Thursday, January 9, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory of Everything I

Scott Bradley

This series will be a review of Jed McKenna’s The Theory of Everything (his name being part of the title), or perhaps more accurately, a series of responses to it. I have yet to read more than the first chapter and already sense that my interaction with it will yield a fertile experience. This will be stimulated by the content of the book, but the real point of interest for me are my responses to it; in this sense, what Jed has to say is really only secondary.

First, a bit of what I know of Jed McKenna: nothing. It is widely assumed that this is a pseudonym and there are various theories as to who he (or she) might be. That question does not really interest me. What I find interesting is that, in having no idea who he is, all we have are his words. Are they enough, or do we also need ‘proof’ of their having been realized in the one who utters them before we can lend them any credence? The same question might be asked about Zhuangzi, of course, and I have asked it. My answer is that it does not matter because he is not a purveyor of Truth or other absolutes; nor does he lay claim to being a sage. And for my part, I require that neither he nor anyone else be one, because from the Zhuangzian point of view it is not about realizing absolutes but simply about finding a personal liberating response to our inability to do so. Jed McKenna, on the other hand, does tell us what is the Truth, and this, to my thinking, requires of us a different level of critical thinking.

Jed McKenna is also the author of the “Enlightenment Trilogy”, three books to which this current work is a kind of sequel. I read these before committing to a serious study of philosophical Daoism, and their message, if I ever quite grasped it (or if ever it was clearly expressed), now escapes me. What I do remember is their iconoclastic spirit which I appreciated then and still do. He does attempt to break through the feel-good, un-revolutionary, namby-pamby character of so much of today’s New Age ‘spirituality’.

This attitude, however, is coupled with a belief (if I have it right) in the need for pain; ‘enlightenment’ comes only through some form of “the dark night of the soul”. This is reflected in one of his tiles: Spiritual Warfare. Among my first posts here is one that takes issue with this idea that we are required to go to war against ourselves. A large part of my own chosen path is to learn how to stop doing just that. My response is thus a very subjective one in that I am typically at war against myself and would prefer a path of peace and affirmation. This is also, in part, a response to having had someone who believes that spirituality (or the quest for it) is a kind of warfare, go to war against me.

This brings me to a summary statement. I personally have no belief in the possibility of some complete ‘enlightenment’, and thus I do not pursue it. This does not mean that I do not believe it may be possible or that anyone else may not legitimately pursue it by whatever means they wish. What I do believe, however, is that that pursuit is best applied to oneself, not to others. But this, of course, is one of the negative consequences of a belief in Truth — it requires universal application.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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