Sailor Bob Adamson

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sailor bob adamsonMy 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?
Q: No.
Sailor Bob: Did you fall apart?
Q: No.
Sailor Bob:Still seeing and hearing? Still aware in that pause?
Q: Yes.
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:

16 thoughts on “Sailor Bob Adamson”

  1. There is no knowing the whole story. What he is saying is very simple and the problem is that for people like us with these conditioned minds we want “some Thing”

    1. Hi Benedict,
      Thanks for the note. The end of the spiritual search – an idea sometimes disparaged these days – is what I meant by “the whole story.” that “end” does not have the requirement of being a thing or an event. It is a change of being, an un-birth. I agree that what Sailor Bob is saying is simple, but too simple. Not that Truth is complex, but that it is deep, and something more than the discovery of awareness.

  2. Discovery of awareness is not it.
    Who discovers awareness?

    It is a ‘problem’ of identification. So long as you think you are a man, with a body/mind, with feelings and a past and future – you have mis-identified yourself. That is why the question Who am I ? (What am I?) is a Real question. The answer is ….
    When that is ‘realized’ unequivocally then that is ‘it’. And the experience is (can be) exactly like a waking up or realizing something enormous and completely obvious at the same time. It is not ‘becoming aware of awareness ‘ but it is very very difficult to describe. Experience is not easily communicated in words. I would not dismiss anyone because ‘I’ don’t understand what they are saying. You will if you have the experience. Like being wet. Impossible to describe. But those of us that have been in water know it.
    Regards. Happy being.

  3. Sailor Bob gives a very specific technique in that book (“Living Reality: My Extraordinary Summer with ‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson” by James Braha). I am not going to try and summarize it here!

    The book is great!

  4. “Sailor Bob Adamson doesn’t know the whole story.”
    And who are you to pass this judgement? A supremely enlightened being perhaps?
    It’s ever tempting to fall into the trap of passing Being off as “too simple”, it must be more complicated than what is in this moment, right? This can’t be it! The mind loves complicated, it wants something to do, it wants a ‘non-duality practice’ so it an ‘become enlightened’. It needs something to attain in the future, because enlightenment is always way off there in the future…for the chose few. Once this construct of the individual mind is seen through…it’s even more simple than you can imagine Shawn.

  5. Truth is simple. Complexity is for twisted minds. The whole story is that anything existing within imagination or thought is just that, a story. I have enjoyed knowing Sailor Bob for four years and he is definitely worth 5 stars in my book and I am grateful to be liberated from the prison of becoming (even if there is no one who can be liberated).

  6. In my limited experience, I think that the essence of non-duality is something that needs to be seen. Observation of the natural world reveals the interdependence of all life. It is in that observation that we can see how intimately everything is connected. We can see it in the poor state of our planet right now. We can see it in our family dynamics. I think it is in that seeing that we realize all that exists is “Life”. We are a small part of it, albeit a destructive, mindless small part. If it dawns on us what we are doing, out of that we can develop compassion for every living thing. We can begin to care for ourselves and others. That “force” of life is there, has always been there to see, but I don’t think it is as simple as the Neo-Advaita people claim it is. If it were, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today. We are complex beings. Unlike animals, who only eat what they need, instinctively care for their young, and generally put us to shame at times, we operate on more than instinct. We compare, compete, and make ourselves miserable. When I read passages from those like Sailor Bob, whom I have nothing against, it makes my brain like scrambled eggs. It just isn’t that simplistic.

  7. Note: This is different Seth than the one who commented previously (although I do agree with his comment).

    I came across Sailor Bob’s teachings 20 years ago, and while I liked his personality I also dismissed them as “too simple” and “Neo Advaita”. I now regard him as the greatest Western non duality teacher *FOR THE RIGHT PERSON* that is teaching today… for the very reason that you marginalized him for in your article… the simplicity of it. It really is all contained in that sense of beingness and the detachment from conceptual thought (those who can recognize it will see a lot of similarities in Dzogchen teachings), and the logic in it is irrefutable in both the Western philosophical sense and in the sense that really matters… as experiential knowledge leading to the end of psychological suffering. I’m not saying it is what Nisargadatta was saying all of the time (Maharaj said a lot of things to a lot of seekers at different points based on where they were at), but I’m 100% sure he wouldn’t refute it.

    That being said, my personal opinion is that Bob is a closer. Frustrated longtime spiritual seekers with a lot of (fleeting) experience and insights under their belts are his specialty… which is not to say that a brand new seeker couldn’t come and be “done”. I’m sure it has happened. The “spiel” can be repetitive and seem simplistic, but the one-on-one dialogs are where it’s at (which he offers for free).

    It IS different from other teachings and teachers in the genre and he and other ‘students’ of his ‘lineage’ are distinctly different in their approach if you can recognize it.

    I owe a debt of gratitude to Bob and his spiritual offspring (see John Wheeler) that I can never repay. He is a spiritual gem and a wonderful human being.

    1. I appreciate the sincere answer and that Sailor Bob has been of value to you. That said, Sailor Bob and his lineage are mistaken. See excerpt from John Wheeler below:

      …Your nature, whatever that is, is already present by definition. So that that part of this is here in this room as you. And everybody knows without any doubt, as a clear sense of their own being, if you want to say it that way, you know. And what we may not have done or put the pieces together, is you know like right now as you sit here with a clear certain and doubtless knowledge of the fact of your being, if you want to say say it that way. You and everybody here in this room is doing that, can do that, and has no difficulty knowing that they’re present. That what we recognize is exactly it and is what they’re talking about and that’s how close it is and that’s how simple it is…

      And Wheeler goes on to say that Nisargadatta saying “come back to the sense of I Am” is the same thing that he’s talking about. Like all of this ilk, Sailor Bob, Wheeler, etc. ignore what Nisargadatta said about the I Am:

      Maharaj: You did not have this concept “I Am” in the course of the nine months in the womb. Understand this state of affairs; the concept “I Am” comes spontaneously and goes spontaneously. Amazingly, when it appears, it is accepted as real. All subsequent misconceptions arise from that feeling of reality in the “I Amness”. Try to stabilize in that primary concept “I Am”, in order to lose that and with it all other concepts. Why am I totally free? Because I have understood the unreality of that “I Am”.

      1. I would argue that you are mistaken.

        The sense of “I Am” is the sense of “me-ness” which comes and goes in the open, empty, object-less awareness that is what the core of you is. What Nisargadatta suggests here is to stabilize one’s attention on that, as that is the primary object that is overlooked and assumed as identity and is among the most subtle things to arise. To stop the chain of cognition at that arising “starves out” the idea of that image being what you are fundamentally and allows a a clear view of your true nature to form. This nature, of course, has always been present but has been overlooked.

        From that view is where Nisargadatta told Bob to begin… to take note of the sense of beingness that never arises or goes away (Sat), knows but is not itself known as an object (Chit) and is peace itself (Ananda)… and know that he is already that. With that reflexive interest is drawn away from objects (including the I Am sense) as a basis for self referencing or self knowledge and suffering comes to an end.

        Nisargadatta used many different pointers and practices (prakriyas) depending on person and situation, including initiating people into manta practice, devotional practices and other things.

        Nowhere in John’s recorded talks or writings that I have seen has he equated what he shares or what Bob shared with him as the same as the “abide in the I Am” pointer.

        What’s really going to bake your noodle is if you can grok all of this thus far is what did Nisargadatta mean by “Prior to Consciousness”? John actually did touch on that ????.

        1. We should sit down for a coffee or tea and discuss. 🙂 Again, I appreciate your sincerity and am glad you’ve found these teachers useful. That’s part of why I have the visitor comments and ratings – a dim recognition that my opinion is not the end all be all.

          Roughly minutes 30 to 33 of this video, I hear Wheeler saying what I wrote:

          I think “the sense of beingness that never arises or goes away” is actually a extraordinary difficult space to communicate about. Most mistake “beingness” as consciousness/awareness. I maintain that every sensation and experience of ours is mediated through the human body/mind, and the honest investigator of these matters suspects that when the lights goes out (death), all that was known, experienced, and felt by this body/mind may go out as well. Thus the admonition to die before you die. Whatever is left when every known thing and experience vanishes – that “pure being” – would be what is eternal.

  8. In the end it’s all concepts. Your being is undeniable, and all concepts begin and terminate in it.

    You could check out ‘I Am’ Quotes of Nisargadatta compiled by Pradeep Apte online. It’s every time Maharaj mentioned ‘I Am’ in all of his published writings. About half of them equate the I Am with beingness.

    “‘I Am’ is ever fresh. You do not need to remember in order to ‘be’… All you need to do is unravel being from the tangle of experiences. Once you have known pure being, without being this or that, you will discern it among experiences, and you will no longer be misled by names and forms.”- Nisargadatta

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