Ideas are dangerous things.
Wherever there are ideas there are people who want to destroy them. You can’t kill an idea but you can burn the paper it’s printed on.
Since ancient times, when monks first scribbled on parchment, people tried to suppress ideas by suppressing books. The Nazis and every other authoritarian regime burned them. In many places in the world books will get you executed or thrown in jail. The Chinese government recently abducted a book publisher from Hong Kong who planned to publish a tell-all look at current president Xi Jinping’s private life. The publisher later “confessed” to an old hit-and-run crime on TV and he will likely disappear into the brutal Chinese prison system known as the Laogai or “reform through work” prison.
Ideas are dangerous things indeed.
Even when people aren’t getting killed or tortured over books there are people who want to keep them out of the hands of impressionable children for fear that it will corrupt their ideals and, God forbid, let them think differently than their parents or the people in power. The American Library Association keeps a record of the most banned books over the last few decades. You’ll find some familiar ones on there such as “Catcher in the Rye”, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and even “Harry Potter” which is seen by some evangelical Christians as promoting magic and witches.
All of this comes down to fear: fear of ideas; fear of change; fear of others. Ideas congeal into belief systems, at the personal level and at the societal level. The history of the world is the clash of belief systems. Capitalists battle communists. The Romans hurled Christians into lion’s dens. The Christians burned witches and tortured heretics. Fascists killed liberals. And on and on and on.
If you really boil it down, books get banned or burned because they threaten belief systems.
Not long after books get burned people get burned. History’s worst punishments are for those who threaten sacred beliefs, for those who dare to put heretical ideas down on the page. A single diversion from the dominate belief systems of a time can get you sliced into a thousand pieces. The Catholic Church had burning at the stake and the fiendish torture dens of the Crusades. The Chinese had Lingchi or the “death of a thousand cuts” which was reserved for the serious crime of Treason. And what is Treason but betrayal of an idea?
But what if there were books that threatened all of your belief systems?
Would you not consider them the most dangerous book ever written?
That’s where Jed McKenna’s Spiritual Enlightenment the Damnedest Thing, Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment and Spiritual Warfare come in. These books skewer sacred beliefs of all kinds, from new age mysticism to religious morals and even basic tenants of right and wrong. They threaten every single belief system that you or anyone else has ever had and they do so very, very convincingly.
Because these books are so dangerous, I waited several years to write this post. I am still not sure about putting it out there. To this day, I get chills thinking or talking about these books. I hesitate to recommend them to people and yet that is exactly what I am doing now.
But be careful.
These are not books to be picked up lightly. This is not a game. Don’t take this post as a challenge because you like a good scare. Instead find these books if you are in trouble. If you can’t stand your life anymore and you don’t know what you’re living for then pick these books up. If a great friend or a parent died suddenly, then get these books. If you get cancer, go find them. If you’re ready to make a major life change like leaving your significant other or starting a brand new career at forty, go looking for these books.
Still, be warned. It’s safe to say that these are not like any other books you’ve ever read. To say they are terrifying at times is putting it lightly. I can’t think of a single horror movie or book that even comes close. Perhaps the only book that is even in the same ball park is Thomas Ligotti’s “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.” Yet while Ligotti’s book focuses only on the blackest part of our existential crisis, McKenna’s books keeps going, breaking through to the other side and offering some hope that you can survive your darkest days.
These books are really about what happens when you hit a powerful spiritual crisis, when you don’t know what to do with your life or what to believe. Everyone experiences them differently but nobody who reads them is ever the same.
I’ve recommended these books only to a few folks and here is what they had to say:
Text message from a friend: “Is it normal to feel physically ill while reading these?”
Me: “Yes and it gets worse but keep going. Don’t give up.”
Another friend said, “When you first told me these were the most dangerous books ever written I thought you were kidding. I read the first one and it didn’t hit me that hard. It was a like an itch I couldn’t scratch but it wasn’t that bad. Then I read the second book and the third and it’s like a burning throb that I can’t get rid of now. What do I do?”
Me: “Keep going. You’ll get past it.”
My own experience was similar. At times I felt like I was falling out of a plane or like I was badly hung over, my head spinning. I am not using a metaphor here. I really felt like that. No matter what, just keep going. As a famous saying attributed to the Buddha goes, “the only mistake is not starting and the other is not finishing.”
The good news is, the negative effects pass. You get over it. You work through the challenges of the books and if you are lucky you come out on the other side as a more authentic and powerful you. Still, don’t get me wrong. These are not self-help books like any other. As they say in Fight Club this is not a “weekend retreat.” You won’t find a few mantras to chant here or some safe Saturday group meditation while you all hug and experience oneness and the imminent transmigration of the Gaia soul or whatever. These books are a punch to the face. They are are profound spiritual explosion. McKenna’s “teaching” style is a lot like the old Zen masters. When the student came to them full of their wrong ideas, they got a smack on the head with a hard stick. If that sounds unpleasant, it’s because it is, but it may just be what you are looking for, if you’re suffering.
If you’re happy with your life, leave it alone.
They’re a shattering experience. They leave you no room to debate and no safe ground to stand on. They ask hard questions and give you hard answers. This is a book for adults, not children. And as you’ll soon discover, there a lot more children in the world than adults.
As a small example McKenna points out that with all of the spiritual belief systems in the world purporting to bring you enlightenment, how come not one has ever produced a single enlightened follower? Nobody has ever come out and said I was a student of so and so guru and I am now enlightened. The uncomfortable answer is obvious when you really think about it. It’s because they don’t really work. They aren’t teaching enlightenment. They’re teaching you how to stay asleep. I won’t go into any other examples. You’ll discover them for yourself and you don’t need me or anyone else to point them out for you.
I will say one other thing though: if you’re considering reading these works, don’t bother reading any websites or forums about them. You will just start off on the wrong foot because the only thing ever written about these books is by people who are really, really confused. Don’t get caught in their webs. For example, there are people out there posing as Jed Mckenna. It only takes a few days of reading his books to realize they are fakers. Jed has no Facebook account, no Twitter handle, no Snapchat or Instagram. He won’t be selling you a new seminar or a weekend retreat. Of that I have no doubt and if you really understand what he is saying, you will see why and it won’t be hard to spot the liars and fakers. Stick to original sources. Judge for yourself and you can’t go wrong.
If you do waste time reading forums, such as Goodreads, you’ll see a lot of people completely missing the point of what he is trying to say to you. Folks get wrapped up in debating things like whether Jed McKenna is “enlightened” or any other number of nitpicking points. Again and again, McKenna tells you not to worry about him or who he is and what he is really like. “I am just a man pointing at the moon. Look at the moon, not my finger.” He’s right. It’s probable that many of the things that happen to him in the book never happened at all. McKenna is not his real name. He made sure to hide his identity and for good reason. As noted earlier, history is not kind to heretics, so it’s best if people don’t go looking for him because he upset their cherished ideals. Forget him. Concentrate on what he is saying and think about it for yourself.
Of course, if a book could only destroy you why would you bother to read it? You wouldn’t. In the end, the purpose of these books is not to simply destroy everything but to destroy everything that is not you, that is not real. They are a powerful cleansing fire. They’re designed to slash and burn your suffocating belief systems to make room for something new to take root. McKenna uses his definition of “enlightenment” which he defines as “truth realization” to clear the way. Whether that is the correct definition is basically irrelevant. This book is about looking hard at the truth and your life and getting rid of everything that is not you. It asks the question, what can you really know for sure? Until you know that, how can you ever figure out what really matters to you?
More than anything these books are a call to adventure. After the destruction comes your chance to rebuild yourself into something better than you were before, something new and authentic. Ultimately, they’re asking: what do you believe? What do you want? What is your purpose? What are you really here for? What are you meant to do?
If you’ve ever read Joseph’ Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces you probably thought it was a book about someone else’s life. It’s about heroes, not you. Wrong. The call to adventure is your story. You are the hero. You are the protagonist in your own life. Once you realize that there is only one question:
What the heck are you going to do about it?