to a mystic experience of spiritual transcendence or to what Candice O’Denver has called the “Great Outshining.” The oneness visualized in Balanced View as a changeless realm of ‘open intelligence’ within which all “data” or “points of view” arise could be compared to Christian conceptions of the oneness of God.


From a Balanced View perspective, the world is experiencing an important period of change, but one that does not call for the formation of a new religion. Rather, the “important shift” that we are living today “can be related to the experiences of many historical figures,” it is underlined that “it’s not attached to any specific historical figure. There is no need to create a dogma or a world religion or anything of that kind” (The Balanced View Team 2011a:20). The ideal form of knowledge, instead, is “a form of knowledge that isn’t constantly referring back to past knowledge in order to verify itself” (The Balanced View Team 2011a: 22).

Balanced View describes itself as a global community (“Who We Are” n.d.):

Balanced View organizes global human community into a potent, intelligent force that acts in its shared self-interest to cultivate powerful, peaceful, beneficial, prosperous, generous society for all. A pioneering style of leadership and grassroots organizing led to the development of Balanced View, which now trains individuals and other organizations in utilizing the same tools. Balanced View was built by people just like you and is run by people just like you.

As ”the core goal of Balanced View is to generate durable power for humankind,” on a greater scale, Balanced View points to the ontogenetic and phylogenetic prospects of an evolutionary imperative calling humanity to move forward to an era of peace: “This grassroots organizing and leadership developed by Balanced View is currently evolving as the basis of future world governance that is of the people, by the people, and for all inhabitants of the multiverse” (“What We Do” n.d.). ”With the fundamental power of the mind,” it is stated, further, ”humans are prepared to lead the world we live in and to bring it together into a unified governing force the likes of which humanity has never seen” (“What We Do” n.d.).

The organization lists four primary centers: the Center Emmaljunga in Sweden, [Image at right] the Center Goa in India, the Center Northern California in the U.S., and Benefit Island – Center is Second Life, which is an online community. The center property in Sweden was donated to the group; it was established in 2007 and functions year round as a training center. The center offers regular trainings throughout the year and four annual gatherings. The center in India was founded in 2010 and operates only between December and March, with daily trainings during that period. The California center in Mill Valley, established in 2006, is the global Balanced View headquarters and is primarily a management center. Benefit Island is a virtual center where members from around the globe are able to meet.

Balanced View Centers are financially independent and conform organizationally to national legal requirements. Local leadership teams receive management support from the international movement. There are thirty-five certified trainers who work in Open Meetings, Clarity Calls and trainings (”The Trainer” n.d.). Revenue generated by online programs is used to support trainers and online operating expenses (“What We Do” n.d). Trainers, in turn, reportedly return a percentage of their income to Balanced View (Anthony 2018).

The claims for Balanced View being a grassroots movement is questioned by one participant who has looked into the finances of Balanced View, or tried to, as these attempts were blocked by evasive answers and a lack of transparency about financial issues. Studying the forms submitted by Balanced View to the U.S. tax office, this participant discovered that at the same time as Balanced View relied on donations from participants and on hundreds of thousands of hours of free labor (according to their own website), Candace O’Denver was paid an executive salary of $150,000 a year (or twenty-two percent of Balanced View revenue in the U.S.), on top of which participants were asked to donate money for a car for Candace O’Denver (a crowdfounding aiming to raise $65,000). According to this participant, further, there was a lack of clarity around funds going toward purchase or renovation of property owned by Candace O’Denver (Anthony 2018).

Another participant has questioned the promotional campaigns of Balanced View, finding that they increasingly resemble aggressive and manipulative sales methods that play on people’s weaknesses and dissatisfaction, with a sales pitch with a “strong ‘Scientology’ flavor.” This participant points to the dangers of messages sent out to prospective customers offering miracle cures and creating unrealistic expectations and then demanding total adherence to the movement in ways that may create dependencies in emotionally fragile individuals (Abigail 2018). A third participant noticed that while Candice O’Denver initially “stated that there was no need to promote Balanced View, that attraction was the spontaneous and natural way,” this changed, and “an almost relentless promotion of Balanced View was set in motion” (Janet 2017).


A major challenge facing Balanced View is how it will understand itself, its uniqueness, and how it will be understood by the larger host society. Could the central concepts and methods of Balanced View, then, be understood as a new way of visualizing and relating to God, a God partially hidden behind the clouds of a secular terminology? Or, should the ideas and community of Balanced View, to the contrary, be seen as an answer to recent proposals made by religious atheism regarding the role of religion and spirituality for individual and communities?

While Balanced View presents itself as a radically different philosophy, beyond the limitations of other spiritual, religious, or philosophic systems, a closer look does reveal resonances with other religious and philosophical systems of thought.

First, one may see parallels to ideas in philosophy of an immanent God such as the one presented in Spinoza’s Ethics (1677), where he writes: ”God is the only substance that can exist or be conceived.” If there is only one substance this means that human beings are part of the reality or unity that Spinoza calls God. Spinoza writes further: ”Whatever exists is in God, and nothing can exist or be conceived without God,” and he goes on to say that ”modes can’t exist or be conceived without a substance ·that they are modes of” which means that ”modes can exist only in the divine nature, and can be conceived only through that nature.” If we turn to contemporary philosophy, we may consider Gilles Deleuze’s ‘fold’ and his attempts to think beyond “inside” and “outside” with the self as not separate from its environment.

Second, suggesting that there are parallels also to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant as regards consciousness and cognition, Alex Norman (2010) also perceives similarities to contemporary self-help philosophies, noting that whereas Balanced View ”does not construct a narrative of transformation, as it is conventionally understood, it does construct one of liberation, a theme common in self-help and mind-body-spirit literature.”

Third, drawing on David Lyon’s work on religion in postmodern times in which the consumer culture also pertains to religion in a “pick ’n mix” fashion, Norman points also to Anthony Giddens’ notion of the “project of the self” which involves constant individual choice in all areas including religious belief.  Norman suggests that Balanced View could be regarded as a reaction to this notion of the self as a continuous project whereby participants may find ”’relief’ from the psychological unrest of modern life.” Balanced View thus ”fills a niche created by the mixture of secularisation, consumerism, and the fragmentation of identity.”

The central idea of Great Freedom – that Awareness offers a stable, impermeable, constant self – can be understood as a response to the breadth of choice of symbols, imagery, and ‘selves’ that now assails individuals in the Western world” (Norman 2010).

One might indeed see Balance View as a response to postmodern life, as Alex Norman suggests.

Fourth, since it does not wish to have any religious labels attached to its theory and praxis Balanced View could be seen as a form of humanism, a religion without God. Humanism, as Karen Armstrong claimed in A History of God: From Abraham to the Present: the 4000-year Quest for God “is itself a religion without God” (1994:4). Since there are needs that our secular society has failed to meet or offer answers to, Alain de Botton proposes in Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion (2012) that we should we reject religion as such but return to and recycle concepts and rituals stemming from religion, since religions are “repositories of a myriad ingenious concepts with which we can try to assuage a few of the most persistent and unattended ills of secular life” (de Botton 2012:13). The church has understood the difficulties of life and offered solace, something secular society has failed to do, and it has created a sense of community that goes beyond that of the family in embracing kith and kin in successfully choreographing activities that are better engaged in communally than individually (de Botton 2012:37).

We might therefore see Balanced View as a secular institution dedicated to a reappropriation of religion that, in its refusal of a religious terminology, participates in the reversal of religious colonization called for by religious atheism. Balanced View does aim to provide answers to life’s most pressing questions, and there is a strong emphasis on community. Participation in meetings and contact with a “trainer” is required, otherwise the practice will not be effective (The Balanced View Team 2011b:4).

The idea of resting in the oneness of open intelligence could also be understood as a form of everyday mysticism. The mystic experience is at the center of conceptualizations of God and at the center of religion, as William James argues in The Varieties of Religious Experience. James writes that “[t]he overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement. In mystic states we become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness” (2012:325). The knowledge and profound insight reached in states of mystic experience is first and foremost a sense of “reconciliation,” “as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity” (James 2012:301).

Such a sense of a reconciliation overcoming of dualistic thought resembles the open intelligence of Balanced View. “Mystical experiences,” as defined by Andrew Newberg in Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, further, “is nothing more or less than an uplifting sense of genuine spiritual union with something larger than the self” (2002:101). According to Ken Wilber, similarly, “different modes of knowing correspond to different levels of consciousness”, whereby a “dualistic mode of knowing” “separates the knowing subject from the known object” (1999:85) while “it is the nature of the nondual mode of knowing to be one with what it knows” (1999:86). Indeed, “knowing and the Real coalesce in Primal Experience” (1999:86). “Reality is what is revealed from the nondual level of consciousness that we have termed the Mind” (1999:86). Such a state of nondual consciousness has a strong resemblance to the notions of ‘clarity’ and “open intelligence.”

The idea of letting everything be as it is and of resting in a powerful super-intelligence that is the basis of everything resembles Christian notions of detachment, surrender, and oneness. It also has similarities to notions of non-attachment in Buddhism and to the notion of letting go of resistance to the present delineated in the writings of Eckhart Tolle. Tolle speaks of “consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form” (2005:3), something that is our “natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you” (2005:10). This description closely echoes the thinking of Balanced View.

If the method of Balanced View of “taking short moments” and “relying upon awareness” or open intelligence could be seen as a form of mindfulness, meditation, or mystic experience involving a transcendent encounter with something greater, could the notion of open intelligence be regarded as another way of conceptualizing God? In the canon of Balanced View texts, the word God is hardly used at all. In one passage I have come across, however, it is stated that open intelligence is inseparable from God:

Inseparable from clarity is the heart; inseparable from clarity is love; and inseparable from clarity is God. In this Training we use the word ‘clarity’ instead of ‘God’ or ‘consciousness’ because clarity is a word that beings [sic] can easily understand (O’Denver 2010:111).

Here it is stated clearly that clarity or open intelligence is the same thing as God, or inseparable from God. Elsewhere, however, the word God is consciously avoided in Balanced View. This is said to be for the sake of simplicity: open intelligence, it is said, is easier to understand than God.

The ideal form of knowledge proposed by Balanced View is “a form of knowledge that isn’t constantly referring back to past knowledge in order to verify itself” (Balanced View Team 2011a:22). While Balanced View rejects traditional spiritual and religious terminologies, a closer look shows, as has been suggested here, that there are important resonances with older religions and philosophic systems, such as Catholicism and Buddhism. The core of the teachings of Balanced View could be seen as a form of monistic idealism. The view that everything is beneficial by nature and that nothing needs to be improved resembles the notions found in Buddhism stating that liberation above all means liberation from the craving for a better life or an improved self. As has been suggested, then, the key ideas of Balanced View are not radically new. Nor is the method unique, since it builds on elements of repetition that resemble aspects of prayer and meditation and since its ideas resonate with those of philosophers such as Kant and Spinoza. We could perhaps understand the ideas of Balanced View as a Buddhist-inspired form of mindfulness aiming for a non-evaluating sense of presence in the present moment.

Image #1: Photograph of Candice O’Denver.
Image #2: Photograph of a Balanced View ritual.
Image #3: Photograph of the Balanced View center in Emmaljunga, Sweden.


** An earlier version of this article was published as ”Resting in Oneness: Conceptions of Reality in the Teachings of Balanced View.” Romanian Review of Political Sciences and International Relations. Vol XIII, No. 2, Autumn 2016. 71-80.

Abigail. 2018. “A Balanced View Pushy Salesman and His Miraculous ‘Cure-all.’” A Balanced View on Balanced View, June 17. Accessed from on 13 December 2018.

Anthony. 2018. “The Secret of Balanced View Finances.” A Balanced View on Balanced View, February 27. Accessed from on 20 November 2018.

Armstrong, Karen. 1994.  A History of God: From Abraham to the Present: the 4000-year Quest for God. New York: Ballantine Books.

De Botton, Alain. 2012. Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2006. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Foreword and translation by Tom Conley. London: Continuum.

James, William. 2012. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Oxford University Press.

Janet. 2017. “Free to be myself again.” A Balanced View on Balanced View, September 24.  Accessed from on 13 December 2018.

Newberg, Andrew, Eugene D’Aquili, and Vince Rause. 2002. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. New York: Ballantine.

Norman, Alex. 2010. ”Great Freedom and the Concept of Awareness: Reading an Ambiguous New Religious Movement Through the Lenses of Gergen, Giddens, and Lyon.” Accessed from on 20 November 2018.

O’Denver, Candice. 2017. “Well-Being.” Candice O’Denver’s Blog, December 16. Accessed from on 2 August 2018.

O’Denver, Candice. 2010. One Simple Change Makes Life Easy. [Second Edition]. Accessed from on 2 August 2018.

O’Denver, Candice. 1993. Metaspace: A basic state is not able not to exist. Accessed from on 25 November 2018.

Pope Paul VI. 1963. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium Solemnly Promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1965. Accessed from on 2 August 2, 2018.

Spinoza, Benedict. 1677. Ethics Demonstrated in Geometrical Order. Accessed from on 2 August 2018.

The Balanced View Team. 2011a. Clarity in Everyday Life: A Handbook and Guide. Mill Valley, CA: Balanced View Media.

The Balanced View Team. 2011b. Open Intelligence: Changing the Definition of Human Identity. Mill Valley, CA: Balanced View Media.

“The Trainer.” n.d. Balanced View. Accessed from on 20 November 2018.

Tolle, Eckhart. 2005. The Power of Now. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

“What We Do.” n.d. Balanced View website. Accessed from on 2 October 2018.

“Who We Are.” n.d. Balanced View Website. Accessed from  on 2 October 2018.

Wilber, Ken. 1999. The Collected Works of Ken Wilber. The Spectrum of Consciousness. No Boundary. Selected Essays. Boston and London: Shambhala.

Post Date:
14 December 2018