068. Richard Sylvester

Richard SylvesterRichard Sylvester is a humanistic psychologist, therapist and lecturer. For thirty years he engaged with a variety of spiritual practices while also training in psychotherapeutic techniques and teaching counselling. In 2002 Richard met Tony Parsons and as he writes in his first book “That was the end of what I thought had been my life.”

Richard writes “The most common misconception about liberation is that it is something an individual can gain. But actually it is a loss – the loss of the sense that there ever was a separate person who could choose to do something to bring about liberation. In liberation it is seen that thoughts, feelings and perceptions simply arise in Oneness – there is no one to whom they belong.

“The sense of separation makes us take the everyday for granted and clamour for something more exciting to happen. But when separation is seen through, the ordinary becomes transformed into this wonderful play of consciousness, and it is seen that this is already it and this is already sufficient.

“This is a recurring message. It overthrows all authority. It can’t be killed off. It requires nothing. It requires no churches, no philosophical tracts, no scriptures, no history. If everything that had ever been said or written about non-duality were to disappear in a moment, it would simply re-emerge. It would re-emerge because nothing has to be learnt, nothing has to be studied, nothing has to be done, no spiritual purification and no pleasing of God has to take place, for the seeing of liberation to occur. It arises spontaneously. One moment there’s somebody there, the next moment there isn’t. One moment there’s somebody crossing a field, the next moment there’s just crossing a field.”

Richard has written three books about non-duality, ‘I Hope You Die Soon’, ‘The Book Of No One’ and ‘Drink Tea, Eat Cake’.  He gives talks on non-duality in England and abroad. If you would like to know more, please visit www.richardsylvester.com or www.richardsylvester.co.uk.

Interview recorded 5/8/2011.

Video and audio below. Audio also available as a Podcast. Due to technical problems, this video only contains still shots of Richard, while Rick’s video is normal.

Note from Rick: I may sound a bit argumentative in this interview, but that was not my sentiment. I do not doubt Richard’s realization and I appreciate the clarity of his expression, but I do doubt and question the tendency of some speakers to offer a description of the awakened state as a prescription, or to state that nothing can be prescribed, and that spiritual practices and realization are unrelated. I felt the interview would be more interesting and authentic if I honestly aired these doubts and questions, so I did, and a lively discussion ensued which we both enjoyed. In fact, Richard suggested that we do a follow-up interview, which we will eventually.

99 thoughts on “068. Richard Sylvester

  1. i don’t know if this might help or not…

    briefly… like Steve says… Absolute Reality is never changing… while Relative Reality is ever changing…

    perhaps what is missing… is the understanding that… Absolute Reality is not the whole ball of wax…

    the Total Reality is both the Absolute and the Relative… learned this from MMY…

    Total Reality is also what we call Life… and it is both… the never-changing non-duality… and the ever-changing duality…

    this… i feel i adds the mystery and the paradox back into the equation… which we know Reality to be… and perhaps rescues us from getting stuck in absolutist views projected onto the dual part of progressive life…

    i appreciate Rick trying to get to the bottom of this… and feel it’s the “awakened” ones that need to help in resolving this dilemma which many are concerned about…

    thanks for listening…

  2. of course… if Rick can do it… more gently… more clearly…

    i feel he’s getting there… but the interviewees need to help… in this respect… i feel Jan Esmann’s interview is very interesting and informative… i encourage anyone interested in this point… to watch it… again… if the point was missed… thanks…

  3. Gracie… if i may… this progressive point was handled somewhat differently … and perhaps “adequately”… in interviews of Burt Harding, Joi Sharp & Jan Esmann… perhaps others…

  4. Thank you Gracie. Hey, if a baseball player could get a hit 11 out of every 12 times at bat, he’d be considered super-human. So I felt encouraged rather than discouraged by your comment. I knew while I was interviewing Richard that there was too much “Rick” in the process. Debate is a part of traditional Indian spirituality. Sages would get together and one would argue for the dual perspective while the other would argue for the non-dual. As they debated, the audience would swing back and forth between the two perspectives, and this would culture in them the capacity to hold both paradoxical perspectives in their awareness.

    I too like the English and Australian folks. I’ve listened to all the Urban Guru Café episodes. But liking them doesn’t mean I completely agree with them. I brought up the idea of progress with Wayne Liquorman when I interviewed him his afternoon. After a bit of prodding, he acknowledged that there’s one dimension of life which can’t possibly be enhanced or changed, but that there’s infinite room for refinement and improvement in the manifest expression – ones emotions, perception, etc.

  5. “After a bit of prodding, he acknowledged that there’s one dimension of life which can’t possibly be enhanced or changed, but that there’s infinite room for refinement and improvement in the manifest expression – ones emotions, perception, etc.” – Rick

    I was looking forward to Wayne coming here, but now I’m doubly looking forward to it.

    I’m familiar with most of his writings and I am dying to see how he said the above.

    *checks to see if his popcorn popper will be ready for that time*

  6. As usual, I kicked myself a bit afterwards as I thought of things I should have asked or asked differently, but on the whole I think it was a pretty good one. Bentinho Massaro was a lot of fun too.

  7. Can I have a sneak peek by asking you if he surfaced one of his favorite (mine too) metaphors, or the waves/Ocean one?

    If he did, I’d be interested to see how he interpreted refinement and improvement within wavedom.

  8. I loved the interview. Richard reminds me of some Zen masters that taught without ever giving the mind of the students whatsoever to grab a hold of, no assurances, no hope, no path, no nothing that could prolong the students seeking. Of course there’s always the danger of misinterpretation. I think this method is much more suited for “advanced” (long-term and already kind of exhausted) seekers that need a good final blow to ultimately call of the search for “enlightenment”.
    A psychologist asked a Zen Master how exactly he helped people. The Zen Master replied: “I get them to the point where they cannot ask anymore questions”…

  9. The ‘self’ is not a concept we employ in real life (unless we’re REALLY fucked-up!). Academically it can be defined as the mind-body organism and experientially as the response of the nervous system in its attempt to get what it thinks it (critically) needs. Perhaps all it really critically needs is food, clothes and shelter. And if it sees this, all other activity (which may seem at times to constitute an entity) will die away, or at least become far less…. critical.
    But it won’t ‘disappear’ until we’re in the coffin. So to suggest that the ‘self” (which never existed anyway experientially) disappears is to suggest another reality in which there is no person.
    Anyone taking this seriously will perforce attempt to reach this ‘reality’. Congratulations…you’ve just founded another Religion based on pure Mysticism and placed people on yet ANOTHER treadmill.
    Some of the rest of it is quite good.

  10. Hi TTim
    Actually, if you familiarize yourself with the arena, you’ll see this is a key theme. In the approach to Self Realization, we often become increasingly conscious of the ego or “self” as an entity or construct. There’s a few ways this is described. But essentially an untangling or deattaching from this concept of self.

    In the actual Self Realization shift, people may describe an ego death or detachment, becoming empty of a me, becoming cosmic, and so forth. These are subjective variations in the shift from ego to Atman or the universal Self.

    Some will insist the ego ended then because of their experience but what really ended was the attachment to that function. As you note, there is aspects of a person that remain as long as we have this body. They simply no longer dominate.

    This attempt to describe the experience is not to create a new religion, etc but rather to describe and support what many are experiencing now. Academically, they refer to this as Transpersonal or post-personal development in psychology.

    There is a current lack of standardization of terminology and understanding in the field but with many coming together on sites like this and places like the SAND conference, that will come.

  11. Hi David B.,
    I’m perfectly familiar with ‘the Arena’, thanks. (For my sins). It’s called Mysticism and it’s ‘mystification’ lies at the heart of every Religion. Which has been and continues to be such a marvellous influence in our lives!
    There is already ‘standardisation of terminology’ but this will not lead to, neither will there be any ‘understanding in the field’, because such understanding (i.e. clarification) would put an end to the field.
    What a tremendous pity that would be!
    I would invite you to re-read what I actually said.

  12. Ah, I see I misunderstood the intention of your first comment. I’d have to say I quite disagree though.

    It’s mysticism only if it’s a mystery. Discussion here and Ricks frequent pausing for definitions illustrate the lack of standardization of terms. And there is now an accredited university specializing in Transpersonal development, psychologies term for post-personal stages discussed on this site.

    And there is very much an approach to Self realization. It may not be apparent except in retrospect but there are quite often key things that happen prior such as witnessing, clear sustained samadhi, makara, and so forth. They’re not universally noticed but are common.

    Some teachers even define a stage prior to Self realization, to the effect of becoming aware you have universal nature.

  13. Well: what can I say? I thought we’d already established that there was no such thing as a ‘non-Person’, so the concept of ‘Transpersonal development’ is not especially meaningful. Not only a new Religion (as we’ve discussed), but in addition, a pseudo-science!
    In respect of your other (not unconnected) point: let us posit that the ‘problem of life’ is ‘Separation’. If it is seen that this is an illusion, it is seen once and for all. I suspect that a ‘Glimpse’ is probably not necessary, but, whatever may be the case, it is, or gives rise to a powerful REINFORCEMENT of separation. (In the same way as a Peep Show is not and actually HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH actual Sex. If you’ll pardon the metaphor!) So the glimpse itself is an illusion….As are so-called ‘Teachers!
    As Oscar Wilde so memorably said: “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught”

  14. Transpersonal is not about a “non-person” but rather the unfolding of our awareness of our cosmic or unified being. This tends to unfold in discreet stages which can be studied and used to support those in that process.

    While there are a rare few who had a single total shift, more typically there is first the shift from being a me to being no-self or cosmic Self (same thing actually). Then there is a further stage where the separation between “inside” and “outside” falls away and that Self within is recognized to be in the world also. This is followed by the layers of separation in experience falling away (perception, memory, etc). This is the process described in Vedanta although a number of neo-advaitists confuse the first with the second.

    You might find Shankara’s description of Maya useful if you’re unfamiliar. He described how when Tamas is dominant, the world behaves as a covering and the only reality. When Rajas becomes dominant, the world is seen as illusory and only the unchanging within is real. This is how most understand the word Maya. But when Sattva becomes dominant, then the world is seen as the play of the divine, as Lila. And in the second stage above, none other than the Self. The world is myself so becomes profoundly intimate.

    It has been well demonstrated that the right support at the right time makes the process smoother and possibly faster. What I’m describing is moving this out of a religious or mystical tradition and into a broader more universal understanding that is more inclusive.

    I would not describe a glimpse as “necessary”, nor that it necessarily increases separation. My point was simply that various kinds of experience are quite common in the approach. It can be useful to be able to put them into some kind of context. Then they’re more likely to support the journey than becomes problems.

    While the quality of available teachers varies widely, having a resonant teacher arise at the right time should never be underestimated. At key points on the journey, the right pointing can help facilitate grace.

    I fully agree that a bunch of concepts have no value. And even any map of the road is not the road. But that doesn’t eliminate the value of a map.

  15. Sorry; haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. But I do note that you consider that what you’re “…describing is moving this out of a religious or mystical tradition and into a broader more universal understanding that is more inclusive.” Is that a fact? LoL.
    Don’t agree that (a bunch of) concepts necessarily have no value. But if what I said in my first comment (which you keep slurring over) is true, it pulls the rug out from under the erroneous concepts which underlie the entire ‘religious or mystical tradition’ which you seem so keen to… resurrect.
    If I’m correct, Richard Sylvester has opined that one of these erroneous concepts is: that there is ‘a road’. If there is no road, then the value of a map even as a historical curiosity is highly questionable.
    You’re on your own from beginning to end in this World, Bud.

  16. Well, you certainly enjoy over-stating your case. On my own? Hardly. I’ve already given other examples and there are numerous other interviewees here, not to mention Rick that would concur with my points.

    I’ve already stated I disagree. I was not “slurring”, I was explaining. If you don’t understand, would it not be more constructive to ask for clarification than try to insult someone?

    A road is an analogy. You’ve been experiencing the growth process since you were born. If awakening is a process and not some mystical lightning bolt, would it not be useful to understand it? And does that not suggest there is road, as has been described for thousands of years and by many on this site?

    You are of course welcome to your opinion but what you state has not been my experience so I see it otherwise.

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