`Now is all you ever have'
Eckhart Tolle, who will deliver a talk, "The Power of Now," today at 6-30 p.m. at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, is literally "the guru of the moment," GIRIJA NAIR writes...
HE WAS finally on the "right track," many would say. A research scholar in physics at Cambridge, well-travelled, competent in several languages aside from his native German, Eckhart Tolle was miserable. Dogged by depression and anxiety for years as he unsuccessfully tried to please others and find meaning in life, the 29-year-old found himself one night drowning in the most acute feeling of dread he had ever experienced.
As the thought, "I cannot live with myself any longer" grew that night, suddenly "I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. Am I one or two?" Not just a philosophical puzzle but a challenge to his own survival, he saw he had no choice but to admit that only one of the "hims" could be real. He was so stunned by the implication that his mind simply stopped functioning. Into this void a growing vortex of energy drew him, demanding surrender, despite his fear and even the shaking of his body. "I heard the words `resist nothing', as if spoken inside my chest." The fear dissolved and he let himself fall into the "void".
When he woke in the morning, it was not to the same world he had known. "That day I walked around the city in utter amazement at the miracle of life on earth, as if I had just been born into this world." Something profoundly significant had happened to him. Concern had left him, yet a time came when, for a while, he was also left with nothing on the physical plane. "I had no relationships, no job, no home, no socially defined identity." The following almost two years he spent sitting on park benches "in a state of the most intense joy."
It was there his first students recognised his altered state and his spiritual teaching began, forming around the nucleus of issues that preoccupy a world increasingly interested in living in the future. In that future, many of us feel, more happiness, peace, satisfaction, even enlightenment, awaits us. The present is merely a place to think about the past and calculate its effect on the future a future which, as Tolle points out in his lectures (one to be held February 8 at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan), never really comes. It is always now.
Tolle is literally the "guru of the moment" in this era in which the tables have been turned and more spiritual teachers are coming to India from the West, an historic reversal. His teaching is without any affiliations or dogma, inviting people to linger in the present moment long enough to sample its incredible energy and the source of all originality, all creative thinking, in the world _ the silent mind. "Realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have," he says in his book, ``The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, released recently in an Indian edition. Far from being the rather boring spot where nothing much is happening, he says it is actually where everything deeply attractive and lasting is going on. He gives a variety of techniques to help people stay in the now long enough to reap its benefits, including the very simple tactic of just sitting and feeling one's aliveness in the hands, then throughout the body, and perhaps even beyond.
Tolle has been profiled in a number of recent books on the new wave of spiritual teachers in the West whom many feel have arisen as a response to a world in crisis as never before. "Humanity," Tolle says, ``is under great pressure to evolve because it is our only chance of survival as a race. Never before have relationships been as problematic and conflict ridden as they are now. For those who hold to the old patterns, there will be increasing pain, violence, confusion, and madness."
Another spiritual teacher from the West who holds regular retreats in India is Andrew Cohen, and in an interview with Tolle, Cohen asked if a spiritual practice like focussing on the present really requires leaving the world, as the Buddha advised, or is it at all compatible with a family and work, as Ramana Maharshi often suggested.
"There's not one way that works," said Tolle. "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."
So in the present time, he continued, escape from responsibilities and relationships is neither likely nor necessary.
Transcending the world _ becoming enlightened _ does not mean to withdraw from the world, he says, to no longer take action, or to stop interacting with people. "It means to act without hoping to enhance one's sense of self through actions or interactions with people. Ultimately, it means not needing the future anymore for one's fulfilment or 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 entangled in it. You are no longer seeking something outside yourself to make your life meaningful."
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