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:

11 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.

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