Neo-advaita and non-duality- in a nutshell, this philosophy espouses that there is no such thing as separate individuals or exercising of choice. There is only Oneness arising as everything.
Already reminding me of Seinfeld, the “show about nothing”.
I begin this road to nowhere with the charmingly titled book “I Hope You Die Soon” by Richard Sylvester. Of course, he means the end of the personal self. It was the “kind words” said to him once by Tony Parsons whilst he was still searching.
I paraphrase some of the highlights now.
With no separation, vulnerability, fear, meaning, purpose, hope, control or grasping there is instead liberation, wonder, relaxation and ease.
Liberation is always there, just covered by the mind. Language cannot describe it, (you know, the map is not the territory and all that.)
The sense of self can be lost, that sense of being a person. “You” are being lived, actions are happening through you. The past, regret and guilt slip away. As the book says, Oneness is writing the words and reading them, breathing the characters, which are as perfect as they need to be.
The self disappears and awareness is seen as everything, a wonderful hologram sustained by love.
Nothing matters. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do. Let it all go and enjoy complete helplessness.
It’s just all stuff happening, phenomena appearing and then disappearing in oneness with no meaning.
Liberation is what is left when the self is gone. Which was only liberation anyway, arising as the self. At death there is only liberation, it is just more chic to see it whilst you are still alive.
No need to worry about karma, chakras or gurus. Nobody to own such worries.
But a suggested mantra would be “hopeless, helpless and meaningless.”. Kind of reminds me of someone…
The word “I” in the sentence “I am happy” has exactly the same force as the word “It” in the sentence “It is raining.” There is no “it”. There is no “I”. Rain simply falls. Happiness simply arises.
The mind desperately chatters “See, I am right!” on a loop. But don’t worry about trying to stop those thoughts, there is no you to stop them. They are just going to flow.
With concepts of space and time, here and there meaningless and only omnipresence, it is very difficult to take your previous life seriously. Lovers and possessions will not be permanently fulfilling. But there is nothing wrong with having them either!
In Zen it is said “I’d love to give you something helpful, but we don’t have anything.”
Oneness is distracting itself from noticing that it is not two, all thoughts of separation and not noticing there is only unconditional love simply keeps the game going.
But you are not trapped by your mind in the game. Because there is no you. Just a dreamed character. Nor is there a game. What happens when you die? (What happens to characters in your dreams when you wake up?)
The impression of being a person was just a trick, a temporary coagulation of awareness.
Awakening is seeing the emptiness of the void. Liberation is seeing the fullness of the void.
The prison door was always open. Yet people make their cell more comfortable.
The prison is the sense there is a separate person. When that drops away there is just the Paradise that was always there.
Before that we are like fishes complaining we are thirsty.
You may as well be eating toast as meditating or having psychotherapy, ultimately, as far as liberation goes. There is no you who can make any effort to achieve liberation. How can an imaginary person see they are unreal? Can a dream character wake up in someone else’s dream, and stay living in it? Maybe. But then they will know it is just a dream.
Perhaps there is a lucid living equivalent of lucid dreaming. But how much stuff would you bother to accumulate or other people’s behaviour would you care about in a dream, knowing it is just a dream? And if you wake up from it, how much would you care about what happened or even remember?
Dreams at night seem very real at the time, don’t they?
So do those in a movie at the cinema, but it is literally just a play of light.
With no person, there is no free will. Science has shown the parts of the brain involved in an action are already activated before the seeming conscious intention anyway.
But the realisation will not turn people into lazy layabouts or psychopaths. Because there are no actual people to become so. There are characters, like those in a play, arising as temporary phenomena thinking they are doing things. And they like their comfort. So they will probably seem to do the right thing for that.
It is what it is. But there is no it. And it isn’t anything.
There is less neurosis and more relaxation and fascination when the person “gets out of the way”. No wonder sleep deprivation can be used as torture and even cause psychosis.
So, an entertaining book, no idea if the concepts are true or not, as it is unknowable after all, but can see it has the potential to provide a “feel good” way of thinking in numerous situations.
Onto the next book I have by Richard:- “The Book of No One”.
It continues the ideas of “I Hope You Die Soon” in the form of talks and dialogues.
Some paraphrased nice ideas from the book:-
Non-duality manifests as duality so we can lose Paradise for the joy of finding it again.
Kurt Vonnegut said “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”
“You can say ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose.’ But I’m anticipating having a good lunch.”
Phenomena arise, and it may be noticed that no one is causing them or choosing them. (Just a bunch of dream characters and body-minds knocking about in all the awareness.)
In the same way, I might have had a dream last night in which I was standing at a railway station buying a ticket to Birmingham. There would be no point in my sitting here now wondering if I should have gone to Brighton instead. It was a dream. It couldn’t have been any different and nothing actually happened… in real life you are standing at a railway station apparently making a decision about your destination and it has no more reality and no more meaning than it does in your night-time dream.
Avoid people who have certainty like the plague. (Having said that, Richard seems very certain indeed non-duality is reality! But…)
What you may think is sitting here is a fundamentalist non-dualist who is prepared to wage jihad on all those who disagree. The difference is I don’t give a damn.
Liberation may lead to a quieter mind and detachment, but these do not lead to liberation.
Remember, if there were a method, it might be “Relax”.
We are free-falling in and through mystery.
Stories like religions are addictive to believe in but cause us and others suffering too.
The story of Suzanne Segal is often referenced, a writer and teacher about spiritual enlightenment, known for her sudden experience of Self-Realization which she wrote about in her book Collision With the Infinite: A Life Beyond the Personal Self, which parallels Richard’s liberation experience in some ways.
One way of describing a human being is a “Meaning-Seeking Missile.”. The apparent mind is desperate for meaning and will construct it in a myriad of ways.
Evil is the shadow projected. You could say when the shadow is integrated, there is no evil and we stop setting fire to our own houses and our neighbours’ houses, to use Jung’s wonderful metaphor.
Firstly the shadow is recognised and secondly it is owned. The shadow is no longer projected and then we no longer see others as evil. We no longer interpret “out there” as evil.
Cups of tea get mentioned a lot.
Nothing particularly new from the previous book, but Richard answers every question thrown at him, I am still thinking though there is no reason to believe non-duality is necessarily genuine, just because he says so.
Now to the latest Richard Sylvester book “Non-Duality Questions, Non-Duality Answers”.
It is the same story, perhaps I am getting used to the stock answers to each scenario as the books roll on. Again, kudos though for answering anything flung at him. And there are a wide variety of topics. Although I think a Sylvester “bot” could be created with the main strands of dogma which could answer the questions similarly, albeit with less charm.
There is a bit of a thread perhaps of people getting into non-duality alienating others, even spouses (although believe me, that can happen for any reason!) and taking life less seriously (almost always a very good thing), perhaps some people’s lives need to collapse anyway, and a non-dualist can still engage with life, it is not a requirement to drop out, but I can’t help thinking the system makes a convenient credo for the lazy and apathetic!
‘Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.’ is a much-used Zen saying in the non-duality writings.
But why not “after enlightenment, do nothing?”
Addressing the idea of dogma and agendas even within Advaita Richard writes:-
The antidote to all this, I suggest, is to remember that no point of view really matters. If you find yourself taking it too seriously, have a cup of tea and a walk round the park, or whatever else you enjoy doing. All the versions of Advaita are stories. None of them can really encapsulate the reality of liberation. Other than that, I would simply steer clear of anyone who has an agenda about non-duality, that is, anyone who seems to think it is important that you buy their version.
There is an interesting part where Richard identifies himself and Tony as neo-Advaitans as they do not see a path to liberation, unlike traditional Advaita.
As to whether non-duality is another belief system:-
You offer a comparison between what I am saying and religions. The differences to me are very clear.
Firstly, those who preach religions have an agenda. They wish to persuade you into sharing their beliefs. There is no interest in me in anyone adopting any beliefs about non-duality. To put it bluntly, I don’t give a fuck. Popes and priests usually do give a fuck.
Secondly, religions are awash with superstitions. A superstition is an improbable belief held on insufficient evidence. There are no superstitions in my communication about non-duality.
Lastly, religions attempt to construct beliefs. My communication about non-duality attempts to deconstruct beliefs.
Here is another funny Richard answer:-
I feel very much in alignment with your attitude to the paranormal, chakras and other esoteric fairground rides.
As for talking to the dead, I find it difficult enough to talk to the living.
Alas, many people want to develop ‘paranormal awareness’ further, though to me this seems not just a back-water, but a very boring one too.
These days I get very impatient with these phenomena. Unfortunately I cannot offer you any specific advice about how to get rid of ‘paranormal powers’ as I am probably one of the least psychic individuals you could meet. I suppose you could try simply telling the spirits to fuck off.
If someone is drawn to celibacy, then celibacy is quite likely to arise. There is no need to make a great song and dance about it.
There is a French Buddhist monk who ascribes his happiness partly to thirty years of celibacy. I ascribe my happiness partly to fifty years of non-celibacy. As the Americans say “Go figure.”
It is hard not to like this guy!
“One: Essential Writings On Non-Duality” edited by Jerry Katz.
This book looks at non-duality teachings from famous individuals and traditions.
This begins with Ramana Maharshi the Indian sage of Arunachala, who taught self-realisation, after a spontaneous experience when 16, who said “The desire for non-duality, which is given by grace, frees us from the bondage of the mind or ego, which is the source of all fear, small and great.”
He described the previous Oneness as Self. “There is no reaching the Self. If Self
were to be reached, it would mean that the Self is not here and now but that it is yet to be obtained… the Self is not reached. You are the Self; you are already That.”
The Advaita Vedanta invokes Dattatreya, who packs it with non-duality Hindu stylee.
Sufism is covered next. Elements of non-duality undoubtedly there. Totally getting that to seem to stray too far from the orthodox path might lead to horrible death then, but as a result, anything revolutionary was kind of stifled. I have a lot of time for Sufism in general though, such as the poet Rumi.
Kaballah calls Oneness Ein Sof. Sounds like a new model available at IKEA. It has aspects fairly consistent with some non-duality thought, even though it all got a little tacky with celebrity endorsements and commercialism back there.
Next, the Tao. I feature Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching a lot on my blog and podcast etc. It harmonises with non-duality well enough, if we consider the Oneness as the Tao, and is always worth a fresh look anyway.
The Native American and Christian “non-duality” parts of the book were more of a stretch for me.
The Buddhist Diamond Sutras are then featured, the clearest references to non-duality within that worldview.
There are then sections on psychotherapy, education and art. Then an analysis of the movie “The Matrix”.
It is interesting to try to find a core of non-duality in all these world traditions, mainly in their esoteric flavours, pity about the baggage they often also have.
“Searching For This” by Peter Marjason.
Pithy Tao Te Ching like two and three liners on Advaita, similar to Richard Sylvester’s flavour, and consistent with his take on it. Refreshingly simple in presentation. Otherwise, boy, it would get tedious and I would be shouting “Alright, enough already!”. Okay, maybe I did a little.
Next! “Conversations on Non-Duality: Twenty Six Awakenings” edited by Eleonora Gilbert.
It kicks off with our old friend, Richard Sylvester.
Some stuff about psychotherapy, guru and LSD years, up until attending lectures by non-duality teacher Tony Parsons. Charing Cross, Platform 5 when the person disappeared. Then again in the suit shop when the void was found to be full of love.
The other interviewees describe similar experiences, and in many cases have written books of their own. Or that have been on Conscious TV or something. Sometimes the experiences they describe before, during and after their “liberation” sound almost as if they are from the same script. Many had heard lectures by Tony Parsons. Indeed, Tony himself is interviewed.
Occasionally attempts are made to reconcile “people” being just illusions or phenomena with the problems of understanding love, pain and suffering in that paradigm without coming across as callous, perhaps some parallel with the Abraham Hicks crew when they say other people’s misfortunes are brought on themselves through their thinking, and the proponents of karma.
One thing in common is the belief that non-duality is the only possible explanation for reality, it would seem from the feeling derived from subjective experiences or sudden flashes of insight, there is admitting that it cannot be rationally deduced. The dogmatic level of confidence is no less in intensity than a fundamentalist’s of any faith or even Piers Morgan’s self-belief. There is no maybe they are wrong. Lack of humility? Ego triumphing through the back door?
Often non-duality disciples state they have been pointed in the direction of a psychiatrist after prolonged self-isolation or depressive reactions to their liberation, this is often dismissed with a laughing off, yet read the definition of “depersonalisation” here and compare, just saying…
A very common theme is decades of time-consuming spiritual search ending in concluding it was all for nothing, as liberation happening turned out to be nothing to do with any of that.
Occasionally reading the book I would find myself feeling #firstworldproblems too much money/time on hands/psychotherapy/guru worship but that would be uncharitable. But seriously, the most insipid and narcissistic stuff would sometimes leave me wishing I didn’t exist.
Okay, I am not going to be dramatic or exaggerate. But if Donald Trump or any James Bond villains need to torture me to obtain secrets in the future (1) I am easily bought (2) get non-duality disciples to describe their experiences to me. Especially if they have changed their names to sound like Indian gurus.
“The Most Direct Means To Eternal Bliss” by Michael Langford.
A series of numbered lists of ideas.
It makes some pretty big claims and warns against the pesky ego’s constant tricks to derail its message.
The ego is seen as an imposter, like a computer virus.
Before finishing this book I had decided I preferred to be tricked by the ego regardless of the dire consequences than to read any further. And popped a paracetamol.
The book “Awakening To The Dream” by Leo Hartong. Blessed by Tony in the foreword, and the content fully canonical.
I had bought it years ago, by “mistake”, assuming it was about lucid dreaming…
There are some well-chosen if often familiar quotes, especially for newbies, here’s one from a Zen Master regarding the “enlightenment” moment:-
‘When I heard the temple bell ring, suddenly there was no bell and no I, just sound.’
That reminds me of when Quasimodo slipped and fell to his death. When it was time to identify him, nobody could remember his name, even though his face rang a bell.
That joke deserves a No-bell prize.
It is interesting when Leo discusses the role of language in creating our reality, even using the phrase “the map is not the territory”- a nice segue-way from my last blog post, and to blur the concepts of the two. That is why the last blog posts I have done, probably discounting the testosterone smoothie and Bee Gees ones (but who knows) have seemed to lead to an unravelling of reality, the subtitle of the book they will soon form.
Leo’s book is full of helpful analogies, Pure Awareness is the name for Oneness here, the ego is clearly identified as the villain, there is a softer line on “death”, but otherwise I think all the teachings on non-duality can pretty much be found in the aforementioned “I Hope You Die Soon” if only one of the books in this blog post had to be chosen.
He ends with words that are also closing words from a book called “Clarity” by a non-duality teacher Nathan Gill:-
“Right now you are Consciousness, appearing as a character in your play. Maybe you think you need confirmation. Forget it. Relax. You already are That.
With much love to You from Yourself.”
Onto Byron Katie “Losing The Moon”.
Teacher of “The Work”.
The Work- write down your unresolved situation and what stresses you about it.
Who and how? How should they change? What do you need from them? What do you think of them?
Then for each of those answers, four questions.
Is it true?
Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
How do you react when you think that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
Try turning the answers around too, by putting in your name in place of the person you are focussing on, or making them the opposite in meaning.
Final question then is “What is it you never want to experience with them again?”
Turn that around to “I am willing to…(whatever that was)”, and experience how that feels. Is there some freedom overall?
Now her take on non-duality. It is quite consistent with the usual system, but somehow intermingled with The Work too. Oneness seems to be called God, some horrific scenarios are invoked such as Nazis throwing babies into the fire along the lines of God is all of baby, mother, Nazi, fire etc, Byron Katie goes to such extremes quite often in the name of non-duality, which is a consistent approach but probably going to be a dealbreaker for many would-be adherents, I suppose that is partly the point, likewise a later example of doing The Work when it is regarding a perpetrator of violence against children. I think a reader is going to need a strong stomach to stay with her on that journey. But I suppose she is going where some other non-duality angels fear to tread. Of course, should it be, heaven forbid, non-duality concepts are mistaken, then such examples are then in rather poor taste.
The book by Tony Parsons, the King himself, The Open Secret. Almost a Pope, with miraculous liberations often happening upon those attending his lectures. Bestower of the “I hope you die soon” blessing upon Archbishop Sylvester.
Tony sees us as dreamed characters responding to conditioned and historical belief systems, the only purpose being awakening from the dream, which is beyond the grasp of our individual effort. A leap in perception is required.
Tony’s journey through organised religion and therapies is described, along with a “fascination and a fear of women”.
Oneness suddenly happened to him during a walk in the park in London.
Presence is to be embraced rather than individuality and remaining separate.
No afterlife, fear, guilt, relationships. Sounds a bit like John Lennon…
Another Tony Parsons book is “All There Is”.
From the foreword:-
“But oneness does not emerge through something gained, but rather through something lost. . .
When the apparent separate identity falls away, the radiant wonder of presence becomes apparent – to no one. It also becomes clear that there was no one who ever needed to be liberated.”
Here’s some of the best bits:-
“The appearance of goodness can be very confusing. There was a lady who had two parrots who could speak, but the only thing they would say was, ‘We are prostitutes and we’ll give you a good time!’ That’s all they would say. She was quite worried about this and she went to a friend who said, ‘I know a Catholic priest who happens to have two parrots himself. I would have thought that if you went to him and showed him your parrots, the two sets might be able to get together and yours could be influenced for the better’.
So she went to see this priest and he said, ‘Well, I do have two parrots, Bill and Joe. They don’t actually speak – all they do all day is count their rosaries. Each of them has a rosary and they pray in silence all day. I have never known such dedication. Why don’t you put your parrots in with Bill and Joe and we’ll see if they have a good influence on them?’
So she puts her parrots in the cage and they say, ‘We’re really hot prostitutes and we’ll give you a good time!’
Bill says to Joe, ‘You can throw the beads away now – all our prayers are answered!”
“Nisargadatta put it in beautiful words. What he said is absolutely key to your question. He said, ‘Knowing that I am nothing is wisdom . . .’ So they’ve reached the point of wisdom. And I’m not decrying that – this is big stuff. I tell you, when it happens to you – big time! It’s amazing! But there’s another step which goes beyond wisdom – which is absolute love. And Nisargadatta said, “Knowing I am everything is love’ – that’s the other part of the statement. And that is the total disintegration of any sense of a permanent or fixed ‘me’.”
“When the ‘me’ falls away, all of those things go; you lose everything. And in the letting go of that – which you can’t do – there is nothing left but everything. When there is nothing, there is everything.”
“What we are talking about here is falling in love. When we were kids we were in love with this . . . with sandcastles … So we’re going to play with sandcastles again. And the sandcastles are here – we are sitting on them, we drink them and eat them. Everything that we touch and everything that our senses know is the game, the leela, presence playing.”
“Of course, in the game of separation, we tend to feel threatened and what we do is we try to create a womb, we try to get back to the womb. We build that womb and by doing that we try to make it known. The way to make this dangerous, alien world safer is to try and know it.
When we meet somebody and we fall in love, it is unknown and it is wonderful but it is also unsafe. So what we do is we marry. We fence someone in and make them known… We always make everything known so that it becomes safe; and in the end it becomes dull”
On that theme, another joke from the book:-
“Adam was walking around in the Garden of Eden feeling very lonely, so God asked him, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Adam complained that he didn’t have anyone to talk to. God told him he’d give him a companion and it would be woman.
‘This woman’, he said, ‘will cook for you and wash your clothes . . . She’ll always agree with every decision you make. She’ll bear your children and never ask you to get up in the middle of the night to take care of them. She won’t nag you and she’ll always be the first to admit she’s wrong when you’ve had a disagreement. She’ll never have a “headache and she’ll give you love and compassion whenever you need them’.
Adam asked, ‘What’s a companion like that going to cost me?’- to which God replied, ‘An arm and a leg’.
So Adam said, ‘What can I get for a rib?”
“The meeting of male and female represent the meeting of ice and fire. Both elements extinguish each other and turn to vapour, and then there is nothing. This is the nothing of liberation – the final marriage which is beyond gender, beyond the apparent dualism of male and female.”
I do think although Richard Sylvester followed on from Tony, he does describe the whole thing a little more entertainingly.
The dogmatic ferocity of the blinkers being on the non-dualists and their “well, you either get it or you don’t” smugness all reminds me of religious days, specifically Calvinism, where the “elect” believe they are saved by God choosing them, and everyone else being damned, with contempt shown for human logic.
So then, are Tony and Richard correct about non-duality? Genuine but deluded? Or could it be they are aware it is a scam but one that can be made a living out of?
In “All There Is” the latter becomes a bit of a running gag, e.g.
Joe Public: “But another thing which is really interesting to me is that when I was reading The Open Secret, I think one of the reasons why it really resonated with me from word 1, page 1 … It was like, ‘Bloody hell, I’m going to buy this one!’
Tony: “Hooray! Another seven pounds!”
So non-duality may be the reality. But it seems you cannot “know” unless you are “lucky” and liberation happens to you. Several of its teachers say just relax and accept its teachings are true anyway.
But the stakes are high when it comes to a life philosophy. So for now, thanks for nothing, non-duality crew. But it’s nothing personal.