Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

Friday, January 24, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything XV

Scott Bradley

"Lord I believe! Help Thou my unbelief!" — some guy in the Bible
“Thou almost convinceth me to be a Christian.” — some other guy in the Bible
"No amount of skepticism could ever be too extreme." — Jed McKenna
I have finished this book and repent of my unbelief; yet still I can't bring myself to believe. Truly McKenna seems to have gone somewhere quite remarkable and wonderful (though he calls 'enlightenment' a "booby prize"), and I would gladly go there myself were not the price of admission so high and the gate-keeper so fickle. I am, no doubt, my own gate-keeper, but there is also the empirical fact of one's bio-chemical and contextual destiny. For this reason, Zhuangzi's unenlightened 'Confucius' is described as "punished by Heaven" and is made to say that he is fated to live "within the lines" however much he would prefer the freedom of the alternative. To say this is available to all is pure religious idealism — there is absolutely nothing apart from fabricated, feel-good, speculative metaphysics that gives proof to this sentiment. The Bodhisattva's are spiritual wankers. (How am I doing, Jed?)

This being the case, we might want to consider a path to freedom that allows things to be as they actually appear to be, one that allows us to be free in our bondage and delusions; one in which there are no conditions to meet and no one different to become.

McKenna concludes with "Ten Suggestions", all but one of which (within my paradigm) are constructive means to the deconstruction that is self-cultivation. My responses are in parentheses.
  • THINK (Just know where to stop, and what to do when you do.)
  • BELIEVE NOTHING (Not even "Consciousness is All".)
  • DOUBT EVERYTHING (And never stop.)
  • FLY TO FEAR (To, not from. Fear reveals our delusions. Fear of loss of self, life, meaning.)
  • GET REAL (Occupy yourself. Know and affirm yourself. Be authentically delusional.)
  • HATE THY EGO (Only ego hates ego. War brings no peace. Ego is an evolutionary development, not a fall from grace; it is natural, which doesn’t mean we can’t further evolve.)
  • LOVE THY DEATH (Yes, as much as you love thy life.)
  • KILL ALL BUDDHAS (Starting with Jed.)
  • BURN IT ALL (Follow only those paradigms that are ever-self-negating, which Jed's isn't.)
  • FURTHER (Let the process be an end in itself; let “Done” take care of itself.)

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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything XIV

Scott Bradley

I (possibly) conclude this series with a comparison between McKenna's Only Way and the Simple Way. The latter is my own concoction, completely unrealized, and thus merely a working-paradigm aware of itself as such. In this sense, it cannot be compared on the same level with McKenna's Truth. It does, however, allow him to have his Truth and for that Truth to even be true. This is because it affirms the entirety of human expression and apparent reality, the 'true' as well as the 'false', maya as well as nirvana.

The Simple Way is simply the experiential realization that All Is Well. Realizing this, we are in a position to make things better. When our "not-One is also One" we are able to walk Zhuangzi's Two Roads without contradiction. Thus, one abides in self-affirmation even while at work with a self-cultivation that ends in a sense of a no-self self (no-self knowing itself as such).

The thing about McKenna's way is that it requires a great deal of mental anguish; 'enlightenment' has to be fought for; it's a bloody affair. The Simple Way laughs and asks, "What's the problem?" No one needs to be 'saved'; why then all this self-torture to be so? No Truth is required for the heart to be thankful in whatever delusional paradigm it finds itself. Whatever our delusion, the Truth is true of us now, not as a Something Other to be realized, but as the realization that it is true of us now in our delusions; our delusions are as much the Truth as is 'enlightenment'. There really is nothing we need do or become. All Is Well. Period. This realization is the Simple Way's 'enlightenment'. And thus it is a way of smiles and laughter and play. Yes! Thankfulness arises!

McKenna's way is in this sense just more of the same, a treadmill; and unfortunately for those who tread it, more likely than not, a futile one. No matter; the Simple Way applies just as well here as anywhere else: Right now, just as you are, without need to change or become something else, with no need to arrive anywhere, done or undone, you are perfect by virtue of your being perfectly who you are (and that is not some idealistic, ‘true’ you, but the actual you). Messed up? So what? “Done”? So what? We are not in school; no grades are given; there's no pass/fail; there's no 'need for improvement'. The trauma of potty-training is behind us.

Zhuangzi seems to live in a different Universe than does McKenna: "The Radiance of Drift and Doubt is the sage's only map." At root, McKenna is all-in with Yang; Zhuangzi is all-in with Yin. Both call for surrender and entrusting of oneself, but for McKenna it must be to Truth which lies on the other side of Doubt, not-knowing and Mystery, and its discovery requires a long path of pain. For Zhuangzi, the Illumination of the Obvious reveals, not Truth, but Mystery, and to allow that sense of Mystery to transform our way of being in the world is to entrust ourselves utterly to it, in this instant, just as we are. Whether there is Truth or no, it is not required that we know it.

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything XIII

Scott Bradley

I think this series is winding down despite my not having finished this book (embedded in the title above). I don't usually make 'recommendations' — I have no realized authority for doing so — but I can recommend this book for its entertainment value, if for nothing else. McKenna gives the whole enlightenment game a novel and often irreverent spin, something quite refreshing in this era of New Age spiritual syrup. His iconoclasm is both mind-opening and good for many a chuckle.

Still, though it seems very likely that he is where he says he is, his presentation leaves me (at least) flat-footed and uninspired. There are others who have had his experience, and it is my guess that they might give the whole thing a very different spin than he, and among these, perhaps there is one who does not feel obliged to tell me where my journey must lead.

McKenna has jumped in and shouts, “Come on in, the water's warm”, but he has already pissed in the pool. BYOFT, he tells us. My guess is that this means Be Your Own Fucking Teacher. This, his exhortation to "dig", and his personal testimony are his true contributions to our assisted journeys; all the rationalistic apologetics about where that journey must end are a hindrance, not a help. If he knew when to shut up, we would be better assisted to BYOFT.

McKenna invokes Socrates; his method, however, is not Socratic, but Platonic. Socrates saw himself as a spiritual midwife, and through the irony of not-knowing hoped to instill the spirit of inquiry in his companions; to his thinking this was the best and only thing he could do. Plato, on the other hand, provided the "Answer". No truly adventurous journey 'knows' where it is supposed to lead, nor can authentic inquiry begin with a priori conclusions.

I am reminded of the Zen mondo in which a bunch of masters meet at an inn. Among them is one thought to be the 'most' realized (?), but he remains in his room and has nothing to say. Another complains that he could at least, "Say one word." Hearing of this, the most-realized says, "That would be one word too many." But the cook, overhearing this, remarks, "Now there are two rat turds in the rice!" Or is it three?

Jed McKenna might have "perfect knowledge", but this does not mean that his presentation of that experience is also perfect. For my part, there are far too many rat turds in this bowl of rice for me to accept and munch; to do so would be to perform the inquiry-deadening and essentially religious act of belief.

As does Zen, McKenna exhorts us to kill our buddhas. Ironically, his is the first head we need to put on the block.

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything XII

Scott Bradley

"I do what I do because I exist in a co-operative partnership with some higher thingamajiggy to which I am completely surrendered and entrusted." Thus does McKenna explain both his writing and, more generally, his version of following the flow. Sound familiar? Well, it does to me, since I frequently say basically the same thing, though admittedly only as a way of being to which I aspire. What is different, however, is the "co-operative partnership" bit. I mentioned previously that, as I recalled from his previous books, he sees himself as somehow directed. Though I am in no position to disagree with this assertion, it does make me wonder. According to McKenna, nothing is real and Brahman "has no skin in the game"; how then can we, or why would we, be directed? There's some purposiveness lurking in here somewhere. Is there no escape? Does that without content have purpose? Isn't purpose content?

Lest we think this is merely semantics, that this directedness is simply a realization that what 'is' is right and thus what happens directs us, McKenna's dog, through a "look", is a vehicle by which the "higher thingamajiggy" communicates its intentions (?) to him. For bibliologists this should come as no surprise since God himself similarly spoke to one of his prophets through an ass. But then, McKenna has already said, "Adios, Dios".

When I say that I am in no position to argue, I mean it. It's just more than I, personally, can believe. McKenna says that every belief, without exception, is false. Agreed. But he also seems to think that spinning this rationalistic apologetic for his experience should somehow induce us to "try it". On what basis? On the basis that we believe it to be true, or true enough, or possibly true?

Admittedly, I have ‘faith’-issues that border on the entirely unjustifiable tendency toward disbelief. One thing I find very difficult to believe, for instance, is that I am I AM, and not believing it, I don’t pursue it. Thank God (I AM that I AM) it doesn't matter!

There is the directedness of life itself, of course. Life is living. Life would have us live. We require no reason to do so. Surrendering into and entrusting oneself to life is accepting this direction. But then life does not have some special mission for any one living thing that would inspire it to purposely speak through dogs and asses; at least not in my experience.

Though it may be heretical in the context of McKenna’s truth-realization, I would suggest that surrender into the life experience itself is no different than surrendering into the thingamajiggy — surely these are not two? The only difference is that life is what I most immediately ‘am’; there’s no need to for anything else; and it need not be capitalized.

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

Monday, January 20, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything XI

Scott Bradley

McKenna uses a couple of cute kids as a foil to make some of his points. (I am assuming his story-line to be fictional, though it need not be, nor does it matter one way or the other.) This pair tell him they have a Zen "coin" for him: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" "I don't know," he replies; "What is the sound of two hands clapping?"

His point is a poignant one: "We don't have to be so clever about our questions that we leave our assumptions unmolested. . . . Get to the bottom of anything and you'll get to the bottom of everything. Just pick a spot and start digging." (p. 31) If we think we need koans in order to challenge our everyday interpretive reality, then we are already making an erroneous assumption. There is nothing that it is not a koan.

The "digging" is the growing awareness of our erroneous assumptions vis-a-vis our interface with experienced 'reality'. McKenna tells us that when we reach the bottom we will meet Truth and will be "Done". Benighted soul that I am, I think we will meet Mystery. (Can we meet Mystery and be Done? Probably not.) Need we contend? Not really. If what we are about is a genuine inquiry, then how could we arrive at different destinations — unless, of course, our inquiry is really just a biased justification of our a priori beliefs?

Though McKenna dismisses Mystery as merely a perpetuation of mental delusion, there is a sense in which it can overlap with his Truth; it, too, requires a crossing over, a movement from bondage to one narrow view to one that sees the narrowness of every view — only it suggests no ‘true view’.

Mystery most certainly can be merely a product of mental delusion (just like 'enlightenment'); everything is delusional — until it's not. As long as we practice not-knowing because in all our trying to know we cannot, it is just a function of "the understanding consciousness". The experience of Mystery is not a conclusion.

I speak only theoretically, of course. McKenna claims to speak from Experience. Things are clearly weighted in his favor. However you speak — or seek — or don’t seek — is your own business.

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

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything X

Scott Bradley

At the least, Jed McKenna is a great "spiritual entertainer". At the most, he is an 'enlightened' teacher who assists others to enlightenment, something that he claims to have done, if I remember correctly (and this may be the "credentials" to which he lays claim, hollow though any such claim must ultimately be in that neither his nor any other personal reality can be known, which leads us back to the faith issue).

The following posts will share some of his more 'entertaining' (and perhaps practical) suggestions, but first, a re-iteration of my working paradigm: My guess is that there is an awareness possible for human beings which is described as 'enlightenment'. I don't care much for the term (and neither does McKenna) since, for me, it seems to connote some kind of purposeful Reality, as if to make sense of existence, to tell us that we are, after all, special and 'saved'. It is, in the end, a religiously interpretive ‘answer’. Because the experience is not "our birth-right", there is no reason to believe that it is available for all.

I suspect that it is both accidental and natural, in the sense that a particular abnormal brain chemistry or structural anomaly is required. This is not intended to be dismissive of the experience; we would be fortunate to be so endowed. What it does do, however, is suggest that if one chooses to pursue it, it might be best to do so with a view to enjoying the process rather than striving overmuch for the end. The problem, however, is that it may very well be that whatever anomaly it is that makes the experience possible is only triggered by some kind of 'spiritual' anguish. Given this, and the highly unlikely chances of success, I, at any rate, choose not to pursue it.

It is understood, of course, that McKenna and other 'enlightened' ones would likely have a good laugh at my benighted analysis, but that's okay with me since we can all agree, I think, that it really doesn't matter all that much in any case.

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything IX

Scott Bradley

Jed McKenna's paradigm seems like a genuinely cool way to be in the world. I like it a lot. Understanding that all is consciousness, and thus that all that appears to otherwise exist is but a product of consciousness, allows for great freedom in the mix of apparent existence. He does not see it as a mere paradigm, of course, but as his living reality; he, ostensibly lives on the other side of the river. And admittedly, the paradigm itself does not liberate; one must become it.

I remain an inveterate approximator, however; it is enough, and only feasible, to make use of his offering as only a paradigm. This eliminates the need to have faith in an idea. Thus, this idea of understanding the world as merely conscious projection — that we do, in fact, make our own "reality" — can be taken as a way of being in the world without designating it as The Truth. This is, in essence, the Zhuangzian way; having the freedom to make use of the many tools available to us without clinging to any one as if to Truth.

In the end, there is much in the practical implications of this paradigm that overlap with those of philosophical Daoism. (Though again, we understand that for McKenna it's an all or nothing proposition, just as for a Christian it would not be enough to say that Jesus was a great teacher to add to our pantheon of teachers — faith in a proposition is required before we can meet God/Brahman.)

McKenna's 'method', for instance, (as best I can understand it) is to simply peel away the plethora of our erroneous assumptions until nothing is left but the bare-bones truth. This is basically what Zhuangzi was about with his "Illumination of the Obvious". Self-cultivation within the philosophical Daoist 'tradition' (there appears to have never really been much of one — alas, we are bastards without a lineage — what kind of religion could we possibly have?) is similarly a process of facing the facts of our existence. Chief among these, of course, is an understanding that Truth is not accessible to us — Zhuangzi was not about looking for or committing to Absolutes.

The whole investigation of our motivations is similarly a peeling away of those things that bind us.

There is also the idea of following the flow to which McKenna alludes, though, as I remember from his other books, this is given a purposeful, directed spin, given that he knows everything and is one with it. Perhaps he will further elucidate this further on. (For I am reviewing a book of which I have not yet read even half. So what? In a world of bullshit, is not every shovel-full the same?)

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

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything VIII

Scott Bradley

I have yet to speak much to the content of McKenna's "enlightenment", an oxymoron if I ever heard one. But it is certainly legitimate and worthwhile to attempt to articulate what cannot be articulated as long as one remembers to also forget it. And McKenna's paradigm for "the enlightened perspective" allows for this compromise, as we shall see.

He has a great little analogy that introduces this perspective. Picture a blank, white piece of paper. Now put a tiny dot in its middle. Label the white "the Universe", and the dot "consciousness". This is the "Universe is king" (U-Rex) paradigm. My consciousness, your consciousness, is a tiny speck in the whole. Now simply reverse the labels. This is the "Consciousness is king" (C-Rex) paradigm. The Universe exists within Consciousness (of which, apparently, every consciousness is an expression). In the end, nothing actually exists except Consciousness. Experiencing this, awareness of this, is enlightenment.

I like it. Only unless one somehow accidently stumbles upon it, as some claim to have done, then it requires that one believe and pursue it before the fact; one must wholly commit oneself a priori to a 'truth' as an act of faith. One must depend upon a propositional truth. And this, to my thinking, is the essentially religious act, and utterly incommensurate with the ostensible purpose, a means in direct contradiction to the end.

The C-Rex paradigm is further understood as "Atmanic Consciousness"/"Brahmanic Consciousness". These are really One, though we don't know how or why. Atmanic Consciousness is the I AM, the individuated experience of participation in universal self-awareness. This is why we can write books about it; attempt to articulate the in articulable; 'exist' though we do not. The Brahmanic Consciousness admits to no distinctions whatsoever, is the Ultimate Truth (though when asked is non-committal).

This is all standard stuff in the higher reaches of Brahmanism, I think. (I admit to never being able to sustain any in-depth study of it.) The best part of this and similar philosophies is that (yawn) they tell us that everything's okay. Truth has no hell. No salvation is required. Nothing need be done. Somehow the requirement of becoming a wild-eyed forest yogi seems less necessary. Maya will resolve to nirvana; what’s to sweat? (Buddhism and Hinduism seem to think there's still lots of work to be done, however. In the case of the former, all will not be well until "all beings" are saved. And Hinduism has its need for a near endless program of self-improvement which helps facilitate the perpetuation of the feudalism of a caste society. No good idea will last for long, it would seem, and quickly becomes oppressive, which is why even McKenna's program of self-diminution can so easily become a tool to other-diminution. Truth is a terrible thing in the hands of the un-truth-realized.)

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

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything VII

Scott Bradley

Since it would be equivalent to winning the lottery to experience what McKenna claims to have experienced, even were I to go all in and seek it with my entire being, the true value of his sharing, it seems to me, consists in his near complete negation of my own paradigm. If nothing else, he certainly contradicts all that I hold dear; how could that not be a good thing? His 'method' for 'truth-realization' would seem to be one of peeling away the layers of our self-deception; we do not so much prove the truth, as expose it. Take away the untruth and truth is there, he tells us. Though I can't buy into the truth bit, I certainly agree with the method.

One very distinct difference between the Zhuangzian paradigm and McKenna's can be seen in the dreaming motif. For Zhuangzi, one awakens to the dreaming, but not from it; the 'truth' is that we are always dreaming and knowing this frees us from depending on any one particular dream. This is seen in the story of the "Autumn Flood" where the river god meets the ocean god and discovers how small his dream is, yet the ocean god who shows him similarly realizes how small is his dream. Freedom comes in knowing that whatever paradigm we follow it is always going to be a dream. Thus the "well-frog" is 'enlightened' within the confines of his well — climbing out and jumping into the ocean would make no difference at all, except to the dream. McKenna, on the other hand, tells us that we can awaken from all dreaming and know the Truth. Maybe he has, but few are able to do so.

Thus, for McKenna, there remains no mystery at all; 'mystery' is a mental construct, is itself a form of self-deception. I concur, but understand absolutely everything as Mystery, because as a human being who necessarily dreams and can only dream, this is the only interface I can experience. Certainly, for Mystery there is no Mystery.

What's so 'bad' about dreaming? I don’t know. (Isn’t maya nirvana? Doesn’t it all come out in the wash, in any case?) But some dreams are happier than others. (I take temporal happiness as my ultimate value, dreamer that I am.) There is value then in awakening to the dreaming in that we are thereby able to choose a happier dream. Some might find belief in McKenna's paradigm the one that best suits their needs. Enjoy. Who knows, maybe you'll win the lottery. (Or maybe you’ll only make yourself — and others — miserable.)

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything VI

Scott Bradley

Frequently and emphatically McKenna exhorts us not to quibble overmuch with his words since words are incapable of expressing without contradiction what he wishes to say. I sympathize completely (though I have no similar experience that requires expressing). And yet, it seems as if I have done nothing but quibble throughout this series. I would hope that McKenna could likewise sympathize with me, since he so eloquently proclaims how every perspective (with the exception of his own) is bullshit. In other words, following his example requires a considerable amount of quibbling. Nevertheless, I think a lot of that quibbling now lies behind me and I can (almost) begin to address the meat of his way (which he would likely say is not 'his way', but the Truth, and thus 'the only way'.)

In a previous post I said that McKenna's claims require as much faith as any other religious or spiritual claim. He emphatically disagrees. In any case, he considers his experience and its expression as neither 'religious' nor 'spiritual', something that I can fully accept and appreciate as descriptive of his experience (to the extent that it does not rely on reasoned proofs). The problem is that his experience is not our experience; we have not made the journey across the river and thus his truth-assertions necessarily require of us some degree of belief. We must believe that such an experience is possible, that he has experienced it and is thus the proof of it, that it is available to us all, and that its pursuit is worth the effort. I am more than willing to affirm the possibility of the first two, but have serious doubts about the second two.

The first two require no commitment; a belief in the second two calls upon us to make one. It is a common theme that we can all be 'enlightened'. This is sometimes described as our birth-right or our true purpose. This, to my thinking, is thoroughly religious bullshit, but no matter. Rather, I would simply point out that the evidence indicates otherwise; of seven billion people, only a handful claim to have experienced it. But the others just don't want it badly enough, is the usual rejoinder. Exactly, I reply; and this is because they are incapable of wanting it badly enough, and thus it is not available to them. To say that it is, is pure idealistic bullshit. It is not as things actually stand. (I would also suggest that rather than not wanting it badly enough, which implies the experience is somehow merited, it is more likely that what we billions lack is the ‘abnormal’ brain chemistry that facilitates this experience.)

Given that it is actually available to so few, and requires a great deal of self-flagellation whether realized or not, I for my part choose to remain in my "bovine stupor". Thanks for the invite, in any case. I will make the most of life on this side of the river, dream my dream of choice, and entrust myself to the rightness of what is. All is well. In this, I think we can agree.

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

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything V

Scott Bradley

In this post we will consider the second necessary premise in McKenna's syllogism: Truth is all; Consciousness exists; therefore, Consciousness is all.

Truth is all; therefore, what exists is necessarily the Truth; I experience conscious existence, I therefore exist, thus consciousness is Truth which is all.

Once again, I am left nonplussed in the face of such a sweeping assumption that the belief that I exist proves that I do. It is not that I don't believe I exist, since I experience existing I am happy to believe that I do. But like everything else, I have no idea of what that really entails. It also seems "self-evident" that there was a time when I did not exist and will be a time when I no longer exist.

McKenna refers us to Descartes' (in-)famous cogito: "I think; therefore I am." This is clearly a bit of specious reasoning in that it assumes what it proves; the "I" in the premise is none other than the "I" that it proves. We might do better to say that thinking appears to be happening, therefore thinking appears to be happening. But ignoring that, it is still an enormous leap to put this in all-caps, as does McKenna, and declare that this experience is the I AM, or as it is meant to imply, consciousness is all.

Again, on the experience side of all this I find no room to judge one way or the other; if someone believes they have experienced their self as Universal Self, or their 'I am' as the universal I AM, I am in no position to argue. More power to them. Only I would suggest that they demean that experience in trying to prove its validity and lay down an unnecessary obstacle in the path of others who wish to discover it in doing so.

This is not part of the path I walk, for reasons often stated, and I would hope that those who do walk that path are able to agree with me that none of it really matters all that much in any case. If Truth is all, well then, what's to be lost?

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

Monday, January 13, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything IV

Scott Bradley

McKenna offers us this syllogism: Truth is all; Consciousness exists; therefore, Consciousness is all. For the conclusion to be 'true' the two premises must be 'true', and McKenna makes some attempt to demonstrate their truthfulness, but in the end they are really simply a priori, assumed to be true, or as I would put it, to be taken on faith. He might say, self-evidently true.

Before continuing, it needs to be said that I have neither the formal education nor the innate intelligence to deal with these matters well; I can only address them within my limited capabilities.

McKenna's proof for the premise that "Truth is all" seems be some form of the ontological argument for the existence of God. Anselm (1078) is thought to be the originator of this creative piece of reasoning, while Descartes and others made their own modified use of it. Anselm began by defining God as "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". Since this idea exists in the mind, it must be true, for if it were not true, then there would be something greater than the idea. Where's Woody Allen when you need him? There are, of course, many cogent counter-arguments to this "proof" made by esteemed philosophers but I needn't wade into those here.

For "Truth" we can substitute God, or the Ultimate, or any number of other terms intended to designate the Absolute. "Truth", to my thinking, is an unfortunate choice (though by far the most favored) since it would seem to suggest that whatever the Absolute is, it is understandable and articulable. McKenna, I would guess, would say that it can, in truth, only be experienced, but having brought it back across the river, he now tells it what it is.

In reading this argument for the premise that "Truth is all" I experience a bit of vertigo — I can't really put my finger on it, but something seems all wrong. I just seems so narrow and presumptuous —so human. Zhuangzi's simple response to such presumption suffices for me: "However, there is a problem here. For our understanding can be in the right only by virtue of a relation of dependence on something, and what it depends on is peculiarly unfixed." (6:5; Ziporyn) There is no sure foundation upon which anything can be said to rest, which is why he suggests we depend on nothing at all.

Jed McKenna tells us he has experienced "perfect knowledge" and I am in no position to dispute that; only I would say that if his intention is to help facilitate a similar experience in me (which I presume he is, for otherwise he is simply trying to separate me from my cash) then he would do better to not ask me to proceed on the basis of reason.

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

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything III

Scott Bradley

I was very much looking forward to doing this series, but I now find myself experiencing a bit of 'spiritual' nausea; I find it so alien that it's hard to get traction without descending into a solely negative critique, and I really am not interested in trying to "prove" McKenna's absolutism, or anyone else's, 'wrong'. Why bother? Still, there must be a way to profitably engage with it.

I have said that McKenna begins his book with a thoroughly rationalistic demonstration of his "theory of everything", that is, the final word of what is Truth. To his credit, he also tells us that whereas it must be only theory to us unenlightened ones, for him it is absolute, un-doubtable Truth — he is "truth realized". I wonder, however, if what is realized across the river is not best left across the river. In other words, what is realized beyond words is best left there; attempting to bring it back across the river so as to articulate it is to betray it.

I have also raised the question of how we might judge the truth of his claims since he is apparently trying to prove them to us. So far, he has offered three bases for doing so: his rational argument, his "credentials" as demonstrated in his previous books, and our own experience. In this post, I will begin to consider the first of these; the second is, to my thinking, ridiculous, since at best he has only demonstrated that he is a good 'spiritual entertainer'; and the third, well, we'll see.

McKenna begins with a quote from the arch-rationalist Descartes, to the effect that if we will hear him out, we will find his arguments irrefutable. Arguments for what? The existence of God. For all practical purposes they are on the same page in this regard.

Next, we have a slice of a Socratic dialogue. This introduces McKenna's dialogue with a friend, ostensibly consistent in form with that of Socrates, wherein he proves that "Consciousness is all". This is decidedly not Socratic, however, but thoroughly Platonic (Plato being the student of Socrates who wrote the dialogues which in the end became a vehicle for his own idealistic philosophy) and Aristotelian (Aristotle being the student of Plato and the father of western logic). Socrates was ever-ironic — he never came to a realization of truth, but rather saw its pursuit as an end in itself — an ever-self-negating inquiry was his method, much like Zhuangzi.

The dialogue ends with an Aristotelian syllogism: Truth is all; Consciousness exists; therefore, Consciousness is all. The classical example of a syllogism in which two premises demonstrate a third is: "All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal." I prefer Woody Allen's conclusion: "All men are Socrates"; for, however specious, it puts a finger on the deeper fallacy that reason can actually explain reality, however useful a tool it might otherwise be. For this syllogism to work, the two premises must be demonstrated as 'true', and I will address his, to my thinking ridiculously simplistic, attempts to do so in the post to follow.

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

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.

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.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

From Darkness to Darkness

Scott Bradley

The fantastic story about the vast fish that becomes a vast bird and flies from the Northern Darkness to the Southern Darkness which opens the Zhuangzi has never much appealed to me. This may be in part due to a desire that things be "true"; I fear that Zhuangzi believed in such mythology. However, when one considers that he probably made it up out of whole cloth and that when he cites it as contained within an "authoritative" book, the Universal Joke Book of Tall Tales, which he also made up, things start to take a different turn. The Zhuangzi, it turns out, is that joke book.

But all this is largely conjectural, one possible interpretation among many others equally as possible. Kuang-Ming Wu (The Butterfly as Companion) brings a basket of such possibilities to our attention and thereby demonstrates how we might enter into the joke and come away with our own laughter; if to laugh is the point, and in some sense the only point in life is to laugh, then what difference would the supposed truth of the story or the true interpretation make? "The truth of the world accommodates many lies to be understood," writes Wu. "This is the enrichment of life, that truth requires lies."

Wu suggests that it has the attributes of a creation myth with that special Chinese sensibility for the interplay of Yin and Yang. In the Northern Darkness (Yin; dao that cannot be dao-ed) lives a vast fish whose name means "roe', the mere suggestion of a fish — a fish that “has not yet begun to be”. The fish transforms into a vast bird who is compelled to fly a vast distance, using the "six-month breath of Heaven" (the monsoon winds), to the Southern Darkness, the Heavenly Pool, the embodiment of Nature, Yang; the dao that can be dao-ed. The Yin-Fish in the Yin-Darkness transforms into a Yang-Bird that seeks the Yang-Darkness; will it there re-transform into a Yin-Fish?

The story begins and ends in Darkness, from Mystery to mystery, echoing the first chapter of the Laozi; nothing is explained. Always and ever all is Mystery. We emerge from Darkness, we return to Darkness. Are we not also that Darkness? "Who can see his head as Nothingness, his spine as life, and his ass as death? He will be my friend!" Who can be not only her individuated life experience, but also the encompassing Mystery? She shall be the friend of the cosmos. She will be at home wherever she is — or is not.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Living Death II

Scott Bradley

With reference to the story in which Zhuangzi is lectured by a skull in a dream (Chap. 18), Wu (The Butterfly as Companion) quotes from the Inner Chapters: "Who knows that life and death, existence and annihilation, are a single body? I will be his friend!" (Chap. 6; Watson) Wu takes away from the story of the skull that it is in fact his skull, that his own death is ever with him in life, and that the joy of the skull in death should be a part of his joy in living. Indeed, it is a prerequisite to joy in living. In other words, living death is allowing that "death and life, existence and annihilation" should in fact truly be "a single body".

It is not simply that we are exhorted to accept death as a future inevitability. If life and death are a single body, then they are a single body now, in life. Our conscious being in the world is to be extensive enough, vast enough, as to include not only our living, but also our death. Now that's vastness.

This is not an easy thing to understand, let alone do. Even were I able to explain it well here, it would not enable you or me to actually experience it. That takes work. Engagement is necessary.

Living life and death now as a single body certainly brings a new perspective to our living. I have previously written that in a sense the theoretical sage (or enlightened one, if you prefer) exists as the living dead. If death is the extinction of the self (which to affirm would be an "unorthodox" view, but which I take as the most reasonable and informative "what if?"), then the sage who has "lost his self" (egoic self-identity) is one who has already realized death in life. And therein is her freedom. Living life and death now as a single body is therefore both an expression of this freedom and a means whereby to experience it. Expanding one's life to include one's death, not simply as a future possibility but as a present reality, frees life to enjoy both life and death. You are already dead — and death's skull (your skull) laughs and declares it all a joy.

Wu's meditation is both bold and subtle. Consider this: "The dry empty skull has three reasons for its joy that can never be taken away: It is a skull, it is dry, and it is empty." To this my heart burns incense. It is what it is; what could be better? Wu quotes that phrase (in fresh words) that so impresses me: "the under-heaven is safely tucked away in the under-heaven". When life and death are a single body, what is there that can be lost?

Speaking to Zhuangzi in the dream, this roadside skull declares itself to be a participant in the totality of heaven and earth, one with the passing seasons. "When you are dead," said the skull, "there’s no ruler above you and no subjects below you." (Mair) Wu replies, "All this is mine as long as I live with my own skull. To live with my own skull amounts to living with the heaven and the earth, season after season."

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

Living Death I

Scott Bradley

As I have already related, Kuang-Ming Wu (The Butterfly as Companion) makes the case that if one wants truly to allow the Zhuangzi to speak it is necessary to engage in the process of deconstructing the 'common sense' boundaries of which it is itself an example. Zhuangzi chose a medium of expression, "odd and outlandish terms, in brash and bombastic language, in unbound and unbordered phrases . . . a string of queer beads and baubles . . ." (Chap. 33), the intent of which is to free the reader from rationalistic and pedantic bondage so as to discover new ways of being in the world. Like Zhuangzi, Wu tells us that "the understanding consciousness", in this instance expressed in scholarship, is perfected when it does all that it can do and then concedes the field to other, more intuitive ways of understanding. He then provides examples of how we might do this by way of a series of "meditations".

One such meditation is on the story in Chapter 18 where Zhuangzi finds a skull beside the road and questions it as to the reason for its death. Receiving no reply, he uses it as a pillow for the night. The skull then appears to him in a dream and tells him he talks like a "sophist" and tells him how joyful his present condition is. Incredulous, Zhuangzi asks whether, were it possible, he would not prefer to be flesh and blood and restored to his family once again. The skull replies that it would be ridiculous to give up his present joy to return to that vale of tears.

In all my referencing of the Zhuangzi I have never mentioned this story. Why? Because it is obviously one composed by a later follower of Zhuangzi who, in my opinion, introduces an unorthodox, pie-in-the-sky, conception of death. Zhuangzi does himself mention the possibility of joy after death, but only as a "what if?", and only to show the folly of fearing death.

Wu chose this story for those same reasons — scholarship would dismiss it. Scholarship would not allow it to speak, so Wu does. What he in effect does is demonstrate that this self-imposed "orthodoxy" is precisely the kind of rationalistic bondage that Zhuangzi wished to shatter.

So what experience does his meditation turn up? He experiences how this skull is his skull; it is his death; and he carries it around with him always. “[T]his story is for us who are alive and yet carry death as we live on.” “Enjoy our living death — this is the story’s message.” “Chuang Tzu’s living in death makes life enjoyable; we live as if we were already dead.”

It will take the following post to explore this more fully, but I will set the stage here by asking if this idea of “living death” strikes you as morbid. If it does, then this message is for you.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Understanding As Creation

Scott Bradley

In his meditative Prologue Kuang-Ming Wu (The Butterfly as Companion) makes a case for his book as a companion to the Zhuangzi (and the reader) as distinct from a commentary on the Zhuangzi. Part of his argument makes the point that scholarship, though essential to providing the "rough parameters" for our understanding of the work, cannot bring us to a genuine understanding of the work; what is required is our involvement. "Chuang Tzu," he writes, "evokes our reflection by ambiguities and elusive metaphors. He does not say what he means; he does not even point to what he means, which is less important than what is aroused. The difficulty, and so the fascination, of Chuang Tzu is that he peculiarly requires our involvement."

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in reflecting on the Zhuangzi is that we are not meant to "understand" it, but to experience it in our own unique way. Though there is much to understand, principles to grasp, in the end Zhuangzi intends that we should experience the consequence of that shattering of so-called "common sense" which he experienced and which he was inviting his contemporaries to experience. Beyond that, the work is relatively content-free. It is intended, not as a catalogue of principles or 'truths', but as an occasion to experience a world without them. If ever there was a work in which "the message is in the medium", this is it.

Wu quotes from the 33rd chapter of the Zhuangzi where this very point is made: "He [Chuang Tzu] expounded them [his views] in odd and outlandish terms, in brash and bombastic language, in unbounded and unbordered phrases, . . . not looking at things from one angle only. He believed that the world was drowned in turbidness and that it was impossible to address it in sober language. . . . Though his writings are a string of queer beads and baubles, . . . they are crammed with truths that never come to an end." (Watson; with Wu's modifications) These "truths" never come to an end because they must be re-born uniquely in each one who would engage in the process.

As is frequently the case, the Zen koan comes to mind in this context. "Not paradox!" "Not hidden principle!" "Not secret meaning!" No, just an opportunity to experience life in a different way.

The Zhuangzi is not a 'sacred' book; it is just a book. If we use it as a tool for breaking out of our ingrained patterns of being in the world, it is only because we choose it from among any number of other possible tools. For those who are able, a tree would do — or anything else. Wu provides two adages which we would do well to remember: "He who reads 'Confucius' misses Confucius" and "Better be without the book than giving it full credence!" (Mencius 73B)

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Position of No Position

Scott Bradley

I have changed horses in mid-stream — I could not resist beginning my newly acquired The Butterfly as Companion: Meditations on the First Three Chapters of the CHUANG TZU by Kuang-Ming Wu. This is going to be a delight if for no other reason than it is a genuine interaction with the Zhuangzi on a personal and spiritual level as well as a scholarly one. I have often made this point: that without personal engagement in this philosophy (or any similar philosophy), one cannot truly begin to understand or elucidate it. It requires psychological commitment if for no other reason than that it is about subjective experience, not objective knowledge.

In his Prologue, Wu tells us that Zhuangzi had "a position of no position". That this involves a self-contradiction does not faze him in the least since he recognizes that "life is larger than logic". With reference to Confucius, who held to a definite position, Zhuangzi advocates no position. Every position is relative to one's perspective; no one perspective is definitively right. With reference to Hui Shih, who denied every position, Zhuangzi advocates a position, that which affirms every position. The relative nature of our perspectives does not negate them; they remain genuine human expressions.

Consequentially, Zhuangzi was able to make full use of the position of Confucius and the no-position of Hui Shih. He was like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, enjoying them all. "By opposing opposition" (that is, by introducing a not-not-A into the A as opposed to not-A equation), Wu writes, "Chuang Tzu has two non-positions. First, Chuang Tzu can tarry like a butterfly wherever he happens to be and then flutter away, leaving no trace behind. Chuang Tzu enjoys roaming nonchalance, at home everywhere without claiming anywhere his home."

Secondly, when, like a butterfly, he tarries at any one flower, he is able to engage with that flower in the play of life. His negation of Hui Shih's negation, as when for instance they debated the possibility of knowing the happiness of fish while watching them from the bridge over the Hao, was not a negation of Hui Shih himself; rather it was an affirming engagement.

Confucius knew truth; Hui Shih denied all truth; Zhuangzi embraced life as truth. His was an affirmation of life that necessarily affirmed the life expressions of both truth-knowers and truth-deniers.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.