Enlightenment and the Mind
What is enlightenment?
Eckhart Tolle, author of the New York Times bestseller The Power of Now, describes enlightenment as “your natural state of felt oneness with Being.” Tolle’s description of enlightenment is certainly correct, but not quite complete. Full enlightenment is not merely connectedness with (the supreme) Being, it is also conductivity of the Light-energy, or Power, that stems from this Being.
The supreme Being is a divine Being, meaning that it has two vines: static transcendental Presence and dynamic spiritual Power. The vine of transcendental Presence is the timeless Now, and the vine of spiritual Power is the dynamic power of Now. When you are able to truly connect to the presence of the Now, then, spontaneously, the power of Now en-Light-ens you with its radiant energy.
In mystical Christian terms, Holy Communion is a synonym for oneness with the divine Being (or Now), and the Holy Spirit is a synonym for the Light-energy (or power of Now) that the disciple receives in communion. In other words, the enlightenment process not only involves connectedness (or fusion) with Being, it also involves the reception of Being’s power, the down-flow (or infusion) of spiritual energy into and through one’s bodymind.
Contrary to popular New Age opinion, spiritual enlightenment is not, fundamentally, a psychological phenomenon; it is, first and foremost, an energetic reality. Spiritual Light is the radiance of the energy emanating from the divine Being (or Source), the eternal Now. When you consciously connect to this Source, then, spontaneously, the radiant energy (or power of Now) stemming from this connection en-Light-ens (or outshines) your primal darkness (or spiritual ignorance). This influx of divine Light-energy—which is true spiritual Grace—supersedes and exceeds your disconnected and unhappy mind forms, replacing them with the literal Blessing (or bliss-inducing) Power flowing from the divine Source.
An individual’s spiritual ignorance (or darkness) is primal, and as such, it cannot be removed through psychological strategies that result in a “better you.” An individual’s spiritual ignorance is caused by only one thing: the ignoring of a direct connection to the divine Source and its Light. Therefore, the only cure for spiritual ignorance is a direct connection to the divine Source-Light itself.
The Buddha’s term for enlightenment is Nirvana, and the literal definition of Nirvana is “the end of becoming.” “Becoming” (samsara) means going, successively, from one conditioned (or limited and contracted) state to another. Since Nirvana is the end of becoming, it is also a synonym for permanent oneness with Being, which is a concise synonym for the immutable and illimitable Reality, or divine Source-Light, that underlies and transcends all change, all becoming.
Advanced spiritual practitioners regularly experience powerful connections to the divine Source-Light, and can be characterized as conditionally enlightened. But only the rarest beings, such as Jesus, Buddha, and the late Indian sage Ramana Maharshi are able to effortlessly and permanently abide in and as the divine Source-Light itself. Such beings can be characterized as unconditionally enlightened, or Self-realized. The degree to which you can maintain a direct connection to the divine Source and radiate its Light is the degree to which you are spiritually en-Light-ened.
Can you elaborate on the meaning of the term Being?
The term Being is a pithy but non-descriptive synonym for the divine Reality or Source. As earlier stated, the term divine signifies a two-vine (or two-branch) Reality—a Divinity that is at once static transcendental Presence (or Awareness) and dynamic spiritual Power (or Light-energy). The fact that the divine Being is not merely static Presence but also dynamic Light-energy, or divinizing Spirit-power, is what makes en-Light-enment possible for individuals who commune with It.
You can feel the presence and power of Being when your connection to the divine Source, the eternal Now, is full enough and intense enough to awaken the descent of divine Light-energy into and through your bodymind. When the infusion of divine Light-energy outshines your bodymind, you spontaneously experience your true Self (or Buddha-nature) as pure, radiant, blissful Being.
Eckhart Tolle is correct when he states that Being can be felt but not understood mentally. This is the case because Being is not a separate “object” that can be grasped by the mind. Being, as such, cannot be “known” in the conventional dualistic sense; it can only be radically intuited, or felt-realized—and this can only happen when you spiritually (or yogically) coincide with It. In Indian yoga, the experience of oneness with the Divine is often described as the “feeling of Being.” The great Indian yoga formula—Sat (Being) = Cit (Consciousness)-Ananda (Bliss-Power)—informs us that this experience of Being is the feeling-realization of our true, divine nature as Self-aware, Self-radiant Bliss.
If Being is the same “Thing” as God, why not just use the word God when you talk about Ultimate Reality?
Because the word God has so many different meanings and connotations associated with it, it is not a good synonym for Ultimate Reality. Different religions have different concepts of God, and these differences have led to bloody wars and conflicts throughout history. Human beings like to superimpose human traits on the Deity, and as a result, in some religions we end up with an angry, jealous, and vengeful God—a terrible Father in the sky who represents the worst human traits. Religions tend to create God in the image of man, and this has perverted the meaning of the word God.
The word Being, on the other hand, is an excellent synonym for Ultimate Reality, the Absolute. Being implies an unqualified or illimitable Existent or existence. And unless a qualifying adjective is added to Being, it remains a term that defies limiting adjuncts. Furthermore, when a spiritual practitioner achieves identity with the Absolute, his realization can most succinctly be described as the “feeling of Being,” the feeling of transcendentally existing beyond all limited states and conditions. Finally, whereas the word God has dualistic implications, the word Being doesn’t. The word God implies a great Object or Other to be worshipped, whereas the term Being alludes to the possibility of a nondual Self-realization that transcends all subject-object dichotomies.
What is the primary obstruction to the experience of Being?
According to Eckhart Tolle, identification with the mind is the greatest obstacle to enlightenment, the experience of Reality, or Being. Tolle’s point of view is a prevalent one in many Eastern spiritual traditions, but it is not one that I share.
As a Zen practitioner, I spent years attempting to empty my mind and disidentify from my thoughts. As thoughts would arise, I would simply watch them and attempt to “void” them by neither accepting nor rejecting them. I experienced many profound states of “no-mind” via this approach, and by constantly letting go of concepts as they arose, I dramatically stimulated the movement of energy through my body. My neck would twist and my head would jerk as the kundalini (uncoiled “serpent power”) forcefully ripped through me. But this type of meditation practice did not enable me to awaken to my Buddha-nature, and it did not lead me to peace. Instead, I was constantly in conflict with myself, as I continually struggled to disidentify from arising thoughts.
What I eventually discovered—thanks to the teachings of J. Krishnamurti (1895–1986) and Adi Da (1939–2008) and the traditions of Tibetan Dzogchen and Christian mysticism—is that the greatest obstacle to enlightenment, to the experience of Being, is the moment-to-moment avoidance of relationship. Krishnamurti says, “To be related is to be.” In other words, when relationship is direct and unqualified (and thereby blessed by Light from above), then it spontaneously morphs into the experience, or feeling, of Being. Terms such as oneness, unity, and communion can be considered synonyms for relationship. The Christian term Holy Communion, from a mystical perspective, means to be wholly or fully present and at one with both life (relative existence) and the Divine (the Absolute Existent). In fact, the word atonement can be broken down to at-one-ment. From a mystical perspective, therefore, the primal sin, the fundamental obstacle to enlightenment, is the moment-to-moment avoidance of relationship, or at-one-ment, with life and the Divine.
It is certainly imperative to transcend identification with the mind, but this happens naturally when you first establish yourself in oneness. When you are fully present and at one with life and the Divine, the mind naturally becomes more still. And when your practice of oneness, or fusion contemplation, morphs into infused contemplation, the influx, or descent, of Light-energy from the divine Source literally outshines your mind, temporarily severing your identification with it. Instead of perceiving yourself as a mere bodymind, you now experience yourself as a radiant spiritual being.
From a mystical Christian perspective, when the disciple’s practice of Holy Communion is full and intense, the Holy Spirit spontaneously pours down on him. The Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is the radiant power of the divine Being. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “If thy eye [consciousness] be single, thy whole body will be filled with Light.” What Jesus means is: If you are consciously at one with the Deity, you will be en-Light-ened. Jesus doesn’t tell you to strategically disidentify from your mind to achieve enlightenment; he tells you to single-pointedly focus your full attention on the divine Being if you want to be filled with mind-transcending Light. Instead of seeking to disidentify from your mind, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven [the divine domain of eternal Being], and all else will be added unto you.”
Eckhart Tolle considers the mind to be the chief impediment to enlightenment, and he views the mind as an instrument that has run amok, taking you over and making your life miserable. Tolle states, “[Your mind] uses you… The instrument has taken you over.” Tolle here doesn’t explain the “mechanics,” or working structure, of the mind and how it seems to “take you over.” Nor does he broach the subject of psychological reprogramming of the mind. These are important matters to consider, but Tolle fails to address them.
In my opinion, any serious consideration of the mind’s working structure must begin with the interplay between the mind’s conscious and subconscious components. When we aren’t consciously, volitionally thinking, our mind goes on automatic pilot, so to speak, and all kinds of thoughts and feelings—some pleasant and inspiring, some unpleasant and depressing—arise from our subconscious. Because our thoughts and feelings arise spontaneously, it can seem as if the mind is “using” us, filling our head with unwanted “mental garbage” and painful memories. But in reality, what arises from our subconscious is nothing other than what we have knowingly or unknowingly programmed into it, based on our life experiences, perception of reality, and value judgments. (It should be noted that if we believe in astrology, karma, and reincarnation, we might see our thought-form patterns as having roots in a previous incarnation.) Because human beings are blessed with free will, we all have the capacity to consciously reprogram our subconscious and free ourselves (to some extent) from the feeling of being “taken over” by our mind (even if its programming does have roots in a previous incarnation). It’s certainly not easy to reprogram our mind, or “mental computer,” but it’s something that each of us, to one degree or another, is capable of doing.
I can choose to use my mind to accomplish many things. I don’t believe that my mind has taken me over.
Unless you’re fully enlightened or you’ve completely and perfectly programmed your mind—which is impossible—your mind has no doubt taken you over to some extent.
Can you, as Tolle asks, “be free of your mind whenever you want?” And have you found the “off” button to it?
You mean utterly stop thinking whenever I want? I can stop only for a few moments. Then the thoughts start again.
Then you’re a slave to your mind. It possesses you rather than you possessing it. But before we consider the solution to your mental enslavement, it’s important to understand why it’s so difficult to turn the mind off.
According to philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand (1905–1982), man is the rational animal, and unlike other animals, his chief means of survival is his mind, not his body or instincts. Consequently, the reason your mind doesn’t have an “off” button is the same reason your breathing cycle doesn’t: you’re biologically programmed to depend on its near-constant activity. The mind’s incessant activity is a survival mechanism, which is why the mind is so hard to turn off for any length of time.
Now, let’s consider Tolle’s “solution” to the “problem” of the mind. According to Tolle, “The beginning of freedom [from your mind] is the realization that you aren’t the possessing entity—the thinker.” To break identification with the thinker, Tolle recommends that you “watch the thinker.” Watching the thinker, says Tolle, activates a “higher level of consciousness” that enables you to realize “that thought is only a tiny aspect of a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought.”
Let’s scrutinize what Tolle says. First, he says that you’re not the thinker and that you can break identity with the thinker by watching the thinker. If you’re not the thinker, then who is? How can there be thoughts without a thinker? There can’t be. Even if your true spiritual identity is the pure, transcendental consciousness that witnesses your thoughts, you, as the bodymind complex, can, at will, think specific thoughts. Yes, the “thinker” can’t be found when you look for him, but this is so because your consciousness can only operate in one mode at a time. When the mode is switched from conception to perception, in the form of watching, conceptual “you” is temporarily obviated or made to vanish. Tolle’s viewpoint, a classical Eastern spiritual one, is not one that I share. From my viewpoint, yes, your true identity as spiritual consciousness transcends the mind, but this does not mean that you, as the psycho-physical entity, aren’t the thinker.
Second, Tolle states that watching the thinker activates a “higher level of consciousness.”
What does Tolle mean by a “higher level of consciousness?” Thoughts are mental concretes, or structures, that contract consciousness into successive limited states of existence. (“As a man thinks, so he becomes,” says the Buddha.) As contracted forms (or formations) of consciousness, thoughts, or concepts, attenuate the natural intensity of consciousness, thereby lowering its vibrational frequency. Pure consciousness vibrates as pure Light-energy, but thoughts contract (and sully) this pure Light-energy by lowering its absolute frequency, thereby making it, to one degree or another, vibrationally dense (or “dark”). Hence, when thinking—consciousness contraction—is supplanted by pure, or thought-free, consciousness, then consciousness is naturally more intense, seems to expand, and vibrates at a faster frequency. Thus, a “higher level of consciousness” is said to be attained.
Even though watching the thinker can activate or lead to a higher level of consciousness, it does not do so automatically. If a meditator is unable to generate enough conscious force in his “witness,” or “mindfulness,” practice to achieve a thought-free state for protracted periods of time, he won’t experience the radiant intensity of pure consciousness. I spent years involved with people in Buddhist groups, and even though many of these people practiced forms of witnessing, or mindfulness, few of them awakened to the force-flow of divine Light-energy, the radiant power of Now.
“Watching the thinker” is not a form of meditation that I practice or highly recommend. Because it involves focusing or concentrating attention on a specific function—mentation, in this case—it narrows, or contracts, the field of natural awareness into an exclusive and reductive state. Furthermore, it is a purely “head,” or “gnostic,” practice that excludes the naturally expansive feeling-dimension of consciousness. Certainly, if you have not done so already, give the “watching the thinker” method a try—but then compare it to the practice that I recommend: direct and immediate relationship, or Holy Communion. In this practice, instead of strategically, exclusively watching the thinker, you simply assume the “position,” or “stance,” of being whole-bodily present and connected to existence as a whole. Once you assume, or can assume, this position of merely or fully being present, notice these things: 1) The feeling of being directly, immediately, and unqualifiedly related is the fullest and most intense expression of consciousness possible. 2) The feeling of being unqualifiedly related spontaneously morphs into the feeling of being-ness. 3) Your root, or primal ego-centric, tendency is to retract from this position of direct, immediate communion, or connected at-one-ment. 4) In any moment, you can atone for your “sinful” retraction simply by re-assuming the position of connected at-one-ment. 5) The “function” of merely being present and at-one spontaneously transcends and includes the “sub-function” of “watching the thinker,” thus enabling you to naturally, rather than strategically, transcend identification with the mind.
When your practice of direct and immediate relationship, or Holy Communion, is sufficiently full and intense, then, spontaneously, you are baptized (initiated by the Holy Spirit), and divine spiritual Power, or Light-energy, is poured into you. The Holy Spirit—what Hindus call Shakti and Mahayana Buddhists the Sambhogakaya—is nothing other than the power of Now, the awakened force and flow of divine Light-energy.
The way of conscious at-one-ment, or Holy Communion, and its relationship to the Holy Spirit, or power of Now, will be further elaborated upon throughout the remainder of this book. If you haven’t already done so, experiment with being whole-bodily present, in direct and immediate relationship to existence as a whole. This will provide you with a frame of reference for our further, more in-depth consideration of the subject.
Freedom from the Mind
What, exactly, is meant by “watching the thinker”?
“Watching the thinker” means to mindfully witness your mental activity without judging it. Whatever thought-forms arise in your consciousness, you neither accept nor reject them. Instead, you simply remain choicelessly aware, allowing thoughts to arise and fall of their own accord.
You’ll quickly notice that non-judgmental witnessing of your mind tends to dissolve your thoughts, enabling you to awaken to a state of stillness, or emptiness.
When you discover who, or what, perceives this stillness, or void, then you’ve awakened to your true I Am nature—pure transcendental awareness. But it must be emphasized that merely recognizing your Self (or Buddha)-nature is a far cry from being able to abide in and as It.
Eckhart Tolle describes how listening to a thought breaks your identification with it and is “the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.” If only it were that easy! I spent years in the company of various spiritual practitioners, and not a single one, to my knowledge, managed to permanently put an end to involuntary and compulsive thinking. Short of Buddhahood, or Nirvana, even the most advanced meditators struggle with the same involuntary and compulsive thought patterns as everyone else. Read a couple of books about the Buddha’s life. Until the moment he entered Nirvana, he was still beset with vexing thoughts.
Yes, listening to a thought temporarily breaks your identification with it, but thoughts continue to arise, one after another, and the moment-to-moment practice of listening to or watching them becomes quite arduous. Such watching or listening is a willful act, and because efforts are always spasmodic, so are the results. Here is a typical example: You begin meditating, and thoughts about the large sum of money you just blew in a bad investment arise. You non-judgmentally witness the thoughts, they vanish, and you experience a gap of “no-mind.” But you can bet whatever money you have left that these same thoughts will soon arise again… and again.
My point is this: When the mind is viewed as the enemy that enslaves you, and your battle plan is to “defeat,” or break identification with, it by relentlessly witnessing its activity from moment to moment, then you’re starting a war with yourself that is next to impossible to win. I fought that war for years and lost. And in the forty years that I’ve been involved in the spiritual field, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has won it.
Tolle claims that “gaps of ‘no-mind’” lead to “stillness and peace” and the “natural state of felt oneness with Being.” If “no-mind” leads to enlightenment, then why doesn’t deep sleep spiritually awaken everyone? Drugs and hypnosis can also render the mind temporarily still and peaceful. Do they lead to enlightenment? “No-mind” is a cool but overrated spiritual concept, and if you understand what true spiritual life is about, you’ll pass on the pop Zen that Tolle pushes.
Tolle tells you to “go more deeply into the realm of no-mind.” But if there is no-mind, there is nothing to go more deeply into. Your consciousness perceives a lack of mental objects (thoughts) and labels this new object “no-mind,” or “the void.” The void, or empty space, is nothing but a backdrop to focus your attention on. Mahayana Buddhism, which includes Zen, is the only religious tradition that apotheosizes the void, sometimes (and mistakenly) equating it with Nirvana or Ultimate Reality.
Empty space (the void) is a wonderful meditation object—I use it myself—but it is simply a doorway to the luminous presence and power of Being that is behind and beyond it. Until emptiness “dances,” or comes alive as the Sambhogakaya (or Holy Spirit) in your practice, genuine spiritual enlightenment is not a possibility for you.
Tolle mentions being “fully present,” but fails to explain how that translates into spiritual en-Light-enment. I will explain for him. When you are fully present and at one with the divine Source, then “God,” the divine Being, sheds his Grace, or Blessing Power, on you. This Blessing Power, which is palpable Light-energy, crashes down on you, incinerating your thoughts. When this radiant Blessing Power (which Indian yogis term Shaktipat) pours down upon you, it literally outshines your mind, rendering it impotent as an obstruction to the divine Light. When Shaktipat, the descending current of Light-energy, penetrates to your spiritual (or “Sacred”) Heart-center (just to the right of the center of your chest), you intuit your true Self-nature as one with the divine Being. And when the Heart-knot is finally severed by Shaktipat, the down-poured Holy Spirit, then you permanently awaken as a Christ-like Self—the divine Being personified.
You can take the laborious path to enlightenment and burden yourself with the onerous task of ceaselessly watching your mind and disidentifying from your thoughts. Or, you can simply connect to the divine Source and allow its Grace, the power of Now, to outshine your mind and en-Light-en you. The choice is yours.
Tolle next presents an alternative method to “watching the thinker.” He tells you to “direct the focus of your attention into the Now.” “For example,” he says, “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.”
Whether you watch the thinker or focus your attention on your movement or breathing, this type of practice falls under the category of Buddhist Vipassana (or insight) meditation. Vipassana is simply the practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness relative to your bodymind and its interaction with life. Vipassana meditation has its roots in Theravadin (or Hinayana) Buddhism.
I spent years practicing Vipassana, as well as Zen and Tibetan Buddhist meditation. Based on my personal experience, it’s easy for me to understand why practitioners of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism consider Vipassana a rudimentary, or lower-level, spiritual practice. Vipassana is, in a word, drudgery. It’s a practice devoted to the mundane and divorced from the Divine. Instead of directly and immediately plugging into the eternal Now and receiving and enjoying its Grace, or Blessing Power, your attention is tethered to the ephemeral “now.”
Compare Vipassana to Dzogchen, the highest form of Tibetan Buddhist meditation. In Dzogchen, the essential practice is to be directly and immediately present to (or plugged into) the supreme Source (Dharmakaya-Sambhogakaya), which is analogous to Hindu Siva-Shakti. When you are truly one with the Dharmakaya, the divine Presence, you spontaneously receive and enjoy the Sambhogakaya, the divine Power, or Light-energy, emanating from It. If you are interested in the practice of Dzogchen, get a copy of the outstanding contemplation manual The Cycle of Day and Night, by Namkhai Norbu.
Eckhart Tolle repeats his “mantra” in this short section when he says, “So the single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind.” My mantra is: “Seek ye first the divine Source, or eternal Now, and its radiant Power shall outshine your mind, en-Light-ening you.”
Enlightenment: Transcending Your Mind
Isn’t thinking man’s essential tool of survival?
Indeed, it is. Man is biologically programmed to continually think in order to ensure his survival and well-being. “Biological man” perceives himself as a separate entity, whose existence, to one degree or another, is always threatened. So his mind, as a survival mechanism, works almost nonstop in an attempt to secure his current and future well-being.
When “biological man” becomes “spiritual man” by connecting to the divine Source, he feels full and sustained rather than empty and threatened. His mind relaxes in the Divine’s presence, and he allows the Divine’s power to outshine his arising thoughts, which results in his en-Light-enment. “Spiritual man” realizes that his thoughts are merely ephemeral, non-binding modifications of the radiant, transcendental consciousness of Being. So it doesn’t matter to him whether he rests thought-free (in the continuum of radiance), or if thoughts arise. And because his thoughts arise in the context of Holy Communion, they are generally wholesome and positive rather than dysfunctional and negative.
Once “spiritual man” becomes “biological man” by committing the “original sin” of separating from the Divine, his mind begins to run amok, and he is besieged with repetitive, useless, and harmful thoughts. If “biological man” wishes to exorcise his inner “demons,” salvation is always—directly and immediately—available in the presence of the Spirit, which freely pours its mind-transcending power upon anyone who “repents” and turns to It.
Why are we addicted to thinking?
We are addicted to thinking because thinking is the means to becoming, to changing our state. When you separate, or retract, from Being, you contract into a limited, or exclusive and reductive, mental state. Because thinking is a limited state of being, it is not ultimately satisfying, so you seek another state. And because the new state is also limited and ultimately unsatisfying, you seek yet another state. This goes on ad infinitum—and in Buddhism, this endless becoming, which continues from lifetime to lifetime, is termed samsara, the Wheel of Birth and Death.
Tolle links the mind to the ego, defining the ego as a “false self, created by unconscious identification with the mind.” Tolle says, “We may call this phantom self the ego. It consists of mind activity and can only be kept going through constant thinking.” In other words, Tolle (in line with most “causal” schools of mysticism), believes that mind and ego are essentially the same Truth-obstructing phenomenon. The “causal” view of the mind-ego relation can be summarized thus: Instead of simply being the true (illimitable) Self (pure I Am-ness or Consciousness), you become a false (limited) self by grasping hold of mental images and imagining: I am this or that.
In contrast to Tolle, I do not embrace the “causal” school’s view of the ego. Instead, I endorse the “radical” school’s view, developed and championed by the late Adi Da. Here is my summary version of it: The root ego is not the “false self created by unconscious identification with the mind.” The root, or primal, ego is the separate-self sensation, or self-contraction, generated by the very act of separating, or retracting, from Being. The act of separating from Being is prior to the unconscious activity that creates a false-self-image via identification. Therefore, if the ego is to be undone at its root, it is the primal act of ontological separation rather than the secondary act of mental identification that must be eradicated.
Relative to the enlightenment process, a third view of the ego merits consideration: Ayn Rand’s. In contrast to the “causal” and “radical” definitions of the ego, which reflect a transpersonal point of view, Rand’s definition of the ego—rational self-interest— reflects a personal one. And unlike the “causal” and “radical” points of view, which condemn man’s ego, Rand’s point of view liberates man’s ego, freeing it from the grip of altruism, the pernicious moral code that pronounces self-sacrifice as man’s highest calling.
Prior to beginning the spiritual journey, an individual is only concerned with the present in relation to the past and future. Once the spiritual journey is begun, he focuses his attention on living in the timeless Present. The same egoic motive—rational self-interest—fuels his pre-spiritual life and his subsequent spiritual life. It could be said that a person with a truly healthy (or highly developed) ego would naturally turn to esoteric spiritual life, because such a choice represents the epitome of rational, enlightened self-interest.
The mind is a wonderful faculty. Why would I want to stop its activity? Without it, man would be just another animal.
The mind, as Tolle points out, is not consciousness itself. Consciousness, the essence of Being, is a universal constant that exists prior to and beyond thought. The mind is a function or application of consciousness that enables you to mentally understand the universe you live in. When you think, you are using the uniquely human faculty of mind, which, via the process of concept formation, is able to create mental “concretes” that accurately measure and reflect the world you perceive through your senses. Thinking enables you to measure (or ratio-nally compare, contrast, and comprehend) the sensible universe—that which has been “measured out” as a manifestion of the Unmanifested—and, via concepts, form intelligent and creative conclusions about the things you perceive. Thinking, in other words, is a nonpareil tool for measuring conditional reality, the manifested. But Ultimate Reality, the Unmanifested, is immeasurable and, in fact, is often referred to as the Immeasurable. Therefore, if you want to access the Immeasurable, you have to do so with a tool other than thinking. And because you can only use one tool at a time, mentation must be set aside when you devote yourself to meditation, the process of contemplating, or communing with, the Immeasurable.
So the mind is a marvelous tool for understanding measurable phenomena, but an improper one for contemplating the Immeasurable. But is the human mind creative? Not according to Tolle, who claims that “[the mind] is not at all creative.”
If creativity is defined as the power to bring something into existence out of nothing, then man’s mind is not creative. But if it is defined as the ability to combine or integrate things that exist into unique arrangements or innovative products, then man’s mind is very creative.
If “no-mind,” rather than mind, is the secret to creativity, as Tolle claims, then why don’t Zen Buddhists lead the world in creativity and new inventions? In the book Wild Ivy, the Zen master Hakuin (1686–1768) and other Zen monks develop energy disorders as a result of their meditation practice. But all their years of mind-emptying meditation fail to provide them with a satori-inspired solution to their problem, and the Zen tradition itself has no answer for their disease. In order to cure themselves, the Zen master and the monks are forced to resort to the Taoist tradition, which, unlike the Zen tradition, emphasizes a holistic rather than a quasi-nihilistic approach toward life.
If great scientific discoveries are mainly dependent on “no-mind” rather than mind, then why have most been made by men with stratospheric IQs and extensive education? Creative breakthroughs do often come at times of mental quietude. But this isn’t because the mind has stopped working; it’s because the subconscious mind has been working on the problem all along, and when the conscious mind temporarily relaxes its efforts, the answers spring forth from the subconscious. To those unfamiliar with modern psychology—including Einstein and the hundred leading physicists who, in 1900, participated in mathematician Jacques Hadamard’s survey (See: Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field, by Jacques Hadamard)—it might indeed seem that great insights arise from a mystical “place” beyond conscious thought. But that “place” isn’t the “realm of no-mind;” it’s the “realm of the individual’s subconscious mind,” which confers creative insights only in response to the individual’s previous conscious efforts.
Emotion: The Mind as Feeling-Energy
How about emotions? They cause me more trouble than my mind.
Human consciousness operates through two essential modes: thinking and feeling. Thinking (or knowing) is the “male,” or mental, mode, and feeling (consciously sensing) is the “female,” or affective, mode. All thinking is done via concepts, and all feeling is experienced via emotions.
Thinking causes trouble when it errs, and feeling experiences the pain of that trouble. If you make a mental mistake, a miscalculation, and buy a stock that crashes, you might feel angry at yourself for your mistake and depressed about the money you lost. The mental mistake that led to the anger and depression caused the trouble, but because you’re suffering emotionally in reaction to your mental error, you likely will view your emotions as more troublesome than your thinking.
Emotions are energetically charged feeling-reactions to life occurrences. They are conditioned responses to life that reflect an individual’s value judgments. Emotions arise from the subconscious and determine what the individual is feeling, what his state of being is in a given moment. For example, an investor spontaneously experiences joy upon learning that his stocks skyrocketed that day because he values money and the financial security that it represents.
Emotional reactions are experienced on a visceral level, so you can feel how they affect your body. For example, when you get angry, you can feel your body clench and your heart beat faster and harder, which, of course, elevates your blood pressure. When you experience joy, your body actually feels lighter, while depression makes it feel noticeably heavier.
Just as human consciousness operates through the two essential modes of knowing (or thinking) and feeling (or consciously sensing), so does divine consciousness. Divine consciousness, or spiritual enlightenment, is the state of both knowing and feeling that your true nature is pure Being.
Sometimes thinking and feeling, mind and emotions, are in conflict with each other.
Eckhart Tolle states that, “If there is an apparent conflict between them, the thought will be the lie, the emotion will be the truth.” This is hardly the case. For example, say you’re on a strict natural-food diet, and you walk into a bakery with a friend. Your emotional reaction to the smell of the goodies is, Give in to the temptation! A few cookies are not a sin. But your rational, thinking mind tells you that breaking your diet will have negative consequences that aren’t worth the momentary pleasure you’ll get from titillating your taste buds.
The late Paul Bragg, a famous health food guru, had this to say about the body-mind, or feeling-thinking, relationship: “Flesh is dumb… It took me years to get the emotions out of my eating.” In other words, emotions don’t represent truth; they represent past conditioning that can obstruct rational behavior.
What Tolle fails to recognize is that emotions are not tools of cognition. Emotions are conditioned responses to stimuli and should be governed by reason. Feelings should not be suppressed or ignored, nor should they be mindlessly obeyed or indulged. Instead, they should be acknowledged and then considered in the light of reason.
Yes, as Tolle states, emotions do have a strong physical component. But no, they do not necessarily give you a truthful reflection of your mind. All that emotions reflect is your past. They are conditioned responses—in the form of automatic feeling-reactions—to internal and external stimuli.
The watcher can, of course, observe his emotions. But contrary to what Tolle says—“If you practice this, all that is unconscious in you will be brought into the light of consciousness”—emotions are not unconscious; they’re subconscious, meaning that their roots are traceable to particular experiences and value judgments. When I use the term “unconscious,” I mean a lack of conscious presence or knowledge, not a repository of deeply buried emotional dross that is disconnected from and unavailable to the mind. Whatever buried emotions are brought into the light of consciousness are subconscious in nature, not unconscious. To illustrate this point, consider that most people are already aware of how they’ll react to certain stimuli before they’re confronted with them. Consequently, they often avoid certain situations or topics of discussion because they know what feelings they’ll trigger. For example, if someone asks my friend about his beloved cat that recently died, he and I both know that he’ll get very sad.
Is observing emotions as important as observing thoughts?
You don’t need to deliberately observe your thoughts or emotions to awaken to your Buddha-nature. Thoughts and emotions are like clouds in the sky that appear and disappear of their own accord. Your Buddha-nature is like the sky—ever-present regardless of the absence or presence of clouds. If you are simply, directly, whole-bodily present, you’ll naturally, rather than strategically, be cognizant of your thoughts and emotions as they appear and disappear in the “sky” of your awareness. You can be present to your “inner energy field,” as Tolle recommends, or you can be present to the outer totality. Experiment with both modes of practice.
As J. Krishnamurti says, “To be [unqualifiedly] related is to be.” Therefore, the direct “doorway into Being” is not through the deliberate observation of your emotions and your “inner energy field”; it is through the practice of unqualified relationship, the practice of being directly, immediately, whole-bodily present to, through, and beyond the “clouds,” the arising pattern in the moment.
Eckhart Tolle devotes a good deal of space in The Power of Now to discussing the origin of emotional pain and the relation between emotions and the mind. Tolle’s viewpoint on the subject can be summarized in three statements: 1) “All emotions are modifications of one primordial, undifferentiated emotion”—pain—that originates in your estrangement from your Self-nature. 2) Because the mind is an “intrinsic part of this ‘problem,’” it can never find a solution to this pain. 3) The mind is part of the “problem” because its relationship to emotion often is that of a “vicious circle,” wherein thinking and emotion reinforce each other.
In the first statement, Tolle claims that all emotions stem from one fundamental, underlying emotion: pain. Tolle defines emotions as “disturbances” and differentiates these “negative” emotions from “positive” emotions such as love, joy, and peace, which he does not classify as emotions. The reason he classifies “negative” emotions as the only true emotions is because they originate in the mind and therefore (because the mind is dualistic) are subject to the “law of opposites” (which, as Tolle puts it, “means you cannot have good without bad”). “Positive” emotions, on the other hand, Tolle asserts, are rooted in nondual Being, and as such have no opposite.
Tolle’s claim that all “negative” emotions are modifications of the existential pain of separation from your true identity is not one that all prominent spiritual gurus second. Adi Da, for example, claims that all emotions—including fear, sorrow, and anger, the three principal negative emotions—are modifications, or contractions, not of pain, but of Love, which he defines as “unobstructed feeling-attention,” or the “feeling of Being.” Psychiatrist-guru David R. Hawkins agrees with Adi Da, insisting that all emotions, whether “good” or “bad,” are “gradations on the same continuum, not on two opposing ones.” According to Dr. Hawkins, there is only Love, and various emotions, positive and negative, indicate Love’s relative presence or absence. Hawkins uses the seeming opposites of light and darkness to illustrate this point. He writes, “You cannot shine darkness into an area… Thus, there is only one variable: the presence or absence of light.”
Tolle’s viewpoint that “pain” is the fundamental emotional condition of beings estranged from their Self-nature is a common one in Eastern philosophy. Although I personally embrace this point of view, I find Tolle’s version of it problematic. In fact, Tolle starts out on the wrong foot when, in the second statement, he says, because the mind is an “intrinsic part of the problem,” it can never find a solution to this pain. The fact is, Tolle’s mind did find a solution—by directing him to, and on, the spiritual path. If the mind were as pathetic as Tolle makes it out to be, it would never seek to transcend itself in the Spirit.
In the third statement, Tolle describes the mind-emotion relationship as often being that of a “vicious circle,” wherein thinking and emotion reinforce each other. According to Tolle, “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.” What Tolle fails to point out is the fundamental reason for the “vicious circle” between thought and emotion: that is, the mind’s failure to “husband” emotion. When the conscious mind adopts rational and life-positive premises—appropriate values and standards—it simultaneously “programs” the subconscious mind with them. Emotions are automatic, subconscious responses to stimuli that reflect an individual’s value judgments. If the conscious mind has programmed the subconscious with the right premises, then mind-emotion conflicts and vicious circles don’t tend to occur.
The human mind is hardly impotent when it comes to dealing with emotional problems, and no one illustrates this better than Ayn Rand. Whereas Tolle takes a negative view of the mind as an “intrinsic part of the problem,” Rand takes a positive view of the mind as the essential part of the “solution.” Rand’s view on the mind-emotion dynamic is an important one to consider for both atheists and spiritual seekers.
According to Rand, emotions are like computer printouts from a man’s mind, informing him what he is feeling relative to particular things in his internal or external environment. What he feels relative to a particular thing stems from his value judgments, held implicitly or explicitly. If his value judgments are rational ones—meaning that they further his well-being and don’t contradict the facts of reality—then his emotions will tend to be positive, enjoyable ones. On the other hand, if his conscious mind has “programmed” his subconscious with irrational, self-destructive premises that contradict the facts of reality, then he will suffer the consequences and experience emotional pain and conflict. In other words, as the computer information acronym GIGO informs us, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
An emotion is an effect, not a cause. And if the effect is to be positive, the cause, the premises one holds, must be positive, meaning rational and life-affirming. Rand holds that there are two basic emotions: joy or suffering. If the former is to be the dominant emotion in a man’s life, then he must consciously “program” his subconscious with the right premises. The mind and emotions can work in perfect harmony—but only when the mind is the conscious guide and emotions its automatic effect. If the roles are reversed and emotions are taken as the cause and the mind as their effect, then reason is abdicated, as the mind is reduced to the function of rationalizing or justifying one’s feelings. As Rand warns, if a man subordinates his mind to his emotions—“then he is acting immorally, he is condemning himself to misery, failure, defeat, and he will achieve nothing but destruction—his own and that of others.”
If we examine Tolle’s mind-emotion “vicious circle” from a Randian (or Objectivist) perspective, the reason for the disorder is obvious: the man suffering from it has failed to subordinate his emotions to his mind. And the reason he has failed to do so is that he has not based his life on rational premises. Instead, by allowing his emotions, his whims and subjective feelings, to “reflect” his mind, he has, in effect, allowed the inmates to take over the prison.
In the last sentence, I purposely used the word prison to point out the limitation of the Randian (or Objectivist) perspective. Even though Rand establishes order in the “prison,” a synonym for the human condition in esoteric teachings, she fails to recognize that the human condition, even when rationally ordered, is still a prison. A man’s mind can rule his emotions—but it cannot, directly, free itself. The mind’s nature, via the process of concept-formation, is to continually grasp, and this grasping activity contracts, or encloses, consciousness into one limited state after another. The mind functions under the illusion of absolute freedom because it can freely change its thinking, and hence its emotional state, in any moment. But this ability to change states is analogous to a man in prison who can freely change cells. He may upgrade from the “outhouse” cell to the “penthouse” cell, but in either case he is still in prison.
George Gurdjieff (1877–1949), a renowned Western mystic, said: “If you are to get out of prison the first thing you must realize is you are in prison.” If, like a Randian Objectivist, you think that you’re free (to “program” your emotional state) and don’t acknowledge the underlying existential pain of your exile from the divine Source, then you won’t concede that the fundamental human condition is one of “imprisonment,” of separation and suffering. If, like Tolle and me, you see separation from Being as a primordial “pain” that can be excised only through spiritual enlightenment, then you’ll seek oneness with the Divine as the solution to your root emotional “problem” of psychic imprisonment.
Though Tolle and I share the view that separation from Being is the cause of man’s primordial pain, we differ markedly in our assessments of the human mind. Whereas Tolle makes it a point to denigrate man’s mind, I make it a point to defend it. I have presented Rand’s perspective relative to Tolle’s mind-emotion vicious circle to illustrate the important point that, even though the mind cannot, by itself, escape from the prison of primordial separation and self-enclosure, the mind does indeed have the ability to break Tolle’s mind-emotion vicious circle.
Can you elaborate on positive emotions such as love and joy and explain how they relate to enlightenment?
The Holy Spirit, the power of Now, is Love and Bliss. The degree to which you can tap into and channel the Holy Spirit, the Spirit-power of Being, is the degree to which you will experience love and bliss.
The degree to which you experience love and bliss can be expressed via a hierarchical scale. In Christian mysticism, for example, the following hierarchy is employed to describe levels of spiritual bliss:
Beatitude represents the highest level of bliss because it is nondual in nature. When you are awake as a Christ or a Buddha, you no longer experience bliss as separate from your own nature. Instead, you are literally being It, and this feeling of being Bliss is Beatitude. As an awakened being, you spontaneously radiate your Blissful Energy as Blessing Power that serves to en-Light-en others.
Bliss is the experience of receiving Grace, the Blessing Power of the Holy Spirit. When, via the practice of Holy Communion, you achieve “locked-in” at-one-ment (samadhi) with the divine Being, the Holy Spirit pours down from above, infilling you with its blissful, en-Light-ening energy.
Joy is a happy state that ensues when individuals achieve or experience something meaningful to them. Because it involves the mind and the concept of time, it is peculiar to human beings. Joy is an emotional state that spontaneously intensifies the soul’s élan vital.
Pleasure is the most superficial form of bliss and is experienced by animals as well as humans. It always involves the senses and has no redeeming spiritual value. It is simple enjoyment devoid of meaningfulness.
What is love? Spiritually speaking, it’s the pure, radiant, Blessing Energy that stems from Being. And this Blessing Energy is the Holy Spirit, the power of Being. True spiritual life is simply a matter of directly tapping into the divine Being and allowing its Spirit-power, or Love-energy, to radiate through you.
It is beyond the capacity of human beings to selflessly radiate love. So you shouldn’t feel depressed because you perceive yourself as incapable of selfless love. A true guru is not someone with a rare ability to love; a true guru is someone who has tapped into the Holy Spirit and allows Its Love to radiate though him and outshine all his lesser, “human,” emotions. The Holy Spirit, or power of Now, is universal, transcendental Love, and the degree to which you can lock into the Now and allow Its Power to flow through you is the degree to which you are capable of selfless love.
Human beings are very capable of selfish love—of willfully channeling degrees of love on objects of their devotion—but as Tolle points out, such “love” can easily turn into “hate” when an object of devotion fails to meet one’s standards. For example, a wife might love her husband dearly, but if she finds out he’s been cheating on her by having sex with the neighbor, then her love can turn into hate in a heartbeat. Selfish love can be measured by the degree of one’s devotion to an object; selfless love can be measured by the degree one can radiate the power of Now.
Peace, in and of itself, is hardly a deep state of Being—unless you believe a cow grazing in the grass is expressing its Buddha-nature. You can shoot an angry man full of tranquilizers and transform his state into a “peaceful” one, but not a spiritual one. I’ve been around plenty of so-called “peaceful” people who didn’t radiate an iota of spiritual energy. The “peace that passeth understanding” is not that of a grazing cow, a drugged zombie, or a mindless simpleton; it is that of an individual rested in the Holy Spirit, the thought (and conflict)-transcending power of Now.
The Buddha says that “Nirvana is the destruction of craving.” How is it possible to end all craving?
First, it is important to differentiate between natural desires and unwholesome craving. In Zen, the popular saying, “When I’m hungry I eat, when I’m tired I sleep” illustrates this point. A Zen master satisfies his biological drives sans conflict and is free of the cravings that beset unenlightened individuals.
Craving is the bodymind’s attempt to heal the primal dis-ease of separation from Being. A Buddha is free of unwholesome craving because he is wholly at-one with the Nirvanic, or divine, Source.
Tolle is correct when he says not to seek to become free of craving. Craving is a symptom of the dis-ease of separation. Instead of dealing with the symptom of the dis-ease, root out the dis-ease itself by becoming present to, and at one with, the divine Source. Because the Light-energy, or Sambhogakaya, stems from the divine Source, en-Light-enment naturally accompanies a full and intense connection to the Source. Therefore, instead of seeking to “achieve” enlightenment, simply connect to the divine Source and allow its Light-energy, the Sambhogakaya, or Holy Spirit, to en-Light-en you.
The term Buddha is derived from the root budh, which means “to know.” A Buddha is a being who, as free (or awakened) consciousness, knows that he is permanently one with Ultimate Reality, the Nirvanic Source. An “Awakened One” is simultaneously an “En-Light-ened One,” because the Light, or radiant Energy, of his awakened (or permanently connected) consciousness outshines his mind, rendering it transparent and non-binding.