Non-Duality Questions, Non-Duality Answers

Exploring Spirituality and Existence in the Modern WorldBy Richard SylvesterNon-Duality Press/New Harbinger, 2016

Richard Sylvester’s latest (and last!) book about non-duality consists of answers to more than three hundred questions sent to him via email over a ten-year period. This is already a remarkable act of generosity. Add to this that the question topics are indexed and that he addresses each with patience, understanding and uncompromising honesty and you have a rich resource of accessible down-to-earth wisdom.

The author would be the first to acknowledge the irony of needing to index all those questions, whose answers are always the same! Words can only describe separation; the mind cannot grasp reality; the paradox only resolves itself when the questioner disappears; there’s nothing you can do; relax.

Not that the answers he gives are always the same. They are never the same! They are tailored to the questioner, who receives the author’s personal attention, often delivered with humor and compassion.

Richard Sylvester is not afraid to suggest techniques of therapy or meditation when he feels the questioner would be helped – though the helping is not to reach some future state of awakening or liberation, but simply to feel better. On these occasions he sometimes notes that he is taking off his non-dual hat and putting on his therapeutic hat. He trained as a psychotherapist.

Nor is Richard so advaitically pc to avoid the L word. Every now and then he drops it in. When the discussion has been about pain or practice it has a startling effect, taking the reader from what can seem a rather cynical viewpoint to a vision of the fullness of unconditional love.

Non-Duality Questions, Non-Duality Answers is dedicated to Tony Parsons, and his name, and that of Leo Hartong and Nathan Gill, appear throughout the book as teachers whose books can be recommended. I am struck by the attitude they have in common, an old-world, down-to-earth, common sense, no-nonsense, let’s have a cup of tea sensibility, which has no tolerance for hype or sensation. We could even call it the British School of Non-Duality, referring not to the nature of their understanding but to a particular expression of it, which is very far from new age California, from the drama of personal paths and progressions. For many this radical approach can be liberating, but frustrated non-dualists seeking encouragement and comforting words, or expecting a little give and take, some carrots for the journey, will be disappointed. And don’t expect definitions of consciousness, awareness, enlightenment, awakening and liberation, words used differently from one teacher to the next. The author’s own experience inclines him to distinguish between awakening and liberation, but he isn’t dogmatic about it. There are no rules. If there were, he says, it would not be freedom.

As for this being his “last” book on non-duality, Richard Sylvester is still with us, currently writing an autobiographical book. I can’t imagine he will ignore his own advice, but will continue passing the time enjoying the simple things of life – a walk in the park, drinking tea, eating cake – and writing passionate books.

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