I once expressed it somewhere that the modern day phenomenon of spiritual ‘search’, in the way it takes place in attending satsangs, in reading books, in involved online exchanges, in following this ‘guru’ or that ‘guru’, in banding up together into little communities – is the endeavour of the privileged and the well-fed. The hungry have no time to debate the question of own existence. Most great philosophers were men of status, not plagued by dilemmas of immediate physical survival. They had connections, resources and time to contemplate the big questions of life.
Plato – a wealthy Athenian political family
Thomas Aquinas – born to a well-healed castle owner
Siddharta Gautama (the Buddha) – son of a chieftain with own little kingdom
Rene Descartes – his father was a middle class member of local parliament
Immanuel Kant – son of a small business owner
Ramana Maharshi – a Brahmin (top social class) family
Friedrich Nietzsche – a son of pastor
U.G. Krishnamurti – family of upper class lawyers
etc. etc. etc.
These kids had regular meals and good, sometimes exceptionally good, education. And education means gaining mental faculties to ask questions beyond own everyday existence, one of which pertains to the nature of man. All philosophies and all religious denominations are essentially about addressing this one question: what is man? A great diversity of cultural backgrounds and personal histories of every man who had asked that same question throughout history resulted in a multitude of ‘spiritual’ flavours, of which the most persistent one is ‘enlightenment’ or kensho, or bodhi, or prajna, or truth realisation, or.. whatever. Every culture and every language has some word pointing to the fact that a human being has the innate ability to begin to see the world as is.
BUT. Slowly from a thoughtful personal inquiry of the Buddha and rationally inclined mind of Plato the search for understanding of own human nature turned into a mystical roadshow, where work-lazy roadies of the first visionaries began to peddle own half-digested ideas, and are still doing it to this day. It applies to travelling charlatans of India who perform ‘magic’ tricks to persuade their ignorant audience of the siddhi ‘powers’ as the true measure of Enlightenment. It applies to Indian gurus who run ashrams infested with deceit and abuse. It applies to Western, newly minted writers who are sometimes genuinely fooled into thinking they have ‘attained’ something worthy of writing about, and sometimes are simply in it for the coin. Humans shall be humans, right?
And what about those who had no privileges? The least educated have no time to question. They are more concerned with questions of immediate survival and how to put bread on the table in the absence of any form of social security. All tales are accepted at face value and never questioned. The least developed societies are riddled with superstition and mysticism as is evident here in Cambodia. I mean.. here many sincerely believe in the physical existence of unicorns and dragons. UNICORNS!! and most believe in ghosts and spirits. But I am talking about the country whose intellectual potential was decimated by the Khmer Rouge. What about you, Western ‘educated’ folks? You may not believe in unicorns, but how about all the contemporary beliefs around ‘non duality’?
Advaita Vedanta, a crippled version of which Jed McKenna presented in his books (whether he admits to that or not) has never denied the existence of self, for to deny it would be to deny the self evident truth – that you exist. It needs no proof and no mathematical equations. ‘No Self’ was discussed ONLY in the context of a fake mental image of self, and in no way as denial of self existence. Neither did Advaita Vedanta deny the existence of the world, or ‘Brahman’ in their terminology. Using Sanskrit terms only adds to the mysticism of something so very simple, and Western minds overcomplicated a simple knowing to the point of it becoming unrecognisable and beyond any understanding.
Jed had certainly consumed some of that cool aid in his early stages of exploration. I hope he got wiser and more realistic, but realism does not sell well. As one of my fifteen year olds said recently ‘Reality is scary, that’s why I want fiction’. Bravo to Realness! But with one proviso: it stops being scary when one sees it without pink-coloured glasses. It is those glasses that make Reality scary and incomprehensible.
The Unknown that has become known – is like a stranger that has become a friend.