Drink Tea Eat Cake

Extracts from Drink Tea Eat Cake
(Meetings In Seven German Cities)
by Richard Sylvester
Published by Non-Duality Press

(Please note:- Drink Tea Eat Cake is currently out of print. If you are having difficulty obtaining a copy, you can buy one by e-mailing richardsylvester@hotmail.co.uk)


A friend who kindly read this book as it was being completed commented that its likely readers would include ‘seekers who are ready to stop’. Certainly if you are still heartily enjoying your spiritual search, it is probably best that you put down this book right now and also make a mental note never to go to a talk on non-duality, not even once. If what is written here or is spoken at a talk is really heard, that will be the end of spiritual seeking and ‘your head will be in the tiger’s mouth’. Then there will be no escape.

Spiritual seeking can, of course, be great fun and very entertaining. It can provide us with hope, meaning and purpose, a comforting circle of like-minded friends, the company of charismatic teachers and gurus and a means of disposing of our surplus income. It can also give us an excellent way of structuring much of the time that we have between birth and death and provide us with almost endless opportunities to travel to exotic destinations equipped with arms full of vaccinations and rucksacks full of diarrhoea pills.

But seeking also guarantees that we do not find, because it takes us away from presence. As long as we are looking for the secret of enlightenment over there in some far away place and some future time, we cannot notice that this is already it right here, right now. This is already that which we seek, the promised land, the hoped for paradise. But the person can never see this. This can only be seen when the person falls away. When the self is there, muddying the view with its neuroses and its incessant shouting for attention, then it cannot be seen that this is it and this is sufficient.

These seven words, ‘This is it and this is sufficient’, are the most simple way I have ever found to sum up liberation. When oneness is seen, which can only happen when the person is not there to see it, then it is realised not only that this is all there is, but that this is enough. When the grimy veil of the person is not there diminishing and taking for granted the everyday, and clamouring for something more exciting to happen, then the ordinary becomes transformed into this wonderful play of consciousness.

Seeing oneness is the end of searching, because when the everyday is seen as a miracle there is no need to search for anything else to spice up life with. The leaves rustling in the wind, the texture of a dog’s coat as it is stroked in the park, the taste of fresh coffee on the verandah of the cafe are seen to be enough. This is why although liberation has no necessary implications, there tends to be relaxation and a profound enjoyment of simple things when the person has dropped away.

Many of us today are breaking away from the old adversarial habits of religion and seeking for the common inner core that we feel must lie at the heart of all religions and spiritual paths. We are no longer focussing only on the astonishingly colourful surface differences. We are trying instead to find the shared hidden truth beneath. Something, we feel, must connect images as disparate as the crucifixion, Ganesh the Elephant God, Father Sun and Mother Moon, the communion supper, Kali with her necklace of human skulls, mandalas, whirling Sufi mystics, Golden Buddha statues, medicine wheels and Isis the River Goddess.

Non-duality, oneness, lies at the still centre of all religions and spiritual paths although it is rarely acknowledged and has been little spoken about throughout history. Although we are each born into wholeness, at an early age we acquire self-consciousness, and in that process a sense of separation and loss arises. Somehow we feel that we have been thrown out of paradise, and whether this is recognised consciously or not, we spend our life trying to make ourself whole again so that we can re-enter paradise. We have wonderful imaginations and an enormous capacity for telling stories, and the great evolutionary tree of religions, of spiritual paths, of the sagas of prophets and gods and holy men and holy madmen, is the result of our forlorn and hopeless search.

Our search is hopeless because we never lost paradise. The paradise which we seek to re-enter is always with us, but hidden by the presence of the separated self. We do not need to find paradise, we need to lose our sense of separation to see that this is already it. But the separated self is unable to lose itself, precisely because it is a false self. The false self is unable to see reality.

Nevertheless, uncaused and unprompted, the false self can drop away and in that death of the person wholeness, unity, non-duality, can be seen again. The false self may drop away while the individual is still alive but it need be of no concern if it does not, because at the death of the body there is only liberation in any case. I am writing these words five days after the death of Ramesh Balsekar, who wrote “What does death ultimately mean? It means the end of the struggle of daily living. It means the end of duality.”

In the seeing of non-duality, in liberation which is the same thing, it is seen that there is no person with autonomy and responsibility who makes choices about something called their life. It is also seen that everything arises out of nothing, that at the heart of this wonderful manifestation there is emptiness. This emptiness has been realised and spoken about in many traditions, in Buddhism, in Daoism and in Hinduism, for example, and even in Christianity. Sometimes it has been spoken about openly. Sometimes it has only been whispered about, for there have been many times when it has been very dangerous to speak about this, because of the terrible power wielded by priesthoods. Recently, however, there has been a new phenomenon. The views that there is no person who makes any choice, and that everything arises out of emptiness, are now supported by science.

Developments in neuroscience suggest strongly that there is no possibility of there being a unified autonomous person at the centre of our experience. Many psychologists now agree that free will is an illusion. And quantum physicists give us a picture of the universe in which even the smallest elements of matter disintegrate into mere vibrating energy, in which everything manifests, as it were, from sound. It is said in the Yogic tradition that the root mantra ‘Aum’ is the first and original vibration of the universe. In the beginning was the word, and the word was Aum.

Nevertheless, in spite of this coming together of science and mysticism, the views of materialist science and of non-duality about the nature of consciousness are diametrically opposed. Science sees matter as primary, and consciousness as an accidental by-product of matter. It claims that we are essentially physical structures which have developed consciousness by chance because of the increasing complexity of the organisation of cells, neurons, chemicals and electrical impulses in our brains. In other words, without matter there is no consciousness. But in liberation it is seen that there is only consciousness, which is the same as saying that there is only emptiness out of which all phenomena, including physical phenomena, arise. In other words, without consciousness there is no matter. Science can never discover this. It can only be discovered by direct seeing when the person drops away.

Nor, for all its instruments, can science discover that the ultimate nature of emptiness is unconditional love.

Finally, why is the title of this book ‘Drink Tea, Eat Cake’? When liberation is seen life tends to become less complicated. All the stories that may have fuelled our life drop away and we are left with the simplicity of this. In that simplicity, the small and ordinary things in life may really be enjoyed. I am often asked for advice and I usually refuse to give it. But if I were to give advice, it would be to relax and enjoy whatever simple things you like doing. It doesn’t have to be drinking tea and eating cake. It might be drinking coffee and walking round the park. But until the everyday can be enjoyed, the miracle of this is being missed.

In Zen they say “Before liberation, hew wood and draw water. After liberation, hew wood and draw water.” I prefer “Before liberation, drink tea and eat cake. After liberation, drink tea and eat cake.” But they add up to the same. There is no difference. Before liberation and after liberation, being asleep and being awake, are the same thing.

Hamburg – Thursday Evening – After The Talk

A stern young man had been standing at the back of the room throughout the talk, staring unwaveringly at me as if trying to unnerve me, although he had asked no questions and made no comments. He looked rather unhinged, even somewhat psychotic. At the end of the meeting he waited deliberately until everyone else had left the room and then approached me. He sat down in front of me and stared grimly at me without saying a word. I asked him “Do you have a question?”

The stern young man continued to stare intently at me in silence. I shrugged my shoulders and started to get up to leave. Suddenly the stern young man spoke.

(Stern young man, in good but not perfect English) I have no questions. I have nothing to say. I am seeing if you can bear my look. What you are saying is complete bullshit. I know that. There are a thousand different people inside your head and what you describe in your book is just one of those thousand people talking.

By now I was on my feet and gathering up my books.

(Stern young man, in a tone of outrage) Do you not want to hear what I have to say?

I sighed and said “No. It is just another story. I have no interest in these stories anymore.”

I left the room as the stern young man muttered to himself.

Hanover – Saturday Morning – After The Talk

My translator left for Munich and I took a train to the location of my last one-day meeting in Bielefeld. This took place on Sunday in a newly opened healing sanctuary. I rarely remember much that I say at my meetings and there was no recording equipment at this talk. At the start of it, I said to the audience jokingly that if I should happen to come up with anything interesting or original, they should write it down and tell me afterwards. Although we had a lovely day, with a tasty organic lunch and many cups of tea, no one came forward at the end with any note. However, I do remember that we talked about the following, and I would like to end with it.

It is the nature of the mind to make the search as complex as it possibly can. This is partly because the mind likes complexity and partly because complexity helps the mind to keep the search going. After all, if we have attained a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. in spirituality and still not ‘achieved enlightenment’, we can keep searching by trying for the Ph.D. In America, where they call their lower degrees B.S. and M.S., these initials are said to stand for ‘Bull Shit’, ‘More Shit’ and ‘Piled High And Deep’.

Religious and spiritual groups often adore complexity too, and their stories may also become ever more extreme as they compete with each other to become the purest, noblest, and most ascetic kids on the religious and spiritual block. If one sect preaches vegetarianism, another will preach a lentil-only diet and a third will become fruitarian, only to be outdone by a breatharian sect. If one cult demands eight hours of meditation each day, another will demand ten hours each day half way up a mountain in freezing conditions. To lose a few toes to frost-bite while chanting mantras in below zero temperatures will be considered a badge of spiritual honour.

Until we meet a guru who tells us that we have to give up wanting enlightenment entirely (grit your teeth and try this) we may follow one who tells us that we must want enlightenment more than life itself (grit your teeth and try this too). In order to encourage our efforts at devotion, the following story is told in the yogic tradition.

A young man makes his way up to a guru’s encampment at the top of a cliff and asks the guru if he will take him as his devotee. The guru refuses. The young man begs. The guru again refuses. The young man pleads, cries, wails and howls. The guru still refuses. The young man says “If I cannot be your devotee, I will hurl myself from this cliff and be dashed to pieces on the rocks below.” The guru shrugs his shoulders and says “Do whatever you like. I will not take you as my devotee.”

The young man rushes to the edge of the cliff, hurls himself into the void and is killed as his body hits the ground. The guru then turns to four of his chelas and says “Go to the foot of the cliff and bring me the body of that young man.” The chelas obey and the young man’s body is laid at the guru’s feet. The guru breaths on the young man and chants mantras over his broken body. Miraculously, the young man is healed and restored to life. “Now” says the guru “you can be my devotee, for you have proved that you are worthy by desiring enlightenment more than life itself.”

Not to be outdone, the Buddhists tell the following story. There is a mighty ocean and under its surface there swims a giant turtle. Once and only once every hundred years, the turtle breaks the surface of the ocean in order to breath. Somewhere on the ocean there floats an ox’s collar. Your chance of attaining a human rebirth, the only kind of rebirth in which enlightenment can be achieved, is the same as the chance of that turtle’s head piercing the ocean’s surface in exactly the right place to emerge through the ox’s collar. That is how difficult it is to attain a human birth, and that is how hard you should work for enlightenment so that you do not squander this priceless opportunity.

These stories play on our feelings of guilt and feed off our sense of inadequacy. If we buy into them, we can feel constantly failed by judging ourself harshly against these impossible ideals.

Alternatively, if it suits us, we can drink tea and eat cake.