For this months main feature we have quite a unique offering. A delightful play of opposites if-you-will; a special feature from a UK Non-Duality imprint who primarily publishes works on the contemporary expression of Advaita by Western authors/teachers…brought to you by a Western site who often features authors/teachers from the UK and Europe!
We thought it was only natural that we hook up and give you an extensive behind-the-scenes look at this growing indie company. This offering has been in the works for a couple of years [believe it or not] as both parties have a very busy daily schedule yet maintain private personal lives.
Since its inception in 2004, Non-Duality Press has set out to make available the clearest contemporary writing on non-duality. Having read many of their offerings, we feel their books represent a substantial contribution to the understanding of Liberation, both as a resource for those that are familiar with the subject and an inspiration for those in the process of discovery.
If you are new to these writings, we hope you feel inspired to explore the perspectives contained in their books after reading this exclusive interview with Julian Noyce.
According to your website, you discovered there was: “a need for authentic and accessible contemporary writing on the subject” —please tell us more about your creation of Non-Duality Press and how that came about.
When we published our first book in 2004 it was very obvious that there were many worthwhile communicators or realizers who weren’t being published and were unlikely to be published any time soon. Books of any quality in this field could be numbered in the dozens rather than the thousands. So, my impression at this time, was that the non-dual community (such as it was), or people who might be interested in this approach, were not being very well served by publishers. Certainly, one or two books a year might emerge, or, after a large fanfare, a picture book with photos of Ramana Maharshi might be published. With the exception of Advaita Press who published Balsekar’s and Wayne Liquorman’s books, and Inner Directions, the scene at that time seemed slow and lumbering. This was not reflecting my experience and the impression that there seemed to be the beginnings of a genuine integration and re-expression of Eastern teachings in the West.
Nathan Gill, ‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson, Leo Hartong and Joan Tollifson. These teachers had many years of experience behind them but were not hamstrung by dogma or affiliated to any particular lineage. I found this an exciting development; so-called enlightened communicators, with Western conditioning, expressing and living something that just a few years earlier was previously thought to the preserve of gurus from the East. These writers were cultured and widely read but also ‘ordinary’ and accessible.
Returning to your question, in 2003 I starting a small business importing books from around the world, mostly from the US and India, for sale in the UK where they were quite difficult to get hold of. This happened to coincide with the internet becoming more accessible so that I was able to construct and maintain a website. Some of these titles were quite costly to import so I initially spoke to Sailor Bob’s people in Australia and asked if they would license Bob’s book to me for re-publishing in Europe. This was the first book we published and from there I asked Nathan Gill who I had known for several if he would like to write something. We then took on two excellent books by Joan Tollifson and Leo Hartong that had initially been self-published. I wondered in the early days if enough worthwhile manuscripts would come along but as we can see there has been a blossoming of writing on this subject since then.
Since you are primarily publishing books by Western authors and communicators, who is your target audience and or what is the ultimate goal for NDP?
We don’t think in terms of a target audience, our readers seem to come from very varied backgrounds with long seeking histories or no seeking history at all. I think it’s a wonderful aspect of this teaching that people who drift off the street and into a meeting with no prior experience can sometimes have more sense of this than long-time seekers. That isn’t to say I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for long-term seekers, by the way – but this so-called ‘scene’ is nothing if not paradoxical.
Ultimately, I feel the goal is simply to reflect how the current of non-duality and the perennial philosophy is being expressed now as best we can using words and books.
What are your thoughts on the e-book revolution? How long do you think (actual) physical books will be “officially supported” by readers and or readily available?
All our new books are published simultaneously now as paperbacks and e-books and we are gradually converting all our backlist of titles to ebooks. We were interested in e-books some years ago but the formats and platforms for selling them were so chaotic (many people cite the Betamax vs VHS analogy which fits quite well) that we didn’t really start our ebooks program until last year. We are lucky enough to be flexible with both formats, paperback and digital books; we don’t have a huge investment in hard-copy books. At the moment both are selling well with a small drop in paperback sales which is easily made up for by digital sales. I am surprised and quite happy that many readers are still very attached to physical books and we will continue to supply these and even have the occasional hardback edition planned for next year.
What are the greatest challenges you face with your business in 2013?
I think our greatest challenge is finding the right size for the company. We have no shortage of manuscript submissions but it seems to work best in terms of workload and quality if we publish between 8 and 10 books per year, perhaps even fewer. These represent what we feel are the ‘best of the best’ or the most original writing, or books we just like to take a chance on because they have a certain quality that we like.
The book trade and publishing has changed dramatically in the last twenty years and is still in flux. There is so much free material available now and this can be challenging for publishers but it seems there is still a place for a well written and carefully edited book so the foundations of the business still feel valid.
On a personal level, I find bookkeeping (accounts) a challenge – I don’t resent doing it but it seems to be a separate occupation in itself…!
Is this publishing company your primary [day] job or is this a “pro hobby” at this point? What do you like to do for fun outside of working on new projects for the press?
Very much a full-time job for the last few years – I worked part-time as an events organiser for a well-known teacher but now Non-Duality Press is my full-time job and that is more than enough to keep me occupied. Catherine, my wife, helps with editing and we have two very valuable freelancers who have worked with us on design and proofreading almost since the start of the business.
Are you an author and or writer yourself perhaps? —tell us a bit about yourself please…
I am not a natural writer although Jeff Foster likes my writing and encourages me to write more. I felt recently that it would be an interesting project to try to bring together a book about current thinking on ‘consciousness’ (entheogens, psychology, non-duality etc.); the current state of play and convergence in all these fields, the direction things are going and whether alternative ideas are becoming mainstream (and, indeed, if any of this is important…!). However, I’m not sure if it will happen.
I wasn’t a great reader when I was young but developed a passion for books after leaving school and ended up working in the book trade when I left and on and off ever since. I also worked as a gardener and furniture maker and still like to spend time with those activities when I can. And, of course, seeking and reading voraciously around this subject often go hand-in-hand as many of us know.
I met Ramesh Balsekar in 1993 and Jean Klein in 1995 and these two people were particularly influential teachers for me. Balsekar was an anomaly in the ‘90s – here was this relatively ordinary guy, apparently ‘enlightened’ who spoke about this in a very different way from the way his own teacher had communicated. If you could overcome you own projections, you could sit in a room with him at that time as an equal.
How many books and or authors have you published by your imprint thus far? What are some of the more popular titles?
We have around 60 books in print now. Our most popular books are by Greg Goode, Rupert Spira, Jeff Foster, Jean Klein and John Wheeler. We have a great affection for the majority of the books we publish – even though some sell better than others.
What does Non-Duality mean to you?
Read the books!
There are so many great books out there on the subject —who are some of your personal favorites and why? (These can be from NDP or other publishers!)
From our own list, two that come to mind are Goner by Louis Brawley and Perfect Brilliant Stillness by David Carse. Both of these are classics in this field. Goner is about the final years and death of UG Krishnamurti written by a close associate of UG’s. I found it moving and, although it’s sometimes hard to see the relevance of UG’s life to one’s own, his experience and surrender were both quite staggering. Perfect Brilliant Stillness is a beautiful and well-written account of an unexpected awakening which is then un-picked and put into context. Very compelling and erudite but also accessable. Many people including Terence Stamp, have told me it is one of their favourite books, but it’s not that well-known. I would also put All There Is by Tony Parsons in my top 5 titles – it feels very complete to me somehow.
I feel awful leaving out so many books, apologies to all the others we publish, we love them as well, of course.
There appears to be a flowering of ND expression in the last few years, what do you attribute this too? Will ND ever make it to the mainstream?
Traditional religions and paths have some beautiful aspects to them but also, it appears, many pitfalls. Many people are looking for answers (I kind of agree with the sweeping statement that we are all seekers of something) but don’t want easy answers or the extra baggage that sometimes comes with them. Maybe that’s why this approach seems to be spreading so rapidly now.
I don’t want to make any definite predictions but I think that this approach could be mainstream in the future. As Jerry Katz points out, the word nonduality or non-duality are already being used so much more frequently in the most unlikely of places. However intuitive you are, I don’t think it’s possible to tell which way this will go, perhaps the perennial philosophy was never meant to be that popular but just stay quietly in the background while the drama plays out at the front of the stage.
What are your thoughts on the traditional Satsang format? It seems some teachers are getting away from that – at least in America. Is it time for something “new” along these lines perhaps?
Absolutely right – it’s such a fraught subject. If I never see another Paypal Donate button it will be too soon! Integrating the traditional format into the West is challenging – for people who feel they want to share this in a wider way the traditional format appears to set up a distance between teacher and taught and I think as we continue to integrate and evolve this teaching in the West one of the main challenges is to break down this division as skillfully as possible. I don’t know what direction that will take.
Satyam Nadeen attempted leaderless Satsangs many years ago and Greg Goode wrote a pivotal article, From the Age of the Guru to the age of the Friend. Jerry Katz is also a great advocate of non-duality for the people. What I do sense , though, is that putting in many hours on Facebook and approaching this with a business plan probably isn’t the answer if you want to promote yourself or spread this message . It doesn’t seem to work that way. Aside from a few healthy discussion groups, and a bit of fun, I’m not aware of anything significant that has happened [on] Facebook. The people drawn to this teaching are often very intuitive and although self-promoting teachers do appear to have some success it tends to be rather ephemeral. Authenticity seems to win out in the end. Books and teachers seem to have a natural level of popularity and there is very little that can be done about that – I like it that way.
Is teacher or guru a “dirty” word? There is so much talk and or material floating around online about these topics, to be or not to be. People are claiming they are “teachers” when clearly they are not, and folks that are really helping people prefer not to be called teachers at all. We all know how much excess baggage that the word “guru” has with it. Please elaborate.
Catherine and I sometimes wince when we notice another teacher announce themselves but she also reminds me how valuable some teachers have been in our lives. It’s not black and white, unfortunately. Four of our most popular writers/teachers also keep up full time day jobs – I admire this.
On the other hand, those people who are full-time teachers may have valid reasons for being in that position, most often because there is a demand for their availability.
Is there a new Eckhart Tolle out there living today? It seems Byron Katie has quite a following and of course Adyashanti. Some folks liken these individuals as “rock stars” of the scene [unfortunately] — what’s your take?
Eckhart’s popularity is puzzling and I don’t mean that negatively … I don’t think you can manufacture this type of popularity, it’s a phenomenon which I haven’t found an explanation for. I think there could well be another communicator who reaches huge numbers of people at some point. If they could do that whilst maintaining the essence of the teaching it would be delightful.
I think there is a growing list of words and or “spiritual cliches’ that potentially hold back some folks in the West. Some words are: Ego, Enlightenment, Spiritual or Spirituality, Awareness, Awakening & even the word nonduality. Other examples could be purple lotus flowers, Buddha’s or [traditional] Satsang events. Thoughts?
I agree – we are seeing the emergence of a much more culturally stripped and grounded expression in recent years. I love the rich symbolism and romance of the older traditions but they can also be a huge impediment to people seeing the relevance of this communication in their own lives.
Unusual question time | What do you think about at night before bed? haha
I really try not to think just before bedtime. I have to be quite strict with myself or I will be thinking about non-duality every hour of the day and night – and that would never do!
What would you say is the most satisfying part of your job and your greatest accomplishment(s)?
I think many of these books we publish might have been overlooked by traditional publishers (because of the subject, I fondly imagine, not the quality!) so to make them available as best we can has probably been the most satisfying part of the job. It can be quite a workload at times but it’s always a welcome surprise when people email me and say they really enjoyed a particular book or what an effect it has had on them. Also, giving a break and a small income to some very worthwhile writers.
I guess being able to make a contribution to how all this appears to be evolving is a great privilege and I am very aware of that.
What are your plans for NDP? Any last words you would like to add?
We plan to explore different areas such as recovery from addiction, with the focus on non-duality. We also have an interest in different faith approaches (Muslim, Christianity, Buddhism etc.) and how these relate to contemporary non-duality. We already have e-books on our website but may move into downloadable films rather than DVDs which are a wee bit clunky and expensive to ship. We don’t strategize a great deal, I find this subject a little different from the standard sales and marketing which might be appropriate for other products.
Overall, we just plan to continue providing interesting books to readers interested in this for as long as there is a demand.
by Srinivasa Rao
The book proposes a contemporary framework for critiquing Advaita and formulating its basic thesis in a more logical and convincing way. Any proper theory in philosophy and science has to follow from accepted assumptions. Hence the book begins by identifying basic presuppositions required for Advaita and determining the different cognitive possibilities arising out of them. After thus determining what is logically and conceptually possible and impossible in Advaita, the new framework is used to assess whether the traditionally held Advaitic concepts and theories are satisfactory and acceptable.
This is done in many chapters covering discussions of the notions of:
cosmic ignorance (māyā),
individual ignorance (avidyā),
entities that are different from the real and the unreal (sadasadvilaksana)
…and so on.
The book argues that all these concepts (as specifically formulated and defended in traditional Advaita for centuries after Śankara), are simply faulty and untenable both individually and as related clusters of concepts.
Traditional Advaita has also defended an elaborate ontology of experiences like mistaking a rope-for a snake. It has also heavily defended the metaphysical thesis of the empirical world of our experience being a total illusion. The logical faults and conceptual inadequacies of this ontology and metaphysics are also discussed in great detail, offering absolutely new criticisms of them.
Despite this almost totally negative portrayal of traditional Advaita, the book is also quite positive in showing that any belief in non-duality is still very much philosophically possible and necessary.
About the Author
Srinivasa Rao is former Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy, Bangalore University. Affiliated to IIT Kanpur, he earlier taught at Mysore University. Advaita has been extensively studied by various schools of philosophy in classical India. In contemporary times [keep in mind the original printing was in 1985], however, it has only been compared to the philosophies of Immanuel Kant and F.H. Bradley.
Srinivasa supplements the classical Indian analysis with many special concepts and techniques extensively used in contemporary Western logic and analytic philosophy. He also discusses whether what classical Advaita had maintained centuries ago can still be maintained, and if at all it is possible, in exactly which way.
This book, from Oxford University Press, will be of considerable interest to scholars, teachers, and students of Indian philosophy perhaps.
*All the above text is from the author and Oxford University Press/Scholarship Online website.
by Steve Taylor
One of the basic ideas of contemporary Advaita is that you can’t ‘do anything’ to wake up. Effort of any kind reinforces the ego, and so strengthens the sense of separateness. Making an effort to wake up is counterproductive. The goal of becoming enlightened actually takes you further away from the state. In this article, I’m going to look at whether my research into ‘spiritual awakening’ supports this view.
One of my main interests is in the connection between awakening and psychological turmoil. I have found that, while awakening sometimes happens for no apparent reason, in most cases it’s triggered by – or at least related to – intense psychological suffering. When I was researching and writing my book Out of the Darkness, I found dozens of cases of people who were in a state of intense turmoil due to bereavement, addiction, depression, serious illness, disability, facing death and so forth – but at a certain point, usually when they let go or stopped resisting their predicament, something gave way inside them. Their normal identity collapsed, but rather than bringing a nervous breakdown, something else arose in its place. A latent higher self emerged, and became their new identity, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. They were now in an awakened state, with a new sense of wonder, meaning and connection, a feeling of lightness, and freedom from anxiety and discontent. They felt re-born, with a new identity. Years later – even decades – they were still filled with inner peace. Some of them expected the state to fade after a while, but in most cases it didn’t. It became their normal, stable and permanent identity.
I spoke to an alcoholic who reached ‘rock bottom’ and lost everything but then became liberated; a woman who has lived in a state of wakefulness ever since being told she had breast cancer; a woman whose daughter died and who lost her business and savings in the aftermath, but suddenly shifted into an enlightened state and has never grieved for her daughter since. I spoke to a man who became paralyzed after falling from a bridge onto a river bed, who struggled for months with pain and despair, then underwent a spiritual rebirth and now lives in a state of permanent bliss. I also interviewed a 90-year-old man named Russell Williams who underwent transformation over 60 years ago, after a long period of mental torment brought on by his experiences in the Second World War. As he described it:
“I was in a state of desperation…and it was suddenly as if a blanket was dropped over me. I felt an incredible sense of peace and freedom, a completely different person inside. And that freedom and peace have continued inside me right until now.”
At the time Russell knew nothing about spirituality, and it was several years before he fully understood the shift he experienced. Eventually he became a spiritual teacher, and has held twice weekly talks in Manchester, England for the past 50 years. (In fact, it’s quite common for people who experience these ‘suffering-induced transformational experiences’ – as I have called them – to become spiritual teachers. Krishnamurti, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie and many others – including some non-duality teachers – went through periods of intense turmoil before awakening.)
Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between this transformation and a previous interest in spirituality, or a history of spiritual practice. Only a small number of the people I spoke to were following spiritual practices or traditions, or even familiar with the basic ideas of spirituality. They weren’t mystics or monks, or even spiritual seekers. They were ‘ordinary’ people with ordinary jobs, who happened to go through intense psychological turmoil. As a result, like Russell, it took them a long time to comprehend what had occurred. Initially, although they felt liberated and peaceful, many of them felt slightly bemused by their new state. Usually, they went through a slow process of gravitating towards spiritual books and other ‘awakened’ people, until they finally had a framework to make sense of their new state.
This seems to back up the non-duality movement’s doubts about spiritual practice. It seems to confirm that awakening is something which just happens, rather than being consciously induced. However, my research did highlight one positive effect of spiritual practice. The small number of people who did have a prior interest in spirituality, or a history of spiritual practice, underwent a smoother transformation than others. Aside from some initial confusion, a number of ‘shifters’ also went through a difficult period of integration, where they had psychiatric disturbances, physical problems and found it difficult to cope with daily life. They felt strange energies welling up inside them, couldn’t sleep, had visions, or found it difficult to think clearly or to speak. They went through a very unstable phase but finally ‘settled down’ into a stable awakened state. But the people who were engaged in spiritual practice didn’t undergo these difficulties. They were like people who immigrate to a different country and find it easy to settle down, because they’ve learned the language beforehand and familiarized themselves with its customs and culture. The others were like people who were suddenly kidnapped by strangers and dropped into a completely foreign culture without any preparation.
It may be that spiritual practice provides a gradual opening to higher energies and potentials, so that when the full shift into awakening occurs, it isn’t as drastic. Those energies and potentials don’t overwhelm us, because we’ve already opened ourselves to them.
So these findings seem to give credence to the idea that there is no direct connection between spiritual practice and awakening, at least not when awakening occurs in a sudden and dramatic way. At the same time, spiritual practice does help us prepare for awakening, if it should occur. In other words, practice probably won’t increase your chances of immigrating to a different country, but if you do happen to land in that strange place of awakening, it will help you to adjust to life there.
Steve Taylor’s research into ‘spiritual awakening’ is published as Out of the Darkness, available at Amazon.
The book has been described by Andrew Harvey as ‘A wonderfully clear and inspiring book…Its importance for our times cannot be exaggerated’; while Dan Millman has written that ‘Each page highlights the resilience of our human spirit.’
Steve’s website is www.stevenmtaylor.co.uk
You are constantly imagining that you are experiencing objective things, but you are not. You do not actually see an object–that lamp over there, for instance. It is not the object you are seeing.
Isn’t it obvious to you that you are experiencing a phenomenon of the brain? You cannot see the lamp.You are not inside your head looking out at the lamp. A bizarre phenomenon of the brain produces the sensation that there is a lamp over there.
Where is it anyway?
A reflected image twists around in the eyeball, and nerve impulses and electrical currents flash around the meat-brain in order to construct an illusion, a sensation, an idea. What is objective about it?
It is just your own fascination. It is your own mind. It is your own Consciousness, modified by organs of experience. It is mind. It is harmless enough in itself, really, but you are so distracted by it that you have lost your humor. You have lost your true position. You do not have a right relationship to experience. The right relationship to all experience is to exist as the Transcendental Consciousness, the Radiant Reality Itself, in which phenomena arise without necessity, humorously.
The wrong relationship to experiential phenomena is to presume that you are a separate person, a separate consciousness, in the midst of a world that you know nothing about, that somehow encloses you, that is objective to you, that is separate from you. In that case, you see, experience is a very serious business. You have no option but to submit to it, to be distracted and tormented by it.
*Post re-blogged by permission from Martin Goulding