“You cannot suffer the past or future because they do not exist. What you are suffering is your memory and your imagination.” – Sadhguru.
Last time we looked at Paul Tillich’s existentialist interpretation of Buddha’s First Noble Truth and were led down a profound, though perhaps abstruse path. Today I would like to bring in the more accessible ideas of Eckhart Tolle. He is a contemporary thinker; part psychologist, part spiritual teacher, obviously influenced by Buddhist doctrines, particularly Zen.
Tolle believes that most human suffering is unnecessary, self-created, and due to the unconscious resistance to what is. From the psychological standpoint, the mind disavows the present by covering it up with past and future. The resulting pain with which the mind wishes us to identify ourselves is an illusion – either guilt or hurt from past events already concluded or worries or fear about non-existing future events. This suffering can be eliminated by a determined effort to stay within the present moment, what he refers to as the Now. This is best accomplished by self-observation, the ability to be witness to oneself, the silent watcher, via a process he calls presence.
Like Hesse’s Siddhartha, the problem according to Tolle comes down to the illusion of time, although his description is quite different. Life is not the experience of many moments; on the contrary, he argues, we all know by direct experience…there is only one moment, the present one! Everything else is thought structure – memory or imagination. Note this includes positive experiences as well: “The Buddha taught that even your happiness is dukkha – a Pali word meaning ‘suffering’ or ‘unsatisfactoriness.’ It is inseparable from its opposite. This means your happiness and unhappiness are in fact one. Only the illusion of time separates them.”1
“There can be no ‘salvation’ from anything you do, possess, or attain; recognizing this places you “one step away from despair – and one step away from enlightenment.”2 This even applies to disaster and illness. In the Now, the suffering of illness is just the active symptom, not a state or label identified with oneself. His solution: “Allow the suffering to force you into the present moment, into a state of intense conscious presence. Use it for enlightenment.”3 Such surrender does not change the situation, just the person, and “transmutes deep suffering into deep peace.”4
He concludes with perhaps his most profound thought on this topic: “The acceptance of suffering is a journey into death. Facing deep pain, allowing it to be, taking your attention into it, is to enter death consciously. When you have died this death, you realize there is no death- and there is nothing to fear. Only the ego dies…Do you want an easy death? Would you rather die without pain, without agony? Then die to the past every moment and let the light of your presence shine away the heavy time-bound self you thought of as you”5
1Tolle, Eckhart, The Power of Now. Namaste Publishing, Vancouver, B.C., 2004. ISBN 1-57731-480-8, page 186.
2Ibid., page 187.
3Ibid., page 217.
4Ibid., page 221.
5Ibid., page 223.