Jed McKenna claims to be enlightened, and he talks about his views on this state in his book Spiritual Enlightenment – the damndest thing. When I first read this a couple of years ago, it challenged some of my beliefs and opinions. I’ve gone back and looked at it again recently, and the claims he makes no longer sound quite that earth shattering. After the first reading I came to the conclusion that the person who wrote it was probably enlightened, but now I’m not even sure what enlightened means. The one thing that hasn’t change is that Jed McKenna has some interesting things to say. What follows is something that I wrote about this book after reading it for the first time.
Who is Jed McKenna?
Jed McKenna is not like your usual enlightened guru. He does not claim to be any type of higher being – or to even be holy. He has just realized some truths about the reality of the universe, and this has changed how he interacts with the world. Jed McKenna does not even seem to be his real name, and his true identity is a bit of a mystery.
Unlike most other spiritual teachers, McKenna does not claim that becoming enlightened is such a swell thing. In fact, he ponders if being caught up in the world of illusion may even be preferable. He provides a view of universe that most people will not want to believe is true. He claims that the idea that the self is a delusion and so is duality – there is only one thing. Not that he is saying anything particular new here – this is the same teaching given by most of the non duality crowd and the Buddha made a similar claim almost 2,600 years ago. The difference with Jed McKenna is that he does not heavily promote enlightenment as something worth having.
Jed McKenna is not an atheist, but he dismisses all religions and philosophies as being practically worthless. I fully agree with his claim that people can only find out the truth for themselves. He admits that all belief systems can be used as a path to enlightenment but that the truth inside them is too obscure for the average Joe (or Joanna) to grasp. Many of his ideas seem to be close to Buddhism, but he is as equally dismissive of this as every other belief system. He really does believe that if you see the Buddha on your path you should kill him. Jed does acknowledge though, that the practice of real Zen may possibly take people a long way on the journey to enlightenment, but eventually even Buddhism needs to be ditched in order to continue the journey. He also qualifies this further by saying that there are very few people (maybe none) who actually practice real Zen. Mr. McKenna suggests that all belief systems should be open to more scrutiny and that they should be judged on the number of enlightened beings they produce – no argument from me here.
Review of Spiritual Enlightenment; the Damndest Thing
The thing that I most took from this book is the idea that there is nothing wrong with us and that the big answers just aren’t there to be found – at least not the big answers we thing are there. Life is entertainment that is best enjoyed if you don’t ask too many questions or try too hard to find out how it all works. Once you know how a movie is put together then it sort of ruins the enjoyment, and the same is true with life. Jed McKenna believes that self is an illusion and that we are all just characters in poorly acted soap opera. We can have the truth about reality or we can just continue as we are – ultimately it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.
Jed McKenna may be a huge fraud, but I don’t think that really matters so much – in fact, I don’t think it matters at all. Some readers may even decide that he is an arrogant asshole, but this matters even less. What I don’t doubt is that there is a good deal of wisdom in his words. I have my own philosophies which I use as tools to make life that bit more enjoyable. This book has reminded me that ultimately all they are is tools and not the truth.