Review: Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing

Hans van Rijswick is reviewing three books by Jed McKenna:

In his house in Iowa which doubles as an ashram, Jed McKenna assists many would-be enlightened souls in a classical teacher-student-question-answer approach to disentangle – effectively pointing out the areas where one can get stuck while trying to become "unstuck":

"So the reason you're doing all these things, I count them off on my fingers, meditating; praying; chanting; yoga; vegetarianism; attending darshan and satsang with realised beings; donating money to Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Free Tibet; reading classical spiritual literature; purifying yourself; abstaining from sex and so on. The reason for this is what?"
She stares back at me mutely as if the answer is too obvious.
"spiritual growth, I guess. I want to, uh, you know, be a better person and be able to love more deeply and, you know, raise my vibrational ... you know."
I'm hanging on her every word."Your vibrational what?"
"Uh, frequency? I want to, you know, raise my level of consciousness, to be more in touch with, you know, my inner self, my higher self. I want to open myself up to the energy that's, you know, everywhere."
"Oh, okay," I say. "Why?"
"Why what?"
Why everything you just said. Why do you want to raise your levels and be in touch and open yourself up and all that?"
"Well, you know. Spiritual, uh, enlightenment."
She looks at me as if it is a trick question, but it is not. It's the first question. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Where's this going?
If you know, you'll succeed. If you don't, you won't. That's not just pretty talk, that's the law...

A lot passes under the name of spirituality nowadays. Spirituality no doubt holds many things and its meaning is subject to free interpretation.
We talk about a (very) spiritual person, read spiritual books and we have spiritual meetings. Things become spiritual overnight merely because of the "spiritual" label being attached to it. Spiritual music, for example, is a concept that eludes me. Which music is spiritual and which music is not, how can one possibly know? What pulls one person's strings can be off putting and not perceived as spiritual by another. It seems we as the consumers have the last say in this matter, and not so much the people producing or selling it. Is it therefore safe to say that spirituality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder?

Billions are spent on spiritual paraphernalia and courses to balance energies, auras, chakras, electromagnetic fields and the likes.
As for the incense, the candles, bath salts, pyramids, crystal pendants, divining rods, tarot cards, angel cards, essential oils, Zen gardens, and rock salt lamps, to what degree are they, or the use of them, spiritual? A huge commercial fanfare awaits seekers worldwide, no shortage of Gurus and masters either, willing to enlighten those not-in-the-know for handsome fees. And what exactly are these seekers looking for? Happiness? Healing? Eternal bliss? Truth? How many are in pursuit of enlightenment? Are they driven by a desire to break free from the confines of the ego, or is theirs a romantic notion of "reaching enlightenment", swapped for the next deadline, once back in the office?

Is actual enlightenment the true goal for these seekers, the ultimate goal, the cherry on the cake, or a pleasant side-effect?

What do people understand enlightenment to be, when enlightenment itself is a concept that supposedly cannot be understood or fully grasped by the human mind. Why does failure seem to be the rule in the search of enlightenment?

Spiritual Enlightenment: the Damnedest Thing, the first book of a trilogy written under the pseudonym of Jed McKenna, is, in the light of the above, truly a breath of fresh air. McKenna explains how enlightenment and spirituality do not necessarily have much in common with each other.

Jed's business is a 100% enlightenment, no less, he's not mincing his words about that.
In his trilogy he explains what enlightenment is definitely not! and confronts people on things like the success rates of their favourite Gurus; how many of their Guru's students actually become enlightened, how many make the leap to the other side?

Enlightenment is a word much shunned, and Jed's open discussing, clarifying and eliminating the untruths around it, work refreshingly.
Attempting to explain what enlightenment is, he likens to explaining the concept of fire to a person who's never seen or felt it, nearly impossible, and finds much more can be said on what it is not.
Who – as it stands – can give plausible comments on the egoless state while still in the ego state?

"... but at the end of the day you're either a caterpillar or a butterfly, and the only way anyone will ever have even the slightest sense of what it means to be a butterfly is to become one. There are no butterfly experts among the caterpillars, despite innumerable claims to the contrary, and I encourage my students to at least consider the possibility that the world is up to its poles in caterpillars who quite successfully convince themselves and others that they are actually butterflies. Or to say it plainly, the vast majority of the world's authorities on enlightenment are themselves not enlightened.
They may be something but they're not awake.
An easy way to distinguish between caterpillars and butterflies is to remember that the enlightened don't attach importance to anything, and that enlightenment doesn't require knowledge.
It's not about love or compassion or consciousness.
It's about truth."

According to McKenna, what most people want is not enlightenment, but what he calls "human adulthood", a way of being in this world without much of the issues, a level of emotional maturity, less complicated, somewhat fulfilling but still of the world.
He feels enlightenment is overrated, and a state one gets used to as well, he does not encourage anyone to swap the "worldly fun park" for enlightenment.
If people could have a taste of what enlightenment really is like, not so many would want it anymore, in McKenna's opinion.

Unity consciousness, oneness, Divine bliss and the likes aren't anything like enlightenment, they might be fun to experience, but not that useful, as McKenna says, most of them generally don't last much longer than a good sneeze.

As the stories and dialogues continue, the reader becomes part of a process where layers and layers of superfluous ideas and limiting concepts are held up to the light and discarded one by one, to make way for more clarity, demystifying the mystical.

All three books are a good read, part exposé, sharp, witty and often difficult to put down.
Spiritual Enlightenment: the Damnedest Thing the first book of the trilogy stands on itself and can be read on its own.
Book two, Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment and book three Spiritual Warfare are equally entertaining and insightful, a must read for anyone on the path.

Hans van Rijswick, born in 1965 in Holland, has been actively exploring meditation and spirituality over the last 16 years. At present he works as a freelance massage therapist and Thai massage teacher in Hermanus. He is also a facilitator of Family Constellations Therapy.

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