Rev. David JH Hart
A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then he asked: “What’s that you are sitting on?” “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.” “Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger. “No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in there.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.
So begins Eckhart Tolle’s phenomenal bestelling book, The Power of Now. First published in Vancouver as a 3000 book run, it has since gone on to become an underground sensation and then after surfacing on Oprah went viral selling millions of copies and being translted into many different languages. I have tended to be a little suspicious of spirituality books that have pervaded popular culture so deeply. But this one is truly good, rooted in real experience, and written with a simplicity but clarity that is profound. I have to concur with Oprah. The Powerof Now is essential reading for anyone committed to the spiritual life and I am doing my summer series based on this seminal work.
So you might protest says Tolle, “But I’m not a beggar.” But he then goes on to make the point that anyone who has not found their true wealth which is the radiant joy of being and the deep, unshakeable peace that comes with it, are still beggars even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure of fulfillment, for validation, for security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.
Jesus makes the very same point in a variety of short parables and aphorism, some of which we have heard this morning. The kindom of heaven, or the realm of God, another translation, is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but one that grows so large that it becomes a huge tree that shelters the birds of the air who make their home in it. Or the kindom of heaven is like a buried treasure found in a field. The ones who discover it hide it again, and rerejoicing at the discovery, go out, sell all they have and buy the field.
In other words, the spiritual treasure Jesus speaks about is so tiny like a mustard seed that we don’t notice it at first, but it soon becomes apparent that it’s magnitude is much, much greater than we had realized. Or the realm of God is like buried treasure, actually, buried right underneath our noses. Not at the bottom of the sea, but in an abandoned old field right next door. But when we discover what that field contains, we sell everything else to get our hands on it, because nothing else can compare.
So what exactly is the hidden treasure Jesus is talking about and what is the hidden treasure Tolle is talking about? It is nothing more and nothing less than our natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something tiny and invisible, yet at the same time immeasurable and indestructible, something that paradoxically is essentially us and yet so much greater than us. It is finding our true, essential nature beyond name and form. And that nature can be called Being or God.
Calling it Being is perhaps wiser than calling it God because the word God has become such a closed concept, a word to which there is so much baggage attached, that it’s hard to think outside the box. But God is definitely outside the box of our closed concepts and understandings. And so Tolle more frequently uses the word Being.
So then, how to describe Being? Being is the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death. However, Being is not only beyond but also deep within every form as its innermost invisible and indestructible essence. This means that it is accessible to you now as your own deepest self, your own true nature. And here’s the thing about Being. We can’t grab hold of it with our minds. We really can’t understand it. We can only know it when the mind is still. When we are present, when our attention is fully and intensely in the Now, Being can be felt, but it can never be understood mentally. To regain awareness of Being and to abide in that state of “feeling-realization-oneness” with Being is what the spiritual traditions refer to as enlightenment.
So a large part of the spiritual undertaking in life is to know God or to experience Being. And there are two requirements for this to take place. The first is letting go of a lot of the intellectual baggage regarding what we think God is and what it means to know God in the first place. The second is a continuation of the first. We need to get out of our heads, or rather, to put it more bluntly, we need to get out of our minds. God is both within us and around us. God is the one life giving life to all that is. God isn’t up in some proverbial heaven. God is right here. But the mind, the chatterbox of internal thinking and talking is constantly putting up a screen between us and God preventing us from seeing, tasting, feeling, intuiting the one life, the isness of life, that is constantly with us and of which we are a part.
Weu can only know God from a place of deep inner stillness and peace. And the key reason we don’t experience or know God or Being is because we are so accustomed to incessant, constant, mental chatter and noise within ourselves. We are addicted to it, in the sense that we cannot turn it off. But until we learn how to turn it off, we cannot know the deeper reality of life that is God, that is Being itself.
Now some people argue, why should I want to turn my mind off. Wouldn’t I then become a vegetable. My mind is my most powerful and defining asset. It is true that the mind is powerful … but it is only powerful as a tool. When we can’t turn it off, it becomes a dictator, controling us, defining us, and most of all contributing to the majority of our suffering in life.
Do we become a vegetable when we turn the mind off. Not the way Tolle suggests and not the way Jesus would suggest. To turn the mind off, something that not even happens in sleep by the way, is to enter into a state of intense awareness and observation, a state of absolute inner quiet and calmness and unshakeable peace. And in that state, a powerful intuition and awareness arises. That intuition and awareness is that our true self, our deepest self, our true identity, our deepest identity, is the single life, the one life, that never changes and that gives birth to all of life. The mind changes, the emotions change, the body changes and passs away …. But there is an inner awareness and condition of Being that is eternal and that is who and what we really are and that is what and who God really is.
The famous philosopher Rene Descartes believed that he had found the most fundamental truth about existence when he made his famous statement, “I think, therefore I am.” Tolle notes that rather than finding the most fundamental truth of existence, Descartes had, in fact, given expression to the most basic error: to equate thinking with being and identity with thinking. Our deepest source of life and identity has nothing to do with the thinking mind. It emerges out of Being itself. But we can never know Being within the constant noise of daily life and mental/emotional activity. The awareness of Being emerges out of the experience of profound inner stillness and quiet. The psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God.” No truer words have ever been spoken.
Next week, we’ll look at how the mind creates suffering, the majority of our suffering in the world, and how an awareness of Being, deep level consciousness leads us out of suffering.
(This talk is based on Eckhart Tolle’s book, the Power of Now, Chapter 1.)