Eckhart Tolle discussing his book The Power of Now
Eckhart Tolle came to the Bodhi Tree in November, 1999 to talk about his book, The Power of Now, and to tell us about the radical state of being that is available to all. Tolle was a research scholar and supervisor at Cambridge University before his life was radically changed by a spiritual awakening. After further contemplation and study, he became an exceptional counselor and spiritual teacher. Tolle speaks about the nature of human unconsciousness and dysfunction as well as its most common manifestations, from conflict in relationships to warfare between tribes or nations, and he speaks with the intention of drawing his listeners into a new awareness.
"Accept whatever arises in this moment as if you had chosen it, and your whole life will be miraculously transformed." -- Eckhart Tolle.
The following is an edited version of Eckhart Tolle's Bodhi Tree Bookstore presentation. Edited by James Culnan.
Eckhart Tolle: The world is full of interesting ideas, but none of these have saved the world from its madness. So if you have come with expectations of learning new and fascinating things, you may be disappointed. We are here to become acquainted with a state of consciousness that, since ancient times, has been pointed to by masters and teachers and teachings. Many different labels have been attached to that state of consciousness: enlightenment, salvation, liberation, self-realization, the end of suffering, the kingdom of heaven, the pearl of great price . . . they all point to the possibility of transcending the ordinary human state of consciousness, which has been running the world since the beginning of history. In fact, almost all of human history is a reflection of that ordinary, and in many ways dysfunctional state of consciousness. If there's still anybody left who doubts the dysfunction of the human mind, I suggest two things: You can either read a book on 20th century history, or you can watch TV tonight.
Not that there haven't been wonderful achievements in human history. Witness the great spiritual teachings and teachers and all the wonderful artistic creations - these have come from a far deeper place than the ordinary human mind. But sadly, most of history has been about watching the dysfunctional human mind in action. The great teachers have recognized this, and called it different names: the Buddha said humans are in dukkha, a state of suffering or dissatisfaction. Christianity talks of a state of sin, that's been greatly misinterpreted, but there are basic truths there. Hinduism speaks of a state of illusion. They also all point to the possibility of entering a different state of consciousness that is beyond the dysfunction of the human mind. A few people in history actually understood all of this and were able to live the message and enter that new state of consciousness that is free of suffering -- free of unhappiness, a state of deep connectedness with being, great creativity, and continuous inner peace.
Now, for the first time, this enlightenment is happening on a larger scale, not just to one person in ten million or less, as it did before. It is emerging now because it has to emerge: The planet would not survive another hundred years of the present human consciousness.
Where does the dysfunction of the human mind originate? It is not some external phenomenon to be examined, because it is within oneself. Just to realize this is the beginning of the end, or the beginning of stepping out of it. By recognizing the dysfunction, you are already beginning to transcend it.
If you observe your own mind, you will see that thinking very rarely ceases. It is as if some demon built a radio into everyone's head and removed the "off" switch. Most of our thinking is like those radio stations where there is constant chatter. It all sounds very important, and if you listened to it in a foreign language, you would think that they're actually talking about something significant, because they put so much energy into it. But if you listen to what they are saying, it's all pretty much meaningless.
Now this would be bad enough if the only problem was that you couldn't get rid of the noise, but it goes beyond that. You identify with it, and soon your whole sense of identity comes from it: "This is me, and I am a little person with a little past and a little future." So, an entity arises that is ultimately fictitious, a mental image of "little me," which is based on an underlying fear. And you are continuously seeking some liberation from this littleness through becoming bigger, and you are also seeking liberation from fear. On top of all this, there is a deep sense that something is lacking. This stimulates a continuous search for fulfillment, security, or prominence, a sense of being more fully alive, or of knowing who you are beyond all that your parents and society have told you.
Your image of yourself may be good in one minute, and bad in the next. It fluctuates between "I'm great" and "I'm dreadful" depending on what happens, for instance, if someone criticizes you. There is always a sense of insufficiency, or what I call egoic consciousness: a sense of self derived from the mind's activity, which is an extremely limited sense of self compared to the reality of who you are. When you are trapped in this mind-made sense of self, you are trapped in consciousness that is conditioned by the past. The "little me," I call it, that sometimes thinks it's a "big me". But even then, when it thinks "I'm the master of the universe " there is always the hidden fear that this is not so. And this is what creates all the insanity.
In order to maintain its fictitious state of identity, the little me needs to be in a state of opposition, or warfare. It needs to have a boundary around itself, so it says, "This is me and this the other, which is not me." Then a strong sense of separation develops between the image of the little me and the rest of the universe, which becomes threatening. This is the indeed the very root of madness: it needs enemies. Enemies might come in the form of people, or in the form of situations, but what it all means is that the little me also needs unhappiness, since it is fighting "what is." It is so deeply internalized that most human beings are unaware that they are continually running away from "what is," to some mentally projected future.
And the little me says, "I will attain something in the future that will make me more complete, and more fulfilled. Instead of being a little me, I will become a big me. One day I'm going to make it!" People go to the end of their lives believing this. The best thing that can happen if you do make it in that limited sense - you become wealthy, or recognized as this or that by society - is for you to discover that the little me is still a little me and not yet satisfied. That would be a wonderful realization. But people who don't make it are still attached to the illusion: "If I could only make it, I would be freed of all the unhappiness that I feel." Again, if you're lucky enough to make it, you are in a position to lose this last illusion, even though the loss will feel like despair. You still have that feeling of insufficiency, or "what now?"
People believe that their unhappiness is due to the content of their lives, that they will be happy if they obtain certain things. This is the belief, but it's not true. You'll be happy for a while, and then your old unhappiness will return in some other form. This is because unhappiness is about the structure of your thinking, and not the content of your life or thought. Realizing this is already the beginning of liberation. What a realization! As long as you are trapped in the egoic mind, you can never be free, no matter where you go, who you meet, what you achieve, or what planet or galaxy you reach . . . Isn't that amazing?
Sometimes when I talk about this, one or two people walk out. It is fascinating to watch, and it is because the unhappiness in them feels very threatened. "What's he saying?" their little me says. "He's trying to take away my unhappiness, and I've invested twenty or thirty years in it! How dare you say I can live without it!" You might react in this way, but if you do, just watch it. It's not you. It is just your mind pattern, because it feels threatened. But if you recognize the truth of these words, ask yourself where the recognition came from. Not from the conditioned sense of yourself, but from the deeper level of your being where the unconditioned consciousness lives. The unconditioned consciousness is the vastness of consciousness itself, the very intelligence that runs your body despite the mad mind. Every cell has vast intelligence. But sometimes the mad mind interferes so much that the bodily energy cannot flow anymore. There can be so many negative emotions and such deep unhappiness that blockages occur and the body becomes ill.
Always, we seek to end the unhappiness through time. "Time will get me out of my unhappiness," we say, "I only need this or that, which could happen in the future." This is an illusion. In other words, time, or the future, cannot free you from the little me and its unhappiness, its fear, and its sense that something vital is missing.
Interestingly, the mind structure operates in the same way for a so-called spiritual person as for a so-called materialistic person, since most so-called spiritual people carry their dysfunction into their spiritual work. They are spiritually unhappy, and they say, "one day I will be good enough at my meditation", or one day, "I will attain enlightenment." This approach is no different from the one which says, "I'm going to have 50 million dollars in the bank, and then I'll be somebody." Though seeing this dysfunction in your spiritual life may come as a shock, there is a way out, and that is to realize that the dysfunction of the human mind ceases to operate when the root of the dysfunction is removed. And that root is the mind's refusal, or unwillingness, to open itself up to this moment, to embrace life now, and say yes to what is. That would be the end of the egoic, even if it sounds impossibly simple -- just relinquish your warfare with life, because that is what constitutes the madness of the human mind. At that point it is in a state of warfare with life itself, because life is inseparable from the now, the present moment. Nothing is ever outside of now. Life and the now are one. But this mad, egoic state of consciousness believes it can win its fight -- I don't use the word God very much, because it is often misused, but the ego is in a state of warfare with God. It is a state of deep suffering.
Indeed, to talk about the end of suffering or the end of unhappiness is to speak in negative terms. It is more than just the end of unhappiness - it means entering a state of continuous deep peace, aliveness, a state where you are no longer trying to figure out how to hold your life together or control the future. You open yourself up to the power of the greater consciousness that lies beyond the limited human mind, which then can flow and live through you, and the intelligence that created the galaxies, the flowers, the blade of grass -- everything -- can then express itself fully through you. It is no longer restricted almost to zero by the madness of the little egoic entity, which is like a knot. When the human mind is no longer an egoic mind, it will be continuously inspired by that great intelligence, and will give form to all the insights, intuitions, realizations and creative ideas that arise from the deeper level within yourself. And the wonderful news is that this vast sanity and intelligence is to be found in every human being, no matter how mad they look from the outside. It cannot be destroyed, no matter how crazy humans become.
That's when your life suddenly flows with great ease, when it is no longer a struggle for survival against problems that seem to arise continuously. This goes wrong, that goes wrong . . . that's why Churchill defined history as "one damn thing after another." But the moment you say yes to what is, and fully embrace it, you become flooded with an intense aliveness. People often feel it in every cell of their body. Wow! It suddenly feels good to be alive, and what is happening, or not happening, is no longer important. I am that beautiful life that I can feel now. I am one with the aliveness and intelligence that lives in every cell of my being. And if I take action, the action will arise out of the deep sense of connectedness with being that occurs when I accept the now, and the action will be a hundred times more effective than action that arises out of my resistance to what is.
God is closer to you than hands and feet, it has been said, and it's true. Every flower is a celebration of the goodness of life. Look how it exists in its incredible beauty, open to the sky and the sun, like an act of worship. I've never found a flower that has a problem.
This is the simple truth and the simple transformation that all the great teachers talked about. Jesus said, take no thought of the morrow, the morrow will take care of itself. If you remove the baggage of misinterpretation and mind interpretation that has accumulated on top of the original teachings, you will see their simplicity, and what they are saying is, surrender to what is. Surrender to the now, and then watch life unfold through you. That is the end of suffering, the end of unhappiness. Accept whatever arises in this moment as if you had chosen it, and your whole life will be miraculously transformed.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment By Eckhart Tolle
Eckhart Tolle's first book was written for those seeking radical transformation. Using a question and answer format, he explains how to free yourself from enslavement to the mind, enter into an enlightened state of consciousness, and sustain it in everyday life. He occasionally quotes Jesus, Buddha, or A Course In Miracles to draw your attention to the fact that "in essence there is and always has been only one spiritual teaching, although it comes in many forms." We learn that we are not our mind, and that we can move deeply into the utter reality of the here and now to discover the perpetual unfolding of our true being.