What is the relationship between “Jed McKenna’s” teaching and the rest of the Great Tradition of Spirituality? Is it merely a confabulation of ancient Dharma with modern dilettantism?
Even though I am only tangentially related to any teachers nowadays, it remains a very interesting subject for me to explore, since it was once the core of my life, and as such it provides a keen reflection to me of who I was then, as well as the liabilities that I still possess. Also I prefer to know a little of what I am talking about when discussing teachings with friends, rather than blap on emotionally about how great this one or that one is. Please feel free to offer your comments or insights at the bottom of the page.
Below I will offer evidence and argue that the teachings of the author Jed McKenna seem not merely to conform to the major streams of consideration, revelation, and experience that have been handed down through history, but indeed, Jed’s Teachings may represent an original path for those who are in the ‘pursuit’ of Truth. That path I will be calling “Transcendental Nihilism”.
The Historical Context
Adi Da Samraj, in his great tome “Nirvanasara” has described three major schools
of Truth-God realization historically active in the world. In starting out, I will use his map to contextualize and analyze the Teachings of Jed McKenna. The criteria used to distinguish these schools are based on their respective interpretations of the nature of ultimate reality, as well as the choice of various religious/spiritual practices that may or may not to seen to be useful in acquiring that reality for oneself:
• Phenomenalistic Schools (Realistic and Impersonalistic) (6th and 7th Stage Realization)
• Noumenalistic Schools (Idealistic and Personalistic) (6th and 7th Stage Realization)
• Emanationist Schools (Idealistic and Personalistic ) (1st through 5th Stage Realization)
In addition to those listed above, there are the combination schools that use elements of both schools. The Mahayana and Vajrayana schools of Buddhism, as well as Adidam, follow this approach. We might as well give these schools their own unique label as they do significantly differ from the pure schools. I suggest that we call them Syncretic Schools.
Jedism (I will humor myself by referring to the teachings of “Jed McKenna” as such) is, to my thinking, neither a Noumenalistic School, in that he not only distains any notion of non-dual Ultimate Reality as having any person-ness, but he also strenuously denies the utility of incorporating any “practices” in his teaching, as he asserts that no practices are effective in realizing the ultimate Truth! (although he does suggest a writing disciple that is a kind of preparatory exercise, useful prior to the spontaneous Big Fall that he insists is necessary for the realization of “No Self”).
For this reason, I believe that we might be justified in giving Jedism an entirely new “School” designation, such as the “Transcendental Nihilist School”.
Adi Da Samraj, in Nirvanasara, has described original Hinayana Buddhism as a the archetypal Realistic or Phenomenological and “Impersonal” path that offers a rigorous and protracted regime designed to wean the practitioner off his delusional association with creation and ego, and brooks no notion of god nor heaven.
Realist Schools are inclined to value “Ordinariness” and the sacredness of the Void, whereas the Idealists favor the Extraordinary, whether they seek that association in a future reward, or as realization of one’s true identity.
Zen on the other hand cherishes an instantaneous transcendental breakthrough known as Satori. The idea that Satori produces stable and permanent enlightenment is scorned at by others who regard Satori as merely the start of the enlightening process. Whereas classic Buddhism suggests that Nirvana/Shunyata must be achieved by weeding out the delusional habits of mind and emotion, Zen insists that it is here and now – just WAKE UP!!
Advaita Vedanta has been described as the epitome of the Idealistic or Noumenalistic and “Personal” God-Self enterprise, whose power lies in reminding the student of his true nature by pointing directly at “That”, and as a practice simply suggests remembering that, “I AM”, or asking “Who AM I?” and identifying with the “Native Feeling of Being”. The divine, they assert, is your present nature and reality, so it is already the case. Practices can’t get you there, they will only distract you from your Real Condition!
In addition, Adi Da Samraj notes what he calls the Emanationists – Judaism, Christianity, etc. who assert that we are all “sparks, fallen off the Divine Fire”. Later, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism began to incorporate the higher noumenalistic notions of the divine self into the original Hinayana/Theravada worldview. It also integrated many of the lower Emanationist 1st to 5th stage elements (the notion of a Supreme Being fundamentally separate from all other souls).
Adi Da has flippantly described Buddhism as a “practice without a realization” and Advaita as “the Realization without a practice”.
Buddhism- annihilate everything, NOTHING will make you happy, and be left with a nameless faceless identity-less reward = Nirvana.
Advaita – communicates the Realization (you are indeed already the Divine), but does not offer a practice to deepen that realization in a person.
Interestingly, Adi Da Samraj has paradoxically described his path, known as Adidam, as beginning with the Realization, and followed by a life of “practice” as the body-mind takes as much time as it needs to catch up with and adapt to the Realization. By Realization, he would be referring to the Satori of “getting” a taste of God-Truth, not full and stable enlightenment.
Adidam, like the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools of Buddhism, combines elements of the two great “paths” by informing students that mere practices can never get them to realization (and yet it demands an enormous range of “practices”). Alternately, Adidam instructs, like the Advaitists, that you are indeed divine, but insists that you can’t access your true Nature with any reliability without a facilitator because you are so encased in ego. That facilitator is the Guru (similar to the Dharshan Yoga strain of Hinduism).
Indeed Adidam elevates the function and status of the Guru to the highest level and minimizes both the Realist reliance on practices, and the Idealists affirmations about your divinity, and evaluates them as merely secondary and supportive forms of participation. Instead, the relationship to the Satguru is regarded as the decisive means to enlightenment. So much so that Adidam needs to be indexed, along with many communities of Hinduism, as another distinct “school’ – the “Dharshan School”.
So while Adidam includes both practices and affirmations of divinity, it more closely resembles Dharshan Yoga than either Buddhism or Advaita.
Jedism ignores these traditional formulas in an interesting way. Jed denies the validity of a godhead with personality, and denies the utility of any practices. He also dismisses the dependence on a Guru-Benefactor. I am neither a scriptural scholar nor an energetic researcher but I believe that this teaching stance may be unique.
Regarding all the other paths, Jed asserts that religio-spiritual techniques and relationships at their best only serve to develop a more functional or higher evolutionary adaptation to the “dream of Maya”, not freedom from it. He acknowledges masters of the traditional paths as greater beings than himself, but if enlightened, then not actually teaching an enlightening path for others. He does not conclude that the other teachers are acting maliciously, but ignorantly. He claims in Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing  that he suspects that there may be about 50 enlightened people extant in the world at any given time. But in Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment he asserts that he is the first and only one.
This is a little hard to sort out for an observer. It does not obliterate the power of his teaching, or his criticisms of other paths, but it certainly shows that he can be as unclear as anyone about the whole field of liberation and identity, and his place within it.
“Jed” substitutes a crisis called “spiritual autolysis” that must arise spontaneously in order for the spiritual process to actually begin. It is described as something akin to a psychic break or an emotional and mental breakdown, and cannot be chosen (it happens on it’s own). And this crisis, he says, doesn’t occur until the seeker deeply lets go of all hope of ordinary happiness or spiritual redemption, perhaps especially by any agency of guru or god, or practice.
Jed authenticates himself, and by extension his teaching, not only with his argumentation but also by his presentation of himself interacting with life. His extreme comfort with life, epitomized perhaps by the first chapter of the 3rd book, where he is shown playfully outwitting a group of policemen simply for the adventure of it, scores high marks with many readers. He also does not hide behind a mask of saintliness or godliness or amazing humility or virtue. He shows the reader himself with all his bumps and warts.
In summary, what Jedism means is:
1. no practices, neither life denying ascetical –(he suggests that you go ahead and enjoy your ordinary life) , nor mystical- (don’t bother meditating)
2. no self, neither divine nor personal is IT
3. no guru, a teacher can give a little direction now and then, but that’s all.
4. although no practices are valid nor any divine identity is real and non-transitory, there is an enlightened or awakened state of being available (as distinct from the Atheist or Materialistic POV)
5. dependence upon the big “breakdown” of spiritual autolysis, that takes a couple years to kill an ego off
Jedism is therefore a Nihilistic Transcendentalist 7th Stage School
The critique of Advaita is that it is a formulation that suits dilettantes of all stripes (New Age) who will never be challenged to deepen and ground any Satori (realization) with a vigorous practice of ego-revelation, or an inspection of the innumerable ways that the ego can delude itself into believing it is something it has not. It is well suited to the talking school of armchair practitioners who are going nowhere.
And the critique of classical Buddhism is that it can be used as a formulation that suits workaholic religionists in that, while it very keenly assails the deluding aspects of ego and all conditional nature, yet it still “doesn’t know where it is going”. Apart from Zen, it doesn’t cultivate or even respect spontaneous revelations of a higher or even a transcendental nature. Also the practices themselves can so easily create the illusion of “progress” or virtue that promises to deliver Enlightenment but can’t, because the ego is so identified with them.
My core critique of Adidam is that the essential ownership of one’s self is denied practitioners by the insistence on, not only the usefulness of the Guru, but the absolute and eternal dependence on him. According to “Jed” this precludes the core crisis from occurring that is the initiator of the meltdown to liberation. Adidam is not unique in asserting that the ego can’t liberate itself. This POV is seen nearly everywhere, including the Christian doctrine of “Grace”. But Adidam goes the next step, that I refer to as the “bestowal model”, where the insistence is made that not only can’t the ego deliver itself, but that a human instrument of Satguru is absolutely necessary for liberation to occur. What does this doctrine ignore? It ignores that possibility of the divine itself, pushing the ego out of the way.
Furthermore, it is my own observation that this dependency also creates or reinforces a dysfunctional loop in practitioners by preventing the maturation of even very serious practitioners and mature people into full autonomy and human adulthood. And without that responsibility invested in the practitioner, the fullest confrontation with their own ego is bypassed.
The critique of the Emanationists is that they have located Divinity as a psychically sensed relationship (4th stage), or a mystically revealed 5th stage communion or even absorption with a dimension of manifestation that is limited and not about the self, therefore effectively avoiding the core issue of spirituality, which is the true identity of self.
If we apply Jed’s own twin dogmas of “further” and “the only thing anyone can know is his own self” (which in his hands is styled as “no-self”) and all else is unknowable, then how can Jed know that no traditional practice can succeed in enlightening practitioners?
How does Jed KNOW that various practices or relationships with the Divine will not produce enlightenment. He has a very formidable logic on his side to contend with, but he is one man, and I am not convinced that he knows that these forms could not lead another person, if not TO enlightenment, then at least to the doorstep.
Also, since Jed demands everyone must always go “further”, then one must ask why does that prescription not apply to himself and his views? My own ex-teacher was quite clear about this necessity. Even though Adi Da Samraj claims to have become fully enlightened in 1971 or so, he has consistently held out a map of how he is moving through four phases of the enlightenment: Divine Transfiguration, Divine Transformation, Divine Indifference, and Divine Translation. That covers about 37 years to date. Perhaps old Jed has not seen it all yet.
Furthermore, is it not possible that the no-self Shunyata/Nirvana realization is ultimately the same as the “Divine Self realization”? Maybe the paths actually dovetail, at least further along the evolutionary trail. [4- see joke below]
He loses points with some with his weak ability to love and be an ordinary person with others. His Teaching point is that the core of a human being is emotional, that the core of all emotions is the one basic emotion of fear, and that the source of all emotions is the Heart, – the “Leviathan” which must be slain. I personally believe that Jed needs to slay is not his Heart but the contractions of his Heart. Or a little more to the point, the contractions of his self and evidenced in his reactive emotions.
Yet by virtue of his outrageous simplicity, I suspect that he may have exceeded the greatest spiritual minds of history.
It’s all a bit much to sort, these differing paths and points of view. Perhaps that’s the gift. You can’t! Maybe we should simply understand that at different times in a souls journey they will require one POV, and later, the other. Maybe none of them is TRUE, and none is the best.
In summary, we may say that there are 5 major schools of spirituality:
• Phenomenalistic Schools Affirm your Divine Self (Realistic and Impersonalistic) (6th and 7th Stage Realization) (i.e.-Hinayana/Theravada)
• Noumenalistic Schools (deny your ego-self) (Idealistic and Personalistic) (6th and 7th Stage Realization) (i.e. Advaita Vedanta & Taoism)
• Emanationist Schools (Obey the Supreme Being) (Idealistic and Personalistic) (1st through 5th Stage Realization) (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism etc.)
• Syncretic Schools (a little affirming, and a little denying) (Idealistic AND Realistic) (1st through 7th Stage Realization)
(i.e. Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism etc.)
• Dharshan Yoga Schools (Commune with the Agent of God) (Neither Idealistic NOR Realistic) (1st thru 7th Stage) (i.e. Adidam, Hinduism)
• Nihilistic School (no affirming, no denying, no obeying and no communing) (Neither Idealistic NOR Realistic Nor Dharshanic) (7th Stage) (i.e. Jedism)
 The entire Spiritual Process culminating in Divine Enlightenment as mapped by Adi D Samraj: extracted from http://www.dabase.org/7stages.htm
• The first three (or foundation) stages of life constitute the ordinary course of human adaptation—bodily, emotional, and mental growth.
• The fourth and fifth (or advanced) stages of life are characterized by the Awakening to Spirit, or the Spiritualizing of the body-mind.
• In the sixth and seventh (or ultimate) stages of life, Consciousness Itself is directly Realized, beyond identification with the body-mind. In the sixth stage of life, the Realizer Identifies with Consciousness (in profound states of meditation) by excluding all awareness of phenomena. But this Realization is incomplete. Even the necessity to turn away from the world in order to fully Enjoy Consciousness represents a contraction, a refusal of Reality in its totality.
• The seventh stage of life (or the Realization of “Open Eyes”), transcends this last limit. No exclusion is necessary, because the world is Realized to be a mere modification of Consciousness, not separate (or “different”) from Consciousness at all.
 Nirvanasara – Radical Transcendentalism and the Introduction of Advaitayana Buddhism. by Da Free John (Adi D Samraj), Dawn Horse Press, April 1982, http://www.dabase.org/nirvana.htm
 Books by Jed McKenna: http://wisefoolpress.com/
Book 1-Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing
Book 2-Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment
Book 3- Spiritual Warfare
 A rabbi and a cantor are standing in the largely empty synagogue one day, talking mystically about how, given the awesome glory of God’s Infinite Divine Presence, they are each really “nothing.” “Yes,” says the rabbi, “I am nothing!” The cantor also affirms, looking up to the heavens, “O God, I am completely nothing!” And they go on like this for several rounds—”I am nothing… I am utterly nothing.”
Meanwhile, the synagogue’s janitor is off in the corner on his hands and knees, scrubbing the floor. Filled with piety and a fervent spirit, he has all the while been repeating in a gentle voice, “O Lord, You are everything and I am nothing… I am nothing.” The rabbi and cantor at one point listen in and, after a few moments, come to realize what he is saying. At this, the rabbi nudges the cantor and smugly says, “Look who thinks he’s nothing!