I had the pleasure of meeting Francis at the recent Science and Nonduality conference, and just finished his book. Before I review books, I like to read the negative reviews, such as that posted on Amazon by L. Ron Gardner. Mr. Gardner takes exception to Francis' work because, among other things, it is simplistic: "...he reduces Maharshi's ultra-esoteric teachings to simplistic Advaita."
The fundamental concept of nonduality certainly merits an effort at simplification. (Check out the Wikipedia definition of "nonduality.") "I Am That I Am" is very readable. Bennett's contribution is clarity, which might, for some, result in oversimplification occasionally. I did not find that to be true, but rather, I enjoyed his writing style and skill at presenting and repeating important themes, and while much of it is derivative of other writings, whose modern books are not? They must all be derivative -- nonduality is not new. That said, every author brings a style and examples which are unique, and Bennett's are exceptional, clear and loving.
While anyone might enjoy this book, the intended readership appears to be beginners or early explorers of spiritual truth beyond conventional doctrines. But its primary appeal is to those with a Christian background and/or Christian sympathies. Bennett falls in the line of mystical Christians such as Meister Eckhart, Anthony De Mello, Thomas Merton, Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Keating and Bernadette Roberts. It is much easier for a Buddhist to embrace Advaita than for most Christians. Christian scriptural sources for "enlightenment" or "awakening" are few and far between...Luke 17:21 and John 10:30 are mentioned here, with a number of others. Bennett was a Trappist, then Benedictine monk for 30 years.
His loving intention, which I experienced in person, is very present in tone and content in this fine introduction to Unity Consciousness; because of that alone, other errors can be easily forgiven. He introduces some simple spiritual techniques at the end of the book that are mainly cognitive, but include a "prayer of simple being," and he artfully demonstrates the "Self-Inquiry" of Ramana Maharshi at several places. Also, he suggests three "aspects" of life (awareness, thinking, and feelins/emotion) and how they affect or do not affect us. He reminds us of the value of surrender and silence in unique and artful ways at the conclusion.
Helping us to achieve a first recognition of the Self as the infinite and timeless field of Pure Awareness is certainly a goal of "I Am That I Am." At the SAND conference, Mr. Bennett went on to discuss the "second awakening" which is the collapse of the "witness consciousness" that generally results from a primary breakthrough or kensho. (His SAND comments brought in the more unifying concept "pan-en-theism" (his word and foundational to Kashmir Shaivism) which asserts the natural if often hidden divinity in all the physical, mental and emotional elements of experience. It is this final unity experience which quietly dissolves the separation between subject and object, without loss of the radiance of immanent Being in that slower process, that should be part of Mr. Bennett's second book.
"I Am That I Am" is highly recommended, especially as gift from those committed to spiritual awakening to their Christian friends and family.
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