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Enlightenment and cosmic consciousness are completely unrelated

It’s possible to have one without the other, and there are millions of cases of mysticism and cosmic consciousness for every case of enlightenment.

By Jed McKenna

THE MISCONCEPTION ABOUT ENLIGHTENMENT stems from, or is at least compounded by, the fact that most of the world’s recognized experts on the subject of enlightenment are not enlightened. Some are great mystics, some are great scholars, some are both, and most are neither, but very few are awake.

This article is reprinted from the book Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing

This core misconception will be a big theme in this book because it’s the primary obstacle in the quest for enlightenment. Nobody’s getting there because nobody knows where there is, and those who are entrusted to point the way are, for a variety of reasons, pointing the wrong way.

At the very heart of this confusion lies the belief that abiding non-dual awareness — enlightenment — and the non-abiding experience of cosmic consciousness — mystic union — are synonymous when, in fact, they're completely unrelated. It’s possible to have either without the other, and there are countless millions of cases of mysticism and cosmic consciousness of varying degree for every one case of enlightenment. Of course, true cases of enlightenment are unlikely to attract attention to themselves, so it is certain that there are more than is apparent (like vampires!). However, the simple fact remains that enlightenment and mysticism have little or nothing in common.

Anyone, myself included, who has had a taste of mystic union will naturally assume it to be the very summit of human experience, which I believe it is. It would follow from there that anyone who enjoyed more frequent access or greater ease of access to such a rarefied state would be at or near the summit of humanity. All well and good until such a one is labeled spiritually enlightened. He or she may be a divine avatar or love incarnate or the supreme godhead, but enlightenment is something else.

The critical distinction is that one is in the dream and the other is not. One is truth-realized and the other is not. One is within consciousness and one is independent of consciousness. The enlightened have awakened from the dream and no longer mistake it for reality. Naturally, they are no longer able to attach importance to anything. To the awakened mind the end of the world is no more or less momentous than the snapping of a twig. “The wise see the same in all,” says the Gita. “The wise are impartial,” says the Tao. The enlightened cannot conceive of anything as being wrong, so they don’t struggle to make things right. Nothing is better or worse, so why try to adjust things? Members of movie audiences don’t leap out of their seats to save characters in the film. If the movie shows an asteroid blazing toward the earth, the screen remains unscorched and the moviegoers don’t race home to spend their final hours with loved ones. If they did, they would be hauled off to the nearest mental health facility and treated for a delusional disorder.

The enlightened view life as a dream, so how could they possibly differentiate between right and wrong or good and evil? How can one turn of events be better or worse than another? Of what real importance is anything in a dream? You wake up and the dream is gone as if it never was. All the characters and events that seemed so real have simply vanished. The enlightened may walk and talk in the dreamworld, but they don’t mistake the dream for reality.

Enlightenment is about truth. It’s not about becoming a better or happier person. It’s not about personal growth or spiritual evolution. An accurate ad for enlightenment would make the toughest marine blanche. There is no higher stakes game in this world or any other, in this dimension or any other. The price of truth is everything, but no one knows what everything means until they're paying it. In the simplest terms, enlightenment is impersonal, whereas what is commonly peddled as enlightenment is personal in the extreme. We’ll cover this in more detail as we go since I guess that’s what my life and the house and this book are all about. Suffice it to say for now that one of the most mission critical tasks on the road to enlightenment is figuring out what enlightenment is not.

Text copyright © 2010 Wisefool Press. This article is reprinted from the book Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing by Jed McKenna.

Jed McKenna is the pseudonym of a writer who has written several works of fiction including the book from which this article is taken. At the time he wrote the books his real name was Peder Sweeney. He is almost certainly the same Peder Sweeney who can be easily found on the Internet, who was born in 1961, who went to William Rainey Harper College in Illinois, and who now lives in North Carolina.


From A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi by A.W. Chadwick:

In Western books one reads of people who had flashes of illumination. One Dr. Bucke collected and published records of many such. But whereas the Realization of Bhagavan [Ramana Maharshi] was permanent, this was not the case with those described by Bucke, which were never more than temporary flashes, lasting usually no more than half an hour. The effect of such may remain for some days but it will invariably pass with time. I asked Bhagavan about this, how it could be so and he explained to me that which comes as a flash will disappear in a flash. Actually it is not Self-realization they experience but Cosmic Consciousness where they see all as one, identify themselves with Nature and the Cosmic Heart. In Hinduism this is called Mahat. Here a trace of ego remains even during the experience and a consciousness of the body belonging to the visionary. This false sense of “I” must go entirely, for it is the limitation which serves as bondage. Liberation is final freedom from this.

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson copyright Magnum Photos.

This page was published on May 18, 2017 and last revised on March 20, 2021.

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Recommended book

Jed McKenna, Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing

Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing

By Jed McKenna

Like the famous Don Juan books by Carlos Castaneda, this book is a novel that people sometimes mistakenly take as non-fiction. The narrator claims to be a TV-watching, bike-riding American guru with a mordant sense of humor for whom nothing is holy because nothing is real — nothing except truth. The book consists mainly of him telling us about the conversations he has had with his students.

From this brief description the book may sound boring and even dishonest but we like it and recommend it because (1) the author is a splendid writer, (2) the book contains a certain amount of truth, and (3) it’s extremely entertaining. We should add that the book also says some untrue things.

“Jed McKenna” is a pseudonym. Many people think the author’s identity is secret. There are even websites devoted to solving the “mystery” of his true identity. Actually the author has never hidden his identity and his real name is a matter of public record. To learn more about this, see Who is Jed McKenna?.


See it on Amazon.


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