My knowledge of Bob Adamson is gleaned from the book Living Reality by James Braha. It is comprised of transcripts of talks from Sailor Bob’s 2004 visit to the United States, as well as personal observations by James Braha. Mr. Braha was kind enough to send me a copy to review.
These days, when I hear of a Westerner teaching under the banner of Advaita, I prepare myself to experience another helping of neo-Advaita pablum: you already are that which you seek, just stop seeking and see, there is only now, etc. I do not dispute the fundamental truth of such statements — I dispute their application. A quick look at Sailor Bob’s talks revealed nothing surprising: lots of talk about awareness being the answer. I wavered on wading into the 322 pages of Braha’s book, then took the plunge. Here’s what I found.
Not surprisingly, Sailor Bob Adamson’s message is simple: when we are not thinking, there is awareness present. “Presence Awareness” he calls it. That awareness is timeless, eternal, the no-thing in which all things appear. It is there all the time and there is nothing we need to do to get it. Simply understand what he is saying, and you have found it, though there is nothing to find and no one to find it. These are not Sailor Bob’s words, they are mine, though they might as well be Sailor Bob’s. It is easy to fall into non-dual speak — the neo-Advaita rap. In fact, all one apparently has to do to become enlightened is start talking like they are enlightened. As Braha and his friends spent more time with Sailor Bob, they started talking the talk, and were encouraged to do so. That qualifies as understanding in Sailor Bob’s book, and understanding is all that is needed.
Q: And eventually there comes an understanding…
Sailor Bob: Not eventually. That implies time. It’s immediate, right now. That knowingness is right now; you can’t negate it. Forget this rubbish about “eventually” because that will keep you bound. Just realize now that under no circumstances can you say, “I am not.” That knowing that you are is constant. The term “eventually” implies that there’s something you have to get. You can’t go any further than that — the knowing that you are. That is “no thing” that you can ever grasp or conceptualize in the mind.
Knowing that you are, your sense of being, is the last ego, not liberation. As Nisargadatta himself says:
How do you understand anything? Any knowledge of any kind that you think you have can only be in the consciousness. How can the consciousness, which came later, give you any knowledge about that state which exists prior to its arrival?
What is necessary is to understand with sure conviction is that all is temporary, and does not reflect your true state.
-From Consciousness and the Absolute
Few people see the totally of Nisargadatta’s statement — that all (awarenss, I Am-ness, everything and nothing) is temporary.
Here is a good example of Sailor Bob’s teaching:
Q: So what we’re seeing appears real, but we know it isn’t. Now, is the intellectual knowing of this significant or important?
Sailor Bob: It’s not an “intellectual” knowing. An intellectual knowing is some thing. What’s the only sure thing you can possibly say about yourself?
Q: I am. I exist.
Sailor Bob: There is a knowing that you are. You can’t negate that. Pure knowingness is going on. Now, who or what is knowing that? Pure emptiness, or no thing, is knowing that. There’s no entity there. That knowing is the cognizing emptiness. That’s pure intelligence.
Q: It’s knowing itself?
Sailor Bob: No. There’s no discrimination of itself in there. It’s one without a second. It’s pure knowing.
Q: So, when I’m seeing nothing…
Sailor Bob: No thing. There’s no object. Pure subjectivity.
Q: So, this is an understanding.
Sailor Bob: Yes. Understanding is all. Now that you understand, you get back into life. You’ve seen through the illusion. You don’t have to get into concepts about all this.
So that’s that. Our questioner has “got it.” Though we can all chuckle to ourselves as we add the non-dual disclaimer: “but there’s nothing to get and no one to get it.”
Despite all this, I found myself liking Sailor Bob. Braha paints him as an unpretentious teacher and generally likeable fellow to be around. Sailor Bob sincerely seems to want to help others. In between the non-duality party line, I find Sailor Bob sharing some wisdom:
We think the mind is doing everything. It’s not.
What you are is the no thing — the nothingness. It’s no thing because it can’t be grasped with the mind. You can never grasp it with the mind because the mind is contained within It.
You have to see it right now. Instead of simply saying, “There’s no me,” have a look. Investigate, in the Now. Look and see if you can find a self center or a “me.”
On the whole, though, Sailor Bob Adamson seems to have a limited teaching ability. His transcribed dialogues are repetitive, as his teaching technique is to talk about non-duality and correct the dualistic statements of his students until they all start talking as he does. Then there is this little experiment:
Sailor Bob: Repeat “I am,” “I am,” “I am,” “I am,” quickly.
Q: I am, I am, I am, I am, I…
Sailor Bob: STOP! [Long Pause] Was there a thought there in that stopping?
Sailor Bob: Did you fall apart?
Sailor Bob:Still seeing and hearing? Still aware in that pause?
Sailor Bob: That was beyond the mind, in that instant. The pure knowing was there. That’s what people talk about and struggle for — to go beyond the mind. In that pause, you were there. That’s pure intelligence.
So easy it’s laughable. You can see why people are attracted to this style of teaching. To sum up: nice guy, read his book, think about it, then go deeper. Sailor Bob Adamson doesn’t know the whole story.
The official Sailor Bob Adamson webpage is: