The Book of No One
by Richard Sylvester
(ordering links are below)
Reviewed by Jerry Katz
Richard Sylvester uses language with playful boldness. Look at the titles of his two books: I Hope You Die Soon (originally rejected by Hallmark Cards publishing) and The Book of No One.
The latter is a play on Dennis Waite’s The Book of One and firms-up the current stand-off between traditional advaita and neo-advaita.
Traditional advaita, represented by Waite’s The Book of One (and many other works), demands practice, association with a sage, and a course of study grounded in scriptures, mainly the Upanishads.
Neo-advaita, or neo-nonduality, is represented by The Book of No One (and many other books), and is a confession, an utterance, a declaration: “This is it.” No practice, study, guru, tradition, scripture, or process is necessary for seeing that “this is it.”
However, I want to make it clear that the debate between traditional advaita and neo-advaita is not the topic of this book. It is addressed along with many other topics.
OVER 500 QUESTIONS
Richard addresses at least 500 questions and comments from Everyseeker, Everysearcher:
“Is there any point in being at these talks or is it pointless?”
“Can you speak about how the body is seen through? It seems so strong, this feeling that I’m a person who has a body.”
“I feel there have been glimpses of this and I’ve felt a real fear because of it.”
“When everything is seen as unconditional love, is it seen inside me?”
“So if there’s nobody there, what’s left? What’s telling the story?”
“Richard, how do you know you’re not kidding yourself?”
Look at how he handles one question, bringing interest, spirit, and controversy to his response:
“So does it matter which spiritual or religious story we listen to or don’t listen to?”
“No. It’s completely meaningless. It has no importance whatsoever. Nevertheless, this story points as directly as possible to Oneness whereas most stories point directly away from it. And there are some stories that point towards this in an indirect way. But none of that matters at all. It’s no better and no worse to talk about God in the sky that it is to talk about this. It’s just that some of us are attracted to this story and some of us to different stories. There are different personalities with different flavours.
“Of course in the world of phenomena where stuff happens, some of these stories tend to lead to a lot of slaughter, while others don’t. This story doesn’t tend to lead to slaughter. There hasn’t been a Non-duality Crusade yet. But if more and more people become interested in the story of Non-duality, there may well be one. There may be a huge schism and eventually a Non-duality war.”
THE THEME OF STORIES
It may be seen that there is “this,” all things arising in and as the mind of God, or light of consciousness. As waves arise and fall and yet are not separate from the ocean, so our stories about ourselves and our life rise and fall and are neither meaningful nor meaningless.
However, as Richard tells us, “Once the sense of separation arises, once self-consciousness arises, the mind starts creating wonderful stories around what all this apparent drama must be about.”
The more complex and complicated stories are, the more magnetic and effective, and the harder to see through.
Richard writes, “The story that ‘I will be happy when I’ve found the perfect Versace dressing gown’ is not a very good one because it’s too easy to see through. The Freudian story or the Tibetan Buddhist story are much better because they are wonderfully complex. The Catholic story is beautifully complicated. The committee of theologians discussing Limbo for a year is just one tiny part of it.”
Stories can adhere close to the bone of nonduality. Even self-enquiry can only take you so far, Richard says, still leaving a person. Thus, you can see and talk about liberation without being free.
THEMES LIKE FLYERS ON A TELEPHONE POLE
This book is like a telephone pole downtown, covered in message-bearing flyers, except that it is organized. Stop and stare:
“Talking about non-duality is also a story. Anything that can be put into words is a story.”
“What is it that brings about the change which enables us to see all of this as a story?”
“We have to use words unfortunately. Well, we don’t have to. We could sit here and just drink tea.”
Numerous topics and questions are brought-up and addressed. The tricky topic of mind is closely considered. There’s some spiritual autobiography about the author. Non-duality itself is talked about several times. Here’s one instance: “There are two things it might be helpful to remember about non-duality. It’s very difficult to communicate and it’s very easy to misunderstand. … A religion or a spiritual path may then develop around the misunderstanding.”
THE THEME OF LIBERATION
Richard declares, “The seeing of liberation is an energetic shift which has nothing to do with anything that I may conceive myself to be, like the mind, the body, the spirit, the emotions or the chakric system.”
But then liberation is another story: Sylvester confesses, “Liberation can apparently happen but there’s another paradox here because when liberation is seen, it’s realised that liberation was always the case. … We’re in a hopeless case here, where there’s no way out, there’s no help and there are no techniques.”
WELL-ROUNDED BUT NEEDS IN INDEX
Like so many nonduality books with lots of subjects and themes, this one has no index, which makes it harder to review and grasp as a whole. Sure, the teaching that “this is it,” is present on every page, but there’s so much information that never gets gathered, organized, and made accessible.
Still, The Book of No One is one of the most rounded-out books in the neo-advaita or neo-nonduality genre, a solid contribution, and Richard Sylvester is one of the smoothest and plainest talkers about a topic that, as has been shown in this review, you can’t talk about. Talking about nonduality is like a wave talking about the ocean. The wave is already gone. At best, the ocean is talking about the ocean.
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The Book of No One
by Richard Sylvester