As a Baha'i, when I come across a spiritual concept I will often look for references through various religious traditions to find common threads woven throughout. This is one of those times. :-)
"...If you can recognize illusion as illusion, it dissolves. The recognition of illusion is also it's ending. Its survival depends on your mistaking it for reality. In the seeing of who you are not, the reality of who you are emerges by itself..." -Eckhart Tolle,( A New Earth)
What a simple yet profound statement!
What he is referring to here as illusion is our perception of who we are. Saying basically everything we think about ourselves is an illusion...it is our ego at work. Our reality is in the background patiently waiting for us to turn our focus inward, beyond our thoughts. But most of us are so busy worrying about the past and the future, we forget to pay attention to this moment. And when we choose to focus on this moment, and Be present, we can get a glimpse behind the veils of our perceptions... of our true self, our spirit. The more we make a conscious effort to 'Be' in each experience, the more natural it will become. In recognizing our ego as ego....the ego retreats ("it's survival depends on our mistaking it for reality")...and in retreating allows room for our spirit to emerge. Our awareness provides the opportunity.
He believes most people are living unconscious lives. But he also believes humanity is on the verge of a new level of consciousness, a spiritual awakening.
I thought Eckhart Tolle was rather harsh...saying that all of humanity is basically insane. But he also recognizes our capacity to overcome the insanity. I tend to think of it more in terms of our animal nature vs. our spiritual nature. Imho The ego represents our animal nature, that's not to say that it doesn't have it's place, it does serve it's purpose, but it's all about balance. And in the practice of awareness, being present enables us to settle our thoughts. Expanding our ability & capacity to truly experience life.
We are creatures of two worlds...we must manuever through this physical plane but I believe we also have an innate sense of an invisible realm. I completely understand how 'the world' can obscure that sense...which can in turn manifest as a sense of longing, which we try to fill with things of the world, but no matter what we try to fill it with, the void remains. In my own experience it is only truly satisfied in the quest of trying to live a spiritually enriching life.
"12. O MAN OF TWO VISIONS! Close one eye and open the other. Close one to the world and all that is therein, and open the other to the hallowed beauty of the Beloved." (Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words)
In "A New Earth", Tolle was talking about how our thought patterns work. That most of the time, no matter what we are doing, our thoughts are going off in dozens of directions all of the time...we're constantly chasing our thoughts, this is what we need to be aware of, and in the awareness we are more apt to be able to control our thoughts. And to be aware that that aspect of ourselves , recognizing that the awareness that is directing us to control our thoughts... is our spirit, our true reality, separate from our ego.
Abdu'l Baha'i speaks about it this way:
"When you wish to reflect upon or consider a matter you consult something within you....Surely there is a distinct power, a distinct ego. Were it not distinct from your ego you would not be consulting it. It is greater than the faculty of thought. It is your spirit which teaches you, which inspires and decides upon matters. " (Compilations, Baha'i Scriptures, p. 365)
"...Your treasure--your perfection--is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart..." Elizabeth Gilbert, “Eat, Pray, Love"
"...If you can recognize illusion as illusion, it dissolves. The recognition of illusion is also it's ending. Its survival depends on your mistaking it for reality. In the seeing of who you are not, the reality of who you are emerges by itself..." Eckhart Tolle, "A New Earth"
So...who are we really?
Are we just our bodies? Are we our egos?
All of the major world religions try to teach us about our spiritual nature, and the illusory nature of this world. With so much emphasis on the spiritual realms contained within the worlds scriptures...should we perhaps instead of thinking of it as just a flowery ideal, attempt to look for the truth enshrined within those teachings? If we can make a conscious effort to be aware of our spiritual nature, can we finally arrive at the point where we can really try to understand what that actually means?
"6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: ..." 1
"...intoxicated by the wine of illusion, ...darkened by passion, like the night; illusory, like magic; false, like a dream; ... thus they call him; and therefore it is said: Sound, touch, and other things are like nothings; if the elemental Self is attached to them, it will not remember the Highest Place." 2
"Verily I say, the world is like the vapor in a desert, which the thirsty dreameth to be water and striveth after it with all his might, until when he cometh unto it, he findeth it to be mere illusion." 3
"...the life of the world is but matter of illusion." 4
"115:5 ...eyes have they, but they see not." 5
"...let us not, with the dark clouds of our illusions, our selfish interests, blot out the glory that streameth from the Abha Realm." 6
In a spiritual/religious context our illusions = our selfish interests + attachment to those interests = our egos
Various scriptures tell us what the ego is...do they also tell us how to overcome it?
"...You shall love your neighbour as yourselves because you are your neighbour; a mere illusion makes you believe that your neighbour is something different from yourselves...He who knows himself in everything and everything in himself, will not injure himself by himself. This is the sum and tenor of all morality, and this is the standpoint of a man knowing himself..." 7
"...how can the veil of illusion be torn away? ... it is written that you shall ...walk in the Way of His Will." 8
"Misled by fair illusions, thou wouldst seek against thy will, when the task comes to thee, waking the promptings in thy nature... There lives a Master in the hearts of men...With all thy soul Trust Him, and take Him for thy succour"... 9
"Give up your ego, and turn your face to God." 10
"2:17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." 11
"And on that day shall they proffer submission to God; and the deities of their own invention shall vanish from them." 12
"Will is the center or focus of human understanding. We must will to know God, ..... It is a great power to have a strong will, but a greater power to give that will to God. The will is what we do, the understanding is what we know. Will and understanding must be one in the Cause of God." 13
"So long as the thoughts of an individual are scattered he will achieve no results, but if his thinking be concentrated on a single point wonderful will be the fruits thereof.... Thus is it necessary to focus one's thinking on a single point so that it will become an effective force." 14
hmmm...trying to abide by the will of God seems to be a universal theme....but how are we to know what the will of God is for us? With so many religions that tell us so many different things...how can we be sure?
To start with, I would suggest that perhaps those things that are universal throughout the religions would be a good place to start. For example, the Golden Rule. (Personally I feel that if we could truly learn to live by that one principle we could have peace on earth now.)
"We must learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose." Indira Gandhi (1917 - 1984)
This quote really encompasses this concept well ...
to be still in the midst of activity?...to be focused on the task at hand; and to be vibrantly alive in repose? in stillness to be aware...to be present...to be.
"One knows, eventually, that one is never alone, one feels a new dimension, one walks the mystical way with practical feet." (Compilations, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 102)
This is the goal...to find that balance in our lives...we must live in this world, yet remain aware that our spirit is not of 'this' world.
Perhaps this shift in consciousness/awareness that Eckhart Tolle mentions simply refers to a time when more and more people truly recognize that we are not just our bodies.
Could that be the next stage in humanity's evolution?
"He who has the consciousness of reality has eternal life - that lamp which can never be extinguished." -Abdu'l-Baha
"...What we are witnessing is the beginning of the history of humankind, the history of a human race conscious of its own oneness." (Baha'i International Community, 1999 Feb, Who is Writing the Future)
I recently stumbled upon this sketch which seems to correlate nicely...
"In this nakedness the spirit finds its quietude and rest, for in coveting nothing, nothing tires it by pulling it up, and nothing oppresses it by pushing it down, because it is in the center of its humility." Juan de la Cruz (16 century A.D.) (nakedness in context is referring to detachment from the ego, it's all about finding that balance. )
1. King James Bible, John
2. Upanishads vol. 2, Maitrayana-Brahmaya-Upanishad
3. Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 328
4. The Qur'an (Pickthall tr), Sura 57 - The Iron
5. King James Bible, Psalms
6. Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 263 (Abha Realm means Glorious Realm i.e. Heaven)
7. Islamic Miscellaneous, Teachings of Hafiz (G. L. Bell tr)
8. Shri Guru Granth Sahib
9. Hindu, Bhagavad Gita (Edwin Arnold tr)
10. Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Section 32 - Raag Kaanraa
11. King James Bible, 1 John
12. The Qur'an (Rodwell tr), Sura 16 - The Bee
13. Compilations, Baha'i Scriptures, p. 503
14. Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 110