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Review on "Only That: The Life and Teaching of Sailor Bob Adamson"
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Review By Jerry Katz  On 1/13/2011 10:40:14 AM

Author Kalyani Lawry’s association with Bob Adamson has a long history. She first met ‘Sailor’ Bob in the 1970s when they were both devotees of Swami Muktananda. At one point Bob shifted his devotion from Muktananda to Nisargadatta Maharaj. Kalyani did not make that shift, however decades later Kalyani would find herself sitting with Bob at his home and, now, presenting us with a book of Bob’s life and a selection of his teachings.

Only That includes 16 glossy pages with 23 black and white photos of Bob from childhood through various stages of his life, including a few photos of Nisargadatta Maharaj, his teacher. The photos and the first half of the book, which is about Bob’s life, are new contributions to the printed Adamson works.

The Table of Contents for Part 2, The Teaching, is cleverly designed, with each chapter a teaching unto itself, for example, 'The Ego is Fiction,' 'Can You Get Out of the Now?' and 'Everything is That.' There is no index, which would be helpful for easily finding uses of the term 'full stop', or where Bob referred to Buddhism, for example.

Nisargadatta Maharaj was Bob’s primary teacher. To such a degree of success has Bob communicated the essence of Nisargadatta, that he is informally known as perhaps the best living representative of the Nisargadatta teaching. I make it clear that Nisargadatta never authorized Bob (or anyone else) to teach and Bob has his own style of communication.

This informality of lineage is important to point out because it informs potential students of Bob that they are not being invited into a formal lineage or a tradition. While there are benefits to aligning with a tradition, any association with Bob is that of two people getting down to what is true.

The author’s purpose is to introduce and further contribute to Adamson’s published works by presenting his teachings alongside his biography. The author has succeeded and also contributed something new, since there is no other printed work providing so many details of Bob’s past. I’m not aware of all the podcasts with Bob which may contain further biographical material. I know that Bob has discussed his past with people other than Kalyani, but I believe this is the first time Bob’s history has been published in print.

The biography is the bones of the book’s theme and thesis: a life of alcoholic suffering gives way to nondual spiritual enlightenment. The thesis is that it is possible to overcome suffering and alcoholism and to understand one’s true nature if one gets a foothold in sanity, values it deeply, and follows the path that opens up as far as possible.

While Bob Adamson’s teachings are available in other published writings, in podcasts, and in person, what I like about this book is the packaging of biography with teachings and the noting of the turning points in Bob’s life that opened up to the realization expressed in the section of the book on teachings.

The turning points were the final quitting of drinking and a question that arose out of that, a question I’d never heard, a question Bob posed about his life. I won’t say what the question was, leaving it to the reader to stumble upon.

What makes Only That relevant and significant is the biographical material in conjunction with the teaching. The phase of ‘Sailor’ Bob’s life in the Navy and his great psychological suffering and alcoholism are the most intense parts of the biography. They form the most important part of the book because they are new revelations in print regarding Adamson and they show the profound suffering, alcoholism, addiction, and despair.

During one phase of Adamson’s life while working as a sheep shearer in South Australia, the author reveals that, 'He felt broken and any sense of self-worth had completely disappeared. ... "I got into the horrors there and it got so bad I was going to shoot myself.”'

More time is spent on Bob’s life after he became sober and stumbled upon the particular question which drove him into the adventure to nonduality. It began with investigation of Christian spiritual teachings, then study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and others; personal contemplation; the meeting of his wife, Barbara:
'When they met, Barbara had just come out of a difficult marriage that had placed enormous financial and psychological pressure on her and she was working to support her four children. Bob says that he, as a recovering alcoholic, was also "still messed up."'

There were split-ups and separations but Bob and Barbara finally remained together, as they are today, and Bob attributes one breakup to his stumbling upon Nisargadatta Maharaj. Regarding Bob’s time in India with Nisargadatta, Kalyani Lawry says, 'He would sit Bob at the front and sometimes their dialogues would turn into yelling matches.' Bob explains, 'He was taking away all my concepts and the dearly-held beliefs and ideas of things that I thought I’d understood. He’d kick everything out from underneath me. And even though there might have been the seeing of the most profound truth, that simply wasn’t good enough either [...] There was nowhere left to stand.'

The biographical section continues with Bob’s departing Nisargadatta’s company and returning to Australia where he eventually conducted his own meetings, which carry on today.

Having journeyed through Bob’s life in a telling that is admittedly fragmented but still whole, the reader is brought to Adamson’s teachings. These are extracts from talks, question and answer sessions, and interviews. It is not clear what the sources are. Are they unpublished audio tapes? Portions from published books or podcasts?

The teachings are confessional, stating the nature of reality, and also instructional, giving both specific and general instruction. An example of the confessional is this: 'So, there is nothing other than That. You are that intelligence energy that’s never been divided. That’s why the sages down through time tell us that it’s one without a second. There is only That.'

A specific instruction may be called Full Stop. Stop the mind. Bob says, 'Full stop right now, without a thought: are there any concepts going on?' [...] 'When you realize that you can’t get out of the mind by looking, what must happen? In the full stop, the thought is paused for a brief moment. In that pause, when there’s no thought going on, you haven’t stopped seeing, you haven’t stopped hearing, you haven’t disappeared, and you haven’t fallen apart. When there’s no conceptualizing going on, no thinking, you are prior to the mind. And that’s how simple it really is.'

A general instruction is that of investigating: 'Investigate that concept and see if there’s anything there with any substance or independent nature, or is it just the pure seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, and actual functioning going on?'

Though Adamson’s main teacher was Nisargadatta Maharaj, whose teaching was grounded in Advaita Vedanta, Adamson frequently makes reference to Buddhism and even once to St. Paul.

Bob’s teachings revolve around confession of what is, the instruction to investigate thoughts and experience, and the instruction to stop the mind. From that stopping, and from that investigation, concepts, thoughts, emotions, feelings, and everything that is happening, are seen for what they are. You too are seen for what you are: naked awareness. That.

This book is a turnaround from suffering and separation to nonduality and home. Bob says, 'Living is not from the viewpoint of a separate entity anymore.' In the end, it is seen that, 'All pointers will lead you home if you look into them.'

Only That is an essential contribution to the literature on ‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson. It is suitable for beginning seekers, who will be able to identify with the first part of the book on suffering and easily follow Bob on his road out of suffering. The teachings themselves may or may not fully resonate with the beginning seeker. Questions on how to full stop or how to investigate experience, or how to deal with lack of success in getting 'the understanding,' may lead to further readings and encounters. But then Bob says to investigate! This must include the investigation of the apparent fruitlessness of an investigation.

Read Only That along with the other books by and about Bob and alongside the CDs, DVDs, websites, and podcasts. If you read only one Bob Adamson book, however, I would recommend Only That because of its biographical content, photographs, and the selection of teachings.

Aside from reading about Bob, please remember that he lives in Australia and welcomes visitors. The 'understanding' is everyone’s right, says ‘Sailor’ Bob.

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About this book

Through John Wheeler and other influential teachers, and through his two books of dialogues, Sailor Bob Adamson has become a familiar name to those interested in non-dual spirituality.

With assistance from friends and family, and from Bob himself, Kalyani Lawry has compiled an absorbing account of his life illustrated with photographs from Bob's personal collection.

The second part of Only That consists of dialogues which have an immediacy that is 'closer than your breathing, nearer than your hands and feet' and a depth that reflects Bob's life experience while pointing clearly to the ultimate reality, 'Thou art That'.

Kalyani Lawry Order from non-dualitypress.com

Non-Duality Press