Discovery of the Three Principles.

Sydney Banks' letter to Oprah Winfrey

'I Don't Read ... I Write': Writer/philosopher Sydney Banks has a huge following, but he rarely reads
Vancouver Sun Archives
Sat Jan 20 2007
Column: Douglas Todd

{Read Sydney Banks obituary, 2009}

GANGES - Sydney Banks has written more books than he's read. The clean, spartan study of Saltspring Island's internationally-revered author, down-home philosopher and psycho-therapeutic contrarian testifies to his lack of book learning.
A 75-year-old former welder at Harmac pulp mill, the mostly barren bookshelf in his home office has only a few Reader's Digest novels and a small set of encyclopedias, which he's hardly cracked.
In the spacious house he helped build with his own strong hands on acreage in the middle of Saltspring Island, Banks acknowledges a mild visual impediment makes reading, if not exactly impossible, difficult.
"The only books I've ever read are welding books," he says with a sardonic grin.
"I don't really read. I'd rather write."
At Banks's last count: Three books read; six books written.
They include the best-selling Enlightened Gardener series.
Banks -- who has never given a media interview until now -- blends avuncular modesty and supreme confidence, notably in the controversial psycho-spiritual theories he's been teaching in North America and Europe for three decades.
Merging simple aphorisms with high abstraction, Banks calls himself a philosopher-theosophist (defining a theosopher as someone who learns from direct experience and "innate" knowledge). His adherents say his teaching has reached tens of thousands of people throughout the English-speaking world.
His many admirers include big-name self-help authors, such as Richard Carlson, author of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff -- as well as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, therapists, police officers, business people, doctors, mental-health professionals and others in the social services.
Banks and his teachings have also been picked up by leading civic officials in cities throughout the U.S., where thousands of people, including prisoners, alcoholics, the homeless and drug addicts, have been drawn to his easy-sounding route to ending inner pain and finding happiness.
Last fall more than 250 people from North America and beyond -- including former B.C. Lions and Chicago Bears football player Tyrone Keys, who now heads a sports program for disadvantaged youngsters in Tampa Bay, Fla. -- flew to Greater Vancouver to take part in one of Banks's rare workshops.
In 2000, Banks even had a health research organization named after him at 25,000-student West Virginia University: The Sydney Banks Institute for Innate Health.
After some faculty protested Banks's work seemed too New Agey, however, the name was changed to the West Virginia Initiative for Innate Health. Still, it manages each month to sell or give away about 1,000 of Banks's books and CDs to program participants.
In a nutshell, Banks teaches that people are unhappy because they choose to be unhappy.
To put it bluntly, Banks's psychological approach to past emotional trauma is basically: Deal with it. Get over it. Move on.
Unlike therapists who believe people transcend their destructive habits by working through their childhood emotional pain, Banks says people should recognize the past is just an illusion and that negative experiences only exist in one's thoughts, which one can control.
"I can guarantee you that while you look through so much ghostly contamination [from your past], you will never know the beauty of living in the now," Banks has written in The Enlightened Gardener series.
In the thinly disguised novels, an unlettered British groundskeeper named Andy serves as Banks's fictional stand-in -- teaching a group of amazed American psychologists about the true nature of the universe.
To Banks, space, matter and time are an illusion, a dream. The only three things that are real are what he calls Mind ("the source of all intelligence"), Consciousness ("which allows us to be aware") and Thought ("which guide us through the world as free-thinking agents").
Banks knows many people find befuddling his three grand-sounding principles about the nature of reality. But he's utterly convinced they hold the keys to enlightenment.
When he picked me up at the Saltspring Island ferry dock, Banks seemed like any nice, older guy with an easy-going dog, whose name is Fergus.
After driving into his pastoral acreage on Saltspring, on which he's lived in various locations since 1963 (except for five years in Hawaii), we spent an afternoon at his large home with its wrap-around porch.
With his current wife away in California, Banks was a pleasant host, who occasionally forgot his glasses and shook from mild palsy, possibly a result of a recent heart attack.
He spoke with a grandfatherly Scottish burr while sitting in his living-room, which had a chime clock and over-sized TV. He seemed self-effacing and absolutely sincere.
Those who have wanted to make up their own minds about the authenticity of Banks's teaching have had the opportunity to sift through his often-enigmatic nuggets of wisdom at www.sydneybanks.org.
Or they have tracked down the six books and related audio tapes Banks produced in the past decade, including The Enlightened Gardener, In Quest of the Pearl and The Missing Link.
To say Banks is self-taught is an understatement. Being an autodidact is his spiritual claim to fame, his imprimatur.
It's the thing he almost tosses in the face of all those doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists about whom he often talks; all those people who've attended graduate school.
"If they really hear what I'm saying, everything they've taught will be worth nothing," he insists. "My work completely opposes the psychological approach."
Growing up an adoptee in a working-class Scottish family, Banks never got beyond Grade 9. He left Scotland in 1957 and soon began living in the first of many summer cabins and homes on Saltspring Island.
He was working as a welder at Vancouver Island's Harmac pulp mills in 1973 when it happened.
The epiphany.
"It's the greatest breakthrough in the history of psychology and psychiatry. Do you want to hear the story?" Banks asks, with Fergus lying at his feet in his living room.
He recounts how he and his beloved late wife, Barb, were having some marital difficulties. Even though it was the hippie era, Banks considered himself a shift-work tradesman who wasn't interested in the counterculture movement.
Nevertheless, some of the alternative types on Saltspring Island suggested Sydney and Barb sign up for group therapy at Cold Mountain Institute on Cortes Island. It was led by a prestigious psychologist from New York, whose name he forgets.
Banks was petrified at the prospect of revealing himself. So he and his wife cancelled the group therapy. Then they signed up again. Then they cancelled. After a third cancellation, they were finally talked into giving it a try.
"It scared the living daylights out of me," Banks says. Soon after the therapy sessions began, Banks remembers going outside for a walk, where he bumped into a visiting psychologist.
Banks told the psychologist that since he didn't finish high school, he was feeling extremely insecure in such educated company.
"I heard him say, 'There's no such thing as insecurity. It's only thought,' " Banks recounts.
"My insecurity died in that moment. I was so elated. I realized all my past had just gone. It had no power over me any more."
Banks was so overcome he didn't sleep for two nights.
He soon ended up at a beach, where he had a remarkable experience.
"I was literally shrouded in white light and I realized the true nature of God and Mind. I realized life was a divine dream suspended in a place of time, space and matter."
He started to cry, he says. "I realized, 'I made it. I'm home.' I knew this was going to change psychology forever."
When Banks went back to Harmac pulp mill, he says his co-workers, who knew him as Scotty, didn't recognize him. His best friend told him to stay away from his own locker, grabbing his arm and saying:
"That's Scotty's locker."
Judging from the kinds of things Banks was saying to people, friends thought he was having a nervous breakdown.
"I recognized I couldn't just go up to people and say, 'I've found the secret of life.' But I was truly in a new world. I was seeing everyone, whether sad, happy or angry, in total innocence. I'd talk to people, and their problems would just vanish. Unbelievable things happened."
In the years soon after his revelation, he says word got around about him and people searching for the answer to life in the 1970s began coming from all around the world to see him. They'd just walk down the lane to his Saltspring Island home.
Sometimes, he says, he'd get 100 visitors a day.
Hitchhikers. Psychologists. Monks from the Himalayas. Mental patients. And ordinary people from all walks of life.
"I'd talk to people with serious psychological problems, and they'd just change: Like that," he says, snapping his fingers.
Banks usually didn't charge anything for his services. But he became exhausted as he tried to serve the masses. He had to call a halt to it.
Since then he's pursued his life's mission quietly -- agreeing to lead workshops around the world, then writing books. He hauls out files filled with written testimonials, from everyone from medical doctors to prison inmates.
There are also clippings from mainstream U.S. newspapers, which highlight the award-winning community work of people, especially police officers, who have reduced crime rates in tough neighbourhoods using Banks's psycho-spiritual teachings.
"Sydney's influence has been huge. He doesn't even know how big it is, because he's always wanted to keep a low profile," says Judith Sedgman, who co-founded with Dr. Bill Pettit, a psychiatrist, what is now called the West Virginia Initiative for Innate Health (www.wviih.org).
Even though Banks has normally led only two or three workshops a year in North America, Europe and Oceania, Sedgman says his highly-placed students have gone on to develop their own programs based on Banks's methods for overcoming inner fears.
"He just talks from the heart, and it's very touching. He helps people get in touch with their own resiliency," says Sedgman, who teaches courses at West Virginia University and numerous other venues. She's known Banks for 23 years.
"Through the ripple effect," she says, "tens of thousands of people have been affected by his work."
The head of the philosophy department at Vancouver's Langara College, Bonnelle Strickling, says Banks seems like one of those fortunate few people who have had a profound mystical experience that lifted the burdens of his past.
"Most people are not blessed with such a life-changing experience. It brought healing of his burdens, eased his anxiety and changed his life. When most people change, it usually happens in a much more gradual way," says Strickling, who is also a therapist in private practice.
Strickling can understand Banks's appeal. He seems, she says, like a "common-sense guy" who speaks from his own experiences, rather than from the perspective of an academic trained in psychological, theological and philosophical theories.
"Lots of people are intimidated by psychotherapy. And they'd look at this humble guy and think, 'If he can do it, so can I.' All the things he says are in line with religious and mystical traditions, especially those that warn us not to be misled by the ego."
One problem Strickling has with Banks's philosophy is that it makes it appear as if people can, through straightforward positive thinking, "choose" to transcend their troubled upbringings and begin leading a contented life.
"It can be depressing for people to hear it's supposed to be that easy," says Strickling. "It hasn't been my experience that people can simply choose not to be negatively influenced by their past."
Strickling wonders if Banks's teachings are as unique as he believes they are. The purpose of mainstream psychotherapy, meditation and spiritual contemplation, she says, is to help free people gradually from early experiences that subconsciously control their actions.
Since many people are haunted by their childhood in ways that cause them to behave destructively, Strickling says it can be valuable for clients to explore their upbringing to understand why they act the way they act. After doing so, many clients feel compassion for parents or other influential figures who may have harmed them.
What about Banks's teaching that what's ultimately important is to "live in the now?"
While Strickling agrees it can be valuable to "be present" to what you're experiencing in any moment, it has to be tempered against other things humans must do -- such as keeping promises, being responsible to others and planning for the future.
After all these years avoiding the media limelight, Banks has finally agreed to go public because he senses time is running out for himself and humanity.
"I've waited 33 years for this teaching to be accepted. And it hasn't. And before I die, I want to see it go out en masse. I really believe, if this goes out, there will be mass healings," he says as he makes tea in his spotless kitchen overlooking a ridge of hills.
Banks has heard criticisms before like Strickling's, from other highly educated people. But he's convinced his experiences have brought him to a different level of understanding than most psychiatrists and psychotherapists.
According to Banks, the great American philosopher William James said psychology would change forever if someone found the principles to understanding life.
Matter-of-factly, Banks says, "I've found those principles. I've found the secret of what the mind is."
As Banks often teaches: Time, space and matter are all illusory. All that counts are the three principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought.
"People say I'm insulting their intelligence by saying such simplistic nonsense," he says.
"But they're listening with their intellect, which is ego. What I'm teaching is God-given wisdom."
It's time to catch the only afternoon ferry back to Vancouver. Banks and I head out to his station wagon. But he's forgotten his glasses. He apologizes and rushes back inside the house; bustling back out to the car a few minutes later.
As Banks drives rapidly to the Long Harbour ferry, he talks about his childhood in Edinburgh in the 1930s. An orphan, he had been taken in by a family that didn't believe in education.
Was that upbringing hard?
"I thought it was," he says softly. "It was quite harsh."
But, with the help of his philosophy and theosophy, he believes he's long over his hurtful childhood.
"The past is only history," he says, "an illusion in your head."
Banks's beliefs about his parents have changed over time. "Somewhere in there I came to see a lot of love," he says in the car. He wishes he could have said goodbye to his parents before they died: "I would have liked to tell them I love them."
At the ferry dock, the gates to the on-ramp are closing and I have to jump quickly out of the car to make it on board. In a moment, however, Banks has come round to the front of his car to say goodbye.
His arms are open wide, offering a giant hug.

Sydney Banks - A Quiet Mind

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