The following is a partial excerpt of an interview with Eckhart
Tolle from a book called
Dialogues With Emerging Spiritual Teachers
by John W.
This morning we are speaking with Eckhart Tolle. As a note of
introduction, can you share with us where you grew up and how it
impacted your outlook on life?
Yes. I was born in Germany, where I lived for the first thirteen
years of my life. At age thirteen I moved to Spain to live with my
father, who had gone to live there, and I spent the rest of my
teenage years in Spain. So that became the second culture in which I
lived. The second language for me became Spanish- At nineteen I
moved to England. For most of my adult life until about five or six
years ago, I lived in England. So the fact of having lived in two or
three different cultural environments perhaps was important because
I was not conditioned by just one particular culture. People who
have lived exclusively in one culture, part of their mental
conditioning is the cultural collective conditioning of that
country. It probably helped to live in more than one country, so
that the conditioning was not so deep. One became more aware of the
surrounding culture without being totally identified with it.
Another interesting fact is that at the age of thirteen I refused to
go to school any longer. It was an inner impossibility for me to go
to school. I was not a rebellious child at all, but I simply refused
to go to school. The environment was so hostile. I simply refused,
and so between thirteen and twenty-two or twenty-three I had no
formal education. When I went to live with my father in Spain—my
father was a very unconventional person, which is wonderful—he asked
me, "Do you want to go to school here?" I was thirteen. I said, of
course, "No, I don't." And he said, "O.K. then don't go to school.
Do what you like; read, study languages, you can go to language
classes." And that's what I did. I pursued my own particular
interests. I read some literature. I was very interested in
astronomy. I read books that I wanted to read. Of course I learned
Spanish fairly quickly. I went to English language classes. I liked
languages and studied some French. And I spent a lot of time just
being with myself, free of the external pressures of the environment
or the culture. So that was very important.
It was only later in English at age twenty-two or twenty-three that
I became interested in intellectual matters. My mind became more and
more active. I was seeking some kind of answer through the
intellect, through philosophy, psychology, and literature. And I
believed that the answer was to be found in the intellect and
philosophy. So that is when I started getting qualifications in
preparatory evening classes that I needed to get into the university
in England. That was my free choice and there was no internal
compulsion behind it, nor external compulsion.
Did you study philosophy then or...?
As a subsidiary subject, but it was mostly literature and languages
that I later studied in the university. So the fact about my
childhood is that schooling stopped at thirteen. There was this
space of freedom between thirteen and the rest of my teen-age years.
Interesting. Do you recall having any spiritual experiences as a
child that created or brought about the "longing" to know yourself?
Well, my childhood was not a happy one. Spain perhaps was
relatively more happy than Germany, the first thirteen years. There
was a lot of conflict in my home environment, as many people find,
of course. Even as a child I could already feel what later would
become periods of intense depression—I could already feel the
beginnings of that. That certainly was not a "spiritual experience"
but somehow it can be a prelude lo it. Even as a child I would
sometimes think, "How can I eliminate myself from this world?" "How
can I commit suicide?" and was working out possibilities of how to
do it. [ Laughter ] Schooling was also so unpleasant for me. As a
very young child I didn't have the strength to say "No" to it.
Basically life was not happy as a child. There was no "spiritual
experience," as such, except—yes, there was: although we lived in a
fairly big city, I had a deep intimacy with nature. I remember
getting on my bike and going beyond the outskirts of the city and
looking around the world of nature, having just left behind the
miserable world of school. And I remember (the thought going through
my head, "This will always be here, this will always be here."
Nothing—just that—and looking. [Chuckle]
Did you actually do any work after you had finished school?
Yes. My first job was at seventeen. I was a tourist guide. [Chuckle]
We were living in Southern Spain where many tourists came. It
happened naturally. So that was my first job there. And later when
I moved to England, somehow, although I did not have qualifications,
I was offered a job to teach German and Spanish in a language school
which I did for over three years. [Chuckle]
One more event about "spiritual experiences." When we were in Spain,
I was about fifteen when a German woman came to visit us and then
was going to return to Germany. She said, "Can I leave a few things
with you?" She left some books with us. There were five books I that
were written by a German Mystic, early twentieth-century writer, not
very well-known abroad. His spiritual name is Bo Yin Ra. I started
reading these books. The text was written in almost Biblical style,
pointing towards mystical experience. And I responded very deeply to
those books. And I felt later that these books were left there for a
purpose. I even copied parts of those books. They created an
"opening" into that dimension. A year later she came back, and my
father said to her, "So you left some books with us." And she said,
"No, I didn't leave any books; I don’t remember." She didn't want
him to remember that she had even left any books with us. [Laughter]
So I still have some of these books at home, and I value them
Could you briefly share with us the main experiences you bad that
led you to become a spiritual teacher? You have a recently published
book titled. The Power of Now: a Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.
In your book, you mentioned a very profound experience, or a "shift"
that took place.
Yes. I was about twenty-nine, and had gone through years of
depression and anxiety. I had even achieved some successes, like
graduating with the highest mark at London University. Then an
offer came for a Cambridge scholarship to do research. But the whole
motivating power behind my academic success was fear and
It all changed one night when I woke up in the middle of the night.
The fear, anxiety and heaviness of depression were becoming so
intense, it was almost unbearable. And it is hard to describe that
"state" where the world is felt to be so alien, just looking at a
physical environment like a room. Everything was totally alien and
almost hostile. I later saw a book written by Jean-Paul Sartre
called Nausea. That was the state that I was in, nausea of the
world. [Chuckle] And the thought came into my head, "I can't live
with myself any longer." That thought kept repeating itself again
And (then suddenly there was a "standing back" from the thought and
Looking at that thought, at the structure of that thought," If I
cannot live with myself, who is that self that I cannot live with?
Who am I? Am I one—or two?" And I saw that I was "two." There was an
"I," and (here was a self. And the self was deeply unhappy, the
miserable self. And the burden of that I could not live with. At
that moment, a dis-identification happened. "I" consciousness
withdrew from its identification with the self, the mind-made
fictitious entity, the unhappy "little me" and its story. And the
fictitious entity collapsed completely in that moment, just as if a
plug had been pulled out of an inflatable toy. What remained was a
single sense of presence or "Beingness" which is pure consciousness
prior to identification with form—the eternal I AM. I didn't know
all of that at the time, of course. It just happened, and for a long
time there was no understanding of what had happened.
As the self collapsed, there was still a moment of intense
fear—after all, it was the death of "me." I felt like being sucked
into a hole. But a voice from within said, "Resist nothing." So I
let go. It was almost like I was being sucked into a void, not an
external void, but a void within. And then fear disappeared and
there was nothing that I remember after that except waking up in the
morning in a state of total and complete "newness."
I woke up in a state of incredible inner peace, bliss in fact. With
my eyes still closed, I heard the sound of a bird and realized how
precious that was. And then I opened my eyes and saw the sunlight
coming through the curtains and felt: There is far more to that
than we realize. It felt like love coming through the curtains. And
then as I walked around the old familiar objects in the room I
realized I had never really seen them before. It was as if I had
just been born into this world; a state of wonder. And then I went
for a walk in the city. I was still in London. Everything was
miraculous, deeply peaceful. Even the traffic. [Chuckle]
I knew something incredible had happened, although I didn't
understand it. I even started writing down in a diary, "Something
incredible has happened. I just want to write this down," I said,
"in case it leaves me again or I lose it." And only later did I
realize (that my thought processes after waking up that morning had
been reduced by about eighty to ninety percent. So a lot of the time
I was walking around in a state of inner stillness, and perceiving
the world through inner stillness.
And that is the peace, the deep peace that comes when there is no
longer anybody commenting on sense perceptions or anything that
happens. No labeling, no need to interpret what is happening, it
just is as it is and it is fine. [Laughter] There was no longer a
After that transformation happened, I could not have said anything
about it. "Something happened. I am totally at peace. I don't know
what it means." That is all I could have said. And it took years
before there was some "understanding." And it took more years before
it evolved into a "spiritual teaching ."That took time. The basic
state is the same as then, but the external manifestation of the
state as a teaching and the power of a teaching, that took time. It
had to mature. So when I talk about it now to some extent, I add
something to it. When I talk about the "original experience"
something is added to it that I didn't know then.
You mentioned that after a profound realization had occurred you
read spiritual texts and spent time with various teachers. Can you
share what writings and teachers had the greatest effect on you in
further realizing what had been revealed to you?
Yes. The texts I came in contact with—first I picked up a copy of
the New Testament almost by accident, maybe half a year, a year
after it happened, and reading the words of Jesus and feeling the
essence and power behind those words. And I immediately understood
at a deeper level the meaning of those words. I knew intuitively
with absolute certainty that certain statements attributed to Jesus
were added later, because they did not "emanate" from that place,
that state of consciousness, because I knew that place, I know that
place. But when a statement emanates from that place, there is
recognition. And when it does not, no matter how clever or
intelligent it may sound it lacks that essence and it does not have
that power. In other words, it does not emanate from the stillness.
So that was an incredible realization, just reading and
understanding "beyond mind" the deeper meaning of those words.
Then came the
Bhagavad Gita, I also had an immediate, deep
understanding of and an incredible love for such a divine work. The
Tao Te Ching; also an immediate understanding. And often knowing,
"Oh, that's not a correct translation.” I knew the translator had
misunderstood, and knew what the real meaning was although I do not
know any Chinese. So I immediately had access to the essence of
those texts. Then I also started reading on Buddhism and immediately
understood the essence of Buddhism. I saw the simplicity of the
original teaching of the Buddha compared to the complexity of
subsequent additions, philosophy, all the baggage that over the
centuries accumulated around Buddhism, and saw the essence of the
original teaching. I have a great love for the teaching of the
Buddha, a teaching of such power and sublime simplicity. I even
spent time in Buddhist monasteries. During my time in England there
were already several Buddhist monasteries.
I met and listened to some teachers that helped me understand my own
state. In the beginning there was a Buddhist monk, Achan Sumedo,
abbot of two or three monasteries in England. He's a Western-born
And in London I spent some time with
Barry Long. I also understood
things more deeply, simply through listening and having some
conversations with him. And there were other teachers who were just
as meaningful whom I never met in person that I feel a very strong
connection to. One is [J.]
Krishnamurti, and another is
Maharshi. I feel a deep link. And I feel actually that the work I do
is a coming together of the teaching "stream," if you want to call
it that, of Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi. They seem very, very
dissimilar, but I feel that in my teaching the two merge into one.
It is the heart of Ramana Maharshi, and Krishnamurti's ability to
see the false, as such and point out how it works. So Krishnamurti
and Ramana Maharshi, I love them deeply. I feel completely at One
with them. And it is a continuation of the teaching.
You mentioned that you have been a spiritual teacher for ten years
It is very hard to tell when I started to be a spiritual teacher.
There was a time when occasionally somebody would come and ask me
questions. One could say at that point I became a spiritual teacher,
although the term did not occur to me then.
For awhile I thought I was a “healer." It was a few years after the
transformation happened. Occasionally people would come to me. I was
sitting with a woman one day and she was telling me her story and I
was in a state of listening, a state of bliss as I was listening to
the drama of her story, and suddenly she stopped talking and said,
"Oh, you are doing healing." She felt something and she called it
"healing." And so at that time I did not understand completely what
was going on, and thought, "Oh, so I am a healer." For a while then,
people called me a healer. [Laughter] And when I saw the limitations
of that term, I dropped that. [Laughter] And later on, somebody
called me a "spiritual teacher" once, and that must have been the
How long did it take after the "shift" to integrate what was
Many years. About ten years. And "spiritual teacher" of course is
not an identity. "Spiritual teacher" is a function. Somebody comes,
the teaching happens. Somebody leaves, there's no spiritual teacher
left. If I thought it was my identity to be a spiritual teacher,
that would be a delusion. It's not an identity. It's simply a
function in this world. I have been very happy being nobody for many
years after the transition. And I was nobody even in the eyes of the
world, really. I had not achieved any worldly success. Now, there is
a book, and the groups are getting bigger and bigger. And people
think I am "somebody."
How do you deal with that?
Well, I smile. I still know I am "nobody." [Laughter] Even though
all these "projections" come that I am "special." And for many
teachers that is a challenge, to be bombarded with projections of
"specialness." And even teachers who have already gone very deeply
sometimes fall back into illusion. The impact of projections that
they receive from all their followers or disciples is so strong that
after a while the delusion of "specialness" returns. And that is
often the beginning of the end of the power of the teaching that
comes through. They may then still teach from "memory," but when the
"specialness" returns, that is the end of spiritual power coming
through. Any idea of "specialness." And I have seen it with
Yes, many times it has happened. What have you recognized in
individuals who have come to you—and I don't know if you would
refer to them as "students'—and in yourself that would lead you to
believe that your realization is "true" and that it can be realized
The certainty is complete. There is no need for confirmation from
any external source. The realization of peace is so deep that even
if I met the Buddha and the Buddha said you are wrong, I would say,
"Oh, isn't that interesting, even the Buddha can be wrong."
[Laughter] So there is just no question about it. And I have seen it
in so many situations when there would have been reaction in a
"normal state of consciousness"—challenging situations. It never
goes away. It's always there. The intensity of that peace or
stillness, that can vary, but it's always there.
It often becomes more intense when there is an external challenge,
if something goes wrong or there is a great loss externally. And
then the stillness and peace becomes extremely intense and deepens.
And that is the opposite of what usually would happen in the normal
state of consciousness, when loss occurs or something goes wrong, so
to speak. Agitation, upset, fear arises. Reactivity arises. "Little
me" gets stronger. So this is the opposite.
I noticed it the first time I was watching a film not long after the
transformation. It was a science-fiction film, and one scene showed
the annihilation of Japan, the whole country going up in flames. And
I was sitting in the cinema, feeling the bliss deepening and
deepening, until there was only That. Then the mind came in and
said, "How strange! How can you feel so blissful when you're
watching disaster?" And out of that, a realization developed into
what would later become part of my teaching. That is, whenever a
great loss of any kind occurs to anybody, loss of whatever kind,
disaster, something goes drastically wrong, death, for some people
that has been their spiritual breakthrough.
Loss is very painful, because any kind of loss leaves a hole in the
fabric of one's existence. A person dies, or something you had
identified with completely is gone. Your home goes up in flames.
There is extreme pain at first. But whenever a form dissolves, which
is called "death," what remains is an opening into emptiness. Where
the form once was, there's a hole into emptiness. And if it's not
resisted, if you don't turn away from it you'll find that the
formless—you could say God—shines through that hole where there was
a form that died.
Maybe that is why the Buddhists spend so much time practicing in the
Yes, that is right. I'm talking about this now in connection with my
inner state, which is always the same although the intensity varies.
And it intensifies through any loss or disaster. Has this knowledge
become part of the teaching? Yes, because often people come to me
because they are in great pain, because of some recent or imminent
loss. They may be faced with death. They may have just lost a loved
one, or lost their position. It's often at that point that life
becomes too unbearable, and then there is "seeking," "spiritual
seeking." So I point out that if you surrender into the loss, see
what comes through that hole. It's the winds of grace that blow
through that hole.
It's interesting. When I first read about your "awakening," I was
reminded of St. John of the Cross and the "Dark Night of the Soul."
It seems like you have gone through something very similar. But what
I heard you say yesterday at the Gathering (2000) is that it really
The "Dark Night of the Soul" seems to be one way that some
individuals have managed to have a "shift" in their consciousness.
I hear you saying that there is another way. What I have experienced
with other spiritual teachers is that almost to the person, they
have gone through a similar shift. There has been a "dark night of
the soul" and then the "shift" takes place. I have yet to find
someone who has done it the other way, who has actually been able to
have that realization and not go through "the abyss," and has been
able to help other individuals realize that it is not absolutely
Yes. One could say that everybody in this world has a spiritual
teacher. For most people, their losses and disasters represent the
teacher; their suffering is the teacher. And if they stay with that
teacher long enough, eventually it will take them to freedom. Maybe
not in this lifetime. So everybody has a spiritual teacher. But a
"spiritual teaching” in the narrow sense of the word is there to
save time and suffering. Without it you would get there anyway, but
it saves time.
And every spiritual teaching points to the possibility of the end of
suffering—Now. It is true that most teachers have had to go through
the "Dark Night of the Soul,” although for one or two it was very,
very quick. Ramana Maharshi had one brief death experience. For J.
Krishnamurti, it happened when his brother died. He [Krishnamurti]
wasn't "free" yet when they discovered him. There was great
potential in him. But he really became "free" after the death of his
Humankind as a whole has been through such vast suffering that one
could almost say that every human has suffered enough now. No
further suffering is necessary. And it is now possible as spiritual
teachings are coming through with greater intensity, perhaps
greater than ever before, that many humans will be able to break
through without any further need for suffering. Otherwise I would
not be teaching. The very essence of the teaching is the message,
"You have suffered enough." The Buddha said it. "I teach suffering,
and the end of suffering," which means, "I show you how suffering
arises," which is an important realization—I talked about that
yesterday—and how you can be free of that- So that is the very
purpose of spiritual teaching, Jesus says the same, "the Kingdom of
Heaven is here. Now" accessible to you here and Now.
In your book, you mentioned that "enlightenment is simply our
natural state of "felt" oneness with Being and a state of
"feeling-realization.” Is enlightenment based on feeling rather than
thinking? Help us understand who feels it and where it is felt.
Yes, well it is certainly closer to feeling than thinking. There is
no word to describe the state of connectedness with Being. I am
putting together two words in the book: feeling and realization
hyphenated Because there is not a correct word that I can use.
Language doesn't have a word for that. So I can only use something
that gets relatively close but that's not it either. Realization
sounds a little bit as if it were a "mental" thing. "Oh, I know."
Feeling sounds as if it were an "emotion " But it is not an
emotion. And it is not a mental recognition of anything. Perhaps the
word that is closest to it is the realization of stillness, which is
when the mental noise that we call thinking, subsides. There is a
gap in the stream of thought, but there is absolutely no loss of
consciousness. In that ''gap" there is full and intense
consciousness, but it has not taken on form.
Every thought in consciousness has been born into form, a temporary
form and then it dies and goes onto another form. You could say the
whole world is consciousness having taken birth as form,
manifesting as form temporarily, and then dying, which means
dissolving as form. What always remains is the "essence" of all that
Now, when a form dies, I pointed out earlier it is an external loss;
it's a great opportunity for the formless, pure consciousness to be
recognized. The same happens when a thought-stream comes to an end.
Thought dies. And suddenly that which is beyond thought—you may call
it pure consciousness—is realized as deep stillness.
Now the question you may ask, and perhaps have asked, is "Who
realizes the stillness?" If there is no longer the personal entity
there, who is it that becomes enlightened? [Laughter] One could say,
of course, nobody becomes "enlightened," because it is the
dissolving of the illusion of a separate "me," which is not
anybody's achievement, or anybody's success. It looks as if there
were a human being becoming enlightened, but that is an external
appearance. What is really happening is that consciousness has
withdrawn from its identification with form, and realizes its own
nature. It is a "Self-realization" of consciousness. Therefore it
is a cosmic event. What looks like a human being, a person, becoming
free of suffering and entering a state of deep peace—from an
external viewpoint—in reality is a cosmic event. Please remember
that all language is limited, so these are just little "pointers."
Consciousness is withdrawing from the game of form. For millions of
years, as long as the world has been in existence, consciousness
has been engaged in the play of form, of becoming the "dance" of
phenomenal universe, "Lila." And then consciousness becomes tired of
the game. [Chuckle]
It needs a rest.
Yes. But having lost itself, that was part of the game. Having lost
itself in form, after having lost itself in form, it knows itself
fully for the first time. Don't take anything I say too literally.
They are just little pointers, because no one can explain the
universe through making "sounds" or thoughts. So it is far too vast
to be explained. I'm not explaining the universe. These are just
tiny hints. It is beyond words, beyond thought. What I am saying
could almost be treated as a poem, an approximation, just an
approximation to the Truth.
What is "enlightenment," and why does there seem to be so much
confusion about it in these times?
Well, the confusion arises because so many people write about it
without knowing it directly. One can become an expert on it without
knowing it directly. Because an expert means you know a lot "about"
something, but you do not necessarily know "it.” Confusion arises
What is enlightenment? Again, it is so vast not any one definition
would do it justice. It would be a tiny aspect of it. And you can
look at it from so many perspectives, this one, that one, that one.
And every time it looks as if it were different.
Another reason why it can be confusing is you reach one person's
definition of enlightenment, he or she is looking from "this"
perspective. And then you read somebody else's, and they are
looking from that perspective. There's the ancient old Indian story
of blind men describing an elephant, one touching the trunk, another
a leg, the tail, and soon. (Laughter]
The confusion arises in trying to understand through the mind what
enlightenment is. That is impossible. Any description is only a
signpost. So the mind can only go a certain way, and then the
signpost has to be left behind. And the mind gets attached to a
signpost, which is a teaching or description, a concept. And then
confusion arises because then it sees another signpost and says,
"Oh, maybe that is the true one." It becomes defensive, identities
with "this one" and says that's me.
So, to the question. "What is enlightenment?" one could say simply,
it is when there is no longer any identification with thinking. When
there is no longer self-identification with thought processes and
self-seeking through thinking. Then the compulsive nature of
thinking ceases. Then gaps arise in the mind-stream. That means the
unconditioned consciousness arises and is realized as stillness or
presence. There is nobody there who "realizes." It is realized. It
realizes itself. [Chuckle]
In your book you also mention the "observing presence." Is it
possible to practice being the observer to the point of recognizing
it as your natural state or condition?
Yes. The beginning of spiritual awakening is the realization that "I
am not my thoughts," and "I am not my emotions." So there arises the
ability suddenly to observe what the mind is doing, to observe
thought processes, to become aware of repetitive thought patterns
without being trapped in them, without being completely "in them."
So there is a "standing back." It is the ability to observe what the
mind is doing, and the ability also to observe an emotion. I define
"emotion" as the body's reaction to what the mind is doing. The
ability to "watch" that without being identified. That means your
whole sense of identity shifts from being the thought or the emotion
to being the "observing presence."
And then you can observe a reaction, a menial or emotional
reaction. Anger arises. The anger may still be there. But there is
the observing "presence" which is the alertness in the background
that watches the anger. So there is no longer a "self" in it. The
ability to observe thought already is the arising of stillness.
Because it is from that dimension that thought is observed.
And then the observer becomes stronger. And what is being witnessed
has less heaviness to it, less momentum. So at first you are
witnessing. Then you become aware of the witness itself, the power
that lies in the witnessing, the power of stillness, the power of
consciousness. And then you know that as yourself. You are That.
If you dwell in that continuously, it means you are free of the
world of form. Until that happens you are imprisoned in physical and
mental formations. You are trapped in thinking. You are (rapped in
emotions. You are a fictitious self trapped in form. The true self
is beyond form and to know that is liberation.
I want to get into what is traditionally referred to as "Cosmic
Consciousness," where the Self, unshakable silence or Beingness is
separate from activity. There appears to be a maturity that takes
place beyond "Cosmic Consciousness" where an awakening occurs to the
reality that no separation between the Self and the world really
exists. Adyashanti, who also spoke at the Gathering (2000) yesterday
mentioned something about this "maturity" when he got into the
three statements, "the world is illusion," "Brahman is real" and
"the world is Brahman." it appears a "maturation time" is required,
but in some sense no time is necessary. How does this come about?
Well, certain sages made the statement, in India, especially, "the
world is unreal," and of course when people read it, it becomes a
belief, and they repeat the belief, and then they argue with others
who say, "No, no it is real, can't you see it is real?" Those who
made the statement originally and where it came from—I know exactly
why they said it. Because I feel exactly the same.
The way I experience the world, it's like a surface phenomenon.
There's such vastness of Being, the stillness is so
all-encompassing. It fills almost everything, it fills the whole
space and yet it is empty. And anything that happens, events, or
phenomena in people, are like ripples on the surface of Being.
That's how I perceive. And ripples, they come and go. They are not
all that real. No ripple or wave has any separate existence from
the whole. It just looks for a moment as if the wave or ripple was a
separate entity. But it isn't.
So the whole phenomenal world to me is like a ripple on the surface
of Being. And in that sense I could say, although I never say it as
such, "the world is unreal”—unreal relative to what I know to be
true, what I feel, what I experience. Experience is not the right
word, because it implies time. So it is to be rooted in that
timeless slate of consciousness, because it's only in the phenomenal
world where time arises. And there is what looks like an entity, a
"person," that exists simultaneously as form in time, and yet is the
formless. So there is a paradox coming in whenever one realizes. As
form you are still in time. As the formless you are beyond time. So
the formless, the unmanifested, shines through you when you have
realized the formless. It shines through the form into this world.
It's like God shining through. The form becomes transparent.
You see this in anybody who has "realized," the absence of
personality or ego. There may be certain traits of behavior, but
they are not ego. It is the absence of needing to be somebody. And
then it can take time as it did in my case, for this to become a
teaching. Ramana Maharshi also went completely into the formless,
into Being, and didn't even speak anymore, and didn't feed himself
anymore. And then time passed on the external, not within—he was
rooted in the timeless. But on the external, time passed and as
things changed, he started eating and feeding himself again. He
started interacting with people. He started to speak again. And then
the teaching arose out of that. Time was needed for that to happen.
So there is a role for "time" to act as "grist for the mitt," which
allows for that union between the unmanifest and manifest to come
Yes. There is always a paradox when one talks about time in the
content of "spirituality” There's a question that is sometimes
asked, "Do I need time to become enlightened?" Because it does seem
like that. And the answer is yes and no. The answer I would give to
that contains a paradox. And I say, yes, you need time until you
realize that you don't need time anymore, [Laughter] So the truth
here, it is only through paradox that this truth can be expressed.
And to do away with paradox would limit it.
How do you define the term "ego?" Is it possible to have any remains
of an ego and be perfectly enlightened?
Ego means self-identification with thinking, to be trapped in
thought, which means to have a mental image of "me" based on thought
and emotions. So ego is there in the absence of a witnessing
presence. There's the unobserved mind and the unobserved mind is the
ego. As the witness comes in, ego still operates. It has a momentum
that is still there, but a different dimension of consciousness has
come in. The question whether somebody can be enlightened ...
Yes, is it possible to be perfectly enlightened and have any remains
of an ego?
Well, perhaps not perfectly enlightened, but there can be remains of
ego still there, because I have seen it in teachers. I have seen the
ego return in some teachers. So the ego can go into almost a "coma,"
[Laughter] and then wake up out of its coma perhaps due to the
projections, ego-projections that the teacher is bombarded with. As
the teacher is there, more people appear and gather around the
teacher. And they (those who gather around them) all have their own
ego-projections. They make the teacher very "special." And
specialness is always ego, whether special in my misery or special
because I am the greatest, the ego doesn't really mind. [Chuckle] So
perhaps in those teachers the ego was not completely gone. It just
had been reduced to an extremely weak state, but then gained
Ramakrishna refers to a "provisional ego," where there is a very
thin line between that which is real and that which exists in
time/space which allows some sort of presence in the world. I think
he said something like fifteen out of sixteen particles are not
there in an ego form, but it's that one-sixteenth of a particle left
over that is able to interact with those who are still in possession
of an ego.
Yes, that's good.
Some spiritual teachers advocate spiritual practices and others
reject them as a waste of time. What's your perspective on this?
There may be a place for spiritual practice. The difficulty with
spiritual practice is again that most practices give you "time."
They are based on time and on becoming, or "getting good at"
something. In the end every practice will have to be left behind. No
practice can take you to liberation. That is important to know. It
can be a little step that is useful until you realize you don't need
it anymore, because after a certain point it becomes a hindrance.
Now if a teacher gives you a practice, he or she would perhaps point
out when you don't need it anymore or you realize yourself when you
don’t need it anymore. No technique can take you there. That is the
Personally, I don't teach practices as such. The power of the
teaching is sufficient without needing to go for any practice.
Although some people when I speak of awareness of the "inner body"
call it a technique. I would not call it a technique because it is
too simple for that. When the oak tree feels its roots in the earth,
its connectedness with the earth, it is not practicing a technique.
That is its natural state, to feel that connectedness. So I would
not call "feeling the inner body" a technique.
Surrendering to "what is" or "the Now*' seems to be an important
aspect of your teaching. Is there a distinction between
"surrendering to what is," and the use of the popular cliché, "go
with the flow of life, where ever it takes us"?
Surrendering only refers to this moment, whatever "is" at this
moment—to accept unconditionally and fully whatever arises at this
moment. "Going with the flow" is a more general term. For some
people it is an excuse for not taking action and it refers usually
to one's life situation. Let's say you are in a particular job and
that is the flow, you stay in it.
Surrender is only in reference to Now. So "going with the flow" is
not necessarily true surrender and may lead to passivity, lethargy
and inaction. Surrender to the Now is something very different
because it only concerns accepting the reality of this moment.
Whatever action is needed will then rise out of that state of
complete acceptance. The most powerful state for a human to be in is
the state of embracing completely the reality of what is—Now. It is
to say "Yes" to life, which is now and always now. There is a vast
power in that "Yes," that state of inner non-resistance to what is.
Action arises out of that if it's needed, as a spontaneous response
to the situation.
So surrender to Now never leads to inaction because it only
concerns the reality of this moment and perhaps action is needed.
In the book I give the example of being stuck in the mud. So you
wouldn't say, "O.K., I surrender to this and I'm going to stay
here." It simply means, "it is;" there is a recognition of "it is"
and to saying yes to "it is." And there's much greater power now
that arises that will move through you and manifest as action if it
is needed than there could ever be in the state of saying, "no" to
"what is"—and then perhaps taking action that is always
contaminated with negativity. Whenever you say "no" and then action
arises because you are fighting "what is" that is karmic action in
Eastern terms, and it leads to further suffering because it arises
out of suffering, which is the non-acceptance of "what
is"—suffering. Action arising out of suffering is contaminated with
suffering and causes further suffering, and that is karma. Action
that arises out of a state of “acceptance" is totally free of karma.
And there is a vast difference.