Not I, Not other than I
Review of a book by Russel Williams
A modern sage living modestly in Manchester, UK for many years? How could I not have heard of Russel Williams, living as I do within commuting distance of Manchester and having worked there during much of that time? This essentially humble man has pursued his teaching for many years at the Manchester Buddhist Society, without receiving accolades or wide recognition. Yet he would appear to be the genuine article.
It is only because Steve Taylor persuaded the now-93-year-old that his tale and teachings should be told that we now have access to them in this fine book Not I, Not other than I, edited by Steve.
The book interweaves the highly improbable-sounding and adventurous early years of Russel Williams’ life with summaries of the realisations and teachings of his later years. The young Williams had a string of perilous experiences, including finding himself in a lion’s cage, living through the London blitz, saving lives from a small boat during the evacuation of Dunkirk, and so on. Improbable but almost certainly true, Williams passed through a rare intensity of experience that was probably necessary for his subsequent spiritual awakening and later undoubted spiritual authenticity.
The essence of his teaching is a simplicity of experience that does not get into verbalisation at all. Steve says in his introduction:
“Russel’s spiritual teachings are very ‘naked’ and pure – that is, they are very free of theories, concepts and categories. This gives his teachings a rare clarity and power. There is no system. There are no rituals or rules to follow, no ideas to take on board. You don’t have to believe anything. You don’t have to accept anything. You don’t have to become anything. All you have to do is be.”
The teachings are not even actually Buddhist theories, but they are largely consistent with Buddhist teachings about the essential nature of man.
Steve goes on:
“Russel teaches us how to uncover this state – how we can nurture it, and remove some of the obstacles which stop its expression. He makes it clear that this is our natural state, and that it’s only due to confusion that we have lost access to it. He helps us to remove the confusion, to disentangle our minds from the mess of concepts and thinking habits which cloud them, so that we can become who we really are. In this state, we are naturally one with everything, and with the universe itself…”
This is a fascinating book, which deals well with trying to get over an essentially nonverbal practice. It would be difficult to read it and not come away in some way changed.
Steve Taylor is himself an interesting man who has written a number of books on psychology and spirituality, and is an accomplished poet, so was well qualified to undertake the editing of this book.