Friday, January 10, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory of Everything II

Scott Bradley

Buddha realized complete, unsurpassed enlightenment; God spoke to Moses from out of a burning bush; Jesus is the Son of God; the angel Gabriel dictated the Koran to Mohammed; an angel directed Joseph Smith to the Golden Tablets which he read with the aid of magic spectacles; Jed McKenna has realized "perfect knowledge: complete and absolute knowledge about everything." What all these largely contradictory claims have in common is that they require belief. For the most part, that faith is instilled through the happenstance of nurture; most Saudis are Muslims, most Hindus were born to Hindus, etc. But there are also converts, and these typically require some form of motivating 'proof' to tip the balance toward the acceptance of an ideology otherwise foreign. These take various forms — reasoned arguments, an unexpected personal experience, personal contact with someone thought to be 'saintly', or simply an appeal to "give it a try and you will see".

Which of these does Jed McKenna offer? Well, if the first chapter of the book under review is a reliable indication (personally, I am not yet convinced he isn't pulling our legs), then he begins with a reasoned demonstration of the proof of his claims. This demonstration is so brief and simple (I would say simplistic), however, that it obviously requires fertile and well prepared ground to take root. In short, one must be predisposed to believe, if not already believing.

What one must believe is that an 'enlightenment' that yields "perfect knowledge" is possible. Does one then need to also believe that the pseudonymous Jed has realized it? Perhaps not. But in any case, the question for me is moot. I am willing to suspend judgment on both the claim that such an experience is possible and that he in particular has experienced it. I have simply decided that I am not interested in pursuing it.

By his own account, such an experience is extremely rare. It might be comparable to winning the lottery. There are those who win lotteries, but few, I think, who would presume to tell us how to do so. At best, all one could do is buy as many tickets as possible; and, as with the pursuit of enlightenment, one's success would ostensibly be a function of one's single-minded, all-in commitment. In the case of the current analogy, this would require living in abject poverty so as to buy as many tickets as possible. To my thinking, the life experience might be better served in living it.

I think we can safely say that the pursuit of enlightenment, for all practical purposes, is best understood as an end in itself, regardless of outcomes. (Unless, of course, one believes some form of salvation is required, a belief that finds no fertile ground in me.) From this perspective, it just comes down to one's personal choice, and an assessment of whether the benefits (purpose; the belief that one is ‘spiritual’) outweigh the harm (self-deceit; "dark nights of the soul").

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

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