Eckhart Tolle and the Buddha Nature

I recently attended a talk by Eckhart Tolle here in Melbourne, along with about two thousand others. I was surprised at the numbers who turned up, although I later realised that this was a little naive, given the popularity of his books and the promotional machine that is Oprah.

His message is simple and clear — stay in the NOW, let go of the past, and allow true intelligence to arise. How many times we need to hear that message to reinforce the truth of it will depend entirely on our individual selves.

The message is not new. It is in fact the basis of the Buddha’s teaching on Mindfulness (and probably the teachings of many others). The extract under the tab above from Living Meditation, Living Insight  by Dr. Thynn Thynn, for example, discusses the same approach to being free from conditioned existence. Here’s a quote:

Freedom is not just an end result. It is not something that awaits us at the end of our endeavour. Freedom is instantaneous, right now, from the very beginning. We can be ‘free’ in the very process of the search, in experiencing, in every step along the way.

I was impressed with Eckhart Tolle. His message was simple and clear, his presentation genuine and straight from the heart. The large crowd listened with complete attention and there was a definite experience of being fully in the present moment.

If, as he says, the time is right for humanity to take another step on the evolutionary path, and that many have already done so, it’s a message that sends hope to the many who follow his teachings.

Is Everything Suffering?

The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths as a way out of suffering. He described the process like this:

  1. Suffering
  2. The Cause of Suffering
  3. The Cessation of Suffering
  4. The Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering

For those unfamiliar with the teachings, this emphasis on suffering might seem like a pretty depressing philosophy. But if we look at it from a slightly different perspective this is what we get:

  1. Unhappiness
  2. The Cause of Unhappiness
  3. The Ending of Unhappiness
  4. How We Got to the Ending of Unhappiness

There are many different kinds of suffering descibed in great detail in the texts, but the first, ‘the suffering of suffering’ is the one we are all probably most familiar with.

This type of suffering is associated with unpleasant feelings, like a toothache, losing your temper, or just feeling cold and damp on a wet winter’s day.

While reading Thich Nhat Hahn’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, I came across this statement:

We can put an end to our suffering by realising that suffering is not worth suffering for!

But how does this work? In the Four Noble Truths above, the Buddha has given a direction. Recognise your unhappiness, investigate the cause, get over it, and stay on the path that will prevent you getting caught up in it again.

How do we come to this realisation? When we begin to notice that most, if not all, of our unhappiness is self-inflicted, we find ourselves drawing back from the mental states that create and reinforce our suffering.

Let’s take an example

Someone does or says something I don’t like or disagree with. It upsets me. I begin to go over the details in my mind. Mentally, I recreate the situation again and again. My hurt or anger increases to the point where I have to speak out, either directly to the person who caused the problem, or to someone prepared to listen to my grievance.

But if I’m able to stand back and witness this process objectively I might become aware of something very different. The first sentence above gives it away: ‘Someone has done or said something to upset me’.

But have they? When I look closely I must see that my suffering is something I must take responsibility for and that actually my suffering was not caused by that other person, but by my own reaction to the situation. At the time the problem occurred I had a choice — whether to take offence or to just let it go.

Most of the time we don’t see that we have a choice, but if we can step back and witness our reactions and see the problem for what it is we can let it go.

Thich Nhat Hahn confirms this. Here’s his full statement:

We can put an end to our suffering by realising that suffering is not worth suffering for! How many people kill themselves because of rage and despair. In that moment they do not see the vast happiness that is available. Mindfulness puts an end to such a limited perspective.

Here is the clue. By developing mindfulness we can reach the point where we begin to see the what the Buddha means by suffering,
how it is caused, how it can cease and how, if we continue to practice, we have the path to the eventual cessation of suffering in all its varied forms.

Zen Mindfulness

I found this on Zen Koans. A great resource, translated into English from the book Shaseki-shu or Collection of Stone and Sand written in the thirteenth century by Zen teacher Muju. A good explanation of what it means to be mindful.

Every-minute Zen

Zen students are with their masters at least ten years before they presume to teach others. Nan-in was visited by Tenno, who, having passed his apprenticeship, had become a teacher. The day happened to be rainy, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella. After greeting him Nan-in remarked: “I suppose you left your wooden clogs in the vestibule. I want to know if your umbrella is on the right or left side of the clogs.”

Tenno, confused, had no instant answer. He realized that he was unable to carry his Zen every minute. He became Nan-in’s pupil, and he studied six more years to accomplish his every-minute Zen.

Karma and Rebirth – The Eternal Questions

It is difficult to understand the puzzling mechanics of karma and rebirth. How are we reborn into unfavourable circumstances, as a dog for example, simply because we have committed unwholesome acts in this lifetime?

As I understand it, we are born, we die. When we are alive our limited consciousness allows us to be conscious only of ourselves. When we die we are no longer conscious of the entity that was ‘I’. This ‘I’ has disappeared, never to be resurrected.

But the conscious volition that produced this limited perspective of ‘I’ moves to yet a new perspective. Consciousness may be like tiny points of light flickering into life, dying, and then appearing somewhere else. The question is — what determines this volition, the process of awakening to an entirely new perspective?

Now I have this limited perspective of ‘I’. When I am no longer, what determines that my limited perspective will then become that of a bird?

The Way We Work – Skilful Livelihood

How does your work affect you? In the Buddhist texts there are many definitions of wrong livelihood, but they are mainly connected to occupations that involve weapons, poisons or killing.

Not many of us are arms dealers (weapons), or drug dealers (poisons), but in today’s world our working lives are complex. How do we know, for example, that the global corporation we work for isn’t involved in devious business practices that harm its competitors and put other people’s livelihood at risk?

What if the company we work for is guilty of polluting the environment and indirectly causing harm to people? There are many examples, in the press and in the popular culture such as movies, about crusaders fighting and winning against unscrupulous corporations.

We cannot all be crusaders, but we can make a judgement as to whether the work we do is harmful to others, and if so, how we go about changing the situation.

Skilful Livelihood is a goal to be sought gradually as our understanding matures.

In other words, don’t rush. Examine your options. If resigning from your job means your family will suffer you need to keep a strong intention of finding more acceptable work in the future.

Interactions in the workplace

Interactions with others at work can be openly examined in a journal. When strong emotions surface, writing through the problem can often resolve it, lessen it’s harmful effects, or lead to deep insight into the nature of destructive behaviour patterns such as jealousy, envy or greed.

These insights are extremely powerful. Sometimes so powerful that they can wipe out the tendency to indulge in harmful behaviour to that person and others once and for all. When you see the very nature of destructive behaviour you are immediately free from it. You see where it comes from and this art of seeing is a liberation from the great tangled mess of unwholesome action.

Once you no longer have ‘harmful intent’ you are shielded, to a great extent, from the harm done to you by others.