Monday, May 14, 2007

You are not your mind

By Eckhart Tolle

The Greatest Obstacle to Enlightenment Enlightenment - what is that?

A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. "Spare some change?" mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. "I have nothing to give you," said the stranger. Then he asked: "What's that you are sitting on?" "Nothing," replied the beggar. "Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember." "Ever looked inside?" asked the stranger. "No," said the beggar. "What's the point? There's nothing in there." "Have a look inside," insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.

-The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I am that stranger who has nothing to give you and who is telling you to look inside. Not inside any box, as in the parable, but somewhere even closer: inside yourself.

"But I am not a beggar," I can hear you say.

Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.

The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some super-human accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form. The inability to feel this connectedness gives rise to the illusion of separation, from yourself and from the world around you. You then perceive yourself, consciously or unconsciously, as an isolated fragment. Fear arises, and conflict within and without becomes the norm.

I love the Buddha's simple definition of enlightenment as "the end of suffering." There is nothing superhuman in that, is there? Of course, as a definition, it is incomplete. It only tells you what enlightenment is not: no suffering. But what's left when there is no more suffering? The Buddha is silent on that, and his silence implies that you'll have to find out for yourself. He uses a negative definition so that the mind cannot make it into something to believe in or into a superhuman accomplishment, a goal that is impossible for you to attain. Despite this precaution, the majority of Buddhists still believe that enlightenment is for the Buddha, not for them, at least not in this lifetime.

You used the word Being. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Being is the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death. However, Being is not only beyond but also deep within every form as its innermost invisible and indestructible essence. This means that it is accessible to you now as your own deepest self, your true nature. But don't seek to grasp it with your mind. Don't try to understand it. You can know it only when the mind is still. When you are present, when your attention is fully and intensely in the Now, Being can be felt, but it can never be understood mentally. To regain awareness of Being and to abide in that state of "feeling-realization" is enlightenment.

When you say Being, are you talking about God? If you are, then why don't you say it?

The word God has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of misuse. I use it sometimes, but I do so sparingly. By misuse, I mean that people who have never even glimpsed the realm of the sacred, the infinite vastness behind that word, use it with great conviction, as if they knew what they are talking about. Or they argue against it, as if they knew what it is that they are denying. This misuse gives rise to absurd beliefs, assertions, and egoic delusions, such as "My or our God is the only true God, and your God is false," or Nietzsche's famous statement "God is dead."

The word God has become a closed concept. The moment the word is uttered, a mental image is created, no longer, perhaps, of an old man with a white beard, but still a mental representation of someone or something outside you, and, yes, almost inevitably a male someone or something.

Neither God nor Being nor any other word can define or explain the ineffable reality behind the word, so the only important question is whether the word is a help or a hindrance in enabling you to experience That toward which it points. Does it point beyond itself to that transcendental reality, or does it lend itself too easily to becoming no more than an idea in your head that you believe in, a mental idol?

The word Being explains nothing, but nor does God. Being, however, has the advantage that it is an open concept. It does not reduce the infinite invisible to a finite entity. It is impossible to form a mental image of it. Nobody can claim exclusive possession of Being. It is your very essence, and it is immediately accessible to you as the feeling of your own presence, the realization I am that is prior to I am this or I am that. So it is only a small step from the word Being to the experience of Being.

What is the greatest obstacle to experiencing this reality?

Identification with your mind, which causes thought to become compulsive. Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don't realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal. This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from Being. It also creates a false mind-made self that casts a shadow of fear and suffering. We will look at all that in more detail later.

The philosopher Descartes believed that he had found the most fundamental truth when he made his famous statement: "I think, therefore I am." He had, in fact, given expression to the most basic error: to equate thinking with Being and identity with thinking. The compulsive thinker, which means almost everyone, lives in a state of apparent separateness, in an insanely complex world of continuous problems and conflict, a world that reflects the ever-increasing fragmentation of the mind. Enlightenment is a state of wholeness, of being "at one" and therefore at peace. At one with life in its manifested aspect, the world, as well as with your deepest self and life unmanifested - at one with Being. Enlightenment is not only the end of suffering and of continuous conflict within and without, but also the end of the dreadful enslavement to incessant thinking. What an incredible liberation this is!

Identification with your mind creates an opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that blocks all true relationship. It comes between you and yourself, between you and your fellow man and woman, between you and nature, between you and God. It is this screen of thought that creates the illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you and a totally separate "other." You then forget the essential fact that, underneath the level of physical appearances and separate forms, you are one with all that is. By "forget," I mean that you can no longer feel this oneness as self-evident reality. You may believe it to be true, but you no longer know it to be true. A belief may be comforting. Only through your own experience, however, does it become liberating.

Thinking has become a disease. Disease happens when things get out of balance. For example, there is nothing wrong with cells dividing and multiplying in the body, but when this process continues in disregard of the total organism, cells proliferate and we have disease.

Note: The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly - you usually don't use it at all. It uses you. This is the disease. You believe that you are your mind. This is the delusion. The instrument has taken you over.

I don't quite agree. It is true that I do a lot of aimless thinking, like most people, but I can still choose to use my mind to get and accomplish things, and I do that all the time.

Just because you can solve a crossword puzzle or build an atom bomb doesn't mean that you use your mind. Just as dogs love to chew bones, the mind loves to get its teeth into problems. That's why it does crossword puzzles and builds atom bombs. You have no interest in either. Let me ask you this: can you be free of your mind whenever you want to? Have you found the "off" button?

You mean stop thinking altogether? No, I can't, except maybe for a moment or two.

Then the mind is using you. You are unconsciously identified with it, so you don't even know that you are its slave. It's almost as if you were possessed without knowing it, and so you take the possessing entity to be yourself. The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the possessing entity - the thinker. Knowing this enables you to observe the entity. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter - beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace - arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken,freeing yourself from your mind

What exactly do you mean by "watching the thinker"?

When someone goes to the doctor and says, "I hear a voice in my head," he or she will most likely be sent to a psychiatrist. The fact is that, in a very similar way, virtually everyone hears a voice, or several voices, in their head all the time: the involuntary thought processes that you don't realize you have the power to stop. Continuous monologues or dialogues.

You have probably come across "mad" people in the street incessantly talking or muttering to themselves. Well, that's not much different from what you and all other "normal" people do, except that you don't do it out loud. The voice comments, speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes, and so on. The voice isn't necessarily relevant to the situation you find yourself in at the time; it may be reviving the recent or distant past or rehearsing or imagining possible future situations. Here it often imagines things going wrong and negative outcomes; this is called worry. Sometimes this soundtrack is accompanied by visual images or "mental movies." Even if the voice is relevant to the situation at hand, it will interpret it in terms of the past. This is because the voice belongs to your conditioned mind, which is the result of all your past history as well as of the collective cultural mind-set you inherited. So you see and judge the present through the eyes of the past and get a totally distorted view of it. It is not uncommon for the voice to be a person's own worst enemy. Many people live with a tormentor in their head that continuously attacks and punishes them and drains them of vital energy. It is the cause of untold misery and unhappiness, as well as of disease.

The good news is that you can free yourself from your mind. This is the only true liberation. You can take the first step right now. Start listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns, those old gramophone records that have been playing in your head perhaps for many years. This is what I mean by "watching the thinker," which is another way of saying: listen to the voice in your head, be there as the witnessing presence.

When you listen to that voice, listen to it impartially. That is to say, do not judge. Do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the same voice has come in again through the back door. You'll soon realize: there is the voice, and here I am listening to it, watching it. This I am realization, this sense of your own presence, is not a thought. It arises from beyond the mind.

So when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence - your deeper self - behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.When a thought subsides, you experience a discontinuity in the mental stream - a gap of "no-mind." At first, the gaps will be short, a few seconds perhaps, but gradually they will become longer. When these gaps occur, you feel a certain stillness and peace inside you. This is the beginning of your natural state of felt oneness with Being, which is usually obscured by the mind. With practice, the sense of stillness and peace will deepen. In fact, there is no end to its depth. You will also feel a subtle emanation of joy arising from deep within: the joy of Being.

It is not a trancelike state. Not at all. There is no loss of consciousness here. The opposite is the case. If the price of peace were a lowering of your consciousness, and the price of stillness a lack of vitality and alertness, then they would not be worth having. In this state of inner connectedness, you are much more alert, more awake than in the mind-identified state. You are fully present. It also raises the vibrational frequency of the energy field that gives life to the physical body.

As you go more deeply into this realm of no-mind, as it is sometimes called in the East, you realize the state of pure consciousness. In that state, you feel your own presence with such intensity and such joy that all thinking, all emotions, your physical body, as well as the whole external world become relatively insignificant in comparison to it. And yet this is not a selfish but a selfless state. It takes you beyond what you previously thought of as "your self." That presence is essentially you and at the same time inconceivably greater than you. What I am trying to convey here may sound paradoxical or even contradictory, but there is no other way that I can express it.

Instead of "watching the thinker," you can also create a gap in the mind stream simply by directing the focus of your attention into the Now. Just become intensely conscious of the present moment. This is a deeply satisfying thing to do. In this way, you draw consciousness away from mind activity and create a gap of no-mind in which you are highly alert and aware but not thinking. This is the essence of meditation. In your everyday life, you can practice this by taking any routine activity that normally is only a means to an end and giving it your fullest attention, so that it becomes an end in itself. For example, every time you walk up and down the stairs in your house or place of work, pay close attention to every step, every movement, even your breathing. Be totally present. Or when you wash your hands, pay attention to all the sense perceptions associated with the activity: the sound and feel of the water, the movement of your hands, the scent of the soap, and so on. Or when you get into your car, after you close the door, pause for a few seconds and observe the flow of your breath. Become aware of a silent but powerful sense of presence. There is one certain criterion by which you can measure your success in this practice: the degree of peace that you feel within.

So the single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind. Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.

Enlightenment: Rising above Thought

Isn't thinking essential in order to survive in this world?

Your mind is an instrument, a tool. It is there to be used for a specific task, and when the task is completed, you lay it down. As it is, I would say about 80 to 90 percent of most people's thinking is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its dysfunctional and often negative nature, much of it is also harmful. Observe your mind and you will find this to be true. It causes a serious leakage of vital energy.

This kind of compulsive thinking is actually an addiction. What characterizes an addiction? Quite simply this: you no longer feel that you have the choice to stop. It seems stronger than you. It also gives you a false sense of pleasure, pleasure that invariably turns into pain.

Why should we be addicted to thinking?

Because you are identified with it, which means that you derive your sense of self from the content and activity of your mind.

Because you believe that you would cease to be if you stopped thinking. As you grow up, you form a mental image of who you are, based on your personal and cultural conditioning. We may call this phantom self the ego. It consists of mind activity and can only be kept going through constant thinking. The term ego means different things to different people, but when I use it here it means a false self, created by unconscious identification with the mind.

To the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only past and future are considered important. This total reversal of the truth accounts for the fact that in the ego mode the mind is so dysfunctional. It is always concerned with keeping the past alive, because without it - who are you? It constantly projects itself into the future to ensure its continued survival and to seek some kind of release or fulfillment there. It says: "One day, when this, that, or the other happens, I am going to be okay, happy, at peace." Even when the ego seems to be concerned with the present, it is not the present that it sees: It misperceives it completely because it looks at it through the eyes of the past. Or it reduces the present to a means to an end, an end that always lies in the mind-projected future. Observe your mind and you'll see that this is how it works.

The present moment holds the key to liberation. But you cannot find the present moment as long as you are your mind.

I don't want to lose my ability to analyze and discriminate. I wouldn't mind learning to think more clearly, in a more focused way, but I don't want to lose my mind. The gift of thought is the most precious thing we have. Without it, we would just be another species of animal.

The predominance of mind is no more than a stage in the evolution of consciousness. We need to go on to the next stage now as a matter of urgency; otherwise, we will be destroyed by the mind, which has grown into a monster. I will talk about this in more detail later. Thinking and consciousness are not synonymous. Thinking is only a small aspect of consciousness. Thought cannot exist without consciousness, but consciousness does not need thought.

Enlightenment means rising above thought, not falling back to a level below thought, the level of an animal or a plant. In the enlightened state, you still use your thinking mind when needed, but in a much more focused and effective way than before. You use it mostly for practical purposes, but you are free of the involuntary internal dialogue, and there is inner stillness. When you do use your mind, and particularly when a creative solution is needed, you oscillate every few minutes or so between thought and stillness, between mind and no-mind. No-mind is consciousness without thought. Only in that way is it possible to think creatively, because only in that way does thought have any real power. Thought alone, when it is no longer connected with the much vaster realm of consciousness, quickly becomes barren, insane, destructive.

The mind is essentially a survival machine. Attack and defense against other minds, gathering, storing, and analyzing information - this is what it is good at, but it is not at all creative. All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness. The mind then gives form to the creative impulse or insight. Even the great scientists have reported that their creative breakthroughs came at a time of mental quietude. The surprising result of a nation-wide inquiry among America's most eminent mathematicians, including Einstein, to find out their working methods, was that thinking "plays only a subordinate part in the brief, decisive phase of the creative act itself."1 So I would say that the simple reason why the majority of scientists are not creative is not because they don't know how to think but because they don't know how to stop thinking!

It wasn't through the mind, through thinking, that the miracle that is life on earth or your body were created and are being sustained. There is clearly an intelligence at work that is far greater than the mind. How can a single human cell measuring 1/1,000 of an inch across contain instructions within its DNA that would fill 1,000 books of 600 pages each? The more we learn about the workings of the body, the more we realize just how vast is the intelligence at work within it and how little we know. When the mind reconnects with that, it becomes a most wonderful tool. It then serves something greater than itself.

Emotion: The Body's Reaction to Your Mind

What about emotions? I get caught up in my emotions more than I do in my mind.

Mind, in the way I use the word, is not just thought. It includes your emotions as well as all unconscious mental-emotional reactive patterns. Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body's reaction to your mind - or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or a hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger. The body is getting ready to fight. The thought that you are being threatened, physically or psychologically, causes the body to contract, and this is the physical side of what we call fear. Research has shown that strong emotions even cause changes in the biochemistry of the body. These biochemical changes represent the physical or material aspect of the emotion. Of course, you are not usually conscious of all your thought patterns, and it is often only through watching your emotions that you can bring them into awareness.

The more you are identified with your thinking, your likes and dislikes, judgments and interpretations, which is to say the less present you are as the watching consciousness, the stronger the emotional energy charge will be, whether you are aware of it or not. If you cannot feel your emotions, if you are cut off from them, you will eventually experience them on a purely physical level, as a physical problem or symptom. A great deal has been written about this in recent years, so we don't need to go into it here. A strong unconscious emotional pattern may even manifest as an external event that appears to just happen to you. For example, I have observed that people who carry a lot of anger inside without being aware of it and without expressing it are more likely to be attacked, verbally or even physically, by other angry people, and often for no apparent reason. They have a strong emanation of anger that certain people pick up subliminally and that triggers their own latent anger.

If you have difficulty feeling your emotions, start by focusing attention on the inner energy field of your body. Feel the body from within. This will also put you in touch with your emotions. We will explore this in more detail later.

You say that an emotion is the mind's reflection in the body. But sometimes there is a conflict between the two: the mind says "no" while the emotion says "yes," or the other way around.

If you really want to know your mind, the body will always give you a truthful reflection, so look at the emotion or rather feel it in your body. If there is an apparent conflict between them, the thought will be the lie, the emotion will be the truth. Not the ultimate truth of who you are, but the relative truth of your state of mind at that time.

Conflict between surface thoughts and unconscious mental processes is certainly common. You may not yet be able to bring your unconscious mind activity into awareness as thoughts, but it will always be reflected in the body as an emotion, and of this you can become aware. To watch an emotion in this way is basically the same as listening to or watching a thought, which I described earlier. The only difference is that, while a thought is in your head, an emotion has a strong physical component and so is primarily felt in the body. You can then allow the emotion to be there without being controlled by it. You no longer are the emotion; you are the watcher, the observing presence. If you practice this, all that is unconscious in you will be brought into the light of consciousness.

So observing our emotions is as important as observing our thoughts?

Yes. Make it a habit to ask yourself: What's going on inside me at this moment? That question will point you in the right direction. But don't analyze, just watch. Focus your attention within. Feel the energy of the emotion. If there is no emotion present, take your attention more deeply into the inner energy field of your body. It is the doorway into Being.

Practicing The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

An emotion usually represents an amplified and energized thought pattern, and because of its often overpowering energetic charge, it is not easy initially to stay present enough to be able to watch it. It wants to take you over, and it usually succeeds - unless there is enough presence in you. If you are pulled into unconscious identification with the emotion through lack of presence, which is normal, the emotion temporarily becomes "you." Often a vicious circle builds up between your thinking and the emotion: they feed each other. The thought pattern creates a magnified reflection of itself in the form of an emotion, and the vibrational frequency of the emotion keeps feeding the original thought pattern. By dwelling mentally on the situation, event, or person that is the perceived cause of the emotion, the thought feeds energy to the emotion, which in turn energizes the thought pattern, and so on. Basically, all emotions are modifications of one primordial, undifferentiated emotion that has its origin in the loss of awareness of who you are beyond name and form. Because of its undifferentiated nature, it is hard to find a name that precisely describes this emotion. "Fear" comes close, but apart from a continuous sense of threat, it also includes a deep sense of abandonment and incompleteness. It may be best to use a term that is as undifferentiated as that basic emotion and simply call it "pain." One of the main tasks of the mind is to fight or remove that emotional pain, which is one of the reasons for its incessant activity, but all it can ever achieve is to cover it up temporarily. In fact, the harder the mind struggles to get rid of the pain, the greater the pain. The mind can never find the solution, nor can it afford to allow you to find the solution, because it is itself an intrinsic part of the "problem." Imagine a chief of police trying to find an arsonist when the arsonist is the chief of police. You will not be free of that pain until you cease to derive your sense of self from identification with the mind, which is to say from ego. The mind is then toppled from its place of power and Being reveals itself as your true nature. Yes, I know what you are going to ask.

I was going to ask: What about positive emotions such as love and joy?

They are inseparable from your natural state of inner connectedness with Being. Glimpses of love and joy or brief moments of deep peace are possible whenever a gap occurs in the stream of thought. For most people, such gaps happen rarely and only accidentally, in moments when the mind is rendered "speechless," sometimes triggered by great beauty, extreme physical exertion, or even great danger. Suddenly, there is inner stillness. And within that stillness there is a subtle but intense joy, there is love, there is peace.

Usually, such moments are short-lived, as the mind quickly resumes its noise-making activity that we call thinking. Love, joy, and peace cannot flourish until you have freed yourself from mind dominance. But they are not what I would call emotions. They lie beyond the emotions, on a much deeper level. So you need to become fully conscious of your emotions and be able to feel them before you can feel that which lies beyond them. Emotion literally means "disturbance." The word comes from the Latin emovere, meaning "to disturb."

Love, joy, and peace are deep states of Being or rather three aspects of the state of inner connectedness with Being. As such, they have no opposite. This is because they arise from beyond the mind. Emotions, on the other hand, being part of the dualistic mind, are subject to the law of opposites. This simply means that you cannot have good without bad. So in the unenlightened, mind-identified condition, what is sometimes wrongly called joy is the usually short-lived pleasure side of the continuously alternating pain/pleasure cycle. Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within. The very thing that gives you pleasure today will give you pain tomorrow, or it will leave you, so its absence will give you pain. And what is often referred to as love may be pleasurable and exciting for a while, but it is an addictive clinging, an extremely needy condition that can turn into its opposite at the flick of a switch. Many "love" relationships, after the initial euphoria has passed, actually oscillate between "love" and hate, attraction and attack.

Real love doesn't make you suffer. How could it? It doesn't suddenly turn into hate, nor does real joy turn into pain. As I said, even before you are enlightened - before you have freed yourself from your mind - you may get glimpses of true joy, true love, or of a deep inner peace, still but vibrantly alive. These are aspects of your true nature, which is usually obscured by the mind. Even within a "normal" addictive relationship, there can be moments when the presence of something more genuine, something incorruptible, can be felt. But they will only be glimpses, soon to be covered up again through mind interference. It may then seem that you had something very precious and lost it, or your mind may convince you that it was all an illusion anyway. The truth is that it wasn't an illusion, and you cannot lose it. It is part of your natural state, which can be obscured but can never be destroyed by the mind. Even when the sky is heavily overcast, the sun hasn't disappeared. It's still there on the other side of the clouds.

The Buddha says that pain or suffering arises through desire or craving and that to be free of pain we need to cut the bonds of desire.

All cravings are the mind seeking salvation or fulfillment in external things and in the future as a substitute for the joy of Being. As long as I am my mind, I am those cravings, those needs, wants, attachments, and aversions, and apart from them there is no "I" except as a mere possibility, an unfulfilled potential, a seed that has not yet sprouted. In that state, even my desire to become free or enlightened is just another craving for fulfillment or completion in the future. So don't seek to become free of desire or "achieve" enlightenment. Become present. Be there as the observer of the mind. Instead of quoting the Buddha, be the Buddha, be "the awakened one," which is what the word buddha means.

Humans have been in the grip of pain for eons, ever since they fell from the state of grace, entered the realm of time and mind, and lost awareness of Being. At that point, they started to perceive themselves as meaningless fragments in an alien universe, unconnected to the Source and to each other.

Pain is inevitable as long as you are identified with your mind, which is to say as long as you are unconscious, spiritually speaking. I am talking here primarily of emotional pain, which is also the main cause of physical pain and physical disease. Resentment, hatred, self-pity, guilt, anger, depression, jealousy, and so on, even the slightest irritation, are all forms of pain. And every pleasure or emotional high contains within itself the seed of pain: its inseparable opposite, which will manifest in time.

Anybody who has ever taken drugs to get "high" will know that the high eventually turns into a low, that the pleasure turns into some form of pain. Many people also know from their own experience how easily and quickly an intimate relationship can turn from a source of pleasure to a source of pain. Seen from a higher perspective, both the negative and the positive polarities are faces of the same coin, are both part of the underlying pain that is inseparable from the mind-identified egoic state of consciousness.

There are two levels to your pain: the pain that you create now, and the pain from the past that still lives on in your mind and body. Ceasing to create pain in the present and dissolving past pain - this is what I want to talk about now.

Reflections on the concept of the pain-body

By Saleem Rana

First, there is the field of complete consciousness.

This then expresses itself in an organic form.

From here it loses itself in organizing the physical environment around it.

It begins to split into mind, and mind then splits into ego, and ego then believes itself the origin of consciousness.

As ego, arising from thoughts of limitations, fractures itself against obstacles, it develops what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain-body.

The pain-body then becomes an unconscious entity within. It seeks to feed on pain to survive. It makes a person feel pain and it causes this person to inflict pain on others.

After the pain-body strikes out, it tends to propagate. Soon armies are formed and war propagated. Mind itself now works in service to the pain-body.

The past two world wars are an expression of the pain-body in complete domination.

Release from the pain-body comes from observing the mind; observing how it takes a feeling, becomes identified completely with it, and thinks and acts out that feeling.

This witnessing is separation from the pain-body, disidentifying from it. When this happens, the light of awareness begins to dissolve the pain. One sees this shadow entity for what it is, an accumulation of past hurts, an expression of renegade life-force particles.

Witnessing is recognizing the self to be other than egoic mental and emotional turbulence. It is a return to recognition of the awareness that propagates thinking, which is a small part of consciousness.

Witnessing is placing the conscious in the moment and observing it express itself through mentation.

Recognizing oneself as the author of mind and not the outcome of mind removes the automation that goes along with a belief in determinism, which in turn arises because of the belief that mind arises out of matter.

This is the movement referred to as spirituality, and it is a movement toward wholeness.

Spirituality itself can be confusing because of the elaborate expressions on what it is; but, in its essence, it is an attempt to return to wholeness.

Wholeness, it will be discovered, can't be fragmented.

Wholeness is a return to identification with the origin of creation; a return to contemplation of the field of consciousness itself; a return to what is referred to as God, Beingness, or Spirit.

Our journey in life is a journey toward freedom, identifying with what it real, which arises from pure subjectivity, the implicate order. Our entrapment in the explicate order is by virtue of unconsciousness about the pain-body.

Interview at Omega Institute

Josh Max

Fall 2003

I came to know Eckhart Tolle's work in stages; first via the printed words of his best-selling "The Power Of Now", then through his new book "Stillness Speaks" on CD, and finally in person at the Omega Institute in upstate New York. Each encounter brought me closer to the man's stillness and his wisdom, which I gauged by the stillness I felt within myself as I absorbed what he had to say.

Eckhart has a magical, elfin quality about him, and was dressed in a button-down cardigan and corduroy pants. He speaks very softly, but as we got into our conversation, he became quite animated and impassioned. Our hour went by rapidly, and neither one of us moved much from our spots on the sofa as the meeting went on.

JM: I'd like to talk about your transformation at age 29, where you say your personality was erased. Many people spend their lives trying to get something like that to happen, and here it happened to you at a young age. Can you talk a little bit about that?

ET: I was unhappy, depressed and anxious. I was not trying to become enlightened or anything like that. I was looking for some kind of answer to the dilemma of life, but I had been looking to the intellect for the answer; philosophy, religion and intellectual inspiration. The more I was looking on that level, the more unhappy I became. I reached a point where the phrase came into my head---and this is in the book "The Power Of Now"---"I can't live with myself any longer." That part of my self---that entity became so heavy and painful.

Suddenly I stepped back from myself, and it seemed to be two of me--- The "I", and this "self" that I cannot live with. Am I one or am I two? And that triggered me like a koan. It happened to me spontaneously. I looked at that sentence---"I can't live with myself". I had no intellectual answer. Who am I? Who is this self that I cannot live with? The answer came on a deeper level. I realized who I was.

When I'm speaking about it now, it becomes intellectualized because I'm using words, but that realization was beyond words. What "I" as consciousness had identified with was a very heavy mental and emotional form consisting of thought and accompanied by an energy field. At that moment the identification with that mind structure was withdrawn. It collapsed, and what remained was a spacious, peaceful consciousness. The identification was broken, and because of that, the mental/emotional structure---the psuedo self collapsed. My sense of identity broke down and was replaced by something that is very hard to put into words. Awareness. Consciousness. The words only came a few years later. I couldn't even talk about it. I had been anxious and depressed for years and suddenly I was deeply at peace.

JM: Do you think your transformation had less to do with achieving peace than letting go of the anxiousness and the worry?

ET: Yes. It wasn't really the achievement of anything; it was the realization by letting go of the identification. Something suddenly was there that actually had always been there but had been obscured continuously by identification with the heavy mind structure. As I came to work with other people, I realized every human being already has that dimension. No matter how anxious, depressed, disturbed and fearful they may be. That dimension is already in there, in every human being.

And so I came to understand why some masters sometimes say, "You are already enlightened." That dimension is already in there, it just needs to be discovered. Something needs to be let go of, something needs to be recognized.

JM: You know, when I walked in here, I had no idea who was going to be here. I'd read your books but had never seen you except in photographs. When you opened the door, it was like the sun was in this flat. I couldn't help but forget any reservations or shyness I may have had, and I almost burst out laughing.

ET: The reason for this is that in that act of meeting you, there were no thoughts about who you are or who I am. There was the openness of consciousness recognizing itself in another human being. And that is extremely joyful. And it's also joyful for someone who experiences that with someone else, because they feel more themselves in that moment.

JM: It's rare that you meet such a person. One thing that struck me while listening to your CD ("Stillness Speaks") on the way to our interview is that you say people make themselves miserable and in turn they make others miserable. It hadn't occurred to me that a person who habitually finds problems and "disasterizes" things affect everyone, the same as your smile affects me.

ET: Yes. It affects everybody else, it draws everybody else into their drama, and it's meant to do that. That happens both on a personal level and you also see it in corporations and politics. I sometimes meet people who work for corporations and some of them have said it's amazing that anything gets done at all considering how much energy is uselessly burned up through inner conflict in the organization. And it makes everyone's life miserable.

JM: Yes. I work for a lot of big media organizations, and I'm dumfounded at the wars I see when I walk into some of their offices. And these are people who are telling us what's going on in the world! When you see it on that level, it's easier to take the news a lot less seriously. It's just one person's point of view.

ET: Yes---and sometimes you find the same even in religious organizations. Because religion in many cases is really ideology. I'm not condemning all religions because that would not be correct, but to a large extent people have not freed themselves from their identification with their conditioned thinking. I know that at the core of each religion there is the truth, heavily obscured in some cases, but it's there. What happens when an organization arises is the amplification of the ego, the ego-ic mind structures.

JM: You say "all religions"---have you investigated religions? Judaism, Christianity, Islam?

ET: Yes, some more than others. Buddhism, Christianity, to some extent Hinduism. At the core, the truth shines through. Sometimes we have to look very deeply, but it's there.

JM: I was also struck by your interpretation of the cross as a symbol of "thy will be done".

ET: It's a strange dualistic symbol. Basically, it's a torture instrument. To me, Jesus stands for humanity. So this man is nailed to the torture instrument, totally helpless, in deep suffering. At that point comes total surrender to what is. "Not my will, but thy will be done." At that point, the symbolic significance of the cross is changed from being a torture instrument to a symbol of the divine. So what it points to is that the very thing that seems to stand in the way of realizing who you are. The very suffering that comes with being here in this physical realm---because eventually some form of suffering comes to everybody---can become an opening into that which we call the divine. If you're lucky, disaster comes before the physical form is lost and the psychological form dissolves. This sometimes happens through extreme suffering, when people lose everything, or they find out they don't have much more time to live. So they are faced with extreme disaster which cannot be explained away.

Philosophies collapse in the face of extreme disaster. Before, they might have had philosophy or religious beliefs, but when quite a few people face death of a loved one or their child or spouse, suddenly they question their beliefs. "This wasn't supposed to happen to me, I had a business arrangement with God. I wasn't supposed to suffer." The mind, the "me", collapses. Explanations fade. So you're faced with disaster you cannot explain that seems to deny the existence of something deeper. The cross seems to stand between you and the transcendental dimension to love. But, strangely, that very cross is the opening also.

Somebody once put it this way: "What stands in the way is the way." And you realize that when you no longer internally resist the form that this moment takes. I call it the "is-ness" of this moment.

JM: Would that be disaster or the honk of a horn while I'm trying to work?

ET: Yes. A little thing or a big thing, resistance is basically the same kind of mechanism. An internal "no" to what is. And since the now is all there ever is in your life, your entire life unfolds as the present moment. People don't realize it, but all they ever have is "this". This moment. Always.

It seems so strange to put it into words. Your life is always this moment. No more, no less. But just "this" is what most people unconsciously trying to run away from. They're always in some future moment where things are hopefully better, or more fulfilling. Or mentally they project a future moment they see as fearful, that they have to tackle this possible thing that might go wrong in the future and they try to deal with now. Ignoring the aliveness that is actually there concealed in now. It is a collective mental habit to run away, to deny and to resist the is-ness of this moment. Not to aligned with now. And everybody inherits that as a part of their collective mental conditioning. They're taught to live like that from their parents, from their schools. They probably inherit even the very minds structures that create that kind of consciousness.

But there's a shift happening in humanity, a shift in consciousness, happening now because it has to happen now. Because if it doesn't happen now, mankind probably won't survive. The dysfunction of the human mind and its condition is becoming more and more intolerable to the planet, and to humanity. People can't live with themselves much longer. The planet cannot live with humans much longer! The dysfunction has become so magnified through technology.

Whereas before, a human could kill a few hundred with a sword---if he was a warrior--- now, the same dysfunction is magnified. So we have the weaponry, destruction of the planet, pollution, destruction of forests, countless manifestations of humans using their intelligence in the service of the dysfunction, the madness. It's a strange juxtaposition. Humans are intelligent, but if you look at history or even watch TV, they're also incredibly stupid.

JM: Speaking of weapons of mass destruction; what do we do about that? What do we do about countries which wish our country great harm? What's an alternative if the other side is bent on suicide, as the men of 9-11 were? If you have a vast Army at your disposal, what do you do?

ET: I don't know what I would do, because I can only know what is right in an actual situation which demands a response. It's very hard when you look at hypotheticals. What we can do is look at the dysfunction in its collective aspects that we're witnessing now.

We can see, for example, what's happening in the middle East with the eternal insane conflict between Israel and Palestine. We can see how each faction is totally convinced that their mental position is the correct one. Each faction sees itself as the victim of the other. There was a writer I read last year who said each side cannot recognize any narrative other than their own; that's also true. Narrative means the story through which you interpret reality.

People have collective stories which are mental perspectives and mental positions. Of course, when they explain it to you, it sounds absolutely right. Then you go to the other story, and they explain it to you, and that sounds absolutely right. Both are so entrenched in their narrative, their mental positions and their identifications with mental positions that they cannot see anything else. That really symbolizes the very thing that lies at the core of human dysfunction.

There you see it expressed collectively. An inability to hold truth in your consciousness. To rise above polarities, and say, here's this perspective which is ours, and I can also see the other perspective which is yours. If both could do that---even if one party could do that---there would be an end to the madness. It only gets perpetuated by two. You can see the same in personal relationships, you can see the same in marriages that exist in a state of warfare. Both are entrenched. There is this ongoing need to be right. What that really ultimately means is they are identified with the thinking. They have not stepped out of the structure of thought---their mental position, their thought position. The way out of the madness is to recognize thought as just thought. To see your own stream of thinking, to see that no thought can encapsulate the entire truth in any situation. You have to step out of thought to see that. To become the awareness outside of thought. Some people are driven out of thought out of suffering, others can step out of thought because they see that thought is dysfunctional. So we see then that terrorists that inflict suffering on innocent people, kills thousands, blows himself up---how is it that he cannot see what he is doing?

He cannot see because he has reduced other human beings around him to a mental concept. He puts a mental label on other human beings or groups of humans or whatever he calls them---infidels, evil. Once you have conceptualized another human being, covering up their essential aliveness, you also do it to yourself. You become identified with your own self concepts of who you are, because you are right, you are the believer, you are in possession of the truth. You can then inflict acts of violence on other humans without feeling anymore because you've already desensitized yourself, you've deadened their aliveness. So violence becomes very easy when you only operate from the level of thought. Thought plus very destructive emotion that accompanies those destructive thought patterns. That's what drives the terrorist. He truly, as Jesus puts it on the cross, "They know not what they do."

In spiritual terms, they are completely unconscious. Unconscious means identified totally with thought. You reduce reality to a conceptual reality. A lot of violence arises in that way.

Terrorists are not the only ones who are unconscious. The United States manufactures an enormous amount of totally senseless weaponry. Biological, chemical. They manufacture the most fiendish weapons---if they ever used them it would be hell on earth. Why are they working on this? They are intelligent scientists, thousands of them, the Government sponsors itself sponsors it. What is the purpose in creating such weapons if the use of such weapons would create hell on earth? Haven't they got enough weapons already? So it applies; "they know not what they do." You can see human unconsciousness in so many forms. You can see it very clearly in the terrorists. Sometimes it's easier to see the madness in others---but we also have to see it in ourselves.

JM: How does one do that? How do you do it?

ET: Well, primarily it needs to be done on personal level. For example, for me, to see how identified I am with my own mental position when I'm talking to someone when I'm putting forth and idea or opinion and that opinion is questioned by the other person. They might say, "No, you're wrong---that's not how it is." If I can then observe the violence with which I defend my position, I'm actually becoming more conscious because by observing it, something else is arising that is not conditioned thinking, but awareness.

JM: As opposed to saying, "No, you're wrong."

ET: Yes, because when people are engaged in being right, defending their mental position, an enormous amount of defensiveness and violence comes already. Why do two people become so agitated, in some cases even violent, when they're defending a mental position? Because that's what they derive their sense of self from. Thought has become invested self. That's the very essence of dysfunction---that humans derive their sense of self through thought. This is a delusion, because who they are is so much deeper than thought. They can only realize that when they detach from their thinking and observe their thinking.

Who or what is it that is able to observe that you are identified with a mental position? Who or what is it in you that is able to notice the emotional violence that comes as you start to defend your own position? You can then ask, "Wow, what's going on? What am I defending?" You are defending an illusory sense of self---your sense of self and your mind structure.

That very dysfunction, which looks relatively harmless on a small scale, is the very same dysfunction that drives the terrorist. So it's only in yourself that you can detect it. And if you see it, you see the root of human dysfunction and madness; identification with thinking. But the moment you see it, you are already one foot out of it. The seeing of it is not part of the dysfunction. So in other words, when you see that you are mad, you are no longer mad.

That's the arising of something new in humanity. I sometimes call it the unconditioned consciousness. But it is also a field of stillness, where you see the torn roots of the human mind. Once it emerges, it's a process that cannot be reversed. It emerges more and more fully, and you become less and less identified with the structure of thought. And then thought is no longer dysfunctional. It is actually beautiful. It can be used for helpful purposes. It's wonderful---you are no longer looking for an identity in the structure of thought because now you know that who you are is deeper. You are the very awareness prior to thought. You are the stillness that is deeper than thought, much vaster than thought. We call it "stillness" but it's just a word. We've reduced it to something. It's more than that. It's consciousness itself, unconditioned. Which is the essence of each human being. It's that when you meet anybody in a state of open, aware attention, without labeling them mentally or judging them, then that you are already operating as a current or conscious awareness between human beings.

That would dramatically change human relationships. When aware presence operates between human beings, they are no longer dominated by mind structures. On a deepest level, that is also love. That is the only dimension from where love can come into this world.

When it was time to say goodbye, Eckhart spontaneously hugged me, after which I turned away, smiling. I headed off onto the dirt path leading down to my car and, after walking about 30 feet, I turned and saw Eckhart had been watching me and smiling himself.

Ripples on the surface of being

An interview with Eckhart Tolle

By Andrew Cohen

This interview was re-edited and reprinted with a special introduction for our 15th anniversary edition. Click to read the new interview or to view the full issue.
ANDREW COHEN: Eckhart, what is your life like? I've heard that you're a bit of a recluse and that you spend a lot of time in solitude. Is that true?

ECKHART TOLLE: That was true in the past, before my book The Power of Now came out. For many years I was a recluse. But since the publication of the book, my life has changed dramatically. I'm now very much involved in teaching and traveling. And people who knew me before say, "This is amazing. You used to be a hermit and now you are out in the world." Yet I still feel that inside nothing has changed. I still feel exactly the same as before. There is still a continuous sense of peace, and I am surrendered to the fact that on an external level there's been a total change. So it's actually not true anymore that I am a hermit. Now I'm the opposite of a hermit. This may well be a cycle. It may well be that at some point this will come to an end and I will become a hermit again. But at the moment, I am surrendered to the fact that I'm almost continuously interacting. I do occasionally take time to be alone. That is necessary in between teaching engagements.

AC: Why is it that you need to take time to be alone, and what is it that happens when you take the time to be alone?

ET: When I'm with people, I'm a spiritual teacher. That's the function, but it's not my identity. The moment I'm alone, my deepest joy is to be nobody, to relinquish the function of a teacher. It's a temporary function. Let's say I'm seeing a group of people. The moment they leave me, I'm no longer a spiritual teacher. There's no longer any sense of external identity. I simply go into the stillness more deeply. The place that I love most is the stillness. It's not that the stillness is lost when I talk or when I teach because the words arise out of the stillness. But when people leave me, there is only the stillness left. And I love that so much.

AC: Would you say that you prefer it?

ET: Not prefer. There is a balance now in my life, which perhaps wasn't there before. When the inner transformation happened many years ago, one could almost say a balance was lost. It was so fulfilling and so blissful simply to be that I lost all interest in doing or interacting. For quite a few years, I got lost in Being. I had almost relinquished doing completely—just enough to keep myself alive and even that was miraculous. I had totally lost interest in the future. And then gradually a balance re-established itself. It didn't re-establish itself fully until I started writing the book. The way I feel now is that there is a balance in my life between being alone and interacting with people, between Being and doing, whereas before, the doing was relinquished and there was only Being. Blissful, profound, beautiful—but from an external viewpoint, many people thought that I had become unbalanced or had gone mad. Some people thought I was crazy to have let go of all the worldly things I had "achieved." They didn't understand that I didn't want or need any of that anymore.

So the balance now is between aloneness and meeting with people. And that's good. I'm quite attentive to that so that the balance doesn't get lost. There is now a pull toward increasing doing. People want me to talk here and talk there—there are constant demands. I know that I need to be attentive now, so that the balance is not lost, and I don't get lost in doing. I don't think it would ever happen, but it requires a certain amount of vigilance.

AC: What would it mean to get lost in doing?

ET: Theoretically, it would mean that I would continuously travel, teach, and interact with people. Perhaps if that happened, at some point the flow, the stillness, might not be there. I don't know; it may always be there. Or physical exhaustion may set in. But I feel now that I need to return to the pure stillness periodically. And then, when the teaching happens, just allow it to arise out of the stillness. So the teaching and stillness are very closely connected. The teaching arises out of the stillness. But when I'm alone, there's only the stillness, and that is my favorite place.

AC: When you're alone, do you spend a lot of time physically being still?

ET: Yes, I can sometimes sit for two hours in a room with almost no thought. Just complete stillness. Sometimes when I go for walks, there's also complete stillness; there's no mental labeling of sense perceptions. There's simply a sense of awe or wonder or openness, and that's beautiful.

AC: In your book The Power of Now you state that "The ultimate purpose of the world lies not within the world but in transcendence of the world." Could you please explain what you mean?

ET: Transcending the world does not mean to withdraw from the world, to no longer take action, or to stop interacting with people. Transcendence of the world is to act and to interact without any self-seeking. In other words, it means to act without seeking to enhance one's sense of self through one's actions or one's interactions with people. Ultimately, it means not needing the future anymore for one's fulfillment or for one's sense of self or being. There is no seeking through doing, seeking an enhanced, more fulfilled, or greater sense of self in the world. When that seeking isn't there anymore, then you can be in the world but not be of the world. You are no longer seeking for anything to identify with out there.

AC: Do you mean that one has given up an egotistical, materialistic relationship to the world?

ET: Yes, it means no longer seeking to gain a sense of self, a deeper or enhanced sense of self. Because in the normal state of consciousness, what people are looking for through their activity is to be more completely themselves. The bank robber is looking for that in some way. The person who is striving for enlightenment is also looking for it because he or she is seeking to attain a state of perfection, a state of completion, a state of fullness at some point in the future. There is a seeking to gain something through one's activities. They are seeking happiness, but ultimately they are seeking themselves or you could say God; it comes down to the same thing. They are seeking themselves, and they are seeking where it can never be found, in the normal, unenlightened state of consciousness, because the unenlightened state of consciousness is always in the seeking mode. That means they are of the world—in the world and of the world.

AC: You mean that they are looking forward in time?

ET: Yes, the world and time are intrinsically connected. When all self-seeking in time ceases, then you can be in the world without being of the world.

AC: What exactly do you mean when you say that the purpose of the world lies in the transcendence of it?

ET: The world promises fulfillment somewhere in time, and there is a continuous striving toward that fulfillment in time. Many times people feel, "Yes, now I have arrived," and then they realize that, no, they haven't arrived, and then the striving continues. It is expressed beautifully in A Course in Miracles, where it says that the dictum of the ego is "Seek but do not find." People look to the future for salvation, but the future never arrives.

So ultimately, suffering arises through not finding. And that is the beginning of an awakening—when the realization dawns that "Perhaps this is not the way. Perhaps I will never get to where I am striving to reach; perhaps it's not in the future at all." After having been lost in the world, suddenly, through the pressure of suffering, the realization comes that the answers may not be found out there in worldly attainment and in the future.

That's an important point for many people to reach. That sense of deep crisis—when the world as they have known it, and the sense of self that they have known that is identified with the world, become meaningless. That happened to me. I was just that close to suicide and then something else happened—a death of the sense of self that lived through identifications, identifications with my story, things around me, the world. Something arose at that moment that was a sense of deep and intense stillness and aliveness, beingness. I later called it "presence." I realized that beyond words, that is who I am. But this realization wasn't a mental process. I realized that that vibrantly alive, deep stillness is who I am.

Years later, I called that stillness "pure consciousness," whereas everything else is the conditioned consciousness. The human mind is the conditioned consciousness that has taken form as thought. The conditioned consciousness is the whole world that is created by the conditioned mind. Everything is our conditioned consciousness; even objects are. Conditioned consciousness has taken birth as form and then that becomes the world. So to be lost in the conditioned seems to be necessary for humans. It seems to be part of their path to be lost in the world, to be lost in the mind, which is the conditioned consciousness.

Then, due to the suffering that arises out of being lost, one finds the unconditioned as oneself. And that is why we need the world to transcend the world. So I'm infinitely grateful for having been lost.

The purpose of the world is for you to be lost in it, ultimately. The purpose of the world is for you to suffer, to create the suffering that seems to be what is needed for the awakening to happen. And then once the awakening happens, with it comes the realization that suffering is unnecessary now. You have reached the end of suffering because you have transcended the world. It is the place that is free of suffering.

This seems to be everybody's path. Perhaps it is not everybody's path in this lifetime, but it seems to be a universal path. Even without a spiritual teaching or a spiritual teacher, I believe that everybody would get there eventually. But that could take time.

AC: A long time.

ET: Much longer. A spiritual teaching is there to save time. The basic message of the teaching is that you don't need any more time, you don't need any more suffering. I tell this to people who come to me: "You are ready to hear this because you are listening to it. There are still millions of people out there who are not listening to it. They still need time. But I am not talking to them. You are hearing that you don't need time anymore and you don't need to suffer anymore. You've been seeking in time and you've been seeking further suffering." And to suddenly hear that "You don't need that anymore—for some, that can be the moment of transformation.

So the beauty of the spiritual teaching is that it saves lifetimes

AC: Unnecessary suffering.

ET: Yes, so it's good that people are lost in the world. I enjoy traveling to New York and Los Angeles, where it seems that people are totally involved. I was looking out of the window in New York. We were next to the Empire State Building, doing a group. And everybody was rushing around, almost running. Everybody seemed to be in a state of intense nervous tension, anxiety. It's suffering, really, but it's not recognized as suffering. And I thought, where are they all running to? And of course, they are all running to the future. They are needing to get somewhere, which is not here. It is a point in time: not now—then. They are running to a then. They are suffering, but they don't even know it. But to me, even watching that was joyful. I didn't feel, "Oh, they should know better." They are on their spiritual path. At the moment, that is their spiritual path, and it works beautifully.

AC: Often the word enlightenment is interpreted to mean the end of division within the self and the simultaneous discovery of a perspective or way of seeing that is whole, complete, or free from duality. Some who have experienced this perspective claim that the ultimate realization is that there is no difference between the world and God or the Absolute, between samsara and nirvana, between the manifest and the unmanifest. But there are others who claim that, in fact, the ultimate realization is that the world doesn't actually exist at all—that the world is only an illusion, completely empty of meaning, significance, or reality. So in your own experience, is the world real? Is the world unreal? Both?

ET: Even when I'm interacting with people or walking in a city, doing ordinary things, the way I perceive the world is like ripples on the surface of being. Underneath the world of sense perceptions and the world of mind activity, there is the vastness of being. There's a vast spaciousness. There's a vast stillness and there's a little ripple activity on the surface, which isn't separate, just like the ripples are not separate from the ocean.

So there is no separation in the way I perceive it. There is no separation between being and the manifested world, between the manifested and the unmanifested. But the unmanifested is so much vaster, deeper, and greater than what happens in the manifested. Every phenomenon in the manifested is so short-lived and so fleeting that, yes, one could almost say that from the perspective of the unmanifested, which is the timeless beingness or presence, all that happens in the manifested realm really seems like a play of shadows. It seems like vapor or mist with continuously new forms arising and disappearing, arising and disappearing. So to the one who is deeply rooted in the unmanifested, the manifested could very easily be called unreal. I don't call it unreal because I see it as not separate from anything.

AC: So it is real?

ET: All that is real is beingness itself. Consciousness is all there is, pure consciousness.

AC: You're saying that the definition of "real" would be that which is free from birth and death?

ET: That's right.

AC: So only that which was never born and cannot die would be real. And since the manifest world is ultimately not separate from the unmanifest, according to what you are saying, in the end, one would have to say it's real.

ET: Yes, and even within every form that is subject to birth and death, there is the deathless. The essence of every form is the deathless. Even the essence of a blade of grass is the deathless. And that's why the world of form is sacred. It's not that the realm of the sacred is exclusively being or the unmanifested. Even the world of form I see as sacred.

AC: If someone simply asks you, "Is the world real or unreal?" would you say it was real or would you have to qualify the statement?

ET: I would probably qualify the statement.

AC: Saying what?

ET: It's a temporary manifestation of the real.

AC: So if the world is a temporary manifestation of the real, what is the enlightened relationship to the world?

ET: To the unenlightened, the world is all there is. There is nothing else. This time-bound mode of consciousness clings to the past for its identity and desperately needs the world for its happiness and fulfillment. Therefore, the world holds enormous promise but poses a great threat at the same time. That is the dilemma of the unenlightened consciousness: it is torn between seeking fulfillment in and through the world and being threatened by it continuously. A person hopes that they will find themselves in it, and at the same time they fear that the world is going to kill them, as it will. That is the state of continuous conflict that the unenlightened consciousness is condemned to—being torn continuously between desire and fear. It's a dreadful fate.

The enlightened consciousness is rooted in the unmanifested, and ultimately is one with it. It knows itself to be that. One could almost say it is the unmanifested looking out. Even with a simple thing like visually perceiving a form—a flower or a tree—if you are perceiving it in a state of great alertness and deep stillness, free of past and future, then at that moment already it is the unmanifested. You are not a person anymore at that moment. The unmanifested is perceiving itself in form. And there is always a sense of goodness in that perception.

So then all action arises out of that, and has a completely different quality from action that arises out of the unenlightened consciousness, which needs something and seeks to protect itself. That is really where those intangible and precious qualities come in that we call love, joy, and peace. They are all one with the unmanifested. They arise out of that. A human being who lives in connectedness with that and then acts and interacts becomes a blessing on the planet, whereas the unenlightened human is very heavy on the planet. There is a heaviness to the unenlightened. And the planet is suffering from millions of unenlightened humans. The burden on the planet is almost too much to bear. I can sometimes feel it as the planet saying, "Oh, no more, please."

AC: You encourage people to meditate, to as you describe it, "rest in the Presence of the Now" as much as possible. Do you think that spiritual practice can ever become truly deep and have the power to liberate if one has not already given up the world and what the world represents, at least to some degree?

ET: I wouldn't say that the practice itself has the power to liberate. It's only when there is complete surrender to the now, to what is, that liberation is possible. I do not believe that a practice will take you into complete surrender. Complete surrender usually happens through living. Your very life is the ground where that happens. There may be a partial surrender and then there may be an opening, and then you may engage in spiritual practice. But whether the spiritual practice is taken up after a certain degree of insight or the spiritual practice is just done in and of itself, the practice alone won't do it.

AC: Something that I've found in my own teaching work is that unless the world has been seen through to a certain degree, and unless there is a willingness based on that seeing to let go of it, then spiritual experience, no matter how powerful it is, is not going to lead to any kind of liberation.

ET: That's right, and the willingness to let go is surrender. That remains the key. Without that, no amount of practice or even spiritual experiences will do it.

AC: Yes, many people say they want to meditate or do spiritual practice, but their spiritual aspirations are not based on a willingness to let go of anything substantial.

ET: No, in fact it may be the opposite. Spiritual practice may be a way to try to find something new to identify with.

AC: Ultimately, would you say that real spiritual practice or real spiritual experience is meant to lead one to the letting go of the world, the transcendence of the world, the relinquishment of attachment to the world?

ET: Yes. Sometimes people ask, "How do you get to that? It sounds wonderful, but how do you get there?" In concrete terms, at its most basic, it simply means to say "yes" to this moment. That is the state of surrender—a total "yes" to what is. Not the inner "no" to what is. And the complete "yes" to what is, is the transcendence of the world. It's as simple as that—a total openness to whatever arises at this moment. The usual state of consciousness is to resist, to run away from it, to deny it, to not look at it.

AC: So when you say a "yes" to what is, do you mean not avoiding anything and facing everything?

ET: Right. It's welcoming this moment, embracing this moment, and that is the state of surrender. That is really all that's needed. The only difference between a Master and a non-Master is that the Master embraces what is, totally. When there is nonresistance to what is, there comes a peace. The portal is open; the unmanifested is there. That is the most powerful way. We can't call it practice because there's no time in it.

AC: For most people who are participating in the East-meets-West spiritual explosion that is occurring with ever-greater speed these days, both Gautama the Buddha and Ramana Maharshi—one of the most respected Vedantins of the modern era—stand out as peerless examples of full-blown enlightenment, and yet, interestingly enough, in regard to this question of the right relationship to the world for the spiritual aspirant, their teachings diverge dramatically.

The Buddha, the world-renouncer, encouraged those who were the most sincere to leave the world and follow him in order to live the holy life, free from the cares and concerns of the householder life. Yet Ramana Maharshi discouraged his disciples from leaving the household life in pursuit of greater spiritual focus and intensity. In fact, he discouraged any outward acts of renunciation and instead encouraged the aspirant to look within and find the cause of ignorance and suffering within the self. Indeed, many of his growing number of devotees today say that the desire to renounce is actually an expression of ego, the very part of the self that we want to liberate ourselves from if we want to be free. But of course the Buddha laid great stress on the need for renunciation, detachment, diligence, and restraint as the very foundation on which liberating insight can occur.

So why do you think the approaches of these two spiritual luminaries differ so widely? Why do you think that the Buddha encouraged his disciples to leave the world while Ramana encouraged them to stay where they were?

ET: There's not one way that that works. Different ages have certain approaches, which may be more effective for one age and no longer effective in another age. The world that we live in now has much greater density to it; it is much more all-pervasive. And when I say "world," I include the human mind in it. The human mind has grown even since the time of the Buddha, 2,500 years ago. The human mind is more noisy and more all-pervasive, and the egos are bigger. There's been an ego growth over thousands of years; it's growing to a point of madness, with the ultimate madness having been reached in the twentieth century. One only needs to read twentieth-century history to see that it has been the climax of human madness, if it's measured in terms of human violence inflicted on other humans.

So in the present time, we can't escape from the world anymore; we can't escape from the mind. We need to enter surrender while we are in the world. That seems to be the path that is effective in the world that we live in now. It may be that at the time of the Buddha, withdrawing was much, much easier than it would be now. The human mind was not yet so overwhelming at that time.

AC: But the reason that the Buddha preached leading the homeless life was because he felt that the household life was full of worries, cares, and concerns, and in that context he felt it would be difficult to do what was needed to live the holy life. So in terms of what you're saying about the noise and distraction of the world, that is actually precisely what he was addressing and why in fact he led the homeless life and encouraged other people to do the same.

ET: Well, he gave his reasons, but ultimately we don't know why the Buddha put the emphasis on leaving the world rather than saying as Ramana Maharshi did, "Do it in the world." But it seems to me, from what I have observed, that the more effective way now is for people to surrender in the world rather than attempt to remove themselves from the world and create a structure that makes it easier to surrender. There's a contradiction there already because you're creating a structure to make it easier to surrender. Why not surrender now? You don't need to create anything to make surrender easier because then it's not true surrender anymore. I've stayed in Buddhist monasteries and I can see how easily it can happen—they have given up their name and adopted a new name, they've shaved their heads, they wear their robes—

AC: You're saying that one world has been abandoned for another. One identification has been given up for another; one role has been dropped and another has been assumed. Nothing has actually been given up.

ET: That's right. Therefore do it where you are, right here, right now. There's no need to seek out some other place or some other condition or situation and then do it there. Do it right here and now. Wherever you are is the place for surrender. Whatever the situation is that you're in, you can say "yes" to what is, and that is then the basis for all further action.

AC: There are many teachers and teachings today that say that the very desire to renounce the world is an expression of ego. How do you see that?

ET: The desire to renounce the world is again the desire to reach a certain state that you don't have now. There's a mental projection of a desirable state to reach—the state of renunciation. It's self-seeking through future. In that sense, it is ego. True renunciation isn't the desire to renounce; it arises as surrender. You cannot have a desire to surrender because that's non-surrender. Surrender arises spontaneously sometimes in people who don't even have a word for it. And I know that openness is there in many people now. Many people who come to me have a great openness. Sometimes it only requires a few words and immediately they have a glimpse, a taste of surrender, which may not yet be lasting, but the opening is there.

AC: What about the spontaneous call from the heart to abandon all that's false and illusory, all that's based on the ego's materialistic relationship to life? For example, when the Buddha decided, "I have to leave my home behind—it would probably be hard to say that was an egotistical desire, looking at the results. And Jesus saying, "Come follow me. Let the dead bury their dead."

ET: That is recognizing the false as false, which is mainly an inner thing—to recognize false identifications, to recognize the mental noise, and what had been identification with mental images as a "me" entity, to be false. That is beautiful, that recognition. And then action may arise out of the recognition of the false, and perhaps you can see the false reflected in your life circumstances and you may then leave those behind—or not. But the recognition and relinquishment of all that is false and illusory is primarily an inner one.

AC: Those two cases, the Buddha and Jesus, would be examples of powerful outer manifestations of that inner recognition.

ET: That's right. There's no predicting what is going to happen as a result of that inner recognition. For the Buddha, of course, it came because he was already an adult when he suddenly realized that humans die and become ill and grow old. And that was so powerful that he looked within and said that everything is meaningless if that's all there is.

AC: But then he was compelled to go off, to abandon his kingdom. From a certain point of view he could have said, "Well, it's all here right now, and all I need to do is just surrender unconditionally here and now." Then I guess the result could have been very different, he could have been an enlightened king!

ET: But at that point he didn't know that all that was necessary was surrender.

AC: Yet, when Jesus was calling the fishermen to leave their families and their lives to follow him and, similarly, when the Buddha would walk through towns and call the men to leave everything behind, their surrender was demonstrated in the actual leaving, in saying "yes" to Jesus or the Buddha and letting go of their worldly attachments. And obviously there would also be their inner attachment to let go of as well. In these cases, letting go wasn't only a metaphor for inner transcendence; it also meant literally letting go of everything.

ET: For some people that is part of it. They may leave their habitual surroundings or activities, but the only question is whether or not they have already seen the false within. If they haven't, the external letting go will be a disguised form of self-seeking.

AC: For my last question I'd like to ask you about the relationship between your understanding of enlightenment, or the experience of nondual consciousness, and engagement with the world.

In Judaism, fully engaging with the world and human life is seen as the fulfillment of the religious calling. In fact, they say it is only through wholeheartedly living the commandments that the spiritual potential of the human race can become manifest on earth. Jewish scholar David Ariel writes, "We finish the work of creation . . . God stands in need of us because only we can perfect the world."

Many enlightenment or nondual teachings like your own emphasize the enlightenment of the individual. Indeed, transcendence of the world seems to be the whole point. But our Jewish brothers appear to be calling us to something very different—the spiritualization of the world through devoted men's and women's wholehearted participation in the world. So is it true that nondual enlightenment teachings deprive the world of our wholehearted participation in it? Does the very notion of transcendence rob the world of the fulfillment of our potential to spiritualize it as God's children?

ET: No, because right action can only flow out of that state of transcendence of the world. Any other activity is ego-induced, and even doing good, if it's ego-induced, will have karmic consequences. "Ego-induced" means there is an ulterior motive. For example, it enhances your self-image if you become a more spiritual person in your own eyes and that feels good; or another example would be looking to a future reward in another lifetime or in heaven. So if there are ulterior motives, it's not pure. There cannot be true love flowing into your actions if the world has not been transcended because you're not connected with the realm out of which love arises.

AC: Do you mean pure action, untainted by ego?

ET: Yes, first things first. What comes first is realization and liberation, and then let action flow out of that—and that will be pure, untainted, and there's no karma attached to it whatsoever. Otherwise, no matter how high our ideals are, we will still strengthen the ego through our good actions. Unfortunately, you cannot fulfill the commandments unless you are egoless—and there are very few who are—as all the people who have tried to practice the teachings of Christ have found out. "Love your neighbor as yourself" is one of the main teachings of Jesus, and you cannot fulfill that commandment, no matter how hard you try, if you don't know who you are at the deepest level. Love your neighbor as yourself means your neighbor is yourself, and that recognition of oneness is love.