on 21 September 2011
Cherry Red Books
This book is exactly what its title suggests: a series of conversations on the subject of non-duality, with twenty-six people who claim to know what it is like to have awakened to the true nature of reality. The conversations are transcribed from actual interviews made for conscious.tv over a two-year period, 2007-2009. The history of conscious.tv - brainchild of Iain and Renate McNay - is, in itself, fascinating, and is summarised at the beginning of the book.
Many of the contributors to the non-duality debate on conscious.tv have written their own books on the subject, but their individual interviews gathered together in this book, in date order, provide an eminently readable collection of intelligent observations, which the reader can compare and contrast. Conversations on Non-Duality will appeal, immediately, to those already knowingly engaged on a spiritual search. The book will also be of interest to anyone who has ever asked the "big questions" of life, such as "who are we?" and "`what are we doing here?" The lessons it contains are not new, and address the most fundamental questions of being human. What is the true nature of reality? What is "enlightenment" and how can it be achieved, not only by the privileged few intense spiritual seekers, but by all of us? If we can achieve enlightenment, will we then be free from suffering? Such questions have been asked many times before, and answered in the ancient wisdom of spiritual and mystic texts such as the Vedas, the Bible, and the Quran. But what will appeal to the public in this book, as proved by the popularity of conscious.tv, is that here are ordinary people expressing as day-to-day reality what has, by many teacher's in the past, been considered purely esoteric territory. In response to the hunger of a spiritually-seeking and/or psychologically-aware public for information about non-duality, the contributors to the book set out to debunk the preciousness which can often obscure the mystic's attempt to distil knowledge derived from seeing through to the heart of things.
One difficulty faced by the conversationalists in this book is that, as has long been acknowledged by mystics and sages, it is almost impossible for the layman to grasp the concept that there is no such thing as an individual, no choice and no one to be enlightened. The moment we think we've "got it," we are back in the mind, and no longer in non-dual reality. Language does not always help to describe non-duality, since words are inherently dualistic and used in different senses by different people, cultures or traditions. It becomes obvious to the reader, after a few conversations, that there are as many ways of writing or talking about the paradoxes of human consciousness as there are human personalities involved in the process of trying to encapsulate the totality of oneness through the medium of words. What is impressive here is that a thorough attempt has been made by each contributor- via accessible language, metaphor, technique and example - to address those questions in which we are all interested. The answers provided are often edifying, at times surprising and always unique. Not only can we identify similarities of experience between the interviewees, but what also comes across is the rich variety of descriptions of non-duality and responses to that state. As the book's editor, Eleonora Gilbert, suggests in her introduction, enlightenment is seen "not as the end-point, to be worked towards, but as a continual and continuing process." Not a competition, then, to claim the elevated status of non-duality, but a spectrum of "enlightenment" along which we may all find ourselves, at some point.
The conversations also cover various responses to awakening - from extremes such as euphoria or despair, through to a less traumatic general `gloopy'-ness. One of the most valuable contributions this book has to make to the consciousness arena, is the recording and normalising of non-duality as a way of living available to us all. These interviewees are not gurus and saints; they are ordinary people, like you and me. The majority of the interviewees have important knowledge and wisdom to share, they offer individual and/or group teaching, they do write books and lead meditations, but they also hold down jobs, create works of art, raise families and have fun. They are "in" the world.
The conversations reported here do not recommend "spiritual bypassing," or retreating from the material world to sit on a cloud or on top of a mountain (although the value of spiritual practice through meditation etc. is not denied), but at times offer very practical advice for living as fully awakened, or conscious beings. In other words, this isn't a book advocating any particular spiritual path, but an encouragement for us each to be who we are meant to be. Another point of convergence in the descriptions of these interviewees, in common with mystics across the religious divides, is that the void of emptiness or nothingness opening in non-dual reality is actually filled with Love. In order to start living our human lives by acting as if this were the case, with assurance and confidence in the world as a benign place, we would do well to read and digest the valuable information contained in this book, generously offered by those who know it in their hearts to be true.