Awakening. Liberation. Enlightenment. Sound great, don't they? It's only as time has passed that I have begun to wonder. Awakening from what? Liberation into what? Where? This is not just a head trip, but a necessary aspect of that question: what on earth am I doing, where am I heading, with this precious and viciously short life of mine?
Enlightenment and the rest. These words, taken freestanding, prove to be gloriously imprecise. There is all manner of enlightenment, liberation, awakening. All sorts of people in their own unique dark holes and spaces have emerged in their own unique ways into all kind of awakenings. This is not to relativise enlightenment, but more to ask what the hell anybody is talking about when they utter these magical words. My former Buddhist teacher used to go on about defining the meaning of words before you start throwing them around; 'rectification of terms' is an expression I recall from bygone days. The import of his admonition was largely lost on me some thirty years ago - I found it rather tedious -, and I confess to being guilty of bandying words around loosely on Pale G. V. myself from time to time. I belatedly concede that my teacher had a point.
Take Wayne Liquorman. He is Enlightened. We know this because he says so on avaita.org. He does, however, still experience feelings such as anger and sadness; he tells us this as well. They are apparently not incompatible with Enlightenment.The difference between him and an unenlightened person, he goes on to elucidate, is that he does not 'own' the feelings. They don't get referred back to a phantom sense of self, of 'me'. Instead they just come and go. The illusion that most people live under he refers to as False Sense of Personal Authorship. In Wayne's World it's different: feelings arise and disappear without being claimed as 'personal' by a person.
This seems classic neo-advaita stuff; it is what Liberation Unleashed and No Self are all about. And there is a lot to be said for this 'coming and going without getting stuck' experience of thoughts, feelings, whatever. Things are far less 'sticky' in the field of my consciousness nowadays than a few years back. As a result, I feel lighter, clearer, less tortured, take some things less pathologically seriously, and am marginally easier to live with. There is a greater sense of stillness and silence within me. Unlike Wayne, I don't say that I'm Enlightened (I could, but people would only laugh, or send me valium through the post).
No Self; no sense of personal authorship; the fiction of 'me' seen through. Experience arises and disappears of its own accord, without 'me' to do it all the time. Phew! But get this:
It's a Great Guru. A true Master. An Enlightened One, even. Things come and go, no 'self' to identify with them. Then, one day, desire arises. It's not me or mine; it just arises. No self to claim it. OK. Desire arises in the direction of a young and beautiful disciple of the Great Guru. The wish to satisfy that desire further arises. Young and beautiful disciple feels honoured to be singled out for attention by such an Enlightened One. Desire is duly satisfied. It's all fine, remember; nothing personal about it. In due course, young and beautiful disciple feels surprised at the lust which has been expressed through the non-being of Great Guru; shocked at the maybe insensitive treatment handed out by the Enlightened One during sex activity; lost, betrayed, abandoned as the Great Guru gives him or her the cold shoulder in the days to come, as if nothing ever happened. But hey, don't worry. Concern is misplaced. Shock, horror, betrayal: simply feelings that come and go in the great field of consciousness. There's nobody behind them. Just like the Guru, the disciple doesn't exist.
This story may go part way to explain one of the great paradoxes which all but the full-time ostrich cannot fail to miss. How many of our great Teachers and Awakened Ones have 'behaved badly' with respect to their followers, energetically and materially, but especially sexually. It's not just the odd one or two: loads of them appear to have behaved in ways that me or most people I know would not dream of doing. My own former Buddhist teacher is, rather sadly, not immune from this 'spiritual blindspot'. His sexual antics, which I could describe as furtive, open-secret, often inappropriate, and without happy outcomes for most of his 'partners', create a large black spot on the map of his life, which has otherwise provided so much of benefit to many people.
Let's leave sex. Let's turn our attention to Jed. Jed. Irreverent, iconoclastic, no-nonsense, no bullshit, take no prisoners Jed. Taken at face value, Jed McKenna should be just what a world of fake, phoney, half-baked Awakened Ones is crying out for.
To put my cards on the table. I haven't read any of Jed's books cover to cover. I've read plenty of bits and pieces, though, and a fistful of quotations. I think I've got the picture. His writing is fascinating, entertaining. He is fond of knocking gurus and religions off pedestals; he does it very well. He strikes me as something of a trickster figure, and reminds me of Carlos Castaneda and Timothy Leary. There's nothing wrong with being a trickster, by the way. Like them, he can be brilliant. But, again like them, he should be handled with care.
Jed is adept at dissecting the religious world, and equally adept at scything through false reality. There is one funny thing about Jed, though: he 'doesn't do heart'. He expresses this in a context of
recalling that the one thing most people remember about Castaneda is that he 'walks a path with heart'. This in itself is bullshit, since there are many incidents and discussions in Castaneda's books that are more prominent for aficionados than this. Be that as it may. But, while Jed appears to be applying his mental sword of truth to all reality, he has decided to leave a lot of it out. It's like New Age lightworkers, who 'don't do negative'. That's fine, says Neil Kramer, but they should just realise that they are missing out on half of reality. Jed's pick-and-choose enlightenment (not that he likes that word, but that just makes him super-enlightened) is the same.
For reasons that I don't get, Jed associates 'heart' only with a contracted, divided version of the feeling function. His version of awakening appears to leave out the liberated, non-local heart. It's not whole, complete. When those Bodhisattvas of the Vajrayana come on with their vajras of wisdom and bells of compassion, they are wielding implements of equal import. The 'heart' is not an afterthought, or a hanger-on, or an also-ran. It's an integral part of the deal.
Jed is actually a mysterious character. You can't track him down anywhere. I don't think he exists; not in the way that some people imagine, anyway. It is, I suspect, like Castaneda: certain focal experiences woven together into a semi-fictional narrative that probably says more than a literal life-story could hope to do. It's the great final teaching on No Self: Jed McKenna doesn't exist at all.
This unscheduled excursion along the highways and byways of the Awakened Ones has indeed proven dimly enlightening. I have come to realise that people referring to themselves as 'enlightened' or even 'on the path to enlightenment' may well have less in common than I had previously assumed. If you meet somebody who says "I'm enlightened", don't go "Wow!" ; instead, ask the question "What exactly is your game, buddie?"
The terms 'enlightened' and 'awakened' are so vague that they need to be fleshed out, supported, if not actually defined. Basic Buddhism is actually pretty good at this: even so, can we be confident that the Buddha's Enlightenment is the same as the space occupied by other characters from Buddhist history: Nagarjuna, Padmasambhava, Milarepa, etc? I think not.
I have learnt that my approach has less in common with advaita - or, rather, its stripped-down, partial, modern offspring neo-advaita - than I had previously recognised (for the record, I suspect traditional Advaita Vedanta to be far more encompassing of human experience). They say everything is consciousness, I say everything is consciousness - bingo! But it is a false correlation on my part; I fall foul of my own imprecision. While there are folk who may consider my 'higher dimensional' stuff woo-woo, unsubstantiated, vague and fluffy, I would suggest that their assumption that what appears in their linear time-and-space is all there is to their own consciousness is hubristic. It begs a question and makes an assumption; a big assumption.
I am generally unimpressed with folk who make claims for themselves. Jung never did, and his legacy appears to have motored on pretty well. Neil Kramer makes no claims. Neither did my former Buddhist teacher: when asked if he was enlightened, or a stream-entrant, or anything else, he would say "What difference does it make to you?" A good answer.
There is a difference between saying "This method/technique/practice/system/way of looking at things works brilliantly for me today" and exclaiming "This is It". To anybody floundering around in a quagmire of suffering, pain, frustration, and confusion, the siren call of "This is It" can be remarkably seductive. Yet it is another delusion, subtle yet distinct. It is another play in the cosmic game of duality, of light and dark. It becomes an artificial construct, a kind of pseudo-transcendental overlay placed on the ceaseless comings and goings of authentic life.
Nowadays I am less anxious, less desperate, to escape the incarnational cycle; to jump off the Wheel of Life and Death. One day, the penny dropped. That I was here in this human life, all gritty, often irritating, regularly infuriating, frequently ignorant, vulgar, stupid, sometimes plain goddamn awful, all too often horrifying and heart-breakingly painful, just bleeding gross polarity all over the place, wasn't an accident. Neither was it a tragic error enacted by a flawed divine agent. I am here because it is where I'm supposed to be, not some higher dimensional realm populated by beings of non-duality or pure, perfect light. Like many other sensitive, more-aware-than-some beings, I can feel out of place as a human being on planet Earth. But this is my home; this is where my consciousness has taken up residence because of its basic consonance with what goes on here. This place is my learning ground, and it is almost as if it has been designed specifically for that purpose, should we so wish to regard it. Here is my training ground; seen in this way, even the horrific aspects of life in this polarised place take on a different hue.
Jed McKenna, in another much-discussed section of his writing, tells us to do it all for ourselves. To adopt a pure and unapologetic selfishness. We may or may not, as a result, be of some use to other beings. Such is his rather dualistic version of Enlightenment. For myself, I don't follow a spiritual path, a sacred way, call it what you will, particularly for myself or for other people - or for any other part of the multiverse, for that matter. There's nothing especially 'personal' about it at all. It's just what I do; I actually have no choice.
Maybe this is what Awakening looks like:
Image One: Judgement (Aeon in Crowley's Thoth Tarot), Ancient Italian Tarot
Image Two: Total Destruction of Self: Tower card, Chibi Tarot