In "Spiritual Enlightenment," Jed McKenna tells us that he is enlightened. In fact, he says that a lot. Which got me to thinking, now that I'm a bit over halfway through the book (which was recommended to me by an old friend)...
Does enlightenment exist?
If so, what the heck is it"?
How would we know someone is enlightened?
Other questions come to mind also, because this is one of those intriguing/exasperating books that make me say "what a bunch of crap" on one page, and "right on, brother Jed" on the next.
Such as, does Jed McKenna exist as the sort of guy he puts himself out to be in the book?
Namely, someone who has achieved non-dual enlightenment, owns a big farm house somewhere in rural Iowa, and acts as a guide to all kinds of folks who come to this quasi-ashram to be disillusioned of all their fake religious, mystical, philosophical, and spiritual beliefs, and absorb the unexcelled wisdom of Jedism.
Since the Jedism blogger says this on his home page, I'm strongly inclined to accept the prevailing opinion that someone going by "Jed McKenna" has written a fictional book with non-fiction overtones.
Yes, we understand that “Jed Mckenna” is a fictional character or alter-ego, perhaps in the same way that “Don Juan” of the Carlos Castaneda books may have been, but that doesn’t diminish the impact that the ideas, images and intuitions have had on many people.
Now, just because Jed McKenna has made up stuff about his life, this doesn't mean that he has made up his enlightenment. However, the questions I asked above still remain.
Over and over, Jed talks about himself in the fashion below. It may sound tongue-in-cheek, but believe me, he wants us to believe him.
The difference between us isn't that I'm enlightened and you're not. The difference is that I know it and you don't. I possess selfless awareness and you don't... I basically believe that I know everything and nobody else knows anything... The greatest men and women who have ever lived are just children on a playground to me.
Jed's "trip" (as we used to say in the '60's) is demolishing everyone else's view of reality but his own.
He's got a way with words, and almost surely he's making up the conversations in his book anyway, so not surprisingly enlightened Jed comes out on top of every meaning-of-life dialogue in "Spiritual Enlightenment." (Spoiler alert: there isn't one -- a meaning of life.)
There's a lot of fawning praise of the book on Amazon. So I zipped right to the minority 1-star reviews. Quite a bit of thoughtful skepticism here. Such as:
Which brings up the interesting question, when he became enlightened, how did he know his other state-of-being was to be called "enlightenment". And not, for instance, "satori", "nirvana", "at-one-ness", "super-acidity", what have you?
The original words from which the word "enlightenment" was created: "nirvana" or "nibbana" and "satori" etc have been lost for thousands of years, so how did McKenna arrive at this state and said "Ah, this is the state of 'enlightenment'". How did he know it was not a state of permanent foobarisment?
In fact, he makes such strong and fine distinctions, that one wonders if there is a hidden school somewhere that maintains the old traditions: "That was spiritual awakening, not non-dualism, McKenna. Drop down and give me twenty! Now let's work on mystical one-ness for the next hour."
This reader review encapsulates the main problem I have with Jedism, or any "ism" that claims it's followers possess a clearer view of ultimate reality than the rest of us deluded fools.
We're expected to accept some guy's (rarely, gal's) claim of enlightenment without any evidence that he has achieved it -- or even often, as in Jed's case, that there is any way to describe a state of enlightenment.
"You'll know it when you become it," is Jed's oft-repeated message to his (fictional) acolytes. If someone asks "What is it?" or "How do you get it?" the basic answer is to seek what is truly true with great raging determination, a la Ramana's admonition to keep asking "Who am I?"
Here's some of the many contradictions in the book.
Spiritual teachers aren't to be trusted, and aren't really needed (Jed got enlightened on his own). But Jed clearly enjoys playing guru to his disciples, even though he'd deny that this was what was going on.
Jed McKenna decries spiritual paths that exalt a guru and declare the teachings sacred, but he fills the first ten pages of his book with blurbs extolling him and what he's written (since, he's self-published several more titles about the truth of Jedism).
Everybody has to find truly true truth for himself or herself. However, there's only one acceptable outcome: non-dual enlightenment, whatever that is.
Along that line, it's tough to recognize the non-duality in Jed's enlightenment. In the book Jed acts like a normal, albeit deeply egotistical and self-centered, human being. He bikes, drives, skydives, shovels gravel, goes on walks, reads, watches TV, conducts interviews, and such.
Put him in a Mystic Lineup, and I don't see how a guy like Jed would reliably be chosen as the One Genuine Enlightened Being out of a bunch of other candidates.
Like I said, he talks the game better than most, but the question remains whether there's any meat/tofu under the bun of his verbiage.
Meaning, Jed, along with most other spiritual, mystic, and religious faiths, considers that it's possible to illuminate the darkness of primordial mystery. This, I guess, is "enlightenment" -- seeing what IT is all about -- even if IT can't be described to anyone else.
Jed loves to use a quasi-Platonic analogy.
Everybody but him is watching the movie of life, not realizing that it is just a dramatic production, not reality. Jed, though, has seen through the screen, projection mechanism, and all that. He knows that everybody is just playing a role, like actors in a movie.
This assumes that everyone has a self, or consciousness, that is non-role'd in some fashion -- a really real identity, better termed a non-self, that is the touchstone of truth. The diamond of reality compared to which everything else is costume jewelery.
But I doubt that Jed is the real deal. Or, that anyone is. I lean toward leaving mystery mysterious rather than trying to explain it away with a magic word: "enlightenment."
There's a lot to like in Spiritual Enlightenment. I resonate with Jed's talk of black holes. I just question whether there is really any light at the end of the black hole tunnel. For me, truth is admitting "yes, blackness" when the big questions of life and existence remain unanswered.
Jed, however, believes it is possible to fly right through cosmic mystery and come out the other side.
Here's the most directly I am able to say this: The one and only truth of a person lies like a black hole at their very core, and everything else, everything else, is just the rubbish and debris that covers the hole.
...All fear is ultimately fear of this inner black hole, and nothing on this side of the hole is true. The process of achieving enlightenment is about breaking through the blockage and stepping through the hole, and anything that's not about getting to and through the hole is just more rubbish and debris.
Well, this assumes that it is possible to step through ourselves, or everyday reality, and reach somewhere else. Since the cosmos supposedly is non-dual, according to Jedism, I don't understand all this talk about rubbish and debris being so undesirable compared to the black hole.
Here's another way at looking at things: the Hubble Deep Field in 3-D. I like the idea of no end to the cosmos. Or of seeking the truth of it.